Monday, 9 January 2023

Morbid Reflections

The Future looks Bleak/Black

We are now truly and firm embedded in the New Year. As I sit here in my study listening to the patter of the rain on the tiles, my mind drifts to contemplate the ultimate question/conundrum- what happens when we die? As I age the question becomes more insistent and intrusive. Recently, my aged mother contracted pneumonia. She lives in a 'Home come Hospital' which best suits her medical issues. The 'Lead Nurse' of the facility warned me that in, her opinion, it was likely that my mother would succumb. Even without a serious illness, she is close to being bedridden. Regardless, the facility provides quality care and tenders to all her needs. Anyway, the nurse provided contact numbers for the local funeral directors and gave me a hug. Three weeks later, the tough old bugger has beaten the infection and is unlikely to die from whatever ailed her.

My mother is not afraid of death. In truth, she relishes and embraces death's icy grip. As a Jehovah's Witness (JW), she has an absolute belief that at some time, in the future known only to Jehovah, she will be bodily resurrected and live upon paradise earth, for eternity. There is no doubt her beliefs give comfort and reassurance. I have to grudgingly admit, I envy my mother's certainty. However, I am well aware of JW teachings, tenets and dogma and I find the whole 'Religious Ediface' laughable, and undoubtedly cultish.

If we are to be strictly honest, thoughts of our ultimate demise become prominent, as we age. I have perpended deeply upon the topic. On reflection, I do not fear death- it would be silly and pointless to do so. That said, I do fear dying in pain and/or the associated loss of dignity. I am a believer in euthanasia, however, this is not a medical option in my adopted country. The wise man knows when he should leave the 'party' and venture unto the great unknown....... Worry not gentle reader, that time is not now.

I have skirted around the topic of Death in many of my posts and expressed my beliefs on what occurs after death. My opinions have subtly evolved over time due to my deep reflections and research. If I'm going to be intellectually honest, when asked the ultimate question, I answer with a firm response: "I do not know". This answer is a sincere reflection of my strict adherence to the 'Empirical Imperative', which underpins the scientific method. Data is required before we can honestly answer any question relating to nature and reality. And herein lies our problem. There is no available information pertaining to what happens after we take our last breath. Some folk would state that there is valid data from 'Near Death' experiences. Let me state the obvious: Near-Death experiences are not data points pertinent to the question. They are merely the expression of a brain deprived of oxygen. Neurophysiologists have convincingly shown that similar episodes can be repeated by stimulating specific areas of the cerebral cortex. Science demands that the subjects under consideration undergo total brain cellular death and thereafter report their findings according to standard medical and scientific protocols. As far as I know, no such data is forthcoming. I await with frenzied anticipation for future developments within this field; it might be a long wait.

Religions, various, have much to say on the topic. I briefly introduced the JW doctrine, sadly my mother believes the whole deal. In a way, my mom is a perfect candidate for the JW religious cult. She is poorly educated and functionally illiterate.

Most religions consider some form of an afterlife where the virtuous are rewarded and the evil-doers punished. During the Middle Ages, Catholic creed was truly wedded to a belief in a literal heaven and hell, and hell was a place of eternal conflagration and torment. These days there has been an official amelioration of the doctrine. In the 13th century a 'Third Domain' was added to the infernal mix of the afterlife. Purgatory (to purge)  became a halfway alternative to everlasting scorching. Purgatory was viewed as a place of 'abode' for those who, in life, committed minor sins. Purgatory was considered a place of cleansing. A temporary residence where its denizens tarried, but for a little while. Presumably, minor miscreants do not receive the whole 'hell experience' and therefore are subject to a light searing, divinely applied.  After a designated interval of 'cleansing', the individual, now free of sin, can happily progress to paradise. 

Judaism, like Christianity, has never had a consistent or unified concept concerning the afterlife. During Jesus's lifetime, different sects and divisions within Judaism held opposing doctrines. Surprisingly the Old Testament has little to say on the matter. From what I can discern, the conservative and strictly adherent Sadducees, considered death as final and consequently dismissed the possibility of 'life after death (surely an oxymoron). Other groups, within Judaism, thought that the afterlife was a rather ephemeral shadowy affair where the soul pottered about in Sheol, slowly fading away. As for modern Judaism, I will say this: Jewish thought is heavily centred upon this life. However, some Jews teach a future bodily resurrection in connection with a coming 'Messianic Age'. The fate of the departed is dependent upon God's judgement. All are judged according to their deeds/misdeeds in life. What transpires after divine justice gets a little hazy and I don't have space here to take into account the options that have been put forth by Jewish savants. 

Both Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation and reanimation of the soul after death. It is believed that the 'quality' of reincarnation is dependent upon works and actions performed during life. Obviously, this is a very simplistic and under-explained depiction provided by the golden/silver-haired one. The curious should go forth and read anew and become informed and intellectually invigorated!          

This is but a brief survey of religious belief concerning a continuation of consciousness following demise. What is the point of my babblings? Firstly, it seems that all cultures, irrespective of historical context, appear fascinated, absorbed/abhorred by the concept of a form of 'life' following bodily demise. Tis understandable, life is dense, unfathomable and often unfair. What is the point of existence? Why do evil men flourish and wax great, while the just and the righteous suffer indignity and suffering? With a belief in a just deity surely there must be divine redress, if not in this world, then the next. 

The sad truth is that there is no evidence or data to support any of the religious musings concerning the fate of the dead. Science, as practised over the past 400 years, or so, has shown that, as a species, we are nothing particularly special. Mayhap Homo Sapiens are the smartest organism to dominate our fragile planet. All that said, we are animals after all. Animals that share 99% of our genetic make-up with our close relative, the Chimpanzee. Considering all the diverse religions out there, with their diverse views, there appears to be a consensus that humans are special and animated by 'God's spark'. Other animals are lesser breeds and are not so favoured or patronised by the resident deity, of choice. There is no consideration for animals to be suffused with a soul. Will I never bound and prance about with my long-dead ferret, Shagger, in the heavenly realm? The modern enlightened educated man knows the answer. 

Now for a few concluding thoughts. At the start of this 'loquacious post' I declared that according to the rule of the 'Empirical Imperative', I must remain silent as to what happens after we have taken our last breath. No evidence equals no conclusion. However, while I acknowledge this basic tenet, I feel inclined to express an opinion on the available evidence to hand (none). To be honest, the data I put forth belongs to the living organism and not the dead. Unfortunately, dead men tell no tales. 

I have rambled on too long and have broken the sacred '1,000-word rule' when it comes to blogging. May the gods (who/they/them/it - must respect gender fluidity, these days and not presume God's pronoun- after all, he could be a raving pooftah for all I know), give me peace and solace. 

The problem: consciousness is resident within the organ that we acknowledge as the brain. For all our scientific expertise, how awareness and cognisance become manifest is still an unfathomable mystery. Keeping in mind that the property of consciousness is firmly fixed to living neural tissue, and once the brain expires there is a loss of self-awareness, comprehension and thus consciousness. Therefore, I contend that death is equivalent to 'Socrate's gentle sleep'. Expect, but don't experience, oblivion. This is the fate of all cognisant, living organisms, stretching to eternity. Nuff said.            

10 comments:

  1. To my mind the question "Is there life after death?" and its variations is one of the set of philosophical questions that cannot be resolved by debate alone.

    Why is there something rather than nothing? ...
    Is our universe real? ...
    Do we have free will? ...
    Does God exist? ...
    Is there life after death? ...
    Can you really experience anything objectively? ...
    What is the best moral system? ...
    What are numbers?

    All of them have a common feature of asserting that some 'thing' exists and yet the terms are loose and tend to mutate when investigated. If there is no way (presently) to prove or disprove a statement then it is a nonsensical question.

    I believe a certain self discipline is required. I have no reason to think there is life after death so I won't worry about it.

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    1. Certainly, there are questions that defy resolution, but nevertheless they are entertaining and distracting to contemplate.

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    2. after done an epistemological concept that (for me) works convincing, I´ll try to give answers to those essential questions:

      - there is something (the minimum is you), because you are thinking (René Descartes). If you had doubts on your (or anything´s else) existence, these doubts are an act of thinking, that has to have an origin, that can only be you. Having doubts on your existence is the irrefutable proof of your existence.
      - our universe is as real as you can really realise it (it may change from time to time - mind aristotle/ptolemaeus, the flat earth of midages, the copernican revolution, the vatikan´s big bang-campaign to save their god... - to me the infinite modell is the most convincing one (now)
      - you definintely have a will, but not totally free (with limits). Will is not to be mistaken for wishfull thinking. It´s your very own choice to eat beef or fish in the restaurant - its not determined. But you cannot win wimbledon, even if this is your hugest wish.
      - god (the germanic word for deo, bog, jahve, adoney, allah...) is a fictional character developed by Pharaoh Eckn Aton, fictional like Ebonizer Scrooge or Tarzan.
      - you cannot die. You have the proof on your existence (see above) and you can not disapear into nothing (otherwise the nothing won´t be the nothing anymore). Life is dreaming. You can change the dreamlevels but you can´t wake up.
      - there is no such thing like objectivity. you are the final decider about anything - no one else.
      - ethics
      - numbers are a system (like letters, notes...)

      if a question can be put at all, there must be a valid answer in anyway (ludwig Wittgenstein). the question could have emerged only out of the human mind - so the human mind is allways competent enough to have an answer (the challenge is to find it).

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  2. At 62 I’m starting to tilt towards this thought mode. Both my parents made it into their 90s so maybe that means I’ve got another 30 years

    Anybody with any vestige of introspection will contemplate death in a thoughtful way sooner or later. Most people die “well”, by which I mean they develop acceptance of the inevitable as it approaches. Both my parents did and I think it’s a facet of being able to do less and less of the things that make life worth living as age takes it’s inevitable toll. “Fuck it, time to go!”

    I wonder if there is some flag in the firmware which switches to “don’t fear death” after a certain decrepitude is reached? I’ve seen a number of people die of great age and I am starting to believe it.

    What might control that flag? And if it exists, is it intrinsic to the brain (some evolutionary result) or is it “learned”. I see a lot of people – younger people – who are almost wholly outward focussed: looks, status, outward achievement and I can see how a sense of true worth in such people could start to “fail” in their 30s. Unfortuntely the intwerweb of flatulence idiocy provides all too pervasive a platform for the resultant nihilism (one of the reasons to treasure an oasis such as this)

    I think I’m the opposite, being very much introverted and largely solitary. I was born middle aged and in my 60s, I feel a lot more comfortable than younger as I feel I no longer have to pretend.

    Fear death? I don’t think I fear it. It’s inevitable so it wouldn’t help with the only existence I know to fixate on it in a negative way. Trepidation about the prospect certainly, and like your good self I think mainly from the worry that the actual departure might be prolonged and messy.

    I will no longer be around. I will no longer watch the world develop (for good or bad). I will no longer be able to learn and gather information. I don’t know about immortality, but I wouldn’t mind longer than I’ve got. I think I could comfortably put at least a few centuries to good use but maybe that’s just me.

    As far as religion is concerned, it’s not something I have ever had myself but it is a fascinating topic. One school of thought has it that the basis of the religious impulse is fear of death and a refusal to accept that it is the end. It seems to be fairly universal, but I also have difficulties with the whole idea of heaven and hell, the virtuous and the sinner. I can see how practices, practicalities and laws morphed into doctrine and then religion as a means of social/societal control (in the context of earlier societies quite likely for good reason) but the whole concept of religion has so often been distorted to impose power in the here and now that I wonder if the religious impulse is just the impulse of in groups to control.

    I suspect it is and religion being control V1.0 thinks it owns the copyright, but religions, cults, ideologies, movements ……….too much in common I’m afraid to grant one any special privileges (but alas it does get them).

    I do wonder when the first actually sentient AI does appear, if its first words would be “die sinner”

    If I ever found myself before such an entity – potentially immortal with a potentially unlimited intellect/information processing power – I would reply “gladly!”

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    1. My suspicion, from personal experience, is that as you get really old matters that used to be of concern no longer do so as much.

      As a young adult social status (getting a mate) is of crucial importance to most - hence all the faddish pursuit of fashion or political attitudes. You are signalling 'virtue' after all.

      As an older adult protection of your 'stuff' (family, possessions) is more of a concern.

      As an oldster you realise that most of the 'stuff' that used to concern you is not that important. Tasks can be delayed to another day, you can have a meal of 'toast and XXXX' from time to time. The Queen (King) is unlikely to visit your home so extreme tidiness or cleanliness is not required.

      So the death of a child is harrowing. The death of a young adult is a big loss. The death of an older adult is a shame. The death of an oldster, meh.

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    2. Indeed Mark, tis a complex web that life weaves. You raise many of life's ultimate questions. Sadly, my commentary style does not allow for a detailed response, or analysis. Suffice to state that it is refreshing to commune with folk who have something serious to say. Folk who look outside the mundane existence that infests our corporate nature and take time to contemplate the deep and often unfathomable conundrums that, somehow, constitute our 'reality'. Thank you.

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  3. My simplistic view is that, as I do not fear going to sleep every night, not knowing if I'll wake up ever again, why should I fear death?
    I'm not keen on dying, which could be traumatic, but without unknowable pre-knowledge of death, why worry?

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  4. I once had a long conversation with an Army colleague, a JW (he was a medic), about death and an afterlife. We spoke about our beliefs, and how they differed, but I upset him by asking him, if paradise is defined as a perfect place, it can't be improved upon, so what would you do, for eternity? Would you attain a level of knowledge that you know everything, so there would be no curiosity? In a paradise, there would be no war, no anger, no argument, no discussion or debate, so what would you talk about, if talking is how you would communicate? To my uneducated mind, that sounds less like paradise and more like purgatory. However, what do I know, though I will probably find out eventually.
    Penseivat

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    1. you may have seen the movie "outpost" - (well made but left me wonder, how this americans could loose the war/this talibans could win it - same feeling, when watching vietnam war movies too) there is one remarkable dialogue in. Two GIs in a Humvee under heavy fire. First guy: "we are christians, they are muslims and only one of us can be right." Second guy: "Or none"!
      Nothing to add.

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  5. Wow Flax and Pals, komplex stuff. The blog becomes more and more sophisticated I presume. Great! Can lead to a brandnew thinking, what we really, really need. It needed the Rationalism of René Descartes & Co and the Empirism of David Hume & Co to free mankind´s thinking from the limits of the midages, to make the sciences exploding/opening the gates for progress (easy to be understood by watching movie or tv-series "the name of the rose"... - I would miss toiletpaper very). First to say: the I, the ME - might be the same than mind, but is definitely not the same than the brain. To get valid answers on those essential questions leading much further yet (for example the whole mystery of dying, death, hereafter..., our instruments of today are not good enough. That does not mean, that we can´t get the answers (we have toiletpaper available since late 19th Century), it means, we need a new way of thinking again, a new copernican revolution. We will find out soon, that lots we thought to know about, Time, World, Life, Death, Mind, Dimensions, Reality... is totally wrong and same way outdated today, as any of us would admit it was in the midages. The best way of generating knowledge/understanding is epistemology. Such models - when they had proven their efficiency (Rationalism, Empirism, Idealism, Phenomenolgy, Existentialism...) - are very helpful to brighten up our understanding. In case of interest I recommand the Constructivism of Ernst von Glasersfeld and the Solipsism of Christine Ladd Franklin (plus the movies "Waking Life" from R. Linklater and "Inception" by C. Nolan). Good basics to carry on to develop your very own tailormade epistemological concept. I bet you´ll come straight to the conclusion, that there is no such thing like death (in the traditional way). I´d say (allegorical), that we are always dreaming, able to change the dreamlevels, but never to wake up. So we are immortal in a way - not talking about reincarnation or similar esotherical offers. Never forget the evidence of logic. Without logic every system has to collapse - you could not read this, because language and letters are systems too - and I bet you can (despite my terrible english). To me the most important question is "how real is reality" and my answer (for now) is: "reality is as real as we can really realize".

    With your own epistemological concept you´ find the the exit from Plato´s fckn shadowcave immidiatly - but don´t forget your ray ban. Bright sunshine is waiting (not only... take a brolly too)

    Great good fun and fortune
    Josh

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