Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Death fear is apparently a really big motivator. There is the fear of death, which can be accompanied by fear of dismemberment and pain, that certainly motivates many of my actions; like, for instance, not answering text messages while driving. Fear of the after-life is apparently also a big motivator. I have had long circular conversations about after-life fear (ALF) and I remain thoroughly unenlightened by them. Because ALF is such a powerful motivator, and motivation is such a powerful tool in life, I have retained hope that ALF could be adapted for rational use. Sadly I have not devised an acceptable way of rationally adapting ALF principals for use in an examined life.

Two decades ago I had a good friend, who eventually would share an apartment with me for a year or so, who was obsessed with ALF. Unlike his fear of cockroaches (which accounted for my rather large collection of rubber cockroaches) he viewed ALF as a very positive thing. ALF prevented him from murdering people in their sleep. While sharing an apartment with him I thought that ALF, in as much as he continued to believe in it, was a good thing.

To be absolutely truthful; I did not lie awake at night, after hearing a noise in the hall, wondering if he had lost his belief in heaven or if he just needed to pee. His understanding of his potential murderous rampages was hypothetical at best. He had never stopped believing in heaven and killed anything as a result. I don’t think he had ever, in fact, killed anything ever (there might have been a misadventure with a bird when he was pubescent, but that was more accident than murder).

We often stayed up late at night discussing ALF topics. This was for me as much due to espresso as philosophical interest; for him ALF was a central philosophical axiom. His basic world view reduced to one where god meddled unconvincingly in the world and then got you after you died. Coffee after coffee would be sacrificed to the unsatisfying logical circle where morality depended on an afterlife and examining ALF would lead to immorality. I do not know how my atheism affected his sleep. Did he lay awake after our conversations wondering if it was the caffeine levels in his blood or the noises that kept him from sleep? Were the footsteps motivated by other aftereffects of late night coffee; was I headed to the bathroom to pee or to the kitchen for a knife?

I would not wish for you, my loyal readers, to think that all conversations with this philosopher centered on ALF. There were women to be loved, and broken hearts to be mended; we may have repeatedly devised plans which would finally result in world peace, or world domination. We, being east coasters both, could complain about the lack of seasons; or having lived in SoCal long enough we could complain about how many fractions of a degree from perfect the weather was that day. Many of our agreements were only partial (For instance he thought lesbians were evil and I only thought it unfortunate that anything would increase the number of valid reasons why women would find me unattractive) but of little actionable importance (there were no clear paths for either of us to become a lesbian). We were, in short, friends. He did not trend towards talking to me of ALF in hopes of converting a stranger so his soul quota would be filled; he trended towards ALF in his conversations because he used ALF to shape his worldview.

He was obsessive when he spoke about ALF. He was obsessive in many things. He was both obsessive and competitive. When he discovered solitaire on the 80386 machine I cobbled together out of spare discarded parts, he played it for high score bragging rights. I was using the machine to write my thesis so I initially could not compete and he was insufferable. As I banged out intricate descriptions of microbiological experiments in oil degradation on the keyboard he would actually give me play-by-play accounts of his high-score solitaire games. It appeared at times as if he was trying to push my immoral lack of faith in ALF to the limits of murder-free interaction.

To his detriment I discovered a programming trick that would allow me to alter the CPU clock function captured by the solitaire program, and increase the time-dependant scores I could receive from the game. I, of course, did not tell him about what I had discovered. By fine-tuning the number of loops in my trivial program I could fine-tune my solitaire score with a resolution of about ten points. Instead of quietly listening to him gloat about his winnings I would simply beat his score by ten points. This would throw him into a frenzy of obsessive competition. He would play and play and play till he beat my score. I would then quickly beat his score by about ten points. At first this cycle would take hours, eventually he would sit; unbathed, wolfing down junk food, furiously clicking the mouse, for days on end. I can’t remember the last time I played computer solitaire.

Reading the above paragraph leads me to begin thinking that the solitaire incidents were rather evil, perhaps if I had ALF I would not have done what I did then, heh-heh-heh (evil laughter).

ALF was just the tip of the philosophical iceberg that blocked my friend’s ability to examine his life. There were many things he was afraid of and he was actively engaged in the pursuit of self-discovery that would bring him closer to the life he wanted to be living. When he moved out (my new wife thought he was a total slob, and he was) I lost track of him. He saved money for several years by not having a phone or fixed address. Every few months I would google him, and sometimes his name would show up on a webpage devoted to a musical event (he was a musician, which explained a lot).

Not long ago I googled him and came up with information that nailed down exactly where he was. It was his obituary. He died May 4th 2010 after a valiant battle with lung cancer. It is morbidly ironic that I can still picture him smoking like a forest fire while pontificating on the value of ALF.

If I suffered from ALF I could attempt condolence by suggesting he is in a better place. I should, perhaps, defer judgment on ALF by the use of flaccid statements like: “if there is an afterlife I know he is in a good place”. Dishonesty has never been one of my strong suits.

I am glad to have known him. I am reminded of his struggles for identity when I feel overwhelmed. I regret not having caught him before he died to let him know that there was one more friend that thought about him and smiled. I do not think he is in some exalted afterlife looking down on me from on high.

He now knows if there is a marvelous afterlife.  If there is an afterlife I would be completely open, though surprised and maybe scared, to his performing some magic that would convince me of its existance.  I would even let him have the final high score in solitaire

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