Life and Death

needle double

September 6th marks two important anniversaries in the life of someone to whom I was uniquely close, his name was Don. Don was born on September 6th, 1982, and he died on September 6th, 2011. A neat and tidy 29 years, no remainder. It also, now, marks the birth of the daughter of one of my great friends, she was born on September 6th, 2018. Mazel tov!

On September 9th of this same year, my own daughter was born. Mazel tov to me! And to her, and her mother of course. Great joy! In an email I received while still in the hospital the next day, I learned that my brother’s dog was hit by a car in the streets of Chicago, and had passed away.

So much spinning on the wheel of life! Life emerges, departs, emerges, departs. Such a funny and sad and amazing thing. My brother and I adopted our dogs on the same day, incidentally. We went to the shelter, just to look. We were both hungover, and prone to depressive states. Perhaps we thought looking at cute dogs would make us feel better, or perhaps that looking at cute dogs in cages would let us wallow deeper in our existential numbness. At any rate we left with two cute little chihuahuas. His dog may have been the daughter of my dog, they weren’t sure. I will say that I told my dog about what happened, and she has barely gotten off the couch since. Am I projecting? Quite possibly. I am just a dumb ape with barely any hair and not one redeeming adaptation besides a big stupid brain after all.

So, a lot of death and life all crammed into 4 days (it’s strange how calendar math works, 6+3=9, yet the 6th through the 9th consists of four days, not three). A lot more than just my old friend, my daughter, my friends daughter, and my brother’s dog. Hell, just in regards to people I know a friend lost a cousin to suicide in the same time span, and another old friend had a daughter as well. Imagine how much life and death there must have been in the city I live in, nevermind the whole fucking planet!

What’s the point? Well, that’s my question. I’m exalted and over the moon about my daughter, and my friend’s as well. I am saddened deeply for my brother, it is no trivial thing to lose a pet, especially after almost a decade of companionship. Is it a wash? Is there a lesson to learn? If there is, I am afraid it might really be trivial. The lesson being simply that things that are alive die, so rejoice in them before it happens! Hug your daughters! Hug your dogs! Look at the birds! Smell a goddamn rose! The mud became conscious, and now it is your turn to enjoy it, don’t fuck around!

Congratudolences to all!

Do Whatever You Want, You Have To Anyways.

The title of this piece is false advice. If you want to hurt people, don’t. If you want to hoard money for no reason while people starve to death, or work menial jobs forever to no happy end, don’t. However, if you want to move to the beach, do. If you want to open an ice cream stand, do. If you want to forget all of your debts and walk off into the woods, go for it.

Life is singular folks. Seems very unlikely that it happens again, at the very least not in the same way it is happening right now. Which means you’ve got one chance to do what you want in this world, it is this chance, it is today. Hate your job? Quit. Don’t like your neighbors? Move. Nothing gets better through inaction, no one is coming to save you. It is up to you.

I have even better news actually, it isn’t up to you. Everything you are ever going to do is set in stone. How do I know? I don’t, but I’m pretty sure. Here’s two pieces of evidence. One is just that this life doesn’t repeat itself, which means you go through it exactly once. Every time you have acted, responded, decided, it was the only time you will ever act in that particular situation. Which means questions of what you would do differently if you had the chance are irrelevant. You won’t. Furthermore, even if you did, if you were in the exact same situation again, with the exact same information, you would make the exact same choice. How do I know? Because in that situation with that information, you made that choice. Pretending you would magically make some other choice in that exact same situation is useless, as is pretending you might have been able to learn from the mistake of that choice before having made it and so chose otherwise. Spilt milk.

The other piece of evidence is just the very nature of the universe. It’s causal. X happens, causes y why every time. The pool ball analogy is a good one. If the cue ball hits the eight ball on the exact same table at the exact same speed and angle at the exact same positions, the eight ball will move the same way every time. This has been how things have happened since the beginning. Stars forming, planets, earthquakes, waves, clouds, rainbows, all just a reaction to the laws of nature and previous events. So it is with physical phenomena. You know what else is physical phenomena? Your thoughts, your decisions, your actions. Each is just a reaction to the laws of nature and previous events. Had toast this morning? That was determined by the big bang. Broke up with your boyfriend? Big bang did that. C’est la vie.

So, don’t worry about doing whatever you want, you’re going to. Don’t worry about mistakes you’ve made, you had no choice. Free will is an illusion. Since free will is an illusion and mistakes don’t matter, go ahead and do whatever you want. Of course you shouldn’t worry about doing whatever you want, you’re going to, which means you don’t have to worry about any mistakes you’ve ever made, because you had no choice, and since your mistakes don’t matter, you may as well do whatever you want. Of course you are going to do whatever you want, so don’t worry about possible mistakes, they were inevitable, because free will is an illusion, and since mistakes don’t matter, go ahead and do whatever you want. Why are you so focused on potential mistakes anyway? Maybe it’ll be awesome.

Quotes of Thomas Paine

I am not currently up to the task of either summarizing or analyzing “Rights of Man” by Thomas Paine, which I read recently.  A few quotes, very few given the number of powerful and entirely relevant passages available in this work, follow.

“It suits his purpose to exhibit the consequences with their causes. It’s one of the arts of the drama, to do so. If the crimes of men were exhibited with their suffering, stage effect would sometimes be lost and the audience would be inclined to approve where it was intended they commiserate.”

“Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, or to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured.”

“Man can be kept ignorant, but he cannot be made ignorant.”

“When it is laid down as a maxim that a king can do no wrong it places him in a similar security with that of idiots and persons insane and responsibility is out of the question.”

(Italics on that last quote are mine, I’ll tell you that I added them because it seems as though Thomas Paine was talking specifically about the insane idiot that is currently the president of the United States, just in case that wasn’t clear).

 

 

The Trolley (continued)

The brakes on the train lock up, they sound like a giant dragging his fingernails across a city wide blackboard. The man sitting on the bridge leans forward, as if he is trying to get a better look. You decide you’ll save the children, one life sacrificed to save five others, that in itself is sufficient justification. You rush forward, and the man looks over at you.

“Oh, hello Sarah.” he says.

It’s your cousin, someone you haven’t seen in years, but your kin all the same. You should have recognized him, but you didn’t. You falter, tripping over your steps, but your momentum is determined. Your cousin puts up his hands, tries to swing his legs back over the bridge, but it’s too late. You connect with him, and he topples over the side. When the train comes to stop it is with your cousin’s body edging up against the first child. The children are saved, you saved them. You also murdered your cousin.

A flash of light blinds you, seems to take up the entire world, and then fades away. You are standing on top of the bridge again, your cousin sits on the edge of the bridge. The brakes have just begun to squeal.

(to be continued)

“Miller’s Valley” by Anna Quindlen

I picked up this book for essentially no reason at all, it was in the “Staff Picks” section of the library, which is never a driving force in my selection process. Not that I don’t think librarians would pick good books, it’s just that I pretty much ignore recommendations from anyone in regards to anything. Unless I don’t, which is frequently the case. At any rate, I grabbed it, checked it out alongside a stack of cds, and took it home.

I’ve been reading on the bus a lot lately. I got a summer job at the baseball stadium in the big city, and so I ride in on the bus from my suburban town a dozen miles from the city limits or so. I sit in my seat, listen to my headphones, and submerge myself in some book or another. Not only does it serve the purposes inherent to reading while listening to music, whatever those are, they also stop people from talking to me. I’m not antisocial, except for when I want nothing to do with societal interactions, which is frequently the case. This book drew me in swiftly. I’m also listening to The Dark Tower series via the library app, named Libby, on my Ipod (yeah, I said Ipod) on the recommendation of a friend, a recommendation I did not ignore. That series has a possessive force over my life, and, yet, I continuously chose to read this book instead of diving back into the gunslinger’s world. I mention this only to underline how much I enjoyed this book.

Here’s the deal, not much happens in Miller’s Valley. There’s a girl, she’s young, over the course of the book she grows up. Her mom is a nurse with little patience for nonsense, her father runs the farm and fixes the machines of Miller’s Valley. She has a brother who is much older and moderately successful in his field, another brother who goes to Vietnam, and suffers some significant repercussions. She has a nice friend and a mean one, a shut-in aunt, some stuff is happening in the town. Some people die along the way, in the end some interesting events come to light, raising a few interesting, and unanswered, questions.

So? Who cares? I had about 30 pages left of this book and I realized if it was an autobiography, which is essentially the style in which it was written, I might be embarrassed for the author, thinking their little life was worth writing a whole damn book about it. However, since it was fiction, instead I enjoyed the hell out of it. What gives?

Like The Old Man and the Sea or Women or many countless others, this is a story which shows that the way a story is told matters much more than the content of the story. You can go and fight dragons in outer space, but if you don’t have a feel for timing revelations, or framing characters, or simply the language in which you write, it’s probably not going to be a very good story. Miller’s Valley is just the opposite, a relatively simple story told very well. I might have to hit up that “Staff Picks” section more often.

The Trolley

In your town a bridge crosses an expanse of railway tracks that lead to a terminating depot. Often people stand on the bridge, watching the trains roll into their final destination, or take off again. It is not the majestic scenery of the nearby mountains or lakes, but in the context of a city, for those appreciative of the massive capacity of humankind for producing infrastructure, it is nice to look at.

One day, early in the morning, you are walking across that bridge. It is nearly empty, a rare event, with the lone observer sitting upon the railing of the bridge, his feet dangling over the tracks. Not an entirely safe position, but the man is clearly an adult, an impressively sized adult at that. A giant almost. You edge over to the railing yourself, so as to see the tracks, and you stop. Your heart seems to skip a beat. Down there, as if in a Dudley Doright cartoon, are children tied to the train tracks. Five of them. Screaming for help.

“Holy shit!” you scream.

“I know.” says the other man.

A train is approaching, it’s horn blaring. At this stage it does not move quickly, but neither can it apply the brakes quickly enough to stop before hitting the children, and regardless of its speed the impact is going to end the lives of each child. In a blur of thoughts one seems to ring out a little more clearly. The man is sitting directly above the track, and the combination of the frantically screeching brakes of the train and the weight of the man might be sufficient to save them. Why is he sitting there anyway? Why didn’t he call for help right away? Did he tie them to the tracks? There isn’t time to ask, you either push the man, surely killing him but saving the lives of the children, or you don’t, and the children will die.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

 

(to be continued)

“The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury

“‘What could I do? Argue with you? It’s simply me against the whole crooked grinding greedy setup on Earth. They’ll be flopping their filthy atom bombs ups here, fighting for bases to have wars. Isn’t it enough they’ve ruined one planet, without ruining another; do they have to foul someone else’s manger? The simple minded windbags. When I got up here I felt I was not only free of their so called culture, I felt I was free of their ethics and their customs. I’m out of their frame of reference, I thought. All I have to do is kill you all off and live my own life.”’

So spoke Jeff Spender to Captain Wilder in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. In this brief passage Spender speaks to the conundrum faced by so many people in so many times, the possession a such a powerful hatred of the ignorant violence perpetuated by our species on our species, and the rest of the planet, that it urges violence in return. The idea that these people are evil for killing innocent people, or allowing them to die despite the overwhelming resources available to help them, and so they ought to be killed in return. 

The Martian Chronicles was first published in 1950, comprised of stories written in the years before, years during and after World War Two. WWII is often noted as a just war, something that seems to make it distinct from the many other wars that have been fought in recent history. After all, the Nazis, who were and are vile putrid scum of the earth, were defeated, what’s not to love? 

In the direct aftermath however, as evidenced by the 45 years of officially fearing total nuclear annihilation known as the Cold War, and the following 28 years of, well, continuing to fear total nuclear annihilation known as the present, the focus wasn’t squarely on that defeat. It was the case, after all, that while the Nazis were defeated on the battlefield, it was the country of Japan, whose atrocities were not quite so distinct, that was defeated from six miles in the sky by two planes, and two nuclear bombs. In short, while there was much to celebrate, there was a lot to be somber about as well. 

The Martian Chronicles is written with this apprehension writ large. People flee the Earth to escape the constant drumbeat of war, the news from Earth is always in regards to the threats against its habitability, and eventually, those threats become reality. Violence on a massive scale is not the only theme however, and Bradbury also reveals a progressive understanding of race relations that is beyond contemporary, at least as far as politics in the United States would suggest. The parallels between the invasion of Earthlings to Mars mirrors, and is pointed out almost explicitly, to the invasion of Europeans to the American continents. This includes the violence against Martian culture, and the near extinction of the Martians due to their exposure to Earth-born disease. It was this travesty that lead Jeff Spender to murder. 

In a passage titled June 2003: Way in the Middle of the Air, the population of Black people in the South, having secretly pooled their money, had rocketships built, and are suddenly departing for Mars. A handful of old white men sit on the porch of a hardware store, watching the exodus.

“Between the blazing white banks of the town stores, among the tree silences, a black tide flowed. Like a kind of summer molasses, it poured turgidly forth upon the cinnamon-dusty road. It surged slow, slow, and it was men and women and horses and barking dogs, and it was little boys and girls. And from the mouth of the people partaking of this tide came the sound of a river. A summer-day river going somewhere, murmuring and irrevocable.” 

One man sitting on the stoop of the hardware store, Samuel Teece, becomes enraged. He screams at the people going by, he stops a man named Belter and demands that Belter pay him a fifty dollar debt, or stay and work it off, something that would take two months Teece gleefully suggests. A crowd gathers and an old man among them passes a hat, quickly collecting the debt, which Teece tries to refuse, to no avail as Belter leaves the money on the dusty ground at his feet. Teece tries to intervene once more, stopping a young man who worked in his store and demanding he fulfill the terms of his contract to work there for another two years. Another of the old men on the porch offers to take his job, and the young man leaves off, shouting back behind him, “Mr. Teece, Mr. Teece, what you goin’ to do night from now on? What you goin’ to do nights, Mr. Teece?”

The following scene shows that Samuel Teece was a perpetuator of murder by lynching, something known in the town, but without any consequences for Mr. Teece or his fellow murderers. Science fiction authors have a penchant for prescience, in this case it is quite unfortunately the case. Bradbury not only predicted that the relationships between people with varying levels of melanin in their skin would still be fraught with tension in the new millennium, at least in some cases, some places, but that violence by white people against black would continue to go largely unpunished, and even seem to have some semblance of legality behind it. A story further in time has an Earthling shoot a Martian who attempted to hand him a scroll, mistaking it for a weapon. Later he talks to his wife about it. 

‘“I’m sorry what happened,” he said. He looked at her, then away. “You know it was purely the circumstances of Fate.”

‘Yes.’ said his wife.

‘I hated like hell to see him take out that weapon.’

‘What weapon?’

‘Well I thought it was one!…’

He doesn’t claim to have been afraid for his life, but it is implied. 

This book is not quite so dour as I have made it seem. Though it is dark throughout, there is levity as well. In the early missions a Captain and his men make it to an inhabited Mars, but instead of being greeted with surprise and celebration, they are greeted with bored passiveness, being ultimately referred to a Mr. Iii, who turns out to be the local psychiatrist. In another, after Mars has been all but deserted, a young man desperate for company meets perhaps the last young woman on the planet, and after a few days decides he didn’t mind being alone after all. Another story, not quite funny but interesting and light, has a Martian meet a newly arrived Earthling who seem to be experiencing entirely different periods of time, and they cannot determine who is living in the past, who in the present. There is the story of Benjamin Driscoll, the Johnny Appleseed of Mars by his own description. There is also a passing reference to the world of Farenheit 451, through a man who recreates the House of Usher to the dismay of the local Investigator of Moral Climates.

This book takes place over the years 1999 to 2026. In the end it is only complete annihilation of the Earth, and nearly off it’s inhabitants, that allows the world to move on from the psychosis that has entrapped in a state of perpetual greed and violence for millenia. One family escapes in a rocket hidden from the governments of Earth. As the father, burns away sheafs of paper containing the legal codes of Earth, he talks to his family about why he is doing so, and why the radio transmissions from Earth had stopped.

‘“I’m burning a way of life, just like the way of life is being burned clean of Earth right now. Forgive me if I talk like a politician. I am, after all, a former state governor, and I was honest and they hated me for it. Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines. Wars got bigger and bigger and and finally killed Earth. that’s what the silent radio means. That’s what we ran away from.’”

There are eight years between now and 2026, and perhaps the good news is we do not yet have another manger to foul. We have the Earth, and that is all. It is dispiriting, to say the least, to still be fighting to have it recognized that the color of a person’s skin has no more to do with their value than their height, or their shoe size. It is disheartening to have to battle against bigots and cowards, because of they don’t like that some men love men and women love women, or that people are no longer prisoner to the gender stated on their birth certificates. The environment continues to be destroyed by people who claim that it cannot be destroyed. A single person can possess enough wealth to feed the world, wealth built almost exclusively by underpaid labor and criminal working conditions, and be lauded for offering free delivery of knick knacks for a yearly fee. The fact that we are still in as much danger of nuclear war as ever, but that we seem to have simply gotten used to it, is hard to fathom. 

Perhaps though, just as The Martian Chronicles has more lightness than it seems on its surface, there is more hope on Earth than it would seem. The artist, recently risen to prominence, Boots Riley said on his most recent album, “They got the TV, we got the truth/They own the judges and we got the proof/We got hella people, they got helicopters/ They got the bombs and we got the/we got the/we got the guillotine…” 

Ray Bradbury wrote a cautionary tale, but just because the premises have bore out does not mean the ending will. We may not even need the eight years between now and the end of the book to begin to make the necessary changes. We don’t need to escape to Mars either, we don’t need to run away at all, and we don’t need to kill the people we disagree with. What we need, and what it would seem we have in abundance, is people in the streets, ready to take back to Earth. The work may never stop, but all that means is neither should we. 

 

Smarter Than Man

The question I have today is simple. On what basis does humankind declare that they are the most intelligent animal? The question that follows is similarly simple, what would it take for humankind to determine that it is not the case?

I know not many people look at this site, which is unfortunate, because I would love help with this. I’ll be thinking about it, I hope you will too. Email me your thoughts, if you’d like, at thechurchofblackcoffee@gmail.com, or comment below.

Thanks!

No Know.

Long ago there was a French guy name Rene. Rene wondered to himself, “What do I know?” and began to deconstruct his knowledge.

Rene realized that most claims of knowledge are grounded in sensorial input, i.e. you see the sun and so claim knowledge that the sun exists. You hear your mother’s voice and so claim knowledge of its sound. You touch burning stick, and so claim knowledge that burning your skin hurts. Rene was not convinced that his justification was sufficient for the claim however, as the senses can deceive. If you see a tornado, what ensures that you are not dreaming it? If you smell popcorn can you be sure it isn’t a hallucination? If you see your friend, isn’t it possible you’re just wrong?

To illustrate this argument forcefully Rene asks the reader to consider a scenario. In this scenario all that exists in the universe is your mind and a demon. The demon is manipulating your mind, causing it to ‘sense’ all that you experience. So the demon causes your mind to hear friends and families, to smell eggs and gasoline, see the sun, all of it, but all the while all that actually exists is the demon and your mind. Since in that universe your experiences would be identical to the experiences you have in this universe, you can’t know for sure that that universe isn’t actually this universe, i.e. you can’t know that you aren’t being entirely deceived by your senses in regards to everything, which means you can’t claim knowledge of anything. Except, Rene continues, that you exist, for no demon, no matter how powerful, could convince something that doesn’t exist that it does. So, as you can think you experience the world, that you can think at all, is sufficient justification for knowledge that, if nothing else, you exist. You think, therefore you are. Everything else? Impossible to know.

That was a long time ago, and there hasn’t really been a solid counterargument. More contemporary epistemologists suggested that knowledge of a proposition consisted of belief in that proposition, justification for that belief, and truth of the proposition. That really just moved the mystery though, what is justification anyway? Furthermore this dude Edmund Gettier blew a hole in that idea mile wide anyway.

Gettier was a professor of philosophy somewhere who hadn’t published anything, or at least not in a while. The admin said he should, so he wrote a three page paper showing that true, justified belief was not sufficient for knowledge. Imagine you come hoime, you see your mom standing in the kitchen ,and so you think, “My mom is home.” As it turns out, what you are looking at is a hologram, however, your mom is home, just in a different room. So you believe the proposition that your mom is home, it’s true your mom is home, and the belief is justified by the fact you see your mom, but it sure doesn’t seem like you know your mom is home. Another scenario like this, you are driving through farmland, barns everywhere. What you don’t know is that there are way more barn facades than actual barns, just movie set barn faces being propped up from behind with sticks. As you drive you catch a glimpse of one of the very few actual barns and think, “That’s a barn.” You believe it’s a barn, it is a barn, and it is, again, justified by having seen it. Again though, doesn’t seem like a barn.

So what the hell? How can you know anything? No worries my friend, I got you. As long as your cool with not knowing whether you know anything, I think you might know all sorts of stuff. Or maybe nothing, but who cares?

I propose that you have knowledge of a proposition when the proposition is true, you believe it, and your justification is grounded in the truth of the proposition. By the last bit I mean your evidence could not exist unless the corresponding proposition was true. This solves the Gettier issue and Rene’s whole deal as well.

Let’s look at Gettier’s examples first. In the mom scenario, you don’t know your mom is home, because the evidence isn’t grounded in your mom being home. She is, but that’s just a coincidence, you saw a hologram and so you don’t know your mom is home. You would have believed she was home anyway. In the barn scenario you do know that that is a barn because you saw the barn, and it is a barn. If you hadn’t seen that barn you would not have believed it was a barn, because you didn’t see it. If you had seen a barn facade you might have believed it was a barn and you would have been wrong, but that’s irrelevant. You see a barn, it is a barn, you believe it’s a barn, and so you know it’s a barn.

In regards to Rene and his whole thing, well if it is a demon making everything up, then you don’t know anything. Not much of a surprise there. If you see something and it is a hallucination, a dream, a mistake, then you don’t know that thing, but if it isn’t, you do.

The cost of this position is that you never get to know that you know. It has to be the case that not only is the relevant proposition true, but that your justification couldn’t exist without that proposition being true. How do you know if your justification is grounded in the truth of the proposition? You don’t. So you can say, “I know blah blah blah” about whatever, and you might be right, and you might be wrong. C’est la vie! That was already the case anyway.

So, as to an epistemological problem you probably didn’t know existed, it’s solved already. You’re welcome.

(I’m probably wrong though).

Black and white photo with some words underneath it.

Woke up this morning
Put on my slippers
Walked in the kitchen and died.”

-John Prine

I think I’m about as ok with dying as a person not immediately facing it can be. I’m definitely ok with the prospect of dying when I’m old. I love my life, it’s been uncannily good for the most part, but I imagine in 50 years the prospect of the long nap won’t both me much at all.

The euphemisms for death should go though, including the one I just used. Death is not sleep, no matter how much we might like to believe it’s so. The most current pedagogy regarding death is that one should never conflate the two concepts in the minds of young children, as they seem to less find comfort in the idea of dying as sleep than find terror in the idea of sleep as death. There is another issue to this analogy of course, it attempts to rob death of its status as something completely unknowable. We know what sleep is, but we can’t even imagine being dead.

I talk to my class about different theories of the origin of the universe. In regards to one version of the Big Bang the universe comes into existence through a perturbation of nothing. I ask them to try and imagine nothing, and how nothing is not the same as empty or blank. I ask them to imagine no color, no direction, no space, no beingness whatsoever. It comes to light that it’s not really possible. We’ve never experienced anything outside of space and time, where the origin of the universe takes place, and so we can’t reconstruct it in our minds. So it is with death, it is defined by the absence of experience, and nothing we’ve experienced is that. We’ve had gaps in our experiences, but they seem to not exist at all, and are defined solely by the experiences they occur between.

We can’t imagine death then, because we can’t experience it, but that’s strange because we’ve all been not alive before. By ‘we’ I mean ‘everything alive at the moment’ of course. There’s nothing alive that has been alive since the beginning of the universe, which means all living things were not alive for at least some amount of time. Me personally, at my age, given that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, have been not alive for roughly 13.7 billion years. Makes my alive years seem kind of irrelevant to be honest, I’m way more experienced at being not alive.

Mark Twain spoke to all of this in his autobiography, his words were, “Annihilation has no terrors for me, because I have already tried it before I was born—a hundred million years—and I have suffered more in an hour, in this life, than I remember to have suffered in the whole hundred million years put together.”

There does seem to be a difference between dead and not alive though. A rock is not alive, but it is not dead. Science has words for this distinction, which is fortunate. Biotic things are things that are or have been alive or exclusively part of a living system. So a stick is biotic, hair and blood is biotic, a koala is biotic. Abiotic things have never been alive, even if they have been part of a living system. So the sun is abiotic, water and air are abiotic, rocks are abiotic. Biotic things depend on abiotic things, water and air in particular, but abiotic things don’t depend, period. They just are.

The interesting thing about biotic and abiotic categorization is that all biotic things are made, ultimately, of atoms, which themselves are abiotic things. So if you took any biotic thing, like, for example, your grandmother, and took her apart atom by atom, you’d have a pile of tiny little things that are not themselves alive nor had ever been alive.

So, μέν, we cannot imagine death because life is defined by experience and death by the permanent cessation of it, yet, δέ, we are long practiced at being not alive, and in fact, are in some fundamental sense, not even currently alive. So much for being worried about being dead, that’s pretty much our permanent state of being!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m missing the point. The scariness of death is the part where we are having conscious experiences and then stop having them. If you believe in the basic materialistic appearance of the universe, in which matter and energy act according to certain laws which seem to prohibit the existence of supernatural phenomena such as migrating souls, extra dimensional resort villages, or fiery pits eternal despair, then you stop having them permanently.

I’m just saying, it’s been a fairly relaxed way to coast through the last 13.7 billion years, doesn’t seem like the worst option.

If you are not convinced the universe operates exactly as it seems to, and perhaps is a stage on which to audition for future lives, then you’re just off to some other kind of conscious experiences I guess, which seems pretty good. Kind of the whole sales pitch on those belief systems isn’t it? Eternal consciousness on various planes of existence? What is interesting is that the materialistic argument against this kind of supernatural reincarnation is an argument for the possibility of an actual reincarnation. So actually that forever above is qualified.

The argument, taking as a subject Eva, goes like this:

  1. Material reincarnation exists is someone can die and then later become alive again.
  2. Eva is alive if she is having conscious experiences.
  3. Eva dies when she stops having conscious experiences and her body then decays.
  4. Eva can die and then later become alive again.
  5. Eva is someone.
  6. Therefore material reincarnation exists.

Premise 4 of this argument rests on the belief that your consciousness is a product of your brain. The state that Eva’s brain is in causes it to experience the world in a way that Eva, and the rest of us, identify as consciousness. Eva remembers things, considers alternatives to reality, makes predictions based in prior experience, all sorts of neat things, and collectively those things constitute Eva’s consciousness. The state Eva’s brain is in changes over time, but Eva’s consciousness is a standard output during the duration of its life. If it is the case that Eva’s consciousness is the result of her brain’s structure then if she were to die, all that would have to happen for her to be reincarnated is that material in the universe would have to once again take on that structure. A materialist ought to agree that if Eva’s brain is producing Eva’s consciousness at t1 then, given that it has an identical structure, Eva’s brain will also be producing her consciousness at t2, even if there is another 13.7 billion years between t1 and t2.

So, the point is, we can never fully understand death, we are dead and always have been, and we will never die forever. Time for lunch.