Death and the Skeptic

October 16, 2008

Tonight on NPR’s “Philosophy Talk” I heard this declaration referring to death: “The world as I know it will cease to exist,” and then there will be nothing.

When I heard this somber reminder of what everyone fears, I was in the car on the way home. I had been drinking wine at a downtown hotel with my youngest brother and his wife, in Portland from Florida for a criminal justice conference.

They talked of a friend, also at the conference, who had miraculously survived kidney and brain cancer during the last dozen years. They described how battling the disease had changed his outlook on life — for the better.

He joined us later. In two days, he and his wife are headed to China, courtesy of a university, for some teaching and speaking. He’s brilliant in his field, criminology, and is in hot demand on the academic circuit. “Recidivism” was the word of the evening.

I wanted to discern for myself how he might have changed but failed, perhaps because I had no point of reference. What I noticed was his skepticism and need for people to explain their claims. A healthy sign in my view.

Maybe he just wanted them to think. Really think.