Perpetual Existence Machine

Birthdays usually are pretty ok.

Birthday presents and Facebook happy birthday comments are all well and good.

One can never get tired of someecards.

ecards

But with each passing year I commemorate my birth I just can’t get over the one thing that really sucks about getting older – the knowledge that all things end.

And by end, I mean I’m gonna die.

In the end everybody dies.

ben

NOPE. NOT EVEN BEN MAKES IT OUT ALIVE

 

The inevitable cost of years of Facebook birthday notifications is that family, friends, people we see on TV, and eventually ourselves, will shrug off this mortal coil and join the choir invisible.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this post is going to be about death.

Did you know there’s more than one kind of death?
Clinical death, as defined by Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (13th edition) is as follows:

Permanent cessation of all vital functions. [defined by]
1) total irreversible cessation of cerebral function of the
respiratory system, spontaneous function of the circulatory
system. 2) the final and irreversible cessation of perceptible

Legal death, according to Wikipedia, is:

A government’s official recognition that a person has died. Normally this is done by issuing a death certificate. In most cases, such certificate is only issued either by a doctor’s declaration of death or by an identified corpse.

The idea of death (clinical death), in particular, our own death is unsettling to many people. The late Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004), author of On Death and Dying (1969), writes:

In our unconscious, death is never possible in regard to
ourselves. It is inconceivable for our conscious to imagine
an actual ending of our own life here on earth, and if this
life of ours had to end, the ending is always attributed to
malicious intervention… therefore death in itself is
associated with a bad act, a frightening happening…

 

The philosopher Thomas Nagel (1937- ) writes that the problem with death is that death interferes with our ability to enjoy all the goods of life. According to Nagel, the mere fact that we are alive and able to experience what life has to offer is good.

So, as Nagel writes, “If death is an evil at all, it cannot be because of its positive features, but only because of what it deprives us of”.

Nagel argues, if our lives were not interrupted by death, we would continue to live long and prosper and to partake of whatever good there is to derive from living. For Nagel, the objectionable thing about death is the loss of life. No matter how old a person is, even if we live to be a thousand years old, death is still an evil because death limits what we could have experienced.

all good things

 

Unfortunately for us, Nagel says, grow attached to the goods and experiences of life that death will eventually deprive us of. Although the average human lifespan is generally no more than one hundred years, we see our lives and life’s opportunities as limitless; we can’t imagine our own death.

Viewed in this way, Nagel writes, death is seen as an abrupt end to our limitless possibilities. Nagel writes:

But the time after his death is time of which his death deprives
him. It is time in which, had he not died then, he would be alive.
Therefore any death entails the loss of some life that its victim
would have led had he not died at that or any earlier point.

So… our minds cannot conceive of our lives ending.. It is especially difficult to accept our own inescapable demise in light of the fact that there are cells in the human body that can live indefinitely. It seems unfair that a single cell can live forever while our whole is condemned to die.

The trouble is, we have to realize that someday we’re going to die

And that sucks.

 

grim reaper

Still, a problem with some people is not that death itself is a bad thing (as Nagel suggests) but what they fear is what happens after we die. After all, there aren‘t too many folks around who can tell us about that.

Some people believe that we go to Heaven or Hell, where we are either rewarded for our good deeds or doomed to eternal damnation. Other people believe in reincarnation. Some people think we return to earth as spirits. Some think that after death, we rejoin the universal consciousness.

And some people think that we die and that’s it.

dead

 

If that’s the case then there’s nothing to be afraid of.

The ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BCE) argued that we have no need to be afraid of death. Epicurus believed that our fear of death is irrational in that believing that death is to be feared means that we think that death is a bad thing.

But for death to be bad, Epicurus claims, we would actually have to experience death.

Epicurus argues that we do not fear death but the experience of dying. Epicurus states:

So that the man speaks but idly who says that he fears death not
because it will be painful when it comes, but because it is painful
in anticipation. For that which gives no trouble when it comes, is
but an empty pain in anticipation.

 

Epicurus claims that dying is not the same as being dead, merely the end of all experience. And since death is the end of all experience, Epicurus argues that we don’t actually experience death.

Despite what John Lennon may have sang, no one knows what it’s like to be dead.

there is no afterlife

 

 

So according to Epicurus, death is neither good nor bad. Epicurus says that we should think about death like this:

Become accustomed to the belief that death is nothing to us. For all
good and evil consists in sensation, but death is deprivation of
sensation. And therefore a right understanding of death is nothing
to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not because it adds to it
an infinite span of time, but because it takes away the craving for
immortality.

We need not worry about death, Epicurus tells us, because “that which is dissolved is without sensation; and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us”.

Epicurus says the world is made up of atoms and the atoms that make up our bodies merely dissolve into separate atoms after we die. In other words, Death is not painful or to be feared because our atoms will be busy dissolving back into the stuff of the universe. In the end, our deaths will be the ultimate no biggie. It will be over before we know it.

man's best friend

REALLY, WE’RE ALL AFRAID OF DYING AND MEETING THIS GUY

 

Likewise, in Phaedo (which is all about the death of Socrates), Socrates tells his companions that he does not fear death. For Socrates, death is merely the separation of the soul from the body. Socrates says death should not be feared

Because as we have a body and our soul is fused with such an
evil we shall never adequately attain what we desire, which we
affirm to be the truth. The body keeps us busy in a thousand
ways… It fills us with wants, desires, fears and all sorts of
illusions and such nonsense… it is impossible to attain any full
knowledge with the body…either we can never attain knowledge
or we can do so after death.

Socrates tells his companions he does not fear death because he believes in the immortality of the soul.

Socrates argues that the body is a prison for the soul and that our earthy, flawed bodies keep us from attaining the Truth. The worst kind of imprisonment, Socrates says, is due to the bodily desires that force us to see the world through a cage, and while we are caged our soul “wallows in every kind of ignorance”. Socrates says we should desire our souls to join the invisible, the divine and immortal, where our can be happy “having rid itself of confusion, ignorance, fear, violent desires and the other human ills.”

Socrates maintains that philosophers should want their (our) souls to be in its purest state. Lovers of wisdom should want to die to attain Truth and to seek the release of the soul from the body. Socrates says to Cebes when philosophy is practiced in the right way, philosophy trains lovers of wisdom for death.

Socrates declares philosophers should look forward to death!

The_Death_of_Socrates_cropped

DON’T WORRY HOMIES, I ACTUALLY WANT TO DIE!

Ok. So, Epicurus says that we shouldn’t fear death because we don’t actually experience death, and Socrates argues that the philosophically correct thing to do is to look forward to the end of life.

But if we should look forward to death, why do we dread it so? What about what Elizabeth Kübler-Ross said about not conceiving of our lives ending?

Is it wrong to want to live forever?

You know the answer is yes, right?

you can't live forever
The ancient Greek myth of Eos demonstrates a problem of immortality.

The goddess Eos fell in love with the mortal Tithonus. Eos, not wanting her love to die, asked Zeus to grant Tithonus eternal life. Eos, however, forgot to ask Zeus to also grant Tithonus eternal health. Tithonus eventually grew old and sick, but because he was immortal he could not die. Tithonus’ immortality was not a blessing but a curse.

On the philosophical side, the late philosopher Bernard Williams’ (1929-2003) tells us in his essay “The Makropulos Case: The Tedium of Immortality” (1972) that the primary problem with immortality is that we would become so bored with living forever that life would become intolerable.

cry

THAT MOMENT YOU REALIZE THAT YOU’RE GOING TO LIVE FOREVER

 

Williams’ example is the case of Elina Makropulos, a woman who drank a life-extending elixir and lived to be 342 years old. According to Williams‘ account of the life of the immortal woman, Makropulos had lived so long that she no longer experienced any joy in her existence and soon became indifferent to experience. The reason why Makropulos found no joy in life is because Elina Makropulos had simply lived long enough to do everything there is to do. Williams describes Elina Makropulos’ life:

Her unending life has come to a state of boredom, indifference, and
coldness. Everything is joyless: “In the end it is all the same,” she
says…

 

What do we do, Williams asks, when we’ve had all the time in the world to do everything and have already done it?

The short answer is: be bored out of our minds and praying for death.

Williams states that we have only a limited amount of time to enjoy the goods that life has to offer and the fact that life is finite creates an appreciation for our lives and experiences.

In short, it is the inevitability of death that makes life livable.
Just like the poem says, we want to “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” because we know our time is fleeting.*

Right now, you may be thinking, I’ve seen a movie about this very thing. You’re right.

You have.

death becomes her poster

THERE IS ONE CHARACTER IN DEATH BECOMES HER THAT REJECTS THAT IDEA OF IMMORTALITY. MADELINE ASHTON’S HUSBAND, ERNEST MENVILLE. WHEN ERNEST IS PROPOSITIONED TO TAKE THE LIFE-EXTENDING ELIXIR, HE REFUSES, DECLARING THAT HE DOES NOT WANT TO LIVE FOREVER BECAUSE HE FEARS THAT HE WILL BE BORED AND LONELY. ERNEST SAYS HE DOES NOT WANT TO LIVE FOREVER WHILE EVERYONE HE KNOWS WILL GROW OLD AND DIE. ERNEST SAYS OF IMMORTALITY, “IT’S NOT A DREAM, IT’S A NIGHTMARE”.

Williams predicts an immortal would soon grow indifferent to life and that life becomes meaningless simply because he has run out of things to do; there is no longer anything worth living for.

An immortal does not derive pleasure from overeating, partying, or having sex because he knows that it ultimately whatever he chooses to do makes no difference. The next day he will do the exact same thing all over again… and again.

 

honest-couple

THESE IMMORTAL PEOPLE HAVE DONE IT IN EVERY WAY IMAGINABLE…. FIFTY YEARS AGO

 

After we’ve done everything (and had an eternity to do it) the question we inevitably ask ourselves is “now what?” – what is there to make life worth living? An immortal would eventually be overcome with the desire to end the tedium of immortality and that death offers the only permanent solution to the problem.

It takes an eternity to realize the truth of what Bernard Williams wrote, “It can be a good thing not to live too long”.

So…

If Socrates, Epicurus and Bernard Williams are right, then death really isn’t such a bad thing. Instead of fearing death, we should thank out lucky stars that even the most unpleasant death is preferable to an eternity fulfilling our desires.

We should be satisfied to know that we die to appreciate life.

zombie with placard

 

The fact that we cannot imagine our own death or that we may, in the future, develop the means to prevent death does not give us the license to live forever. And even if we could live forever, we shouldn’t want to. If you think about it, death doesn’t sound half bad. When we die we either: 1) return to the cosmic dust of the universe, 2) go to an idyllic Heaven, where every day is like Christmas, or 3) we’re released from the bonds of our flawed earthly bodies.

cause of death

More importantly, the real reason why we shouldn’t want to live forever is because, as Elina Makropulos warns us, there is indeed a fate worse than death – boredom.
As modern science continues to redefine what death is, we’re left to ask more questions about the nature of death both medically and philosophically, and there’s plenty of discussion and definitions going on out there to have us talking about death for an eternity, which really, is exactly what philosophers want us to do; to never stop asking questions about everything, including death.

In the end, this is how I choose to think about death: Some people say we experience more than one death. Our physical death is just the first death that we experience. Our final death, some say, comes the last time someone speaks our name. If this is true, then Epicurus, Albert Einstein, Anne of Cleaves, Socrates, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Whitney Houston, even Bernard Williams, truly are immortal.

That’s the kind of immortality I think even Bernard Williams would be ok with.

*“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” is the oft quoted first line of the Robert Herrick (1591-1674) poem “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” (1648).

 

 

 
SOURCES:

Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. 1977. 13th edition. Ed. Clayton L. Thomas, M.D., M.P.H. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company. p. D-4.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have To Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy, and Their Own Families. 1969 [First Touchstone edition, 1997]. NY: Touchstone. pp. 16-7.

Great Treasury of Western Thought: A Compendium of Important Statements of Man and His Institutions by the Great Thinkers in Western History. 1977. Eds. Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren. NY: R R Bowker Company. p.131.

Thomas Nagel. “Death”. Mortal Questions. 1979. NY: Cambridge University Press. pp.3, 7-10.

Epicurus. “The Pursuit of Pleasure”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p.491.

Richard Schoch. The Secrets of Happiness: Three Thousand Years of Searching for the Good Life. 2006. NY: Scribner. pp.52-3.

Fred Feldman. Confrontations With the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of the Nature and Value of Death. 1992. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press. p.128.

Plato. “The Death of Socrates”. Twenty questions. pp. 448, 450.

Bernard Williams quote: http://www.unc.edu/~jfr/RI-TMCR1.htm.

Bernard Williams. “The Elina Makropulos Case”. Life, Death, and Meaning: Key Philosophical Readings On the Big Questions. 2004. Ed. David Benatar. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Litttlefield Publishers, Inc. p.331.

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What Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Kelly Clarkson

I DON’T WATCH AMERICAN IDOL.

Never did.

Show’s almost over now. So I guess I missed my chance.

Although I’ve spent absolutely no time watching American Idol, I am well aware of some of the show’s winners and contestants: Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert, Taylor Hicks, Katherine McPhee, Sanjaya, Chris Daughtry, Ruben Studdard, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Fantasia Barrino, Bo Bice….

You get the idea.

Heck, I even know about William Hung.

dtgwzaj

 

I wish I could forget that guy.

Honestly, I am still mystified how I know about these people.

giphy

 

Oh yeah, that’s right. It’s because I watch TV all day.

 

Now, I know that some folks think that a TV show like American Idol is the epitome of mindless entertainment (mindless entertainment is our business), but even in the most mindless entertainment there may still be a philosophical nugget to be found.

philosophical nugget

PICTURED: A PHILOSOPHICAL NUGGET

 

A philosophical nugget like when a former  American Idol contestant releases a song quoting Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche-Headphones(300x300)

NIETZSCHE ALWAYS HAS THE BEST BEATS

 

First off, if you’re unfamiliar with German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Nietzsche famously said in Twilight if the Idols (1888) “What does not destroy me makes me stronger”.

In German, that phrase would be Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.

whatdoesntkillu

 

Nietzsche wrote Twilight of the Idols in response to what he saw was the spread of decadent and nihilistic values in Europe. Nietzsche blames Christianity for convincing people to believe that strength and power are immoral and that weakness is a virtue. Nietzsche argues that society needs a transvaluation of values (he wanted to throw out life-denying values of Christianity in favor of what Nietzsche described as life-affirming values).

On the subject of Christianity, Nietzsche wrote

Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in “another” or “better” life.

Nietzsche also wrote…

This eternal accusation against Christianity I shall write upon all walls, wherever walls are to be found – I have letters that even the blind will be able to see… I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct or revenge, for which no means are venomous enough, or secret, subterranean and small enough, – I call it the one immortal blemish upon the human race…

 

BEARS WILL KILL YOU

 

Nietzsche wanted a return of strong leaders like Julius Caesar and Napoleon.

Unfortunately for Nietzsche, Christianity is still around.

Apparently, God’s not dead.

god's not dead

THE MOVIE SAYS SO. IT MUST BE TRUE!!!!!

 

Not that any of that matters when paraphrasing Nietzsche, anyway.

what doesn't kill you Fs you up

 

Although Friedrich Nietzsche died over a century ago, he remains a popular (and oft misquoted) philosopher.

Nietzsche’s influence is everywhere.

…including this guy’s T-shirt.

hello nietzsche

I HAVE NO IDEA WHO THIS MAN IS, BUT I WANT HIS SHIRT

 

Have you seen Fight Club?

you-do-not-talk-about-fight-club-0

 

The Big Lebowski?

nihilists

 

Listen to David Bowie?

anigif_enhanced-buzz-22739-1412701683-17

 

If you have, then you’re plenty familiar with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

 

Unless-its-syphilis

 

Like I said, I haven’t watched American Idol. But, when Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson released her fifth album Stronger in 2011, one song not only confirmed the unavoidable, god-like omnipresence of American Idol contestants, but also confirmed the unavoidable, omnipresence of Friedrich Nietzsche paraphrasing in popular culture.

 

This song.

tumblr_mwnemzos3q1qf9mevo1_500

 
“Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”.

In the hit song, Kelly Clarkson sings,

 

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Stand a little taller. Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone. What doesn’t kill you makes you a fighter…”

 

She also sings, “You didn’t think that I’d come back. I’d come back swinging. You tried to break me but you see”.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche wrote

Behold, I teach you the overman. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of who the earth is weary: so let them go.

 

Ok, so maybe they don’t mean exactly the same thing.

giphy1

 

Kelly Clarkson’s self-empowerment anthem is all about resilience and overcoming haters, not necessarily about overthrowing Christianity.

koala

 

But listen: even though Friedrich Nietzsche and Kelly Clarkson aren’t talking about the same thing, the fact that, in 2011, a song by a popular artist quotes Friedrich Nietzsche AND that the phrase has remained popular more than one hundred years after it was written, proves that philosophy is still relevant in our popular culture.

So take that, Marco Rubio.

joseph

 

 

….At least relevant enough for the title of a Kelly Clarkson song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

Friedrich Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy. 1872 Trans. Walter Kaufmann. p. 23.

Friedrich Nietzsche. The Antichrist.

http://www.theperspectivesofnietzsche.com/nietzsche/nuber.html

“Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”. Composers: Jorgen Elofsson, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin, and Ali Tamposi. (From the album Stronger [2012]).