But what is all this fear of and opposition to oblivion?
What is the matter with the soft darkness, the dreamless sleep?
--James Thurber

Sleep and its Relationship to The End

I read a very good book: Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained. One of the things the work made me realize is that I'm not always as conscious as I think I am. My inner voice, literally the voice in my head that I used to identify as "me", is often silent-- the systems that are always buzzing my head don't always marshal themselves up into a distinct speech pattern. In fact, I'm running on autopilot most of the time-- the pandemonium that makes up my mind isn't always- as a 'group', or at least on the level that makes itself known to itself as a whole- aware of what it's up to.

The book makes a very good case for a view of the mind as this series of competing/co-operating systems (and argues very strongly against the idea of some 'inner-self' where the self and thinking 'really' happens, serviced by all the outer processes of subconsciousness and perception), sometimes using language as a framework, sometimes using other methods of imitating our sense-impressions to take advantage of our specialized perception systems.

My own introspection goes further, (though of course one of the points of the book is that we should take our own internal observations with a large grain of salt,) and says that I'm not always aware of what's going on. If I desire to, I can think metathoughts- thoughts about my thoughts- and metametathoughts, and metametametathoughts, and so on all the way up-- that's what consciousness is all about. But I usually don't.

And, like all you other mammals out there, I sleep. Perchance to dream-- but only sometimes. Sometimes I'm "out like a light". Well, not completely-- I'm sure that some one could hook up some sensors to my head, and clearly see a fair amount of happy neurochemical humming and bopping, even when I'm in deepest of deep sleep. But not to me-- I may not be dead to the world (as long as the world has sufficiently sensitive instruments) but I'm dead to myself

So what's the point? It's like Poe said: "Sleep... those little slices of death; O how I loathe them!" He was expressing a frustration with having to spend so much of his life in a comatose state. And he has a point: sleep seems to make our finite lifespans even more finite. And yet-- and yet, it's a safe way of practicing for what we all will finally come to. Yes, the idea of "death as sleep" is hardly new, but I hope by pointing out how it won't be a totally new experience, how even when we're awake and about we aren't necessarily awake in the ways we find most important to our sense of selves, that I can make the lack of our selves in the universe less frightening-- especially given the fact that, by definition, we won't be there to be scared at that time.