According to a notice posted on the band’s official site, TV On The Radio bassist Gerard Smith died this morning, only weeks after it was revealed he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 34.
the big sleep
Will indefinite longevity be the secret to human happiness? Well, there’s no denying that people would rather not die at any particular time, and that there’s a lot of misery in being governed by the scarcity of time. Time, we can’t help but notice, ruins or undermines at least most forms of human enjoyment. That’s why, we can say, that human beings have always longed for immortality, to be freed from the miserable constraints of their self-conscious mortality. When thinking about immortality, we can’t help but begin with the Greek gods—who were self-conscious but didn’t die. They were, in other words, in many respects like our vampires.But the immortality of the Greeks gods was even meant to make sense or be a realistic possibility. The poets invented them—like today’s poets employ the Vampires–to show that immortality isn’t only impossible but undesirable. And so if we thought about who we are, we’d actually chose the mortality with which each of us stuck anyway. Our longing for immortality is best satisfied by accomplishments that stand the test of time—the immortal glory of the great political deeds or of the enduring beauty and wisdom of works of art or literature–although even our fame, we really know, doesn’t last forever. And we can achieve a kind of immortality through our minds, through knowing the eternal truth about natural necessity, through philosophy. Everything great that we do—from having children to writing THE REPUBLIC –depends on being mortal. The polymorphous human eros that animates us, in other words, depends upon death. Only mortals know what it means really to fall in love.
Discussing mortality, Hitchens and a friend used to muse that there would come a day when the newspapers would come out and they wouldn’t be there to read them. ‘And on that day, I’ve realised recently, I’ll probably be in the newspapers, or quite a lot of them. And etiquette being what it is, generally speaking, rather nice things being said about me.’ He shrugs. ‘Just typical that will be the edition I miss. But it’s not so much that; it’s more that you’re at the party and you’re tapped on the shoulder and told you have to leave. The party is still going on, but it’s going on without you. And even people who swear to remember you are not really going to do so.‘However, put the contrary case. You get tapped on the shoulder, but guess what? The party’s going on for ever; you have to stay. And not only that, but you have to have a good time – the boss says so.’He gives a slight shudder.‘Anything eternal is probably intolerable. One thing that makes the atheist position intellectually, and in some ways morally, superior is that we accept conclusions on the basis of reason and evidence that are not welcome to us. We don’t want to be annihilated. We just think the overall likelihood is that we will rejoin the molecular cycle when we die. We don’t wish it to be true, but we face it.’
The desire to continue always can only seem attractive when one thinks of indefinite time rather than infinite time. It is one thing to have as much time as you want, but quite another to have time without end… We do not really want continuity, but rather a present experience of total happiness. The thought of wanting such an experience to go on and on is the result of becoming self-conscious in the experience, and thus completely unaware of it. So long as there is the feeling of an “I” having this experience, the moment is not all. Eternal life is realized when the last trace of difference between “I” and “now” has vanished—when there is just this “now” and nothing else.
Lee getting old reminds me of my own mortality; in her I see what it is to become elderly, to not be able to do the things you used to be able to do, to have things happen slowly, seemingly forever, and then very and irrevocably quickly. And for this I am irrationally and deeply jealous of people whose dogs die suddenly and young, because although they feel a different kind of pain, this is something they never have to face.The night I decided to put Lee down, I sat alone in my apartment at my computer for hours, mindlessly listening to music and reading Twitter and Tumblr, and sobbing, those deep kinds of sobs where you can’t breathe and you can’t control the tears, which just keep coming, even when you think you don’t have any left. It seemed unjust and yet fair that she had no idea what was to happen the next day, and every time I thought about that I cried more.
I’ve mentioned before how I’m sort of lukewarm on Stoicism as a philosophy, but I always liked Epictetus’ advice that “In the very act of kissing a child, we should silently reflect on the possibility that she will die tomorrow.” Not because it will somehow make it easier when death finally comes, but because living with that acute awareness of how fragile and unpredictable life can be makes it easier to truly appreciate what you have when you have it.
Wertheim pointed out that cyberspace had become a new kind of place, where alternate (or at least carefully curated or burnished) identities could be forged, new forms of collectivity and connection explored, all outside the familiar boundaries of the physical world, like the body and geography. It’s not such a long journey to follow those assertions to the “view that man is defined not by the atoms of his body but by an information code,” as Wertheim wrote. “This is the belief that our essence lies not in our matter but in a pattern of data.” She called this idea the “cybersoul,” a “posited immortal self, this thing that can supposedly live on in the digital domain after our bodies die.”…Wertheim, it should be noted, saw the cybersoul notion as both flawed and troubling, and I would agree. Life’s essence reduced to captured data is an uninspiring, and unconvincing, resolution to the centuries-old question of where, in mind and in body, the self resides. At least other imagined versions of immortality (from the Christian heaven to the Hindu wheel of life) suggested a reconciliation, or at least a connection, with the manner in which a physical life is lived; the cybersoul’s theoretically eternal and perfect persistence ignores this concept. Most of all, though, fantasizing about living forever — in heaven or in a preserved pattern of data — strikes me as just another way of avoiding any honest confrontation with the fact of death.
And once againYou’ll pretend to know thatThat there’s an endThat there’s an end to this beginIt will help you sleep at nightIt will make it seem that right is always right– Smashing Pumpkins
The idea of dead scientists engaging in an experiment in eugenics is incredible enough. Yet the most striking feature in this episode – only fully revealed more than 100 years after the scripts began to appear – is the power that is ascribed to science itself. While spiritualism evolved into a popular religion, complete with a heavenly “Summerland” where the dead lived free from care and sorrow, the intellectual elite of psychical researchers thought of their quest as a rigorously scientific inquiry. But if these Victorian seekers turned to science, it was to look for an exit from the world that science had revealed. Darwinism had disclosed a purposeless universe without human meaning; but purpose and meaning could be restored, if only science could show that the human mind carried on evolving after the death of the body. All of these seekers had abandoned any belief in traditional religion. Still, the human need for a meaning in life that religion once satisfied could not be denied, and fuelled the faith that scientific investigation would show that the human story continues after death. In effect, science was used against science, and became a channel for belief in magic.Much of what the psychical researchers viewed as science we would now call pseudo science. But the boundaries of scientific knowledge are smudged and shifting, and seem clear only in hindsight. There is no pristine science untouched by the vagaries of faith. The psychical researchers used science not only to deal with private anguish but also to bolster their weakening belief in progress. Especially after the catastrophe of the first world war, the gradual improvement that most people expected would continue indefinitely appeared to be faltering. What had been achieved in the past seemed to be falling away. If the scripts were to be believed, however, there was no cause for anxiety or despair. The world might be sliding into anarchy, but progress continued on the other side.Many of the psychical researchers believed they were doing no more than show that evolution continues in a post-mortem world. Like many others, then and now, they confused two wholly different things. Progress assumes some goal or direction. But evolution has neither of these attributes, and if natural selection continued in another world it would feature the same random death and wasted lives we find here below.…The fantasies that possessed the psychical researchers and the god-builders still have us in their grip today. Freezing our bodies or uploading our minds into a supercomputer will not deliver us from ourselves. Wars and revolutions will disturb our frozen remains, while death will stalk us in cyberspace – also a realm of mortal conflict. Science enlarges what humans can do. It cannot reprieve them from being what they are.
I would rather share the fate of my maternal forebears — old old age with an intact mind in a ravaged body — than the fate of my other grandmother.
There will be years and years, each small forgetting a betrayal, each small betrayal a comfort, each small comfort another death. There is no lesson here, no lesson. Narcissus sought himself reflected in the world and found only death. Plums will bloom until there are no more plums. I will join him diffused into the soil, our component atoms intermingled one day soon, a dog and a man who walked together for a time, a brief spark of sweetness in an aching world.