From the end of this world to the back of the alley
Heraclitus claimed death was the extinguishment of the soul, which is made of fire. The conclusion that living bodies carry fire doesnt seem so far fetched given the loss of heat after death. This transfer of heat reflects the larger entropic process of the cosmos at the human scale, which is used to measure and understand the passing of heat as the passing of time. However, this is deceptive. What is thought of as time is a perception of being in motion, or duration. No two durations of becoming are the same. One more irreversible step toward cosmic heat death.
Around the same time Heraclitus was playing with fire, what would later be called Daoist philosophy began to take shape somewhere near the Yellow and Yangzi rivers. Laozi and Heraclitus may have each had a foot in two separate rivers at that moment. “We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.” claimed Heraclitus, recognizing a unity of opposites in flux similar to the eternal flow of existence of dao, which Laozi spoke of.
This flow is reflected in mycelia and the fibrous threads of their neural networks. Peter McCoy likens mycelia to dark matter, with its largely unnoticed communication with other lifeforms and nutrient transferal throughout an ecosystem. This chthonic cloud-brain of sorts is fundamental to maintaining the health of their surroundings: stimulating both decomposition and recomposition. Hyphae are the branching ends of mycelial fibers, each autonomous and interconnected to the larger organism.
Laozi’s claim: “all things end in the Dao as rivers flow into the sea,” gives a visual example of li, an ancient Chinese concept of the eternal flow exemplified through natural patterning. Allan Watts put it this way:
“The interesting thing is, that although we all know what it is, there is no way of defining it. Because dao is the course, we can also call li the watercourse, and the patterns of li are also the patterns of flowing water. We see those patterns of flow memorialized, as it were, as sculpture in the grain in wood, which is the flow of sap, in marble, in bones, in muscles.”
The phenomena of mushroom growth stimulated by the branching pattern of lightning strikes has long been known among various cultures, and shown through scientific studies.
Like their human counterparts Heraclitus and Laozi, mycelia challenge the subject/object divide: promoting consistency and change, life and death: both/and. Its no surprise that mushrooms would be linked to Hecate, goddess of liminality, crossroads, and ghosts. Not quite here not quite there, not quite living, not quite dead.
“Having little to live on, one knows better than to value life too much.” – Laozi
U.G. Krishnamurti claims the fear of death is the fear of an end to continuity. An end to linear perception of time reveals it for what it is: perception. After watching and reading a handful of interviews, Im still unsure if U.G. is an absolute idealist (mind is all that exists) or eliminative materialist (mind does not exist). Certainly they are an extreme skeptic (mind is all we can ever know).
I feel there is a correlation between teleology, linear perception of time, and obsession for control. This seems to be a deep attribute of western logic that has amplified throughout modernity. The root of this logic may be the fear of acknowledging, understanding, or coming to terms with decomposition. This logic exhibits a lack of intercourse (let alone intracourse) seen in the exchange between the living and dead prevalent in cultures who have not fully adopted this thinking. Perhaps this fear is related to what Eugene Thacker describes as the horror of cosmic indifference, or the world-without-us perspective. The horror of the limits to human thought and existence.
David Beth proposes this fear is rooted in the subject/object divide: separating the observer from the observed. They claim a profound alienation results from this divide present in transcendental frameworks. The quest for transcendence outside lived experience stems from a lack of meaning yearning to be filled. This pursuit of external spirit in idealism is similar to the process of reductive scientism in materialism. Both make efforts to downplay the embodied phenomena of lived experience, and resist a holistic engagement with both life and death. Both prioritize either/or over both/and. Once possessed by this spirit or external truth, one desires to possess in turn. This is seen in many human relationships: the desire to possess another is the desire to maintain an ideal. Overemphasizing rational analysis leads to seeing utility in all forms: natural resources where there were once trees. This transcendent spirit emits from a central source. An authoritative one distributes power to the nearest many, denying and thus devaluing outliers.
Similar to the Daoists, Beth argues in order to overcome this possession we must: break the habits of linear perception and subject/object division, reject the societal status quo that opts for mechanical predictability over the changing flow of existence, and embrace phenomenal life instead of striving after the carrot of transcendental value at the end of a stick. Perhaps learning from mushrooms and other fungi could be of value here.
Lastly, this fear of death brings to mind Max Stirner’s suggestion: “If [they are] dealing only with staying alive, and thinks, ‘if only I have dear life,’ [they don’t] apply [their] full strength to using, i.e., enjoying, life. But how does one use life? By using it up, like the candle, which one uses by burning it. … Enjoyment of life is using life up.”