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the objective truth tolerance limits
of some readers.
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We're all serving a life sentence here
The only parole is death
But we got life without a trial
None of us deserve to be alive
According to Fred, people who fear death have a lifewish
Christ died for me. But it was a trick.
He was resurrected. So I have to die after all.
Is there death on other planets?
Is there intelligent life on this planet?
Is there life after birth?
Is there an afterbirth?
Life is the afterbirth
Is there death after life?
Death IS the afterlife.
Dust thou art and to dust returneth
The average human life span is 65-80
-Bureau of statistics
The longest verified life span is 122
-Bureau of records
The death rate is 100%
-Bureau of arithmetic
Nobody Lives Forever
You couldn't be immortal for more than 1 day at a time, anyway
Life is a fatal disease
All babies are doomed;
giving birth is murder
It's good to die quickly,
but it's best to have died yesterday
To end on a positive note,
you have to do it early and suddenly
There's really no way out;
all you can do is stop,
and, then, you won't even know you did it!
-tombstone art by Marvin Nelson
The noun and verb of death
THE VERB: DIE
Dying's not your life flashing before your eyes. Don't be fucking silly! Dying is knowing you're all alone in the chute, struggling to breathe, brain already slurring and winking out, terrified of becoming, in the next instant, dead meat!
Don't kid yourself. You won't be "meeting your maker" or "putting up a good fight." All that's just to keep from thinking of what really goes through a dying person's mind. The most honest of us can't easily look the reality of gasping, struggling, panicking, hopeless, relentless dyING in the face, can we? Lucky for us there're no witnesses.
THE NOUN: DEATH
What does the majestic roll and sweep of "Thanatopsis" have to do with stinking death? Or fantasies of spirits wafting upward like dead white windblown leaves, or noseless skulls or howling graveyards, either? For once, words don't work. Ostentatiously inspired poetry is insultingly irrelevant, humor grotesque, cynicism hollow. Language is too loud for a subject so mute.
Look at a dead dog drying in the dirt beside a road, it's previously vibrant fur turned to a stiff mat and its supple body become as turgid as old tar, the no-longer cowed fleas running freely in and out of its eyes.
You were warned on the front page and at the top of this page
I mean you were warned that the content of this website may exceed the objective truth tolerance limits of some readers. Well, here's where it may happen. You're going to die. The human death rate is 100%, so you're going to die.
One of my best friends is a realist who can't retreat from realism and, so, can't achieve denial about this, who at night goes quietly crazy because he can't stop realizing he's going to die, and who thinks everyone else is crazy not to be going crazy with him. Whenever I read about a man shooting his family and then himself, I assume that's someone who came face to face with that same reality.
I also know and know of a lot more people whose denial about this is bullet proof. But it makes no difference which description is yours, you're going to die. And unless lucky circumstance just happens to kill you quickly, or you break the law and take things intelligently into your own hands, or group humanity grows up in time (for you), finally abandons its primitive superstitions, and starts routinely providing individuals a sensibly easy way out (see On Suicide ), you're going to experience the verb of dying, not poetically, but just as promised above.
On the other hand, and this isn't mysticism, it's not me backing off, it's the truth: you don't have to worry about the noun of death. You'll never experience it, because you'll never be dead.
Old egos always die, they're just never dead
The word dead is a cold and frightening word to still living thinking persons. But the still living thinking person who fears the word dead really has nothing to fear, because HE will never BE dead.
That is, he won't share the condition of being dead with his body. And his body, which won't really be his anymore, won't experience it, either. His body will be dead, incapable of experience. And he won't exist.
At the point of death, we part company with our bodies - or, rather, they part company with us. Until they rot and disintegrate, bodies go on existing for awhile longer, as dead non-thinking substance, untroubled by words. But we, the streams of thought called we that exist in the heads of still living bodies, just stop - absolutely. The phenomena of life, consciousness, and fear that are "we" are not substantive. They are only the motion of substance. A dead body - a mass of dead substance - is dead precisely because it no longer moves.
Once the body is dead, the life that once accompanied that now dead body (rode it like a passenger) is gone - completely gone - along with the motion that has stopped and the person who WAS the motion - along with all his consciousness of words like dead.
What was his BODY is dead- yes. But, no, HE isn't dead, not because he's still alive but because he no longer exists. His dead BODY isn't troubled by death. And HIS troubles are over.
Like a god self slain on his own strange altar,
Death lies dead. - Swinburne
Admittedly, this is a hard concept to grasp in the face of...
The charge nurse tending my
dying mother gently spoke of a journey, a concept too quaint to prompt any
thoughts at all except about her; she's a nice lady. Words and phrases like
into the abyss, the great mystery, journey into the unknown , etc.
arouse only the literary critic in me.
When I was too young to realize death,
I firmly adopted the Epicurean stance that it was not death but dying that
I feared, which makes sense. I've heard a number of intellectual friends say
the same thing, inevitably explaining to themselves that death, after all
(not a pun; a fact), is nothing and one can't fear nothing. But
the WORD nothing is something, with only a little less weight than
pain, which we've all experienced and yet still fear.
The elliptical three dots that some writers self
consciously scorning literary or philosophical affectation use, don't just represent
nothing. They also represent the absence of something, which may
be a grammatical paradox and a violation of the rule against terminal ellipses
(I can't seem to avoid grim puns here), but our minds (even in desperate foetal
curled-up denial) grasp the point hard and we fear it like blazes.
Watching my mom stoically or angrily enduring
pain but crying when each visit ended and I said goodbye, I was jolted by a re-revelation of what
I already knew. What scares her and me is not the pain that may or may not
be part of dying. What scares us is the...
Some advice you should take for your own good
Slow down and read the next essay, which is very important to you, slowly. Read it one word at a time, making sure you understand each word and the syntax of each sentence. It will do you a lot of good.
And where, Francois, is the music of
Music boxes are amazing contraptions
of many sizes and degrees of complexity made of a variety of materials brought
to life by the purely mechanical force of released tension as a metal spring
unwinds. Some of the most intricate are displayed behind glass in amusement
parks so you can follow the initially rotating force through a seemingly miraculous
train of moving gears, pulleys, levers, prongs, hammers, bellows, strings,
keys and pipes to the resulting lively music which seems disconnected and
literally in the air.
In fact, to the enthralled children, lovers and
old people watching the contraption, the synchronization of music and moving
parts seems to prove that the apparently free and separate music is driving
the amazing contraption, rather than the other way around.
Yet, when the dead metal spring is completely unwound
and all the dead parts stop, the music ceases to exist. It's gone without
a trace - along with the lively motion. So, clearly, neither motion nor music are really
among the train of parts that form the contraption. They are invisible passengers
that stop when the contraption stops.
But the motion and music don't get off and catch
another train to heaven. They simply cease to exist, leaving no particles,
mist or any other trace or residue behind. The now inert contraption is still
there - spring, gears, pulleys, levers, prongs, hammers, bellows, strings,
keys and pipes - all suddenly lifeless and subject to decay. But the motion
and music are gone - not dead - they've died OUT but aren't dead and never will be - just
Metaphors are supposedly never perfect, but that
one is pretty good, because the sound and fury of life are exactly like the
music box's music and motion, and this is just as comforting as Epicurus claimed.
When I'm asked what I think happens to me after I'm dead, I know the answer
- nothing. I simply cease to exist.
Music which results only from movement of a series of mechanical parts cannot go on alone when the mechanical parts stop moving. A stream of consciousness that needs a brain to flow cannot suddenly stop needing the brain and go on flowing on its own when the brain dies and stops.
An explanatory note
When a highly educated woman, to whom I'd e-mailed a copy of the music-box metaphor above, replied that she agreed completely but was nevertheless confident she'd be reincarnated some day, I decided first that her double-think was impossible, and then that maybe some readers almost qualified to BE readers might react the same, maybe just because they'd never confronted a good argument before.
That was a pretty generous concession, probably too generous. But, after watching an old sci-fi movie on TV in which "scientists" about to take off in a technologically marvelous rocket ship first prayed to a supernatural god exactly as if they were Jason's primitive Argonauts setting off in their elaborate row-boat, I decided to do something I don't like to do .
I haven't argued about the existence of a god since I was a young man, because the idea that a single sentient being created the infinite and eternal universe is too absurd to talk about. Souls are in the same category, but I don't remember ever argumentatively bothering with them. So, to make up for all those years of justifiable neglect, I'm going to violate my own rules and expend 2000 words (my lifetime output, I swear) nailing down the coffin lid on the soul question. Then that's that. Anyone who still doesn't get it should take note that the warning at the bottom of my home page and at the top of this page is there for a reason.
Last epitaph for the soul
Comic book souls are drawn as dotted line duplicates of John and Jane in all their clothes as if their clothes had dotted line souls, too. Movie souls dispense with the dotted lines; they're solid fully dressed John and Jane themselves pretending nobody can see them. That's because (1) nobody knows what bodiless souls look like, and (2) John's and Jane's identities, the very cargo their souls are supposed to carry away, can't be separated from their bodies, faces and voices or even easily from their clothes.
The reason nobody knows what bodiless souls look like is that nobody ever sees one. And the reason nobody sees one is that they don't exist. Souls, karma, whatever you call them, are never encountered except as the hokey special effects at a seance or in the tales of con men selling useless illusions of immortality. And the reason a self-declared soulful person, challenged to describe his soul or its get-away procedure, suddenly becomes reticent, defensively insisting on an "agreement to disagree," is that his mind's gone blank. Words - the coin of philosophy - can reflect only the details of reality or lies or fantasies that at least look real, and the trouble with souls is that they have no known details; they're blank; they look like nothing at all.
But a better reason a wisp of unseen smoke called a soul can't possibly carry anyone's identity away from his dead body is that each individual human identity is obviously hardwired to the specific body it started and grew and died with. Our bodies and our identities are absolutely locked together, and the supposed immortality of anything BUT our bodily identities isn't really immortality. Disembodied wailing noises or karmic energy won't do. The only identities we really believe in or really want to preserve forever consist of the real and specific details, features, expressions, movements, appetites, interactions, nervous and organic reactions, and experiences of our bodies, and the body-related thoughts of our physical brains.
Talking about souls is as absurd as talking about gods, and for the same reason, that there's no real or even imaginable evidence that such things exist, while there's a mountain of evidence besides the famous pinch test that the physical body exists and another mountain of evidence tying every aspect of identity itself to clearly corollary aspects of the body.
Obviously, I AM my body, or rather the life of my body, and when my body's motion stops, when it ceases to live, I will cease to exist. My body IS me, because every single aspect of me, all I care about and all that I or anyone else thinks of as me, is part of my body, and without that body there's nothing left to be me.
To others and to me, too, the entity I call I or me and which they call by my name consists first of the nearly unique composite of the various surface features of MY BODY'S FACE as seen by others or as I regularly see it in a mirror. Also, though less certainly identifiable, the somewhat unique composite form of the rest of my physical body (from neck to feet) is considered to be me. And the person I'm arguing with knows perfectly well that the same thing is true of her. She couldn't recognize a faceless soul, even if she thought she could see it.
Or hear it.
I am also identified by my VOICE, which, like my face, is evidently tied to my body. My voice is actually the peculiar quality of sound waves formed by the force of my physical body's exact lungs pushing air through my individual body's exact combination of larynx, throat, mouth, teeth and lips, and emitting from my body's mouth as my unique voice pronouncing a series of words in my unique way.
It should be noted that the six physical elements just mentioned (lungs, larynx, throat, mouth, teeth and lips), certainly an incomplete list of factors, each more complex than the printed numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, can be combined in many more different ways than a 6-digit lottery number. So the combination of my face (composed of far more than six variables) and my voice is not just maybe me. With no assistance from a fingerprint or DNA specialist (either of whom would also analyze actual physical characteristics of my body), the I or me consisting of those two complex factors, face and voice, IS unmistakably known to be me by all interested parties, though it is "only" a combination of physical facets of MY CERTAINLY PHYSICAL BODY.
Of course, there's nothing but lack of audacity to keep you from arguing that the soul shares all those all-important characteristics with the body during its time of residence, but so what? You can't argue that it brings them to the body with it when it supposedly comes aboard or carries them away with it when it supposedly leaves. And without them, I'm not me.
And there are other less touchable physical factors (though science is beginning to touch them as you read this) locked up in the nerve-wiring inside my head. Unknown to others but just as important to me as a unique being, I am also my perception of a voice inside my head articulating a continuous series of words illustrated with imagined images and sensations (i.e. my stream of consciousness) and also another controlling force, also inside my head, trying semi-successfully to direct both my inner voice and my directable physical body movements.
If you're grasping at a straw dream that this stream of consciousness could be a soul passenger, STOP IT! The phrase stream of consciousness is a subjective metaphor. I'm talking objectively about a series of words and image sensations copied from physical audio-visual memory banks just as hardwired to my physical brain as my nose is to my face. There IS a science of the physical brain now, and specific physical parts of the decayable human brain HAVE BEEN already reliably identified as the seats of the various parts of consciousness. It's already proven that when a surgeon's knife removes the flesh-knot known to be memory, no soul-stuff takes its place - memory stops. And when the brain scientists finally pin all our mental routines down, the gray-pink flesh chips they're pinned to will ALL be body parts subject to decay, NOT pretentiously mystical-sounding blabber invented by seventh sons of seventh sons or orange robed lip-smiling priests constantly ceremonially bowing.
The only aspect of the entity I call me that's at all hard (so far) to rationally connect to my nervous system and my organs of self perception is that element that "feels" like a controlling force. But that controlling ego is clearly enough inseparable from my body. On the one occasion when my physical body was put into deep enough sleep so that I could be operated on without pain (just as if my body had died), IT along with ALL my stream of consciousness virtually ceased to exist until my physical body awakened. On that occasion, it took no trips outside my skull or into the past or into the future. It never does. My ego never floats around town on its own but is firmly seated right behind and up against my eyes, between my ears, and slightly above my nose and mouth. It has no memories from before my first thoughts began inside this same physical head. Its only business, after all, is my bodily connected stream of consciousness and the body it goes with. Its only color or expression is supplied by my inner and audible voices, my mirror image, and other physical sensations that make up me and are all tied to my body, my head, and my brain's position in my head.
Finally, because this is the bottom line of identity, ALL the thoughts and ALL the implied efforts of the controlling force, besides being certainly physical because there's nothing else to be, are focused exclusively on my BODY's business, never on the fantasy business of any bodiless supposed soul. For instance, much if not most of the subject and substance of the series of thoughts that compose my identity's stream of consciousness and thus my identity, are my ongoing awareness of minor sounds and odors and tastes generated by or impinging on my body, and of the thermal, equilibrial, and textural sensations of contact between parts of my body or between itself and other surfaces. Indeed, if the song of myself were recorded and played, these bodily inventories would comprise most of the lyrics.
I don't NEED a soul. To be me, what I NEED are my body, my face and my voice and behind and within them, "the real me," - my real individuality - consists of a series of thoughts about the physical sensations of the physical body it is chained to and of the furniture of the real world immediately around it, mostly contemporary California between 1936 and today. If my stream of consciousness somehow popped up 1000 years later in the head of a fruit fly, most of its individuality as expressed by fretting about the crooked teeth or split ends, embarrassing tumescence or impotence, brown eyes instead of blue eyes of the long ago dissolved and no longer relevant body, as well as the once constant but no longer relevant reflections of furniture and views and weather conditions and news that once came in through no longer actual or contemporary windows would be meaningless and quickly forgotten, and anything left of any of that would amount to poor proof that anything that could seriously be called reincarnation had happened.
In fact, the claimed belief of my correspondent that a bodiless version of herself will return in another body irrelevant to and with no memory of her previous body and yet somehow still be her is illogical and can't be based on any observation or evidence or even coherent explanation since there is none, but can only have been mimicked from the published conjectures of some sect leader or metaphysician just as human and tied to his own body as she is to hers, selected through random circumstance from among thousands of philosophers and science fiction writers who have propounded thousands of equally respectable or absurd theories (the most logical being those of the science fiction writers), so that to claim actual belief in just one of them is careless at best and at worst outrageously at odds with considerable actually available, coherent, verifiable and often verified evidence that consciousness is inseparable from the physical brain.
In fact, the evidence that my conscious being is entirely the motion and music of my brain and will certainly cease to exist forever when my brain stops moving and disintegrates is so overwhelming that my correspondent's continued acceptance of a Buddhist fantasy of reincarnation framed in made-up mystic sounding words has to be regarded as mere denial and dismissed accordingly.
The last dying note
Guitar strings are made of dead nylon or steel but their vibration makes musical noise that may seem separately alive because you can't see or touch it, but when their vibration stops, though the strings are still there, slowly turning to chemicals or rust, the music just stops; it's gone.
A human body is like a guitar, its life no more than the vibration of its nervous flesh, and though that life may seem separately spiritual because you can't see or touch it, when the flesh stops vibrating and starts decomposing, the life just stops; it's gone - completely and forever.
The last bumper stickers
Our only immortality lies
In our redundancy
When the last redundant man dies
Our immortality will die with him.