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A little piece of philosophy, about life and death

  1. May 9, 2006 #1


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    Some people compare us to Diogenes, carrying his lantern in the dark, searching for the truth. Indeed, we sometimes feel that way, looking in the dark. But I think a more accurate metaphor is that of Sisyphus.

    Sisyphus was a character in Greek mythology. If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals. According to another tradition, however, he was a highwayman. Opinions differ as to the reasons why he became the futile laborer of the underworld, but it does not matter. To begin with, he is accused of a certain levity in regard to the gods. He stole their secrets. Egina, the daughter of Esopus, was carried off by Jupiter. The father was shocked by that disappearance and complained to Sisyphus. He, who knew of the abduction, offered to tell about it on condition that Esopus would give water to the citadel of Corinth. To the celestial thunderbolts he preferred the benediction of water. He was punished for this in the underworld. Homer tells us also that Sisyphus had put Death in chains. Hades could not endure the sight of a deserted, silent empire. He dispatched the Mars, to liberate Death from the hands of her conqueror.

    It is said that Sisyphus, deathly ill, rashly wanted to test his wife's love. He ordered her to cast his unburied body into the middle of the public square, oops he died. Sisyphus woke up in the underworld. He obtained from Hades, permission to return to earth in order to chastise his wife. He had seen again the face of this world, enjoyed water and sun, warm stones and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness. Recalls, signs of anger, warnings were of no avail. Many years more he lived facing the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea, and the smiles of earth. Hermes seized the impudent man by the collar and, snatching him from his joys, lead him forcibly back to the underworld, where his rock was ready for him.

    As punishment, for the so many nice things he did for mortals, and procrastinating death, he was sentenced to blindness and to perpetually roll a giant boulder up a mountain to the peak, only to have it inevitably roll back down the mountain into the valley.

    Absurdism is a philosophy stating that the efforts of man to find meaning in the universe will ultimately fail because no such meaning exists (at least in relation to man). This is where the word "absurd" comes from; Sisyphus is the hero of the absurd.

    He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth. Nothing is told us about Sisyphus in the underworld. Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them.

    In this myth, one sees merely the whole effort of a body straining to raise the huge stone, to roll it, and push it up a steep slope. One sees his face squeezed up, the cheek tight against the stone, the shoulder bracing the clay-covered mass, the foot wedging it, the fresh start with arms outstretched, the wholly human security of two earth-clotted hands. Just like Atlas, holding up the Sky. At the very end of his long effort measured by skyless space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved. Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He follows.

    It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus most interests me. I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. It is quite courageous actually. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness, of lucidity. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

    Optimism and absurdism are of two sides of the coin. The coin teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted. It drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile suffering. It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled among men.

    All Sisyphus's silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is a thing likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death.

    We are all like Sisyphus—we learn, we work, we have children, we die. That’s it. What for? Our reward is life itself. The joy is in rolling the rock up the hill. Sisyphus is happy.

    I would rather live forever in pain than die. Suicide is for the insane. I guess in a way we do live forever in pain... it is the pushing of the rock that is the pain. We all experience pain in life, if you're lucky and smart, you get more breaks between the pain at the top of the hill.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 9, 2006 #2


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    Staff Emeritus
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    Been reading some Camus?
  4. May 9, 2006 #3
    I have some bad news for you there...

    In any case, from where do get joy in rolling a rock?
  5. May 10, 2006 #4


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    I forgot the name of the guy, but he may've been it. I pulled probably a half of it from somebody's essay about Sisyphus. Got the idea and found this guy and read some Carl Sagan and yeah.
  6. May 11, 2006 #5
    From my point of view our lives are bit different than that of Sisyphus and his rock. He struggles all his life and so we do, but his struggle comes directly from one point, and he's unable to overcome it, since he has no knowledge nor tools to flatten the top of the moutain to finally end his what seems to be endless struggle.

    On the other hand our troubles, problems, struggle come from many different points, and by means of knowledge we are able to stop it and convert it into something pleasant to us. For example, working all your life is meant to be similar to Sisyohus's work, but when you actually get the job you want, for example a theoretical physicist at CERN, the work you have becomes a pleasure and not a struggle anymore. Then your children, or friends, or enemies may become a struggle and problem for you, but by knowledge you're able to reveal your good, reasonable and convincing reason, making your enemies to become your friends, your friends to be shaped the way it'd be pleasant to you and so on. After you're done with this, you face another problem which is as well a struggle and problem for you as enemies and labor work.

    Now suposse you're trying to learn Quantum Mechanics, and apparently you just can't understand them. You try second, third, fourth time and after another trial you stop and you don't learn it anymore although you still want to know. You're losing time to learn something that you won't understand, finally coming to the conclusion it's not worth it. You spend hours on writing an essay and everytime you finish, you somehow lose your essay. Finally you say, no more, and you go on with your life. I'm not exactly sure of Sisiphus's story but if Sisyphus was human-like, after tens of trials or less or more, he would finally come to the conclusion, he isn't and won't be able to roll and settle the rock at the top, and he stops doing it, sitting on the side of the mountain thinking what to do next and what would be the cause of his decision.

    Life is a struggle, because we have problems. Our problems most of the time come from other people who are driven by selfish desires, money, and power though they not often realize it. But imagine we all become friends. We start living for each other, our desires of might are ended, suffering had disappeared. Then our lives become a pleasure and good experience instead of pleasurable problems and struggle. The life struggle for people willing to learn about their struggle won't ever be as bad as for people ignorant to ideas of life and others' feelings.
  7. May 15, 2006 #6
    Heartless - I agree with most of what you've said but you've just changed the angle you look at it, but that doens't solve the problem - death and the meaning of life still remain an issue at large.
    Besides, remember that Sysyphus was fordoomed to spend his life in eternity rolling the boulder, he wasn't "free" to let the stone roll away from the slope (this is Greek Mythology after all).

    In our days and age, live is lived in a free-fashioned, rollicking fashion (well, those of us who are lucky anyways) so we have an opportunity to throw the gauntlet down and quit whatever it is we're dissatisfied with (be it an activity or job) but Sysyphus had an additional burden of "divine punishment" that was beyond his ability to rectify, so that should be taken into account.

    Otherwise, 100% with you m8ty :)
  8. May 16, 2006 #7


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    Heartless, I did not mean for the rock to symbolize any one problem, but life's pain.
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