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The Default Ignorance of Personal Mortality Options
Epiphileon
Posted: Saturday, September 28, 2019 4:20:13 PM

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"So I'll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end..."
(Paul Simon, Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall)

When I turned 50 I thought, "Well now I'll be aware of my mortality", then again when I turned 60, closing in on my mid-60s and the notion that my life is going to end someday still does not seem to enter my mind in any kind of meaningful way. This strikes me as odd, but not at all surprising, and perhaps odd is the wrong word. It just seems that it somehow ought to be something I am aware of, rather than what seems to be the default condition as Paul said of continuing to continue pretending my life will never end.

I am even certain that there are a plethora of reasons from a psycho-socio evolutionary perspective that this has been an adaptive strategy. What I wonder is that if we are to become a species whose psychological evolution becomes more consciously driven, whether or not that pretending should come to an end. Perhaps there are untold, unimagined benefits to an awareness that time is running out. I don't know but I am definitely curious about it thanks to Paul Simon and his turn of phrase.

Question authority. How do you know, that you know, what you know?
thar
Posted: Saturday, September 28, 2019 4:52:11 PM

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We can empathise withother people, but we can only experience our own lives.

On empirical evidence, you have experienced one life and not died: That is 100% for immortality and zero evidence of mortality - statistical proof you are not going to die.


BobShilling
Posted: Saturday, September 28, 2019 5:12:28 PM
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I am not sure whether my personal thoughts on this are relevant, but here they are anyway.

Until spring 2018, the thought of my life ending did not really occur to me.I knew intellectually that it must end and, as I watched the decline in my mother's quality of life as she passed ninety, the thought occasionally crossed my mind that I would like to pop my clogs (preferably painlessly) before I reached that stage. I did not particularly relish the prospect of the process of dying, but the idea of death itself did not worry me.

Then a drop-in visit to my GP last year led to tests that showed I was in the advanced stages of an aggressive prostate cancer. It became clear that there was a real possibility of my demise rather earlier than I had expected (I was approaching my 72nd birthday). I am not sure now how I felt at the time, but I don't think I was too bothered. Having already passed the three-score-years-and-ten landmark, having done most of the things that would have been on my bucket list (if I'd had one), and my offspring being settled in their adult lives, I think I thought "Can't complain".

Some eighteen months later, thanks to the wonders of the Czech health system, I am still around, still smoking and drinking too much, and,barring unforeseen circumstances, likely to lead a moderately normal, healthy, existence, for some time yet.

Am I any different?

Yes. I do not now think for one second that I am immortal or, more prosaically, that I will live to be 100, 90, 80, or even 74. I may well go on for some time, but I may not. If I knew for a fact that I wouldn't wake up tomorrow, it would not bother me at all. My death last year was a real possibility. I am pleased that it didn't happen - I still enjoy being alive - but I have no inner need to live longer.

I am rambling. I'll stop there.


Epiphileon
Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2019 3:23:22 AM

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thar wrote:
We can empathise withother people, but we can only experience our own lives.

On empirical evidence, you have experienced one life and not died: That is 100% for immortality and zero evidence of mortality - statistical proof you are not going to die.


Thanks for starting my morning with a good laugh Thar I found that hilarious.

Regarding the empathy point though, there may be something to that. Empathy allows us to experience what other people do and may even shape how we ourselves experience to some degree. We can not empathize with death as it is the end of experience. Ehhh, maybe.

The empirical evidence point may actually have something to do with it; however, I suspect, as I said, it is an actual evolutionarily developed behavior.

Question authority. How do you know, that you know, what you know?
Epiphileon
Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2019 3:30:28 AM

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BobShilling wrote:
I am not sure whether my personal thoughts on this are relevant, but here they are anyway.

I actually wondered how getting a potentially terminal diagnosis might affect this tendency. Thank you for sharing your story and congratulations on your recovery.

Question authority. How do you know, that you know, what you know?
FounDit
Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2019 12:23:27 PM

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The survival instinct in most creatures is a powerful one. I wonder why you would question the idea of dwelling on living and doing, rather than of dying, or death.

To focus on death, or to dwell on contemplating the end of life, instills fear in most people; that's why the idea is avoided so assiduously for most people. It also appears to weigh heavily in the reasons for inventing religions.

I suppose it is universal in humans to ponder the end of our lives at some point. How we view it, and whether or not we accept the idea of our end, depends, perhaps, on the experiences we have in life when confronted with death, or the idea of death.

I don't know to what degree that serving in a combat zone where death was possible at any given moment influenced me, but by its end, it certainly served to eventually make me indifferent to the idea of death. It's the getting from this side to the other that I wonder about.

At 73, I watched both my father and first wife endure a long decline in health from cancer to their ends. That's not a path I would want to follow, but may not have a choice in the matter. My mother declined from old age around 94, but that wasn't a particularly pleasant thing either.

Recognizing I have much fewer years ahead of me than behind me, and still being relatively healthy (amazingly), I tend to think I will live for at least another 25 years, which is a really short period of time. I hope they are healthy years, and that I go quickly rather than in a long decline. But that is hope, which goes back, I think, to what you are asking about.

If we focus on death rather than living, that can sap our energy, our will to do because of the fear that death normally holds over people. The will to live, the survival instinct, these oppose the fear of death, otherwise we might become paralyzed, unable to fully live and function. There is, of course, the idea that death can be a motivator, which seems to be akin to what you are talking about, but I think that only can happen when death appears imminent and immediate, not a far-away circumstance.

Since we are creatures of the present, the short-term, in most of our thinking and behavior, we tend to not ponder too long on the hazy future, and what might possibly happen, especially if it involves pain, suffering, and our end in particular.

You said,
Quote:
"What I wonder is that if we are to become a species whose psychological evolution becomes more consciously driven, whether or not that pretending should come to an end."


Why would we choose to give up that pretending? It seems to me to be the very essence of what makes us continue, what drives us to do each day the things we do. There is a saying that worrying about tomorrow robs us of today. It seems to me that this is exactly what would happen if we follow the scenario of giving up the pretense we will live forever.

We only have this moment, the "now". I try to enjoy each moment of the "now", and not worry about tomorrow. As the saying goes, there is enough to worry about today. Let tomorrow take care of tomorrow.


We should look to the past to learn from it, not destroy our future because of it — FounDit
BobShilling
Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2019 3:08:23 PM
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FounDit wrote:

Recognizing I have much fewer years ahead of me than behind me,


That's a thought that occurs to me more frequently as I grow older.Like you, I have been around for 73 years. Considering the ages at which members of my family have died, my lack of exercise, my fifty-year record of nicotine and alcohol abuse and my recent cancer, it seems quite likely that I have less than ten years left - 73.5 behind me and perhaps only 7.35 ahead.

When I mentioned this to my offspring, they accused me of being morbid and promptly changed the subject.

Perhaps it is morbid, though I don't think so. What interests me is how little I am bothered by the thought, as I said in my last post.

Perhaps I once did pretend I would live forever. I almost never considered, when I was younger, my eventual demise, which perhaps comes to the same thing. I don't consciously think about it these days, but I am certainly aware of its proximity.

I do have one little regret. As a born-again atheist, I believe that death is simply the end. There is nothing after it. Unfortunately, I have no absolute proof of this. I can't know for certain until I am actually dead - and I won't be able to know then because I will be dead. Frustrating!

Of course there is an infinitesimal chance that I am wrong, and I will find myself twanging a harp or, more likely, shovelling coal into some very hot fires, for all eternity in either case. Both prospects are so grim that I really hope I'm right.



FounDit
Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2019 7:30:28 PM

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BobShilling wrote:
FounDit wrote:

Recognizing I have much fewer years ahead of me than behind me,


That's a thought that occurs to me more frequently as I grow older.Like you, I have been around for 73 years. Considering the ages at which members of my family have died, my lack of exercise, my fifty-year record of nicotine and alcohol abuse and my recent cancer, it seems quite likely that I have less than ten years left - 73.5 behind me and perhaps only 7.35 ahead.

When I mentioned this to my offspring, they accused me of being morbid and promptly changed the subject.
Mine also don't like to think about it.

Perhaps it is morbid, though I don't think so. What interests me is how little I am bothered by the thought, as I said in my last post.

Perhaps I once did pretend I would live forever. I almost never considered, when I was younger, my eventual demise, which perhaps comes to the same thing. I don't consciously think about it these days, but I am certainly aware of its proximity.
I find that true, also. When I was a young man, 73 seemed positively ancient, but now I have to remind myself at times I really am that age. I don't feel it, until I have to do some hard physical work. But I'm finding this to be the best time of my life so far. I'm very comfortable with myself, who I am, what I believe, and how I've lived, with only a few regrets. It's been a good life, I think, all things considered.

I do have one little regret. As a born-again atheist, I believe that death is simply the end. There is nothing after it. Unfortunately, I have no absolute proof of this. I can't know for certain until I am actually dead - and I won't be able to know then because I will be dead. Frustrating!

Of course there is an infinitesimal chance that I am wrong, and I will find myself twanging a harp or, more likely, shovelling coal into some very hot fires, for all eternity in either case. Both prospects are so grim that I really hope I'm right.

The idea there is nothing beyond doesn't bother me at all. I kind of like the idea. That way, I don't have to worry at all, or be bothered with having to account for anything.




We should look to the past to learn from it, not destroy our future because of it — FounDit
BobShilling
Posted: Monday, September 30, 2019 1:11:42 AM
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BobShilling wrote:
When I mentioned this to my offspring, they accused me of being morbid and promptly changed the subject.

FounDit wrote:
Mine also don't like to think about it.


One reason for this is that they will (presumably) be upset when we pop it, and will miss us afterwards.

We however, won't have any cares at all.
Epiphileon
Posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2019 4:02:00 AM

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FounDit wrote:
The survival instinct in most creatures is a powerful one. I wonder why you would question the idea of dwelling on living and doing, rather than of dying, or death.


To focus on death, or to dwell on contemplating the end of life...
,
I made no mention of dwelling on death only that I find it odd that we seem to be in denial about it.

FounDit wrote:
If we focus on death rather than living, that can sap our energy, our will to do because of the fear that death normally holds over people. The will to live, the survival instinct, these oppose the fear of death, otherwise we might become paralyzed, unable to fully live and function.

Being aware of our personal mortality in no way precludes living a full and active, and joyful life, in fact it would seem to me a more conscious response is that it would make every moment more precious.

FounDit wrote:
Since we are creatures of the present, the short-term, in most of our thinking and behavior, we tend to not ponder too long on the hazy future, and what might possibly happen, especially if it involves pain, suffering, and our end in particular.

Well actually I think the insurance industry would differ on this point. But once again I am not advocating that we "ponder" on death, just that we stop pretending it's not going to happen.

FounDit wrote:
You said,
Quote:
"What I wonder is that if we are to become a species whose psychological evolution becomes more consciously driven, whether or not that pretending should come to an end."


Why would we choose to give up that pretending? It seems to me to be the very essence of what makes us continue, what drives us to do each day the things we do. There is a saying that worrying about tomorrow robs us of today. It seems to me that this is exactly what would happen if we follow the scenario of giving up the pretense we will live forever.

I think we should give up this pretense as we are a maturing species and operating on the basis of accurate interpretations of reality rather than on ignorance seems to be the wiser course.
To be aware of personal mortality does not mean worrying about it, I'm not and I've been thinking about this subject on and off for a couple of weeks now. What I have noticed is that the habit I am continually promoting of being sure to notice the wonder of being an experiencing being has become, hmmm, fuller? Maybe richer? Rather than being depressing or anxiety-provoking, the awareness seems to have just the opposite effect.

FounDit wrote:
There is, of course, the idea that death can be a motivator, which seems to be akin to what you are talking about, but I think that only can happen when death appears imminent and immediate, not a far-away circumstance.

Well, it would seem to me that this actually argues for being aware of mortality sooner than when death is imminent as I agree it is a potent motivator.

Question authority. How do you know, that you know, what you know?
FounDit
Posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2019 11:50:24 AM

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FounDit wrote:
The survival instinct in most creatures is a powerful one. I wonder why you would question the idea of dwelling on living and doing, rather than of dying, or death.

To focus on death, or to dwell on contemplating the end of life...
,
Epiphileon: I made no mention of dwelling on death only that I find it odd that we seem to be in denial about it.
I don’t think we are in denial about it; everyone is aware that no one lives forever. We simply don’t dwell on it, or like to think about it much.

FounDit wrote:
If we focus on death rather than living, that can sap our energy, our will to do because of the fear that death normally holds over people. The will to live, the survival instinct, these oppose the fear of death, otherwise we might become paralyzed, unable to fully live and function.

Epiphileon: Being aware of our personal mortality in no way precludes living a full and active, and joyful life, in fact it would seem to me a more conscious response is that it would make every moment more precious.
Yet is seems that is in our youth that we have this attitude; a time when death is far from our thoughts. Youth focuses on the joys of immediate pleasure and the devastation of emotional pain, without the context that comes with experience.

FounDit wrote:
Since we are creatures of the present, the short-term, in most of our thinking and behavior, we tend to not ponder too long on the hazy future, and what might possibly happen, especially if it involves pain, suffering, and our end in particular.

Epiphileon: Well actually I think the insurance industry would differ on this point. But once again I am not advocating that we "ponder" on death, just that we stop pretending it's not going to happen.
But I don’t think we do pretend it’s not going to happen; we just don’t want to think about how, or when , it will happen. Death is avoided both in fact and in imagination as much as possible because it is frightening to most people. I think it takes someone who has developed a strong mind to be able to face it with confidence, as frightening as it can be; the very definition of courage. Many people in any number of countries live with this possibility on a daily basis, and while in some it may produce courage, in others the psychological damage done to both adults and children is likely incalculable.

FounDit wrote:

You said,
Quote:
"What I wonder is that if we are to become a species whose psychological evolution becomes more consciously driven, whether or not that pretending should come to an end."

Why would we choose to give up that pretending? It seems to me to be the very essence of what makes us continue, what drives us to do each day the things we do. There is a saying that worrying about tomorrow robs us of today. It seems to me that this is exactly what would happen if we follow the scenario of giving up the pretense we will live forever.

Epiphileon: I think we should give up this pretense as we are a maturing species and operating on the basis of accurate interpretations of reality rather than on ignorance seems to be the wiser course.
To be aware of personal mortality does not mean worrying about it, I'm not and I've been thinking about this subject on and off for a couple of weeks now. What I have noticed is that the habit I am continually promoting of being sure to notice the wonder of being an experiencing being has become, hmmm, fuller? Maybe richer? Rather than being depressing or anxiety-provoking, the awareness seems to have just the opposite effect.
You have now made my point: that it is when we have lived for some time, have some experience of life, that we are more comfortable with contemplating our end. As we age, we often have the experience of losing others, or watching as others lose people close to them. This brings home to us the realization of the fact that we have not been paying attention to the ultimate conclusion of our own life. Could it not be that it is this very idea that has made you more aware of your “awareness” of the end, that you are contemplating things that in youth you gave scant attention to?

FounDit wrote:
There is, of course, the idea that death can be a motivator, which seems to be akin to what you are talking about, but I think that only can happen when death appears imminent and immediate, not a far-away circumstance.

Epiphileon: Well, it would seem to me that this actually argues for being aware of mortality sooner than when death is imminent as I agree it is a potent motivator.
But this is the opposite of what life does for us. As I just argued, when life is in its bloom, full of youth, strength and vigor, the end of life is far removed from our thoughts. That’s why the young often take such foolish chances. Your age, and newly-found awareness, could be said to be the very arguments for why we aren’t aware of our “mortality sooner than when death is imminent “, as you just said. I’ll bet that if you tried to get a young person to talk about their ultimate death, you’d have a difficult time convincing them it’s something worth contemplating.



We should look to the past to learn from it, not destroy our future because of it — FounDit
Hope123
Posted: Wednesday, October 2, 2019 3:10:45 PM

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1/2 Hi Epi, Such interesting questions. So many thoughts! My posts too long as usual!

I think about how all life is programmed to fight mightily for survival every time I kill the odd one of those pesky silverfish that manage to get inside as winter approaches, and I see how frantically they try to escape. When I watch all the people in cars scurrying around doing what they need to do to survive, some days I compare them to ants in an anthill.

When younger, if I had faced major surgery as I did a year ago, I'd have been very anxious beforehand about survival. But last year I was not anxious at all, was even joking with the anesthesiologist as they got me ready, and had the whole operating team laughing. I was truly fine with whichever way it went. When I woke up I just thought, ok, guess I'm doing this. And that acceptance perhaps makes it easier for the body to recuperate? I don't know but I did recuperate very well.

I know what depression feels like from when I used to have it before I had the toxic metal poisoning removed and this is not it, but my reaction upon awakening each morning is - still doing this what's on for today. And sometimes at night - well, the reality is, that for better or worse, there is one fewer day left.

Of course no one wants pain and it is mostly controlled these days, so what I ponder mostly about death is what it will be like to have complete and final loss of consciousness - there will be a world without me in it. It is hard for all humans to imagine that the world can exist independently of them, because we were created as egotistical creatures. I think it will only be like some parts of sleeping or when under anesthetics. But the worst part will be the loss of the experiences of living to the fullest, of having compassion for and enjoying ALL life, the beauty of the world, and for loving fully.

I sat with my mother all night as she lay dying and I saw how easily it happened. She just stopped breathing and I was glad her suffering was over, although I was in shock for a day or so. She did not want to be here any longer. I'd love to have my Dad back but not the way he was at the end at 88 and he himself would not allow them to shock him again. In fact, 8 years earlier he had actually died on the dance floor for longer than medicine says he should have recuperated with all his faculties. He was annoyed for all those eight years - "I went while dancing the polka at 80 years old - why did they have to bring me back!"

I think living is actually harder than dying and if we live well, we will die well, happy to have been here but ready to leave when our bodies give out. (BTW - I have prepared all info necessary, including obituaries, for our family, so they will not be left with what my siblings and I had to do when our parents died.)

But the young dying before they get to live much is another story completely! Also they think they are immortal and do stupid things, but that stupidity actually has helped humans to improve the environment and to see where the limits of existence lie.

My "Abnormal Psych" prof at university many years ago made us read many many books and write reviews but one that we had to do a whole paper on was the quintessential Kubler-Ross on "Death and Dying". So I'm glad that even as a young person I was exposed to thinking about death.


"The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Hope123
Posted: Wednesday, October 2, 2019 3:25:52 PM

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2/2 Twice since 2007 I have read the transcripts or watched the videos of a Yale online course on death and living. This link is an overview and if you use your search engine for each lecture you can bring up videos and transcripts link below the videos, of each lecture to 26.

http://www.infocobuild.com/education/audio-video-courses/philosophy/phil176-spring2007-yale.html

PHIL-176: DEATH - Prof Shelley Kagan [April 17, 2007]

Lecture 21 deals quite well with your question, Epi

Lectures 22 and 23 - How to Live Given the Certainty of Death

Lectures 24 -26 although dealing with suicide provide a lot more philosophy to think about.

His topics: How should the fact we know we'll die affect our behaviour? Is it rational to fear death when we know it will happen? Required Conditions for Feeling Fear of Death. What is fear? How much is appropriate? Anger, sorrow, preciousness, and gratitude for life as other emotions surrounding death. How carefully should we live? Is more better? Semi-Immortality. The intrinsic value of life. Is suicide rational?


Epi, also while looking for the link for those Yale lectures, I came across the prof whose online course I audited a couple years ago to update Psych 101. He was doing a talk for an interest group and I think you might be interested. It is another of your questions: Why are people religious? It is two hours long and I have only watched 30 minutes so far, but he is good. Prof Paul Bloom.

When discussing swearing he tells a cute anecdote of when his son was six he said to his Dad, "What's the worst swear word ever?" "What?" Son whispered, "Damn". Because when I saw a certain celebrity video she said all the swear words like s**t and f**k except damn, so that has to be the worst ever. Out of the mouths of babes.


https://youtu.be/ttSULfIoWHU

I hope you can find time to watch this video and even to watch Kagan's course or read the transcripts.

"The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Epiphileon
Posted: Sunday, October 6, 2019 4:13:48 AM

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Hope123 wrote:

I know what depression feels like from when I used to have it before I had the toxic metal poisoning removed and this is not it, but my reaction upon awakening each morning is - still doing this what's on for today. And sometimes at night - well, the reality is, that for better or worse, there is one fewer day left.

High Hope, I too know the horror that is clinical depression, there was a period of my life where if I could have willed myself to die I probably would have. The one benefit, I guess I must say, of my own father's suicide was that it instilled in me a prohibition of ever bringing that kind of nightmare upon my own children and family. It is hard to fathom that period was just less than 20 years ago. I sometimes wonder if it had not been for that experience if I would ever have come to the great appreciation I have now for the experience of being an experiencing being.

Hope123 wrote:
Of course no one wants pain and it is mostly controlled these days, so what I ponder mostly about death is what it will be like to have complete and final loss of consciousness - there will be a world without me in it. It is hard for all humans to imagine that the world can exist independently of them, because we were created as egotistical creatures. I think it will only be like some parts of sleeping or when under anesthetics. But the worst part will be the loss of the experiences of living to the fullest, of having compassion for and enjoying ALL life, the beauty of the world, and for loving fully.

Sorry to hear you are dealing with chronic pain Hope that can certainly wear you down. The concept of personal non-existence is indeed a difficult one for humans to grasp, and it is indeed so odd that we can even form thoughts like what will the experience of not experiencing be like? One of my professors had an interesting related notion, he used to say that each of us is our own eternal being for we are each our own alpha and omega. That idea of the worst part being the loss of the experience of being that it seems is, in some way, directly related to my point. That by being aware of our own mortality we will strive to more fully appreciate the experience of every moment, and make the best possible use of our time as these fleeting shadows upon a stage.

Hope123 wrote:
My "Abnormal Psych" prof at university many years ago made us read many many books and write reviews but one that we had to do a whole paper on was the quintessential Kubler-Ross on "Death and Dying". So I'm glad that even as a young person I was exposed to thinking about death.

I remember one of my psych professors raving about this book but I never got around to reading it. Ahhh, I had to look it up, of course, the five stages of grief it seems I can get a copy pretty cheap these days I guess I'm going to finally get around to reading it. Thanks for the reminder.


Question authority. How do you know, that you know, what you know?
Hope123
Posted: Sunday, October 6, 2019 4:56:27 PM

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Hi Epi,

I do go to a pain clinic every three weeks to get pain block shots and have more good days than bad right now, but the comment about pain was, albeit ambiguous, a general one that most people fear having severe pain before/while dying and many do, but they are able to control most of it with drugs these days.

As for the Kubler-Ross book I don't remember much about it except that it explains the stages of grief. The value in reading it is that it makes you become more aware you are immortal. Nothing I read helped me with the paralyzing anger-filled grief when I lost my best female friend when she was only 37 when her son came home from school at noon and found her cold on the rug - autopsy revealing nothing. Or when my parents and aunts and uncles died. It took me ten years to be able to set out my Dad's white cane so I see it every day and I still miss him although he died twenty years ago.

I am still hoping you get a chance to read at least the transcripts of lectures 21-23 of the Yale course on Death. I learned more from that than from Kubler-Ross.

The Paul Bloom video lecture itself on why religion has hung around so long ended up being not much more than the 30 minutes I had watched - it was mostly questions and answers after that. "There is nothing special about religion" - he clarified it to religious belief.

Sorry about your Dad. My sister lost her twenty-something son to suicide and she has never fully recovered. I would never do that to my family either.

I'm glad you made it through your depression - and I'm sure those around you and those you touch in the world are glad too because you are one of the good guys. I have ordered only good sailing for you, your wife, and family from now on! 😀

Epi wrote: That idea of the worst part being the loss of the experience of being that it seems is, in some way, directly related to my point. That by being aware of our own mortality we will strive to more fully appreciate the experience of every moment, and make the best possible use of our time as these fleeting shadows upon a stage.

Exactly.



"The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
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