BB #36: Heaven and Hell

BrainFireOnce upon a time I had a theory that Heaven and Hell were what happened at the very last moment of your life. They say  your “life flashes before your eyes” when you’re about to die. What if that’s literally true? What if it really does?

And in that final, eternal moment, when your mind knows “this is the end,” and there’s no more kidding yourself, what if you have to face the person you’ve really been with no filters, no deceptions, no self-rationalizations?

What if, as death stands at our shoulder beckoning, we have an infinite moment of clarity in completely and fully recognizing ourselves.

The thing about the traditional idea of living forever in Heaven (or Hell, especially Hell) was that immortality sounds boring. Science fiction is filled with explorations of the idea of living forever, and the almost universal conclusion is, “No thank you!”

heavenNo matter how great Heaven is, existing in the sense of doing something has to get old eventually. After just six months of baseball, I’m ready to take a couple of months off!

A more coherent idea might be that that afterlife is some other form of consciousness than we know. We join the “over- mind” or whatever. Maintaining any sense of my current self forever just doesn’t sound like fun.

I have wondered about timeless moments, though. What if the last moment of a mind is a knowing one? Maybe even the unconscious mind still has that last moment of being a mind.

And as its reality dissolves around it, that mind experiences one final, timeless moment of self-reflection and honesty. All the little sanity-preserving lies we tell ourselves fall away and for one eternal moment we know the truth about ourselves.

This is just an idle fancy of mine — a Brain Bubble that I had many decades ago. But it stuck with me all these years, and now I pass it on. (I suppose in some ways it was a way to bring the idea of eventual reckoning into a non-theist context.)

Still… I think it stuck because it’s not off-the-chain obvious nonsense.

facesIt’s… “not entirely implausible” shall we say?

We were long advised to wear clean underwear just in case we got in an accident and people saw our unmentionables.

Maybe the reason for living a clean life is that, ultimately, you’re the one that has to face yourself. How do you want to go out, with a smile or a frown?  Do you exit knowing that you tried to live a good life… or knowing that you didn’t?

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

24 responses to “BB #36: Heaven and Hell

  • Hariod Brawn

    This is just bloody frightening.


  • reocochran

    I think this is a great idea and concept of our last moments. Then, once we face them, will it be the end? Will it forward us to another place, then?
    I am sure that, as we get older, we are more introspective, not sure if people really change their paths, but maybe the mistakes they kick themselves for, the ones that may indicate some conscience and guilt, can help us to change. There are some, I am afraid, may never change. The idea of facing ourselves at the end, is interesting. Meanwhile, my agnostic grandfather thought we ought to concentrate on the “Here and Now.” That is indicated in your questions, do you want to end smiling? I do!
    Take it easy, W. S.
    I am so glad the Indians won last night, while I was in amongst family and spectators. Would you have rooted for the KC Royals?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      One thing I’ve learned is that people cover all the bases you can imagine (and then some). I’ve seen people change; I’ve seen people not change. I’ve seen some have huge regrets over tiny things and others able to live with big misdeeds. I’ve seen all types! (I feel like that should all have been said in a Jimmy Cagney voice. I’ve seen all types, see…) 😀

      I actually imagined this version of “Heaven and Hell” during one of my strongly agnostic (leaning atheist) phases in life — rebelling against my pastor dad, no doubt! It puts the final reward or final punishment thing in a new context, and gets around the weird idea of immortality. [shrug]

      In any inter-division game I have to root for whoever is behind, so in this case I would definitely root for Cleveland to take the Royals down a few pegs! Now if someone will just go after the Tigers, please!

      • reocochran

        I can imagine so many different ways that the end could come, kind of hoping that those who are gone, are still part of us, enough that it ‘feels like they are with us.’
        Those Detroit Tigers are the ‘bane of the Indians’ existence!!’ Smiles, Robin

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, the Detroit Tigers… there’s your Hell right there! 😈

  • E.D.

    Last moments, hmmmm, my thoughts only. We have formed thinking habits during a lifetime, at death, i am sure the same old thoughts continue, right to the end. In Hinduism, they name their children after Gods, or Goddesses, Hari, Krishna, Lakshmi or some such name, so when they die, their last thought will be of their child, or children and of course, their name/s. Uttering God’s name at death in Hinduism, means liberation from this realm for evermore. eve

    • Wyrd Smythe

      So those who’ve been kidding themselves all their lives go right on kidding themselves right up to the end? That seems sad to me. It’d be nice to think the weight of karma asserts itself — that self-deception isn’t possible in the final moment — but we are sometimes so good at our illusions!

      • E.D.

        yes but their culture is different and they see things differently.. the magical mystical east has never had two feet on the ground. not like the west.. eve

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, yes, the west is certainly effective, at least technologically. I can’t help but think we miss something the east provides.

  • dianasschwenk

    It sure is an interesting way to look at it Smitty. I think death, feared by most, is a transition to the next life. (for me that is heaven) but even if it’s not. Birth and death have a lot in common to me.

    You’re a baby in the warmth and comfort of the womb. All you have known is life in the womb. You are fed, gently rocked and lulled by the beautiful sound of your mother’s heart.

    Then one day, you feel pressure, you’re squeezed, you are pushed out, in a sense rejected or ejected from everything you have ever known. You have no idea what is coming. Maybe you panic. Maybe you resign yourself to whatever is coming. And whatever is coming is exactly that; whatever.

    You have no idea. It’s scary. Or you just trust that there’s more. Then you’re pushed out. It’s so bright. And maybe even cold. You gasp for breath and cry out. It’s noisy. Somewhere you hear that voice. Your mother’s voice and you know it will be ok.

    Maybe death is like that (the whole light at the end of the tunnel) Suddenly you’re pushed, Squeezed, maybe gasping for your last breath. And you panic. Or you’re afraid. Or you just resign yourself to whatever is coming. Somewhere you hear a familiar voice calling you and you know it will be ok.

    Those are the things I have wondered about…
    Diana xo

    • Wyrd Smythe

      So very true; major life transitions can be pretty scary! One thing about the second one: we face that one with a lifetime of memories and ideas, a sense of having lived. Think we get slapped on the ass after that one, too? 😕

      You’ve got two of the universals there… what’s that they say about “birth, death and taxes”… that some people manage to evade taxes? There’s no skipping out on the lifeline end points!

      We all wonder! We’ll all find out!! o_O

  • wakemenow

    It’s an interesting thought. I’ve wondered about similar endings. But who knows? No one comes back to say for certain, so it’s all up in the air. I’d love to believe in karma, but I’m just not sure what to make of it. Sometimes I’m driven to wonder what Milton Friedman’s dying memories were. Did the man prove to have any regrets, dying while surrounded by loved ones who adored him, who reassured him he’d done no wrong? The thought gives me mixed feelings.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Houdini swore that, if there was any way possible, he’d come back,… or send a message back,… or whatever. He’d make contact somehow. They hold a seance every year on the anniversary of his death, but so far he hasn’t shown up.

      Why Milton Friedman in particular? An example of a dastardly person? [shrug] Who knows, it’s a fancy I thought of a long time ago, but your own mind can tell you something no matter what others might say. In a final moment of pure self-clarity, perhaps one sees the actual, absolute truths.

      Well, to the extent absolute truth exists (which is does in some cases) and to the extent one can know it (which you can at least somewhat). Our minds construct a fabric of knowing lies all the time. Each eye has an actual physical blind-spot — a hole in picture. But our brain lies and covers it up. That’s just a simple low-level one. Higher-level lies smooth the way at high levels.

      It’s not impossible that a dying mind could cast away all that in a final moment of clarity.

      Or it all just goes black. The end.

      Or — here’s a Twilight Zone-y one: Just after you die, for just a few moments, you realize you’re being born again, and that it’s all just a big loop that repeats over and over. But as you’re born, memory fades… 😮

      • wakemenow

        That’s assuming one’s mind truly does take in the big picture and can remove the clouds of perception to illuminate a greater “Truth.” While sometimes our convictions can indeed be lies we tell ourselves to cover up truths we don’t want to reckon with, it’s also possible that a mind is just necessarily limited in what all it can process and comprehend. So, that might lead to no end-of-life epiphanies unless the person in question truly does on some level recognize their cognitive dissonance. But maybe not not all experience that dissonance and simply are being true to themselves and their thought processes, right or wrong. *shrugs*

        I mentioned Milton Friedman because I often wonder if he ever felt bad for the economic policies he advocated, especially after witnessing the downside of their application in countries like Chile. Was just a thought…

        I worry about being reincarnated as a human all over again. Would much rather come back as an earthworm or cicada next time around.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It is based on the premise that we have an innate moral compass and, at some level, do know right from wrong instinctively. What I’m talking about is that inner sense having the last word. A recognition of when and where in life one has not followed (for whatever reason) their compass.

        To the extent people are truly amoral, yeah, there would be no reason for that departing flash of insight. (Unless the universe actually does have some mythological Final Accounting According To The Infinite And Absolute Truths department that pops up with The Last Tax. 🙂 )

        The life of an earthworm, despite what you may have heard, isn’t that interesting. Birds, at least, get a view. 😀

      • wakemenow

        Interesting wasn’t what I was aiming for there.

        I’m not convinced we all share the same sort of moral compass, considering how morality tends to divide up according to in-group vs. out-group preferences. The notion of universal morality, while nice in theory, comes with a lot of caveats depending on the circumstances and one’s loyalties. It’s perfectly possible for two opposing individuals or groups to both be in the moral right by-and-large, yet remain in opposition to one another. We’re not all vying for the same outcomes, so the tactics used can’t help but vary. I realize this sounds like I’m advocating moral relativism, but really it seems we as a species aren’t at the point of overcoming that reality ourselves, and it’s a question if we ever will.

        I wonder about these things a lot though. The animal kingdom can be harsh and cruel in its competition for resources, just as it also fosters symbiotic relationships. Same holds true for people, though we like to think we can grow more enlightened so as to overcome this competitive element and to elevate a more cooperative spirit. Once again, sounds nice in theory, but not all humans are equally constituted it turns out. Some act as predators deserving to be treated as such, even if that causes us to behave viciously in the process. And that winds up boiling down to differences in perception in many cases. It’s a conundrum with no easy answers and few bold moral delineations.

        So perhaps the thoughts that may sweep over us in our final moments are those where we knew we were wrong and acted against that knowledge, but as for the hazier matters, I’m not so sure we can truly come down firmly on one side or the other there.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, that’s really all I’m talking about. That in those final moments we realize the wrongs we did knowing they were wrong — even though we may have lied to ourselves to justify that act at the time.

        Actually, come to think of it, I’m talking about what I sometimes call a “Twilight Zone” moment. The idea of someone having some experience that radically shifts their worldview, usually in a corrective sense that leaves them a better person. There were a lot of Twilight Zone episodes (Outer Limits, too) that followed that “moral lesson” theme. (Vic Morrow was killed while filming a scene for exactly that sort of story for the Twilight Zone movie.) There’s also what happens to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

        I suppose I am also suggesting people’s moral compasses may be more true than we might think, and that a lot of what people do is rationalized. Some part of desire overrules the compass, and we pursue goals that — somewhere deep inside — we know are wrong. It’s funny how often, when you talk to people — especially atheists — about where their morals come from, they so often end up saying, “Well, you just know.”

        That’s striking, that idea that you just know, and you find it from Kant to Hemingway. On the flip side, the (call it the “Lord of the Flies”) idea that we’re basically all just beasts with a thin, easily removed, veneer of civilization.

        I wonder if both aren’t true. We are just beasts, but with an innate spark of something that elevates us and illuminates us. It’s not well-nourished in some people, but (a theory, a hope) it still exists. [But then, I’m a dualist who believes in the possibility of meaning, so naturally I’m inclined to (want to) see things this way. :/ ]

      • wakemenow

        I get what you’re saying here, and I suppose it depends on which day you ask me as to how I’ll respond. lol There does appear to be quite a mix within and among us.

  • Lady from Manila

    The concept that our destination is either heaven or hell after our demise disconcerted me in my much younger years because I had imagined those two places according to Catholic notions and illustration. I wanted to make sure my soul won’t get forked and toasted by the Devil. Now that (I think) I know better, living a clean life makes sense because it’s the only way to go through life – with a clear conscience (until one’s last breath).

    Honestly, my fear is that the physical pain may desensitize everything in us.during our dying moments. 😦

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It’s hard to get past some of those childhood images isn’t it? Pretty strong programming there!

      That clean conscience,… not just a concern for last breath, but in facing the mirror every day.

      I know this much: I want to go when I’m still in control!

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