Thoughts About Death

I suppose a philosophical introspection would not be complete without a discussion of death. I do have thoughts on the subject, but they are not especially unusual or elaborate. I can’t remember when or how I first came to understand the idea. It seems so self-evident, yet I know that some parents find it challenging to explain to kids what death is and what it means. I can only assume my mother and/or father taught it to me pretty early on.

I would say that I fear death in a practical sense. I like my life, and I don’t want to die just yet. I feel this way both at an intellectual level and at an instinctual one. When I think I am in danger, my mind screams at me to correct the situation as quickly as possible. I don’t feel any kind of anxiety or worry about the more existential inevitability of my death. My mortality is just a given that I have accepted. I don’t feel entitled to more than I get, and I’m not worried I will die. I feel like I’ve lived a good life, had some great experiences, and if tomorrow is the last day for me, well so be it. If I can’t do much about it in the long run, then there is no use worrying over it.

I suspect that someday, not too far from now, science will find ways to make us close to immortal, at least in so much as we won’t age as we do. Of course, that won’t mean we are immortal, only that the time of our passing will be more in our control and more something we can do battle with if we so choose. If we do reach that point we are going to run into a whole host of ethical and practical challenges. I don’t think it is going to be in my lifetime though so while it’s fun to consider, it doesn’t especially concern me. I will say that if I could be effectively immortal, I’d sign up for it. Just because I accept death, doesn’t mean I don’t very much enjoy life.

I do not believe in an afterlife. I am not convinced by the evidence I’ve seen in support of the idea and I am suspicious of people being motivated by a fear of death in adhering to and inventing them. I don’t completely rule out the possibility, but for me, it is remote to the point of being little more than wishful thinking. My conception of death is pretty much analogous to a computer when you turn the power switch off permanently. No more awareness, experience, or agency for you. I don’t believe in the idea of a spirit in the supernatural sense. I don’t think I am a ghost in a machine, I am the function of the machine in its current state. That said, I do have my own sense of spirit as the impact we have in our lives and that certainly lives beyond us.

Because I don’t believe in ghost-like spirits, I find some very common human practices strange. The industry of making things comfortable for the dead is an especially odd one for me. When people talk about the designation of a grave, I just can’t feel a lot of outrage. The dead don’t mind since they don’t have minds. The living might want to keep a sanctuary to remember them, that I can understand but the attachment to a corpse rather than the spirit strikes me as incongruent with even the idea of spirits as outlasting the body. But it does me no harm so I don’t give anyone a hard time about it. Just know that on my death I really won’t care what becomes of my body. Do what makes you happy and what seems most efficient if you want to honor the spirit I live by.

It is obvious to me that life and death are co-dependent in nearly all respects. Living things kill and consume one another constantly. Even plants kill and consume in many myriad ways that are not obvious to us. And new life is made way by the death of earlier generations. The whole process of living adaptation requires a genetic changing of the guard to allow for variation to allow for adaptation. And more esoterically, without life, how could we define death? And without death, our sense of life would have a rather different meaning, only juxtaposed to inanimate matter. And our own lives are in truth the lives of trillions of individual living things constantly living and dying to create the gestalt reality of ourselves. We can’t truly view death as an intrinsic evil. It simply is a fact of our lives.

I see death as more of a rival. It is there, challenging you, threatening you, and you know some day it may get the better of you, but ultimately it is your challenge to face off against and do what you can to best it. In doing so, you live your life. For some when life is too painful and too terrible to endure, it can be a welcome friend. While I would always encourage people to try and find a reason to live, I don’t think it is my place to tell them they must. It is too personal a decision for me to try and dictate to anyone. My life is a wonderful one by and large, but not everyone’s is. I greatly admire those who have faced real terrors in life and come out the other side with hope and the will to carry on.

As human beings, I don’t think we can ever escape the challenge of life and death decisions. We can not save everyone or stop death. We are, however, faced with numerous decisions every day related to potential life and death decisions. The act of eating is one of deciding to kill or not to kill, and depending on who or what live you value, you can be hard-pressed to make a decision that does not mean death for some living thing. Life for one thing often means death for another. I think the best we can do is be honest with ourselves, try to find some standards by which to live, and stick to them as best we can. And when necessary we argue and fight when we think we must in the name of life. And when our conscience guides us to change our standards, we do. I try to never be too comfortable with death, nor to think I can make it vanish by force of will. It is an inescapable aspect of being alive.

 

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