I often think about what happens to us when we die. Sometimes it’s makes me feel intensely anxious – will I suddenly wake up again trapped in a box in the ground for all eternity? Will I be chained to a big wheel of fire and carry out manual labour tasks for Satan in the bowels of hell? (If it is this, hopefully I’ll at least get to eat endless doughnuts for lunch like Homer Simpson – and if Ned Flanders really is Satan, that’s an added bonus!)
Will someone take my brain and put it in a cyborg body so I can be manipulated as a government stooge war machine? (I still can’t watch Robocop to this day). Silly as these things seem, the idea that I might reawaken in another place or another form adrift of those I love is a frightening prospect. And so, on the other hand, this does make the idea of eternal inertia quite a satisfying inevitability – although not entirely; I’d still rather be playing pool and sinking space beers on a cloud in the Andromeda Galaxy with Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, King Henry VIII and my great-great grandads.
One final viewing
Whatever happens, I have a question for those of you who have chosen to read this post – if you could watch your whole life again before you die, would you do it? Irrespective of whether or not there was an afterlife, if some kind of spirit came to you on your deathbed and offered you the chance to watch the entirety of your life again (4K HD optional), would you do it? I guess most people might say it would depend on the terms – if you were assured that there would be an afterlife alongside all your friends and family, perhaps you’d refuse and just choose to relive all those past events through shared memories.
But if you were told that this was indeed the end of the line, surely it would make sense (nothing here makes sense, of course) to grasp the chance to see all those memories again (both good and bad) one more time? I’m not sure I would. I’m with Nietzsche and Amor Fati when it comes to fate and our ‘journey’ – life is an adventure encapsulated by wonderful, mundane and terrible events; we must embrace this gift of life for all that it bestows upon us. Of course that’s easy to say if you’ve had a good life – or what you perceive to be a good life. But, either way, I stand by Nietzsche (as usual). Life is what it is – fate is what it is. Try your best to enjoy it – learn from the bad stuff, revel in the good stuff and try to be nice.
The good, the bad and the memory
Back to the highlights reel – there would of course be plenty of wonderful moments which I’d love to see again. There are, I’m sure, thousands of incidents (major and minor) which I will have completely forgotten or largely forgotten which I can only imagine how much I’d love to experience again. But there are also plenty more which I’d rather forget; that I’d rather were left in the past – in the ether. Or in either – my unconscious or the memories or others, that is. And so, I’m happy to just hold on to those memories I have, both good and bad, which help to make me who I am. And continue to make new memories with those people I care about. Maybe I should just ask to watch Men In Black again instead?
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a lot on the randomness of existence – in his famous novel Nausea he explored the feeling one gets when they encounter the contingency of life; the idea that everything about existence is so arbitrary and accidental. He used his novel to illuminate what he saw as the viscous, gloopy quality of anti-value. His nausea related to the philosophical vertigo of realising just how random our lives are – there are causes for things, but no genuine existential reasons. For me, this randomness is just part of the journey – it’s a part of Nietzsche’s Amor Fati. The universe is random – particles appear here, there and everywhere. “Reality is a variable flux”, Carlo Rovelli suggests, dependant on relationality. Our fate is to be seized – not feared. Quantum mechanics is all about chance and probability. Life is mostly a series of events which cannot be planned for or anticipated.
And life is also long – at least, the life of the universe. We don’t know when it might end, but thanks to Einstein and The Big Bang Theory, we have an idea of how it came into being, and thus how old it is – 13.8 billion years, supposedly. Astronomers have used globular clusters to reconstruct the history of the galaxy. 13.8 billion years is a long time – and who knows how long the universe (and in particular human beings) will continue to last, but given this duration (at least as we perceive and understand time) and the random nature of existence, I’d like to quickly explore Nietzsche’s concept of Eternal Recurrence. The great man believed that with time and probability as we experience them, that everything which happens will happen again and again. At first thought that seems ridiculous – but it’s actually entirely plausible. If existence continues for a long enough period of time, the idea is that another version of you or I will exist again and play out the same series of events over and over – it’s just the nature of probability; like all those monkeys with typewriters producing the entire works of Shakespeare by tapping the keys at random. No-one knows how long that might take (longer than all three Men In Black films back to back, though), but by the nature of probability, it would eventually happen.
As Rovelli writes in Reality Is Not What It Seems, Nietzsche believed so strongly in Eternal Recurrence that he wanted to undertake a physics thesis on the matter – and the idea of this eternal return has similarities with Kierkegaard’s Repetition. The roots of the concept lie in classical antiquity, with the likes of the ancient Egyptians, Mayans and Aztecs. Whether or not you’re feeling the vibes of this cyclical view of time, it’s hard to argue against the idea of probability. I know none of us wish to countenance the notion that there might have been, or might yet be, another one of us who lives the same life, but I guess it is possible.
And so perhaps I will opt to watch my life back once again before I pass on – if I’m offered the chance. But only if I can watch it alongside the other Joe Shackleys and we can hold each other tightly when the scary bits come up. Mostly the sexual repression bits and failed attempts at asking girls out. A bit like a Woody Allen movie – except a bit shit because I’m the star.