Reflecting on Death//May 2018

 

The following started as an attempt on writing a more analytical evaluation of “death”, and how our attitudes towards death affects how we view the meaning of life. 

The reality is it was overwhelming for me to do in a short essay. Death is immensely complicated. Perhaps more accurately, it seems like our attitudes towards death is complicated. So I scrapped that for now and wanted to start from my own experiences first, reflect a bit on how death affected my thinking about my life. Blog is a good place to output that.

How do you see life when you know you’re going to die?

A Story

I’ll never forget the day one of my closest friends and I ran through our community college campus to find the ambulance that would wheel away a student who had fainted in class. 

We were in anatomy class. On this day we had a dissection presentation by the professor using that semester’s human cadaver. 

Everyone showed up that day. He directed us to move to the back of the classroom, next to the storage facility. My professor wheeled in a covered cadaver cart. There was an odd tension in the room. To call it anticipation would seem insensitive, but there was an awareness we were about to confront something unknown. For the majority of us this would be the first time seeing a dead body in person. 

Our professor spent some time reminding us to be respectful…there would be no photography or videography allowed…Remember this was once a living person…His last wish was to be donated for the purposes of education…we should all respect that. 

He looked around, seeing we were all quiet and focused, he was satisfied his point was received and uncovered the cart. 

Male, in his 40’s, died of heart complications. 

I was positioned near the cadavers face. He had died relatively recently. He was in good shape, at least as a cadaver. It was a surreal moment. If you just looked at his face, he didn’t look as though he were dead. My mom-who went through medical school in Poland-would tell me stories about old bodies they would have to dissect for her human anatomy course. This was not like that. Our cadaver had been preserved pretty quickly after his death. Other than his pale and blueish appearance he looked as though he were asleep. In this way, it was an artificial presentation of death. Medicinal/academic, fascinating, and humbling.

Our professor let us take everything in for a few minutes, but not enough to linger or enter into any ridiculous personal crisis. The anatomy class that was a step above us began the dissection on the leg. It was a very small section exposing muscle tissue. Our professor drew our attention there and we got to it. He discussed the process of human cadaver dissection, while with his gloved hands he gently pulled and pointed out the muscles and nerves that had been exposed.  

We were all extremely focused. And then…

My professor hooked one of the muscles with his fingers when in the corner of my eye I saw movement and what at the time was a startlingly loud thunk. Classmate had passed out. He hit his head pretty hard so we called the paramedics. Realizing they might have a hard time finding where we were, my friend and I began our sprint through the halls of the science building. 

So ended our presentation.

Shortly after everything had settled with what we called the “ER moment”, my friend and I began laughing.

Reflecting 

Though it was sterilized medicinal experience it was a humbling experience. This was one of the many moments that I believe bonded my friend and I. Being confronted with death, being called into action (it was a bit dramatic but we had confronted a dead body). 

As I would soon discover, it put other deaths into perspective. Shortly after, another professor of ours who had a significant impact on me committed suicide. I believe because of my human anatomy experience, I had a profound reaction to it. I knew he was now a body, with no consciousness in it. 

Incidentally, I also have a profound interest in the nature of the universe so I spend a lot of my evenings looking into the night sky, trying to comprehend the seeming infinite and perplexed that we don’t even understand time. That we are here right now seems awesome (in the most profound sense of the word).

Seeing how fragile the light of consciousness was, death had a profound finality to it. To chose to end that light was a heavy decision. I felt a deep sadness that he needed to make that choice, but profound respect that he had chosen that. I still don’t have the words to quite describe what I mean here succinctly, 

From then on, as it goes, death and close calls of loved ones has brushed it’s echoes in my life. Suicide, cancer, heart attack, old age, unknowns…reminding me when I’m most reckless, of both the resiliency and fragility of our own mind and body. Life is very temporary. 

However one thinks of death, whether we continue on or not, many of us can agree that we know our existence ends in some way. 

What this has all meant for me is I’m not sure if there is a meaning to life, whatever that may mean. But when I look at the cosmos and reflect on how strange life is in the cosmic background, how horrible we can make it for each other and how wonderful it can be, I can’t help but feel gratitude that I am here even if there is no “reason” for it. 

I’m not afraid to live life as vulnerably as I can. I love learning the lessons life has to offer. I think the greatest lesson death taught me was to respect my time and to love more openly. I admit when I love someone close to me now. I keep a small circle around me  I love my friends and family. Life is incredibly complex and tough, so I want to make sure they know that they have love. 

Moreover, the Earth and the life we can have here is pretty cool. One day, I won’t be part of it and won’t have the ability to live to work towards that potential. Even if none of this has a reason to it, I want to contribute to making it an amazing experience for us all. The world can be an ugly place. People can do horrible things to one another, but I’d like to make it so that more of us-all of us-can live a happy life. 

This will be an ongoing attempt at clarifying my own thoughts about my own experiences. Additionally, my experiences and how I reflect on them are not generalizable. Still overwhelming to think of trying to do an analysis of death as a whole.

So, TLDR (though you would’ve by now) version is I don’t know what to make of death and life, but I know-that with what it is that I do know-I’m going to try my best to make the most of what I have.

Moreover, there’s a lot of delicious salsas out there to try.

Time

At this very moment, I’m on a quick trip with one of my closest friends. This point in time for me consists of navigating through odd and complicated life crossroads, but I’ve never been so sure of myself. I’ve never been this happy, content, and surrounded by support.

Additionally, these are the last few hours of being 28. Time is an odd beast, and the older I get the more I realize it.

In university, I developed an interest in the nature of time. From a philosophy of language standpoint, indexicals in particular grabbed my attention. I’m really fascinated by how-probably mostly metaphysically- ‘I am here now’ is meaningful.

My very specific interest in philosophy of language found it’s home in philosophy of time, when I had one lonely but incredible course on the philosophy of space and time. It challenged some deeply engrained assumptions I had about how I understand the world around me. Is time real? What would that mean for it to be real (or not)? In what way does it exist? If it doesn’t, how do we make sense of our experience?

I also acknowledge that though it’s fun to play around with ideas, I want to understand the implications of those philosophical conclusions in various real world contexts. It seems fine fun to challenge the reality of time when we think about comfortable scenarios. But what about the uncomfortable ones? Not that those situations should mould our understand of what is, try to force something. However, I tend to think when we only consider the mundane examples, it does just that. It let’s you play with fun abstract ideas, but doesn’t help you get to what the reality is (whatever that may mean).

Currently, I’m beginning to piece together what some physicists have to say about our understanding of time. In essence, they don’t. At least not very well.

Something so seemingly absolutely fundamental to our understanding of our place in the universe-our existence- is so unknown. A mundane thought takes time to experience.

It’s bewildering and exhilarating. To the adventurer in me, it’s a unknown frontier that I want to explore.

So the older I get, the less I understand but in a strange way it’s had the effect that I value my time-whatever that may mean-more than ever, and spending it with the people whom I care for and care for me.

So-here’s to a 29! May it be filled with hygge, exploration, and a lot of love (reciprocated with the people who earn it 😉 ).

I am here now.

Hiking Los Angeles//January 7, 2018

 

Today I went on a hike on my own, which was freeing and relaxing. Though perhaps “on my own” is a generous phrase, as it was a bit busy in some parts of the hike. Thankfully, it’s a tough hike up so by the time I reached the summit of this particular area, it wasn’t so bad. Found my favorite area to be empty so I sat there for some time, recovering and took some photos. It was so serene and quiet, with the trees swaying gently with the wind, leaves rustling quietly, and birds chirping. Such a relief to be out there after a long unfortunate break. Let my mind work through some things and then thought about “silence” as a concept, as I periodically do.  (I’m fun.)

How would you characterize silence? Dictionary definition defines silence as the absence of sound. This seems true enough, though it does not capture the full complexity, meaningfulness, and implications of what silence can be.

When you think of communication, you think of language. We use patterned sounds to get your audience to react and act; those sounds are meaningful. They form languages. Those languages are intended to be used as a common ground standard to communicate thoughts and intentions. Can the absence of sound be meaningful?

First, I think we need to understand what we mean when we use silence? Consider these examples:

On my hike today there were a few moments of what I immediately thought of as blissful silence. But that’s not quite accurate. What I meant was there was an absence of the usual I have in my day-to-day. Can’t quite describe the blissful effect that sort of silence had in my mind.

Maybe you’ve been guilted into baby sitting a child who is prone to severe separation anxiety. When their parents leave, they wail for hours. Nothing you do will stop the child from crying. Finally the parent arrives and whisks their child away, leaving you in total silence. Bliss.

Someone or something (a dog for example) in your day-to-day life has passed away. Their presence and conversation were a source of comfort from the world, but now that they’re gone the silence of your home is cold and overwhelming.

Now contrast those examples of silence with the following:

Say you and your colleague are venting frustrations about your boss. Jarringly, you see your boss appear behind your coworker and you drop silent, signaling to your conversational partner that they ought to stop venting now; a warning.

You are on a date with someone. It’s going well but then your partner signals they want to have sex with you. You say “no”. They hear you, but either because they didn’t understand what you said or understood and didn’t take it seriously, they rape you.

All of these examples collectively begin-and only just- to show the complex nature of silence. The first set were indicating an internal state of mind as a reaction to the environment. The second set were examples of linguistic silence. Silence, perhaps counterintuitively, is both complex and meaningful. The meaningfulness to silence and our reactions to it vary depending on context. In this way, I think “silence” as a concept deserves more attention for study. It’s beautifully intuitive but simultaneously surprisingly layered So though I’m not answering my own question, I’m beginning the process of understanding.

 

Here’s to many more blissful moments of silence.

 

Why Aren’t Women in Philosophy?

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Every few months, I either see or am sent an article about the relationship between women and philosophy. I’m always happy to discuss almost anything- but I’m a little perplexed as to the mystery behind the question; “why aren’t women in philosophy?”.

I should say, I’m not an expert on femaleness. I barely understand my Natasha-ness. But here’s my two cents (I was waiting for a flight so excuse my irritability. Wrote this as a Facebook post but wanted to journal this thought):

It’s a little like a B rated fast food joint-with good food-wondering why it can’t get more female and minority customers…when the online reviews are bad, when the lines are stupidly long, when you’ve been told there’s a good chance you’ll be harassed both in line and if you meet the employees, when you meet good employees but they consistently tell you the wait isn’t worth it unless you really want it, when the cost is expensive, and when you (as a woman or monitory) are told when you get to the front the employees will probably ignore you (intentionally or not) and pick the male customers behind you. On top of that-just for good measure-when you do get your order there’s a good chance you’ll get food poisoning. 

Given that there are other options, most rational people would chose another option…since there are better options. There are a few of us who just really, really like the food. And then there are the women and minorities who really, really, really like the food. And then a lucky few of us who know good people within the field who help us get through the shitty lines.

When your prospects for a decent job after six long years of intensive graduate studies is at best precarious unless you go to a top program, when quite a few talented students from middle class and lower income backgrounds are burdened with crippling student loan debt from undergraduate studies and can’t postpone payments for years (and then MAYBE have a job that can pay that plus living costs), when increasingly the masters route is given as the go to (when a masters in philosophy doesn’t have a lot of value above the undergraduate degree in and of itself AND you have to pay for it), when the mantra seems to be “don’t do it”, when the institution seems to trip over its feet when it’s presented with problems-mostly imo because quite a few of the people within academia have the life skills of a pre-teen (and a lot of the time act like it), and then after dealing with all of that you’re told your work won’t be respected or valued and there’s a good chance you’ll be harassed, just because you’re a minority and/or a woman-what intelligent person, especially from a middle to lower class background, would be rational to chose philosophy when almost anything else would on paper be a better risk for investment in terms time, intellect, economic prosperity, and frankly personal safety.
Philosophy is a privilege at its best, and at its worst like a bad retirement home.

But no, you’re right. I have no clue why philosophy can’t get more quality people. The mystery persists.

 

On the painting: I’m learning to watercolor. The painting included is a painting I worked on during a trip. Amateur, but I’m having a lot of fun with it.

 

-Natasha Haddal

Book Review: What Love Is and What It Could Be by Carrie Jenkins

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This won’t be a review so much as a personal musing prompted by the book. I could go on at length-and I may edit this post probably as time goes on. It’ll be a development of thought rather than a final thought. There’s a lot to discuss, plenty I probably have missed with this first pass. I wanted to start something though because I think-like Jenkins-that this topic has been sadly neglected by the philosophical community. In short, I highly recommend this book not only as an introduction in to the philosophy of love, but in to philosophy itself. It’s rare to find a text that has combined intellectual humility, rigor, and accessibility.

On to the musing:

I finished What Love Is and What It Could Be, by Carrie Jenkins about two weeks ago, thinking about how I wanted to approach talking about this-whether it be from a philosophical or a personal standpoint. Ultimately, this will be a personal reflection on a point or two that I’ve picked up. The book is rich with interesting ideas that I think I could write on about but for the sake of this post, I’ll just pick a couple of points.

Philosophically, it has a few new-to-me conceptual terms. Amatonormativity perhaps being the principle one; an exclusive, central romantic relationship is regarded as the norm for all and we all seek those relationships.

Carrie has good reason for arguing against this way of thinking-an important one being that she is in a polyamorous relationship. So understandably-being outside of what is considered the “norm”-she would question what then is romantic love and how her experiences fit in to that role.

Carrie Jenkins-Ichikawa argues for an understanding of love that combines a biological and social understanding; biological machinery embodying a social role.

At first blush, this intuitively seems right. She presents great cases (I’m trying not to spoil the book too much). However, it’s left me with more questions than answers. I believe this is because

Coming in to this, I wanted to understand what love is. Using Jenkins understanding, we get a very broad functional definition. We could use this definition-using an example- to explain what language is in a very similar way (biological machinery embodying a social role). So we’re describing the machinery-the input and outputs- but not the machine itself.

This is all fair for Jenkins to do, by the way. I think I agree-I have some more thinking to do. However from a personal standpoint, I want to understand love itself; the love I have for my dog vs. my family and friends vs. a lover is all very different-same, but different. What is that? Why is that? The machinery explains it to some degree, but in what way is the machinery and social roles different than say, language?

So in order to use Jenkin’s work, first course for me was to try and place this within my own experiences:

Personally, I felt vindicated by her defense of those of us who haven’t been in romantically loving relationships. You are often assumed “incomplete”. Do I feel lonely sometimes? Yes. Is it difficult? Sure. However, I have great joy in being alone as well. There are emotional and physical experiences that I’ve had that many people will never be able to experience. That doesn’t-in my eyes-make them incomplete people in my mind. They are simply different. I do hope to be in a romantically loving relationship one day and have the privilege of feeling those wonderful feelings and intimate bond that comes with romantic love. I do however see myself as a wholly rich person. Romantic love does not fill in a person; it enriches one as any experience can.

This lead me to my next question. Though I have never been in a romantically loving relationship, I have been in love-or at least I thought I had been. Without getting in to much detail, I-or at least I believe I had-loved a man. He however didn’t love me back. Nothing to blame him for, I understood perfectly well that it wasn’t anything to be upset about. It happens; love is not always reciprocated. I just happened to develop feelings I had no control over and he didn’t develop the same. Nevertheless, it was a painful experience and surprisingly so. Rationally, I understood that there was nothing to be upset about. That understanding unfortunately was not my compatriot many nights when I felt the burden of pain, which has a way of rehashing old pain and insecurity I thought died long ago. Love I suppose is powerful in that way-it forces you to feel. But, was this love?

From Jenkin’s conceptualization, I’m not sure I get the answers. Moreover, I think we get the mechanism of love, but I’m not sure I understand yet how to understand love itself. If what I experienced is different than romantic love, what about that makes it a different experience than those who have experienced loving relationships? Was it love that I experienced? It’s hard for me to say right now. I do think though that I’ve come out of this understanding how to conceptualize the mechanisms for those feelings.

In short, I’m still left wondering how to understand my own experience. I need to think more about what I’ve read but in doing so, this book achieved what it set out to do; to have a philosophical discussion about love. It sets the groundwork for serious discussions about love that have gotten left behind.

I’ll end with these thoughts:

In Confucianism, concepts like “goodness” are not definable in the abstract sense; it’s a response. We feel it and once we know it, we should bring it out. (The Path by Michael Puett and Chrstine Gross-Loh). Love-I suspect-would be similarly fruitless. Though I appreciate the humility this emphasizes, this approach to it’s full extent is deeply unsatisfying to me on a philosophical level.

A philosophy mentor of mine provided me with this quote-as an answer for a separate question- from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics:

“Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts.”

I think Jenkin’s brings about the best of both world’s here; intellectual humility and clarity of thought upon which to build excellent literature on the topic. From my own standpoint, she gave me the freedom to think about love in a more grounded way, and in my own way. This book brought back an elation to continue this journey. Moreover, as a budding philosopher I’m excited because this isn’t something an armchair will solve.