Friday, September 14, 2012

Time to die

At some point everyone has to die. It may be sudden and unexpected or you might have plenty of time to think about it. Contemplating ones's own death is a practice used by both Buddhist and Christian monks. Having no fear of death is also considered a sign of boddhisatva or a saint. Alan watts never claimed to be enlightened but he did report maintaining a state of no fear for several days. He's said something like, you could have chopped off my head and I wouldn't have cared. If I think about it I am afraid of dying right now - if someone tried to chop off my head I would be really upset! From a Christian perspective, fear of death reflects a lack of faith. We will all die and mostly it happens when we would rather not, so if I fear it now how will I be when it actually happens. Fear of death is fear of letting go of the things associated with our life. In life when something precious is taken away it feels like part of us has died, but we are still living. This is especially true when we have lost access to a loved one.

In the brain, all the different things that cause happiness do so by firing neurons. But this does not mean that the feeling or ”qualia” of happiness is merely an electrical signal or neurotransmitter. If I have a dish of dopamine and I pour some more dopamine into it, does this cause the dish to experience happiness??? No! (dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with reward). Likewise, most physicists no longer believe that time is a fundamental property of the universe (don't have a reference off hand for this but there was a good article on this in a recent scientific american). Instead, like qualia, time appears to be an emergent property that plays no direct role in the physical universe. So death, which is the end of something in time, is an illusion. Likewise the feeling of sadness associated with a loss is an illusion. We have to deal with it because we're programmed (through evolution) to think in terms of gain and loss, but it helps to know that it is an illusion.

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1 comment:

  1. Some thoughts on how we're programmed by evolution: