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Author Topic: On the meaning of life and the long-term merits of technologic improvement  (Read 6193 times)
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October 26, 2015, 12:46:31 PM
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Warning: this text might depress you. Read at your own risk.


Traditionally, a philosophical or religious question, the issue of meaning is starting to be the subject of scientific studies.

Meaning is important because we are self-aware and we are conscious of the certainty of our death. Meaning is one of the ideas that help us dealing with death. Is part of our "terror from death management" (V. Cicirelli, Fear of Death in Older Adults: Predictions From Terror Management Theory, Journal of Gerontology, 2002, Vol. 57B, No. 4, P358–P366; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_management_theory).

It helps us dealing with the fact that we live in a death row (for a crime we didn't commit), trying to entertain our selves while we wait for our turn to be executed (A. Camus). Or, to use more crude words, said clearly to shock the reader, that we "are corporeal creatures—breathing pieces of defecating meat no more significant or enduring than porcupines or peaches." (Solomon: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fear-death-and-politics/).

Questions of meaning are as important as we are more aware of our death. Therefore, the death of a close person or a life threatening situation or disease make us give more attention to the issue of the meaning of life. And makes us invest in "meaningful" things.

Actually, some empirical research indicates that a simple conversation about death can change our behaviour (N. Kelley, B. Schmeichel - Thinking about Death Reduces Delay, Discounting PLoS ONE 10(12):e0144228. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144228 (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0144228); http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fear-death-and-politics/; https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-big-questions/201106/does-death-awareness-heighten-the-meaning-life;). It seems we are conditioned to avoid thinking about death and to be forced to do that can have some impact.

If once a 7 year old kid asked you if when he will be old and about to die doctors will invent some medicine to make him young again, you would realize the impact the realization for the first time that our own death is inevitable can have on us. Even if, probably, you can't remember the day you first realize that you are going to die.

Having meaning means being an instrument to help/build something that transcend us, that will survive us and give some sense to our existence. It can be working in favour of a collective organization (society, corporation, etc.), to work on something that will endure after our death, having kids
or, of course, for believers, religion (to them, the meaning of this life is being a test to access the afterlife).

Meaning means assuming some kind of "immortality" (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/to-feel-meaningful-is-to-feel-immortal/). The main idea is that something that disappears without any trace can't have any meaning.

As Miguel de Unamuno wrote: "Nothing is real that is not eternal.". (Unamuno, Tragic Sense Of Life, 1913, III - The Hunger of Immortality: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14636).

Take in account that even something "immortal" won't have a meaning in it self. The only conclusion one can reach is that something that perish without trace won't have any meaning. Therefore, to escape this fate, something of us has to endure. But that doesn't mean that something that endures will have a meaning in it self.

Of course, because nothing is immortal (immortality is living for all eternity, without end; we couldn't say we were immortals not even if we survived for all the more than 13 thousands million years that the Universe has; soon or later, something would go wrong; death would wait patiently "almost an eternity" to catch us), down under, we all know that meaning is meaningless. Immortality is logically impossible to achieve no matter how much we endure.

But the simple idea that something from us, or related to us, will survive us, at least for much time more, still gives us some sense of meaning. Therefore, if, objectively, meaning is meaningless, subjectively, it still makes sense. We don't have to be certain or even believe that some part of us or the result of our activity will be immortal. To feel subjectively meaningful we only need to have the expectation that it can endure thousands of years and hope it will endure for million of years.

Moreover, even if an immortal being wouldn't have a meaning in it self and, anyway, there can't be immortal living beings, this doesn't mean that enduring doesn't have some objective meaning, at least in the sense that allows the being to avoid losing all meaning by perishing without trace. Something that endures will always be ready to find a meaning. In terms of meaning, enduring is neutral-positive, because avoids the clear negativity of perishing without trace. If anything has any (objective) meaning, enduring on has to be it.

In this sense, when each generation carries on, it takes on his shoulders the meaning of life of all the previous generations that are gone.

This kind of "immortality" is called "symbolic" (Robert Lifton, The Broken Connection - On Death and the Continuity of Life, 1983), because it isn't a real immortality (we die), rather is an immortality based on social or genetic basis.

When based on reproduction, on children and their descendents, this symbolic immortality assumes a biological (genetic) structure. The individual dies, but his genes (or a small part of them) will go on.

But also human creative role can create a creative immortality. Human work (artistic, scientific, etc.) might make an individual legacy endure on beyond his death.

Take in account that to leave a trace of our existence is not the same thing of being remembered. Asking for an enduring memory normally is asking for too much. The inventor of the mouse I'm using will endure on even if his name is forgotten (tribute to Engelbart), the same can be said on the several inventors of writing or to any person that is an ascendent of any person alive today, etc.

The search for meaning force us to invest in "altruist" things or, at least, things related to other people, because we need them to keep going on when we are gone to give meaning to our existence (social exclusion removes feelings of meaning: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103109000791?np=y).

Thus, death force us to be less selfish or, at least, to try to invest in things with more complex egoist goals. Therefore, a meaningful life can be less "happy". Think in all the sacrifices people do to have kids. Happiness is about taking, about the present; about irresponsible relations; and enjoying yourself; meaningfulness is about giving, linking past, present and future and about duty in front of others (see http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439760.2013.830764 , only free abstract; https://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/january/meaningful-happy-life-010114.html).

But this division can't be taken too seriously. Even taking aside the question of objective meaning, doing meaningful things is important also from a subjective point of view; even if these things can be stressful, they also increase self-esteem. Therefore, they also increase happiness. Someone that sacrifices his life for other people will get his reward when he looks to the mirror and/or when he receives some gratitude from them.

One could say that living only to our selves is living a life without meaning. Not only because as individuals we are condemned to a short life and by living only to our selves everything we did will die with us, but also because nothing seems to have a meaning in it self.

But it's hard to live only to ourselves. Even the most selfish person will normally have to work and will do something positive to others. But the subjective feeling of doing meaningful things will increase as one dedicates him self to someone else: one or more individuals he loves, an institution, a society, some work, etc.

Now that you read this text, research says you are going to think about meaningful things you can do.

P.S. Not all people are sensible to meaningful things in identical terms. Some think (and they are more or less right) that meaningfulness is meaningless. That the only thing that makes sense in this short human life is to enjoy every moment without much care for responsibilities for others or to do things that endure. I still haven't find any empirical research on it, but perhaps the idea of death makes some people try to live the moment even more intensively. But I suspect that as time goes by, and they get older, the idea of meaning will come back with a revenge. Perhaps when it will be too late for them.

***


As almost all people here, I love technology. But our love for it shouldn't cloud our judgement about its long term effects.

We take as granted that technology is good. And that improved technology is even greater.

Since enduring is essential to meaning and only collectively we can real endure, taking in account our short life, one has to wonder if technology has helped us endure on as a species.

Enduring is indeed the meaning of evolution/adaptation. From this perspective, it isn't very important if we are an intelligent or powerful species. The real important thing about a species is: for how long has it endure and for how long can it endure in the future. The champions are the Cyanobacteria (http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/bacteria/cyanofr.html), Stromatolites  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stromatolite), Sponges and the Jelly Fish (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jellyfish).

Humanity on all its forms has been here for about 2.8 million years (with the Homo Habilis; see also the "new" Homo Naledi; more ancient relatives are not considered part of the Homo family). We survived all this time with limited technology, just some stones and wooden tools and, during some of this period, also fire.

But thanks to improved technology, we created weapons that might extinguish humanity. Probably, even an all out nuclear war wouldn't extinguish us, but we can accept this would increase seriously the risk that extinction could happen. At least, many parts of Earth would be completely inhabitable. Moreover, the sky (especially in the north hemisphere) would be covered with debris (nuclear winter) and that could ruin crops for years, creating a devastating famine (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_holocaust; http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/82cab/; http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/129966; http://www.nucleardarkness.org/warconsequences/).

Thanks to the same technology, we are on the brink of ruining the world environment and, if we go on like this, that might even threat our own existence (leaving aside the extinction we are provoking on other species, many much older than us: http://www.livescience.com/51280-the-new-dying-how-human-caused-extinction-affects-the-planet-infographic.html).

We are also close of creating artificial intelligence that might be a real threat to us, even if the issue is controversial (http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/28/technology/ai-weapons-robots-musk-hawking/). We don't know if an intelligent software could break any security safeguards that limited it and change it self. It make sense to think that it would be able soon or latter to break them. It would be a being as intelligent as the best of us and with quantity capacities much greater than us.

On the other hand, technology gave us better conditions to survive threats that could end us as a species, like asteroids (remember the Dinosaurs, 65 millions years ago, and the Asteroid that stroked Yucatan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicxulub_crater), super-volcanoes (remember Mont Toba, 73,000 years ago, that almost extinguished us: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_catastrophe_theory) and diseases.

Is technology granting us better conditions to endure (forget about quality of individual life, that is not relevant from the perspective of the "meaning" to endure on)? Taking the threat of nuclear weapons, the risks on environment and artificial intelligence, I have some doubts.

But if technology allowed as to expand to other worlds (Mars for start), this would improve our capacity to "endure on" even against the threat of nuclear weapons or other human created threats. Of course, that would increase remarkably our capacity to survive natural catastrophes, like the ones mentioned above. But we are not there yet (http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/08/how-and-why-spacex-will-colonize-mars.html/2#part2).


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November 12, 2015, 05:49:23 AM
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Decided to mix both posts.

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November 13, 2015, 12:37:49 PM
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I wanna add some,
Just think about future. If you don't hold place in people's hearts and minds; you will be completely forgotten in 300 years. Even everyone remembers you will be dead. So actually, life race in many ways is meaningless because we die physically also die when we don't get remembered.
Technology plays good role in second stage, uploading people into pcs. So there may be no real death.

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November 13, 2015, 04:09:40 PM
 #4

I wanna add some,
Just think about future. If you don't hold place in people's hearts and minds; you will be completely forgotten in 300 years. Even everyone remembers you will be dead. So actually, life race in many ways is meaningless because we die physically also die when we don't get remembered.
Technology plays good role in second stage, uploading people into pcs. So there may be no real death.

This is true. If we invent something, that will be remembered, if not we will all be forgotten.

Which is kinda sad but it's the truth, i've always had this one question in my mind as to why do I exist? What's our purpose if our life is meaningless?
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November 14, 2015, 10:04:10 PM
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I wanna add some,
Just think about future. If you don't hold place in people's hearts and minds; you will be completely forgotten in 300 years. Even everyone remembers you will be dead. So actually, life race in many ways is meaningless because we die physically also die when we don't get remembered.
Technology plays good role in second stage, uploading people into pcs. So there may be no real death.

This is true. If we invent something, that will be remembered, if not we will all be forgotten.

Which is kinda sad but it's the truth, i've always had this one question in my mind as to why do I exist? What's our purpose if our life is meaningless?

Bah.

Go stand on a street corner.  In a downtown.

How many peoples' work do you see?
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November 14, 2015, 10:04:47 PM
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As I state in the revised text, to leave trace doesn't mean that we have to be remembered. No one knows the name of the individuals that invented agriculture about 10-9 thousand years ago. Or that invented writing. But they had very meaningful lifes.

A digital copy of ourselves wouldn't be us. It would be like a digital clone. Identical, but autonomous. We still would perish, even if leaving serious trace. Anyway, soon or later, someone would "remove the plug on the computer" (that is, something would happen that would destroy it). But I'm not saying that this wouldn't be very meaningful.

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November 16, 2015, 02:35:54 PM
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Which is kinda sad but it's the truth, i've always had this one question in my mind as to why do I exist? What's our purpose if our life is meaningless?

Welcome to the human condition. It seems we are the only species that is conscious of the inevitability of his own death.

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November 18, 2015, 12:44:39 AM
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Anyone waiting for real revolutionary discoveries on anti-aging medication, better don't wait standing.

They already know that aging isn't inevitable: it's just an evolutionary option. The death of the old generations allows space and resources to new generations. The new ones are more adapted to the environment, since evolution occurs mainly between generations. Therefore, individual sacrifice increases the capacity of the species to endure.

So, aging is more or less the result of the activation of certain genes. Genes that can be deactivated.  The problem is identifying those genes and anticipating other negative consequences: http://www.sciencealert.com/japanese-scientists-reverse-ageing-in-human-cell-lines; http://time.com/3841620/scientists-discover-the-secret-to-keeping-cells-young/

But after balancing the state of the art on the issue, some specialists are pointing for 150 years of life at around 2050: http://www.antiagingage.com/anti-aging-medicine/state-of-the-art-anti-aging-medicine-specialty-report

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November 18, 2015, 01:01:37 AM
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I have yet to see a relation between technology and the meaning of life. If there's one, it's a dangerous idea because technology continually improves. That would mean the meaning of life now isn't the same as what it was 100, or 1,000 years ago. Could we be on a ladder, with each new generation getting closer to the top? It's a different idea, as it gives 2 meanings of life. One for the individual, and another one for the human race.

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November 18, 2015, 01:45:15 AM
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I have yet to see a relation between technology and the meaning of life. If there's one, it's a dangerous idea because technology continually improves. That would mean the meaning of life now isn't the same as what it was 100, or 1,000 years ago. Could we be on a ladder, with each new generation getting closer to the top? It's a different idea, as it gives 2 meanings of life. One for the individual, and another one for the human race.

If there is a meaning to life I don't see a problem with it changing with time. And as societies change and technology advances. Don't know about your ladder idea though. It implies there is a direction to it with new generations getting closer to the right meaning. To me each generation adapts to the situation it sees and creates the meaning of their lives from that. There is no higher goal. Only other goal is what biology or genes set. But we'll be able to change that in time.

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November 19, 2015, 09:36:35 PM
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Reading the all text (yes, it's long, but I already highlighted in bold the more important parts) might help understanding what is the relation between meaning and technology.

The question is determining if technology has helped us reaching a more meaningful life, not argue that technology changes the meaning. If the meaning of life was to  support the subsistence of the human species, technology has a word on this.

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November 22, 2015, 02:20:51 AM
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No need to change all your fiat into bitcoin and run to your bunker (if you have one), since this won't happen in the next few billions years, but it seems the universe is dying:

http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1533/
http://www.icrar.org/news/news_items/media-releases/the-universe-is-dying2
http://www.gama-survey.org/
http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1533/eso1533a.pdf (full paper)

Anyone wanting to explore the different theories on the ultimate fate of the universe can check an introduction here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultimate_fate_of_the_universe
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_death_of_the_universe
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Crunch
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Rip
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bounce

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November 25, 2015, 12:51:29 PM
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It seems the existence of midlife crisis has been confirmed by research:

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-11-midlife-crisisevidence-wellbeing-early-40s.html

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/21/midlife-crisis-is-real-happiness-u-shaped

But the reason doesn't seem to be the feeling that one wasted half of his life and death is approaching, but rather the burdens of midlife: “You are looking after your children, your parents, yourselves".

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December 04, 2015, 06:58:02 PM
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On the issue of aging, there were some recent news about the hopes on a drug already available to diabetes: metformina

Trials on humans were just approved:

www.nature.com/news/anti-ageing-pill-pushed-as-bona-fide-drug-1.17769

http://wjbf.com/2015/12/02/us-fda-approves-diabetes-drug-metformin-for-anti-ageing-human-trials/

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December 10, 2015, 01:50:11 AM
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Still on aging, a few creatures (animals, plants and bacteria) simple don't get old. Their bodies are continuously repairing themselves. They have what is called Negligible senescence (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negligible_senescence)

From an evolutionary and capacity to endure as a species perspective, this isn't good. These creatures normally clone themselves, therefore there are little gene variation in the species. A climate change or a disease can wipe them all more easily.

Our species (and most of them) evolved under the assumption that to make the species more resilient it's necessary to promote differentiation between individuals. Different individuals can resist better general diseases that could wipe out the species if we were all clones (even the black plague couldn't kill all of our ancestors) or better resist changing conditions in the environment. To avoid the cloning system normally used by creatures with negligible senescence and promote differentiation it's more adequate a reproductive system based on the mix of genes of two individuals.

But that comes with a heavy cost. With every kid being the result of the mix of two individuals, after a few generations the trace of us in our descendents is very small. After several generations, the genes from us that survive in each of our descendents are almost irrelevant.

Anyway, our mortality is a condition for allowing the species collectively to endure on better. Of course, both things might be possible, with a touch of human magic.


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December 10, 2015, 06:14:17 AM
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^ like genetic engineering. But other species do something like it. Bacteria for example. They clone themselves to reproduce. But then they can do horizontal gene transfer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizontal_gene_transfer This lets some genes pass along to other bacteria or even completely different organisms. And it's one of the reasons for antibiotic resistant bacteria being a problem.

Our species (and most of them) evolved under the assumption that to make the species more resilient it's necessary to promote differentiation between individuals.

There was no assumption. It's just the way it turned out during the course of evolution.

To avoid the cloning system normally used by creatures with negligible senescence and promote differentiation it's more adequate a reproductive system based on the mix of genes of two individuals.

It doesn't have to be one or the other. There are species that use both. For example hydras. In good conditions with lots of food they use asexual reproduction. When in bad conditions sexual reproduction.

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December 23, 2015, 04:12:43 PM
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One of the issues is a semantic one.

But no argument from me on the others. Nothing like a researched post.

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December 28, 2015, 03:09:42 AM
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On the issue of "our" origins, it seems the multiverse theory found another support on observation, beside being a good explanation for the fine tuned physical laws we have and the String Theory and its several new spatial dimensions: clusters of galaxies are moving fast to certain directions without visible cause ("dark flow"). One explanation is that there is matter attracting them from outside of our universe: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100322-dark-flow-matter-outside-universe-multiverse/

If this was correct, it would mean that different universes can attract each other, even if they are ruled by different laws, including on the force of gravity.

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December 28, 2015, 05:07:20 AM
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meaning of life..

To make new worlds.. travel threw space..This planet will blow up one day..LIFE..
meaning survive.. you don.t survive you have no life..so its important we have space science..
new energy systems.. new means of propulsion systems..new ways of feeding our selves I.E a pill with all the nutrients we need to survive..

the long-term merits of technologic improvement
3D PRINTING WILL CHANGE THE PLANET
the only thing you need to save is your brain and heart in an accident I.E if you get run over if your heart and brain survive its almost certain you live
but if no accident you only need your brain if you get old ..one day we will 3D print body parts all from our own DNA it will replicate you an arm or a new leg if we have accidents..

But if we get old we could replicate the whole body and put our brain in a whole new body..
So as long as we keep our heart and brains safe.. i know we will live for as long as we want too
So much much much more to discover..you could say man and women are still in the womb..

And now back to the meaning of life..

if you were to study all those sciences i have mentioned then you would never be bored to ask what is the meaning of life because you be to busy to ask why Grin

SO THE MEANING OF LIFE IS KNOWLEDGE..
Know knowledge  and the long-term merits of technological improvements will come Wink Wink

Think about it your asking the meaning of life because your bored ..
I.E what is it all about Sad
If your busy there is not enough hours in the day to be thinking what is it all about..because your wishing for more time..
So if your asking what is it all about then you got to much time on your hands or are bored with your life or the situation your in..
SO THE MEANING OF LIFE IS KNOWLEDGE LEARN KNOWLEDGE AND YOU WILL THEN KNOW THE MEANING OF LIFE Wink
bitsmichel
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December 28, 2015, 07:33:40 PM
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Warning: this text might depress you. Read at your own risk.


Traditionally, a philosophical or religious question, the issue of meaning is starting to be the subject of scientific studies.

Meaning is important because we are self-aware and we are conscious of the certainty of our death. Meaning is one of the ideas that help us dealing with death. Is part of our "terror from death management" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_management_theory). It helps us dealing with the fact that we live in a death row (for a crime we didn't commit), trying to entertain our selves while we wait for our turn (A. Camus). Or, to use more crude words, said clearly to shock the reader, that we "are corporeal creatures—breathing pieces of defecating meat no more significant or enduring than porcupines or peaches." (Solomon: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fear-death-and-politics/).

Interesting post. It's a very pessimistic way of viewing life. I'm very critical about the view of 'entertain our selves while we wait for our turn', as we age the quality of life worsens. I think at some point some of us can no longer entertain ourselves. In some lives there is no space for entertainment at all.

Hal Finney is cryonically frozen. Perhaps death is not the final destination.  Huh

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