Many people are talking about suicide as a result of Robin Williams’ death. You may know that i’ve struggled with suicidal urges for a long time, and shared these struggles openly online. Something you may not know: i never seriously think about suicide any more, because i believe it’s not possible for me personally to die.
This belief is something i came into on my own, after repeated suicide attempts that failed at the last minute. A cord came unplugged from a wall, a car wouldn’t start, or a thought came along immediately after i closed my eyes to find peace. “Not yet. i feel better, now” – and then life would change afterwards. There was a wildly unpleasnt stay in a mental hospital if i told people about what happened, but either way there was a muted sense of newness. It felt at times like a part of me had died – the part that wanted not to suffer any more – but a part of me had remained – the part that wanted to improve the world, to make things better for people i love. I started to believe that i had died in other branches of the multiverse, but as long as there was some possible way for me to remain alive, i’d remain alive. I kept this belief to myself because i realized it sounds crazy, but i recently found out that there are other people who believe the same thing.
I wanted to share this because it’s really helped me move beyond suicidal thoughts. I still want to give up at times, but now i firmly believe that isn’t an option. It’s one of the few thoughts i can’t get myself to budge on. Clearly, this belief is ‘self serving’, but nobody can claim it’s entirely false. My body wants to live, even if my mind doesn’t, but my mind can focus on some very negative things. Belief in God never worked for me when I felt shitty- i just got mad at him or felt like a fool for trusting a lie made to keep powerful sociopaths in charge. Quantum Immortality is based in a respected but contentious scientific understanding of the world. The claim “i will someday die” is completely non-verifiable; you cannot set up an experiment to confirm this. You will remain wrong until you die, at which point you will be unaware that you were correct.
How do i explain other people’s deaths? this is a larger question, and the short answer is that i view death as being something like network failure. I think of us as being a network of minds in a shared dream, and if portions of our private internal experience become too divergent, we are told that the other person has ‘died’, and our sensory apparatus shows us their body without consciousness. War is the result of a network partition, where two clusters of nodes have diverged on the results of some computation, and have marked each other as antagonistic.
This means i believe in something like heaven. I think my grandmother – who has age-onset dementia – is there now. She spends all day surrounded by caring people, doing as she pleases. Everyone is so nice. The explanation “I am in heaven” would make perfect sense to her as a description of her current state, and she has spent her whole life believing she would end up there. You may claim that her mind is failing, but you can’t really argue against the fact that her internal experience maps pretty strongly onto an experience she long believed would happen.
The world changes faster and faster, and people who get older often have a hard time understanding the world around them. It looks crazy to them, as if the whole world has gone mad. It’s that perspective – “I know what is happening, everyone else is crazy” which I believes leads to the loss of communication entailed in death. Random accidents exist to keep our stories consistent; the dream has to make sense to us for it to continue. Bad things happen to good people because we are not done yet. We want to build a world where death is not inevitable, but people still struggle to work hard and live well, a world where suffering doesnt exist because it’s an unstable configuration – but not impossible. Death doesn’t even have to be permanent – perhaps one day we will be able to reconstruct people’s consciousnesses in the future, when we have a scientific explanation for how this is possible, and enough cultural maturity to keep trying to make things better for everyone, even when they feel good enough for most of us. Even our animal cousins will join us, a family reunion full of joy and laughter and “remember the time you ate great grandmother? She learned so much from that network partition, and being reincarnated as a porcupine helped her learn how to defend herself better! Let’s go play Quidditch in the holodeck!”
When I imagine dying now, I sometimes wish it were that easy, as if I could just turn off. My thoughts immediately drift to the horror of the mental hospital and I want to throw my hands in the air, I can’t do this, the world makes no sense to me! But I’m left with the unshakable feeling that there is no out, no off switch. All I can do is work hard every day to try to improve the quality of this infinite experience. That sounds exhausting, which is when I remember that usually, when I feel suicidal, I’m just really tired. Sleep helps the eternity ahead of me seem a little less tiresome.
I can only assume people reading this will see it as more evidence that I am crazy, but if it helps one person avoid considering suicide, I’ll call that a win.