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Buck Fuddy

Great article. I think too few people really think through what the consequences would be if their beliefs about life, death and eternity were really true.

We all are instinctively repelled by death. That's only natural. I think it's safe to assume that that revulsion is just one among many mechanisms wired into our brains that tends to motivate us to avoid dying. The fitness consequences should require no elaboration.

So it's only natural for people to prefer not to die, but few people think through the consequences of never dying.

Similarly, some people adopt a philosophy that elevates life to an absolute good and excuses all kinds of horrible behaviors in the name of preserving life or defeating death. The wrongheadedness of this idea was recently evident in the Terry Schiavo case, but it was eloquently illustrated almost 200 years ago by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein.


I have a very strong fear of death, I have a lot of trouble dealing with the thought of not existing. I rationally relize that I won't be aware of not existing, so it's kind of pointless to fear it, but I can't help it.

I'm also afraid, perhaps equally of living forever, people say they want to live forever, but they don't think about what that really means, it means literally without end. I think you'd pretty much inevitably get bored to tears eventually and then you'd WANT to cease to exist. Sooner or later you'd run out of things to learn and do and then you'd be bored.


anti-nonsense sums my feelings up nicely - I am indeed 'paralyzed' at the thought of death, but I'm almost as terrified at the thought of living forever!


Hi, first comment here. Loved this post, few people seem to really face their fear of nonexistence, instead adopting a philosophy of: "Live in the moment, and try not to think about it."

What really drives me crazy thinking about my death is how unimaginable it is. Even your experience of going under general anaesthesia was defined by your "climbing out of the grave". Without that waking up to define the margins, death seems so unclassifiable and unthinkable.

"Your segment on that timeline will always have been there. The fact of your death doesn't make the time that you were alive disappear."

Actually this is somewhat debatable. From what I remember from my old metaphysics class, although the majority of philosophers do accept the notion of time as a kind of fourth dimension, with "eternally" existing points along that dimension, there is a theory known as "presentism" that proposes that the past completely ceases to exist once we "pass through it". According to this theory, the past does not exist in any sense at all, all that exists are memories in the present. If this (decidedly minority) position is true, than death is essentially exactly the same as never being born: even the statement "So and so lived from 1950-2020" is only true insofar as there are still effects left from their life. Once all the influence on the universe is gone and forgotten, they cannot be said to exist or have existed in any sense whatsoever.


The thing that helped me to handle fear of death was, after six months of theraphy following my dog's death, remembering that I had lived 35 years before be was born. I had been alive and happy without him. Time after his death and mine was frightening. Time before birth, both his and mine, was not. But I think my "existance" or "nonexistance" and his before our births are/were probably a lot like our "existance" or "nonexistance" after death.

It has helped significantly to think of death as a return to pre-birth.


Excellent posting! *worships you* (nah, just kidding)


I can't remember where it came from...probably some book...but I always think that when I die, it'll be just like before I was born, which wasn't so bad...


One comment that I read in The God Delusion by Dawkins was the quote that basically went "I was dead for the first few billion years of life on this planet and do not suffer from any ill effects of that now." I am unsure who orginally said but it is amazingly accurate. At some point in time no one alive today existed and going back to that state should not be any more painful then it was the first time around.

Christian Bachmann

Great article, hitting many points of my own way of free thinking. I've just added a plug to my own post dealing with death.

Sid Schwab

I, too, was comforted when it occurred to me that death would be as I was for the eternity before I was alive, and that seemed to have been okay; or at least I have no memory that it wasn't. Also comforting in some way is the view of life as a continuous river that forms little eddies here and there, which appear and disappear with the flow, and the river goes on...

mark dohle

I found your post very interesting. I guess we are on opposite poles when it comes to the God question, for I am a devout catholic, though I am open to other beliefs systems, especially Buddhism which has a long history of studying the mind, how it works etc.

Yes death, it is the big event in all of our lives and I don’t know anyone who does not fear it; both believers in an afterlife and those who do not. Some say they do not fear death, but when saying that I think they are merely observing someone else die when they think of it, it is an experience, a lonely one perhaps, and the last thing that will happen to all of us, so it can’t really be contemplated in any real sense.

I believe in an after life, though I of course have my doubts, so your post also applies to me as well perhaps as the majority who come to this blog, who seem to be atheist or agnostics.

We simply have to live each day to the fullest, try to love, and leave the world in a better place. I do that, or try to by allowing God’s love to fill my heart, making me a channel of his love for others. Those without faith have to find another way; in any case, we are all brothers and sister on the road.



Hi Greta,

I just remembered to stop by your blog. Very interesting article. When I have more "time" I want to address some of these points, as it seems we've been thinking a long time about many of the same things. In particular, this passage: "Do the years 1961 through 2037 disappear from time simply because we move on from them and into a new time, any more than Chicago disappears when we leave it behind and go to California? [p] It does not. The time that you live in will always exist, even after you've passed out of it, just like Paris exists before you visit it, and continues to exist after you leave." I've always struggled with this paradox (it started with a very nice childhood vacation that had to *end*) and I haven't been convinced by the analogy to 3-dimensional space. Time, for whatever unfathomable reason, is different - for one thing, you can go back and forth and back and forth to Paris - not so to 1961.


Lately I Have Not Stopped Thinking About Death And Thinking How When I Die There Will Be Nothing Not A Glance Not A Bit Of Emotion Or Thought Not A Word Nothing And It Really Scares Me But Reading This Has Made Me Think It Through Preoperly And Even Though I Will Always Be Scared To Be Confronted With Death I Atleast Have Realised That The Time I Have Been On Earth Has Been Sacred And I Think Good On Those Silly Arguments Or Fights With People And Cherish The Happy Moments !!


I think most of us are not so much afraid of death, as of dying.

I don't really fear the eons of time that stretch beyond my death, just as I don't fear all that preceded my birth.

But, I'll admit that I do have some concerns about the transition ...

(At least I won't have to live with the memory of it. *grin*)

"Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?"
-Epicurus, philosopher (c.341-270 BCE)


There was some discussion above about how time is an illusion (a "stubbornly resistant" one according to Einstein), but I wanted to explain in more detail the physics behind it. I have been thinking about death all my life, too much probably, and knowing why physicists say time is an illusion, (and in a very real sense why we have always existed and will always exist) gives me the most comfort.

Start with special relativity. The speed of light is the same for all observers, no matter what speed that observer is already traveling. This leads to all sorts of interesting things like time dilation. Hundreds of experiments have shown that special relativity is accurate. A real-world example are those GPS units you see in cars nowadays, or go hiking with. GPS wouldn't work if the relativistic motion of satellites wasn't taken into account - due to special relativity, time runs slower for moving satellites by 7 microseconds a day. That doesn't sound like much, but that would result in an error of a number of inches, and would add up every day.

Now if special relativity is true, then this thing called the Rietdijk-Putnam argument is also true. Basically, every person has something called a "plane of simultaneity", which are all the places in the universe along with you that are in the same timeframe. So if your brother was an astronaut in a nearby star system, you could imagine him sitting in his spacecraft. He would be doing something, but you didn't know what, as radio waves would take years to reach him (and the same time going back). Now suppose you looked at his astronaut log when he got back, and found out he was looking home at the Sun at the exact time you were wondering what he was doing. So your plane of simultaneity at that time when you were wondering what he was doing included him looking at the Sun.

Further imagine that at that same exact time (to you), your sister was flying in an airplane, and she was also wondering what your brother was doing. Because of the speed she was moving, time dilation would mean that to her, your brother would be in a different plane of simultaneity. In this case, he just turned away from the window and was about to push a button.

Move your brother farther away (or increase the speed your sister was traveling), and the time difference with your brother is more pronounced. It could be a year, or even 1000 years or more. Depending on the direction your sister was going, your brother (to your sister) could be in your past or your future.

To a bunch of aliens somewhere else in the universe, everything has already happened in your entire life. To some you might be 7 years old, others 14, at some you would have already died. All times are equally real. If you extrapolate this to all particles relative to all other particles in the universe, EVERYTHING has already happened. Actually, everything is happening RIGHT NOW to some other particle in the universe.

A better way to imagine this is to represent each instant in the universe on the surface of a very thin piece of paper. If you looked at the paper, you could see little tiny galaxies and stuff, like a photograph. Now as each instant of the universe ticks by, another page is added to the top of the previous piece of paper. Eventually the galaxies would spread apart, and stars would twinkle out. In this way the entire universe, through its entire history, would end up looking like a block of paper (a 3-d block). Now, since we all know the universe is 3-d, then by adding each instant of time we would end up with a 4-d block. This 4-d "block universe" is also known as Minkowski "spacetime", as space and time in the block are treated pretty much the same, and always have to be talked about in conjunction. Everything in the 4-d block has always existed and will always exist. Universe + time = 4-d block.

This concept of time is really hard to get your mind around, as it is simply a geometrical axis rather than a real thing. You can think of your life as being a movie, where each instant is shown on a separate frame. Our instinct is to imagine the projector shining on one frame at a time, always sweeping forward, and once the light passes that frame no longer exists. That is not the case at all. Rather, there is a light always illuminating every frame of the film. They are all equally real.

But don't we experience time as sweeping forward? There isn't a zillion versions of me, after all. Well, actually, according to the above, there are. You are just one frame in that movie, thinking they are the only frame. All the other frames also think they are the only frame. Rather than thinking of time, you need to think of yourself as not a 3-d person, but a 4-d person existing in all of those frames.

Once you die, the past frames don't go away. Time is an illusion, so those frames always existed and will always exist, each with the projector light always shining on them.


I looked up this post after the X reading at Diesel. I hadn't seen it before but it sounded like something I'd want to read. I'm glad I did. You know, my very young child has just discovered that all people die, at some point, and he keeps grilling me about this -- "So one day, you'll be dead Mommy? And I'll be dead too?" And I can see in his eyes when I say "yes" that he can't figure out why I'm not freaking out and screaming, and how this can seem to be ok with me, how it can seem that his eventual death (and my own) are really no big thing. And of course it's a huge thing, but what the fuck can you do?

He asks me if there's anything after death and I always say, "I don't know," because I'm an atheist, and because I really don't know.

I hate to be the bearer of such bad news to such a sweet, loving little dude. I do sometimes wish I believed in god or an afterlife, but really, it makes no sense to me, and like you, I can't make myself believe in it.

Maybe when he's older he'll find your article. I hope so.


I can't imagine of any experiment, physical or even thought experiment, which would even in principle be capable of either proving or disproving "presentism". My hunch is that it's in some mathematical sense completely indistinguishable from its negation, because you can take what happens in either case and translate it back and forth with no loss. It looks to me like the "presentism" debate is really just a quibble over notation, and not of any conceivable consequence.

I could be missing something. I tend to like "not-presentism" as a conceptual handle for modeling things, since "change" is hard to talk about without at least pretending that there "was" something "before".

Ah, whatever. I should probably limit how much time I spend on this kind of talk. I should go have ice cream.


I am scared shitless of death. Actually, it's more precise to say that I am scared of loss. I don't handle loss well, never have, it goes back, I think, to my mother's attempted suicide. You would think the fact that it was ATTEMPTED and not SUCCESSFUL would have made the difference; unfortunately, since she is mentally ill and in a constant cycle of stable/unstable, it feels like it is happening all over again every time she has a meltdown. I would like to be comforted about death. The thing that struck me the most about this article is the point about people not wanting to freeze time. DON'T BE SO SURE. People do it all the time. (Botox anyone..?) I'm not all that concerned about my own death. I'm kind of curious about what's next...

Johan Tekila

Great article you wrote!Please keep on, I like reading you.
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paul Kussmann

Excellent discussion.

After 73 years of life, some very good, some very bad, I do not fear death. My energy will dissipate into the universe (as energy cannot be destroyed) and the "I" cease to exist.

I don't look forward to death but treat it as...well..."that's life!"

Duncan (Benny) McNeill

Someone very special to me died 12 months ago. It re-sparked that existential stuff. I have been thinking many of the same things but not coherent or nearly as eloquent.
I found it comforting.
Thank you


Two quotes:

Woody ALLEN: "It's not that i'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens."

Unfortunately i can't remember who said it or the exact words, but essentially it was: "You know how people say that 'when you are about to die, your life flashes before your eyes'? Well, this is it. This IS your life flashing before your eyes." You may have to be "older" to understand this second one.

Thank you for the article and the comments worth reading after it.


Eden, I think that was from a Terry Pratchett book. A guy dies and meets Death, and says "Before I die, aren't I supposed to see my life flash before my eyes?". Death replies (in all caps, as he has to, because he's Death), YES, YOU DID, IT WAS THE PART RIGHT BEFORE YOU DIED.


...Marry me?
Seriously, this is one of the most genuinely warm, calmly reasoned, sincerely optimistic, and absolutely empathetic pieces of writing it has ever been my profound joy to read.
Thank you.
And you go, girl.
(@Eden and @DSimon: I think he uses it a couple of times, but to start with I've found Death explaining that "PEOPLE'S WHOLE LIVES DO PASS IN FRONT OF THEIR EYES BEFORE THEY DIE. THE PROCESS IS CALLED 'LIVING'," in 'The Last Continent'.)

Richard Duda

Bravo. It gave me peace, and that weepy feeling that mixes humility and wonder, awe and some melancholy.

I have come, at this point in my life, to this philosophy about time: I have the present, and it often delights me, sometimes annoys me, nearly always surprises me, and all other possibilities that I couldn't even imagine before I was in that 'now.' But I also have the past, and I cherish that, because it contains ever more memories, and I like to think that I am building my life so that it has contained mostly pleasurable, memorable moments, people, places, experiences, emotions, thoughts, music, dreams...

And I hope I will have the future, though I have not the arrogance to expect or demand or even try to know how much of it, or what memories it will hold. I think I am at peace with that.

I also think I have no better choice about that.



Love the blog, Greta, it really brings a spark to my day.

This piece has been on your blog for ages but I've only just stumbled across it, and, can I say, it's the most beautiful piece I've read yet. When I was a kid I couldn't understand why anyone would want to be an atheist, because it basically admits that death is final, right? (It was a kind of primitive Pascal's Wager in my head at the age of 8.) But it's things like this which remind me that you can think about death in a non-depressing way without invoking God or eternal life into the bargain. Thanks!

B. D.

I just caught up to this in my back and forth reading of your blog. Reading it brought back to mind a long history of dying and death, so I thought a necro-post was not out of order.

I understand fearing death, I used to myself, and I see it in others. However, having essentially 'died' a couple times, I no longer fear it. The first time was what I call "my lucky miracle motorcycle crash." A dog came running out of a yard to bark at me, as he did every day. This one time, he decided to bark at me from the other side, so he ran out in front of me. I basically used him as a launch ramp for an Evel Knievel stunt. If you want details, ask, I'll provide them. The relevant point, is that when I came to, and wobbled my weary way up to the trailer-house door, I found out that I had been gone for about 15 minutes or so. Obviously, not dead, but so completely unconscious I might as well have been. My last thought, was 'Oh god, I hit the dog!' accompanied by a simultaneous bit of mirth at my almost palindrome. My next thought was "geez, I'm hot... heh, that means I'm alive... can I wiggle my toes? my fingers? Yes. Coughing? Bleeding? *sits up, looks at myself* Guess not. Guess I should go tell them I hit their dog and see if he's o.k." In between... was nothing. I was thrown from a bicycle when hit by a car, and had another motorcycle crash. Neither blackout lasted as long, but it was the same. One moment, I was thinking, moving, feeling; the next, I was not.

Now, dying... well, that's not another story for me either. Been there, done that, got the scars to prove it. Cancer, combined with acute initial HIV infection, a full-body staph infection with a lymph-node biopsy that abscessed, other assorted infections and reactions. Yeah, it was godawful going through it, I never want to be that sick for that long again, but I'm still here to complain about it ;) .

Put the 2 together, I'm no longer frightened or worried. It will happen again, and there will be one time I don't come back out the other side.

So, what do you do?

Shortly after I was over the chemo and stabilized on my cocktail, my partner and I bought a house. It needed trees in the yard. Even though (at the time, with the meds I had) we knew I probably wouldn't live to see them mature... we planted them anyway. They would make the yard more beautiful and complete. Watching them grow, and tending them would make us feel happy and complete. We cleaned weeds out of the deceased former owner's planting beds, and put in new shrubs and flowers. We did everything we wanted/could to make the house and yard a place of beauty. All the while knowing I probably wouldn't be there to see it all come to maturity.

So, what do you do when you know you're going to die? That you won't see your trees reach full-growth? You won't see your yard come into its own?

Plant trees and flowers anyway. They will make the time before-hand beautiful and complete.

Afraid of dying and death?

Plant trees...


I think it was Mark Twain who observed...."Endeavour to lead such a life that when you die even the undertaker is sorry".
In other words your deeds and words will live on after your physiological death. In this respect you don't die in an instant, but fade out over time as others' memory of you fades.


Great article. Death doesn't scare me as much as the physical deterioration that accompanies aging. I wish I could go from healthy to death without ever knowing what hit me.

Steve Gerrard

Having reached my seventy"s and actually reached the brink of death twice I can relate the kind of feelings you get. First was, well thats your lot mate. Good wasn't it. Next came, shit I have not sorted a few things out yet better get back. Then came the actual,I think I can beat this thing, thought. Once for a cerebral aneurysm second for a blood poisoning thing. Well I admit that medicine and it's practitioners helped considerably but I had the feeling that if I fought like hell I might get back. Well I did and I'm here and still havn't sorted everything out. But now I am old enough to reflect on what I've done, and it is quite memorable for some ( Pro Artist, picture maker). But the leaving feeling or the, well this is it mate thought, wasn't that bad. At least it got me away from some of the shit I hate in life. Like to stay a bit longer and see how the plot goes but I'll never see The End and that is a fact. So I don't really bother about it. Had a lot
of fun while it lasted. No after life for me. Who cares. Thats your lot mate, Steve

Steve Gerrard

To Michele, well some do go from healthy to death and not know what hit them, but for your own sake revel in the aging bit with it's deterioration coz you get to not do a lot of crap. Nobody expects too much from you. And if you havn't reached your lofty goals now you aint gonna. So relax and laugh at all the other poor buggers running around trying to " make it" Steve

kiralık devremülkler

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Steve Gerrard

To kiralik devremulkeier, you are welcome ,if you were speaking of my specific comments. If you would like to enter into a dialogue with me on this I would be willing. Don't know if I'm allowed to leave my yahoo but here goes, stevegerrard02


thank you for a warm and comforting essay and thank you for all the comments.

Ray K - Arlington, VA

First off, "Thank You" Greta & ALL of you who've added your comments. This is my first 'post' & I have to say that everyone's thoughts, perspectives & experiences have added greatly to my individual 'comfort level' re. 'death & dying'.

While I've often laughed (usually with some discomfort) on hearing the line: "Relax, no one gets out of life alive!" ... the idea of ceasing to exist ever again still scares the sh*t out of me.

On the other hand, the idea that my 'existence/non-existence' AFTER my death here on earth could be just like, or similar to my 'existence/non-existence' BEFORE my birth almost 61 years ago DOES bring me some comfort - but ONLY because I HAVE NO MEMORY OF IT!

Like many (B.D.'s motorcycle accident [Sep 1, 2010] for example), I no longer remember the pain & trauma I experienced when as a teenager, I was struck in the head by a thrown baseball bat at jr. high school batting practice, suffering a brain concussion as a result. I've no memory of the pain I must have felt, nor of the first aid administered, nor of the transit to the hospital, nor even of the following weeks of hospital & at-home recovery. But the accident & injury to my physical person DID occur, nevertheless.

Similarly, 20 yrs ago, near the end of my active duty military career as a U.S. Navy line officer, I was diagnosed as suffering from a form of epilepsy (cause still unknown) when I began to experience 'complex-partial' seizures lasting anywhere from 10-20 mins. I get no warning whatsoever, that is, I 'see' no 'aura', nor get any sort of 'tingling' sensation prior to the seizures.

All I DO know is that one moment I'm 'fine', the next, it's sometime later when I return to 'full consciousness'. During the seizures, I apparently stop talking or mumble unintelligibly, sometimes falling to my knees (when jogging, for example) - but I have NEVER remembered either the onset of the seizure nor what occurs 'during' them.

Consequently I don't fear the seizures themselves for I have no memory of them - and fortunately, thanks to prescription meds, I can, for the most part, live a relatively normal life, frustrating as it may be at times.

But as others have stated, what REALLY frightens me is the TRANSITION from life to death!

I've watched an increasing number of friends & family, including 4 beloved cats, die - with some having experienced long & incredibly agonizing periods of physical & mental suffering prior to their deaths from cancer & other incurable diseases. The efforts of cure, i.e., mastectomy &/or chemotherapy were (at least to me) FAR more tortuous than their inevitable deaths themselves.

And while suicide for me is not an option, though I no longer believe in any 'supreme being', it remains the 'process' of dying that is the most frightening 'unknown' for me.

The only 'comfort' I can try to feel is the knowledge that death IS an inevitable 'fact of life' (pun intended) for EVERY human being & every other living creature on this planet - and until my own 'end-time' comes, I should at least try to do my best to enjoy each moment of each day & night I still have, loving myself, as well as my wife, other relatives & my 'neighbors'.

Michael Dowd

Excellent article, Greta. It was good to meet you, albeit all-too-briefly, at TAM in Las Vegas last month.

My wife Connie Barlow and I are passionate about the subject of death. You may enjoy the following...

Death Through Deep-Time Eyes (scroll down - lots on this page)

Thank God for Death—What Could Be More Sacred, More Necessary, More Real?

Keep up the great writing!


~ Michael

Jim Lindsay

I greatly fear death also. This articles opening paragraphs are *exactly* how I tend to feel. I liked the article, and found it comforting, ....BUT.... I still hate the idea. I think of death more as a currently incurable disease that all human beings have.

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I also wish him good luck to defend his gold medal. I like to share it with all my friends and hope they will also encourage him. Keep up with your good work, thanks!


So your an atheist, right? Atheism does not believe in a god our gods. If you believe in a god(s), than that god(s) determines your list of things that are immoral and moral, right? Since you do not believe in a god(s) then what determines you code of morality? Without a god(s) you would have to determine your own code of morality by self. So if you determine what is right and wrong by self then you could have a guy start killing people just because he thought it was right, but does that make it right? You might also say that I'll do whatever my friends are doing. Well where are they getting their set of morality codes? They can be either getting them from self or they can be getting them from other people. If they were getting them from self then it's the same story up above. One of your friends decides he thinks it is right to start killing people. Would you do what your friends were doing, go out and start killing people? When you get something from other people ex. Codes of Morality, it has to have a origin. It can be some idea that man thought up or it can be derived from a man-made religion. If it is a idea that man thought up, go up a couple of sentences to that story that I overuse. Now say that your friends get their codes of morality from a derived version of different man-made religions(KEY PHRASE: MAN-MADE). Those religions obviously have a origin too. So, someone obviously had to have founded it and where did they get there codes of morality from? Themselves! Just some thoughts to chew on.


P.S. plz reply!!!!!


Very interesting article, has read with the great pleasure. Will add a page in bookmarks

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