Afterlife?

Philosophy Feb 06, 2020

The Good Place has finished, and it was awesome. It was awesome after the first few episodes, didn’t falter at the end of season 1, and managed to remain mostly awesome through to the conclusion of the story. I won’t say it didn’t drag at times or that it didn’t have some questionable logic in places, but generally speaking it was a work of genius.

The last season was particularly intriguing. What would you do if you had to design an afterlife that judged each person to see what they deserved?

Ignoring for the time being the flaws in the idea that people deserve an eternity of either one thing or another, the solution the writers devised is worthy of some respect. It’s an afterlife I wouldn’t mind at all, with one minor change.

If you haven’t seen the last season and plan to, stop reading here; WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD!

So here’s the basic idea as presented in the show:

  1. You die (this step is required).
  2. You get tested. The test is to see whether you have the capacity to become a better person. You get dropped into a scenario tailored to your particular worst character trait to see if you can do the right thing. If you fail you take it again, and you continue to take it until you pass.
  3. You enter The Good Place.
  4. Here you can do anything, experience anything, see anyone, etc for as long as you wish.
  5. When you’re ready, if ever, you can choose to walk through an archway that will reintegrate you into the fabric of the universe. Essentially “you” will cease to exist. There is no pressure to take this step; you are free to remain in The Good Place for as long as you want.

I propose dropping step 2 results in a pretty perfect afterlife.

Ever since I rejected my Roman Catholic upbringing I’ve had issues with the idea of an ultimate judge watching over everything I think and do. It’s not that I’m a particularly bad person or that I’d be concerned about being judged, it’s more that I don’t think the rules by which we are to be judged have been made clear enough for it to be reasonable.

I don’t want to get in to the religious arguments here—maybe in a later post—so for now let’s just drop that part of the concept.

I have some questions about how the good place works.

Are you required to partake in every activity that everyone else wants to do with you?

Let’s say, as a completely made up example, that in life I occasionally hang out with a group of “friends” that I can’t stand. They’re not terrible people it’s just that we really have nothing in common other than having been in the same situation at the same time many years ago. There may be one or two in the group who aren’t like nails on a blackboard for me but they can’t hope to compensate for the overall experience. Not an uncommon story, and frankly spending any time with most of these people would ruin my otherwise perfect afterlife experience.

If I can refuse their requests surely that negatively impacts their afterlife experience. Does this mean that the people we interact with there are simulations? Even if I couldn’t tell the difference that doesn’t feel right. Surely even the best VR afterlife would be hollow.

Are dangerous or thrill-seeking experiences still worthwhile when you know you can’t be harmed?

I’m not a thrill-seeker; I don’t put myself in dangerous situations voluntarily so I would expect my attitude here might differ from some others. There are things I want to do, to experience, but I’m a scaredy-cat. Mostly it’s the classics: jump out of a plane, ride a superbike at its top speed, wing surf, be a dictator, wrestle an alligator, try to make Jack Dee laugh. The full list is quite long and at times frightfully embarrassing but in essence it’s everything I want to try but won’t because it might hurt me physically or emotionally.

For me doing the things on this list probably won’t lack impact, at least for most of the items. I do wonder about the items I avoid for emotional reasons other than fear and they might lack a certain appeal without that prospect. I would expect the same to be true for thrill-seekers no longer contemplating physical dangers.

This also makes me wonder if removing these fears also leads to “not me” conclusions. How much can you change someone’s personality before it’s no longer them. Does removing the negative effects of certain activities lead to such personality changes or is it just the situation that’s not the same?

Finally there’s a thought that always occurs to me whenever I think about death and the prospect of an afterlife. If we accept that there is no afterlife then the idea of wanting to experience things before you die seems rather empty to me. Naturally people I share this with tend to extrapolate that out to questioning whether life is worth living at all with that attitude, but if we consider that the value of an experience is in the memory of it (and I do believe that) then the fact that the memory will continue for as long as we do after the experience makes the experience worthwhile. Doing something because we know we’re about to die feels rather pointless in that context.

That’s not to discount the value of experiences in other people’s memories - just because i won’t be around to remember what I did doesn’t mean that being a part of something is not a valuable part of other people’s memories of it. Does that still apply if those other people are simply checking things off their bucket list before choosing to exit stage left as would be the case in this imagined afterlife?

Ultimately I don’t think any of this matters. When your “end’’ is placed squarely under your control it’s completely up to you what you do with it. If you think there’s not point, make a swift exit. Otherwise you do you until you’re done. It’s the fact that it’s your choice as to when you’re done that makes it attractive to me.

Stuart Dallas

A mostly harmless human. Software Engineer by trade, prolific procrastinator by vocation, creator by heart. When procrastinating he is excessively productive with everything but.