grinninfoole: (strangelove)
My saga of brother's battle with cancer approaches its tragic denouement. He was diagnosed last May with adenocarcinoma in his stomach, and after several surgeries, all the radiation he could stand, and six months of chemo, his doctor at Dana Farber Cancer Institute has thrown in the towel. He's lost so much weight, his liver is failing, and he's got hardly any appetite. I don't know how much longer I'll have a big brother.

I'm starting to think about what comes next–writing an obituary, delivering a eulogy, helping my mother carry on. I shall soon be an only child–how long til I'm an orphan? My life is in flux, as well, because I recently quit my job, so I could spend more time with the family, and finally got around to filing the divorce papers with Millari. I don't miss the actual duties of my job, and I'm still quite satisfied with how my marriage played out, but I do need to re-answer the fundamental question of mortal existence: what now?

I don't know what MU is thinking or feeling right now. I hope he's not plagued with regrets. I hope he isn't full of dread. Those are natural responses, and I'm sure every person who's ever lived felt them in some measure (I do), but I hope my brother feels loved and contented. He deserves to.

It occurs to me that, as an atheist, I should perhaps share my thinking about what it means to be dead, as distinct from the process of dying. Dying is a transitive, not to say transitional, physical experience. I sometimes find myself thinking about what it will be like for me, where and when it will happen, and what my last sight will be.

The actual source of existential dread, however, is the boundless unconscious unbeing that follows. After a life of consciousness, and especially a life of linear narratives, I really can't grasp what formless, endless, nothingness will be like. The classic answer for we unbelievers is that it will precisely nothing. "I" will no longer exist in any way, so, for me, everything will simply stop forever.

That may be the whole truth.

I do have some suspicions that it isn't, though. (buckle up)

First off, consciousness is demonstrably linked to the electrochemical processes in our brains. Whatever it means to think and be self-aware, everything we know about it depends upon our physical brains. What we don't know, and maybe can't know, is whether our experience of consciousness can be wholly explained by what our brains do. (The Baconian Idol of the Tribe, though the tribe in this case may be any living organism, and not merely humanity.) Many people have written stories about being disembodied, or existing as spirits, or an afterlife, but the truth is that no one has ever experienced life without a body, so we really have no reliable testimony at all on this matter.

Second, the atoms in our bodies are no different from the atoms in anything else. If consciousness is just something that emerges from complexity, then the fact that matter is eternal means that we are eternal. We cannot be destroyed because matter cannot be destroyed, and just as matter can't be created, maybe we weren't really created, either. Maybe we were simply latent in the universe, and even after the complex processes that make us us apparently stop, we're still just as latent, just as waiting to emerge, as we were for the 14 billion years that passed by before our cue.

Third, if consciousness is a property of sufficiently organized matter, then the patterns of that organization are governed by physical laws, just like everything else. Which, I think, is another way of saying that we are specific iterations of a universal thingamabob. The wave crashes on the shore, but the ocean is still there. Everything about "us" will survive the death of our bodies, because consciousness (in this wild notion) is inherent in the physical structure of the universe.

Fourth, this starts to resemble the Platonic ideal forms, with everything physical thing merely an imperfect reflection of the metaphysical exemplar. That may well be nonsense, of course, a charming fantasy with no basis in reality. (Or maybe just a more poetical way of saying 'math, bitches'.) I get antsy when things move away from the concrete and specific towards the abstract. But, I must admit, I can't dismiss the reality, the actual not-made-upness, of abstract concepts. Two plus two equals four, even without humans to think it (I can't believe these are arbitrary things we just invented), even though "two" has no physical reality.

I'm dozing off, so I may have lost my thread, I think that, even without indulging in superstition, the old adage may be true: omnia mutantur, nihil interit.
grinninfoole: (strangelove)
Apropos of a comment I left for something [livejournal.com profile] anagramofbrat posted, I thought I'd bloviate about the terrible racket that are lotteries.  Every once in a while, I play lotteries like Mega-Millions, wherein I sacrifice a dollar for a non-zero chance to win tens of millions of dollars.  I don't expect to win, and I don't actually NEED the money, but I do it because of the freedom it would provide.  Not to travel, or escape the rat race, or pay off debts, because I already have that.

No, if I ever wind up with major money, I'm going into politics and philanthropy, because I could skip a lot of the fundraising that drains so many politicians time, energy, and independence.  And if I get REALLY rich, I may give Joss Whedon a fat check for more Firefly.

In reality, though, lotteries are cruel, regressive taxes that play on the desperate, the mentally ill, and the addicted.  I think the state should just raise taxes on the rich ever so slightly, and then automatically enroll everyone in a regular $1 million jackpot (free of state taxes).  Do it once a week, and we'll have about 50 new millionaires every year.  After a few years, I think it will make a huge dent in our problems with poverty, school funding, etc.

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