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I believe that after we die there is nothing. The same that was before being born. So while I won’t care about not existing when it happens, the thought of it does bother me now, as I like being and would like for that to continue.

When I close my eyes I see darkness, black. But according to various sources, blind people see nothing. I’m not capable of imagining what seeing nothing really means, but I have wondered often that it may get one a step closer to being able to understand what it is to be nothing (or, more accurately, to not be). To clarify, I’m not claiming to believe blind people have a deeper understanding of non-existence, just that they have an extra data point, an experience that I don’t that may allow new insights on how to rationalise the process.

I am interested in this notion of non-existence, and would like some recommendations on it. On first look I thought ontology would be the branch of philosophy to read on (I’m not completely convinced it isn’t), but I’ve read part of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and what he discusses isn’t exactly what I’m looking for. I also found the writing somewhat boring.

I’ve also started to look into Yale’s course on Death and found the first few videos interesting (I’m less than a fifth in) and don’t know yet if it’s what I’m looking for, but it’s interesting enough for me to keep watching.

What’s the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with non-existence, especially after death? What good literature is there on it? The more logical the arguments, the better. Please be specific in your recommendations. I’m looking for “read this book by this person”, not “read the entire history of this religion, as sometimes they mention it”.

  • I don't have an answer, but just a comment about what seeing darkness might be like. While on a tour with many others in a cave the guide told us that he was going to turn off the lights to show us total darkness. When he did so it felt as if space had collapsed onto my face. This might be even darker than what blind people experience, but I wouldn't know. – Frank Hubeny Jun 18 '18 at 0:30
  • "Death is only the end if you think the story is about you" You are not a Cartesian 'cogitoer', you came from a context, and a context will remain after you, a little changed. It is baffling vanity to not see or value that. – CriglCragl Jun 18 '18 at 12:18
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    @FrankHubeny “This might be even darker than what blind people experience”. To clarify, in the reports I’ve seen where it’s mentioned blind people don’t see anything, not black, not darkness, just nothing, some of these are from formerly sighted people, so they’d know the difference. – user137369 Jun 18 '18 at 15:29
  • @CriglCragl I don’t see your point. I don’t think “the story” is about anyone. I think we all don’t matter equally. What difference is it to me that there are contexts before and after me? My existence consists of my experiences. When I’m no longer around to experience anything, by definition I won’t care about past of future events. – user137369 Jun 18 '18 at 15:32
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    "to being able to understand what it is to be nothing (or, more accurately, to not be)." Isn't it the case that there is nothing it is like to be nothing? Zero experiences. By definition, you can't experience a lack of experience. Or to put it a funny way: Remember before you were born, how that was? Being dead will feel like that. – Chelonian Jun 18 '18 at 17:27
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Aha, an easy question for a change. The entire literature of the Perennial philosophy, mysticism, nondualism, call it what you will, is devoted to explaining that you do not exist, or at least not in the way you usually imagine. This is said to be what we discover if we take the advice to 'Know Thyself'.

Middle Way Buddhism, for instance, is philosophically grounded on Nagarjuna's logical proof that nothing really exists and nothing ever really happens. You might like to check out the doctrine of 'dependent existence' and the theory of emptiness. Radhkrishnan's 'Philosophy of the Upanishads' might be a useful starting point, or Gyamptso's book on Nagarjuna 'The Sun of Wisdom' (Shambala)

And then of course, there's the cantor, the rabbi and the janitor.

The cantor (he's the guy who sings in Jewish services) was getting ready to leave and was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of devotion. He went up to the front of the temple, got down on his knees and called out,"Oh Lord, Lord, I am the least of your children. Truly I am nothing."

The rabbi happened to see this, and went up to the front, sat down next to the cantor, and cried out, "Oh Lord, I too am the lowest of the low. Oh truly, truly, I am nothing."

Well, the janitor happened to overhear this as he was sweeping, and went down and sat down on the other side of the cantor, and poured out his devotion, "Lord, Lord, Lord, I am less than the dust at your feet. Truly, I am nothing."

At which point the rabbi jabbed the cantor in the ribs and said, "Hah! Look who thinks HE'S nothing!"

  • I believe I exist in some form and will cease to. Asking me to chuck all that away and concentrate on the entirely different premisse that I don’t exist right now doesn’t really answer the question. – user137369 Jun 18 '18 at 15:48
  • @user137369 - You asked who studied this issue and where to find relevant literature and I told you. I;m afraid I can no better. – PeterJ Jun 19 '18 at 10:02
  • “You asked who studied this issue and where to find relevant literature and I told you”. Thank you for the recommendation, but I disagree the literature was relevant. – user137369 Jun 19 '18 at 11:53
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The problem of fear of death is that it's an irrational fear:

If I am, then death is not.If Death is, then I am not.Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not. (Epicurus)

If fear of death is irrational, then why do we fear death? Because we are not completely intelligent creatures, but we have an irrational organismic side, a result of which is that we are controlled by instincts, specifically here the instinct of self-preservation, which is:

Natural or instinctive tendency to act so as to preserve one's own existence.

This is only why we fear death.


Kierkegaard was the first to make a clear distinction between fear and anxiety (dread); he contrasted fear that is fear of some thing with dread that is a fear of no thing-"not," as he wryly noted, "a nothing with which the individual has nothing to do." (Existential psychotherapy)

The way we deal with anxiety is by transforming it into a fear, as fear can be defined and dealt with:

The nothing which is the object of dread becomes, as it were, more and more a something.(Kierkegaard, Concept of Dread, P. 55)

The nothing here is death and the something could be anything (Ex: social anxiety). Death is nothing, because as I mentioned before, it's irrational due to being an instinct.

This leads to the fact that fear of death rarely comes in its non diluted literal form, it usually comes in the form of a seemingly unrelated manifestation.

What the genius Kierkegaard is point to, is a defense mechanism which leads to the repression of death anxiety.

This is what Ernest Becker says on the repression of death anxiety:

If this fear were as constantly conscious, we should be unable to function normally. It must be properly repressed to keep us living with any modicum of comfort. We know very well that to repress means more than to put away and to forget that which was put away and the place where we put it. It means also to maintain a constant psychological effort to keep the lid on and inwardly never relax our watchfulness. (The denial of death, p.17)

What we conclude, is that who repress pay the price of their repression (Endless death anxiety manifestations) and who does not repress (as in your case) will pay the price of not repressing (Death anxiety).

Every conscious existence will have to pay for their existence, unless you are not a maniac free of the body and its guilt, you will pay.

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    You seem to already be making the concluding argument that fear of death is irrational. But I’m not looking for such a conclusion. I know fear of death is irrational. I don’t want conclusions handed, I want literature on the process that will make me arrive to my conclusions in a way that I’m ultimately satisfied with. – user137369 Jun 18 '18 at 16:01
  • What i wanted to conclude that, it's a dead end: Either deny death or fear it, there is no coming with terms with death. – Themobisback Jun 19 '18 at 1:39
  • All due respect, I didn’t ask for conclusions, I asked for literature. I already agree with your conclusion, what I want are more in-depth arguments to study. – user137369 Jun 19 '18 at 11:55
  • @user137369 - Okay. My bad. I wonder why you asked about the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with non-existence, especially after death. I know of only one. – PeterJ Jun 19 '18 at 14:38

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