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Category: Death

Red Dwarf and the Meaning of Life

English sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf is one of the finest examples of existential comedy I think I’ve ever seen. It deals so elegantly in matters of free will and determinism, time travel, the idea and pursuit of happiness, and any number of philosophical and mythological conundra. But what shines through mostly is the quest for meaning in life.

Marooned 3 million years away from Earth following a nuclear explosion is an on-board crew of Lister, the last man alive who was safely sealed in Stasis as punishment for keeping a cat on the ship; Rimmer, a hologramatic projection of his former bunkmate; the Cat, a lifeform evolved from Lister’s pet cat Frankenstein; and Kryten, a service mechanoid rescued from the Nova 5. Steering them and ostensibly aiding them on their journey is the on-board computer, Holly, who after 3 million years on his own has lost a little of his former 6,000 IQ points and is now to all intents and purposes computer senile. Between them they do all the usual sci-fi things, getting into scrapes and dealing with cosmic phenomena, on their way to finding a way home, but underpinning the whole thing are some beautiful forays into the meaning of existence – and in many ways the lack of it. It’s universe is one which is unequivocally without a god or benign being, and without even alien life forms: any creature that they encounter is something developed and/or mutated from Earth, millenia ago sent out into deep space. Read the rest of this entry »


Distractions from the Ultimate Inevitability: another post on death and acceptance

I hate to keep banging this, by now quite battered, drum but we are going to die some day.

Somebody for whom I had a great deal of affection and was something of an honorary aunt of mine died last week and, as always in these situations, I thought of my own mortality. That night I had perhaps the most startlingly real realisation of my young life that I would actually die some day.

Incidentally, with every key press I make with one finger, I’m having to suppress the urge of another three fingers from hitting the backspace key. I’m very aware that I’m giving you very little insight when I talk about these feelings, but what is most fascinating is how people respond to this self-evident fact. It has conjured up the most outrageous ideas, distractions, confabulations and counterintuitive notions, from religions to fandoms to New Age quackery. Anything to take our minds off that which is so fundamental and yet so inconceivable. Read the rest of this entry »

Heaven and reason, or Thoughts of a Dying Atheist

Sometimes I wish heaven was real.

For all its flaws, The Invention of Lying did give us an incredibly moving scene. With his mother about to die and lamenting the eternity of nothingness that awaited her, Mark Bellison begins to realise that his (heretofore unheard of) ability to lie can be used for good. Instead of letting her die in such a sad state, he tells her that everything is going to be fine; she will go to a place where she will see all of her old friends, where everybody gets a mansion and there is no such thing as pain. Her dying thoughts are of absolute joy. What a gift.

For those who’ve seen it, you’ll probably agree that the film kind of goes off the rails a little bit here with too many contrivances and shoe-horned messages (which I endorse but not in such a forced way). Nonetheless it shows us a portal into the inherent problem of facing non-existence. Read the rest of this entry »