A person I knew casually died recently. He was the husband of the 16th-17th century English professor at my school, and a philosophy professor. I was just at a party with him about a week ago. I don’t remember what day he died on; I just got the basic facts from another student who called me because they thought I would care. I do. He was a quiet man; I ran into him at a Kant lecture a while back, and we didn’t even speak.
But he seemed to be animated and in good spirits at the party. He wasn’t ill, and he was laughing quite a bit. I spoke to his wife briefly, but not to him. The story I got of his passing was totally mundane. He was found dead sitting on a toilet.
“How Elvis!” my friend said.
The cause of death was blunt head trauma. Evidently, he fell and hit his head somehow. He walked with a cane, so I suppose his legs were not the best. After breaking my ankle by stepping out of my car last year, this news hits me fairly hard. I don’t feel nearly so invincible as I once did. The idea that one day you’re here, and the next, you’re gone is of far greater interest to me than models of cellular automatons, and the possibility that the end of life is following some sort of cosmic computer program.
I really couldn’t care less about “A New Kind of Science.” I cracked up when I read that title, and a few reviews. Principles of New Science of Giambattista Vico concerning the Common Nature of the Nations, by which are found the Principles of Another System of the Natural Law of the Gentes was first published in 1725 by a rhetoric professor. It’s a more interesting document to me, because it draws upon the metaphoric, poetic nature of man’s consciousness as a formative basis for social cultures (gentile cultures, anyhow). It’s usually called Vico’s New Science. Much like the realm of advertising (New! Improved!), if you wanted to sell a book in the early eighteenth century you did need to gesture at its novelty. What makes me wonder about the latest “new science” is the dependence on digital modeling; life’s alway’s been analog to me. I suspect that’s the primary novelty.
Unfortunately, death has no novelty. Realizing that if a similar thing happened to me, it might be as much as a month before anyone found out. But then again, I suppose it wouldn’t matter much to me. I’d be dead.