Archive for July, 2009

Old Age, Death and Love

Friday, July 17th, 2009

20080518 deer skeleton (small)An exchange of letters between Ian Brown and Jean Vanier was published in the Globe and Mail of Feb. 21, 2009, under the headline, “Am I fearful of death? No, I cannot say I am’.

Ian Brown writes about his father, age 95, who lives an active life – still going to the office! – but is increasingly limited in his powers.  “What I have noticed is not his aging…so much as his dislike of aging. … His physical performance shames him.”

Brown then turns to his own prospects.

Looking at it from the age of 55…getting older looks like a discouraging journey into loneliness.  … I can’t imagine getting older, therefore weaker and lonelier, without resenting it.  The slightest health scare makes me anxious and the anxiety makes me cranky and the crankiness makes me feel bitter, even mistreated. … Last night, a still-lively 80-year-old gave me his formula for enthusiastically living in the world as you get older: “Active engagement with the future,” he said. “That’s the secret.”

Which sounds right….  But if you physically don’t have much future left, what motivates you to engage actively in it?

Brown’s line of thought is steeped in personal ‘identification’ with his living organism.  The prospect of decrepitude and eventual death causes psychological suffering. (more…)


Tuesday, July 14th, 2009


When planning this project, I felt eagerness mixed with apprehension – which is one way we typically feel when future events loom in our lives.  I think about other people’s futures with more equanimity.  I have great difficulty feeling the same way about your future as about my own.  It is like trying to imagine that my left arm belongs to someone else – a bizarre, difficult feat of the imagination – yet there are cases in neurophysiology which report that experience in otherwise sane individuals.

We are attached to the saga of ourselves as ongoing subjects of experience.  We readily imagine we will somehow continue to exist, to have experiences, even after the death of our biological organisms.  Many of us who do not believe in an afterlife nevertheless have no trouble imagining one.  I picture myself floating up, out of my body.  I see grief-stricken family and friends around the bed.  I hear their conversations – I try to take part and realize I cannot be heard.  Later, I leave the earth and find myself in some other place – hopefully a pleasant one – where I may again meet people who were my friends when I was alive.

Such ideas are impossible to disprove.  But there is little or no scientific evidence for them.  The notion of an afterlife strikes me as wishful thinking. (more…)

Journal Excerpt – Multiple Personae in Ordinary Life

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Our organisms can harbour and support multiple personae – like several software applications running on one computer.  We may have quite different personae corresponding to our different roles in life.  As a businessman, my goals, feelings, manner of speech, attitudes may differ greatly from my goals, feelings, manners and attitudes as a father, as an amateur photographer, or as an outdoorsman.

Our personae draw upon the shared resources of the organism, and even compete for them.  Being torn between work and family is a familiar experience for many of us. (more…)