Thursday, August 15, 2013

ANESTHESIA, DREAMS, DEATH, AND FRUIT FLIES


I don't believe in an afterlife.  Death represents a permanent end to consciousness.  Sometimes people ask me if I therefore fear death, and my answer is, Not at all, but sometimes it makes me a little depressed.  Let me explain.


I have been put under general anesthesic only a few times in my life.  The last time was a few months ago when I underwent one of those C-word procedures that adults need to submit to every several years once they have attained a certain age.  I remember thinking that this time I would stay awake and watch the “show” that the gastroenterologist was directing on a large screen that I could also see from my position lying on my left side with my backside exposed to the world.  The screen was like super HD and extremely bright--we could see every nook and cranny heading from the bottom up.  The problem was that the procedure was getting really uncomfortable and I was starting to make some involuntary noises--let’s call them silent grunts.  After a minute or so, the doctor said something that I didn’t quite catch but knew related to the level of sedation that I was getting from the anesthetist.  The next thing I knew, I was waking up and the whole thing was over.  Once again, I had missed the show.

Now here’s the interesting thing.  I recall just before “going under” and I recall waking up, as if I had simply been asleep, but I also recall that if I had been sleeping then I had not dreamed at all.  Nothing.  And, thinking back, that had been my experience each of the other times that I had been under a general anesthetic.

I do not consider myself to be a sound sleeper.  I usually wake up several times each night and often lie awake for significant stretches of time before falling back to sleep.  And whenever I wake I am aware that I had been dreaming or at least “thinking” about something just before I woke up.  I don’t always remember the content of those dreams, but I always recall the fact that I was dreaming.  The same is true when I wake up in the morning.  Then I usually can recall what I was dreaming, although what might have been vivid initially often fades to nothing within a few seconds.

But each time I have woken from a general anesthetic, I realize that I have not been dreaming at all.  Instead the feeling is that nothing has been going on for the time that I was out.  I wonder if others have had similar experiences.

And that is how I think of death.  I am conscious and then I am not.  I am as if asleep but I am not dreaming, not thinking--a dreamless sleep.  It’s just that I simply will never wake up.  And of course there’s no pain, no anxiety.  I recall a colleague who reported that once when he was on a business trip he suffered what he referred to as a “twisted colon.”  I’m not sure whether that makes sense physiologically, but he said the pain was terrific.  Finally, he checked himself into a hospital and was told that they would need to operate to correct the problem, which they did.  But what I remember best from his story was his remark that the pain was so severe that he could hardly wait for the anesthetic, to be free of the pain.  So it is with death.

In addition to the elimination of any physical pain, death also provides relief from any and all psychological pain, both present and future.  Disappointing and difficult memories--gone.  Dread or depression about the future--gone.  Since I will never know what might occur in the future, all future events are irrelevant.  The sun could suddenly blow up and engulf the earth in flame, charring it to a crisp--wouldn’t matter.  More personally, tragedy could devastate family or friends--wouldn’t matter.  I could be vilified, considered the 21st century’s Hitler, the history of my life sullied for all time, and it wouldn’t matter.  I won’t know.  And I can take some real comfort in that.  But I’m not ready to go yet.  I’m having way too much fun.  Of course, I won't know about good things that will happen either and I feel badly about that.

In addition, I have sometimes become upset by the fact that I am not going to be around long enough to find out the truths of the universe--how it started, how it really works, how it is going to end.  I have been waiting to hear that we had finally figured it all out, knowing inside that that just isn’t going to happen.  I’m not going to be around long enough to find out.  Perhaps no one will.  And that is a bit disheartening.  But then I heard the following little story:

It seems there were two fruit flies, the kind that have only 12-hour lifespans.  One turns to the other and says, “Gee, if only we could live until tomorrow and see how it all turns out.”

© 2013 John M. Phillips

11 comments:

  1. I will never forget this story about the fruit flies! It can be used on so many different levels. I admire your ability to give such a clear cut look at how you view life, death...your worldview in general.

    BTW...I am a big dreamer, and though I do not recall dreaming while under the type of anesthesia given me during any of my "C-word procedures," I found the following report interesting. http://sla-divisions.typepad.com/dbio/2008/07/what-happens-to.html Perhaps you and your readers will find it interesting as well.

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  2. Thanks, Grace, for the reference to the article on dreaming while under anesthesia. It appears that some people report dreaming while under anesthesia while others do not. I guess I fall in the second category.

    Thanks, also, for your comments on my post generally. I have been enjoying expressing finally some of the viewpoints that I have held for some time.

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  3. Hi John, another interesting view of life and death, and the mind...what happens at death. I am sure you are aware of all the Bible texts that refer to death as sleep. I think of this in two ways.
    For those who have made the choice to connect to life, as in being a follower of Jesus, who claims to be " the way, the Truth and the Life," death is just a suspension of life as in anesthesia..."the dead know not anything." And "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" or so it will seem to those, "dead in Christ." Life will begin again with all pain and hardship removed. Basically trusting the Great Physician to make us whole while in death sleep.

    For those who make the choice to deny Christ as their Savior, when death sleep comes to them there is no change they remain mortal. God respects their decision to not accept salvation, freedom from the sin condition which leads to death.

    We are all free to make the choice. So according to the Bible one thousand years will pass and those who are with God will look at the justice of God and the choices of their fellow men. But God wants everyone to understand His position...since He was accused by His most extravagant created Being, Lucifer, of unfair and unjust rule, and the whole universe has been judging God ever since; therefore He begins back to life, for one last time, everyone that has ever lived. Those who are changed and are now immortal and alive and those who have been in a sleep death state will now see " the truths of the universe" revealed. God is love, His universe is ruled by love, not arbitrary rules, but rules that are based on the very character of God.

    He is allowing both systems to be revealed here on earth...the survival of the fittest, based on selfishness and the consequences of this system is destroying planet earth, and the Love revealed on the cross, allowing the very beings created by the Creator to destroy Him so that He can demonstrate His great love for us. So we will come to trust Him and not fear Him...He dies forgiving those that kill Him. These two systems are at war...and it's more evident than ever.

    Now that all are brought together God will stand as a Righteous God. Those who have rejected Him in life will, we are told, actually acknowledge His goodness. Then satan will encourage the masses of rulers and people to join him in a final attempt to overthrow God...but in the end none will follow satan...all will see his deception and lies and in anger they will turn on satan and on each other and kill each other. Their minds are so twisted, so aware of their own guilt, they don't want to live in the presence of God and all hell will break loose.

    When all who are enemies, by choice, are dead...God will cleanse the world with fire and recreate the eden of old, it will once again be the home for humanity in the state that it was originally created as a home for mankind.

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  4. Hi, Lisa,

    I know you are aware that I am familiar with the Seventh-day Adventist version of the end of days, as I went to Adventist schools for 16 years. So there is no need to lay it out in detail in response to my post on how I view death. I'm sure you also know that the SDA position is a strictly minority view among Christian scholars, not to mention those of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Shinto faiths. That doesn't make it wrong, but it should cause one to pause and to question where one's belief originated. Was it arrived at through independent study or was it accepted because that is what one's parents and teachers taught? Again, I very much am interested in your thoughts on the subjects that I have tried to address in my posts. I would only ask that you respect that request.

    A couple of quick responses to your comment:

    First, as I have stated elsewhere, we do not have free choice--in anything.

    Second, you state that "God is love, His universe is ruled by love, not arbitrary rules, but rules that are based on the very character of God." I would respectfully disagree as regards the arbitrariness of those rules. I believe that the insistence that man have faith in God is the very essence of arbitrariness. At its most fundamental level, faith requires that one believe something in the absence of proof. You might want to take a look at C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, which makes this point on behalf of Christianity.

    John

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  5. Right, many Christians do believe that faith isn't based on proof...but I beg to differ, my faith is based on proof. Actually the incredible things in science as it unfolds is part of that proof...the more we understand the functions of the brain, the more we see how neuro-pathways are affected by thoughts and behaviour, by what we hear and see and experience, is one example. I have a friend and Psychiatrist, who wrote a book recently called the God Shaped brain. It delves into what affect our view of God has on the brain. He writes about the "evidence-Based approach of understanding scripture. This method harmonizes scripture, science, and experience." I think you would enjoy reading it...very refreshing. By Dr. Tim Jennings, available on Amazon. I enjoy read Lewis, but he doesn't have all the answers.

    Ans as to what I wrote about regarding the end is not "The Seventh-day Adventist version." Nor is Christ death considered to be anything but God giving his Son to die and His blood somehow magically erasing our sins. Read it again...SDA's believe God destroys the sinner at the end...I believe sin does. Sin brings separation from God. And that is based on a scientific understand on how life operates. The circle of life is giving...when humans stop giving, with the survival of the fittest mentality when taking, hoarding rules...life grinds to a halt, life self destructs. Look at the countries where the rich have it all and the rest barely sustain life.

    As far as free choice being not an option..You may believe that but I don't...so can we agree to disagree on that premise? Physics may control my body...it is dying, I may cease to know anything while anesthetized by death but not my character...and though mortal now, I trust God to give me immortality...the way He intended life to exist and restore me.

    I don't know if I you would welcome me bowing out gracefully for further comments. I guess I have to be true to my thinking as you are to yours, but maybe that is not what you are looking for. I would certainly respect your preference. I do enjoy reading your thoughts. Because I have often wondered what it is that brings one to the cross roads and the path chosen takes us in such different directions. And the comments seem to be an option to share my thinking, but maybe not. I can also just read your blogs, but not comment if that would be better. I certain don't take your position lightly and respect your thinking a great deal. I am not, of course, being as careful as you are in my writing here, because my thoughts are just comments...often written quickly and not throughly thought out like yours are...so they might come across less considerate than I mean for them to be...I apologise for any offense I may have caused. Plus staying on subject...I may not see that the same way you do...being that we are rather far apart in our thinking.

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  6. Lisa,

    One of the topics that I think I should try to cover with the blog is the concept of science. Most people think of science as a body of knowledge, such as chemistry, physics, biology, geology, etc. But I like to think of science as a system for understanding the world. In its ideal form it includes asking questions about the world and then formulating hypotheses that can be tested through observation and reasoning. The keys are coming up with hypotheses that are testable and then devising experiments that truly test those hypotheses. Such experiments are not foolproof, but collectively they have advanced our knowledge enormously.

    There are a lot of people much smarter than me who believe that science and religion occupy different spheres and therefore are not in conflict. I do not share that view, because I think they represent fundamentally different ways of looking at the world. The reason why there is a viewpoint that says that science and religion can co-exist is because there are areas where science has not been successful--yet--in developing testable hypotheses. An example might be the origins of the universe. Another might be the nature of the most fundamental building blocks of the universe (something more fundamental than, say, quarks). There are a number of scientific theories that have been formulated, but they generally have not been testable with current technology.

    One could argue, as I think you are doing, that the wonders of nature are evidence for God. However, a scientist would try to find ways of testing that hypothesis. The history of the advancement of knowledge has been one of finding natural causes for things and events, not theological ones.

    LIsa, I hope you will continue reading my blog and commenting on the topics that I am trying to address. One of the primary reasons why I started the blog was to use the comments of others to refine my thinking and my articulation of those ideas. It may be that this process will wind up changing my views on some of these matters. I can say that I have thought more about these things in the last month that I had in the last 10 years and perhaps that has led to some clarification in my thinking. I am hoping that others might have a similar experience. My only request is that the comments be germane to the topic I have tried to discuss.

    I very much enjoy reading and responding to your comments. But we do speak very different languages. I am sure that the statements you make have meaning for you, but as you know, one of my "problems" is that I tend to question the meanings of words, phrases, and sentences that may appear clear but in fact are subject to multiple meanings and interpretations. For example, you state that "SDA's believe God destroys the sinner at the end... I believe sin does." The idea of sin is an act in disobedience of the rules of conduct that God has set forth. I'm not sure how sin, per se, would destroy the sinners.

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  7. Sin...separation from God...the source of life. The character of God is love, what you call rules to be obeyed are just the natural laws that govern life. Like when you cut the circulation of the Lamb...life is lost. Anything that destroys is not of God, therefore death is foreign to God...it is opposite to Him. The world tends to think of sin as lying, or infidelity or stealing or killing, those are the just the symptoms of the sin condition that needs healing and restoration.

    Yes, we do speak from very different points of view. And I do enjoy trying to understand where you are coming from. It's not always easy...as you can see and I'm sure that is true for you, too.

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    1. If I understand your comment correctly, you are saying that I am a sinner because I am "separated" from God. And I guess in that sense I would agree with you. However, I don't engage in lying, infidelity, stealing, killing, etc. What I am saying is that I don't believe there is any correlation between being separated from God, i.e., the Christian God, and immorality. So I don't agree that immorality is a "symptom" of separation from God.

      You state, "Anything that destroys is not of God, therefore death is foreign to God...it is opposite to Him." That doesn't make sense to me in light of all the vengeance, including death and destruction, attributed to God in the OT. Are you saying that the OT is no longer valid? Did God change His mind? Moreover, if God created the world and is omniscient, then He very well knew what was going to happen and let it happen, including death, destruction, pain and suffering. It is very difficult for a personal of secular thought to see how one can pick and choose what scripture to rely on and what to dismiss as human or of the time before Christ. How would the OT peoples regard that?

      Lisa, I recognize that the ideas I express are very different from what you believe, but I don't believe that what I am saying is difficult to understand. The ideas may be uncomfortable, but I do not believe they are intrinsically difficult to follow.

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    2. No, of course you live a decent, I have not doubt...I think often the most outrageous behavior is visible within the "church." That is why I get upset when people are disfellowshipped...Jesus said, "he who is without sin, cast the first stone." Separation from God can look rather benign. Why would satan disturb a good thing? Like the rich young ruler..."All these things I have kept since my youth." So what was he lacking? Jesus said sell all that you have...and follow me. Does that mean possessions...no, probably not, much more then that...the smugness of self reliance and sufficiency...take my yoke upon you and learn of me... Don't get me wrong...I am not accusing you of anything...lol. I just think that those that see no needs, find no need for God.

      The key word is "attributed." Look at all the times God warned them of what would happen, and what happened was the consequences of their own will ways...and since God doesn't force, He let them go...There are four accounts of King Saul dying: 1 Samuel (31:4) says that Saul "Took a sword, and fell upon it".
      2 Samuel (1:2-10) says Saul, at his own request, was slain by an Amalekite.
      Later in 2 Samuel (21:12) we read that Saul was killed by the Philistines on Gilboa.
      But then in 1 Chronicles (10:13-14) we learn that Saul was slain by God!

      But Saul did what he wanted to do...and he suffered the consequences.

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    3. Lisa,

      There appears to be a discrepancy in your point of view. You stated that bad behavior is not sinning per se. Rather sinning is being separated from God and bad behavior is a symptom of that separation. OK, based on that I am about as separated from God as one can get. Ergo, I am a sinner, regardless of my actual behavior. And, yes, I consider myself a decent person.

      I think this is symptomatic of one of the problems I have with what you are writing. We seem to be wandering around in a forest of Christian rhetoric. We have gone from saying I am a decent person to church disfellowship to the need to give up smugness to discrepancies in the OT about how Saul died.

      More fundamentally, though, none of this has any apparent relationship to the topic of my post, which had to do with the nature of death.

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  8. Separated from God...I am as sinner, connected to God I am a sinner, but one that is co-operating with God and His healing process. Actually, sinners who come to God and desire to be like Him, have His character of love as their own, agree with His plan for life can often look like worse sinners than they were before. Much like illness, the treatment can look and feel much worse than the disease and the cure harder to endure than the disease. Just look at someone getting dry from alcohol abuse or someone going through the frustrations of quitting smoking. Or the survivor of cancer...the chemo is vicious. But in the end there is victory. We are all born with the sin infection....selfishness. Death is the result of sin...the natural consequence...you even agree with that. The end of life as you see it is the natural decline of life...it's chemistry. I guess I could actually agree with that. So unless God intervenes in the state of this world we will die. Since nature has been damaged by sin, unless we have someone that knows the formula to sustain life and can implement it we are doomed to die. Isn't that the ultimate goal of science?

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