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Death

Here's a nice topic for a Friday night. Cue up your The Cure CD, or if that's a little too old fashioned, about half of Epica's songs count as well.

In the ROOL forum, Gavin posted the following, which got me thinking.

Perhaps I might be rash enough to stir up another hornet's nest, in discussing death. Death of a loved one is painful; we want to show respect and avoid giving pain. Yet it is surely obvious that the dead person is not the same thing as the corpse. We pay respect to the dead person with all kinds of ceremonials and ritual objects like flowers, asserting a linkage between the two which is superstitious. Diogenes the Cynic is said to have been contemptuous of plans for his funeral, not caring what should happen to his body. We are embarrassed by those who mourn and cannot decide whether we should go along with the well-meaning lies or honour them with the presumption that they see through all the nonsense.

Welcome to the graveyard

This is a topic close to me, because some people seem surprised that I rarely go to mom's grave. Am I a disrespectful son? A bad person?

I say no. The reason for this is that I "talk" to mom every day. I'm surrounded by her life, and I like to think my work in slaying brambles (to make things look nicer around here) is a better way to honour her than wasting time in a graveyard.

I get that for some people, looking at a shiny marble grave is a focal point to help them try to connect with a deceased person. I don't need that. Mom is alive in my memories. And I am literally a part of her (where d'you think my X chromosome came from?).

Furthermore, I find going to a graveyard to "talk to a dead person" to be unbelievably horrible. I mean, what, are we supposed to believe that that is where the person is? That once I die, I spend forever shuffling around a graveyard?

Mom is NOT there.

Oh, sure, her body is there. That biological carcass that is leaving bone bits and happy maggots. But it's not mom.

Forensics

If one was to dig up the body (note, I'm specifically not saying "her") to conduct analysis of the remains, you can do a lot of clever things these days. You can tell she's not French, and may well be able to pinpoint her birth location with some degree of accuracy. You'll be able to tell a lot about her medical history. You may even be able to look at bone wear and abrasion to make guesses at what sort of life she led, what kind of job she might have done, and there may even be mineral contamination and such to indicate what sort of foods she ate.
Put me next to her (as I will likely be when my time comes), you'll be able to tell we're different genders (extra ribs, hip shape, etc) and also make guesses at my job and lifestyle.

But you can't tell how many languages mom understood [1], who she frequently quoted [2], her favourite song [3], or indeed how she came to end up in a graveyard in France [4]. You can't tell her outlook on life, you can't tell whether she was a nice person or a bad person, you can't tell who and what she loved. In short, you can make a technical analysis of the body, but you can't tell what made mom mom. It's just the body that she inhabited.

Is this it?

I believe in a form of reincarnation. I say "a form of" as I have no idea how it happens. I just think it is unbelievably wasteful to create a spirit (or soul, if you prefer, just without the trappings of religion please) to inhabit a body, to spend a brief handful of years in the sun, to then vanish and be gone forever.

I get up, I go clean toilets and mop floors, then I come home. My day is split into three. A third is working, a third is my time, and a third is sleeping. The remaining three hours? Getting up in the morning, driving to/from work, and my break time. That's what I've done for thirteen years, and likely to do for the next twenty.
I say this because I'd just end it right here and now if I thought that my scant few years of existence are going to be spent like that. That I have been lucky enough to have not only been born, but survived being born dead, and drowning as a toddler, not to mention that time as a clueless adolescent I grabbed the HT wire in the back of a very large TV. I've made it though all of that to piss away my life, the only life I'm ever going to have, ensuring the changing rooms are tidy?
No. I don't accept that.

Now, I'm not going to say I'll come back as a butterfly, or that I was an Indian Princess in a former life. I don't know how it works. I just think that as creatures come and go, their spirits get recycled.
Just, please, I don't want to come back as a llama. I don't get the llama obsession.

As for mom, like I said she's alive in my thoughts. The graveyard is just where her remains were put because, well, because as a species we would generally be horrified at the idea of crushing up the remains with a large amount of liquid and chucking them across a field. Feel free to do that with my remains if you like. I'll be dead, I won't care.
(but nobody in France would dare do that, because I'm British and I may contain angry prions)

Whooooo!

I don't believe in ghosts. To me, that seems like a pseudo-religious thing, that the spirit of a person is so attached to something in the mortal world that it can't let go. I don't think dead people get a choice in the matter, but hey, this commonplace belief gave us five seasons (107 episodes) with the lovely Jennifer Love Hewitt, so it's not all bad.

Likewise, it goes without saying that if I have no belief in "him upstairs" then I don't believe in that place inhabited by gender-confused metaphysical beings that like harps. But, then, if the spirit gets recycled, there's simply no need for such a place.

Let's turn this up to eleven

But to make it more interesting, like a lot more interesting... there are "billions and billions" of stars (even if Carl Sagan never actually said that). The requirements for the goldilocks zone around the star for a place suitable for a planet that could support life is fairly narrow. Just plucking a figure out of my ass, let's consider it a tenth of one percent. Now the planet has to be the right size. Too big, it'll have too much gravity and be like Jupiter. Too small and it won't be able to hold onto an atmosphere, like Mars. So, a tenth of a percent. Now we'll need water on the planet. Some sort of climate and biosphere. It's no good having the right size planet in the right place if it's basically seas of lava and raining acid. So, a tenth of a percent.
Add in another tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a percent for all the variables I've not considered.
A tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a percent? 0.000001%. Which is nothing, right?
Well, given estimates of a potential hundred billion stars (quick Google search), that leads to a possible 100,000 planets of the right size, in the right place, and with the right biosphere to support life. All the others? They're inhabited by tardigrades... ☺

It doesn't necessarily have to be intelligent life. After all, it has taken this lump of rock four and a half billion years to create Tuomas Holopainen. Other planets with life may be populated by... god help us... llamas. But it's still life, even if it can't look at it's reflection in a puddle and think "I llama therefore I am".

With all of this in mind, what makes you think that your spirit would be recycled on this planet?

 

Therefore...

So there's nothing to fear about death. It's the end of the story you have created on this planet (so try to make your story be one others might like to tell, but not so outlandish that two thousand years later it'll still be causing upset). It's not the end. Nor is it a beginning. It's just a continuation.

 

Answers

  1. English (native), Spanish (fluent), French (fluent), German (enough to get by). Cannot speak but could read Greek and Hebrew. Was learning Greek but the old lady teaching mom unfortunately died.
  2. Dylan.
  3. "Anduriña" by Juan Pardo. Failing that, probably something from Dylan. I can't give a name, the one she liked wasn't one of the ones everybody knows, and I still get stuck on "the wind howls like a hammer".
  4. Basically, life's like that. She always wanted to live on a farm, right from when she was a little girl. I rather expected her to live in a rubble pile passing for a home in Galicia, Cantabria, or somewhere, but... she ended up in France... in a farmhouse surrounded by active farms. A climate not quite as extreme as the farm she liked in Annapolis, but no matter, it's a farm. She had a dream from a young age and through the course of an extraordinary life she made it happen, all by herself.

And mine, in case anybody cares. Which I doubt, because I'm just not that interesting.

  1. English (native), French (sort of - don't listen to me speaking it). I used to know some Spanish pero yo he olvidad. I do sometimes say things in Spanish if I don't remember at the French at that time. My boss recently said "Richard?" and I usually reply "C'est moi", but instead I said "Soy yo". She...was confused. ☺ I know a few phrases in Japanese and can read some kana (but given it's a place I'm unlikely to ever visit, I'm not exactly trying).
  2. I don't quote any one person. When I used to communicate in English, I'd drop in quotes from contemporary movies and TV shows, but it's harder in French. Though, amusingly, one of the line managers said to me as I was going on break and he was finishing "Weekend, yes! Hasta la vista baby!".
  3. My musical tastes are wide and eclectic. Probably not many playlists that would put Polly Scattergood, Sabaton, and Simon & Garfunkel together. However my all time favourite song is "China In Your Hand" by T'Pau.
  4. I inherited it, after being a little part of an extraordinary story. Was kind of expecting a barely-habitable pile of rubble somewhere around Cantabria, but... life's like that. I'm not going to achieve my dreams because when I was little I didn't have anything I wanted to be when I grew up, other than "not dead". My (child-)psychologist had a field day with that, the twat, so I trolled him greatly (I remember going to Fleet library and shocking the pretty girl with big glasses and eighties hair behind the counter by taking out a half dozen books on Psychology... I was about nine at the time).

 

A final word

I just Googled "death is not the end" to see if I could find an appropriate quote to end this article with.

It's a Dylan song.

Well played, mom, well played.

 

 

Your comments:

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Gavin Wraith, 18th February 2022, 21:33
> I just think it is unbelievably wasteful 
Yes, me too. But perhaps it is not wasted? As bees collect pollen, we, and no doubt all sentient things, collect impossibilities, from which the Watchers Beyond make nectar. In return, they give us meaning.
Jeff Doggett, 18th February 2022, 21:45
The universe has been here for roughly 14 billion years. It's going to still be here in countless trillions more. So it's not just a question of life elsewhere in the universe now, but also when.
Gavin Wraith, 18th February 2022, 23:17
Those 14 billion years passed easily enough for me, and I am expecting the same for those countless trillions to come. We who are privileged to be mortal do not need to be burdened with the big numbers.
VinceH, 19th February 2022, 01:30
See also: The Drake Equation. 
 
When I did a maths GCSE for fun in the 1990s, for my coursework I decided to explore Titius-Bode (more commonly known as Bode's Law) and tried to apply it to Jupiter and it's moons - fudging it slightly with excuses where necessary. Once I'd done that - making excuses for moons that were in the wrong place, and concluding that it works - I explained Drake, and suggested that if Titius-Bode is correct, for any Sun-like star with at least three planets, the third is going to be in the Goldilocks Zone. 
 
There are many flaws in the idea, but that was what I wrote up. (In PipeDream on my A3K - I have the document on my NAS, and it's tempting to write a blog post around it - but sadly, all the graphs and charts I created don't appear, so I need to work out why. It doesn't entirely make sense without them.)
Gavin Wraith, 19th February 2022, 13:19
I always enjoyed Fred Hoyle's and Arthur C Clarke's open minds on the topic of sentience - black clouds, lichen covered planets etc. Beings for which a single thought requires millennia would be hard for us to communicate with. Olaf Stapledon started the trend with Star Maker. When you see time-lapse videos of plant growth you begin to see plants in a more sinister light.
VinceH, 19th February 2022, 20:23
One of my really-old-rubbish-but-I-kept science fiction stories is about a huge non-corporeal sentience (although I don't think I described it as such). It moves through space seeking out inhabited worlds, and feeds off the life force as they die, with a mass extinction being being a good, full meal.
Andy S., 22nd February 2022, 03:19
Some kind of reincarnation? Sure, why not? Based on the tiny amount our species knows, I don't think there's any meaningful evidence against it. 
 
For things to be destroyed they generally need to be divisible into other parts, whereas it seems that the most fundamental bits of what you're calling a soul might be indivisible. Maybe that means they won't be destroyed. 
 
I don't think consciousness is just something that is born and dies with a physical body because if it was, how on Earth would I be able to distinguish myself from any other living being in the universe? There's nothing there in physics to say this me is my me. 
 
So I think you're probably onto something Rick. :-)
J.G.Harston, 26th February 2022, 21:26
I so frustrates me how so much human talent is just so completely wasted. I've got coding I need to do, but can't because I have to waste so much of my time obtaining sufficient resources so I can afford to stay alive. It's claimed that the free market system allows people's talents to be used to the full. Ok then, somebody ****ing exploit my coding talants and ***ing pay me to code! Instead I do the IT equivalent of cleaning toilets. And at the same time I see how *****CRAP****** most of the software I have to support is, and wonder how the HELL these programmers managed to get PAID to do the crap they do, when they REFUSE to pay me to do something better that I could do in my sleep. 
 
It's like saying to somebody cleaning toilets in a hospital "what are you complaining about, you always said you want to work in medicine." 
 
(sorry for the rant)
Rick, 27th February 2022, 08:40
No worries, it's a justified rant. 
 
I'll give you two examples of my own. When the company was younger and smaller, the English on the labels was somewhat eccentric. I offered to provide corrections. Not interested. The closest I could get to an explanation was that I didn't have university level education in English. The fact that it's my native language clearly counts for nothing in a place obsessed with paperwork. 
In my life I've seen enough overqualified grads that know eff-all about the real world. The best possible case in point is Google's famous interview exam, and how shit a lot of their software is. Google Maps is causing chaos over here due to two reasons. The first being that every road has to have a name. In the country, many roads don't. So Google breaks the road into sections and names each bit after the closest house. This is nonsense and leads navigation to saying stuff like "continue straight onto Bel Air". Couple that with Google's insistence on placing addresses in the middle of that road segment, and it's a mess. 
You can now correctly find me if you know the new house number. If you just use the house name, maps will interpret it as the road name and dump you halfway up the driveway (a quarter kilometre away). 
I also had to get Maps fixed for the Picard shop in Ch√Ęteaubriant, it did the exact same thing, locating the shop in an industrial part of town... 
Rick, 27th February 2022, 08:48
Another little thing that really bugs me is the boot washer and the automatic doors at work. 
Why? Because these devices have complicated controllers yet they exhibit rather stupid behaviour.  
Namely, when the sensor is tripped, the activity begins (boot washer starts, door opens...). This then begins a count down. When that countdown ends, the activity ends. The boot washer stops, the door begins to close. 
In the case of the door, there's a ground level sensor to tell if something is blocking the door. But you can hear the entire thing "clunk" as it begins to close and then checks the sensor. How much more useful it would be if that sensor simply restarted the timer. 
In the case of the bit washer, I've seen it stop whilst dozens of women have been passing through, until somebody trips the sensor and it begins again. How much more useful it would be if every time the sensor was tripped, the timer restarted. Yes, that may mean a ten second cycle running for three minutes. It does take time to funnel sixty people though the machine... 
 
It's little things like that, where you know it was designed on paper with little experience of real world use. 

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