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To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream:
ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause:
… But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
When I first began to write about this subject, the idea that Hamlet’s fear was still current in today’s day and age seemed to me as bizarre as the fear of falling off the earth if you sail too far to the west. And yet several people have identified the prospect of an 'undiscovered country from whose realm no traveller returns' as an important consideration when contemplating death. This is, apparently, neither the rational existential desire to avoid annihilation; nor the animal imperative to keep living under any circumstances; but a fear of what lies beyond.
The belief that humans have an awareness that continues after the body dies is common to most religions. It may be said that this is the common defining feature of a religion. The details vary. Some religions believe that the body, or some aspects of it, travels with the soul, in some ethereal away. Some religions believe that our experience in this life is a shadow or dimension of something real happening elsewhere, where life is eternal; others that there is an eternal component that passes from body to body through time. Yet others believe that a soul is created when we are conceived and then becomes immortal.
This essay disputes these long and widely held beliefs.
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