Terrifying Eternity
© 9 September 2021 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
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I’m confident living forever will be nice, even though I can’t describe why.


One of my friends with whom I often discuss matters of weight and portent has often expressed to me a sense of terror at the idea of eternal life. Many religions teach some variant of “‍good people live forever‍” (after an intervening death, of course), and when you think about it this is not a very comforting doctrine.

What are you doing for all that time? As I’ve noted before, your answer is almost certainly to be unsatisfying: either you’ll get bored or you’ve added some kind of mind-limiting force to prevent boredom such as forgetting what you’ve done before or being on the religious parallel of a drug-induced high.

But I at least went through a similar experience earlier in life, and I was wrong. When I was around 10 years of age, I realized that adult life didn’t look very nice. They worked a lot, played very little, were clearly often faced with problems they felt both a responsibility to solve and unable to solve properly, almost never were moved on to squeal with joy…. It just didn’t look worth it: however I looked at it, it looked bad. I thought about it a lot, and ended up quite certain that growing up was a terrible, a future doomed to be unpleasant. And then, being a child, I forgot about it and went about my life.

Now when I look back on that time I’m left with a strange sensation. Child-me was wrong: I like being an adult more than I liked being a child, and given the chance to go back to eternal childhood I turn it down without a second thought. But despite knowing I was wrong, I can’t imagine anything I could say that would explain to 10-year-old me how I was wrong. “‍The bad things aren’t as bad as they seem, and there’s joy in perspective and progress and accomplishment and overcoming adversity and helping others grow.‍” That’s true, insofar as it goes, but it both falls short of explanation and wouldn’t make sense to 10-year-old me. I think the best I could do is “‍Being an adult is great. Way better than being a kid. You can’t understand why yet, but trust me on this: it’s better than anything you can imagine in ways you can’t imagine.‍” Because let’s be honest: the kinds of things I imagined as delightful as a child were water slides and ice cream cones and playing make-believe with friends. Those were pleasant, but I could do them every day and I choose not to. There are better things to choose, and even if I explained them in detail to a child they’d not understand why they are better.

I fully expect eternity to be like that. Better, so much better, than now. Better, so much better, than anything I can imagine. And completely out of my comparatively-childish mind’s ability to understand before I get there.

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