Some Thoughts on Afterlives

Right away, you should note that I have used the plural “afterlives” in the title. The reason for this  will quickly become apparent, I can only hope, and help avoid hasty rejections of the content before it is even made clear.

I do indeed wish to discuss afterlife; that is, existence after death. Before I can go any further, I hardly need to say (though it is still worth saying) that there are many people in this world with many ways of addressing the deepest questions of the experience we know as life. What I believe may very well be far different than what you believe. But this difference is one I think is completely irrelevant in this particular discussion. While the Abrahamic idea of an eternal paradise and the atheist notion of an absolute end to being are vastly different in principle, they are very similar in that they both provide an answer that is unattainable to any breathing mortal; one is based on faith while the other is rooted in science. In favor of individual experience, both beliefs overlook one very simple idea: there is an afterlife to which we will all someday belong unquestionably, one that needs neither faith nor evidence to become reality because we realize it with every fond memory or nostalgic glance at an old photo album, and one that can coexist with any afterlife you may believe in. This supplementary afterlife I am speaking of, this alternative existence after death that humans of all spiritual backgrounds will belong to in some way, is the imprint we leave on the world after we are gone.

The common thought of heaven among the Christians, as well as many religious, is perfection. Heaven is a place where everything its inhabitants desire is granted in its purest form. Similarly, the realm of thought is a place–in fact the only place in our world–where true perfection exists. The ancient Greeks believed every object in the physical world also had a perfect form that resided only in thought, alongside the abstract and the divine. This is still true in our own time. Starting on the geometric level, you can never create a perfect shape. You may draw a square and find all sides are exactly 5 millimeters, but measure in nanometers and see the perfection instantly fade. You can decrease increments infinitely, making it impossible to ever truly create a perfect square. Our perfection may never have a place in the physical world, but our thoughts will always be an endless land of purity and aspiration.

This ethereal world within us, then, is not unlike heaven. After you die, do you not still exist in a place of perfection in the memories of those who knew you? Those who remember you fondly will keep you alive in their minds at your best moments, your happiest days, all in the form their subconscious chooses as the most perfect, the most worthy of being immortalized. Regardless of whether you believe in a spiritual afterlife or not, this existence in the world of thought is a definite way for every human to live on after death in a world of perfection, and the easiest way to ensure you have lasting life in this place is to use your human power of creation. Perhaps this creation is a work of art, or perhaps a new way of thinking. It could be an innovation or invention; it could even take the form of offspring. When people look upon a creation, they inevitably imagine the creator. In the same way many people look at the world and think of some benevolent deity or spirit or pure chance, we all look at a human creation and think of its human creator.

Not everyone has the will or the desire to create, and those who do may not have the ability or opportunity to add something to the world that will remain for years to come. Even if you do make something great, there is no guarantee it will be admired long after your death, especially in today’s superfast culture. Humans, and those who come after humans, may forget. The memory of you may die out among your own descendants in five or six generations. Life as we know it might end and erase all we leave behind for our collective descendants. But all is not lost, because each and every one of us will still be a part of the memory of our time, our culture, even our species. As long as there is sentience to remember, we will exist, if not as imprints of our individual selves then as pieces of the much larger and more beautiful imprint of humanity. Being a tiny part of something so massive does not seem important, but if we make enough of an impact in what we leave behind in our individual imprint, our influence may stretch on well beyond our places in the great tree of human experience. It is therefore important you do everything you can to make sure you have passed something on, something that may inspire or enlighten future generations. It could be a bestselling novel or it could simply be a lesson you teach your children.The possible branches are endless.

What you do create or pass on does not matter as much as the fact that you should at least take the time to consider what imprint you are leaving behind. Just because you believe there is some higher state of being waiting for you after death does not mean you should not care about the higher state of existence that continues on here in the mortal world. Just because you you believe death is the ultimate end does not mean you should abandon all care of the world that goes on without you there to perceive it. This afterlife I speak of is one that must exist because people who physically leave the present still remain in our past, where they can be felt both in the present and future. Furthermore, it is especially refreshing that we can each create our own individual afterlife that is unique to us. We each have our own way to influence the world.

Whether it is the afterlife or an afterlife is up to the individual. What we can be sure of, though, is that it is one that we can all look forward to and prepare for, and in doing so we just might transcend the temporal world and be felt far into the future.

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