Wednesday, October 30, 2013

i am an immortal

Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. - Ernest Hemingway

I was asked recently, "What the fuck is with this Groundhog Day thing?" I was also asked, less crudely, if I had laid out in this blog what I would do if I was stuck in a time loop. I've mentioned some things before, and there are things that would go in my "adolescent" phase that are more personal than I care to disclose at this time. I think I'd get to my "good deeds" phase pretty early, but mostly because I'd be conscious of the similarity to Groundhog Day and I'd want to manage more lives saved in one day, not that I could get that into Guinness... except maybe I could, as long as I was committed to a) saving those same lives every day on the off chance is was the end of the time loop and b) getting a Guinness Adjudicator (or at least someone with a video camera--

(Apparently, the process of getting a Guinness Adjudicator to verify your record in person as you break it can take a while. I would not have that in my one day, so it's going to have to be some good digital camera footage, preferably one extended take.)

--to follow me around all day, every day. But, where's the fun in that?

Maybe I could live blog the whole thing. And then, when the time loop finally ends, I'll have my 15 minutes of fame and then be forgotten.

Of course, just because the fame won't last doesn't mean it wouldn't be worth it. And, of course, I'd be saving lives and that's pretty good in its own right. Hell, as long as I was actually trying to use the time loop for personal gain after the fact I'd probably just be stuck longer. The time loop gods wouldn't let me out until I'd given up on good deeds entirely. Which is just wrong.

But anyway, I had intended to talk about life and death, not, well, just life today. I've written about obituaries a few times before in this blog, and I think in discussing a film that includes the main character killing himself four times, the topic of death is inevitable. But, I wanted to mention something about death in particular that Phil Connors never would have had to deal with, since the film takes place 20 years ago. Namely, he doesn't have to worry about social media after he dies. Before I go any further, I have to mention ifidie.net, a website which asks one of the important questions of our time:

What happens to your facebook profile after you die?

Meanwhile, deadsoci.al "enables us to create a series of secret messages that are only published to our social networks once we pass away. This allows us to say goodbye in our own time and in our own unique way." Our online lives are twisted so tightly into the meat of our flesh and blood lives that this is something we might want to think about along with making arrangements for our funeral, if there's something in particular we want for it. Personally, I don't care to be embalmed and stuck into a casket under a concrete or even plastic vault so the ground won't cave in after I decay. I'd rather be, at best, buried loosely in the ground and not at some cemetery but someplace where I could feed more natural growth, perhaps fuel a tree. Or, at least, I'd go for cremation, keep it simple. Except, I think that by the time I get to this, I will--obviously--be dead, so really I suppose whatever happens to my body after I die should reasonably be left up to those closest to me. If they want my body in some memorial park, with a marker atop it for them to visit yearly, that's their prerogative. I won't be around anymore, so I'm not sure I need to have a say.

I think I'm more concerned about my social media now that I think about it. I almost want to write up some post-mortem tweets to let everyone know I've gone. But, what if I die in some weirdly embarrassing way and my tweet is a little too serious, or what if, just by chance, the phrasing in the tweet that accompanies the one year anniversary of my death also inadvertently makes a tasteless pun about how I died... Hell, now that I asked, I want to figure out just what kind of tweet I could write that would do nothing but come across a bit wrong and inappropriate--assuming that simply tweeting long after I am dead is not already inappropriate. I want to make people laugh as they cry--assuming they miss me, of course.

I wonder about getting a living will set up, preparing for my death. But, I don't really want to prepare for that sort of thing. Unlike Martin Manley, who blogged his own suicide, I have not yet gotten to the point where I care to welcome death. I mean, who would watch Groundhog Day everyday if I were unavailable? It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

Actually, a friend of mine recently referenced my blog in saying "people should do more weird things like this instead of just normal life stuff."*

* Though I put this in quotation marks, I'm sure I got some of the phrasing wrong. It's not as if I was recording the conversation.

I like that idea, that we should do crazy stuff like this blog to diminish the humdrum monotony of life. For ourselves, of course, but also for everyone else. This sort of thing can be inspiring, enlightening, or at least distracting. The levels may be different but all three of these things are positive effects that make life a little less bleak, a little more bright and interesting. Matlin and Stang argue in The Pollyanna Principle that "people assert by their very existence (i.e. refusing to commit suicide) that life is worth living, that there is more happiness than unhappiness in their life" (1978, p. 159-60). If I were stuck in a time loop, I'm sure I'd try out some bad things, some selfish things, but I hope that I'd get into the habit quite early of living for other people, of adding to the happiness in the world instead of taking away from it.

That's true in my real life as well. I hope often that I'm improving the world rather than ruining it. Or, because there's obviously plenty of middle ground there, I hope that I tend toward actions that fall on the more positive side of the continuum. I want the world to be a better place for having had me in it. And maybe, on some level, that is selfish. But, so what? Selfish motivation can lead to selfless end.

Besides, don't we all want to be remembered? Logically, it make sense. I mean at an evolutionary level. With our brains as complex as they've become, it makes sense that we would have evolved to value what is inside them, that we would share and communicate with others to validate our thoughts and make them concrete put them out into the world where they can have life if not influence. Our words, our ideas, they belong to us almost more than our genes do, because we have more of a say in what our words and ideas are. Our identities are constructs that come from a lifetime's worth of effort, so why shouldn't we put some proprietary value on it in our heads?

I've been researching confirmation bias--which I referenced a while back in this blog a while back--and it's amazing how much ownership people are willing to place on the simplest of things. For example, Mynatt, Doherty and Tweney (1977) tested subjects with computer images with basic geometric shapes on them, shot at them and had subjects hypothesize about why the shots behaved the way they did (avoiding certain objects rather than always traveling in a straight line). These shots meant nothing in the lives of the subjects. These shapes meant nothing in the lives of these subjects. Similarly, Wason (1960), tested subjects with trios of numbers and subjects had to guess the reason for the grouping and suggest other trios that fit that guess. In both experiments, subjects formed initial hypotheses and proceeded to deliberately test things in such a way as to promote their hypothesis over alternatives. They took ownership over their hypotheses and wanted it to be true. And, this was just about shapes and numbers; imagine then how much more ownership we have over our identities.

It's no surprise that we want to leave something behind, a legacy, a mark on the world. If there is no record of us, then our passing will have been for naught. That I would want to improve my bowling skill and learn to cook more complicated dishes if I were in a time loop is not so important in the grand scheme of things. That I would want to see how complicated a project I could build out of LEGO blocks in my time loop even knowing only I would ever know about it is meaningless to the world. But, there are things I do--and things I would do in a time loop--that I would hope leave some concrete mark behind in this world.

I don't own my kids or my students, but I like the idea that at least in some small way I am helping to shape their future selves. It's not an obvious, visible mark, necessarily, but it's still something that might remain after I am gone. And, maybe, just maybe, some of my students, or my kids, will appreciate my posthumous tweets and the disturbing puns I will use to remind them of the grief they just might be getting over as my tweet arrives. And, on the internet, I will always be around. I will always be watching Groundhog Day and I will always be blogging about it. Hell, I will always be writing this blog you're reading right now.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to come up with some great puns to put in those posthumous tweets.

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