Home______Death & The Sense of Self

Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris.

Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die. . . .

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." (John Donne, Meditation XVII, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 1624)

Three hundred years lie between Donne's No man is an island and Einstein's remark that a human being is part of a whole (discussed below), and each involves a contemplation of death as a type of illusion.

Early in his life, Albert Einstein became aware of the illusions begotten by common sense. As a boy, he imagined himself riding a light beam and speculated on how things would appear as he approached the speed of light. Understanding the new shapes they would assume, he concluded that the universe is a strange place indeed . . . More


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