Thoughts About Time and Life


Thoughts About Time and Life

Thomas Nagel wrote an essay about the death (Mortal Questions, Cambridge University Press, 1979), discussing about times of before and after one being's death, wanting to establish if death is a good or a bad event. His ingenious approach to the topic makes the discussion not only interesting, but also inciting. His analyse would still follow another way if we first define the concept of time.

The debates about time always seem odd and apparently senseless because we have got into the habit the use of it before to define it. Even so, it is necessary to define the concept we use to make clear enough its subsequent utilisation. I shall not deeply develop here this concept, but some specifics are necessary to approach our initial topic. This is what I am trying to do in the following paragraph.

We accept the conception accordingly with time is a sum of the events happened in an interval. If between two successive events a third one does not exist, we would not have any reason to consider the two events not to be consecutive. The length of such interval is null. Instead, more intermediate events between the initial two are longer the length of the intervals between them is. Therefore we can look time as a warehouse of events, a collection, a history of them. The length is a contouring of the events that occur in an interval. The length may seem different to different observers, depending on the events that each of them observes. And so it is. Each observer has his own imagine about the world, his history, his time. Universal time is a wrapper of all individual times. The usual physical time is nothing else but a bringing to the same denominator, a common value scale, useful for communication among us. Shortly, we conceive the time in its essence like a succession of events and not as a pre-established, existing, and everlasting matrix, in which some events could happen or not.

Let us return to our topic. Death is not a deed, strictly speaking. Life is a deed, an activity; death is nothing but the end of life. Death is an event only in the sense that it can be recorded in a history. An analogy for life is a liquid flowing from a reservoir. Death is the moment when the liquid has finished itself and nothing more flows. (Whether a person's life ended suddenly, by a fatal accident for instance, or slowly at old age, it does not matter. One of our subjective estimation is that the first case is tragic and unfortunate, and the second one is natural. But we actually never knew how much liquid had been in the reservoir. It is only in our imagination the thought that all reservoirs of life are equal each other. To extend the life/reservoir analogy, considering how fast or slow the liquid flows, would go beyond of our purpose. Therefore death is only the end of life and we should not assign it an exaggerate role.)

If death is not worth speaking about, and life is, then the initial question must be changed a little: is there a significant difference between the time before someone's birth and after his death? In both situations, the person's life does not exist. Therefore the two times seem to be equivalent: times in which he does not exist. We see now, after the concept of time has been defined as such, that the answer to the first question is definitely NO. That is because the first time, looked as history of the previous events, does not contain the person's life, while the history of after his death does it. History has been enriched with another life, another deed.

Maybe just the awareness of the idea that our life becomes history, our history, makes death seem important to each of us, because we ourselves become responsible for the trace we leave behind. Maybe if our life were longer, just a bit, we would succeed in giving to our trace more consistency, or making it seems at least honourable. It is from here probably that the fear of death comes, like of the final judgement, such as death leaves us undressed by what we sometimes try to put on to seem more beautiful.

Surely, such a deep topic could be approached in many ways and the conclusions would be equally different. This approach was only a way. A definitive solution would be the most awkward thing in the world.