Current Readings I Thought to Share

Posted by estrayer


"I hope the end is joyful - and I hope never to come back"
                                  ~Frida Kahlo,
1954,  just before she died at age 47.

I have been diagnosed with an illness that appears incurable short of a lung transplant. Bummer. The transplant solution itself is uncertain and life-changing. So I find myself consumed by four main topics of inquiry that may be relevant to this group: They are: The persistence of humans in the belief of a god; Death and dying; The origins of the universe and life; Some twentieth century existential philosophy.

As for the "god" bit I am reading "God's Gravedigger: Why no Deity Exists" by philosopher Raymond Bradley. Where I am in the book presently the author explores his confused childhood as the son and grandson of Baptist ministers who is constantly perplexed by the contradictions he finds in the bible and the tenets of his religion. He then gives the reader a short course in logic with which he attempts to discredit all manner of mystical experiences as unprovable.

For death, and more specifically, dying, I read "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande in which he shares his experiences as a physician with terminally ill patients. One example he cites is a woman who is absolutely terrified of death and willing to go to any length and employ any possible medical and technical procedures to stay alive. Also there is the patient who is in a coma with a terminal prognosis. The family, in spite of there being no hope for the patient, insisted on keeping her alive on a respirator until death comes on its own. (This of course opens the question of is a "natural" death one in which we, at one extreme, offer no medical interference, or at the other extreme, keep the patient "alive" at all costs? Or, more realistically, just where is the cutoff point?) He also shares his experience in watching his own father (also an MD as is his mother) die, having wrestled with numerous, yet doubtful, methods for prolonging his life. Eventually he did let go in what the author portrays as a sensible decision and one with dignity.

As for the origins of the universe and life and such, I am cruising through Sean Carroll's "The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself", and "Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space" by Lisa Randall. This kind of inquiry, in spite of Carroll's implication of an actual solution to "everything", understandably is more of a cascade of questions, each leading to the next, without apparent end. Nonetheless, I find it helps ground me in the "real" world, even though this reality is not quite what it intuitively seems. 

Finally I have added to the mix some fairly modern philosophy using a very interesting (mostly) book "At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails" by Sarah Blackwell, that covers the ideas and relationships of the great, by her estimation, 20th Century philosophers including, among others, Jean Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir, Heidegger, Camus, etcetera, etcetera. And while this betrays my lack of exposure to more modern thinkers, it is helpful with its thematic familiarity to one my age in drilling down to essential question in classic Western terms.


I have about four of Alan Watts' books in my Kindle library, to which I turn when in need of some humor in the face of the confusing drama of existence.


Well, I am in a kind of slow-motion hurry to get some objective perspective on "everything" while sitting in anticipation of a possible rapid and painful decline of my condition, or, alternatively,  the possibility of getting a lung transplant which promises to be extremely life-changing and stressful. As I am in overall good health and spirits presently, I should be wary of prediction. And while I enjoy toying with otherwise serious matters of existence, this is likely to change at some point in the near future. Meanwhile, although I may not be able to present you with a smile, a sardonic grin will have to suffice.

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