Mourning The Past
New Cause Area
This is gonna sound really stupid, so don’t take it as a serious thing. This is just me airing some of my personal weirdness and instabilities, because this blog is at least partially a diary.
It’s long been a contention of mine that evolution has killed most of us once, at puberty, and there’s no reason it can’t do it again. This is based on the idea that people are information processes rather than bodies. The values and drives that partially define a person are changed so radically in puberty that the pre-pubescent person cannot be coherently claimed to be the same person as the post-pubescent person. The person you were before puberty is dead—snuffed out and replaced with a new person who is similar in many ways, and significantly different in others.
At least one person has said this seems silly, because no one mourns a death when a child goes through puberty. I was asked if I mourn 8-year-old Eneasz.
The thing is, I do. Not in the way that one would mourn a child that dies unexpectedly. But in the way of someone who falls out of touch with a child, and then learns a decade later that the child died a little bit afterwards. I hate that this person is gone and irretrievable. I hate that their values and experiences and dreams have been extinguished. It feels cruel and unjust and monstrously inhuman that in order for me to be here, they had to be erased.
While this despair was once focused specifically on puberty, I’ve realized that this is simply a consequence of being a mutable consciousness in a universe were time exists. Puberty just highlighted the problem, because it super-accelerated the changes. Even outside of puberty, changes occur and pile up and over time we become different people. The Death Is Bad blog began just over ten years ago, and the person who began writing it is recognizably related to me, but not me. Maybe a brother that I tolerate, sometimes cringing at, sometimes admiring. But a different person, with different ambitions and ideals and drives. He didn’t expect to be dead a decade later.
I try not to think about the past. I am allergic to most forms of nostalgia. It is never a happy feeling. It is always a mourning of the dead. At best it can be an Irish Wake style mourning, where one celebrates and rejoices in the good things that a person was. But it’s impossible to experience that without the pain of loss at the same time. I cannot revisit old places or memories without some level of hurting.
I think that’s why Steve Fever has affected me so much, and stayed with me so long. That flashback scene, wherein the past is recreated and relived in full fidelity… I want something like this to be the case. I don’t want the past to be lost forever. The problem is time. Time destroys everything, and it’s horrifying.
Of course, to be an information process, things must be processing, which requires change over time. People as I know them cannot exist without time existing, so this desire for time to stop is equivalent to a universal holocaust. The transdimensional monument at the end of Egan’s Diaspora isn’t supposed to be a happy ending. It’s as lifeless and empty as any other rock, right?
I also have a particularly poor episodic memory. Sometimes I don’t remember things I did just a few months ago (writing them down helps, a little, but I don’t use this blog nearly as much as I used to). Maybe that’s part of my issue. I don’t feel any internal connection to the past, and instead feel rather unmoored in time. Maybe if I remembered my prior life much more richly and fully I wouldn’t feel like those are different people? But that wouldn’t really solve the problem of everyone else also changing over time and becoming different people.
Which means I’m stuck in a universe where the constant procession of all things being ground into nonexistence is necessary and inevitable, even if we cure aging and make humanity immortal. It’s tragic and it sucks. This sort of thing appears literally unresolvable, so perhaps I just have to accept that life is pain, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something. It’s probably a problem with me that I should find some way to address. The solution of mostly just not looking at it is all I can think of, and it seems suboptimal.
Anyway, yes, I do mourn the loss of the past, and of past people, including myself and people I know who are still around. When I focus on it. Which I try not to. Maybe some day after we’ve rescued the future, we can look back and figure out what we owe to the past (if anything).
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