Monday, July 24, 2006

7.24.06, Fear of Death, Pt. 2 Rejoinder

[A desire to get high enough to escape is genuine, but like some of you know, the ability has been snatched away from me. Standing there looking at the cool beaded glass of water in your thirst, and yet. High like that is mere memory.]

Part 1. The Phys Report: Franky Scale, it’s fine, not stellar but doing basically well. You can imagine a 6 if you’re conservative, or think a 7 if it helps you. Today is the third chemo day of the 6th cycle, little peach-colored pills, pills, pills, & tomorrow will be IV chemo in the hospital again, then another week, another IV session, and so on.

Part 2. Back to Death: Today’s post is comforting, you’ll be glad to know. Yesterday’s post was not meant to be so unsettling, so perhaps this further explanation will ease some minds. Although frankly speaking I cannot see much advantage to skirting any of the issues that are uncomfortable in this experience; if there were such advantage, why write any of this? Why would you be reading it? Anyone can lie to you about the end of life and an “afterlife.” It happens at least once a week or five times a day all over the world. Here we’re engaged in more experiential project.

Therefore we come to this reminder about fear and death, or rather a rejoinder of sorts to comments made and unmade related to yesterday’s post. The Epicurean line of thinking, remember half of what I put up is just summary of that position, is that “Death means nothing to us” (this is treated in numerous places in Warren’s book, for those who want more). First, it’s that a person’s consciousness ceases at death so there is no more anxiety, fear, desire, remorse, and so on ad infinitum, to be concerned with. There are, literally, no worries. There is, then, no harm in death. Second is that with death the “atoms of the soul” — even for those who believe in Soul — are scattered, depart, go elsewhere, vacation; thus there are no sensations of the body and mind and soul. It’s the eternal disconnect, the cell phone battery dies for the last time, you do not have your cord for recharging it. Fini. With no sensations there can be no pains. Again, no harm in death.

Does this sound flippant? I want to stress though that if there is no sentient being left and there are no sensations within the body, then there is no worry, no fear, and no pain. Some might want to argue for a state of bliss, explained with various psychological need reasons; my point, however, and this is meant as comfort to everyone here, even the good old fashioned materialists (myself included in both groups), that there is no reason to fear it. To fear It, very large “I.” It is simply nothing, no-thing, no-experience, no-phenomenon, and thus cannot harm us in any way. In coldly logical terms, the Epicurean “Key Doctrine” puts it like this:

“Death is nothing to us; for what is disperses does not perceive, and what does not perceive is nothing to us” (qtd in Warren 17).

Moving on to my observations about the mine and yours of fear: What’s above forms the backdrop logic that made me point out the dialectical chronological nature of fear, based on its being Self or Other centered — that becomes more paramount, it seems, because while I am sentient and feel so much physically the chance for fear is greatly increased. Thus fear number four was / is perhaps the most daunting. The rest, I spit on them. Two and three I feel I’ve already gone through, and fear number one is simply too much of a void to be comprehended. Fairy tales, scary movies, irrational fears, curses, anthropomorphic fates, harpies, ghosts, and gods — it’s all part of the same stuff. And the Other-based fear, while existing now too, truly takes hold when the reality of the situation sets in, when the physical nature of things changes so that my person, my “I,” is gone and there’s nothing left but narrative, knick knacks, and memory.

Someone in a private email even pointed out an unexpected upside to “the knowing” (i.e., of premature death, related to fear #3) which is having the time, at least theoretically, to say what you want and do what you want before you go. This is only partly correct; I’ve tried to convey this before but until you actually find yourself in this position the mere imagining of it is rather vague and incomprehensible. Some comforts might be had, but there are also an unyielding anxiety and pressure that come with the erasure of fear three (not knowing when you’ll die). Difficult sleeping each night as symptom of this. Recently I gave words to that: I am so bone tired today all I want to do is go over there, lie down, forget in sleep, but there is no forgetting, and if I do it, that just means one less night to sleep, one less time to close the books and turn out the lights. A genuinely melancholy thought. Thanks to the emailer, but too, please try to see both sides at least, or even the third, since there are always at least three sides to every story. (Right, Frank?)

I’ll offer the most forceful counter-argument myself, to save time: it hinges on belief in post mortem consciousness. Just like all of Christianity or Islam hinge on a conscious choice of faith (Abraham, Isaac, Kierkegaard). The edifice of the argument stands or falls on that, a cornerstone, regardless of how rigorously logical the system might be qua (closed) total system. For this author, then, no p.m. consciousness, ergo, no fear, no pain.

For those who are really engaged in this practice of thinking through the problem, and those who know me already know this, but my favorite and, I think, by far the most profound thinking along these lines (of “life and death” and what it means to do both) is found in the first few pages of Albert Camus’ book The Myth of Sisyphus. I’ve held back from exploring that here, since I thing it would truly push the envelope. Still hold back.

No comments: