September 19, 2009

"Who lives longer? The man who takes heroin for two years and dies, or a man who lives on roast beef, water and potatoes 'till 95?"

"One passes his 24 months in eternity. All the years of the beefeater are lived only in time."

An Aldous Huxley quote. Not the one I went looking for, just one that distracted me.

The one I was looking for was:
"It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'Try to be a little kinder.'"
Those were not his last words. His last words were instructions for injecting him with LSD. An eternal life strategy?

ADDED: LSD, it's good for dying. It's the blue pill, that works better for you, grandfather:

37 comments:

phx said...

So at the end of life the best we can offer is "try to be a little kinder"?

I like it. There's a recognition that the main goal changing other people or systems (particularly big social systems) isn't the most effective way to live. It has to do with ourselves.

It might not be how I would put it - I'd be more inclined to say "work on dumping your self-importance, restrict that ego!", but being a little kinder fits right in there. That's change I can believe in.

Fred4Pres said...

Will there be a Mad Men reference to Huxley? Probably not, his influence came after his death (he died the same day as JFK).

Brave New World alone is a great work of science fiction futurism. Most science fiction fails miserably in predicting the future, but Huxley did well nailing some trends that were coming.

And if you have to go out, I suppose tripping on LSD is a way to do it.

Fred4Pres said...

The Matrix reference by President Obama is funny and sadly true!

Hey wait, déjà vu...ah, got to run!

EDH said...

To the music of Leonard Cohen's Suzanne.

Hope

You want to go out Friday
And you want to go forever
You know that it sounds childish
That you dreamt of alligators
You hope that we are with you
And you hope you're recognized
You want to go forever
You see it in my eyes
I'm lost in the confusion
And it doesn't seem to matter
You really can't believe it
And you hope it's getting better

You want to trust the doctors
Their procedure is the best
But the last try was a failure
And the intern was a mess
And they did the same to Matthew
And he bled 'til Sunday night
They're saying don't be frightened
But you're weakened by the sight of it
You lock into a pattern
And you know that it's the last ditch
You're trying to see through it
And it doesn't make sense
But they're saying don't be frightened
And they're killing alligators
And they're hog-tied
And accepting of the struggle

You want to trust religion
And you know it's allegory
But the people who are followers
Have written their own story
So you look up to the heavens
And you hope that it's a spaceship
And it's something from your childhood
You're thinking don't be frightened

You want to climb the ladder
You want to see forever
You want to go out Friday
And you want to go forever
And you want to cross your DNA
To cross your DNA with something reptile

And you're questioning the sciences
And questioning religion
You're looking like an idiot
And you no longer care
And you want to bridge the schism,
A built-in mechanism to protect you
And you're looking for salvation
And you're looking for deliverance
You're looking like an idiot
And you no longer care
'Cause you want to climb the ladder
You want to go forever
And you want to go out Friday
You want to go forever

chickenlittle said...

ADDED: LSD, it's good for dying. It's the blue pill, that works better for you, grandfather:

Don't make such a joke out of it; I was serious here.

Fred4Pres said...

Leonard Cohen's Suzanne.

Michael McNeil said...

The Aldous Huxley quote having to do with death that has particularly stuck with me is this: “You mean what everybody means nowadays…. Ignore death up to the last moment; then, when it can't be ignored any longer, have yourself squirted full of morphia and shuffle off in a coma.” (From Time Must Have a Stop, 1944.)

Which in turn always reminds me of SF author Poul Anderson's haunting story “The Problem of Pain” (Feb. 1973; collected in his The Earth Book of Stormgate, 1978), which I can't really summarize right now but I think is well worth checking out in this context.

Chip Ahoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lem said...

In the first volume of 'Parerga und Paralipomena, I read once more that all things that can occur to a man, from the moment of his birth to the moment of his death, have been predetermined by him. Thus, all inadvertence is deliberate, every casual encounter is an engagement made beforehand, every humiliation an act of penitence, every failure a misterious victory, every death a suicide. There is no more cunning than the thought that we have chosen our own misfortunes; that individual theology reveals a secret order, and in a marvelous way confuses ourselves with the deity.

An english translation of Deutsches Requiem by Jorge Luis Borges

wv - ssess

Chip Ahoy said...

I do not know the proper response to this koan.

But, I do know the news anchor that lives the longest in infamy is the one who goes on Jeopardy and performs so poorly that any claim for even a trace of intelligence is forfeited.

"Ok look, I keep telling you the category is 'triple Es,' that means every answer must have three Es. You dumbass, how many Es are in the word 'Nazareth'?"

rhhardin said...

Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.

Wittgenstein quote, though I don't know from where.

montana urban legend said...

Fans of Rush Limbaugh shouldn't bring up blue pills. They're a bit of a sore subject for him.

Michael McNeil said...

In the first volume of 'Parerga und Paralipomena, I read once more that all things that can occur to a man, from the moment of his birth to the moment of his death, have been predetermined by him. Thus, all inadvertence is deliberate, every casual encounter is an engagement made beforehand, every humiliation an act of penitence, every failure a misterious victory, every death a suicide. There is no more cunning than the thought that we have chosen our own misfortunes; that individual theology reveals a secret order, and in a marvelous way confuses ourselves with the deity.

Except that what that division of natural philosophy known as quantum physics has revealed to us (via such things as Bell's theorem, as backed up by solid experiment) is that God himself, much less anybody or anything else, does not and cannot foreknow the consequences of truly random quantum phenomena as they percolate up into the macroscopic domain.

Joan said...

Michael MacNeil, that you would presume to know (and thus limit) the abilities of God is instructive.

I think "try to be a little kinder" is excellent advice no matter what stage of living, or dying, you're in.

Quayle said...

God himself, much less anybody or anything else, does not and cannot foreknow the consequences of truly random quantum phenomena as they percolate up into the macroscopic domain.

But, of course, current quantum mechanical theories and formulas are derived from only that matter we can see and detect.

If there is matter too fine for our crude instruments to detect (the eye included), our current understanding of quantum theory would likely be plain wrong.

Michael McNeil said...

Michael MacNeil, that you would presume to know (and thus limit) the abilities of God is instructive.

What I stated before is astonishing, I agree, but nonetheless appears to be true. As I say, experiment (asking the world with regard to its veracity) backs it up.

But then, why shouldn't God have (some) limits? Just saying that God is absolutely and totally omniscient and omnipotent doesn't make it so.

Galileo Galilei: True knowledge is written in this enormous book which is continuously opened before our eyes. I speak of the universe. But one can't understand it unless first one learns to understand the language and recognize the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics.

Lem said...

I have a gut feeling that something "truly ramdom" is another way of saying 'we just don't know yet'.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, But when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

1 Corinthians 13:9

Michael McNeil said...

If there is matter too fine for our crude instruments to detect (the eye included), our current understanding of quantum theory would likely be plain wrong.

I suggest learning something about Bell's theorem. What it states, and experiment confirms, is that such fine inner structure (“hidden variables”) of matter does not exist, or else the observed behavior of the world would be different from what we see.

Shanna said...

I have a gut feeling that something "truly ramdom" is another way of saying 'we just don't know yet'.

Indeed. We know a lot of really interesting stuff now, but there must be so much more that we have to learn.

Paddy O. said...

Michael, how does science tell us what God knows and can't know. How can science for instance state definitively that what seems random to us is random to God.

Science only can say what it can test. You go well beyond science to talk about theology, because science cannot test God.

God is not us. God's way of knowledge, outside of time and space, is not knowable to us. And so there's very much nothing we can determine about what God knows, entirely outside the issue of his potential limitations.

Lem said...

""Who lives longer? The man who takes heroin for two years and dies, or a man who lives on roast beef, water and potatoes 'till 95?""

Pass ;)

EDH said...

montana urban legend said...
Fans of Rush Limbaugh shouldn't bring up blue pills. They're a bit of a sore subject for him.


Is that supposed to be an argument for Obama care, and the centralization of medical records?

Michael McNeil said...

I have a gut feeling that something "truly ramdom" is another way of saying 'we just don't know yet'.

Gut feeling = intuition. And yet, many many people throughout history have experienced strong intuitions and ended up being flat wrong.

Take the (free) neutron, for instance. There appears to be absolutely no inner structure to a neutron flying free in space that would distinguish it from all other such free neutrons, and thus there can be no causitive agent (aka hidden variables) within any particular such neutron that would “cause” it to decay when it does (average half-life for a free neutron is around 15 minutes, but whose decay in any particular case might occur within the next nanosecond, or might not occur for a billion years).

And what makes us think (beyond things like Bell's theorem and subsequent experiments conirming it) that all neutrons (et al.) are absolutely and totally identical? A little matter called Fermi-Dirac statistics, which are quite easy to explain and yet utterly profound in their implications.

When one tosses a two-headed coin, say, in our world, there is a fifty-fifty chance that it will turn up heads or tails. This remains true in the quantum domain (for a particulate “coin”) as well.

In our macroscopie realm when one tosses two such coins, the probabilities change: there's a 25% chance of getting two heads, a 25% chance of getting two tails, and a 50% chance for there to be one head and one tails. Why is that?

The answer is because two coins are not identical in our macroscopic world; and one quite distinguishable coin (simply mark one if you can't otherwise tell) can turn up heads, while the other simultaneously falls tails (for a 25% chance of that), while there's another equal 25% chance of those two particular coins going in the opposite direction: where the first turns up tails and the second goes heads.

Thus, the probabilities in both theory and averaged-out practice (for distinguishable coins, as all such must be in our macroscopic world) are that 25% will turn up both heads, 25% for both to go tails, and 50% for the combined cases of one (either of them) turning up tails while the other goes heads.

In the quantum realm the observed statistical consequences are quite different. The equivalent of the “throwing two-headed coins” experiment results not in 25%-50%-25% behavior, but rather in an average of 33%-33%-33%: one-third of the “coin” tosses turn up on average with both being heads, one-third as both tails, and one-third altogether where one is heads and the other tails.

(Even ignoring such independent confirmatory indications as Bell's theorem), the only sensible way to interpret these results is if all neutrons, say (in the given example, but the same holds true for other quantum particles), are absolutely identical, and thus the (macroscopically distinguishable) cases where one of a pair of such particles turns up “heads” while the other goes “tails” cannot be distinguished (because the particles really are absolutely and truly identical) from the situation where each goes in the opposite direction, and thus the two cases' statistical behavior merges into one of one-third probability altogether.

(Eerie music playing.) Pretty magical, huh?

If all quantum particles of a given type are identical, then they cannot contain hidden variables within that “cause” one to decay, say, sooner than, or otherwise behave differently from, another.
Q.E.D.

Lem said...

.. the only sensible way to interpret.. sounds very much like a gut feeling.

Michael McNeil said...

.. the only sensible way to interpret.. sounds very much like a gut feeling.

You're welcome to try to outdo all the genius physicists of the last century. A Nobel Prize awaits you if you succeed.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death

You don't know that. Perhaps death is what gives meaning to all that came before.

Some believe that the 'life flashing before your eyes' experience is what living is all about. The reflection upon what you did right and wrong. Those who believe in re-incarnation, a great many people around the world do, believe that death and the time between lives is where you, the soul, learn and evolve.

The ability of man to even think about death in a philosophical manner (instead of like a cat about to be squashed on the freeway) is a miracle.

Without death is there a reason for our awareness and reflections on living?

My husband, experienced a near death episode years ago. He almost bled to death from a stomach ulcer. He has said, after that experience, there was no fear in dying and that it was actually a peaceful and comforting thing. He was more concerned about living and being a good person and death was nothing to be afraid of. Well, maybe a painful excruciating death might be fearful. But the end result not.

Lem said...

Speaking of chance, I found a page with the (i believe fictional) short quoted above by Borges.
The musings of a concentration camp Nazi awaiting his death sentence.

Use Goggle to translate.

I say "i believe fictional" because Borges style of writing was so convincingly good, it is entirely possible that something he wrote as fiction actually happened.

Joan said...

thus there can be no causitive agent (aka hidden variables) within any particular such neutron that would “cause” it to decay when it does
(emphasis added)

Michael (sorry about misspelling your name last time), doesn't this miss the possibility that there may be causative agents outside each identical particle which influence their behavior and/or decay?

Paddy O. expressed what I was trying to imply: God is outside of the observable universe. To say with certainty that something is not possible for God is to misunderstand entirely what God is.

Michael McNeil said...

Michael (sorry about misspelling your name last time), doesn't this miss the possibility that there may be causative agents outside each identical particle which influence their behavior and/or decay?

That's true. Bell's theorem, for instance (together with its subsequent confirmatory experiments), demonstrates that either a) the universe is not deterministic (i.e., every effect may not have a “cause”), or b) the universe is non-local (that is, measurements on one member of an associated pair of particles can affect the other no matter how far apart they may be). The latter appears intuitively wrong, but may not in actuality be. Of course, for many people the former also appears intuitively wrong, but nonetheless may not be.

Paddy O. expressed what I was trying to imply: God is outside of the observable universe. To say with certainty that something is not possible for God is to misunderstand entirely what God is.

Right. However, folks vigorously asserting this proposition are not properly appreciating the fact that by insisting on a deterministic universe — or, to put it another way, that causality rules everywhere and everything — that in itself is a matter of them binding God (or seeking to bind God) to have only produced (and only been able to produce) a cosmos of strict cause and effect.

Now quantum physics, pretty much experimentally the most strongly confirmed scientific field in history, strongly indicates that that's not so — but many folks nonetheless rigidly insist that it is — which is basically them flinching in terror away from the very thought of really random phenomena operating in this real, physical universe that we live in, while they cling to obsolete physical formulations (the law of cause and effect) that are several centuries old and basically Newtonian in origin.

Meanwhile, Newton's theory of gravity (“law” of gravity being basically the old way of saying “theory” — as there are no “laws” per se in science, merely theories) has also been tossed out on its ear, in lieu of Einsteinian relativity, which has also been very thoroughly experimentally confirmed — in spades.

Note that while Einstein himself (along with numerous other physicists) long clung to deterministic concepts — expressed in his famous proclamation that “God does not play dice” — nonetheless though physicists of that ilk have sought for going on a century now to restore determinism to what they think of as its rightful position on a scientific pedestal, they have utterly failed to achieve this.

At this point one can only reply as Niels Bohr ultimately did to Einstein's assertions in this regard, to wit: “Stop telling God what to do!”

Because if God wanted to create a universe where true randomness exists and plays a fundamental role (perhaps one of the most fundamental) in the nature of our cosmos, one must grant that God is perfectly capable of doing so — and, by all (extremely strong) appearances, did so.

Paddy O. said...

Michael, I strongly suspect you would find the works of John Polkinghorne and Wolfhart Pannenberg immensely interesting. Polkinghorne is a theoretical physicist (quite esteemed one) who became a theologian and Anglican priest. Pannnenberg is one of the top theologians of the last 50 years and he has made quantum physics a key part of his own theological development. Both are quite orthodox theologians.

Note that this isn't a dodge to your arguments, just a suggestion that anything said in comments will almost certainly not be enough for your apparent interest.

The key, again, is that determinism to us isn't binding on God, or rather it's that he is not limited to even the randomness of our perceived system. Even with apparent randomness at the quantum scale there is predictability and the ability to manipulate reality--something science depends on. And even with apparent randomness systems can often exhibit striking order, and even beauty, as the randomness of many, many individual points resolves itself into a set, extremely complex, pattern. Something we see even within our experience of time.

This is, it seems, basically the whole free will and determinism, which can exist, it seems, within the same, infinitely complex, system. But, trying to get at this is the subject of centuries and centuries of learned debates.

WV: imiatuble. It's immutable, but with a few changes here and there.

ricpic said...

I don't even know what it means: to live in eternity.

Can such a phrase be explicated? Without BS?

Anyone want to try?

madawaskan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
madawaskan said...

the SNL skit-

Don't Fear the reaper-More Cowbell!

kentuckyliz said...

Dying people quit eating and drinking and the body is triggered into releasing endorphins, a great comfort on those last steps in this life. According to a hospice nurse.

No LSD administration needed.

God designed the body so perfectly, didn't he?

*ducking*

richard said...

I thought what Huxley said was simple, elegant and had great insight on what life is truly about.How do we treat each other?

Michael McNeil said...

Thanks, Paddy, for the references; it is an extremely interesting topic. I'll look into those writers, but at least initially I'm not sure I agree with humans' (even physicists and theologians) philosophical speculations concerning what God might or might not be limited to vis-a-vis our own (as entities in the world) obvious limitations.

While the quantum world — even with built-in randomness — does have its own predictability (oftentimes mostly of a statistical nature), that doesn't mean, I think, that it's wholly predictable even for God. I'm not saying that that's necessarily true (who knows), but it's not obviously necessarily false either. As I said before, it might be that God isn't totally omniscient and omnipotent, despite what human beings have thought up for themselves on the matter.

Methadras said...

Is the blue pill bitter too?