Saturday, July 20, 2024

Quelling the Fear of Death

My Mom, who is dying of pancreatic cancer, is at peace with dying, and I both admire and feel inspired by her calm.  Today’s post is my tribute to her bravery. 

Death is all around us on TV, the movies, and the news.  But we don’t seriously contemplate it or talk about it, in part because we’re too busy climbing the ladder and paying the bills and raising kids, and in part because it’s taboo.  We’re not really allowed, socially, to talk seriously about death until we’re directly faced with it, whether through loss of a loved one, a near death experience, or a diagnosis of a terminal illness.  OK, maybe the philosophers get a free pass on this, but for the rest of us, talking too much or too deeply about death is in poor taste.

Luckily, I’m a philosopher, and I don’t much care about having poor taste, but there are lots of other reasons I’ve been thinking deeply about death:

·       Mom. 

·       I’m 47, the perfect time for a midlife crisis.  I am, for the first time, witnessing the decay of my body.  I have significantly less energy and it feels like half of what I do is just to slow down the decay.

·       I am financially independent and no longer need to work to pay the bills.  My wife and I have no children, and I have few responsibilities, allowing me to be in the position that…

·       I think deeply about a variety of interesting problems in philosophy and physics, and one of those problems is, of course, death.

There are lots of reasons that it’s difficult to talk deeply about death, the most obvious of which is that it’s terrifying to many people.  We can see a skull at some historical site in Europe, or a beheading on Game of Thrones, or kids covered in fake blood on Halloween, because these are mere hints of death.  They’re not real, and even if they’re real, they’re not me.  I can imagine someone else’s death without having to imagine my own.

But death is nothing to fear.  Seriously.  OK, maybe there’s some justified anxiety about the unknown, the same a 16th-century European might have felt boarding a ship bound for the New World, leaving his worldly possessions behind and not knowing what to expect in his new life.  But an absolute terror of death is unjustified and I’ll explain why.  I laid out the logic more clearly in a previous post, but essentially it comes down to this.  Either:

a)     There is no afterlife – in other words, your consciousness permanently ceases at death; or

b)     There is an afterlife – in other words, your consciousness does not permanently cease at death.

These are the only two possibilities.  If a) is true, then there is nothing to fear at death because you cannot experience pain or sadness or regret or any other scary emotion if your consciousness has permanently ceased.[1]  But if b) is true, then the afterlife is only something to be feared if it’s a net painful place, like the Christian Fundamentalist notion of Hell.  If it’s not – that is, if the afterlife is not, on net, a painful or pleasurable place – then the afterlife will continue, like life, to consist of a variety of sensations and experiences, some of which will be happy, sad, pleasurable, painful, insightful, boring, confusing, scary, liberating, etc.

I’m more than a little bit skeptical of the Christian Fundamentalist notion of Hell.  In my early college book, At Least in Hell the Christians Won’t Harass Me, I laid out some good evidence, much based on logic and even mathematics, that such a Hell does not and cannot exist.  The same evidence rules out an eternally pleasurable Heaven, of course, leaving the only remaining option that one will experience a wide variety of emotions and sensations, some positive and some negative, in the afterlife.

Hence, I don’t know how I’ll feel or what I’ll experience immediately after death, but I have just as much reason to expect pleasure as pain.[2]  In fact, if I am experiencing chronic pain in this earthly body prior to death, it’s likely that death will bring relief.  Certainly, like a 16th-century explorer traveling to the New World, I’ll be sad about what (and whom) I’ll leave behind, but there is also good reason to be excited about what lies ahead.

Speaking of what I’ll leave behind, it’s important to realize that I don’t own anything, including the body in which I inhabit.  This body, my house, and everything around me will, in the blink of an eye, return to the earth as dust.  They are fleeting and ephemeral.  My wife’s body, the bodies of all my friends and family – they too are decaying and will soon be reabsorbed into the air and soil.  There is no saving them.  The face I see in a mirror will, very soon, look like an old man’s.  And soon I will no longer see out of these eyes at all, nor will I feel with this skin or hear with these ears.  They are not mine and they are not me.  I am my consciousness, my awareness.  I am my experiences and thoughts and memories.  I will continue to have thoughts and experiences and to make memories after this body has perished.  There is no reason to try to save what cannot be saved.  There is no reason to postpone the inevitable for the sake of postponement. 

Unfortunately, the fear of death and our general societal fixation on treating all human life as always worth living lead to cases in which life is irrationally extended even in cases of chronic pain and poor life quality.  Much of the suffering in the world is caused by the belief that any living – no matter what the conditions or how painful – is better than no living.  This belief causes people to increase their pain thresholds to be willing to endure almost anything, but to what end?  More pain, of course.  If people could rid themselves of their fear of death, then I posit there would be less suffering in the world.

Let me offer an analogy.  Imagine you’re at a party.  You’ve had a good time connecting with friends, dancing, whatever, but it’s getting late and you’re tired.  You’re not having fun anymore and it’s becoming positively painful to keep up the effort.  You’d leave, right?

Now imagine there’s a Magic Bus that takes you to every destination and event in your life.  As soon as you leave one event, you get on the bus and it takes you to the next one.  You don’t know what it will be – it could be home to sleep, another party, your niece’s high school graduation, a colonoscopy, your workplace, the DMV, a Nickelback concert, etc. 

Imagine again that you’re at a party.  You’ve had a good time but you’re tired and not having fun anymore.  You know that the Magic Bus is outside waiting to take you to your next (predetermined but unknown) destination.  You’d still leave the party, right?

Of course you would.  Why would you endure pain at Event A just to postpone the possibility of pain at Event B, given that: a) Event B is inevitable; and b) there is no evidence that Event B will be painful?

It’s the same with death.  Death is inevitable and there is no evidence that you’ll have a consciously painful experience after death.  It would be irrational to indulge your fear of the unknown and indefinitely postpone death at the price of, for example, chronic pain.

Having said that, we humans are irrational in many ways.  We often fear pain and loss more than we anticipate an equal amount of pleasure and gain.  For example, let’s say that someone is going to either give you $10 or take $10 from you based on the result of a coin flip.  It’s going to happen right now unless you pay a fee of $1 per hour to postpone it.  Rationally, you know it makes no sense to pay the “postponement fee.”  Now, change these win/loss values to something significant to you – for example, you’ll either win $100,000 or you’ll owe $100,000 – and you will probably be tempted to pay the postponement fee for at least a while.  Tempted or not, you know it’s a bad decision. 

Like my mother, I don’t want to fear death or irrationally extend life, paying a “postponement fee,” to procrastinate moving on to my next destination.  I want to get up in the morning because I am excited about living, not because I am terrified of dying.  I want to be prepared to die and even, ideally, looking forward to it, so that living is a courageous choice, not merely the default.  Life has to be good if it is to be worth living.

Of course, this isn’t an argument to leave the party the very moment you experience pain or discomfort.  Not every moment of a party is fun.  However, there does come a moment when you’re ready to go home, and that’s when it becomes irrational to stick around merely due to the fear of the unknown.

Mom is ready to go home.

[1] This is an awful mistake made by the entertaining but death-obsessed Game of Thrones.  In Season 6, Jon Snow is revived from death by priestess Melisandre.  She asks: “What did you see [in the afterlife]?”  And he replies: “Nothing, there was nothing at all.”  But this is nonsensical.  You cannot experience nothingness.  If there truly was no afterlife, then Jon’s experience, after dying, would have felt like instantaneously awakening upon his revival.  He would not say that the afterlife felt like nothing, because he would not experience the passing of time, or an awareness of nothing, if he was not consciously experiencing anything.

[2] There is actually much more legitimate scientific literature on Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) and Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs) than I had expected, as in this article and this article.  One surprising observation is that the majority of those who have NDEs not only have a very lucid and positive experience, they also stop fearing death!  This is similar to the experience that some have while taking psychedelic drugs, like LSD or psilocybin, in therapeutic settings.  I talk about my own psychedelic awakening in this video.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Abortion and “Enthusiastic Consent” to Being Born

As I mentioned in my last post, my Mom is terminally ill with pancreatic cancer.  There are probably options, if we looked hard enough for medical trials, to extend her life a little bit, but at what cost to her happiness and comfort?  If she is poked and prodded and given drugs that have nasty side effects and then given even more drugs to treat those side effects, if she adds another month of “life” that’s just plain miserable, then what’s the point?  Luckily, my Mom has the same viewpoint so we are now in the emotional phase of relishing our final time together, reminiscing, connecting, and laughing.

We live in a world in which human life is treated as paramount, as having essentially infinite importance and value.  I am truly grateful for good medicine and good doctors, but there is far too much emphasis on extending every life as long as physically possible, often without really considering that some life is just not worth living.

Indeed, our entire legal system is premised on the unjustified assumption that every life is worth living.  For example, suicide is illegal in most states.  (In 11 jurisdictions, physician-assisted suicide is legal only in the case of terminally ill patients who are in chronic pain.)  But what about a physically healthy person who just decides, rationally, that his life is not worth living?  That position is often the result of temporary depression or poor mental health, but not always.

This idea made me think of something else.  What’s true on the back end is true on the front end: we can’t assume that every life is worth living, even from its inception.  Consider the controversy over abortion laws in the United States in light of the overturn of Roe v. Wade.  The debate almost always comes down, in one form or another, to the question, “When is a fetus a human child worthy of legal protection?”  If a 12-week-old fetus is a child, then abortion is potentially murder; if the fetus is a parasite, then an abortion is a helpful medical procedure.

But here’s something interesting: in essentially every abortion debate, whether one is arguing for the “right (of the woman) to choose” or the “right (of the child) to life,” it is assumed that the fetus, if it developed into a child, would want to be born – specifically, to the woman, family, socioeconomic status, race, nationality, etc., to which it would be born.  Is that a fair assumption?  Is it at all justified?  Even if a given fetus actually is a human child worthy of legal protection, would it necessarily want to be born? 

A woman who wants an abortion does not want that child.  Perhaps she’s not ready; perhaps she was raped; perhaps she is homeless and destitute; perhaps she has a heritable disease; perhaps she’s a heroin addict who can only think about her next fix.  If you could ask a fetus whether it wanted to be born to that mother, in that location, in that situation – why would we assume the answer would be “yes”?

Indeed, there are lots of people, many of whom actually do eventually commit suicide, who are chronically unhappy or in psychological or physical pain because of the family, status, or situation into which they were born.  There are lots of people who, now alive and conscious, rationally wish they’d never been born, whose very birth gave rise to a lifetime of misery.

Side note: “Enthusiastic consent” is a buzzword now, especially in light of #MeToo.  It’s important, before two people are physically intimate, that they both clearly consent to the act, understand what they are consenting to, and are able to consent (e.g., not drunk).  But the very state of existing or not existing is perhaps THE most important decision anyone can make, so why aren’t people talking about enthusiastic consent to be created?

First, no fetus or child has ever consented, enthusiastically or otherwise, to be created or born.  Second, some fetuses and children, if they could have considered the conditions of their birth, would rationally have chosen not to be born.  So why does the “right to life” position always assume that imbuing a child with a right to life necessitates that the child would choose life?  My right to property, for example, allows me to decide not to own property, so why would a right to life – if a fetus possesses it – require the fetus to choose life?

This is an interesting argument and one that no one seems to be making.  Specifically, everyone (on both sides of the debate) seems to assume that a child would choose to live.  Not only is this patently false, but more importantly, when it comes to the most intimate and important action that can be taken with regard to a person – bringing that person into existence – that person never consented! 


Not a single person who has ever lived consented, enthusiastically or otherwise, to being born. 


This is a fascinating and important point for a few reasons.  First, I think that abortion might sometimes be a moral imperative, such as if a mother has good reason to think that the fetus, if it was born and lived long enough to make an informed decision, would genuinely wish that it had not been born.  Second, in the abortion debate, we really should recognize our unfounded assumption that a “right to life” does not automatically imply a preference or choice to live, and address that all children are brought into the world without their consent.

Finally, if I, personally, never consented to being born, then how can I possibly have any responsibilities as a result?  Despite over two years passing since my post on midlife and meaning, I continue to feel some anxiety over how I should spend my time.  A lot of it hinges on a variety of self- or societal-imposed responsibilities and obligations, but the realization that I never consented to my own birth makes me skeptical of many of these.  Why do I have to mow the lawn, for example? 

I think a lot of my own anxieties stem from a mismatch between what I want to do and what I think I should do.  But I really don’t have any responsibilities – how could I, if I never consented to being here in the first place?

When I think of it this way, it makes me realize that many (maybe even most?) of my “shoulds” are actually things I want to do.  For instance, I’ve had a mostly pescatarian diet for over a decade now, because I’m morally opposed to the animal abuse that pervades the meat industry.   (No, I don’t think fish or sea bugs are conscious.)  My diet is an annoying “should,” but now I realize that I actually want to eat in a way that doesn’t torture (potentially sentient) animals.

Having said that, a lot of my anxiety-producing “shoulds” are truly inconsistent with what I want, so maybe it’s time to let those go.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Mom, Cancer, Serendipity, and God

My mother has stage 3 pancreatic cancer.  She will soon leave this earth, but while her body is quickly fading, her mind and spirit are still there.  When she laughs, the twinkle in her eye is still hers.  She’s still there, and my family (and extended God-family) and I are relishing our remaining time with her.

We treated her to several days at Ocean City, Maryland, where we rented a penthouse condo overlooking the boardwalk, shops, and Atlantic Ocean below.  One evening, my sister and I put together a slide show to reminisce about past laughs, adventures, and tender moments.  In the middle of it, we were interrupted by a magnificent fireworks display – the kind you’d see on the 4th of July in a medium-sized city – exploding above the beach directly in front of us and at exactly our altitude.  It was almost as if the display, which serendipitously began in the middle of an emotion-packed slide show, had been intentionally perfectly centered in our line of sight as we gazed out over the vast ocean.

My initial thought was: was this an amazing coincidence or actually God’s hand?  It happened on Monday, July 8.  It’s hard to explain why the fireworks would have happened at that exact location and in the middle of our slide show four days after the 4th of July.  Obviously, far more impressive coincidences happen all the time.  Still, I think that God can and does intervene in the physical world.  However, given that God created the laws of physics – and has good reason to respect his own creation – then let’s assume that God’s power to meddle with the physical world is limited to “highly amplified quantum events” (HAQEs).  In other words, if God had actually intended to create an emotionally meaningful fireworks display to augment our slide show, then it would have been via the process of taking advantage of quantum events that get magnified chaotically to macroscopic outcomes; it would not have been via the process of unilaterally inserting fireworks into the beach, lighting them, etc.

By the way, physicists who take seriously the possibility of human free will usually make use of HAQEs (albeit with different terminology), since the ability to choose the outcome of a single quantum event (or even when a quantum event “collapses” into an outcome) can allow for free will without necessarily violating any known laws of physics. 

So let’s assume that God can manipulate quantum objects within the bounds of known physics – i.e., God can cause quantum collapse events and can choose the outcomes to the extent of their possibilities.  Here’s my question: could God have caused the fireworks display to happen at that exact place and precisely when we were doing the slide show?

Here’s a potential scenario to further elucidate the problem.  The fireworks themselves have to be planned well in advance: they have to be purchased and received; the pyrotechnics people must be hired for a particular day; the beach must be cleared; the fireworks must be mounted and connected to a control panel; and so forth.  Each one of these macroscopic events could have been (and to some extent probably was) ultimately caused by a HAQE, but how far back in time would we have to go to find the “source” HAQE for each of these macroscopic events?  For instance, perhaps it was the Mayor of Ocean City who determines exactly when the 4th-of-July fireworks are set off, and perhaps she was particularly concerned about bad weather.  Weather is the quintessential example of chaotic amplifications of quantum events – indeed, the well-known “butterfly effect” is an example of how a butterfly’s wings can affect weather!  God could easily have invoked HAQEs to cause thunderstorms on all the nights leading up the 8th, at which point the frustrated mayor would have decided it was finally time to light up the belated Independence Day display.

So, anyway, it’s an interesting physics question about the extent to which divine events or miracles are within the scope of the known laws of physics, a question that I will continue to ponder in the coming years.

And that’s what I initially pondered at the moment which was, as you recall, when a fireworks display interrupted a slide show tribute to my Mom.  Coincidence or not, there was a certain divine magic to it. 

I sat next to her and held her hand – the bony hand of a quickly decaying body – as we watched a loud, obnoxious, beautiful display that very well may have been meant for our eyes.  I felt overwhelmed by the absurdity of the situation, the sadness I felt, the depth of meaning and emotion I was experiencing.  I felt an intense gratitude for the opportunity to experience such love for and from this woman, a silly giddiness at how simple everything seemed in that moment.  I felt intense pain and intense joy at the same time.  I squeezed her hand and sobbed deeply.

On one hand, how tragic that I would soon no longer taste her homemade cheesecake or hear one of her terrible jokes in which she starts laughing before reaching the punchline.  On the other hand, how wonderful that her cheesecakes and terrible jokes have brought me so much happiness in the past.  How dare God take this woman away from me.  Then again, as overwhelmingly sad as I feel, thank God for giving me a Mom whose loss would make me feel so overwhelmingly sad. 

Out of my joy is born sorrow, and vice versa.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

YouTube Channel: @AndrewKnightMIT

 After a long hiatus, I am back -- focused and ready to continue tackling the difficult and fascinating questions in the philosophy of physics and consciousness.  I am also investing in my YouTube channel, focusing on clear explanations of difficult concepts to the lay audience.  Here's my most recent video, showing a logical proof why computers will never be conscious, mind uploading is impossible, and more than one instance of a person's conscious state can't exist at more than one place or time in the universe.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Is Time Travel Possible? Part 4

In three previous posts, I discussed whether time travel is possible.

This paper, just posted on the ArXiv, argues that time travel into the past is logically incompatible with quantum  mechanics.  Here is the abstract:

Because closed timelike curves are consistent with general relativity, many have asserted that time travel into the past is physically possible if not technologically infeasible. However, the possibility of time travel into the past rests on the unstated and false assumption that zero change to the past implies zero change to the present. I show that this assumption is logically inconsistent; as such, it renders time travel into the past both unscientific and pseudoscientific.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

YOLO, Midlife Crisis, and Meaning

Either consciousness is eternal or it’s not.  If it’s not, then there will be a point in time at which the only remaining/lasting legacy of our existence, our decisions and choices, our pleasure and pain, will be nothing more than the distribution of atoms, in one way versus another, throughout a cold, lifeless, quiet universe.  How could that matter?  If there is no one to whom it could matter, then it truly is meaningless.


I am having an existential crisis.  I’m 44, so you might just say that this a midlife crisis, and maybe it is.  Not to minimize a midlife crisis, but I also think I’m in a fundamentally different situation from most people my age.  I am financially independent and don’t have children, so already I have significantly more time than most to wonder about purpose and meaning.  Add to that the fact I’ve spent the last few years thinking deeply about some of the hardest and deepest problems in philosophy and physics. 

It’s very hard to ruminate on deep questions about the universe without also contemplating the nature of existence itself.  For example, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years contemplating whether the physical world is deterministic or reversible, whether quantum mechanics implies the creation of new information, whether we have free will and how free will might relate to quantum mechanics, whether a conscious state is entirely determined by the physical state within a local volume (like within a skull), whether consciousness can be physically duplicated or instantiated on a computer, and so forth.  It’s hard to do these things nearly full time, without the distractions of children and debt, at an age that many would regard as midlife, without also staring down the barrel of my own mortality.

There are times when I envy my friends who have children and jobs and debt and never-ending to-do lists.  These constant distractions are, in some sense, a luxury that allows people to divert their attention away from the ticking clock.  But I stare at it.  And it’s terrifying, particularly when I mindlessly accept this overarching and pervasive societal message: you have to live meaningfully but you have very limited time in which to do it.  Life matters, but you only have a few years.  That irritating acronym “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) may not come up much in polite conversation anymore, but its message is everywhere.  Change the world.  Leave a legacy.  Do what matters.  And do it now because you’re running out of time. 

No wonder the world is anxious.  I, for one, am experiencing incredible anxiety and insecurity about how I should spend my time.  After all, now that I know my time on Earth is (at best) half over, and that what I’m capable of will likely decay with time, it’s hard not to freak out about how to live most meaningfully in the time I have left.

But the YOLO message is actually a contradiction, and all contradictions are false.  Let’s break the message into Premises 1 and 2:

1)     You have limited time; consciousness permanently ends at death.[1]  (Logically, it could end at some time other than physical death, which wouldn’t affect the following argument.  But most people who believe Premise 1 believe that the human brain is entirely responsible for creating consciousness[2], in which case death of one’s brain would bring about an end to his consciousness.)

2)     What you do matters; how you spend your time matters.

I will argue that these two premises are contradictory.  Either or both are wrong.

Certainly most people want to believe Premise 2; I don’t know anyone who wants to believe that life is pointless.  Many people who believe Premise 1 and want to believe (or do believe) Premise 2 give this line of reasoning: “Sure, the things I do on Earth won’t matter to me after I’m dead, since I won’t exist anymore.  But they still matter to other people, and that’s what gave them meaning while I was alive.” 

In other words: “My life matters because it matters to others.”  This is the notion of legacy that people like to leave, such as through descendants, lasting impacts on the world, and so forth.  The problem is that there’s a circularity to the logic (and circular arguments are not valid).  The life of A has meaning, even after A is dead, because of his impact on B.  But why does B’s life matter?  Well, it matters, of course, because of B’s impact on C.  And C’s life matters because of her impact on D, and so on down the line.  But what if D’s life in fact does not matter?  Then neither can A’s, B’s, or C’s, because their meaning all depended on the meaning of D’s.

If one’s life is only meaningful to the extent of one’s impact on others, and if the lives of those others are only meaningful to the extent of their impact on still others, and on and on, then meaning is a metaphysical Ponzi scheme.  If true, the meaning of life would depend on an eternally unbroken chain of consciousness – that is, there must always be something conscious in the universe that is impacted by the previous lives of other conscious beings to justify the meaning in their lives.

The problem here is that physicists (who overwhelmingly believe Premise 1) would nearly unanimously agree that at some point in time the very last conscious being will die – i.e., that there cannot always be consciousness in the universe because the universe will not remain hospitable to life indefinitely.  Specifically, even if the “Big Crunch” or the “Big Rip” don’t kill off everything, the eventual heat death of the universe will.

So if no one’s life has meaning in and of itself – if any given person’s life matters only to the extent of his impact on others – then all life is indeed meaningless.  I’m certainly not saying that one’s children, or the process of leaving one’s legacy, can’t be deeply meaningful to a person.  I’m simply saying that that can’t be the entire source of life’s meaning, otherwise no life could have meaning at all.  If life does have meaning, it must have meaning at least to some extent for its own sake.  A person who believes in Premise 1 and really wants to believe Premise 2 cannot make them compatible simply by claiming that “My life matters because it matters to others.”  That won’t work.

In many ways, I’ve said something far simpler.  If the net result of all of our lives and decisions is just the scattering of dust in a cold, lifeless universe, then what’s the point of it all?  (Cue Kansas’ Dust in the Wind…)  In other words, if Premise 1 is true, then there is no meaning to life and nothing matters.  You cannot bootstrap meaning in your own life by mattering to others, because, if Premise 1 is true, there is also no meaning to their lives.  It doesn’t matter that you matter to others who don’t matter. 

Here’s my point.  Either what I do matters or it doesn’t.  Premise 1 implies that it doesn’t, which is in direct contradiction with Premise 2.  They cannot both be true. 

So if Premise 2 is true then Premise 1 is false.  If what I do matters, then my consciousness will not permanently end at death (or at all), in which case I have plenty of time to do what matters.  But if Premise 2 is false – if what I do doesn’t matter – then why the fuck am I so worried about running out of time?

As it turns out, I believe that my consciousness is eternal, but I have been very much acting as if everything I want to do or experience must be done in the short term.  That’s irrational.

I have not tried to be precise in this post with my language or argumentation.  What it means for something to “matter” or “be meaningful” is subjective, and I certainly don’t claim that this line of reasoning proves the existence of an afterlife or eternal consciousness.  I believe I have, in papers and previous posts, proven some important and very relevant facts, such as that a conscious state cannot be copied or instantiated on a computer and that a conscious state cannot be entirely determined by the information in a local volume (such as a brain), among other things.  For instance, if the information that physically produces a conscious state is not (and cannot be) contained entirely in the brain, then already there is good reason to doubt the zealotry of scientists who claim, with arrogant certainty, that brain death permanently erases consciousness.  They don’t know.  Nevertheless, though I believe my consciousness is eternal, my goal here is not to prove it, if such a proof were even possible.

Rather, my goal here is to point out that the YOLO dogma is bullshit.  We are told from every angle that we must amount to something, we must live fully and meaningfully, we must make a difference and leave a legacy – AND that we only have one lifetime in which to do it before the lights go out for eternity.  But that makes no sense.  Those messages are contradictory.  Because if my lights go out for eternity, then what I did on Earth certainly won’t matter to me, and if your lights go out for eternity, then they won’t matter to you either.  If there’s no me to regret having failed to make a difference and leave a legacy, then why put in all the effort to make a difference and leave a legacy?  Why worry about not having enough time to do everything I want to do?  Either I have plenty of time (because my consciousness survives death) or, when I die, I’ll no longer be conscious and capable of regretting.  If death is an eternal lack of existence, then any impact I leave on other people will necessarily be lost, enduring legacies are impossible, and nothing I do matters.  But if death is not an eternal lack of existence, then I’m not running out of time to live meaningfully!

That’s not entirely the end of the story.  First, I still don’t know whether or not what I do matters (or how much it matters).  Eternal consciousness does not tell me much about how much meaning my life and decisions have, just that meaning is possible.  For example, maybe free will is an illusion, in which case I cannot do anything meaningful because I cannot choose to do anything at all.  I think much more likely is that some of what I do is meaningful, but I vastly overinflate the importance of most of it.

Second, even if (as I believe) consciousness is eternal, physical death certainly happens and at that time I don’t know what I’ll perceive or experience, but it’s unlikely I will experience consciousness through a human body on Earth.  There probably are a lot of opportunities that will be foreclosed at that time, so if I want to make a positive difference on Earth, then I should do it now, while I’m here.  I also have no idea whether I will be able to continue my relationships with people in the afterlife, so I would want to enjoy those relationships now while I can.

[1] Note: Most people who believe Premise 1 don’t believe in God, and most who believe in God don’t believe Premise 1.

[2] I have shown this is false, but no one listens to me anyway.