"Denial of Death" and depression
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27-08-2011, 11:04 AM
 
"Denial of Death" and depression
I read a summary of 'The Denial of Death' book by Ernest Becker (The book awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1974) yesterday. Some info. here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Denial_of_Death

Although I haven't read the book yet, has anyone here have any thoughts as to the idea of Denial of death and how it is at play in our everyday lives?

One idea being, we are the only species acutely aware of our impending death. This is immensely traumatic. We build up defense mechanisms to shelter us from the fact that one day we will no longer exist. Civilization is largely built on these defenses. One way we are able to make this knowledge bearable is by finding something bigger than ourselves to become a part of. Our Communities and our role in humanity as a whole. When our "illusion" breaks down, when we are cast aside or become isolated, we get depressed and think more and more about our own mortality.

I do this myself, as far as thinking about mortality, often. Like many who likely post in here, I largely feel like an outsider and always have. I'm prone to depression. The idea that this can largely be tied in with a lack of defenses (one, being an Atheist) against the idea of non-existence, interests me.

From The Atman project by Ken Wilbur: "...That is, there is nothing the separate self can do to actually get rid of death terror, since the separate self is that death terror—they come into existence together and they only disappear together. The only thing the separate self can do with death is deny it, repress it, dilute it, or otherwise hide it. Only in the super-conscious All, in actual transcendence, is the death terror uprooted, because the separate self is uprooted as well."

This seems to summarize some of the Buddhist philosophy that come into play with this idea. Which I admittedly haven't really explored in any depth.

I have issues with the idea that there is a "super-conscious", I really hate the word (and I hate the word transcendence, too). At the same time I understand why it's sometimes used. Maybe for lack of better word(s). I see consciousness (any way we can define it) as being confined to the human brain. If we cease to be ourselves. If our memories are no longer, our thoughts no longer, and our emotions no longer. Then it is the same as saying we cease to exist. At least this is how I see it. So the idea of a "super-consciousness" I don't see as helping the *human* me become happier or more contented.

I think I'd just like to get some thoughts from others on the subject. How others might see how denial of death has colored their own lives. Perhaps some of you can reflect and share what your defenses are or have been? ---- Thinking as I go... If something is recognized as such a defense, will it's effectiveness as one be somewhat or entirely voided?

Thank you.
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27-08-2011, 03:46 PM (This post was last modified: 27-08-2011 03:56 PM by Peterkin.)
RE: "Denial of Death" and depression
This is a very interesting question. I don't pretend to have answers - not sure anyone has answers that could be applied across the board. But i have more questions, and then maybe a little personal experience.

Q. What's with the North American preoccupation with death as entertainment?
Why all the grisly horror movies and murder stories and war documentaries and gory historical epics? Is it to make death so familiar and mundane that it loses its psychological power? Or to desensitize us to the violence we sponsor abroad and on the streets of our cities; the violence we fear as retribution? Or to promote the illusion that we are in control of death and fear?

Q. What purpose is served by courting death - as in extreme sports and dangerous habits? How is bungee jumping different from surviving a heart attack?

Q. Why do people who know they are close to the end have such a wide variety of attitudes toward death? We know they all spend a good deal of time thinking about it, especially in nursing homes and hospices which exist to facilitate dying. Some keep denying to the end; some are serene, some are terrified or despondent, some philosophical; have deep regrets or none; have plans for an afterlife or not.

My favourite was a patient of my mother's, who used to say, "Don't worry Mrs. X, I'm going to Heaven before you. I'll bake an apple pie for Saint Peter to give you specially nice reception."

Personal defenses: Reflection on a life that's been pretty good, even exceptionally good, in a fortunate period and place, with an excellent partner.
Anticipation of a near future that's so frightening, i'm lucky to escape it.
Determination to control the timing and means of my own exit.
Fantasies (not faith or belief - just story-telling) of a pleasant afterlife.
Mindfulness of all that is good and bright in my remaining sojourn.

It's not the mean god I have trouble with - it's the people who worship a mean god.
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27-08-2011, 04:27 PM
 
RE: "Denial of Death" and depression
Take a look at the thread on Death and Dying

In one of my favorite movies: "The Milagro Beanfield War" an old Mexican wakes up in the morning with a prayer: "Thank you god for letting me live another day!".

You may look at death as liberation: "they can't get me there!"

You may decide that it has been a ride and it is time to get off.

You may decide Life was an opportunity to meet your beloved and have a pact to leave it hand in hand.

You may decide that you finished the maze by figuring out all the answers and get the cheese at the end.

You may decide that it has been a wonderful experience that you don't have to do without.

You may decide that no matter what, you will face the day with the best dignity and serenity you are capable of.

You may decide that you have no real regrets, you have done the best you could do and, if you had to do it again, you would do it exactly the same way again.

You may decide that it was a lot of fun.
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27-08-2011, 04:44 PM
RE: "Denial of Death" and depression
....Or you may decide to start a Bucket List as early as possible, and check off items whenever you get the chance.
Seeing the movie isn't a bad idea, either.

(And i think it's time i stopped typing and got a life myself.)

It's not the mean god I have trouble with - it's the people who worship a mean god.
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27-08-2011, 05:24 PM
RE: "Denial of Death" and depression
(27-08-2011 11:04 AM)HarleyQuinn Wrote:  One idea being, we are the only species acutely aware of our impending death. This is immensely traumatic.

I think one of the lessons we're supposed to learn is that this is not traumatic. This is liberating.

(27-08-2011 04:27 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  You may look at death as liberation: "they can't get me there!"
You may decide that it has been a ride and it is time to get off.
You may decide Life was an opportunity to meet your beloved and have a pact to leave it hand in hand.
You may decide that you finished the maze by figuring out all the answers and get the cheese at the end.
You may decide that it has been a wonderful experience that you don't have to do without.
You may decide that no matter what, you will face the day with the best dignity and serenity you are capable of.
You may decide that you have no real regrets, you have done the best you could do and, if you had to do it again, you would do it exactly the same way again.
You may decide that it was a lot of fun.

Nice Zatamon. You may find yourself ...

I am us and we is me. ... bitches.
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27-08-2011, 06:41 PM
RE: "Denial of Death" and depression
Just wanted to say that my daughters name is Harley-Quinn. Smile

"I think of myself as an intelligent, sensitive human being with the soul of a clown which always forces me to blow it at the most important moments." -Jim Morrison
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29-08-2011, 01:41 PM
RE: "Denial of Death" and depression
I view death as an engineering problem in urgent need of solutions. I've had arrangements for my own cryonic suspension since 1990, for example, despite the currently unsatisfactory state of the cryonics movement. Basically cryonicists want to turn death from a permanent off-state into a temporary off-state.

Of course Beckerists will probably dismiss cryonics as another example of "denial." But efforts to solve every hard problem, like capping BP's oil gusher in the Gulf, or the rescue of those trapped miners in Chile, can seem like "denial" until someone finds a solution which works.
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29-08-2011, 04:33 PM
RE: "Denial of Death" and depression
I wonder how enthusiastically the future will welcome corpsicles. Today, one defrosted caveman would be hailed as a scientific boon... a dozen would start appearing redundant... but thousands, tens of thousands?

More to the point on the depression issue, i really don't think denial of death is a major cause. There are so many types of depression, and so much else going on that could trigger depression, especially if the subject has a genetic predisposition. So much that's obscure and variable. Still early days in diagnosis and treatment, and a great deal of work left to do on aetiology; environmental, chemical, dietetic, social and familial factors.
On a personal note: intelligent, sensitive people generally feel like outsiders. You can regret it or take a hard look at what you're outside of and wear it proudly. Having done both, i recommend the second. Besides, think of all the sub-groups in this society that are regarded - en masse; millions! - as outsiders, and many of those people find a community where they fit comfortably. Things change. Remember Laurence of Arabia: "Nothing is written."

It's not the mean god I have trouble with - it's the people who worship a mean god.
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29-08-2011, 05:19 PM
 
RE: "Denial of Death" and depression
(29-08-2011 04:33 PM)Peterkin Wrote:  Remember Laurence of Arabia: "Nothing is written."

My favourite line from that movie is when Laurence is asked by his Arab guide: "Why do you like the desert?"

His answer: "It is clean"!

I f this isn't a sobering statement of the human condition, I don't know what is.
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29-08-2011, 06:49 PM
RE: "Denial of Death" and depression
(27-08-2011 11:04 AM)HarleyQuinn Wrote:  I read a summary of 'The Denial of Death' book by Ernest Becker (The book awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1974) yesterday. Some info. here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Denial_of_Death

Although I haven't read the book yet, has anyone here have any thoughts as to the idea of Denial of death and how it is at play in our everyday lives?

One idea being, we are the only species acutely aware of our impending death. This is immensely traumatic. We build up defense mechanisms to shelter us from the fact that one day we will no longer exist. Civilization is largely built on these defenses. One way we are able to make this knowledge bearable is by finding something bigger than ourselves to become a part of. Our Communities and our role in humanity as a whole. When our "illusion" breaks down, when we are cast aside or become isolated, we get depressed and think more and more about our own mortality.

I do this myself, as far as thinking about mortality, often. Like many who likely post in here, I largely feel like an outsider and always have. I'm prone to depression. The idea that this can largely be tied in with a lack of defenses (one, being an Atheist) against the idea of non-existence, interests me.

From The Atman project by Ken Wilbur: "...That is, there is nothing the separate self can do to actually get rid of death terror, since the separate self is that death terror—they come into existence together and they only disappear together. The only thing the separate self can do with death is deny it, repress it, dilute it, or otherwise hide it. Only in the super-conscious All, in actual transcendence, is the death terror uprooted, because the separate self is uprooted as well."

This seems to summarize some of the Buddhist philosophy that come into play with this idea. Which I admittedly haven't really explored in any depth.

I have issues with the idea that there is a "super-conscious", I really hate the word (and I hate the word transcendence, too). At the same time I understand why it's sometimes used. Maybe for lack of better word(s). I see consciousness (any way we can define it) as being confined to the human brain. If we cease to be ourselves. If our memories are no longer, our thoughts no longer, and our emotions no longer. Then it is the same as saying we cease to exist. At least this is how I see it. So the idea of a "super-consciousness" I don't see as helping the *human* me become happier or more contented.

I think I'd just like to get some thoughts from others on the subject. How others might see how denial of death has colored their own lives. Perhaps some of you can reflect and share what your defenses are or have been? ---- Thinking as I go... If something is recognized as such a defense, will it's effectiveness as one be somewhat or entirely voided?

Thank you.

Death seems logically one of two things: extinction or continuation.
But what of the Hindu notion of Reincarnation? Sadly this doctrine tends to confuse the issue even more. Our specific human experience is all that we can relate to unless, via reincarnation, we encounter numerous further lives in order that the soul or monad learns moral lessons relating to the Universe.
From babyhood to Alzheimers "we" are in a state of perpetual flux. From a cosmic perspective this is really what reincarnation suggests is the case with our soul.
Onward evermore (Buddhist) as part of Infinity or eventually reaching Nirvana (Hindu) which is often described as freedom from pleasure and pain.
If we can rid ourselves of our adherence to the "me", "us" "we" past and now things perhaps Buddhism is worthy of some consideration.Huh
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