Wednesday, March 7, 2012

2012 so far & some reflections on death and the future

Life has been kicking my butt this year. I've had some high points, and some very, very low points. I wrote about this before, but my grandmother passed away in January. That has been hard, but it has been a normal, peaceful process of grieving as she was in her 90s and we had known for years that any day would be her last. I was lucky to be able to say goodbye to her before her mind was completely gone, and spent her subsequent years loving and appreciating her, and knowing she did not suffer is enormously comforting. But what has devastated me deeply is the death of my chocolate lab 10 days ago. This has hit me like a ton of painful bricks. It is still so fresh it is hard for me to talk about; he was my best friend, my child and my confidant. He went from perfectly fine to completely paralyzed in a week, and it was not pretty. He was in pain, was extremely anxious, and couldn't control any body function. When he was correctly diagnosed with a spinal tumor, we knew he was only going to get worse, and quickly. To date this has been the worst and most heart-wrenching experience of my life, far exceeding my divorce, the death of my human child in my old life, and near-complete ostracization from my family. I had to make the decision to put him down in order to spare further suffering, and though intellectually I know it was the best, emotionally I am racked with guilt. Fortunately I have friends who have been here, too, and their understanding and support is invaluable.

In the midst of all this pain, two things become very clear: 1) Life is precious, and 2) I have a much more personal understanding of why people believe in the comforting fairy tales of life after death.

I wish it were true, and I certainly hope it is, that we all go to some utopian place after death and are reunited in eternal bliss. The reality is that there is no real reason to believe that this is so. I would love to be wrong, and I hope I am, but I have to deal with reality on reality's terms. Well, I suppose I don't have to, but I chose to, rather than believe whatever marshmallowy fluff feels good. It would be easy to stick my head in the sand and believe something sweet and sugary; but it is such actions, such mental atrophy, that ultimately place barriers in our path to knowledge (see my recent post for specific reasons why). When you believe you have the answers, then a quest for attainable knowledge becomes completely meaningless. Curiosity becomes meaningless. Ambition to push the limits of our abilities becomes meaningless.

As it is, death is final. We don't yet know if there is anything beyond it, or any way to end it. I have hope that as we continue learning about the Universe and the origins of life, we will be amazed at the beauty and possibility that is out there. Maybe one day death will be optional--I sometimes see this in the future, with the advances in medical technology, especially witnessing the baby industry of lab-grown human organs. Maybe one day we will discover Earth-life planets that can sustain life, and we will have the ability to travel to and from there. Maybe one day we will meet intelligent, extraterrestrial life. Maybe one day humans will evolve to despise conflict of all kinds, and we will become a unified, kind species that loves knowledge and art. Maybe one day there will be no poverty, no politics, no suffering and no hate.

Maybe these are pipe dreams, but I believe that all those things are possible, at least in a small scale. Surely, though, none of it will happen if religion--and its pointless rules, and insistence on unsubstantiated dogma and invisible beings/places--continues to be considered a positive institution. Thankfully, this is changing. As knowledge increases, religion changes to an ever-more nebulous idea with a God whose only power is to fill in the gaps. From our primordial goo, humans--at least many of us--have evolved to think critically, to seek knowledge, and to respect each other and our fellow animals. I have hope that this can continue.

Even if we outbreed our planet's ability to nourish us, I have hope. If we don't change our behavior globally, we are certainly headed that way, but even so, Earth will survive and we humans will experience a great natural culling of our species. If that happens, maybe after the dust settles and we die off until we reach a sustainable population level, maybe then we will have learned our lesson. Humans are famous for making some really huge mistakes with horrendous consequences, but over time we generally do learn from them. Maybe, just maybe, we will finally learn that God isn't going to swoop down and care for us; we have to take care of ourselves. Maybe we will see that our choices are to choose to breed less, or breed carelessly and wait for a natural culling, wars, and mass excessive suffering.

Knowledge is the key, as is perseverance. Don't give up.

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