Re: First understanding of mortality

Robert Owen (
Wed, 08 Dec 1999 14:15:43 -0500

> writes:
> > Is this a universal phenomenon? Does everyone experience this as a
> > traumatic moment, after which you know that your days are numbered?

Dear Hal,

As a small (3-4 year old) child I became convinced that I was an | object | of awareness. While of course I had "subjective" experience (fantasies, feelings, thoughts) I found there no evidence of that child my parents pointed at or anything corresponding to my name. All references to myself originating from the environment denoted a "me", e.g. the front of this body. I experienced sickness and pain as properties of this body, which was not so much "my" body as my location. When people disappeared (i.e. died) it hardly concerned me at all as a problem. In many cases I missed them, but I knew the absence was permanent. Death was simply what happened to your lap when you stood up.

Being an object of awareness by an Unknown Knower was, however, problematic with respect to its persistence, motivation and social distribution. Most troubling, I suppose, was the growing realization that it was remotely controlled, and there was nothing to be done about it. A sort of inchoate morality emerged similar I learned much later to Kant's maxim that the purpose of life was not to seek happiness, but to seek to be worthy of happiness -- only with a a Berklyian epistemological twist; if esse est percepi, then morality was about seeking to be worthy of being perceived by this Unknown Knower.

As I matured, I realized there wasn't anything I could do about "making myself worthy" except to remain uncompromisingly true to certain principles -- and that all the rest is child-like trust. None of this is really temporal -- "how long?" in this context is of no emotional significance. As far as the body is concerned, embryonic development and necrosis are simply a part of the phenomenal world, and unexceptionable at that.

Thank you for asking,


Robert M. Owen
The Orion Institute
57 W. Morgan Street
Brevard, NC 28712-3659 USA