It is pointless to think of a deceased individual as “damaged”. He/she has simply disappeared. My use of the word “damages” refers to those who are left behind: relatives and friends of the deceased. Often they will have called upon subterfuges to weaken the blow of the death of their loved one. But this “solution” might not work successfully in the immediate future, if ever. In the past, religions provided the best subterfuges. But, with the disappearance of profound religiosity in society, this subterfuge is losing its force, if not totally disappearing.The following blog post is dedicated to friends who have suffered—recently or less recently—from the death of loved ones. Unfortunately I'm aware of an unavoidable problem in my reasoning. The basic idea that our human brains were never designed to handle philosophical and/or scientific thinking is best understood by those who've read a science book such as The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins. If you've never encountered such a book, then my elementary reasoning might fail to convince you.
To bear the unbearable, I know of only one powerful subterfuge, which has been dominating my personal existence for several years. I adopted it when I became totally atheistic. That was after my encountering, above all, the writings of Richard Dawkins. My subterfuge is quite simple. It consists of admitting that we humans are indeed terribly weak creatures. Our brains were created long ago, at a time when the only ambitions of primitive Homo sapiens were to survive and procreate. This involved tasks such as hunting for food, combating many enemies (including other humans), and recovering from sickness. But the cerebral mechanisms of that archaic creature were hardly designed to grasp challenges that would finally culminate in logic, reason, philosophy and science. The highest level we’ve ever attained consists of realizing in a fuzzy fashion that we’ll never move close to anything like a greater understanding of our existence. So, the best conclusion is to give up searching. Our quest is doomed, and all attempts to pursue this quest will inevitably hurt us. We must simply learn to abandon all such desires.
In The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, people for centuries have shunned the terrible inscription at the entrance into Hall:
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix
My personal reaction is totally the opposite. We must indeed abandon all hope for, in doing so, we free ourselves of the pain of trying to understand things that we were simply never built to understand! Consequently, instead of descending into sadness, we can spend the rest of our existence doing only the things we were designed to do, and thinking things that we are capable of thinking.
There is a corollary to my formula for happiness. The consequences of following the river Styx to Hell are not only abominable; they’re also clearly absurd, and therefore impossible. I don’t know where the Homo sapiens invention is located in the panoply of possible creations, but I have the impression that it’s not too far up the ladder. Today, we’ve almost attained a point of implosion… which makes me feel that the end is near. Up until now, the animal world seemed to have advanced in several splurges, none of which ever got anywhere near lasting for a lengthy period. Dinosaurs were probably the greatest happening on Earth… but they were wiped out long before they might have started (?) to to build science laboratories and write books. And it’s most likely that Homo sapiens will do little better than the poor old dinosaurs. So, I can’t possibly imagine how or why the processes of Nature might get involved in building creatures that end up constructing real-life creations of the kind of medieval rubbish described by Dante. If they had the skills to tackle creations of that kind, they would surely be far more interested in building spaceships…
There is another corollary to my formula for happiness. I might describe it as “mind-boggling”… but that would be wrong, because this corollary is so simple and obvious that it doesn’t boggle my little mind in any sense whatsoever. Here’s my second corollary: Everything that makes up the universe as we imagine it (fuzzily) today has been here forever, and will continue to exist forever. Not only is it difficult to imagine that what we call “time” (an invention of Homo sapiens) might have a beginning and an end; it’s totally absurd. So, we should abandon such silly ideas, in the same way that we abandon Dante’s “hope”. That leaves us with the bare necessities of a Good Life freed from archaic rubbish of the kind that fascinated earlier specimens of our race… and faced solely with the pursuit of human happiness and goodness.
If you wanted a model for our existence, and you were prepared to accept a fictional one, I would highly recommend the Sermon on the Mount, which is surely some of the finest literature ever written.