Oblivion or How I Learned to Live With the Inevitable
by Nick Brown
“I fear oblivion. I fear it like the proverbial blind mind who’s afraid of the dark.”
– Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars
No, this is not about The Fault in Our Stars (Although, if you have not read the book nor seen the movie, you absolutely should). Instead, I would like to touch on the notion of oblivion, that is, the state of non-being.
As humans with this highly evolved brain, it is hard to think of our nonexistence. What does it mean not to exist, how is that even possible? If we look to the animals around us, they certainly do not have a problem coping with this inevitability! Perhaps this is because they have not been cursed with this (mostly) awesome ability to self-reflect.
So, if we are forced to have this amazing brain, what do we do? Unless you are Augustus Waters, most people deny that it will ever happen. Not in the literal sense of course. Anyone who has ever, well, lived knows how life works, more or less. Rather, most people are able to go through their day-to-day lives, without paying much attention to this admittedly dreary topic. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence for this denial of death. Psychologists call it terror management. People do some funny things when reminded of their far off demise, though I don’t have enough space to describe that research here. It points to something greater – if you deny it, too, you are decidedly normal.
This is not something I have had the best of luck in dealing with over the years, either. Perhaps part of the reason this persists for me is because of the unknown. Lots of people have their own theories about the hereafter—Heaven, Nirvana, reincarnation, or perhaps nothing! If there are so many different possibilities, how could any one of them possibly be “right”?
The answer for me is, “I don’t know.” Admittedly, this is still not the greatest of answers that provides any relief. I am currently reading The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom, and this particularly issue arises. If you had incontrovertible evidence of heaven, could you enjoy life more today? I have realized that it is not worth worrying (too much) over. I am dedicated to living each day as it comes, even if it means laying in bed and reading all day.
This is not a call to “stop worrying” or to adopt (or disavow) any particular belief. I am merely advocating for worrying a little less.
Years ago in a college world religions course, we were studying Christianity, including the Bible. One particular verse has stuck with me for a long while now:
“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
– Matthew 6:27 (NIV)
Do not get me wrong, whenever there is some turbulence on an airplane, I get a little worried. But while I fully expect to live a long and productive life, when it is my time, I have decided that I must welcome this life event as the next great “adventure.”
Nick Brown is a Ph.D. candidate in personality/social psychology. If you are nerdy enough and want to know about his research, you can visit his site at http://nicolasabrown.weebly.com.
 Yes, I am fully aware some animals have self-awareness.
 I really have a hard time with this one, but nonetheless, I respect everyone’s beliefs.