[It is clear from the passage below that its author would have little difficulty occupying himself on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Bryan Magee finds his life far too exciting to be able to accept the prospect of personal extinction with philosophic detachment. A lot of scorn has been poured on such people. A taste for immortality is considered bad taste, usually by people who think you only get one kick at the can. It is safe to say that the average sceptic or believer lives in a different emotional universe from this distraught doubter. An elderly parish priest once said in his simple, yet profound, way: “We all know we’re going to die; but most of the time we don’t believe it!” Magee’s misfortune is that he not only knows he’s going to die; he believes it, and has no religious faith to counteract his terror of oblivion. Then again, intense feeling can be capricious and perhaps there, but for the grace of God, could go any one of us, believer and sceptic alike. Or maybe it’s a question of temperament: ‘All my life I have been brimming over with an almost uncontainably powerful desire to live. I feel it as an ever-present drive, thirst, lust, of which I have been inescapably aware since childhood.’ How many people can say that? What we can be sure of, and thankful for, is that few of us feel the fact of our mortality the way Magee does. Perhaps it’s part of the price of a charmed life.]
On the surface I seemed to have everything I could reasonably want—good health, energy, an adventurous life, rewarding friendships, exhilarating love affairs, success in my work, exciting travel, the sustained nourishment of music, theatre, reading—but in the middle of it all I was overwhelmed, almost literally so, by a sense of mortality. The realization hit me like a demolition crane that I was inevitably going to die. This feeling, when it came, was not an ordinary fear or anxiety but was hyper-vivid and preternaturally powerful. As in a nightmare, I felt trapped and unable to escape from something that I was also unable to face. Death, my death, the literal destruction of me, was totally inevitable, and had been from the very instant of my conception. Nothing that I could ever do, now or at any other time, could make any difference to that, nor could it ever have done so at any moment of my life. Not only would being brave make no difference: gibbering cowardice would make no difference either. I found this fact un-comeable-to-terms-with. I felt—as I imagine a lot of the people who have confronted firing squads must have felt—engulfed by mind-numbing terror in the face of oblivion. For several years this was my normal mode of existence, a nightmare from which it was impossible to awake because I was awake already.
Bryan Magee (from Confessions of a Philosopher, 1997)
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