Monday, April 26, 2010

Life as Indefinable

As I've continue to wend my way through Simon Critchley's The Book of Dead Philosophers, one of the points that has been raised by different philosophers throughout history is that the chief reason we humans can't truly define life is that we don't understand death.

At first blush, many people might find the above supposition ludicrous. Death, they would say, is the cessation of life; it's when the organism ceases all functioning. In humans, it means the heart stops beating and the last breath has been taken.

However, such a description only describes death from a limited viewpoint -- it doesn't define it. Of course, the reason it doesn't define it is because we can only view death from the perspective of life. Once we've died and, possibly, understand what death itself entails, we can't share such information with the living.

Since life and death go hand-in-hand (i.e., two sides of the same coin), if we don't understand one of the facets, then we can't fully understand the other.

Far worse, it is a dilemma we can never solve. We can conjure up all sorts of myths, stories and beliefs, but the whole lot is nothing more than speculative thinking. We can't test the hypotheses. We can't replicate the experiences. We can't develop a control group nor substitute a realistic placebo.

The true meaning of life or death will remain hidden and there is no way possible to lift the veil.


  1. and possibly the reverse is true... that we cannot understand death because we cannot understand life. what lies behind death will never be solved until we experience it for ourselves, and the process of death itself is nearly the same. i say nearly, because some people have medically died and came back... those people would know a little about the process of death, even if they didn't experience it fully.

    personally, i don't think it's a bad thing to leave some things as unsolveable mysteries. yes my goal in this life is mainly understanding, however, could you imagine the scientific experiments that would happen if it were possible to scientifically observe death? some things are best not messed with!

  2. Every living thing was previously dead before it was born.

    Therefore. Every living thing has already had the experience of death.


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