Thursday, April 17, 2008

Death and his Brother

"I know that death is the final event," said Dick. I wonder what it's like to know that? I can't imagine what knowing that is like, any more. I used to know that -- but back when I used to know it, I didn't ever really think about dying. Not my own death, concretely, I mean.

Not that I'm certain it's not the final event. I even incline, cautiously, to thinking it probably is. But I wonder what it's like to live in a world with such hard edges. Mine is so blurry. I can walk with my own death down to the end -- not being able to clean myself, having people intubate and catheterize me so as to make sure I die more slowly, the edema and the muscle aches, the fluid filling the lungs, the person next to me running the goddamn television so that my last moments on earth will be spent with Oprah or Jerry Springer. I can see all those things vividly. And of course I can imagine death as the end, in a childish kind of way, by imagining silence and blackness and a sense of vertigo. But that's as ridiculous, as a representation of death, as the old man sitting in the clouds is as a representation of God. A final-event death, no experience at all, would be nothing like the experiences of blackness or silence or vertigo.

I can picture death as an awakening -- a slightly more sophisticated picture. Coming to realize that everything I took to be so real was not actually real at all, at least not as I thought it was. Awakening is something we nearly all experience nearly every day; it's a familiar enough experience, though I'm not sure how many people understand its implications. You'd think that having the daily experience of finding that your understanding of reality was, in fact completely bogus, would lead you to think that such turns were in general possible, or even likely, but it doesn't seem to have that effect on most people. The fact that dream experience, which seems real at the time, turns out not to be real, doesn't seem to engender, in most people, a similar suspicion of waking life. I don't know why not. It does in me. I have no confidence at all that I'm not in for a similar turn, at death; I'm not even sure that the waking confidence that dreams have a lesser reality is justified. Who knows where all I go, at night? The fragmentary bits of confused memory I have of it at waking are surely just a tiny fraction of all that I experience. Who do I know, in those other countries? What do they say to me? What pledges have I made to them, and when will I be called upon to fulfill them?

Well. Those are the silly sorts of things I wonder about. The specifics, at any rate are silly; but I don't think it's silly to doubt that the stories my mind makes up out of the pictures my senses present to it during its waking hours correspond very closely to reality. At times, I sure, they don't correspond at all.

As for my imagination of what will happen to the subjective consciousness at death -- something I've never (to my knowledge) experienced before -- well, my confidence in the accuracy of that rests near zero.

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