Sounding on Death, Loss, Mourning, for February 26, 2010

Now that you’re all excited, here are the links:

I was shocked out of my moment-to-moment autopilot routine last night when I read Peter Watts’ eulogy for (apparently) a family member from who he appears estranged.  It was a gorgeous meditation on individuality, death, continuity, and acceptance, whether he intended those responses from me or not.  I’m actually going to read it in the beginning of my class on introducing Buddhism in an hour (dealing with the whole anatman/anatta issue, which brings up the problem of what does exist if we don’t. Here’s an excerpt, but go read the whole (short) thing:

The physical death of that organism, all this time later, is purely theoretical to me. It has no mass or inertia, no charge positive or negative. Everything’s already cancelled out. Sow; Reap; Finis. And yet by all accounts this should be a momentous occasion, should provoke some kind of spontaneous visceral or emotional response. It doesn’t. So I’ve experimented with alternate perspectives to see if I can stir something up — and I think I’ve found a viewpoint I can sort of get behind.

If you can’t respect the government, respect the people. If the Queen is corrupt, at least find something to admire in her soldiers.

The heart, for example. A muscle that beat nonstop every second of every day since 1920, almost a century’s relentless rearguard against entropy itself. Three billion beats in that time; four supertankers filled to the brim; two battleships lifted clear of the ocean. Or the eyes: miracles of incompetent design, photoreceptors straining for light through a tangle of cabling laid on top of them, not tucked away behind as any more-than-half-witted designer would have done. Sight is mechanical, did you know that? No digital electronics: pure clockwork, that far down. The visual pigment is a kind of spring-lever affair; the photon hits it and the pigment passes that impact upstream with all the elegance of a game of whack-a-mole.

Nine decades of parsing the world through those haphazard bits and pieces is nothing to sneeze at either.

And from Vaughan at Mindhacks, this lovely reference to a nice piece by ABC Radio National with psychologist Karen Redfield Jamison on Love and Loss, including the transformation of grief into a diagnosis of mental illness, when it goes on ‘too long.’ (apparently, more than six months).


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