Saturday, 11 January 2014

A horror of annihilation

Annihilation - the 3D version

When a man says that everybody has “a horror of annihilation,” we may be very sure that he has not many opportunities for observation, or that he has not availed himself of all that he has. 

Most persons go to sleep rather gladly, yet sleep is virtual annihilation while it lasts; and if it should last forever the sleeper would be no worse off after a million years of it than after an hour of it. There are minds sufficiently logical to think of it that way, and to them annihilation is not a disagreeable thing to contemplate and expect. 

In this matter of immortality, people’s beliefs appear to go along with their wishes. The man who is content with annihilation thinks he will get it; those that want immortality are pretty sure they are immortal; and that is a very comfortable allotment of faiths. 

The few of us that are left unprovided for are those who do not bother themselves much about the matter, one way or another.


Sam Vega said...

I don't think Bierce is right about the fortunate coincidence of faith and wishes. Are there not people (like Philip Larkin, say) who fear the annihilation they believe to be inevitable? And conversely, those who believe that there may be a reckoning for their misdemeanours, but would prefer there to be nothing? I suspect the scientific world-view might mean that there are now more of the former.

Macheath said...

Bierce's contemporary, Mark Twain, according to this (possibly apocryphal) quote, had an enviably rational approach:

'Mr. Clemens was once asked whether he feared death.

He said that he did not, in view of the fact that he had been dead for billions and billions of years before he was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.'

I'd suggest that Sam's categories would include people who have dramatically changed their belief system during their lifetimes. I am convinced that what kept several of my Welsh relatives going well into their 90s was the fear that, despite their adult rational atheism, the hellfire-and-brimstone preaching of their Chapel upbringing might turn out to be true after all.

Sackerson said...

Bierce comes across as a bit of a poseur.

A K Haart said...

Sam and Mac - Johnson was reputedly terrified of an afterlife, although I don't know anyone who fears either outcome.

My limited experience of people close to death suggest they resign themselves to it and are not afraid.

Sackers - I suspect he wasn't, but maybe it's a problem for all professional cynics. Will Self for example.