What is it like to be dead?

February 27, 2008 | By | 36 Replies More

The answer is we don’t know.  

I don’t know.  You don’t know.   No one knows.   That’s it.   Off with you . . .  [I figured that this title would draw some Bible-toting fundies to the site].

So you can all leave now.  There’s nothing here to discuss.  Go visit some other blog post.  Have a nice long life, because at the end of your life, you’ll likely just be dead.  You know, you’ll be

blooey, breathless, buried, cadaverous, checked out, cold, cut off, deceased, defunct, departed, done for, erased, expired, extinct, gone, inanimate, inert, late, lifeless, liquidated, mortified, no more, not existing, offed, passed away, perished, reposing, rubbed out, snuffed out, spiritless, stiff, unanimated, washed up and wasted.

There is no reason to think that any dead person has ever been aware of anything at all.  

I’ll admit that it is possible that at the moment you die, your consciousness will continue.  Maybe you’ll instantly be transported to the far side of the moon to ride a sparkly majestic merry-go-round after you’re dead, but there’s no evidence for that or any other version of continued sentience.  The only evidence is that when you’re dead, you’re dead.  There’s nothing more we can say about it.  There’s no credible report that anyone has returned from the dead to say otherwise.   You didn’t listen; I said “credible.”

. . .  Oh, I see some of you are still hanging around because you can’t accept “I don’t know” for an answer.   I once wrote a post for you guys.   Well, try this.  Just look in a mirror, take a deep breath and say it slowly:  “I don’t know what it’s like to be dead.”  [Bonus points for anyone who can say: “No one else knows either, even that angry guy who preaches on Sunday”].

Sorry, I don’t have the patience to listen to you telling me that you have been raised to read an old self-contradictory “sacred” book with it’s obscure claims that there is life after death.  Don’t take things on faith! (where did we ever get the idea that taking things on faith was admirable?) Based on what we actually know, there’s simply no evidence of life after death (except for “shelf life,” which is the amount of time that passes before your corpse starts stinking).  

Of course, you can fantasize that there is life after death.  If you go to this site, you can even have some fun making your own epitaph.  Or check out this incredible photo of a soul entering an embryo.  But pretending any of these crazy things, doesn’t make any of them true.


Science has shown us that the brain is an important part of what enables humans to think.  When the brain works, there can be thinking.   When neurons die, there is less mental function.  When the brain stops working entirely, there isn’t any thinking.  Ask any neurologist.  It’s that simple.  Really, ask any neurologist, “Would I be different if you cut out my brain?”   Neurologists will wonder whether you’ve already had your brain removed, to ask that question.  Then they will tell you, “If we cut out your brain, you won’t have any thoughts at all. You won’t have any feelings at all.  You won’t have any consciousness of anything.”

But now a few of you are still staying around to insist that thinking can happen without a brain and that there is no need for a brain in heaven?  Really?  Then why do all humans on Earth have brains?  Why didn’t “The Creator” just make us with huge empty cavities in our skulls? If empty heads work in heaven, why can’t they work on earth?  It seems like a monumental waste of effort to have filled billions of those cavities with what is arguably the most amazing structure in the universe, when nothing at all was necessary.

Or maybe I don’t understand your argument.  Maybe you’re suggesting that when part of the brain dies, that dead part of the brain immediately transfers up to “heaven” to give some sort of mental continuity.  It’s like a pre-ascension, where, in the case of stroke, the affected part of the stroke patient’s brain transfers up to heaven and waits for the rest of the body?  Are you claiming that heaven is littered with partial brain chunks of millions of Alzheimer’s and stroke patients?  None of this makes sense to me.  

Truly, just remind yourself that before you were born, you had no brain, no body, no thought, and it wasn’t so bad.   After you die, it will be exactly like that once again.  You won’t know a thing or feel a thing.  There won’t be pleasure or pain.  You won’t care and you won’t care that you don’t care.   This nothingness is nothing to be frightened of, except to the extent that you keep listening to those know-nothing preachers who keep telling you what it’s like to be dead, as though they knew.

Just take a deep breath and follow some version of the Golden Rule.   Death will come soon enough, so make sure you make the most of your life here on Earth.   That’s my advice.


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Category: Meaning of Life, Psychology Cognition, Science, Whimsy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (36)

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  1. Karl, you’re missing the point. What we have of those people are the constructed fables of them. There is no one alive who remembers the real person. Given the hagiographic tendencies of people—and what they do to personages not even a century gone—what we have of Jesus or Mohammed is about as accurate as what we have of Gilgamesh. We don’t have them, we have stories about what people think they should have been. While a certain genetic connection could be argued, the essence of them as flesh-and-blood people (the sort who have cranky mornings, frivolous moments, irrational prejudices, affections for certain colors, smells, and foods, get sick, express inappropriate opinions at the wrong occasions, etc) is gone.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    Gilgamesh is as real a historical/mythical figure as Moses or Jesus. In contrast, Galileo and Hammurabi are well documented by independent sources.

    And I don’t see how my simple illustration of one of the many tracks of influence of modern civilization is linking “existence to a linear track of specific experiential time.”

    Please illustrate what a non-linear track of specific experiential time might be, and how it applies to the issue of cessation of consciousness with death.

  3. Karl says:


    You are well aware of the fact that many geometric objects have no one specific point of beginning or end. Circles, ellipses, mobous strips, etc … all can be considered like this. With such objects, if one says you have chosen a beginning point this would also mean that you also have chosen the end point as well.

    Linear time lines in your thinking means that time goes on forever in some kind of a straight line. You take this for granted, I don’t. “Forever” for you is a concept that is linear, for me it is cyclical. That’s about as best as I can illustrate this.

    You can’t prove straight lines exist out to infinifty nor can you prove experiential time is totally linear either.

    As for the “spirit” being just like a legacy left behind, you really ought to stick to science and not speculate about your spiritual existence after you idea of temporal short line segmented existence ceases to allow your physical body to keep working.

  4. Niklaus Pforsig says:

    Poor Poor Confused Karl….
    Perchance would you know where I may find a Moebius strip line amplifier so I can tape some future sporting events and make a lot of winning bets?

    Geometric shapes , such as line segments, circles, and rectangles only exist as descriptive concepts. A circle is a group of points within a plane that are all equidistant from a center reference point. When you draw a circle on a scrap of paper, you are producing an approximate projection of a circle.
    Some applications of math disagree with the concept of discrete dimensionality. In this model, the math makes more sense, especially when you accept that time is not the fourth dimension, but a projection of how we experience the influence of the fourth dimension. It may be that time is dimension 0.
    In a mathematical sense, a point, a line, a plane, a space, a hyperspace, etc, have no beginning or end because they are defined as boundless, but a dot, a line segment, a square, a cube, and a hypercube are all defined as bounded constructs within the dimensionality each represents.
    Which brings us back to the topic of time. How we experience time is subjective, but mathematics and some direct measurement suggest that time is not constant. On a cosmic scale, it may be cyclic, but it never runs backwards, or sideways, or vertically.
    So trying to argue a case for the metaphysical through simile to mathematic models of the physical world is about as convincing to us as our scientific arguments against metaphysics are to you.
    The difference is this:
    When a believer speaks of spirit and spirituality, the idea is that of a conscious metaphysical essence transcends the physical form. When a non believer speaks of spirit, the idea is that of a body of knowledge, of lessons learned, and of memories related to the generations to come.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Niklaus: I sometimes use the word “spiritual” as a shortcut to something . . . I’m not sure what. Maybe It’s irresponsible for me to use the word. Perhaps I use it to speak of complex yet salient patterns that are difficult to capture in terms of the many things that are involved. For example, when a group of people is tightly knitted socially such that they act as a coordinated whole, I might be tempted to refer to their group “spirit.” This reminds me of Jonathan Haidt’s comment that people are “ant-like,” in that they are sometimes capable of downplaying their individuality in favor of what appears to be altruism. And perhaps I refer to an individual’s spirituality meaning that person’s connectedness to other people, animals and things in such a way that the connections defy crisp analysis or predictability. I never assume that I’m referring to something that is not of this world, however. My assumption is that I use these terms (on the rare occasions when I do) as a shorthand to something otherwise difficult to describe, or as a universal character such as “x” in mathematics, used as a placeholder for something that is, to me, ineffable.

  5. Karl says:

    Don’t worry Niklaus, you’ll understand soon enough how and why Jesus could and did say things like before Abraham was, “I am.” Every point in “linear” physically experienced time will give way to a spiritually experiential relatedness that sees the beginning and the end as two perspectives on your own temporal existence.

    Your confusion is that you believe linear time controls and actually defines your entire existence. You may chose that assumption, but I chose to believe that their is more to existence than vibrating physical particles being regulated by the tics of a clock.

  6. Dan Klarmann says:

    Karl, this is about beginnings and endings and the special importance of values in a finite life.

  7. Karl says:

    There is no doubt that people have value and there is also no doubt to most people (except nihlists) that God has set eternity in their hearts.


    • Dan Klarmann says:

      Other people who likely doubt that God set eternity in their hearts:

      This quote supposes that there is clear word from God on how we must behave, and that no matter how we act we will never be satisfied in this life. It never does make clear what either of these has to do with eternity, nor do you make clear what it has to do with afterlife.

  8. Karl says:

    Solomon who wrote this was a philosopher who at times acted and lived as though he were a naturalist who willfully considered what it meant to try to experience all that physical life life itself had to offer and thus he stated the above quote.

    One can be satisfied today and not tommorrow, or vice versa. It is very clear from your attempt to enlist support for your slim minority opinion that you are comfortable with such a level of agreement from the rest of humanity.

  9. Sethro Kerkove says:

    One Time i Slit my Wrist, Then took off my Belt, and put it around my neck tight in 2 minutes i passed out, i woke up the next mornin chocking up blood and throwup, and i became COMPLETELY DEF in my left ear and Still am to this day.
    But atleast i can say that I Have Experienced Death, but all i Remember Was All Black, with White Dots, Almost like i was in Space with no Planets. But the Feeling was Amazing.

    i have also heard there is no heaven or hell.

    Just Positive Energy and Negative Energy
    i Was in Positive energy for a whole night but it felt like it was like 10 years

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