Will: Socrates, this sunset marks the end of another day. Another day of hot sand pressing up against the burnt bottoms of my feet, another day with no food to eat, another day where I am forced to ration such a simple thing as salivating. We are going to die out here Socrates. I know it. And I am scared of what death will bring.
Socrates: Why would you be scared, William? Death is nothing a wise man should be afraid of. What happens after death is unknown; therefore, to fear death is to make an assumption about what we don’t know, which is foolish. Death could be the greatest thing to happen to man.
Surely, William, you don’t know everything about the desert. Surely it’s filled with things unknown to you, but that’s not what you are afraid of; you are afraid of the venomous snakes; the lurking vultures; the pains and hallucinations that follow from a lack of food, water, shelter, and those things are worthy of fear. Death is not.
Will: Oh, Socrates, you always knew how to comfort a friend in a time of need. In a time of utter terror and desperation, didn’t you…
These vultures that pray for my carcass to drop are terrifying. I have been reading their body language for days. I know everything about their daily doings and can meticulously map out each body part. Yet, it’s not a fascination with what they do that has led me to study them, but a fear of what they have not done. They stare down at me like they are luring me into a trap, and no matter how well I know their workings, I do not know how or when they’ll attack. Are they going to be gentle or will they peck out my eyes, increasing the unknown, just before they peck and play at my tendons like the strings of a harp, producing a harmony so harsh that Hermes will turn his head…Socrates, it is precisely the unknown that scares me.
Socrates: William, William, that situation does sound horrific; however, you have neglected one important point—you cannot study death or the after life. It is not empirically testable. You see, you are able to scare yourself by imagining situations based off of other experiences, or exaggerating past experiences, but comprehending what death could be like is unimaginable. We have no prior memories of it and no one to ask about it. Have you ever tried to speak to a dead person? They don’t have much to say.
The closest thing we have to death is sleep and if death is anything like sleep, surely you are not afraid of it, are you?
Will: Yes, right now, in this desert, I am terrified of sleep. I am terrified of my dreams, my nightmares, and I am terrified of what I may be awakened by.
Socrates: Sure, right now you are afraid of sleep, but that is only because of our unique circumstance. In everyday life you were not afraid. You slept far too much to be afraid.
And yes, dreams may be scary, but if that is your fear, you don’t have to worry. Dreams come with consciousness, and when you die, you are no longer conscious. Death is like a deep undisturbed slumber. What is more relaxing than that?
Will: Socrates, my life is not about relaxing. It is about creating, laughing, and trying new things. That’s what got me in this piss stained desert in the first place, but once those three elements are gone and there is only relaxing, then I will be forever unfulfilled. I will be forever ‘resting’ in hell.
Socrates: William, your delusions are getting stronger, aren’t they? You seem to be unable to understand what it means to be unconsciousness.
Will: Exactly, I am unable to use my consciousness to grasp the state of unconsciousness!
Socrates: Let me finish! I must bring up slumber, once again. In slumber you are content with not being able to create, laugh, and try new things. In slumber, there is no movement of the mind or desires of the will. There is only rest. Therefore, when you pass away, all the desires that you posses when alive will no longer affect on you. In other words, come to realize that all the things that worry you now, will no longer worry you; they will not be able to. They are dependent on consciousness and when consciousness ceases to exist, there will be bliss.
Will: All right, Socrates, you are right. If Death is an eternal slumber, then there is nothing to fear because the very state of fear cannot exist in death. However, what if death is not eternal slumber? Part of the reason why I am scared to fall asleep is because I do not know how or what I will be awakened by. What if I am awakened by a sweaty multi-headed hydra feeding me rotten cheesecake for eternity—I hate cheesecake! If this is the case, I will always fear death and strive to stay alive as long as possible.
Socrates: So you have concluded that if there is no afterlife, there is nothing to fear. But now you are saying that if there is an afterlife, its realm is unknown, and because of this, you fear it.
Will: Correct. That is why I clutch to life as a frightened child clutches their mother…
Socrates: William, what makes you think such a painful afterlife is waiting for you? You have searched for the good your whole life. Soon your soul will be relinquished from the body—the body that is currently causing you grief and preventing you from doing good philosophy.
Tell me if you agree with this: foxes rest with foxes, horses rest with horses, and humans with human, Correct?
Will: Yes, that is correct, Socrates.
Socrates: Alright, how about this: generally good people reside with good people, sick people with sick people, royalty with royalty, and evil people with evil people.
Will: Yes, I also agree.
Socrates: Then why, William, are you afraid of your soul resting with evil? You are not evil. In fact, you have spent your life in pursuit of the good—of philosophy—and if this is true, then your soul will go and reside with other philosophers. Furthermore, think right now, what is hindering you from doing good philosophy?
Will: My detraining mental state; my desire for water; the pain of my blisters growing and bursting with every step.
Socrates: You see, William, your material body is what hinders you from doing good philosophy. Once you are released from it you will no longer have to worry about its needs and desires like sex, warmth, friendship, or in your case food, water, and shelter. It is our senses that create illusions and muddy up our thinking processes, it is not the soul. Once you are rid of the body, purity of thought will bless your soul for eternity.
Will: No, no, no. This life is what allows me to do philosophy. It is the pain and struggles that I endure which allows me to be a better philosopher—a wiser philosopher. The agony I am experiencing now may not be evidence of what I am saying, but once healed, I will have gained a wisdom that other people do not have.
You see, in a perfect world philosophy is not needed. Just like if sickness did not exist we would not need doctors. Philosophy is dependent on suffering because with suffering comes a desire for understanding and with that desire comes wisdom. Think back to my statement about the vultures. If I were not in the horrific condition that I am now, I would know nothing about them. Pain has brought me to inquiry and from inquiry I have gained knowledge.
Think about some the great philosophies of the world—Stoicisms, Epicureanism, Christianity, utilitarianism, communism, capitalism. They all have a similar goal—to reduce a type of suffering, however they define it. As humans we come to realize the pain that comes with existence and have a need to mitigate it. This is not to say that one should always live in suffering in order to come to wisdom. The hindrances of suffering can be seen by my current state. And that is why the people that suffer the most are not necessarily the wisest. However, if one has never experienced suffering or has experienced it long ago—as an eternal soul would have—then that individual begins to loose touch with what philosophy is, and in turn, looses their wisdom—in other words, suffering produces philosophy and philosophy produces wisdom.
Socrates: mmm, such a persuasive argument by such a disillusioned man.
Will: What are a bunch of souls going to discuss anyway! The beauty of art, the meaning of life, the value of wisdom? No, they cannot. All those inquiries stem from the material world, from a desire to elevate their mental pains through attaining wisdom. When you are a soul there is no longer anything to discuss.
Socrates: But the mind is not material, William. The mind is our soul; it simply uses the material world to uncover what it already knows.
Will: So the soul depends on material reality as a way to uncover what it already knows? But I though when we discussed the effects of the material world on doing philosophy, you said that the effects were negative?
Socrates: I did, and the effects are negative. That is why wisdom is not easy to achieve; and that is why the after life will be much better for philosophers.
Will: All right, so if there is no material world to hinder our thinking, we will achieve wisdom faster. What, however, is the point of wisdom in the afterworld? You have failed to answer that, Socrates. Right now wisdom concerns me because I want elevates my suffering by understanding the world in front of me. But if I am a soul that cannot suffer because there is nothing in front of me, then what can we philosophize about? Philosophy necessitates our material; it cannot be done in a blissful immaterial state. You cannot derive something of substance from nothing. Furthermore, if there is an afterlife, our knowledge from here will be useless in it because the realm of the afterworld will be radically different. Take, for example, people who are traveling from earth to mars. Surely, Socrates, you do not think that everything they have learned here on earth will be applicable there. Now imagine how radically different the realm of the afterlife will be, surely no earthly wisdom will be applicable.
Furthermore! You said the mind was immaterial, but how does something immaterial, like the mind, interact with the material? This is inconceivable. It would be like talking to a ghost and expecting it to respond. A ghost could never respond! This is because in order for it to respond, it must use its immaterial properties to affect material properties: it must use nothing to affect something. Isn’t this right, Socrates…Isn’t it? Respond to me, I need to know how this works…
Socrates stared at William blankly.
Will: Gahh, my mind is failing me anyway, stay silent as a cactus. My point is proven, nonetheless. Now, I cross over to an unknown realm, a realm where all the pain and suffering that I’ve experienced in this life will be utterly useless. But until than, I will “rage against the dying of the light.” For when the light dies, all that has given me meaning will be swept away. Either into eternal slumber or away into an afterworld with no philosophy, no beauty, no family, no meaning…RAGE, RAGE!
With pitiful eyes Socrates looked down on William as he passed away. “What a way to go out,” he said. “If only he would have realized who and what he was talking to before he passed, then he would have understood the absurdity of his ‘reality’.”