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Atheistic Dilemma - How do you deal with your mortality?
Posted: 20 February 2011 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 61 ]
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George - 19 February 2011 11:22 AM

If you read my other post you will see that I said that the fear we (I) experience is unnecessarily extreme for it to be an adaptation.

You mean this?

George - 18 February 2011 06:49 AM

The problem with us, the humans, or some of us at least, is that the fear of death is much bigger than what it needs to be. I still think it is a by-product of having consciousness, and adds no real value to one’s survival. The level of fear that a duck might experience would be sufficient.

Are you sure what a duck experiences? And if you are right, are you sure that it does not need more?
You might be right that it is correlated with having consciousness, even if I would say, the level of consciousness. It is about knowing you will possibly die. A duck on land seeing a fox knows this, and all his biological system go for the ‘flight’ response. It is the same with us when we are threatened. But from a certain age on, we know we will die anyway. So we have a continuous fear of dying in the background. But is that extreme?

George - 19 February 2011 11:22 AM

You always make the same mistake, GdB. No, we don’t have those mechanisms in order to survive, it’s the other way around: those who have certain mechanisms will survive.

Of course you are right, my expression is functional.

The point I want to make that very often you are prepared to ‘explain away’ certain cultural or psychological phenomena with some evolutionary explanation. But obviously it does not help you in coping with fear of death. Why not? Why would evolutionary explanations help in those other topics? Do they really touch the problems, when you understand them in terms of evolution?

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Posted: 20 February 2011 08:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 62 ]
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GdB - 20 February 2011 06:57 AM

But obviously it does not help you in coping with fear of death.

No, it doesn’t. I don’t get your point.

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Posted: 20 February 2011 08:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 63 ]
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GdB - 20 February 2011 06:57 AM

Are you sure what a duck experiences? And if you are right, are you sure that it does not need more?
You might be right that it is correlated with having consciousness, even if I would say, the level of consciousness. It is about knowing you will possibly die. A duck on land seeing a fox knows this, and all his biological system go for the ‘flight’ response. It is the same with us when we are threatened. But from a certain age on, we know we will die anyway. So we have a continuous fear of dying in the background. But is that extreme?


The point I want to make that very often you are prepared to ‘explain away’ certain cultural or psychological phenomena with some evolutionary explanation. But obviously it does not help you in coping with fear of death. Why not? Why would evolutionary explanations help in those other topics? Do they really touch the problems, when you understand them in terms of evolution?

Questioning Georges ability to “know” what a duck experiences and then creating a just so story about a duck and a fox in which you “know a duck “experiences”  thoughts about death is just as fallacious. smile

The simpler rule which could be adaptive is “if it doesn’t look like me “a duck” avoid due to a source of pain.”

We humans can all talk about dealing with the thought of death through song, poetry, books, philosophy etc but it all comes down to courage in facing the unkown in the most profound sense.

We are all truly just “whistling past the graveyard.” smile

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Posted: 20 February 2011 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 64 ]
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I’m a bit late to this party, but I just wanted to add my “ditto” to Occam’s comments on pupose and meaning in post#20. I do think the notion of dying, and even being dead (though I know there isn’t any “thee” there) are a bit scary. How much these thoughts bother me depends on the day and my mood and all the other trivial things our emotions are contingent upon. I find, unlike George, I worry more about dying since I had a child since the thought of not being there for them distubs me more than the thought of not being around in itself. I suspect there are also some life-stage related changes in most people’s attitudes towards death. Most young people feel essentially invincible and immortal, so the concept is not real enough to inspire fear. As we age, it becomes moe real as ou awareness of our mortality becomes more visceral. And perhaps at later stages there is more acceptance or equanimity? Obviously, broad generalizations.

I certainly feel like I understand the fear of mortality well enough to sympathize with those who seek to diminish it by imagining some kind of immortality. Since I don’t see any good reason to think such a thing exists, that’s not a path that appeals to me, but the motivation seems clear enough.

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Posted: 20 February 2011 11:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 65 ]
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Quoting ExMachina: 

I guess my only regret is that I won’t get to see how far human progress will go.

  Yeah, but you’ve got about forty years on me, give or take, so you’ll see stuff that I never will.  Similarly, think of all the great stuff you’ve seen happen, that the kids of today will just take for granted and never realize how interesting it was to see them - like the beginnings of home computers and the change from land phones to cell phones,.

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Posted: 21 February 2011 12:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 66 ]
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Hey, come on guys.  There’s always cryogenics.  LOL

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Posted: 22 August 2011 04:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 67 ]
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This has hit me very recently and very hard. I have not believed in a deity since as far back as I could tell what a diety was (I remember responding to myself at the age of seven to the exclamation “Oh God!” with “Oh cmon Theo, there is no god!” This was after garbage water fell on my leg as I was throwing out the garbage). I have always told people that when I die I will simply “cease to exist”. However, only in the last three weeks has it hit me with intense strength that one night almost made me vomit with terror. I since consider the idea that I was hit with thanatophobia. It has calmed down since, but the effect has changed me significantly. It was almost like I became a born-again afterwards. I started to empathize with humanity on an extreme level now and feel miserable the second I see a single person wasting their life or living unequally. I guess the defense mechanism my mind made up was to respond by changing certain perspectives on life.

I have thought about the feeling. The realization of my own morality hit me at a rather low point in my life. I just graduated undergrad and now have to decide for my future. I have been slacking these last few months and done nothing. I believe that this stagnation in action has perhaps partly triggered my intense fear. I think this may be so with many people. I think that the best mechanism against this fear is to simply keep busy. Bury it with friends, girlfriends, discussions and life. We cannot avoid it in the end, just accept it and bury the fear with life. This is all I can say.

It is funny, I am far from the only atheist in my family and yet I am the only person with this intense fear. I think that this is cultural as well. I remember talking to my grandfather, a “deist” who does not believe in an afterlife or any post-death existence. He does not fear death at all; in fact, he almost welcomes it. My father does not seem to have this fear either. They are all busy and living their life. They are living in the moment of their life, in their every day existence. I think it is the contemplation that really destroys us. Best to just try and bury it. We are living now, right now… that is all I can say; I hope to keep on living for a long long while and accomplish things.

I also think that this has a large part to do with the mentality of our modern society. In a world that loves the self more than ever and in a world where the communal and sacred is dying, we are in a transitional stage. We have a society focused on notions of a paradisaical afterlife. Imagine the idea of non-existence to the ancient Greeks, who believed that upon death they would go to a hellish underworld where they would be trapped inside for an eternity (whether they were good or bad).

As far as my own belief, I am not an atheist anymore largely because I have abandoned my nihilism. I reject faith and am rather negative towards any idea of an afterlife, but I do not pretend to know what my consciousness really is nor what will happen to it when I die. This may be a defense mechanism or not… who knows; I simply refuse to say that I know anything for certain. Still, I do not live with the conception of an afterlife awaiting me… I simply say: “I do not know”.

[ Edited: 22 August 2011 04:34 PM by TheodorePliske ]
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Posted: 22 August 2011 08:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 68 ]
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Ted, I’m not trying to be snarky, but your problem is that you are still a kid, and you realized something you weren’t supposed to think about until you became much more mature.  I’ve been a lifelong atheist, and I only thought about my death in abstract terms until, in my late sixties I had a heart attack.  I was alone so I called 911 then my doctor, grabbed a few magazines and stood by the curb until the ambulance showed up.  Only when I was lying on my back listening to the siren did it occur to me that I might die right then.  I wasn’t bothered, just thought, “damn, that’s a lot of stuff my daughter and stepkids are going to have to wade through.  They’ll probably learn more about me than they want to know.  Well, that’ll be their problem.” 

I think as you experience a wide variety of your coming life, death will lose much of its present importance and fade into a much more managable part of your psyche.  Think of it this way:  You’ve probably got about sixty more years before it becomes an issue.  As such, plan to worry about it then and enjoy your life as a young person.  I agree that vomiting is unpleasant, but you shouldn’t equate it with a pathway to death because you’ll probably suffer a fair number of bouts of stomach flu in your life.

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Posted: 22 August 2011 08:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 69 ]
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“I was alone so I called 911 then my doctor, grabbed a few magazines and stood by the curb until the ambulance showed up.  Only when I was lying on my back listening to the siren did it occur to me that I might die right then.  I wasn’t bothered, just thought, “damn, that’s a lot of stuff my daughter and stepkids are going to have to wade through.  They’ll probably learn more about me than they want to know.  Well, that’ll be their problem.”

That sounds extremely frightening! I’m glad you pulled through!

I think that there was something more to my panic though. In the same instance that I understood the finitude of my life, the inherent problem of consciousness also broke through my conceptual wall. In a very instant, I felt (and I am not kidding) as if my reality was breaking down. What I understood of my world was torn and I was now to reconstruct it. I had always felt this way since reading philosophy, but it was never so visceral as when it happened those few nights back. I was still in the same house, same bed, same darkness; yet, everything around me seemed altered. This may sound over the top, but it was sort of how I was feeling for a moment. Again, it has since begun to wear off and I can feel my own normality slowly returning, but the shock is still there. Quite bizarre.

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Posted: 23 August 2011 01:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 70 ]
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TheodorePliske - 22 August 2011 08:34 PM

“I was alone so I called 911 then my doctor, grabbed a few magazines and stood by the curb until the ambulance showed up.  Only when I was lying on my back listening to the siren did it occur to me that I might die right then.  I wasn’t bothered, just thought, “damn, that’s a lot of stuff my daughter and stepkids are going to have to wade through.  They’ll probably learn more about me than they want to know.  Well, that’ll be their problem.”

That sounds extremely frightening! I’m glad you pulled through!

I think that there was something more to my panic though. In the same instance that I understood the finitude of my life, the inherent problem of consciousness also broke through my conceptual wall. In a very instant, I felt (and I am not kidding) as if my reality was breaking down. What I understood of my world was torn and I was now to reconstruct it. I had always felt this way since reading philosophy, but it was never so visceral as when it happened those few nights back. I was still in the same house, same bed, same darkness; yet, everything around me seemed altered. This may sound over the top, but it was sort of how I was feeling for a moment. Again, it has since begun to wear off and I can feel my own normality slowly returning, but the shock is still there. Quite bizarre.

I believe it is called an “insight” moment. But this is still a subjective personal perspective of being apart from the system. But objectively we are part of the universal majesty, might as well enjoy it.

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Posted: 23 August 2011 06:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 71 ]
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FWIW, I went through very similar experience as Theodore when I was around twenty. I remember one day crossing a street and out of the blue a thought of my mortality came to me and hasn’t left me since then. At that time I remember being sick for about a month; I even stopped going to school. I read all the books I could find on “life after death” and I guess I found some relief in the possibility on my mind surviving my body. After I got better I quickly realized my faith in the survival of my consciousness was no more than a mere wishful thinking. But thanks to books by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Raymond Moody, etc., I somehow got through it.

Theodore, the fear of death will probably never leave you but you’ll learn how to live with it. People who never went through this will not understand your fear but I know exactly how you feel. Good luck, buddy.

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Posted: 23 August 2011 07:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 72 ]
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I love this thread. It represents the essence of why theism has evolved within our species. I know several people who are scared shitless of death. It’s not uncommon for them to seek refuge in their idea of a god and an eternal soul. While I am afraid of pain, I am no longer afraid of death.

Theodore writes, “That sounds extremely frightening! I’m glad you pulled through!” But what Occam wrote was, “I wasn’t bothered, just thought, “damn, that’s a lot of stuff my daughter and stepkids are going to have to wade through.” That is how I feel about death.

Science has given me much more comfort with my place in the universe than Christianity ever did. Chemistry is a beautiful subject and I have been fortunate enough to have had excellent general, organic, and medicinal chemistry courses at RIT and UB. I am no Occam, except in my appreciation of what chemistry reveals.

If I were to die today, my will makes it clear that I want no funeral or any other ceremony. But if my family got together and wanted to really understand how I feel about my place (and yours) in the universe, I would want them to watch the “Stardust” episode of “Wonders of the Universe.” The science is beautiful, awesome, and real.

The first of three short you tube videos starts HERE

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Posted: 23 August 2011 07:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 73 ]
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traveler - 23 August 2011 07:22 AM

While I am afraid of pain, I am no longer afraid of death.

Were you ever afraid of death?

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Posted: 23 August 2011 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 74 ]
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George - 23 August 2011 07:35 AM
traveler - 23 August 2011 07:22 AM

While I am afraid of pain, I am no longer afraid of death.

Were you ever afraid of death?

Oh yeah! When I was a kid. I thought that I hadn’t had enough time to make myself “worthy” of heaven so I wanted more time to earn my admission. That fear left me once I realized we all share a similar fate and that my mind was the manufacturer of all sorts of fairy tales. “I” didn’t matter 100 years ago; nor will I matter 100 years from now. And “I” am OK with that. Some are not.

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Posted: 23 August 2011 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 75 ]
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This discussion reminded me of this brilliant scene in Seinfeld, where Costanza is volunteering to hang out with an old person. I could’t find the video unfortunately…

Here is the is the dialogue:

Ben: No, I feel great for 85.

George: Y’know the average life span for an American male is like, 72.

You’re really… kinda pushin’ the envelope there.

Ben: I’m not afraid of dyin’. I never think about it.

George: You don’t? Boy, I think about it a lot. I think about it at my

age. Imagine how much I’ll be thinkin’ about it at your age. All

I’ll do is keep thinkin’ about it until it drives me insane…

Ben: I’m grateful for every moment I have.

George: Grateful? How can you be grateful when you’re *so* close to the

end? When you know that any second—Poof! Bamm-O! It can all be

over. I mean you’re not stupid, you can read the handwriting on the

wall. It’s a matter of simple arithmetic, for Gods sake…

Ben: I guess I just don’t care.

George: What are you talking about? How can you sit there and look me in

the eye and tell that me you’re not worried?! Don’t you have any

*sense*?!! Don’t you have a brain!? Are you so completely senile

that you don’t know what you’re talkin about Anymore!!?!

% Gee, I can’t figure out why but Ben gets up to leave.

George: Wait a second, where are you going?

Ben: Life’s too short to waste on you.

George: Wait a minute, please—

Ben: Get out of my way…

% As Ben shoves George out of the way, all of a sudden you just *have* to

% feel a tinge of pain in your heart as you realize George realizes he won’t

% be able to talk to Ben anymore…

George: But Mr. Cantwell, you… you owe me for the soup…

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