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Love and Death

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

J and C were a very youthful couple, somewhere in their mid-seventies, who used to come visit my 80-something landlady every week. First they came for her Spanish lessons. Then they came to socialize. As they crossed through my patio garden to get to the stairs leading up to my landlady's abode, I had various opportunities to chat with them. The blooms in my garden, combined with my flowery personality, secured me a dinner invitation. At the time they were renting a lovely apartment quite a way up the hill. Dinner was delicious, a four-course southern Indian affair. They were very well travelled. That was a year ago. Almost a month ago, I received an email from J, who is a Buddhist. This article is my response.

Dear J,
Thank you for your beautiful email letting me know about C's passing. I read it with great sadness. It was obvious to all who knew her that C was a strong, intelligent, original person. I was charmed. I hope she didn't suffer.

Please excuse the tardiness of my reply. At first, I put off responding until I had a moment to do so more thoughtfully. But then I realized that I was just putting it off. What can one say about such a loss, especially when it is recent? The rabbis advise that you should not try to comfort a mourner when his dead is still before him. There is a time to grieve.

A story is told about two Zen masters who get together very shortly after one has lost his wife. His friend chastises the widower for his cheerful demeanor: "You just lost your wife, and you are smiling and laughing?!" A cloud comes over the widower. He cries real tears, genuinely lamenting his loss for a couple of minutes. Then he cheers up, smiling and laughing again.

I myself need some comforting when it comes to thinking about death. Nothing affects our attitutude towards life as much as our attitude towards death, no? Philosopher that you are, I'm not sure that you need any comforting, but if you find any comfort in the following, I'm glad.

The kabbalists assert that in a very important way, the dead can be with us more than they could while they were living. The spirit, or life force, is more available when it is not limited by the body. This I myself experienced when my father died. I felt a transference. I inherited, or took on, a mantle of his. Something of him became me. I hope that something of C's spirit becomes more fully yours.

Well and good, philosophically, but still it's hard to be without her, without her physical presence. I think it was Niels Bohr who said that every profound truth contains an opposite, equally profound truth.

The most poetic line I ever wrote was in Spanish. I had a pair of patients, who were good friends with each other. One, a woman who worked with the blind, was a member of the Spanish royal line. The other was a Cuban Catholic priest, whose work was mostly with the poor. I wrote the line for her when he died: "El cielo es más rico, pero el mundo llora." Heaven is richer, but the Earth cries.

Iain McGilchrist (The Master and His Emissary, The Matter With Things) claims that our modern world is living under the impoverishing domination of our left brain. I haven't read his books, but I have listened very attentively to hours of interviews with McGilchrist, some more than once. In the broadest terms, it comes down to Nothing or All. You believe that there is no purpose, meaning or continuance to life, which is to say, no abiding consciousness, or you believe that awareness is all, or at least all important.

McGilchist uses many thousands of pages to note how science and scientists themselves favor the latter point of view. One supporting point he musters is that since the Nobel Prize was initiated, 95 percent of laureates in physics were neither atheistic nor agnostic. The people who know the most about the design of the material world are most open to it having been designed. It's all so mathematical and precise, and we are designed to understand it, and it did not have to be so.

There are a lot of reasons to believe that behind the material of existence there is a Cosmic Mind. Perhaps most convincing among them is the fine-tuning of the universe. Gravity, electromagnetism, the nuclear strong and weak forces, the force of the Big Bang and some twenty other cosmic forces are all so finely tuned that the odds are 600 billion to one against their being so. Voilà, the materialists, those who insist that all is random nothingness, invent the Multiverse. The Multiverse posits the existence of 600 billion other universes. In each of these 600 billion other universes things are not so lucky; the cosmic forces are not tuned properly and there all is nothing, or only hydrogen. Thus, according to the materialists, our ideal universe could have come about randomly. Of course, the Multiverse says nothing about where these universes are and does not address the need for a common universe generating mechanism.

Listening to an interview with McGilchrist, the other day, I came across a word that was new to me, and a new concession that materialists now make to meaning and purpose. Noophilia, consciousness-loving, is the tendency that the universe has to form intelligence. Note that once you speak of the universe having a tendency, you are denying that it is a random affair. A tendency is the definition of purpose, intention and design. Why then does materialistic science make this concession to non-materialism?

In science, consciousness is the Hard Problem. It's intuitively obvious that, without a lot of help, you can't get from stupid molecules randomly bumping into each other to consciousness. You can't get consciousness from a stone. Voilà, Panpsychicism, a respected scientifically theory thought up to soften the Hard Problem, to bypass the problem of how you get a rock to think. Panpsychism proposes that consciousness is universal; that mind just exists, like gravity or electromagnetism; that it hasn't evolved from non-intelligence; that it is not derived from anything else.

I take it a step further: why does this universal consciousness need to be a random, unorganized phenomenon, as science implies it is outside of human beings and a few other social animals? If you were universal consciousness, wouldn't you get it together? It is a very short step from mind as a universal to a Universal Mind. And Universal Mind is only a less controversial way of speaking about God. Maybe not a personal Christian or Jewish God, but a Buddhist One.

All of this is to say that I don't think something as elegant as our consciousness just disappears when we die, or get Alzheimer's. Nature does not waste such precious creations.

I understand that Buddhists believe in a universal Mind, but not so much in a personal soul. I'm not sure what you believe, or what I believe. But I find it easy to imagine that our personal, independent existence is like a drop of the ocean thrown up into the air by two waves colliding. That is, our personal soul, or consciousness, exists only for those moments when that ocean spume is airborne. Death would be the falling back of that personal drop into the ocean. Then, the water in the drop merges with all the water in the sea; molecules that were once held together by the surface tension of the airborne drop of personhood, now spreading out independently, no longer in association.

Even if this Buddhist, impersonal view of existence is so, I would contend that "we" affect the consciousness of "our" drop. And, further, I contend that the consciousness of our drop affects the ocean of consciousness into which it merges. Even without personhood, perhaps particularly without personhood, there is meaning.

My father was the eldest of five children, four boys and the youngest, a girl. The night before my 84-year-old father died, he came in a dream to my aunt, his sister, to announce his passing. When I told my sister this, she told me matter-of-factly, "He came to me, too." If Dad were to tell anyone he was leaving, it would have been his sister and mine, the two women in the world for whom he had the most affection.

(Years earlier, visiting the morning after my daughter was born, beaming, he told me, "To make a boy... But to make a girl!" As one of his boys, I felt a little awkward hearing that making a girl was so much finer an accomplishment, but that was Dad.)

Iain McGilchrist used the word biophilic, life-loving, in conjunction with the word noophilic: "The universe is noophilic and biophilic." Biophilic refers to what scientists now believe is the universe's tendency to form life. They believe in this universal purpose and intention because the four billion years of the Earth's existence is many times short of what is needed for blind evolution to fashion life as it exists. There are many other recognized difficulties with life forming on its own. Prominent among them is the great variety of life forms that suddenly appeared, as opposed to gradually evolving, during the Cambrian Explosion.

To name only two other principal examples, random mutation and natural selection cannot account for the transformation of a land-living mammal into a whale in the seven million years the fossil record allows for the process (or even if you gave it 70 million years). Nor can the processes of evolution account for the changes between us and the chimps since our common ancestor lived five million years ago. What is needed is a biophilic, a life-loving universe helping the process.

McGilchrist asserts that our reductionist, decontextualizing, fragmenting, over-simplified left hemisphere having grabbed the intellectual reins of society, culture has entered a meaningless hell, a war of all against all.

I have wrestled with all of this all of my life, battling between the nothingness of materialism and the meaningfulness of life. Recently, I have declared victory against the blank horror of what is commonly taken to be the scientific point of view.

Science itself needs a more inclusive perspective. Fortunately, also recently, it is coming to celebrate, the primacy of the right brain's perspective, a consciousness that includes beauty, harmony and goodness. This holistic vision not only makes life more worth living, it informs us how to better live. Scientific studies concur, with social belonging, nature and meaning we lead longer, better lives.

These are qualities that C embodied in her life. And with this long-winded meditation on Nothing vs All I hope to affirm that C's contribution to the betterment of life lives on beyond the life of her body; this not only in the hearts and minds of those of us that knew her, but in a universal way.

I remember C leisurely making her way through my garden, an eye for every plant, cooing over the flowers. Just now, writing this, I notice some movement out of the corner of my eye in the garden. At first glance I think it is a drop of the watering I just performed dropping onto a lower leaf and moving it. Looking again, I see it is a hummingbird leisurely making its way through the flowers. There is a magic to this world. Just now, something of C's spirit becomes more fully mine.


Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.

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