Why should we fear death?
My 15 year old self is not comparable to my 30 year old self, and that in-turn is not comparable to my 40 year old self. The vast majority of my 15 year old experiences have been forgotten, or at least vastly distorted and misinterpreted. I now have a completely different worldview. I will have new and different opinions on almost every subject. I have new friends, and circle of colleagues and associates unknown to my 15 year old self. I am for all intents and purposes, unrecognisable to my 15 year old self; a different person.
My 15 year old self has gone, it has all but died as far as my 40 year old self is concerned. The further the distance, the dimmer the image fades, which eventually leads into nothingness.
According to the “Life Stages” of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, 15 year old I has undergone “Ego death”.
If I hypothetically place myself back into my 15 year old mind, why should he fear my death? It is not him after all. It is nobody he would recognise at least. It is likely he would not relate to me now, or me now to him then.
This thought is both depressing and uplifting in equal measure.
It’s depressing as it forces one to confront the illusion and the transitory nature of the subjective ego.
It’s is uplifting however to know, that assuming I live to a pension drawing age (or above), the person that will eventually die is not a me that I recognise or relate to. I don’t have the capacity to pity that version of me, as I don’t (can’t) know him. Yet that is who will die. I (in the now) will merely fade as my characteristics atrophy away through time…
Does the caterpillar fear for the butterfly?
But what of that that is recorded? What about the written evidence of my existence today?
For example Ludwig Wittgenstein (affectionately known as the philosopher’s philosopher) wrote a highly influential treatise on the philosophy and logic of language called the “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus”, 1921 (Named after the famous Tractatus Theologico-Politicus by Baruch Spinoza, 1677).
The Tractatus set out to explain that all the problems of philosophy are contained within language and in how language is used. Nothing exists beyond language, the central tenant being: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”.
The Tractatus brought Wittgenstein fame, respect, and notoriety among his peers, and was a highly influential publication. Admirers that included no less than the great Bertrand Russell. Its influence was also keenly felt by the Logical Positivists who comprised the famous Vienna Circle.
Later in life though, Wittgenstein attempted through his “Philosophical Investigations” (Also known as his Blue Book) to dispute many of the claims within his own Tractatus, working at pains to point out specific problems and inconsistencies in his earlier work. It was published posthumously in 1953 (he died in 1951), never gaining the attention of his earlier work, that has since proven to define much of his legacy to philosophy.
How would Wittgenstein view a legacy which he failed to fully amend?
He is but one example of countless authors from all fields of study who have produced multiple publications throughout their respective careers. Some may feel shame or embarrassment at earlier work, yet their only means of correcting mistakes and righting errors is through re-publications which will never reach the entirety of their original audience.
For these authors, they are looking back at the work of a self which has passed, has been augmented, amended, or even replaced by someone else with a familiar face.
Yet we are now all authors on the internet are we not?
Have you ever had Facebook remind you of a status you posted 3 years ago, and wondered what on earth was going through your head at the time? Have you ever completely forgotten the context or thinking behind that post? Even failed to recognise the poster, even knowing it was really you?
Social Media now represents an individual’s digital history owned by corporations, the information that has been submitted was handed over to them gladly, and freely. In time these histories, bookmarks in time of events, thoughts, and feelings, will become our digital obituaries.
I will probably read this very blog again in 10 years’ time or so, and I might not be able to comprehend what I was thinking at the time. I may squint with embarrassment at it, who knows?
I already fight the temptation to update the previous posts on this site with more current thoughts of a higher quality.
Our life stages or snapshots of our ego’s, when digitally recorded can now never die. Whilst we remain attached to this mortal coil, they will act (like it or not) as constant reminders of what once was.
Analogous to the versioning of software releases, multiple versions of ourselves as digital authors are preserved on the internet. A snippet from each version may well comprise (unbeknownst to us) an unofficial CV, poured over by potential employers.
We “spin in our graves” before even reaching them nowadays!
Unlike the Undertaker, the internet will never allow us to R.I.P.
Occam’s Laser V4.2