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Archive for November 1st, 2017

Thanatopsis

Death and I are old friends; he was gracious enough not to interrupt my work before it was done, and it’s the least I can do to return that favor when the time comes.  –  “Die Young, Stay Pretty

You are going to die.  Soon.  And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.  “Nutrition” will not save you, nor will “health care”, nor “science”, nor “repairing telomeres”, nor “transhumanism”, nor “The Singularity”, nor being “uploaded to the cloud”.  And you’re not going to be preserved by the “Rapture” or the “Second Coming” either.  You’re going to die sometime between today and your 120th birthday, and the most any of your science fiction or mystical mumbo-jumbo could possibly do to change that would be to extend it a little.  And I mean a very little, because any conceivable solution involving brain transplants or computers or electro-horcruxes or whatever which resulted in the illusion of your consciousness continuing (yeah, I said “illusion”; sorry to burst your bubble, but a simulation of your mind is NOT you) in this plane beyond death will require an advanced technical society and a stable economic system to maintain, and I guarantee the plug will be pulled on your pathetic, meaningless, narcissistic ego-trip as soon as the culture you live in collapses and is replaced by a younger, healthier one which realizes that catering to the primitive fears of long-dead plutocrats is a waste of valuable resources.  And yeah, that WILL happen, because cultures are every bit as mortal as humans (if longer-lived by a factor of maybe 3 to 10).  Beyond that, species also have a limited lifespan, as do planets, “stars and even the universe itself.  It is literally impossible to stop the process; entropy increases, and the only way to slow that in one area is to speed it up somewhere else.”

Depressing?  Not at all, unless you think cacophony is a good thing.  Imagine a piece of music in which every single note is sustained forever once it starts.  It’s just as complex as any piece you know, but instead of each note lasting for a certain time before giving way to the next, each continues to drone on at exactly the same pitch and volume, forever, no matter how many new notes are added.  By the end of a three- or four-minute pop song there would be nothing but an unbearable din without beauty or structure, and by the end of a typical symphony you’d be trying to get as far away from the resulting sonic abomination as possible.  But you couldn’t, because every radio, every iPod, every concert hall, every TV jingle, every kid singing off-key with the wrong words in the entire world would be doing exactly the same damned thing, FOREVER.  And any advanced aliens who picked up the broadcasts would certainly come here as quickly as possible in order to obliterate the obscenity with a gravity bomb, or to drop us into the nearest black hole, and good fucking riddance.

The beauty of a piece of music or a dance derives from a succession of notes or steps, each following the other in sequence and each giving way in its time to the next.  The meaning of an essay, story or book depends upon each finite word in its proper place. And the meaning of not merely an individual life, but the life of a culture, a species, a world and the entire multiverse depends upon that same finiteness.  Death is what gives life meaning, and fighting excessively against it is as childish and futile as the behavior of a toddler who refuses to let another child take his place on the carousel once his ride is done.

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