Recently I came across two items that have caused me to reflect on what makes me want to keep living.
The first was an article by Galen Strawson, “Why I have no future,” published in The Philosophers’ Magazine (12 October 2009). Strawson’s first sentence says it all: “If, in any normal, non-depressed period of life, I ask myself whether I’d rather be alive than dead tomorrow morning, and completely put aside the fact that some people would be unhappy if I were dead, I find I have no preference either way.” He goes on to explain that, so far as he is concerned, his future does not belong to him in any obvious way, so if it is taken away, he does not feel that he would be losing anything. He calls this the “no ownership of the future” view, or NOF for short.
Strawson explains that it is not as if he has a fancy argument for this view. One might have thought it grows out of his conception of the self, which Strawson has argued is a real entity, but a very short-lived one: each of us sprouts a self every few seconds, inheriting the beliefs and memories of the previous self, and passing them along to its successor largely unchanged, except for whatever changes accrued over those few seconds. One can understand why such a metaphysical mayfly wouldn’t care much about its future descendents; but no, Strawson thinks he’d hold NOF even if he believed selves to be longer-lasting entities. And it has nothing to do with conceiving persons as 4-dimensional objects, or any other ornate theoretical commitment. It’s just that he doesn’t feel his future is his, anymore than you believe your neighbor’s vacation is something you need to start packing for. If your future isn’t yours, then no one harms you by taking it from you, right?
An obvious objection to this view is that it is hard to see why murder should be wrong, setting aside the effect of the murder on other people, like the victim’s loved ones. If I sneak up to you in the night and kill you painlessly in your sleep, and Strawson is right, then I haven’t harmed you. This of course seems just plain wrong. But since it is such an obvious implication, and Strawson is smart, I’m guessing that he disagrees with me in thinking that it is obviously wrong, and is willing to let the wrongness of murder depend entirely on its residual effects: distraught family members, unfed housepets, the (misplaced) fear among the neighbors that they may be the next victims, etc. Basically, if murder is wrong, it’s wrong because of its effect on anyone other than the victim, I guess. That strikes me as perverse, but just saying so doesn’t amount to much of an argument.
So consider the following case. In the German film Downfall, there is a scene in which Magda Goebbels murders her six children before she and her husband Joseph kill themselves. This comes at the end of the Third Reich, and their loathsome aspirations have been crushed, and presumably they do not wish their children to go through the coming agony of an Allied victory. In the film, Magda does not tell her children what is happening. She and a dentist give each of the children some bitter-tasting “medicine,” which is really some sort of powerful knock-out drug, and then in their sleep she places cyanide capsules in her children’s mouths and presses their jaws shut, breaking the capsules and causing them to die almost instantly. But her eldest daughter can see what is coming. She is perhaps fourteen, and she does not wish to die painlessly in her sleep. Magda and the dentist pry open her mouth, pour in the drug, and hold her mouth shut until the girl has swallowed involuntarily. She helplessly drifts off to sleep, knowing she will never awake. It is a painful scene.
But why is it so painful? We should disentangle several factors that might be complicating the example. First, is the scene painful merely because a child is being forced to do something against her will? No. Imagine our feelings if the sleeping potion had really been medicine, or some bitter-tasting placebo, or a sleeping potion not to be followed by cyanide. In any of these cases, watching the child being forced to drink something might be painful to watch (there is a similar scene in There Will be Blood), but it is not nearly as upsetting as when the forced consumption is a prelude to murder. Second, is the scene painful just because we are imagining the child’s family and playmates suffering her loss? No. Her family is dying along with her, as is just about everyone else who has known her or come into contact with her. The tragedy of the scene surely is not merely the loss Magda and Joseph feel in the few moments before they kill themselves. We wish upon those two every pain conceivable.
Why then is the scene so painful? My feeling is that something is indeed taken from each of the children. Not exactly their futures, I would say, since I am willing to agree partway with Strawson that we cannot own what does not yet exist. What is taken from them was something they really did possess while they were alive: namely, a disposition to continue to live. That’s what living things do: they persist in existing, unless something kills them, or they lack food or water, or some disease overtakes them. Just as I have a power to think, and digest, and heal from minor scrapes, I have a disposition to continue living, if all goes right, and within certain limits. If someone were to take from me my power to digest, or to heal, or to walk, I would be very displeased. If they took from me my power to think – well then, I guess I wouldn’t be displeased, but I would hope that it would be widely recognized by others that something had been taken from me. And if someone were to murder me, they would be taking from me another one of my powers, my power (limited though it is) to continue to be. I know that I will lose this power someday, and I can imagine voluntarily renouncing it if I were in a hopeless situation, but none of this changes the fact that it would be wrong for someone to take this power from me without my consent.
The question, “What would it take to get me to renounce my interest in having the power to continue to be?” leads me to the second item which has prompted me to think about what makes life worth living. This second item is the recent suicide of a 35-year-old man in Massachusetts. Mitchell Heisman spent five years of his life exploring the question of what makes life meaningful, or more particularly whether it is better to die than to live. He recorded his thoughts in a work of 1,905 pages, arranged for its appearance on the internet, and then walked into Harvard Yard and shot himself dead. The work itself, entitled “Suicide Note” ranges over matters philosophical, scientific, historical, political, anthropological, and religious. From the very beginning, he sees his project as a radical and severe experiment with nihilism:
My methodology is honesty to the point of absurdity; honesty without mercy; honesty unprejudiced by morals, aesthetics, faith, or hope. When all illusions have been dispelled, at the end of overcoming subjectivities, biases, and prejudices towards life, one encounters the possibility of rational negation of self-interest; rational self-annihilation; rational self-destruction. The experiment in nihilism is to seek out precisely those truths that are most deadly and destructive to me. To will death through truth and truth through death. (p. 30)
What he aims to do is undermine the “rationalist” prejudice that reason itself tells us it is better to survive than not. He will gaze into the abyss, facing the very real possibility that killing himself is no more or less irrational than clipping his toenails or emptying the trash.
I have not read the whole “note,” but a quick skimming reveals a long list of subsections with interesting titles: “Slave-Technology Engineered to be the Purpose of the Universe,” “Between Auschwitz and the Singularity,” “Does Logic Dictate that Artificial Intelligence Requires a Religion?,” “Some are More Equal than Others in God’s Kingdom,” “The Noble Aryan Anus,” “1066: The Death of English England,” “The Peculiar Institution of the Right of Conquest,” “Thomas Hobbes: Philosopher of the Twilight Zone,” “The Puritan Ethnic Conscience,” “The Inequality of Political Reductionism,” “Overcoming Nietzsche in the Creation of God,” “From Faux-fathers to the Race-fallacy,” “Geometry of Thanatology,” and on and on and on. I offer such a long list just to try to give the flavor of a very long book.
Writing the book must have meant a great deal to Mr. Heisman. He needed to read a lot in order to be able to write it, and he needed to think a lot, and he put his own creative spin on everything. It must have been a consuming project over those five years. But in the end he comes to a thoroughly nihilistic conclusion:
Nihilism, noted Friedrich Nietzsche, “represents the ultimate logical conclusion of our great values and ideals”. This is the bankrupt, philosophical disaster area the West dwells in. I see no “bottom”, no limits to stop the freefall into value nothingness. Implicit in nihilism is the collapse of the entire human cause. The ultimate logical conclusion of Western values is the rational self-destruction of the West.
Is this absurd? If this is absurd then it must also be absurd that I rage at the entire cosmos for having no ultimate meaning.
But there is no reason to be pessimistic. There is no justification whatsoever for a negative attitude! There is no justification whatsoever for a positive attitude! There is no justification whatsoever for a neutral attitude!
And so, with the observation that nothing matters, and that he is ready to try anything once, Mr. Heisman decides to try suicide. He has convinced himself that it doesn’t matter. It is no big deal. His note ends with the retelling of a Zen story in which a Zen master admits that he is unable to understand himself.
I do not know enough about Mitchell Heisman to say anything about the relation between his note and his decision to die. I do not know which one caused the other. But I can say that nothing in what I have read in his note makes me want to renounce my own capacity to keep living.
Let me agree with his overall conclusion, that there is no ultimate justification for any attitude whatsoever toward life. I am not entirely sure what this means, but I think it means that, from a totally disinterested (and in that sense purely “rational”) perspective, living things are no more valuable than nonliving things, and indeed nothing is more valuable than anything else. This comes close to a truism: in a perspective lacking all values, nothing is valuable. Knowing this, however, does not offer me any reason not to be interested in living, given that I in fact inhabit a perspective that places values on things. I don’t see why I should have to convince a value-free perspective to share my values in order for me to have values that are in some sense “legitimate.” I think things work the other way around. I value some things, like my capacity to keep living. Now can anyone convince me that I should not have that value? When Heisman declares that there is no justification for any particular attitude toward life, I take it that he is saying there is no compelling argument either for or against this particular value that I have. So, I conclude, I can keep it without violating any sacrosanct laws of rationality.
I hasten to add that my desire to retain my capacity to keep living is not based on any deep metaphysical, religious, or cosmological view of things. Again, it is a lot like my desire to retain my capacity to digest or walk. I would like to continue to be able to digest because I like to eat, and I would like to continue to be able to walk because I like walking. I would like to continue to keep living because I like a whole bunch of things, like reading and music and friends and eating and walking and so on, and I would not be able to do those things if I renounced my capacity to continue to be alive. In this respect my list of what makes life meaningful is a lot like the list given by the character Woody Allen plays in the film Manhattan:
Well, all right, why is life worth living? That’s a very good question. Well, there are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. Uh, like what? Okay. Um, for me… oh, I would say… what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing… and Willie Mays, and… the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony, and… Louie Armstrong’s recording of ‘Potatohead Blues’… Swedish movies, naturally… ‘Sentimental Education’ by Flaubert… Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra… those incredible apples and pears by Cezanne… the crabs at Sam Wo’s… Tracy’s face…
These all seem to me to be very good things to experience. If they were a short distance away, and I could get to them by walking, I would regret losing my capacity to walk. And since they are available to only those who live, I would regret losing my capacity to continue to live, since then I wouldn’t get to experience them. The universe, I believe, has no values, and so does not care in any way about what I want or do not want. Furthermore, there are probably perfectly good scientific explanations for why I have ended up being a being who values these things. But what in these two admissions should make me reconsider?
Now here are some things that would make me reconsider. Suppose I were diagnosed with some disease like Alzheimer’s which would ravage my mind, leave me with no rational capacity or dignity, and render me nothing but a burden to others. Suppose I knew I was about to be forced to play some critical role in killing those I love. Suppose I were reduced to utter despair, for whatever reason. I can imagine many cases in which I would renounce my capacity to continue living, and I would hope to have a revolver handy, along with the courage to use it. But merely being told that the universe doesn’t care about me, or that people’s beliefs about themselves have evolved over time, is not enough to do it.
So here, in the end, in the last analysis, is what makes me want to keep living. I have a capacity to continue to exist, and I find that I value experiencing many of the things I think I am likely to experience. Of course, I might be wrong about what experiences are coming my way, and in the end my capacity to continue to be will be lost, one way or another. But in the meantime, I find myself agreeing with the sentiment expressed by the ancient skeptic Pyrrho in a story told about him. He once said, “To live or to die, it does not matter.” A follower asked, “Why then do you not die?” And Pyrrho replied, “Because it does not matter.” Of course it doesn’t really matter. But I exist. And things are going well. So why not continue to be?
Great post. I’ll be linking to it at the SHAFT blog, if you don’t mind.
I’ll get back to you with my thoughts on this once I’ve experienced both life and not-life. For now I’ll withhold judgement.
“Do not speak soothingly to me of death, Odysseus. I should choose to serve as the serf of another, rather than to be lord over the dead.” [Achilles to Odysseus]
Sad to wonder what better trajectory his life might have taken had it not lacked the paternal presence of such generously critical good sense. Since I recall, with only ever-growing wistfulness, the consummate, perhaps even death-welcoming, euphoric serenity I felt, two decades ago, upon completion of the final paper (on Kierkegaard’s “knight of faith” in Fear and Trembling) in my Philosophy of Religion class, it’s not without some envy that I imagine a sweeping purposefulness which might have filled Heisman’s final years of life, despite abhorring the manner in which he terminated it.
This was wonderful to read, but I still do not find myself convinced. What is argued here presupposes the assumption that existing in and of itself is valuable, while really it is not.
I may enjoy walking, eating, or any other activity I under-appreciate everyday, but I enjoy it because I have to, and because I have no other way to enjoy this life without them. In other words, I am constrained, but I do not know for what.
Mr. Heisman may have had other reasons, which may include (judging by the titles of his chapters and some of what I have read so far) human suffering, not finding his own meaning and usefulness in the modern world, etc. To me, that all seems trivial. In the very act of his shooting himself and leaving a 1,905 page note, he has added value or meaning to society by exactly this, as in this post and our discussion of it. He gave himself a name that is becoming well known, he may be a largely cited author after his work is dissected, studied, and deemed scholarly, and he may very well be a historically studied philosopher of the future. All that though, still does not matter.
I have come to grips with the suffering of human kind, and I have accepted that even if I, or anyone else dies, History’s “cunning of reason” will deliberately choose that which will progress the world. I have also come to grips with the idea of enjoying what is real and what exists, and if it does exist, then why not enjoy it? But that still does not mean anything. There are many historical figures that have changed the word by art, music, political power, philanthropy, and so on, but for what reason? To make life easier on others? Those others will eventually die, and they wont remember anything of this life, or their next if there exists one, and so it does not matter! Human life has no meaning or purpose. We exist just to merely exist, and so why exist without a purpose. We exist for selfish reason such as enjoyment or happiness, but that still is not a reason. Humans could just as well exist by sitting on a rock till they deteriorate into nothingness, and even then, they did not really deteriorate into nothingness, because there was nothing to begin with!
I dont care about my future self, or the ownership of my future self. Nor do I care about the evolution of my future self, because my future self is just as fake and unimportant as my present self. So why don’t I kill myself? Well, I care about my family and those closest to me. If I were to act on pure reason, I would argue that they have no meaning as well, and so by killing myself, they won’t be affected. But the matter of the fact is that I do not act on pure reason (although sometimes I wish, just to please Spinoza), and I do care about how they might be affected. In that case, then why do I go to school and labour over studying, work towards a post graduate degree, and give up on my dream to hike the world for instance? Well, I have responsibilities to help others, and without putting myself through the wonderful institution we call a university, I may not be able to sustain an income and help others. Then I ask myself, but is life is meaningless and humanity should not exist to begin with, why do I care so much about helping others? The only viable answer I can come up with is that they care, and I cater to their cares, since I dont.
In the end, I have no desire to keep living, I have no desire to die, nor do I have a desire to do anything but sit on a rock and watch time evolve into the nothingness that it is. People like Mr. Heisman should actually be regarded as heros for facing the reality of the world and showing others what it means to really be alive.
If there “was nothing to begin with!” and life is meaningless, then how exactly has Heisman’s note “added value or meaning to society”? Are you suggesting that meaning somehow emerges from meaninglessness? That his death somehow produced meaning?
It seems simpler to assume that everything is already infused/saturated with meaning; that meaning is so familiar we tune it out as though it were white noise on an old vinyl record or the hum of a fluorescent light bulb. Then something like this happens and our perception refocuses allowing us to sense meaning anew. If anything, relationship seems to produce meaning. As such, even a mechanistic view demands at least a relative meaning of sorts. (Perhaps this is the kind of meaning Dr. Huenemann was referring to , although I really couldn’t say.)
Like missing the forest for the trees.
I haven’t really studied philosophy, but something about both of these arguments bothers me. Yes, we have no ownership of our future for the simple fact that it hasn’t happened yet. And they may not care if they live or die, but others do because we do not each live in an individual vacuum. It goes beyond being sad. I’m partly the person I am today because we met in junior high. If you were to decide, for example, you didn’t want to live “just because,” I’m sure that would have some impact would on your son’s future. Unless you go and live in the hills as a hermit, any decision you make will have some sort of impact on those around us because we live as part of some group, or groups, of people. It seems to me that both of these gentleman’s conclusions come from a very selfish and self-centered place.
After rereading I realized a lot of grammatical mistakes. I’ll just say that I wrote that in a fury and did not pay attention along the way.
“In a man’s attachment to life there is something stronger than all the ills in the world. The body’s judgment is as good as the mind’s, and the body shrinks from annihilation. We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking. In that race which daily hastens us toward death, the body maintains its irreparable lead.”
– Camus, An Absurd Reasoning: Absurdity and Suicide
good post! It certainly seems to go right to the heart of many people and gets everyone thinking. Maybe that’s reason enough? If everyone spends so much time on this question, it must have some value, yes? I mean, why did Mr. Heisman spend 5 years and thousand pages trying to decide? And now, having decided, providing the very value he decided wasn’t there.
For some reason, the image of a blade of grass popped into my head (maybe I ought to mow the lawn!). What value is one blade of grass? What purpose? It can’t possibly know, even conceive of it’s value. Yet, it seems to have enormous value to everything around it. It’s kinda a matter of focus, isn’t it?
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I enjoyed reading this. You are an excellent writer, Dr. Huenemann.
I’m curious to know your thoughts on this question (no doubt you’ve already considered it):
If Mr. Heisman was as neutral toward life as he claimed to be, would he have bothered to write such a book or taken special care to make sure his work would “live” on?
Perhaps. But maybe his attachment to life merely took the form of preferring the life of his thoughts to that of his body. Surely he knew that his unconventional suicide would create a stir and ensure him an abundance of posthumous readers. In Beethoven’s Heilegenstadt Testament, the great composer decided that despite his many misfortunes he would continue living for the sake of his art and the ears of posterity. Perhaps Mr. Heisman’s was death similarly motivated. If so his death was its own kind of life.
Thanks, all, for the thoughtful replies. I thought I’d offer some top-of-the-head responses.
Moudi writes, “Human life has no meaning or purpose. We exist just to merely exist, and so why exist without a purpose. We exist for selfish reason such as enjoyment or happiness, but that still is not a reason. Humans could just as well exist by sitting on a rock till they deteriorate into nothingness, and even then, they did not really deteriorate into nothingness, because there was nothing to begin with! ” and I agree with the main idea: the universe really does not care about us. Some people get very depressed or upset about the fact, and gnash their teeth or write it down in a long book or commit suicide. But I take some comfort in the fact of our insignificance. Both the good news and the bad news is this: nothing matters much. The whole of humanity’s existence is less than a gnat’s fart as it crosses the Grand Canyon. So have a scotch, help a friend move his futon, read some poetry, and listen to Beethoven. That’s not so bad, is it?
Sandi, I don’t think the universe is infused with meaning. But it turns out that human beings, or most of them, get attached to things and people and ideas, and that ends up being enough meaning for them. (We could call it “illusory,” but until I see what non-illusory meaning would be, that’s a distinction without a difference.)
Roger, I agree. Except we met in high school, not jr. high.
Paul and Dan, I really don’t know whether Heisman’s work ended up bestowing meaning on his life. He must have felt it meaningful while he was working on it, and his death was truly the work’s last act. But if he believed what he wrote, his life would’ve been just as significant if he had sat on a rock and deteriorated into nothingness, as Moudi observes. Maybe Heisman would say the work bestowed an illusion of meaningfulness upon his life. Maybe other people will read his work and venerate his having been, but I doubt it, because though I respect his effort, the book simply isn’t that good, and my bet is that he and it will be forgotten within the generation. From the preface, it’s clear he thought the work would rattle our society, and there’d be an effort to suppress its publication, out of the fear that droves of people would be offing themselves after reading it. Nope. Just a plink, then silence.
But, again, I honestly don’t know what else anyone could expect. That the universe is applauding our efforts? That there is a god who cares? That the essence of life smiles on homo sapiens? All this seems silly to me, and so the lack of it doesn’t depress me at all. We live, we die, and life doesn’t go on. But many of us are lucky enough to have ample pleasures nearby.
I’ve really enjoyed these chats over the years, gives me pause in the mess of life to reflect on things that usually slide right by. “The pause that refreshes”, I guess. Even tho, I’m not fully equipped to deal with this stuff on a professional level, it does help the ol’ noodle to clean out some cobwebs.
I have to ask, tho, what do you mean by “meaning”? Is this a philosopher’s term? We can bestow meaning on anything and mean it 😉 But on a cosmic/multi universal level? How could we even begin to judge that with our pound and a half of grey matter? And, if we can only judge it from our human perspective, isn’t that a bit limited? Is “meaning” only “meaning to us, as a species”? Meaning only within the small sphere of influence we have while we’re a sentient bag of chemical reactions?
Staying with the classics, “…for the want of a nail…” That is, if a quark bumps into a photon, which splits a charmed particle, unbalancing the singularity which starts the big bang, which starts the universe…. is that something that has “meaning”? (pardon my lack of physics knowledge- I guess it would be strings, nowdays). It certainly had a big effect. Kinda an inverse of the “butterfly principle” or “going back and killing grampa”.
Maybe, just maybe, everything has “meaning” and we should live our lives accordingly? Gives a certain “gravitas” to everything we do or say, wouldn’t it? That could make as much sense as nothing has meaning, doesn’t it?
Paul beats me to the quoting the bard. Which also anticipates the point I want to make. Smith and Hume both talk about humanity as “harmony.” Paul quoting Shakespeare resonates with me because I am thinking about Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard III, Shylock, and others as tragic figures who all considered death and life.
Smith Says: “With regard to those objects which are considered without any peculiar relation either to ourselves or to the person whose sentiments we judge of; wherever his sentiments entirely correspond with our own, we ascribe to him the qualities of taste and good judgment. The beauty of a plain, the greatness of a mountain, the ornaments of a building, the expression of a picture, the composition of a discourse, the conduct of a third person, the proportions of different quantities and numbers, the various appearances which the great machine of the universe is perpetually exhibiting, with the secret wheels and springs which product them; all the general subjects of science and taste, are what we and our companion regard as having no peculiar relation to either of us. We both look at them from the same point of view, and we have no occasion for sympathy, or for that imaginary change of situations from which it arises, in order to produce, with regard to these, the most perfect harmony of sentiments and affections. If, notwithstanding, we are often differently affected, it arises either from the different degrees of attention, which our different habits of life allow us to give easily to the several parts of those complex objects, or from the different degrees of natural acuteness in the faculty of the mind to which they are addressed.”
In some way it is a tremendous act of self deception to believe that Paul, who I have not discussed these issues with, is similar to me. It is even more absurd to believe that once I consider that I was not thinking Macbeth, but thinking Hamlet instead. We weren’t even in the same play. But close enough, right?
I live in a place that I find objectively beautiful, yet I am surrounded by people that seldom take a moment to stop and stare at these mountains that surround us. In my quiet moments I do. I sneak a glimpse. Every now and then I stop and stare and someone stands beside me. Nothing need be said but that we imagine that we are thinking of the same thing. The greatness and the beauty of the world, specifically the place we live. This Harmony, imagined or real, is what I live for. It is why I enjoy my job, to delight in the reverberations of students, imagined to be similar to my past selfs. I read Smith and think that I truly understand the quoted paragraph above.
It is both absurd to see this as beauty and to fail to do so. To chose to transcend this absurdity is a choice to death in some way. My search for beauty in this absurd event is the negation of its lesson, a choice to >>remain<< absurd.
(I’m clicking the “Like, very much” button.)
Ha! I thought of “Hamlet”, too! But, “what a noble work is man…” was said with irony, so I thought give the feelings of the much honored and noble Dr. Huenemann, Macbeth might be a better fit. All hail, Thane of Thinking!
“…gnat’s fart as it crosses the Grand Canyon…” I like this! I agree with much of your view about relative meaninglessness, however, I find I can explain more of my experience in this illusory world by attributing everything to an active principle of some kind (be it self renewing electromagnetic fields, Plato’s Love, or God), for me, it is why there is something instead of nothing and that seems pretty darn meaningful–and it certainly matters. Perhaps I just want it to matter, but it feels more intuitive than that; more self-evident than self-prescribed. However, despite our difference of opinion, it seems we will each be carrying on in much the same manner: enjoying loved ones, helping a neighbor, reading a good book, and, while I have never indulged in rum, drinking a preferred beverage of some kind and admiring some scenic view; remaining “absurd” as Michael says, though I like to think there is more to it.
When the universe reaches its final heat death, better that a few good stories were told than not.
(Non-narrativists can substitute “sublime moments were experienced.”)
It truly baffles me as to how humanity finds it hard to understand that life has meaning. Life has whatever meaning to whomever. It’s not that difficult to pursue life for the sake of improving it for others, or to pursue life for the sake of creating human accomplishment.
Maybe it is something we struggle with when it comes with sentience, or maybe our penchant for a story that has an arc and a destiny for every character.
Maybe this fellow thought that the point of his life was to write this book, and then leave. Surely it will be remembered… by someone. It is said that such a brilliant mind thought that was his worth to humanity, or perhaps saw no worth in his sorrowful accomplishment.
I cannot say he is wrong for his thoughts, since ultimately he consented for his own life to be taken, but I cannot agree that his actions were correct. I hate seeing a great mind capable of such a work go to waste amongst a sea of idiocy.
>> Life has whatever meaning to whomever. It’s not that difficult to pursue life for the sake of improving it for others, or to pursue life for the sake of creating human accomplishment. <<
I'm afraid this simply isn't so. Meaning isn't something up for grabs: continuing to live for the sake of improving it for others, or for the sake of creative production, is compatible with feeling that the entire endeavor is ultimately meaningless, and with the further thought that it would be better if no one had come into existence.
Is killing yourself adaptive?
“Life has whatever meaning to whomever.”
This formulation sounds to my ears like it concedes that which was to be refuted. (“The meaning of life is just, whatever.”)
One of the reasons I choose to continue living is posts like this one.
I find Heisman’s “try it once” mentality surprising. It seems at odds with nihilism.
What I’ve always found paradoxical about suicide/suicidal thoughts is “thiking about suicide” seems like a survival mechanism but “suicide” clealry doesn’t. Point being: it’s a biological coping mechanism to contemplate suicide or one’s own death but not to go through with it.
Some suicide survivors, (i.e., people who jumped from a building but for some reason survived) have said that moments after jumping, they greatly regretted their decision and are greteful to have survived. Interesting tension.