Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Letter To My Loved Ones After I'm Dead

I'm sorry I couldn't be here forever for you. But that's not how life works.  If my death is recent, many people will likely tell you that I'm "in a better place now". Some smug assholes will probably say I'm in hell for my rational beliefs. Both these assertions would be upsetting to me, as I'm sure they might be for you. Try to remember that those people (even the assholes) think they're doing the right thing.

I would like to discuss life after death from my perspective. You might be surprised to learn that both my consciousness and body will live on through purely naturalistic means. Lights out at death is far too trite of a description compared to the reality of what happens in death. What's more, I can point to specific evidence to support these claims.

Immortality of the atheist mind

I used to live only in my brain, but through our friendship, You built a little copy of me in yours.
(PET Scan from Wikimedia Commons)
I have good news for you which doesn't require supernatural beliefs. I still exist in a way that's very real. As one of the people who knew me best, I live on in you. This probably seems trite at first, but I'm quite sincere. Please let me explain.

Your memories and knowledge of my personality and values are such a reliable copy of me that you can imagine interactions with me, playing out imagined conversations we've never had as though they were really happening [1]. Of course I'm not really continuing to live in some nebulous "spirit realm". The fact is that our human ability to develop a mental model of other people is a very successful evolved trait. The model we develop of close friends is such a good approximation that many people (especially theists) are prone to believe it's the real thing. Maybe that's where this "afterlife" nonsense originated.

So I'm asking you to use your mental model of me. Imagine conversations with me and don't feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. Even though I'm gone, I live on in you. I know it's not exactly me, but at this point in time, there is no closer approximation. There's no shame in summoning my "ghost" for a conversation whenever it would help you. I wouldn't be bothered, but proud. In fact, It's the closest thing I will ever get to immortality. I trust that your model of me will be faithful to my true personality, and I hope it's useful to you.

While this "virtual me" won't be able to help you solve linear algebra problems, it will be there to listen to your thoughts and fears, and even give the same kind of advice I might have given if I had been able to. I sincerely wish I could. It's not exactly my mind, but it's close. This is the immortality of the atheist mind.

But what of my body? 

With any luck, I will have lived a long and joyous life. My body was hopefully pretty worn out by age. Both the heaven and the hell camp will tell you that I'll get a new body. The former to enjoy my eternal life. The latter so I can be mercilessly tortured for eternity. Both are pretty absurd, don't you think?

One like this is just fine. Don't even splurge on poplar. It's just going to decay! Honestly, it's just a convenient way to lug my dead ass around. 
I'd like a natural burial. Make something natural and beautiful from my body.  A tree, not a cement vault. Don't waste formaldehyde or expensive coffins on me.  A pine box will do just fine (Just don't put a fucking cross on it!). You can even make it yourself. Do it as a Boy Scouts project. Shouldn't be more than $500 in lumber from the hardware store. If you want to wait to have the funeral service when more family can attend, just put my corpse on dry-ice or have me refrigerated commercially. I won't mind. I'm not using it anymore.

Once I'm back in the ground from which my molecules came, you can come visit the nature that takes hold of my nutrients and reuses them. We did this as a family with our dog, Barley in 2014. The tree we planted on his grave was a present and beautiful reminder of his life. Keep me close if you wish or put me in a natural cemetery if you prefer. You could even donate it to forensic science [2].

Don't feel like you have to obey my wishes. Simply honor my memory for your own gratification. I'm done with these molecules.  I was just borrowing them from nature for a while, and I trust you to chose a fitting method to return it to nature. At this point, my corpse is nothing more than a token of my life to help you remember me. I'm done with it. It's yours.

Regardless of your choice, I take comfort in the knowledge that the molecules that once formed my body will eventually rejoin the web of life on earth. That is the immortality of an atheist's body.

End Notes

  1. Some "religious" or "spiritual" people misattribute our capability for accurate imagined conversations to an ability to legitimately communicate with a living spirit of someone who has died. I wonder if such an attribution wasn't a contributing factor to the mythology surrounding "souls". This is the sort of unfounded model of the world that I found irritating. So I suppose like all good myths and legends, there's a kernel of truth near the bottom. 
  2. I could help detectives learn to identify the age of bodies discovered under various conditions. That'd be kinda' cool. Maybe my body could help solve a murder. 

No comments :

Post a Comment