Friday, May 12, 2017

The envelope of your death, hand delivered.

Opening it wouldn't be a straightforward decision, and receiving it isn't a far-out possibility.

Stipulate that God, or perhaps one of his unimpeachable representatives, sends you a very special, albeit, sealed envelope.  You are aware of this special envelope's origin, and upon observing its delivery information, no doubt written in fine Gothic calligraphy, you see a subject line which reads, "The date of your death."  Mercifully, someone has informally written, "Don't worry, it's not necessarily that soon."  Perhaps you're even told that opening the envelope is completely optional. Question --

Would you open the envelope?

As I think about this, there are couple of issues that come immediately to mind. First, people might vary on whether such information about the exact time of one's death would contribute or detract from the meaning of life.

For example, perhaps an Oklahoman has always dreamed of traveling to Maine, but upon opening the envelope, finds that s/he will be dead within four hours. Here a life-long wish has been decisively subverted, as one cannot physically accomplish the desired goal within the short time left in one's life. But to vary this example a bit, suppose upon opening the envelope, s/he finds that death will occur a month later. S/he then decides to immediately pack up the family and take the trip. Here the parameters of a life-long wish would be just as decisively fulfilled, since what might have been delayed, and hence at risk for never occurring, comes instead to immediate fruition. In the first case, the knowledge detracts; but, in the second case, the knowledge contributes to life's meaning.

As another example, perhaps a father of three children has always worried of dying in middle age of heart-attack or stroke, since there is an overwhelming medical history of these events in his family. But upon opening the envelope, finds that he will live to the ripe old age of 91. Here such knowledge would greatly contribute to serenity of mind and, no doubt, to financial stability, since term or whole life insurance costs would seem to be of a far less pressing matter in the face of such knowledge. One can imagine varying this case for a physically-fit, even athletic young mother who, to her horror, discovers she will die two months hence. Such knowledge would hardly contribute to serenity of mind, though some might argue it's better to know than not, since some amount of planning for such a catastrophe is better than none. Here, in the first case of the father, the knowledge enhances; but, in the second case of the mother, the knowledge detracts from life's meaning.

These kind of cases cases where absolute knowledge is available about one's death are not as far-fetched as one might think, since for some diseases there are very well-established statistics for how long one can expect to live. If one contracts disease X, and studies have shown that less than 5% of patients survive for three years or more with X, and that the median survival time is one year, then one of God's most reliable representatives, Science, seemingly has already delivered plenty of bulk mail to many persons who already face terminal medical conditions. Indeed, many 90+-year-old people who carefully reason about their future, and who fortunately experience a relatively stable health situation, are already in this bulk-mail situation. So, receiving such mail is not as far-out a possibility as one might think.



[image] me

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home