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Wolf, E.S. (1983). Discussion: Transience or Nothingness?. Psychoanal. Inq., 3(3):529-542.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 3(3):529-542

Discussion: Transience or Nothingness?

Ernest S. Wolf, M.D.

Why, do you not know, then, that the origin of all human evils, and of baseness, and cowardice, is not death, but rather the fear of death?

—Epictetus, Discourses

Of all of the fates that befall man, none seems more mysterious than the most common of all. Millenia of human history have not made the slightest dent in the awful respect we bring to this everyday event occurring around us. Millenia of philosophy and science have not enlightened us to know the state of death. Indeed, so unacceptable has been the very idea of death that most man's ingenuity has gone into inventing all kinds of mental constructions that have the single useful function of banning the inevitability of death from his thought. Illusions or delusions, we call these constructions when we recognize them in others. To our own selfs we are kinder, and we save our sensibilities the pain by not thinking about our own death at all. Oh, of course, we sometimes contemplate it in a detached manner, as if we were thinking about someone else, and by the very detachment prove that we are not really listening to our own thoughts, that it is not really us about whom we are talking.

Yes, I am including my writing this as being part of the universal charade. It is a charade that I believe for most of us is just as inevitable as death itself. For death simply is nothingness and nothingness is not humanly knowable.

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