Boston, Massachusetts
March 2005

Dear Phillip,

What a gallant young lad you have become!

I very much enjoyed seeing you on Saturday, and it pleases me tremendously to learn that you have decided to pursue a career in letters. You were one of my brightest pupils, and, after our rather passionate discussion, I feel it is incumbent upon me, as one of your former educators, to lengthen our exchange in the interest of elucidating some of the key points where we differed in method and approach. Remember, factual analysis is to the truth what sophism is to balderdash, and rhetoric that disregards methodology is bound to become blather.

So without further ado, I will resume the discussion at the point which, I believe, our views on the subject of the evolution of the conscious being turned hard to reconcile. Let me remind you first that we both agreed to use the term "evolution" not strictly in the Darwinian sense, but more generally to signify a gradual process in which something changes into a different, and usually more complex or better, form.

That clarification aside, let me start by saying that the evolution of the conscious being is marred by the inevitability of death, unless, of course, one refutes the argument that death is inevitable. A detachment from reality, however, is sine qua non of this refutation, for it peremptorily inserts us into the realm of the metaphysical. Tempting as it may be, transporting this discussion to the metaphysical realm would, in essence, deny its purpose, for, if we eliminate the parameters by which the conscious being is physically bound, we are, in essence, altering its very definition.

As conscious beings, we can only exist as a function of the other. Thus, an individual (a semantic trick, perhaps) can only be defined as the amalgam of what is perceived to be his "unique nature" in juxtaposition to his role as member of a group. If one is only as a function of the other, their evolution, by default, is as well tied to that same principle. If so, the evolution of the conscious being can not take place in the vacuum, for it is wedded to the evolution of the group. More important, both the group and the individual, as conscious entities, are, by definition, aware of the fact that they have a limited amount of time during which they can perform any activity with the purpose of challenging both their knowledge and physical boundaries.

If one--as you proposed--abstracts the notion of finitude from this equation, one automatically erases the very stimulus that propels the conscious being to evolve; this stimulus being the desire to prolong life or, conversely, to delay death. So it is my proposition that death is, in fact, not only an important but rather a necessary element of evolution.

At the risk of straying too far away from the topic at hand, it is valid to propose that most of the emotions that help dictate the behavior of conscious beings are intrinsically tied to the notion of death. Take fear, for example. The very notion of it is connected to the fact that--all things being equal--the worst thing that could happen to a conscious being is ceasing to exist, for that would represent the ultimate end of, well, everything. I know this is a generalization, and, as such, it must be noted that my perspective is that of a scientist and not that of a religious scholar. From where I stand, there is no such a thing as an afterlife.

Furthermore, I believe the empirical evidence supporting this argument is plentiful, as this death-awareness-led evolution manifests itself in many ways: From new drugs and medical procedures aimed explicitly at extending life to the many "time-saving" enhancements of modern life, such as automobiles, telephone and the Internet, to name just a few, for the notion of productivity--or producing more with the same amount of resources; the resource in this case being time--is also at the very core of the conscious being's quest to evolve.

But one of the key contentious points in our discussion was whether the awareness of death marred the evolution of the conscious being not helped or drove it. Since I believe we have now made clear that death--for the purposes of this argument--is inevitable, and that many of the emotions that dictate the behavior of conscious beings are derivatives of the awareness of this inevitability, it is plausible to think that conscious beings would exploit those facts in their pursuit of power (political, economic, military, etc.). It is also plausible to think that by doing so, they could create mechanisms whereby evolution is either stalled or delayed. By the same token, it is also plausible to think that the pursuit of power could, in many instances, whether deliberately or not, trump the pursuit of evolution.

Of course, one could argue that the creation of mechanisms designed to manipulate the conscious being's behavior, or deter his acts, by exploiting his awareness of death could be considered part of the evolutionary process because appeasement, in a way, could be seen as paving the way for the very stability (political, economic, military, etc.) that fosters evolution. But that argument, my young friend, would be, in my view, what marketers and politicians like to call spin. And spin, in my book, has a close relationship to humbug.

I hope I have been able to narrow the discussion insofar as to provide some extra light on details of my views that might have been obscured by the speed of our encounter and the venue's limited conduciveness to philosophical discussion (a party, after all, is a party). It is my expectation that my words, now in written format, will instigate your thoughts and curiosity enough to allow us to continue this dialogue.

I look forward to hearing from you and, as always, wish you well in your academic pursuits.


Prof. Thomas Blake

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