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Dealing With Dying
Posted: 13 March 2008 05:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Fear of dying is an instinctual fear that serves the purpose of helping keep us alive.  There’s nothing wrong with having such feelings because it’s good to want to live.  But it’s really not worth obsessing our thought-filled minds over it.  Besides, when death happens you really won’t mind so much as you do now.

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Posted: 14 March 2008 09:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Hi erasmus:

erasmusinfinity - 13 March 2008 05:15 AM

Fear of dying is an instinctual fear that serves the purpose of helping keep us alive.  There’s nothing wrong with having such feelings because it’s good to want to live.  But it’s really not worth obsessing our thought-filled minds over it.  Besides, when death happens you really won’t mind so much as you do now.

But why need a fear of dying, when a fear of harm could do all the same work?

Kirk

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Posted: 14 March 2008 04:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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inthegobi - 14 March 2008 09:46 AM

But why need a fear of dying, when a fear of harm could do all the same work?

I think that I’m fine with that distinction and I suspect that it supports the point that I was trying to get at.  Like other life forms, humans possess an instinct to avoid death (or harm).  On the one hand, it is useful because it helps to keep us alive.  On the other hand, terror and fright about the idea of dying are matters of thinking, or cognition.  And it was precisely what I was trying to get at that we need not think upon death in such a way.

Am I misunderstanding your point Kirk?

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Posted: 14 March 2008 05:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Hi erasmus. Hope you’re well.

erasmusinfinity - 14 March 2008 04:24 PM
inthegobi - 14 March 2008 09:46 AM

But why need a fear of dying, when a fear of harm could do all the same work?

I think that I’m fine with that distinction and I suspect that it supports the point that I was trying to get at.  Like other life forms, humans possess an instinct to avoid death (or harm).  On the one hand, it is useful because it helps to keep us alive.  On the other hand, terror and fright about the idea of dying are matters of thinking, or cognition.  And it was precisely what I was trying to get at that we need not think upon death in such a way.

Am I misunderstanding your point Kirk?

Hm, I wasn’t aiming against your theory. Just a ‘sharpener’.

But to throw in something for the non-naturalist side:

First, the fear of death doesn’t seem largely a product of cognition. The fear of death seems pretty salt emotional to me. It’s a deep part of us, somehow.

Further, it’s a little odd for animals - as we’re presumed to be merely a very complex version of, to a naturalist - to fear something that isn’t harm and is also perfectly natural for organisms. So far as I know, most other animals don’t fear death - or i’m not sure how to even measure it. (It’s said that elephants seem to treat the corpses of their fellows with especial tenderness, and that’s suggestive they know there’s something wrong and they miss the living elephant, but that’s not the same as fearing being dead oneself.)

Moreover, if a fear of death is superfluous to evolutionary success in a way that fear of harm isn’t, yet isn’t cognitive, then what’s the purpose of the fear? A non-naturalist about human beings could argue that it makes more sense if our deaths - human deaths that is - isn’t ‘natural’ after all, or isn’t meant to be.

But this is all off-topic from the actual thread.

cheers,

kirk

[ Edited: 14 March 2008 05:55 PM by inthegobi ]
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Posted: 15 March 2008 09:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Kirk,

I think that your elephant case is an excellent example of how much more reflective thought certain species of animals are capable of than is conventionally understood or accepted, but I agree with the intended point that there is a distinction between a reactive avoidance of “harm” and human “fear,” as you term them.

Two scenarios, as intended for elaboration:

1) A deer hears a rustling of the leaves.  Its head perks up and it freezes in alertness, listening carefully.  Its heart rate has increased.  It hears another sound and begins to dart away from its spot as quickly as it can, in a pattern that is unpredictable to certain possible predators.  After it has reached a seemingly safe distance it settles down.  Over the course of a few minutes it’s heart rate returns to its normal pace and the deer begins to eat leaves again.

2) A charitable man sees another man die and recognizes that some day he too will die.  Upon further reflection he considers that he very much likes being alive and that he would not like his life to end.  He becomes upset over the thought that he will one day no longer be able to take care of his family and the ones that he loves.  And further depressed over the fact that he will some day no longer be able to help humanity through the humanitarian work to which he has devoted the majority of his life’s time and ambition.  He begins to existentially question the significance of his actions in this world in consideration of the fact that his death and the passing of some vast length of time will render his life little more than a ripple in the vast ocean of the universe.

Scenario 1 is a rather complete unit referring to innate animal behavior.  Such behaviors also occur in humans.  Scenario 2, however, is quite incomplete because there are multiple ways in which the charitable man may choose to relate to and respond to his feelings.  He may become depressed or he may become more motivated to do more during the time that he has left in this world, he may turn on his TV or ponder an afterlife or use drugs to numb his mind, etc.

I’m not sure why you don’t place this “fear” category in the realm of cognition.  It seems to me that is where the distinction lies.  Sure, organisms try to survive.  The most commonly self-elevated human distinction lies in the ability to recognize and reflect on things cognitively.  No?

I also think that it is very much to the point of this thread that we recognize that the matter of “dealing with dying” takes place in our heads when we think and not directly in the sorts of instincts exemplified in scenario 1.  This point is more than just a worthwhile tangent in leading us toward a mature attitude toward death.

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Posted: 15 March 2008 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Erasmus,

You did earlier say that the fear of death was an instinct, so i can see your initial confusion.

I’m denying that animals have the instinct of fearing death. Is that reasonable to accept?

If you call it a deep emotional instinct in human beings (in contrast to other animals), then that extra instinct is in want of a good explanation, since it doesn’t seem to be needed for survival if as animals humans already have a fear of being harmed, and since as an instinct it’s hard to also call it essentially cognitive. Of course you’re right that we humans do think about death, and that’s an essential part of how we deal with it properly.

If our fear of death were essentially cognitive, then it would be plausible to analyze it as a rationalization of the more natural fear of harm (really, a fear of pain - for example, you can harm a frog by putting it in a pan of water and slowly raising the temperature, but he won’t feel any pain, i’ve heard, and so he doesn’t have any fear while being slowly cooked.) But if it’s an instinct, then we not ‘inventing’ the fear - it’s right there in our biological being. That’s unusual at least in the animal world.

I agree that the elephant stuff is important. I don’t happen to think it will ever make non-naturalism about human beings false, but it will help us enormously to ‘shave off’ the aspects of human beings that looked at first like uniquely human but isn’t. (liek learning new habits among potato-washing or stick-using monkeys.)

kirk

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Posted: 15 March 2008 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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inthegobi - 15 March 2008 10:26 AM

You did earlier say that the fear of death was an instinct, so i can see your initial confusion.

I’m denying that animals have the instinct of fearing death. Is that reasonable to accept?

To the degree that you define “fearing death” as a thought response to the idea of dying, then yes I basically agree with you.  That is not what I meant in reference to “fear of death” being instinctual, but to pursue that would be a semantic digression.  Regardless of how I used the term “fear,” I am happy to accept the way that you are using it to allow you to make your point.

I will also postpone discussing primate consciousness for the sake of avoiding digression from the topic.  For the record, I do think that many species of animal do possess much capacity for such thinking.

I do have one objection to the manner in which you are using these terms, which is the matter of humans “fearing death” being instinctual in and of itself.  We are first aware of death and are reflecting upon it, then we have emotional responses to it, and then we may or may not act in response to those emotions in various ways.  In less cognitively inclined species, such as the deer that I referred to in my first scenario, there is only a response to stimuli.

inthegobi - 15 March 2008 10:26 AM

If you call it a deep emotional instinct in human beings (in contrast to other animals), then that extra instinct is in want of a good explanation,

I don’t.

inthegobi - 15 March 2008 10:26 AM

Of course you’re right that we humans do think about death, and that’s an essential part of how we deal with it properly.

Some deal with it “properly” and some don’t.  There are many different ways in which different individuals deal with death, as the existence of this thread as a topic demonstrates.  I’m sure that you and I would argue quite differently about what is a “proper” way of dealing with it.

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Posted: 26 March 2008 04:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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How we deal with death is an interesting topic I think. I have never lost any near family or near friends, but I have myself been faced with death, and when I think back at that experience my reaction really surprises me. I wasn’t afraid, I didn’t start to cry and didn’t really care, not compared to how my family reacted. This experience did however force me into thinking about what I want to do with my life. And as one pointed out before me; we are just a tiny particle in the present, and and even smaller one in the vast length of time.

When your faced with that you really have two choices of what you can do with your life; you can choose to live a meaningful life (that be having fun, be succesful, helping others or whatever that makes meaning to you) or you can numb yourself by that fact and slip into a life of apathy (because nothing really matters anyway?). I find comfort in the fact that my DNA will live on after I’m gone and that what used to be me can now be used to create new life. Because of that, I think that life is eternal, relatively, and maybe we’ll reincarnate? Who knows? But even if we do, I don’t think we’ll remember a former life.

I agree with most of you about Flynn’s view of ceremonies of death. I think it can be helpful for the ones that are left behind and that it is a worthy way of “celebrating” a life.

[ Edited: 26 March 2008 05:26 AM by haarod ]
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Men for the sake of getting a living forget to live.  -Margaret Fuller

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Posted: 28 March 2008 02:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 15 March 2008 11:14 AM

I do have one objection to the manner in which you are using these terms [‘fearing death’, ‘instinctive’, ‘emotional’], which is the matter of humans “fearing death” being instinctual in and of itself.  We are (1) first aware of death and (2) reflect upon it, then (3) we have emotional responses to it, and then (4) we may or may not act in response to those emotions in various ways.  In less cognitively inclined species, such as the deer that I referred to in my first scenario, there is only a response to stimuli.

Hm. Yet the fear of death is universal, or almost so, in human beings - it’s ‘typical’. So what is the reflection in (2) that produces almost always the emotion in (3)?

Kirk

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Posted: 28 March 2008 05:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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At seventy-seven I’d say that my emotion related to death isn’t fear; it’s more annoyance.

Occam

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Posted: 28 March 2008 06:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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That’s interesting, Occam. I’ve never thought about it that way…

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Posted: 29 March 2008 07:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Occam - 28 March 2008 05:18 PM

At seventy-seven I’d say that my emotion related to death isn’t fear; it’s more annoyance.

Occam

Hm - this might be off-topic, but we can mean a fear of my merely future death (I fear death from future frostbite, so I make enough money to buy mittens, for instance); there’s fear of death as it gets more likely (if I can delicately characterize the prospects of a very elderly though still healthy man)  and when actually die-ing, to speak a big gruesomely. I mean when a man’s on his rather obvious death-bed, and usually distant relatives start popping up.

I’m unclear on how different those all are - and not sure which we’re discussing, if they are rather different. I’d say that urging that the ‘fear of dying’ is a deep, salt emotion is to argue more about the third one, and maybe the second one. Occam, you sound like your emotions about ‘death’ are about the second kind of ‘death’. Yes?

Kirk

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Posted: 29 March 2008 01:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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True.  As far as the first goes, I think most of us take precautions like stopping at red lights, etc.  Only a small percent are either suicidal, unaware of the risk, or looking for the thrill of avoiding death in a dangerous situation.  It depends on the kind of death whether number three obtains.  If one dies of a heart attack in his/her sleep one doesn’t have to even worry about that.  It’s only lingering terminal degeneration that puts one in the situation of observing oneself dying.

Occam

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Posted: 11 May 2008 08:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Kyuuketsuki UK - 13 March 2008 05:02 AM
George - 11 March 2008 05:59 AM

There is nothing that isn’t “so bad” about death. I find it absolutely horrifying. I even hate going to sleep and having to be unconscious.

I absoloutely agree with you ... it seems to me (and I stress this is just my opinion) that many atheists, balking at theist claims of an afterlife (with its implication that we simply no longer exist if we don’t believe them), do a knee-jerk reaction and claim they are unafraid of death. I know I am terrified of dying, the process of dying in part of course as it may well be unpleasant or painful but mostly I am scared sh**less of no longer being ... of course many a theist has then responded to my “fears” in an obvious fashion leading to somewhat vicious replies on my part (usually detailing what I think of their dumb fairy tales.

I do not fear no longer existing. But that is me. I do fear accidents, cuz they seem painful and I don’t want to be paralyzed. But death itself doesn’t seem scary TO ME.

There are many people who do not fear death. There are those who welcome it for religious reasons. There are those, like me, who don’t see what there is to fear.

I feel that it is pointless to tell someone why they should or shouldn’t fear death. Logic and reason probably aren’t going to change their emotional response. Anyone who tries to force someone to view a particular reaction to death as correct is full of themselves.

I also find it highly annoying when there are people (I know one in particular) who claim that anyone who doesn’t fear death is in denial. Too many people have died gracefully with the knowledge of the empty future to hold such a view. It seems to me that there are people who feel that the fear is irrational and want to claim that it is not their fault that they hold such a view since all “normal” people hold that view. In truth, normal people have a variety of reactions to imagining death and there is nothing wrong with not fearing or fearing (except for the stress).

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Posted: 03 February 2009 01:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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I agree with dmoreau “I do not fear no longer existing. But that is me. I do fear accidents, cuz they seem painful and I don’t want to be paralyzed. But death itself doesn’t seem scary TO ME.”

Do we fear death or do we fear how we might get there?  I fear accidents that would lead me to not being about to take care of myself, I fear pain, I also fear what will be left for the living to deal with…but do I fear death, no.  I fear a painful process because once I’m dead I’m dead.  I hope I don’t go to heaven and have to pray or be spanked.  I hope I don’t end up some lost soul floating around.  I would really like some peace and quiet for a change so it’s a good thing I’m atheist.  What I fear is not leaving my son prepared to take care of himself and not being there for him when he needs me.

We are now alive so lets live and do the best we can.  Being afraid should not stop us from that.  Maybe some planning will help us feel better.

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