Sunday, March 7, 2010

To Infinity And Beyond

It's Sunday, so why not consider the infinite, and death.

Erasing fear of death is the main reason for religious belief. Death is a fact known universally among us sentient beings, and it's disquieting. As such, and given our environmental diversity, it's unsurprising that religion has popped up everywhere, and that it varies enormously other than in the universality of some sort of concept of life after (and, sometimes, before) death. It's what we need. That billions of people believe, equally fervently, in wildly differing mythology doesn't whatsoever deter whatever belief in whomever it is whatever they use to comfort themselves. They are, after all, only human.

So, fine.

Awareness of, and concerns about death are not absent from non-believers. Speaking, at least, for myself. I'm not particularly pleased about death; on the other hand, I find myself unable to make the leap of belief, just because it might make me feel better. To me, it feels like a copout. Like cheating. I guess it's like dancing; or playing the piano. Some things come easy and some things don't. On some level I envy the certitude of believers; on another, and mostly, I see at as a surprising (if entirely understandable, given our frailties) level of self-deception. Nevertheless, it's not as if the thought of death doesn't occur to me from time to time; so I've found it comforting to consider this: it'll be just like it was before I was born, and, as far as I can tell, that wasn't so bad. In other words, I've been dead before, for as long as I will be this time around, and I seem to have survived it. As it were.

So I was intrigued, in a very abstract way, by something I read this morning on Andrew Sullivan, who got it from somewhere else:

If time is infinite on both ends, then we have infinite rolls of the dice of probability. That means, however infinitesimally small the probabilities that brought “you” into existence, with enough rolls of dice, “you” will come into existence again, and again and again forever. And if time is infinite in reverse, “now” isn’t the only time “you” existed.

Accordingly, “you” have always existed and always will.

Sophistry? Maybe. Yet it's the sort of thing one can ponder (as did commenters on the original post) without the need to make anything up. Which, to me, is worthy. I don't find it any more comforting (less, maybe) than my own previous little "infinity" thought; and, certainly, not as comforting as -- were it possible -- giving in to the displeasure of discordance and doing that throwing in of the mental towel called religious belief.

But, as Dave and Paul might say, it's something.


  1. Someone much smarter than I once said:

    "Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good, for one of two things: - either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by the sight of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private man, but even the great king, will not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others. Now if death is like this, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night."

    Plato's Apology part 3

  2. This reply is to an anonymous commenter whose remarks I rejected: that was the stupidest, most irrelevant and useless comment I've had in a long time. But thanks for dropping by.

  3. "What rough beast, it's hour come round' at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be Born??"

    Put THAT in your "Word Salad" pipe and smoke it!

    I've taken to quoting Yeats recently, helps to determine which patients really don't speak English, and which ones DO, but are faking they don't cause they don't wanta talk to you anymore than you wanta talk to them...

    Definition of Terrorist??

    I think there those A-rabs that evil Bush/Chaney, I mean Obama/Biden are imprisoning without due process in Guantanamo Bay Cuba, specifically, "Camp X-ray" in the Northeast Corner of the Base, where you could literally throw a baseball onto Communist Cuban Territory...


  4. "What rough beast, it's hour come round' at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be Born?

    It should be obvious Drekman, it’s a "Yellow Elephant" the beast that loves republican wars, but refuses to sign up.

    My 'conservative' *cough fascist cough* Father in Law; said of his grandsons, while they were children, "My grandsons will be soldiers." He turned them over to men who taught them to fire machine guns.

    "But now that his grandsons are of military age -. He says, "Not everyone has to be a soldier.”

    My fascist Father in Law; who, for all the years I have known him, raged against ‘The welfare State’ and who, these days, is trying to get his greedy hands on every dime the government provides for the elderly. He is entirely dependent on Medicare, but still wants to see it destroyed.

    The same slouching beast that had twelve years to do something about health care and insurance corporations plundering the country, and did nothing; yet says that reform is “Socialism.”

    The slouching elephant that thinks a law protecting schoolchildren against bullying will lead to a government takeover.

    The slouching beast that drove the economy off a fiscal cliff bankrupted and made homeless the same people who trusted them and voted for them; and then allowed the men that did it to retain their wealth and positions.

    The slouching republican (read Teabaggers, libertarians, or whatevers); who worship ignorance, deny science, and the words of the savior they claim to adore.

    The slouching beast that calls the President of the United States a communist, nigger; the slouching elephant that hates everyone except white evangelicals.

    How ironic that the beast Yeats was talking about (yeah, you) should quote him!



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