Brain Pickings

Alan Watts on Death, in a Beautiful Animated Short Film

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“Think about that for a while — it’s kind of a weird feeling when you really think about it…”

Philosopher and writer Alan Watts (1915-1973) is best-known for authoring the cult-classic The Way of Zen and popularizing Eastern philosophy in the West alongside John Cage. In this hauntingly beautiful animation based on a Watts lecture, produced by Luke Jurevicius and directed by Ari Gibson and Jason Pamment, Watts considers what death might be, exploring the notion of nonexistence and pitting it as “the necessary consequence of what we call being” — something he examines in greater depth in his indispensable book The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (public library).

UPDATE: A reader points out that the animation comes from a video for “Sometimes the Stars” by Australian band The Audreys from their 2010 debut album of the same title. What you see here is a mashup of the video and an Alan Watts recording.

What’s it gonna be like, dying? To go to sleep and never, never, never wake up.

Well, a lot of things it’s not gonna be like. It’s not going to be like being buried alive. It’s not going to be like being in the darkness forever.

I tell you what — it’s going to be as if you never had existed at all. Not only you, but everything else as well. That just there was never anything, there’s no one to regret it — and there’s no problem.

Well, think about that for a while — it’s kind of a weird feeling when you really think about it, when you really imagine.

Complement with Watts on our illusion of separateness and his poignant probing of what you would do if money were no object.

For a closer look at his philosophy on death, and how “death and life imply each other,” here is some rare footage of Watts speaking in the 1950s:

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