Monday, April 9, 2007

The Comfort You Seek in Permanence is an Illusion

"Everything that is living will one day die."

I think I was about five when my grandma hit me with this particular philosophical ton of bricks. I don't remember if it was before or after my dad tried to explain the concept of eternity. I was a relentlessly inquisitive child, and my elders were not trying to instill deep metaphysical contemplation in my young mind, but a reverent and obedient awe of God.

And this approach worked for many years. The despair at the thought of this temporal existence was tempered by the knowledge that my true eternal existence lay waiting for me on the other side of my physical death.

Though this fantasy is comforting, it is ultimately counterproductive. It's like depending on Santa Clause to pay your rent. Not only is that not going to happen, but if you believe it will, you won't be getting the money together to pay your own rent.

But we have come too far to deny reality now: the key to our own immortality is us.

Only through science will we conquer death, or continue to fend it off by adding decades, and eventually centuries, to our lives.

But to truly embrace the mindset that will allow us to take the reigns of our own destiny, we must relinquish completely that concept to which we so desperately wish to cling: permanence.

Death is all that is permanent. And permanence is death.

Life is change. And change is life.

Chaos. Cycles. Patterns. Adaptation. Evolution.

The struggle to live, and it is a struggle, produces, and is a product of, relentless change. Our survival has always depended upon our willingness and ability to change.

And yet, even in science, we insist upon establishing "norms" and "ideals." We want laws that we can say for certain will never change, even though the very concept of "unchanging truths" exist only in our imaginations and holy folklore.

Do you know why Latin is a dead language? Because the authorities wanted to preserve the "right" "proper" and "true" Latin with rules, and they did. Meanwhile, the language that people actually spoke continued to change until it barely resembled the "real" Latin which had been preserved in books. But which is more real; that which is alive and being spoken in Italy, or that which is dead and preserved for scholars in books?

Death is all that is permanent. And permanence is death.

Life is change. And change is life.

All comfort you seek in permanence is an illusion, so let it go.

And be free.


Jason said...

What, you been hanging with the Buddhists? j/k - nice post. It's funny, all the prophets said stuff like this and nobody was paying attention. :)

Heather Annastasia said...

But even Buddhists seek an ultimate state of static perfection, Nirvana, yes?

Don't quote me on that, I'm no expert on the definition of Nirvana.


Gus_J said...

Me either, I do know it means different things to different people. The original Buddhist goal of nirvana is the end of cyclic existence and the suffering that goes along with it. You don't get reborn into yet another body, instead your spirit ascends (or is extinguished) I don't know if that's perfection or what. The Hindus are a little more cryptic (or my understanding is shakier.) To them it means more about self-realization. Hinduism is more oppressive, part of it's design is to keep the elite, elite and the peasant subservient. Siddhartha went looking for answers for a reason.

sinincincinnati said...

I'm another non-expert, but the people writing religious "scripture" did not think eternity through. These were the same people who equated infinity with "seven times seventy." (Jesus said that's how many times we should be forgiving.)
Eternity in Heaven would be just as painful, mentally, as Hell, which is why I'll be spending it tranquilly "non-existing," thank you.
Join me. All welcome. BYOB.

Heather Annastasia said...

I don't want to not exist, but I don't want to sit on a cloud and sing praises to the Lord for eternity either. That's sounds like punishment to me.

As for spending eternity with family members, I like Larry Gross's take. I mean, I love 'em all, I do, but...

The idea of being reborn again and again is better than being in one place forever.

sinincincinnati said...

It's a pleasure to respond to you, but you also do not fully grasp eternity. (Who can, really?)
After an aeon or two, or three, eternity is...

Throw me into that briar patch of non-existence, thank you.
Join me. BYOB.
We'll have non-existent sex eternally.

Heather Annastasia said...

Douglas Adams has a bit about immortal beings who are bored out of their skull.

One decides to pass some time by personally insulting every creature that has ever lived --in alphabetacle order.

Anonymous said...

Anything that dies also can resurrect.

BrianCiesko said...

This is a fascinating line of thought and exploration but,like all manner o'philosophical stuff, definition of terms is important. "Eternity" is NOT from this particular life or this point in time on until forever; eternity exists outside of time, it is that which always was, is now and will always be. To some, that's a parallel to whatever the hell "God" is.
Maybe that's what nirvana is - your consciousness being joined the the universal energy that has always been and will always be. I like the idea of merging with the infinite but am never hardcore in what I truly believe b/c I simply don't know. I also find a bliss in that ignorance b/c I'll find out soon enough when this incarnation of Brian passes on from this particular body.
So, yeh, I'm w/you H. in making the most of the life we get to have NOW.

Heather Annastasia said...

Well, since matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, everything that we are will continue to be part of the universe. The question is, will our consciousness remain intact without the living physical matter of our brains? Is there a higher consciousness or just a bunch of swirling atoms?

The fact that physical damage to our brain can result in permanent changes to our consciousness and personality leads me to believe that our consciousness is a result of the physical matter of which it is comprised, and when that physical matter ceases to be, so will our consciousness.

This is why I advocate the pursuit of longer lives through science. If there is something on the other side, it will still be there in 500 measly earth-years.

As a species, we have to stop warring and get... sciencing! Damn it, I want to live!

sinincincinnati said...

"eternity exists outside of time, it is that which always was, is now and will always be."

You've made it sound far more boring than Heather and I were trying to make it. We were trying to humor the "eternalists."

heliobates said...

The question is, will our consciousness remain intact without the living physical matter of our brains? Is there a higher consciousness or just a bunch of swirling atoms?

Have you read Korzybski? He demonstrates that the idea of You[2007] being the same as You[2008] is impossible.

The You-that-is-You today is not the You-that-is-You tomorrow. The persistence of "self" is an illusion.

P.S. Thanks for commenting on my blog. Interesting to see that we're sympatico about this issue.

Heather Annastasia said...

And thanks to you!

I haven't heard of Korzybski. Is he sying that we're physically not the same person? Because I've heard of that before. That every cell in our body will die and replaced be a new cell, and that the very atoms of which we are made are in a constant state of flux.

But any way you slice it, life thrives and depends on change.