Facing death-7: The problem of prolonged death

Part of the aversion to thinking about death may not be the actual fact of dying but unease about the way we might die. In many ways we are fortunate that we live in a time when medical advances have enabled us to have much greater life expectancies than our ancestors. While much of this improvement has arisen because of reduced infant mortality, some has been because of our ability to combat many illnesses that once used to be quickly fatal. Because of the possibility of rapid response and treatment, many of the quick ways of dying such as due to heart attacks and strokes have been eliminated. But that improvement is not without its costs. We now see many more people having long and lingering deaths, the body and mind gradually losing functionality in ways that cannot be fixed, like an old car in which one part after another starts breaking down and one starts to wonder how much more one should invest in keeping it going.
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Facing death-5: Fear of death

There is a curious thing about death. We all know it is inevitable, that we will all experience it some day, but yet our own death is a subject that we recoil from contemplating. While death, often violent, is a common feature of our entertainment culture, as can be seen by its ubiquity in the storylines in books, films, TV programs and even video games, few people like to think about their own mortality. They are more comfortable talking about the death of others because then death can be talked about in the abstract, not as something real.
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Facing death-4: Death as a liberating idea

I find that directly facing the fact of one’s eventual death to be extraordinarily liberating. It makes one realize that life is precious and should not be wasted. It does not matter at all how much money or possessions you have when you die. Now that my own children are grown and educated and no longer dependent on me, there seems to be no point at all in accumulating more wealth or possessions. In fact, the opposite is the case, I have consciously started reducing the amount of things I own. I try not to buy anything that I don’t really need or that does not serve some fairly direct purpose. My main indulgence is books which I still continue to buy.
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Facing death-3: Generational deaths

Life is a precious gift that we are lucky to have experienced. It can end at any time. We are not entitled to life at all, let alone any specific lifespan. As Richard Dawkins begins in his book Unweaving the Rainbow: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.” The only rule about life and death that deserves the name of ‘natural’ is that children should not die before their parents. That statement could be interpreted wrongly as expressing the idea that one wants welcomes the death of one’s parents. But any parent will understand the intent of the sentiment because losing a child is a terrible blow.
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Facing death-2: My own attitude to aging and death

Like everyone, my view of death is shaped by my own life experiences. I became seriously ill with polio at the age of six and it was only as a result of the heroic efforts of my family and the skill of the physicians who treated me that I have had a full life. But as a result of that illness I always felt, even before my teenage years, that the permanent damage that the disease had inflicted on my body would take its toll over time, leaving me with a shorter lifespan than that of other people.
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Facing death-1: Why think about it?

I have been thinking about death quite a lot recently. Circumstances have forced this topic to the forefront of my mind. Don’t get me wrong. There are no signs that any time soon I will be shuffling off this mortal coil, checking out, kicking the bucket, snuffing out the candle, or any of the other euphemisms we use to avoid the word death. As far as I can tell, my body is ticking along nicely.
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The compatibilism puzzle

I am a hardline materialist. I think the material world is all that there is and I have no reason to believe in the existence ofany nonmaterial entities. I did not start out with this view as an a priori philosophical premise. Rather I have arrived at it over time as the only way that I can make sense of the world as I see experience it. [Read more...]