Re: RAW's "Thought for the Week"

Eric Watt Forste (
Tue, 09 Sep 1997 11:37:45 -0700

Derek Strong writes:
> 1) Can anyone explain to me what's going on psychologically with
> people who are on death's door? How can they spend so much of
> their thought-time getting the rest of us to value life so much,
> only to be willing and ready to give up life in favor of death the
> nearer it approaches? (I actually have lots of thoughts of my own
> about this... I'm just looking to hear what others have to say.)

I've wondered about this a lot, too, especially in regard to
Heinlein and Leary. My only guess is that the "deep structure"
of the memes that make up our culture contain a huge amount of
stuff that is essentially adaptations to the formerly inevitable
mortality of human beings. This stuff is psychologically
"deep" and therefore difficult to intentionally reprogram,
because it is very very old, and therefore nearly universal to
all human cultures. European psychologists discussed it as the
"death wish". I think we can root it out of ourselves, but I
also suspect that it has been planted deep in many of us before
we learned enough about the world to want to yank it out, or to
start to learn how to yank it out. It's not as simple as
wishing it to no longer be a part of yourself. This is one of
those complex areas where things like ceremonial magick might
prove useful as a self-reprogramming technique. Anders, have
you cooked up any immortality affirmation rituals to chase away
the old deathist demons?

I'm also reminded of an anecdote that Freeman Dyson included in
one of the essays in his book FROM EROS TO GAIA, recounting his
being mugged in the lovely national capital of the US. He
reports having a deep feeling of calm as he lay in the bushes
with his blood and injuries, staring up at the sky. Given the
subtlety of the selection pressures that produced "altruistic
genes" it's possible that we even have genetic adaptations that
allow us to "die well", and that warp our psychology in that
direction. It's a strange world that made us.

> 2) Does anyone have any suggestions for what we can do to prevent
> this? How many more of our luminaries will go gently, peacefully
> into oblivion before we begin to stem the tide?

Here we run smack into self-ownership issues that make me very
edgy. I suspect the best thing to do is to emphasize that we
as individuals are physical beings, and not just our memes and
our genes. There are many internal motivational conflicts,
between gene and gene, between meme and meme, and between memes
and genes. The very old stuff that prepares us for an easy
death is well dug-in, and will win out by default if we don't
develop an awareness of what is going on inside of us.

Improved medicine will help too. I'm not that old and already I
can notice the deterioration of my body and, to some extent, of my
mental skills, and it's quite depressing. Depression is a large
complex phenomenon that is still rather poorly understood. Before
a few centuries ago, the vast majority of our ancestors died before
age thirty, so it should be no surprise that we are poorly adapated
to getting old. Fortunately we are developing the technological
skills to start adapting ourselves. Its tricky, but I think we
can save ourselves. I don't know about the people who have already
made up their minds that they don't want to be saved, though.

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++ expectation foils perception -pcd