Sunday, October 11, 2009

The End...of Everything

I was having a really interesting conversation with my sister earlier this evening. We were talking about what it is to "be". She said that she often, at unpredictable moments, finds herself trying to work out what existence is. I's a heady question, and one that doesn't have any easy answers. But it's a question I concern myself with pretty frequently, too.

I like how Steph phrased it. She said (and I paraphrase), "Sometimes I find myself thinking about what it is to be by considering what it would be like not to be." Can an existent being fathom not existing? And has there ever been a time you and I didn't exist?

From your perspective, you'd say no. You've always been here, as far as you can remember. In a very real sense you could say that the entire universe effectively came into existence the moment you were born and were conscious enough to understand your surroundings. Because, at least for you, nothing existed before you did. You, and the world around you has always existed. For you there has never been a time that you weren't here and that the world wasn't as it is for you.

But of course that's an illusion. We cannot experience the universe without being here to do the experiencing, so it appears that we've always been here. But of course before each of us is born, we don't exist. In fact, for the entirety of human existence, really for the entire lifespan of the universe, from the Big Bang up until the moment you were conceived, you didn't exist. That's about thirteen and a half billion years that didn't include you. You don't remember any of that time because you weren't there. But it happened. That much is clear.

So if we perceive the world as having always existed as it does, with us as the central player in existence, and that's clearly an illusion, where are we left? Our lives are, at a maximum, about 100 years. The universe existed for 13,000,000,000 years before us. Whether we care to believe it or not, the universe will carry on for billions of years more after we die. But will it carry on for us? If we don't exist than our experience of that time will be just like our experience of the time before we were born. We won't experience it. Again, in a very real sense, when we die the entire universe ends. Period. We are the only observers watching the universe from behind our eyes. When that observer is gone, as far as each of us is concerned, the entirety of existence disappears along with us.

So do I fear non-existence? No. What's to fear? I already handled non-existence just fine for thirteen billion years. It's even silly to say that "I" handled it, because there was no "I" to handle anything. And once non-existence is thrust on me again I won't be there to realize it happened. Am I looking forward to it? No. I can't even conceive of it. But I know it's inevitable. One day me and my universe will cease to exist, just like for everyone else on any planet in any galaxy at any point in the cosmos.

Why fight it? Acceptance is the first step.

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