Richard Dawkins on the Luckiness of Death – Brain Pickings

by Jeremy

We are born into the certainty of our eventual death. Every once in a while, something — perhaps an encounter with a robin’s egg, maybe a poem — staggers us with the awful, awe-filled wonder of aliveness, the sheer luck of it against the overwhelming cosmic odds of nonexistence. But alloyed with the awe is always the half-conscious grief that the light of consciousness will be extinguished one day. It is a heavy gift to hold, this doomed delirium of aliveness. It is also a buoyant gladness if we are limber enough to stretch into the cosmic perspective that does not come naturally to us puny, Earth-bound bipeds cortices with tender self-importance.

Richard Dawkins on the Luckiness of Death

Consider this.

For each of us, one thing is true: Had anyone variable been ever so subtly different — had your parents mated on an extra day or at a different altitude, had the early universe cooled a fraction of a second faster after the Big Bang, you would not exist as the particular constellation of atoms configuring the individual consciousness that makes you you. Because chance plays such dice with the universe, and because the die dictates that the vast majority of energy and matter never had the luck of cohering into this doomed delirium of aliveness, it is, in some profound and practical sense, a staggering privilege to die — one that betokens the benefit of having lived. To lament death, then, is to complain our luck, for any negation of the possibility of death is a negation of the improbable miracle of life, a wish for there to be nothing to do the dying — nothing to have partaken of the beautiful, bittersweet temporality of aliveness.

Possible Certainties. Photograph by Maria Popova. (Available as a print.)

It is easier to bend the intuitive mind into this correct but counterintuitive perspective while walking in a cemetery at the height of summer. Doing this very thing while thinking these same thoughts, I was reminded of a passage from one of the most lucid and lens-clearing books written this side of Darwin — Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (public library) by the visionary and often controversial (which is the social fate of every visionary) British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

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