Is That All There Is?

We humans can’t imagine non-existence. Hardly surprising, since it’s a contradiction: “how will I feel when I can’t feel?”, but the traditional way out of this conundrum has been to make something up about “the afterlife” or “heaven” or “becoming one with the infinite”.

I’m no different from anyone else. I can’t actually envisage the unenvisageable, even though I’m quite sure that life is all there is, and that the end really is the end. Here’s how I think about it: when I was at school, I had one of the very early programmable calculators. (No, it wasn’t beads on wires.) By entering a series of codes in a quite cumbersome way, you could get the calculator to do some complex things, like cycle up successive prime numbers, or calculate compound interest, or display rude words when inverted.

BoobiesBut the calculator had no permanent memory, so when you turned it off, the program disappeared forever. Well, I think I’m like that. We all are. Just a software system that has no offline storage.

It’s not a perfect analogy. It can happen that someone is very, very nearly dead and gets resuscitated, and almost always it’s the “same person” who comes back. The latest research is suggesting that long-term memories are encoded in a physical form in the structure of neural connections. That’s robust enough to survive a complete power-down of the hardware, but only very briefly before it unravels beyond repair as it decays.

So where does this get me? When the hardware stops working, the software ceases to run and the essential “me” evaporates and is gone forever. But that’s not a gloomy thought.

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

 

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