An Experiment in Dying

When talking with friends and family about what I’ve been through, the topic of my radical perspective shift comes up over and over. And I always say that “staring down the barrel of that gun” or “dangling on the edge of that cliff” or “looking straight into the abyss” will do that do a person. But I am also quick to follow up with the qualifier that a person can’t force that experience onto themselves. It just has to happen— and dying will do that. 


In my much loved (now dog-eared and marginalia-covered) book Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, he writes the same sentiment— that one cannot force the second phase of their spirituality to happen. It just does. But he also mentions that it seems common for it to happen to people sometime around their mid-40s. 


I have heard of someone who did manage to simulate their own dying experience and come away changed forever as a result. Kevin Kelly is former editor-at-large at WIRED magazine and has his hands in a long list of fascinating projects. He’s written several books about technology and the future. I’ve read his latest futurist book, The Inevitable, and recommend it if you’re interested in things like what automation will look like, AI, and the singularity. At the heart of his futurist predictions there are very rooted and optimistic outlooks on what we as humans will learn from our own advancements. To paraphrase his take on automation, when robots learn to do everything we do and obviate the need for work, the result will be that we will learn, deeply, what it is to be human. 


The following summary of this story was made into the very first episode of This American Life. He also reflects on it during a long-form interview on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast.

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