Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Section 10 Installment 2: Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Death and Afterlife

Trevor Hutchens
PHIL 1030
Dr. Oliver
2 May 2017

Installment 2: Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Fear of Death and Afterlife

In my first installment, we examined Epicurus and how he taught to enjoy life on Earth rather than worry about death.  In this next installment, we shall plunge into a more modern example and examine and discuss Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s thoughts on death and afterlife.

           “We fear death because we are born only knowing life.”  Tyson opens with this thought provoking quote on the Larry King show.  To many people, this may be a “blanket statement” that may seem quite obvious and prove nothing as to why we fear death.  However, Tyson believes we should not fear death, but rather be ashamed of it.  One day he was asked, “If you could live forever, would you?” King responded “yes” in a jokingly manner, yet most people would have seriously said yes. Why? Because if you live forever, you will never have to worry about dying.  Tyson agrees that living forever is an “attractive idea”, but because he knows death is immanent, it creates a sense of urgency to make his time on earth count.  Whether its asking a girl out, getting a degree, or just making a cup of coffee, he knows that his days our numbered which encourages him to go out and make a difference.  He added on, “If we live forever, why even get out of bed in the morning? Because you always have tomorrow.”  Tyson is correct; while many people may idolize the idea of living forever, your time on earth is no longer valuable.  We, as mortal beings, value our lives because they won't last for more than 100 years.  But immortality eradicates that mentality; the urge to be frugal with your limited time is gone. Which now brings up another question: if you don’t fear death, do you fear “not-existing”?  Tyson proudly rebottled declaring that he fears not death, but a life where the potential of accomplishing something was not taken advantage of. He ends his thoughts with a quote from Horace Mann: “Be ashamed to die until you have scored some victory for humanity.”

            A huge part of what Neil Tyson is getting at on the topic of death and afterlife is that he does not want to limit himself to any religion or belief system.  It is made apparent that every belief system is not compatible with another, which makes Tyson question the validity of belief systems in general.  If they don’t work for everyone, what is the point of believing in them?  While Tyson has a compelling point, this theory is shortsighted.  Let's use Islam for an example.  Being the second most popular religion in the world with 1.226 billion followers, Islam has a massive impact on the world today, yet not everyone knows about it.  If everyone on Earth was raised on Islam, everyone (in theory) would believe in Islamic practices and nothing else.  Belief systems were created by events or realizations that some deemed as “supernatural”, while religion was reinforced on each belief system through cultural and traditional standards.  For Christianity, the Bible was created by many people nearly two millenniums ago.  These “authors” of the Bible either witnessed “miracles” or other supernatural occurrences (Old Testament) or were around when Jesus Christ took on physical form to perform miracles though God (New Testament).  Soon after, the cross which Christ was crucified on became primary symbolism for the religion, and is seen in every Christian church.  

             Back to Tyson’s idea: each belief system may not be compatible with one another’s, but that is because of each religion’s cultural and traditional background.  Everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe in, as well as not believe in anything at all.  Everyone’s perception is different, which is what makes us unique.  As for Tyson, he is a real-life example of why we should not worry about death (all the while acknowledging its immanency) and why we should enjoy our life on Earth. 

653 words


~~~~1st Installment~~~~


  1. Very clean presentation! Tyson makes an interesting point about making your time count on earth. I have never thought of the urgency of death motivating us to achieve our goals.

  2. Afterlife, to me, is a construct of consolation, that gives people comfort, say, in the loss of a loved one, that he or she has gone on to a better life, and that certainly eases the mind more than the accepting of the unpleasant truth that a loved one is simply a decomposing corpse.

  3. Very clean presentation! Tyson makes an interesting point about making your time count on earth. I have never thought of the urgency of death motivating us to achieve our goals.