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June 21, 1999: sing hymns, make love, get high, fall dead

I wrote this up a few days ago and was going to save it 'til a day when I had no good ideas, but after seeing Scott Liles' father's day entry [no link since it'll change next time he updates], I guess now is as good a time as any.


In reading (Dr.) Scott Liles' web journal, it struck me how I couldn't imagine encountering death on a daily basis the way he does. Perhaps I'm wrong--perhaps after regular exposure to it, I'd be used to it--but it's hard to imagine.

Death is a universal human experience. Well, not exactly--you have to be dead to have experienced it, at which point you'll hardly remember the experience. But you know what I mean. We all know it'll happen to us someday.

I suppose there's little for me to say about it. It's been written about to death. Entire philosophies have been constructed based on it.

I was noticing recently that my mind just naturally skims over the topic. It's been coming up a lot lately in my thoughts for some reason, but it doesn't stick around for long.

In a way, the thought process resembles the one with which I respond to the question of the existence of an objective reality. Yeah, Descartes' demon could be tricking my senses--or, in a modern updating, Michael Devitt's mad scientist could have my disembodied brain in a vat, with supercomputers feeding me false sensory information. While other philosphies weaken the notion of an objective reality, mine (and Devitt's) just says, well, either there's an objective reality being experienced by my senses, or there's something totally else that I have no ability to determine. So, day-to-day living-wise... I'm just going to assume it's the former. Philosophically, it's a cop-out of sorts, although it's still consistent and logical. It just, Godel-style, says, "There are some things we can't know".

I believe that when we die, that's it. There's no more experience. There's no more memory. All that's left is other people remembering you. How much is that worth, unless you're Albert Einstein or William Shakespeare? I don't know what any of my great-grandparents names were, what they did for a living, or who they were.

So, for instance, I was thinking at one point, "What if I died? Maybe I should have my unproduced screenplays put into the public domain, so there'd be some chance of them being produced?" But then I thought, why bother, I wouldn't be around to know about it, so really, why should I care?

Which I find depressing.

Living is just passing the time until you die.

Sure, you can value making other people happy, but they'll die too. Eventually, everyone who ever heard of you will be dead too. What does it matter?

This suggests: "Why bother going on living?" And I don't really have an answer to that, any more than I have an answer to why I live my life like there was an objective reality, not like I was a brain in a vat. I'm not in the least bit suicidal. I try to live my life and be as happy as I can. But if I get philosophical about it, it sure seems pointless.

I guess when I'm dead, it really won't matter how people talk about me. Whether they say good things or bad. I mean, I suppose having them talk about me would be nice in a sense. As Glen Cook writes: It is immortality, of a sort.

But would you want to be a statistic on a government chart (The Police)? Your story used to scare people?

My father smoked a pack a day (two packs a day?) and drank heavily. I don't think he had a death wish, I just think he didn't take the risks seriously. Like most people, he assumed it wouldn't happen to him.

It did. He died of lung cancer when I was 24.

My family (my immediate family and my mother's family) mostly quit smoking when he got cancer. Some of them slipped back on the trail. My brother never quit, I think. After all, it could never happen to them, right? Besides, you can always quit tomorrow, or after just one more today. How dangerous is just one more? (I know how easy it is to fall into this trap. As a near-professional procrastinator, "How much worse will it be if I wait one more day?" is my mantra.)

I still hang out with smokers. I don't like to nag people, so I usually tell them only once. I tell them it can happen to people they know; it can happen to them. And I mention my father.

Scott wrote up a nice little set of tips to help smokers quit and stay motivated to quit. At this time of writing, it's here.

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attribution dammit: Great Deceiver King Crimson