Thursday, June 24, 2004

Taking Life's Final Exit

"Others speculate that the dying may be experiencing visions similar to those in a dream. 'The mind has its own set of analgesics," said sociologist Robert Fulton, a University of Minnesota professor emeritus and a pioneer in the study of death and bereavement in the 1960s. 'The mind is well capable of drugging itself. In a dream, there might be the euphoria of meeting a dead friend and having a conversation . . . . The brain is kind of cleaning itself up, like a computer downloading.'"

The references to terminally ill people "visiting" earthly places are especially fascinating.

My own reactions to the "afterlife" debate have changed significantly over the years. While I've always been agnostic, I've been generally inclined to view death as final and all-encompassing. For example, I was angry at Timothy Leary when he opted not to have his brain cryonically preserved; I interpreted his sentiment that death was "the ultimate trip" as so much pseudo-religious bullshit.

My viewpoint is more flexible now. Perhaps it's possible for some form of consciousness to survive biological death. At this point it wouldn't surprise me. I suspect that aliens, if they're here, have probably refined consciousness into an actual technology -- and that we may be getting closer to the point where communication with the dead (assuming it's possible) is removed from the realm of wishful thinking.

This isn't to say I necessarily buy the concept of individual "souls" (a word, like "spiritual," that I find maddeningly vague). Perhaps awareness is more along the lines of a universal commodity, like mass or energy; it's only natural to try to anthropomorphize it.

On a related note: Is it possible that some of the "places" I routinely visit in my dreams are, in some way, actual locations? Sometimes I experience an overwhelming nostalgia for places I've never been. Not all of these places seem entirely Earth-like; nevertheless they can seem suffocatingly familiar. On one hand, these bizarre locales could be electrochemically derived; on the other, they could represent something beyond our ability to properly define. Nodes on some cosmic Internet?

Supposedly the normal everyday world is "real." I'm not so sure. I have a hunch that "reality" is the ultimate con.

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