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Severinian

Some people welcome oblivion

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When talking about the issue of life extension, it shocks me that a lot of people who don't believe in life after death don't really fear dying, and even say that they wouldn't want to use a cure for aging if it was possible, because they want oblivion at some point. Put aside the point that a non-senescing person could still commit suicide, how can some people possibly welcome oblivion? Imagine never existing anymore, ever, that is horrible! 

I don't understand these people, and they can't really explain why to me. The only possible explanation I can think of is that there's some fundamental pain, fear, guilt or sorrow that is constantly bothering them deep down, which is so strong that they would actually prefer to not exist than to bear it. Maybe they see joy as a mere relief from this fundamental pain, and at some point, they run out of "distractions from pain", and therefore, they would prefer oblivion, like Schopenhauer. Isn't this the only explanation? If one welcomes oblivion, the alternative must be worse? What can be worse than experiencing nothing? Experiencing something painful. 

As an aside, when, in Atlas Shrugged, Rand writes about people who hate existence. I guess she's talking about these people? Maybe some nihilist nutjobs even think they're doing people a favor by killing them, if they believe that everyone else must have the same painful experience of life, and that oblivion is best for everyone. She said that most Americans are incapable to fully grasp the nature of these people's psychology, because of a different sense of life.

Thoughts? 

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You know that this is the Objectivist position, right?

 

"A variant of this pining is the view that the fact of death makes life meaningless. But if living organisms are mortal, then (within the relevant circumstances) they are so necessarily, by the nature of the life process. To rebel against one's eventual death is, therefore, to rebel against life - and reality. It is also to ignore the fact that indestructible objects have no need of values or of meaning, which phenomena are possible only to mortal entities (see chapter 7)."

 

(OPAR, p.27)

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Life extension and immortality are not the same thing. The indestructible robot being incapable of values point is not isomorphic to rejecting life extension.

Okay, I must have missed the fact that the OP was about life extension. Apologies.

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...don't really fear dying, and even say that they wouldn't want to use a cure for aging if it was possible,...

One minor point. I suppose you might be using the term "fear" broadly (i.e. to mean "negative about"), but I cannot remember ever being really fearful of dying except in dangerous contexts [e.g. on some high ledge with a chance I could fall]. When you die you die: there's nothing there to be afraid of, because there's nothing there.

Another minor point: not dying is different from not aging. If someone tells me they have a way of not dying, and it involves being on life-support, or even severely incapacitated, it wouldn't interest me, and I assume most people feel that way.

As for the psychology of people who say they wish to die some day and don't want to live forever, I think its hard to judge if that's all you have to go on. The idea of not dying is so radical that it is unreal. Perhaps you can probe for reasons in a round-about way: e.g. "if you could take the 10 beast years of your life and live 10 extra years of that type, would you want to do so"? 

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Severinian said:

how can some people possibly welcome oblivion? Imagine never existing anymore, ever, that is horrible!

Imagine a person incapable of ending their life on their own yet with no values possible to them. Such a person is in a perpetual state of misery worse than death. (Silly hypothetical imminent) To stretch the point, think of the Highlander character trapped under water having to perpetually drown until someone helped them out of the water.... No thanks!

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I highly disagree that an immortal person would have no need of values, and I think that quote is taken out of context. Survival is not the ultimate goal, happiness is. If you were immortal, you could still enjoy new places, new art, revisit/reconsume old places and art, enjoy life's physical pleasures that you never get tired of, etc, you would never have to be "tormented by boredom".

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I highly disagree that an immortal person would have no need of values, and I think that quote is taken out of context. Survival is not the ultimate goal, happiness is. If you were immortal, you could still enjoy new places, new art, revisit/reconsume old places and art, enjoy life's physical pleasures that you never get tired of, etc, you would never have to be "tormented by boredom".

It is not taken out of context, as you can see for yourself by reading the surrounding text.

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First of all, as far as I can remember, Rand wrote something contradicting this in TVOS. But more importantly, this is not about dogma, we know that happiness is the ultimate goal, and if an immortal being can increase its happiness, then obviously it has values and meaning. 

Edited by Severinian

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Severinian, my response to you is specifically about "how [...] [can] some people possibly welcome oblivion?" My first point was about how one incapable of achieving their values would welcome death. I did not intend to make that example like the "silly" one about an immortal. There are plenty of people alive today who would welcome death rationally given their conditions. The Objectivist view that an indestructible robot is "incapable" of value is not the same as not being able to achieve values.

I chose the Highlander character because he wasn't indestructible. I knew this could cause confusion though.

Edit:

Severinian said:

we know that happiness is the ultimate goal, and if an immortal being can increase its happiness, then obviously it has values and meaning.

Happiness qua man, right?

The question Ms. Rand is addressing is exactly if it was possible or meaningful to speak of life and value in a context were productive- life sustaining effort did not apply.

Edited by Plasmatic

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"There are plenty of people alive today who would welcome death rationally given their conditions."

True, but that's because of some physical or emotional pain. And so if people say that they are perfectly comfortable with oblivion in general and wouldn't want to halt their aging, if they're that apathetic about their own survival, I think there must be something really bothering them deep down. Maybe it is some great value they lost that hurts every minute of their life, maybe they're scared of something, etc. 

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Exactly. :) That's what I'm wondering, because some of my friends and potential love interests have taken this stance. But feel free to discuss any other aspects of life extension, objectivist views on death, etc as well. :) 

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a lot of people who don't believe in life after death don't really fear dying

I know what you're driving at, but this is probably not the cause. Should any rational person by motivated by fear? Not at all! That would be a life governed by pain avoidance as opposed to value seeking. The logical conclusion of pain avoidance is exactly like Schopenhauer, where life really is essentially meaningless. If existence is pain focused, it would be miserable - everything is measured according to it's level of misery. Nietzsche specifically worked to overcome Schopenhauer's brand of nihilism by focusing on life, by changing attitudes.

 

A life seeking attitude is better, where a person is driven by what is good for life. That's an attitude where fear is irrelevant. With that approach, oblivion can be welcomed in the sense of "come at me, I'm not afraid of you, you can't stop me!" If you welcome death like a nihilist, it's more like "come at me, it doesn't matter, I don't care, it's gonna happen anyway".

 

The issue, then, is which attitude a person holds.

Edited by Eiuol

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I don't think it's irrational to be motivated by fear. Fear, if it's based on something rational, is telling you something important, for example that you might die if you don't do anything about it. Schopenhauer was motivated by pain only, but I'd say a truly rational person is both motivated by fear/pain/etc and also the good things in life. 

The attitude of the people I'm talking about seems to be of the latter, "I don't care, it's gonna happen anyway, my death won't make that much of a difference, I don't mind the idea of oblivion", etc. That sounds very Schopenhauerish to me. 

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I agree.

 

Emotions are not guides to action.  They are however based on held premises, and to the degree your thoughts, concepts, values etc. are rational, integrated, and consistent, so too your emotions will parallel what rationally makes sense.  As an early warning system, or as first impressions, your emotions are useful, but action should always result from sound judgment.  When fear emerges in the appropriate context, its motivation can assist the action taken ... adrenaline is useful for some flight or fight contexts and can be used in the carrying out of a rational response.

 

 

I see on this website a certain degree of confusion and inconsistency surrounding the concept "death" in view of Objectivist principles.

 

Without getting into it, a few things to think about:

 

1.  Fear is an appropriate response to a person with correct premises which can assist to motivate a person to avoid disvalues, or avoid losing a value.

 

2.  Fear of "the experience of death" is irrational insofar as "the experience of death" is an invalid concept, nothing can experience anything when dead

 

3.  Focusing on the pain of death, on a sensational/perceptual level experience, as the important aspect to consider, is antithetical to the Objectivist position regarding a man's character and "soul" (metaphor) which is on a higher level than the mere perceptual or on the level of sense experience. Emotions of fully developed people do not revolve around sensations, pain, pleasure, etc. alone.

 

4.  Life is the ultimate value, it makes all other values possible.  The desire to live is a conscious choice, and life itself is also what makes all choice possible.

 

5.  Continued existence, life, requires action, requires judicious voluntary use of the mind, and insofar as man has free will and is fallible, a man's life can be extended or shortened to the degree he consciously protects and nourishes it or fails to do so.

 

6.  Fear, of loosing life, the ultimate value (now... or now.... or NOW... or a minute too early, or a day too early, or a decade too early...) is a valid emotional response, insofar as maintaining this ultimate value, life requires continual action, in the face of the fundamental alternative, to be or not to be.  It must of course be contextual and absent any particular apprehension of its shortening resulting from action, it should not arise.

 

 

Fear of life ending earlier than what otherwise  IS possible, IS not the same as fear of the inescapable eventuality of death, NOR is it the same as fear of the experience of death.  The latter two are in their way invalid emotions, whereas the foremost IS valid, and in fact completely in accord with LIFE being the ultimate value which makes all other values possible.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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I don't think it's irrational to be motivated by fear. Fear, if it's based on something rational, is telling you something important, for example that you might die if you don't do anything about it. Schopenhauer was motivated by pain only, but I'd say a truly rational person is both motivated by fear/pain/etc and also the good things in life.

Is that really fear, though? I don't know anyone who says fear is just recognizing a bad alternative. Usually, they mean dread or horror, what someone feels when Jason's chainsaw went off around the corner. They might mean a deep discomfort where all you can think of is avoiding this one thing at any cost. Remember, I said motivated by fear or pain, so I'm saying if pain avoidance is a focus of action, it leads to nihilism in its logical conclusion. Recognizing disvalues and opting for values isn't fear-driven, nor is the disvalue a motivation in any sense if your standard of action and motivation is life. Fear implies running from something, not facing it head on. The Schopenhauerian nihilist you speak of I'd say one who was driven by fear at first, then fell into the abyss when fear dissolved into absence of value. With someone driven by happiness and joy, fear is overtaken by a constant attraction towards life.

 

Why can't you be motivated by pain and the good in life? Because pain has literally no value to a pro-value mindset, it can't be a motivator to action.

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how can some people possibly welcome oblivion?

When I was little, I believed in God and Heaven. I remember (at maybe nine years old) feeling far too impatient to reach it; wishing that I could die as soon as possible, and go to heaven.

In a sense, though, I didn't really want to die; I wanted to go to heaven. I was terrified of the prospect of oblivion.

How can someone wish for oblivion?

I think you're right about pain; overwhelming, unendurable, mind-bending pain. With a few rare exceptions, though, (i.e. people with truly horrible diseases) almost nobody actually has to live with a physical pain like that.

What, then, could inflict the sort of pain that some people seem to suffer on a constant basis?

Moral insanity.

Survival is not the ultimate goal, happiness is.

There's some disagreement on that point, which seems to stem from the way Rand used the term "life".

I agree (and I don't believe that the alternative is compatible with egoism) but I don't think Peikoff does. In any case, it's a point worth elaborating on.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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Frustration with one's circumstance, to the extent that one might consume alcohol and consider nonexistence (only a valid point for true non-mystics) is not a failure of existence unless you act.  I know the feeling and I reject it.

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Emotions are not guides to action.

I think this is another area that could use some more specification.

If someone decides to play a video game simply because they feel that they want to, Ayn Rand would've called it a whim. If they sit down and figure out, rationally, that it won't impede their higher priorities and that they want to do it - while it's one step removed from a whim, their decision would still be essentially motivated by their emotion. If they sat down and figured out that it wouldn't impede their higher priorities, that winning the video game allowed them to experience one small moment of personal achievement and that their desire to play stemmed from the need to bolster their own self-esteem, it would still be rooted in their desire to feel competent.

In fact, no matter how much reasoning they added to it, any decision they made would ultimately have to boil down to the way they felt about something.

While whim-worship is absolutely not selfish, what seems to be wrong with it is not the emotional component (let's face it - that's a part of basically everything) but the absence of any purposeful thought.

And that absence isn't binary, either; it's not like you've either thought about something or you haven't; there are facets and degrees of it, which would seem to correspond to degrees of rationality in any given course of action.

I don't think it's irrational to be motivated by fear.

So long as it isn't the primary concern of one's life, no.

Some amount of fear, in certain circumstances, is a perfectly healthy thing. Fear which isn't limited to any given situation; an all-encompassing fear, without any identified source or object, is not an acceptable state of being.

Suppose, in choosing a career to pursue, some High-School graduate chose the safest and most stable option; sacrificing their own dreams to their own insecurities. Suppose they did the same in choosing where to live, whom to marry, what car to buy, how to spend their free time; at every turn sacrificing their desires to their fears.

Would that course of action give them any long-term sense of security; would it alleviate their fears? Or would it intensify them; blowing every minor concern into a terror, until they found themselves wondering how anyone could want to live in such a scary world?

"Intellectually and morally, fear makes people shrink." -The Moratorium on Brains

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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