Death and Learning

From a student who likes to fire random “meaning of life” questions at me, I received an e-mail with this reflection:

Even if I will die tomorrow, is it meaningful for me to learn something? If not, I don’t want to.

My reply:

To learn is to improve your soul. So your question also means, “Even if I will die tomorrow, is it meaningful for me to improve my soul during the final day?”

Well, all of human life is a process of trying to improve your soul. We all know we will die someday, and yet we try to improve our souls for as long as we can, and we think this is meaningful. So why would it become less meaningful if we only had one day left? After all, who ever knows how long he has left? Even if you “knew” you had to die tomorrow, you could get hit by a bus and die today. (Furthermore, how do we know learning is not more meaningful at the end, rather than less?)

The point is this: Knowing (as you already know) that life does not last forever does not make your soul’s improvement meaningless, so why would you stop trying just because you thought your time was shorter than before? In fact, your time is always shorter than before. So what?

And there is another point. Every process of learning must always begin with this assumption: I do not know. (You cannot learn what you already know, or what you already think you know.) And one of the things you do not know — one of the most important things — is “What is the ultimate meaning of my life?” But this means we do not really know what will happen to us, or what our thoughts will achieve, or what is waiting for our souls at the end. If you imagine that there is no point learning anymore because you will die tomorrow, then you are assuming that you know something which you do not actually know — and this ignorant assumption might turn out to be the biggest mistake of your life. Would you want to die while making the biggest mistake of your life?

If learning is important, then you should keep learning until the end, or for as long as you are mentally and physically able. It is the only reasonable path, since we do not know what the final result of our souls will be. That last thing you learn, or begin to discover, on the final day, might be the most essential thing, the thing you absolutely needed to understand before dying. Why would you give up that final opportunity to prepare yourself?

You may also like...