Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Use this forum to discuss the September 2022 Philosophy Book of the Month, The Not So Great American Novel by James E Doucette
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Sushan
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Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by Sushan »

This topic is about the September 2022 Philosophy Book of the Month, The Not So Great American Novel by James E Doucette


Recently I came upon several memoirs (including this one) that were written by people who had terminal (or potentially terminal) illnesses. This made me think "why people tend to look back when they are close to death?". And the real question rose when I thought about it from another perspective; Why people wait till death without looking back when they have enough of their lifetimes to become better (well, if necessary)?
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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by Pattern-chaser »

Sushan wrote: September 1st, 2022, 7:49 am And the real question rose when I thought about it from another perspective; Why people wait till death without looking back when they have enough of their lifetimes to become better (well, if necessary)?
We seem to need some kind of nudge to push us into that kind of introspection. For me, a formal diagnosis of autism was the nudge. I 'needed' to review what I remembered of my life, to see it in the light of the astonishing new insights I had come upon. But without that initial nudge, I don't think I would've done so.

Similarly, shortly after retirement, I was blogging about my career in software design. As I wrote, I stumbled on the realisation that, if I had reviewed my progress every decade or so, I could've reached my goals more quickly and more easily. But at the time, it simply never occurred to me that some introspection might prove valuable.

Maybe that's the answer to your question? We don't do it because we don't recognise its possible value?
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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by PuerAzaelis »

[T]he basic idea in Being and Time is very simple: being is time and time is finite. For human beings, time comes to an end with our death. Therefore, if we want to understand what it means to be an authentic human being, then it is essential that we constantly project our lives onto the horizon of our death. This is what Heidegger famously calls "being-towards-death". If our being is finite, then an authentic human life can only be found by confronting finitude and trying to make a meaning out of the fact of our death. Heidegger subscribes to the ancient maxim that "to philosophise is to learn how to die". Mortality is that in relation to which we shape and fashion our selfhood.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfr ... %20die%22.

Perhaps the fact of a terminal disease can cause the individual to begin living authentically and philosophically.
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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by stevie »

Sushan wrote: September 1st, 2022, 7:49 am "why people tend to look back when they are close to death?"
Some may tend to do so but not all. It's due to the autobiographical self, the self that identifies itself with all accumulated stories.
mankind ... must act and reason and believe; though they are not able, by their most diligent enquiry, to satisfy themselves concerning the foundation of these operations, or to remove the objections, which may be raised against them [Hume]
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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by JDBowden »

Perhaps they look back because there is nothing in front of them. If death is the known "end," there really is only one way to turn the head.
"Our disturbances come only from our own opinions … everything that we see will change and no longer exist … the universe is change and life is opinion."

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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

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Pattern-chaser wrote: September 1st, 2022, 8:47 am
Sushan wrote: September 1st, 2022, 7:49 am And the real question rose when I thought about it from another perspective; Why people wait till death without looking back when they have enough of their lifetimes to become better (well, if necessary)?
We seem to need some kind of nudge to push us into that kind of introspection. For me, a formal diagnosis of autism was the nudge. I 'needed' to review what I remembered of my life, to see it in the light of the astonishing new insights I had come upon. But without that initial nudge, I don't think I would've done so.

Similarly, shortly after retirement, I was blogging about my career in software design. As I wrote, I stumbled on the realisation that, if I had reviewed my progress every decade or so, I could've reached my goals more quickly and more easily. But at the time, it simply never occurred to me that some introspection might prove valuable.

Maybe that's the answer to your question? We don't do it because we don't recognise its possible value?
Yes, most of us do not understand the importance of self-evaluation. And when we see its importance the time is already gone. We discuss about this and we agree upon it now, and people have done the same thing previously and may have even published books about the topic. Yet, many of us do not learn from others' lessons and choose to do timely evaluations. Why we tend to do the same mistake again and again in this aspect?
“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers”

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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by Sushan »

PuerAzaelis wrote: September 1st, 2022, 8:49 am [T]he basic idea in Being and Time is very simple: being is time and time is finite. For human beings, time comes to an end with our death. Therefore, if we want to understand what it means to be an authentic human being, then it is essential that we constantly project our lives onto the horizon of our death. This is what Heidegger famously calls "being-towards-death". If our being is finite, then an authentic human life can only be found by confronting finitude and trying to make a meaning out of the fact of our death. Heidegger subscribes to the ancient maxim that "to philosophise is to learn how to die". Mortality is that in relation to which we shape and fashion our selfhood.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfr ... %20die%22.

Perhaps the fact of a terminal disease can cause the individual to begin living authentically and philosophically.
Maybe you are correct. Human beings do not see or think about death until it is close. Then only they try to do things differently and change theirselves, when the time is far too short. But on the other hand thinking or ruminating about death can give you negative thoughts. Then the being can become less productive than being authentic. How to project one's self to the horizon of death without facing such a dilemma?
“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers”

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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by Sushan »

stevie wrote: September 1st, 2022, 10:14 am
Sushan wrote: September 1st, 2022, 7:49 am "why people tend to look back when they are close to death?"
Some may tend to do so but not all. It's due to the autobiographical self, the self that identifies itself with all accumulated stories.
All of us may not write autobiographies. But at least people tend to think about their past when they are close to death, and especially if they have nothing left to do. So, either in written form or through thoughts people understand their own self. Then they may (most of the times) feel regret and begin to see better alternatives that they could have gone for.

We do not have to go that far. We regret about our failures and think about better alternatives after everything is over, don't we? Sometimes the failures might have been avoidable.
“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers”

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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by Sushan »

JDBowden wrote: September 1st, 2022, 4:15 pm Perhaps they look back because there is nothing in front of them. If death is the known "end," there really is only one way to turn the head.
There are no restrictions regarding looking at a dead end. So people can choose to stare at the end of the road. Yet, they choose to look at the opposite side which may be filled with sorrows and regrets, while the upcoming unknown can be serene. Why is that?
“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers”

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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by PuerAzaelis »

Sushan wrote: September 2nd, 2022, 9:45 am Maybe you are correct. Human beings do not see or think about death until it is close. Then only they try to do things differently and change theirselves, when the time is far too short. But on the other hand thinking or ruminating about death can give you negative thoughts. Then the being can become less productive than being authentic. How to project one's self to the horizon of death without facing such a dilemma?
According to Heidegger facing death indeed places us in a dilemma of negative thoughts and produces "anxiety". However authenticity can only be achieved by enduring this anxiety. Fleeing from this anxiety and adopting a conventional societal role, living in the "they"-self, leads to inauthenticity.
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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

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Sushan wrote: September 1st, 2022, 7:49 am This topic is about the September 2022 Philosophy Book of the Month, The Not So Great American Novel by James E Doucette


Recently I came upon several memoirs (including this one) that were written by people who had terminal (or potentially terminal) illnesses. This made me think "why people tend to look back when they are close to death?". And the real question rose when I thought about it from another perspective; Why people wait till death without looking back when they have enough of their lifetimes to become better (well, if necessary)?
If my experience is any gauge, we start THINKING about our pasts around retirement, when we have more free time and fewer goals in the future and no kids to focus on. But folks don't WRITE ABOUT their pasts until we have an endpoint (are nearer to death).
"As usual... it depends."
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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by stevie »

Sushan wrote: September 2nd, 2022, 9:45 am
stevie wrote: September 1st, 2022, 10:14 am
Sushan wrote: September 1st, 2022, 7:49 am "why people tend to look back when they are close to death?"
Some may tend to do so but not all. It's due to the autobiographical self, the self that identifies itself with all accumulated stories.
All of us may not write autobiographies. But at least people tend to think about their past when they are close to death, and especially if they have nothing left to do. So, either in written form or through thoughts people understand their own self. Then they may (most of the times) feel regret and begin to see better alternatives that they could have gone for.

We do not have to go that far. We regret about our failures and think about better alternatives after everything is over, don't we? Sometimes the failures might have been avoidable.
I don't know about "we". As far as I am concerned I don't regret my failures - if there have been any, I don't know, but maybe there have been some. I just focus on what is now and if I know about being close to death then I will focus on dying but not look back. And if death just happens without me being aware of being close to death then death will happen while I will be focusing on something else.
mankind ... must act and reason and believe; though they are not able, by their most diligent enquiry, to satisfy themselves concerning the foundation of these operations, or to remove the objections, which may be raised against them [Hume]
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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by Sushan »

PuerAzaelis wrote: September 2nd, 2022, 10:36 am
Sushan wrote: September 2nd, 2022, 9:45 am Maybe you are correct. Human beings do not see or think about death until it is close. Then only they try to do things differently and change theirselves, when the time is far too short. But on the other hand thinking or ruminating about death can give you negative thoughts. Then the being can become less productive than being authentic. How to project one's self to the horizon of death without facing such a dilemma?
According to Heidegger facing death indeed places us in a dilemma of negative thoughts and produces "anxiety". However authenticity can only be achieved by enduring this anxiety. Fleeing from this anxiety and adopting a conventional societal role, living in the "they"-self, leads to inauthenticity.
Many of the people tend to do the easy and less-anxious thing, which is forgetting about death. So, seemingly many lead happy, yet inauthentic lives.
“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers”

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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by Sushan »

LuckyR wrote: September 2nd, 2022, 12:15 pm
Sushan wrote: September 1st, 2022, 7:49 am This topic is about the September 2022 Philosophy Book of the Month, The Not So Great American Novel by James E Doucette


Recently I came upon several memoirs (including this one) that were written by people who had terminal (or potentially terminal) illnesses. This made me think "why people tend to look back when they are close to death?". And the real question rose when I thought about it from another perspective; Why people wait till death without looking back when they have enough of their lifetimes to become better (well, if necessary)?
If my experience is any gauge, we start THINKING about our pasts around retirement, when we have more free time and fewer goals in the future and no kids to focus on. But folks don't WRITE ABOUT their pasts until we have an endpoint (are nearer to death).
It is quite true. When we have more time we tend to think more, and if we have a less amount of future goals we tend to think about the past. But what is special about WRITING about the past when someone is near the literal end?
“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers”

– William James
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Re: Why people tend to look back when they are close to death?

Post by Sushan »

stevie wrote: September 2nd, 2022, 2:01 pm
Sushan wrote: September 2nd, 2022, 9:45 am
stevie wrote: September 1st, 2022, 10:14 am
Sushan wrote: September 1st, 2022, 7:49 am "why people tend to look back when they are close to death?"
Some may tend to do so but not all. It's due to the autobiographical self, the self that identifies itself with all accumulated stories.
All of us may not write autobiographies. But at least people tend to think about their past when they are close to death, and especially if they have nothing left to do. So, either in written form or through thoughts people understand their own self. Then they may (most of the times) feel regret and begin to see better alternatives that they could have gone for.

We do not have to go that far. We regret about our failures and think about better alternatives after everything is over, don't we? Sometimes the failures might have been avoidable.
I don't know about "we". As far as I am concerned I don't regret my failures - if there have been any, I don't know, but maybe there have been some. I just focus on what is now and if I know about being close to death then I will focus on dying but not look back. And if death just happens without me being aware of being close to death then death will happen while I will be focusing on something else.
This author had the chance to focus on death as he went quite close to death. When people die suddenly they may have no time to focus on death. But if someone is dying due to old age, he/she will have enough time to think about death.

And I think it is quite a good thing if someone can totally forget about his/her failures and wrong choices, because I have met more people who lament over their failures than people who think "everything happens for good".
“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers”

– William James
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