Review of Andrew Stark’s, “The Consolations of Mortality: Making Sense of Death”

Andrew Stark’s new book, The Consolations of Mortality: Making Sense of Death, addresses those who disavow belief in an afterlife. So what consolation might these non-believers find when confronting death? Stark argues that traditionally there are “four distinct ways of persuading us to accept, maybe even appreciate, the fact that we will die.” (1)The book investigates and defends of each of these four consolations. (Stark knows that science may eventually defeat death, but he says that for most of us alive today that won’t happen soon enough—perhaps not for centuries.)

The first consolation says that “death itself is actually a benign or even a good thing.” (2) Many have made such an argument. For example, Epicurus famously said that when we are alive death is not present, and when we are dead we are not alive to suffer from it. Consolation arises from understanding that we never encounter death. In addition, most existentialists claim that only if we are aware of our finitude we will feel the urgency to make the choices that define a true self. If we dawdle we won’t create our selves, so death is essential for having a self. And Buddhism tells us there is no self, so death is really nothing. If the self is just conscious experiences, then those will continue on in others after we die. So these disparate philosophies all share the idea that death is basically benign.

The second consolation states that “within mortal life as it is, we can acquire all the intimations of immortality we could ever desire.” (3)The idea is that all the good things of death’s alternative, immortality, are available now, so death doesn’t deprive us of anything. Most importantly, we want to preserve the contents of our consciousness, and we want to help shape the future. But we have consciousness and we can shape the future now. So, even if we were immortal, we wouldn’t gain anything that we don’t have now, or so the argument goes.

The third consolation states that “immortality itself would actually be an awful fate … ” (4) For example, if we have memories of all our experiences,  then we might become bored after having done and seen everything. But if your oldest memories slowly vanished, and your character continually changed, then it would be as if you were periodically dying and being reborn, which is like being mortal. Now suppose your immortal self retained its memories and character, and continual novelty eliminated boredom. Yet then you might find that your self became antiquated as time moved on. And, if your memories and character continually disappear, then that hardly seems like an enviable immoral life. Perhaps we’re lucky we don’t have to be forever.

The fourth consolation claims that “life, with its losses, is itself nothing but an intimation of death.” (6) In other words, life already gives us all the bad things we associate with death, so death isn’t worse that life. For example, we dread leaving behind all the people and things that we love. But we lose homes, keepsakes, places, comforting ideas, and people we love throughout life–goodbyes are part of life. Of course death also means that our own consciousness vanishes, but that happens when we sleep too.

Stark begins his discussion with two aveats. First, he will discuss whether death is a good thing for relatively healthy people who have lived a normal lifespan of about 80 years, not whether death might be a welcome relief to suffering. And second, he won’t discuss whether lives of two hundred or two thousand years are bad; he is talking about an endless life, or at least one long enough to feel that way to the person living it. With these caveats in place the rest of the book explores whether the four consolations are sufficient.

Stark rejects the first consolation—death is benign, good for us, nothing to us—because Epicurean, existential, and Buddhist notions of self all deny “the reality that cries out for consolation; we are selves who move inexorably through time … while the moments of our lives flow incessantly through our fingers … back into the past.” (95) Rejecting these conceptions of self, he necessarily rejects the consolations they offer.

He also rejects the second consolation—mortal life provides the good things that immorality does. Technology might allow us to record our entire lives for others to view, or we might learn to be so connected with others that the continuation of their lives provides comfort. But none of this is enough. For “to believe that our mortal selves and mortal lives could even begin to give us the good things that their immortal versions would, we have to pretend that those selves and lives are bare shadows of what they actually are. We have to pretend that they are already half-dead.” (147)

Stark agrees that even the best immortality scenarios are unappealing, so he finds solace in the third consolation. Dissolving in time, subsisting in time, uniting with time, or uniting with a great ocean of being—none of this satisfies. For we “unavoidably see our selves as moving forward relentlessly in time … while the experiences of our lives flow remorselessly backward in time …” (189) So mortality is a blessing after all, if for no other reason than that immortality seems like a curse.

At this point in the text Stark addresses the issue of optional immortality, where we could live forever, but could opt out if we wanted to. But he rejects this option. If immortal life were so bad that we would want to opt out, wouldn’t that mean that such a life wasn’t a good one? Of course most mortals think their lives are worth it even they will end unpleasantly. But, according to Stark, option immortals would end their lives because they were bored, their memories prevented them from experiencing novelty, or for other reasons that made immortality unbearable. Stark doubts that option immortals would, in retrospect, value a life that had become so pointless that they wanted to end it.

Stark now investigates the final consolation—that life already gives us all the bad things that death does. Every second we move forward in time while the moments of our lives slowly slip away from us. It seems we are losing our lives every moment. But, surprisingly, he says this comforting because the alternative is being immortal and watching others die. And if events persisted longer then, when they ended, the grief over their loss would be greater than if events and experiences were more fleeting. Summarizing Stark says, “these two features of mortal existence—that our selves move together relentlessly into the future while the events of our life ceaselessly disappear into the past—are finally what bar life’s losses from ever resembling death’s. And while that fact doesn’t console me about death, it does console me about life.” (225) In short, it is good that life is fleeting.

Stark now reiterates that immortality isn’t desirable—we would either grow bored, if we remained the same, or our selves would die continually by always changing—and in this he finds consolation. As he concludes:

Either we die or we are immortal. And either our selves move relentlessly forward in time while the moments of our lives slip continually backward out of reach, or else we gain the capacities to stop moving forward in time and to keep the precious moments of our lives from flowing backward in time beyond our grasp. Of all the possibilities, none is better than the one we have. We die, and our selves move inexorably forward in time while the moments of our lives ineluctably vanish into the past. In fact, it may be the option that contains the least amount of death.

At that most fundamental level, the bundle of ego and anxiety that dwells within me feels consoled about our mortal condition. Not cheered. But consoled. I—you, we, humankind—got the best deal imaginable. (231)

Reflections – I am a transhumanist who has argued vehemently that death is an ultimate evil and that death should be optional. ( I have written almost 50 posts on various aspects of death.) So it is hard to put aside some of my preconceived ideas, and give Stark’s book a fair hearing. But I have tried. Still, while I find many of Stark’s arguments puzzling or unconvincing, there is a big problem with the book that undermines its basic argument.

The book suffers from a shocking lack of imagination. If we must either die or live forever, and if living forever is terrible, then dying is preferable. That’s his argument in a nutshell. But his conceptions of immortality are so limited. He offers but a few immortality scenarios which compare unfavorably with dying, when we cannot even comprehend what immortality might be like or how many immortality scenarios there may be. So yes, dying is better than living forever in hell or being infinitely bored, but there are an infinite number of other possibilites, many now unimaginable.

His argument against optional immortality perfectly displays this lack of imagination. Somehow the lives of beings for whom death is optional would be so bad that they would be better off without that option. Really? He feels so good about life transitoriness that he doesn’t even want the option to live longer? If he were given a death sentence and were otherwise healthy, he wouldn’t want the option to have the order rescinded? I doubt it.

People who reject the option of not dying also suffer from a lack of imagination. Since they don’t think they can have it, they reject it. This is an example of “adaptive preferences,” when you adapt your preferences to what you can get. I can’t get a date with Scarlett Johannson, so I say I don’t want her anyway. I can’t get a billion dollars, so I say I don’t want it anyway.
Death is like having a time bomb strapped to your chest; it will eventually go off, we just don’t know when. Actually its worse since we might die quite slowly. So, you really don’t want the option of having it turned off, even if you have the option of setting it off yourself if you get tired of living?
Here’s one thing you can bet your life on. When an effective anti-aging pill becomes available at the drug store … it will be popular! When the dying are given the option to take a shot which makes them completely healthy, many will take the shot! 

Finally, this lack of imagination reveals itself most clearly in the book’s final lines. It is hard not to choke when reading: “Of all the possibilities, none is better than the one we have … I—you, we, humankind—got the best deal imaginable.” This is Leibniz’ assertion that this is the best of all possible worlds without Voltaire to lampoon it. But I can. Stark simply can’t believe dying and the loss it entails is “the best deal imaginable.” The only way to honestly draw this conclusion is if you can’t realistically imagine anything better. But I can. And so can many others.

Summary of Lars Tornstam on Gerotranscendence

 Lars Tornstam (1943 – 2016)

My recent post, Summary of Maslow on Self-Transcendence, elicited many thoughtful comments. One reader, Dr. Janet Hively, suggested that self-transcendence is connected with aging, writing, “people gain experience and wisdom as they grow older, reaching the age for generativity toward the end of life.” She also suggested that I look into the theory of gerotranscendence, elucidated in detail by the Swedish sociologist Lars Tornstam in his 2005 book, Gerotranscendence: A Developmental Theory of Positive Aging. As Tornstam put it:

Gerotranscendence is the final stage in a natural process moving toward maturation and wisdom. The gerotranscendent individual experiences a new feeling of cosmic communion with the spirit of the universe, a redefinition of time, space, life and death, and a redefinition of self.1

Here is another definition:

The theory of gerotranscendence describes a … perspective shift from a more materialistic and rational view of life to a more transcendental [one] … leading to significant changes in the way of perceiving self, relationships with other people and life as a whole …2

According to Tornstam growing older and “into old age has its very own meaning and character, distinct from young adulthood or middle age.” In other words, there is ongoing personality development into old age. Interviews with individuals between 52 and 97 years old confirmed this idea, and led to his theory of gerotranscendence. Gerotranscendent individuals are those who develop new understandings of: 1) the self; 2) relationships to others; and 3) the cosmic level of nature, time, and the universe. Specific changes that occur include:

Level of Self

  • A decreased obsession about one’s body
  • A decreased interest in material things
  • A decrease in self-centerdness
  • An increased desire to understand oneself
  • An increased desire for inner peace and meditation
  • An increased need for solitude

Level of Personal and Social Relationships

  • A decreased desire for prestige
  • A decreased desire for superfluous, superficial social interaction
  • A decreased interest in conforming to social roles
  • An increased concern for others
  • An increased need for solitude, or the company of only a few intimates
  • An increased selectivity in the choice of social and other activities
  • An increased spontaneity that moves beyond social norms
  • An increase in tolerance and broadmindness
  • An increased sense of life’s ambiguity

Cosmic Level

  • A decreased distinction between past and present
  • A decreased fear of death
  • An increased affinity with, and interest in, past and future generations
  • An increased acceptance of the mysteries of human life
  • An increased joy over small or insignificant things
  • An increased appreciation of nature
  • An increased feeling of communion with the universe and cosmic awareness

According to the theory of gerotranscendence, people should surrender their youthful identity in order to achieve true maturity and wisdom. This view of aging stand in contrast to the view that successful aging is a kind of perpetual youth where people try to remain active, productive, independent, healthy, wealthy and sociable. But an 80-year-old differs from their 50-year-old self, just as the latter did from their 30-year-old self. Your 80-year-old mother may not want to party, play golf, make money or be very much engaged, not because she’s sick or depressed, but because she now prefers painting, reading, writing, meditating, gardening or listening to music. We are often so enamored with activity that we forget that Mom may enjoy siting in her rocking chair sometimes. None of this implies that this is the only way to successfully age, just that it is reasonable way.

 

Now just growing older doesn’t mean that one will become gerotranscendent, although aging does bring existential questions about death and the meaning of life to the forefront.  So how does one become a gerotranscendent? The process is mostly stimulated by experiencing hardships, challenges, transitions and the losses of living, combined with continual reflection about one’s life, the life of others, and universal life. Still there are a number of obstacles to becoming a gerotranscendent including:

    • job preoccupation (or ego differentiation): the inability to let go of your earlier careers. Gerotranscenders are able to transcend the way that their identity was tied to their previous work.
    • body preoccupation (or body transcendence): the inability to let go of obsessing about bodily ailments. Gerotranscenders care about their bodies, but transcend identifying with it.
    • ego preoccupation (or ego transcendence): inability to let go of obsessing about the ego. Gerotranscenders transcend the ego by accepting the inevitability of death, and by living more unselfishly.

Some of the weaknesses of the theory include: the fact that gerotranscendence isn’t precisely defined; it seems to be limited to applying to old age when there are undoubtedly many younger persons who possess the above qualities; and it considers gerotranscendence from an individual perspective without much consideration of the social and biological factors that influence successful aging. It also seems to conflict with the fact that “the prevalence of depression in old age is up to 49% and the figure reaches to 90% for those living in long-term care setting.”3

Still there is substantial evidence that gerotranscendence captures the essence of aging successfully. Much of this research is described in “Theory of Gerotranscendence: An Analysis,” by Rajani and Nawaid. Some of the highlights of this research show that those who have faced life crisis have higher levels of gerotranscendence, and that there is “a positive relationship between gerotranscendence and life satisfaction.” Furthermore, research has shown “a significant correlation between the cosmic transcendence and feeling of coherence and meaning of life. Transcendence in life promotes health, harmony, healing and meaningfulness in life of older adults. Studies have also attested the fact that people who find meaning in life tend to experience better physical health.”

Reflections – I like the gerotranscendent theory of aging. It reminds me somewhat of the idea of being “weened away from life” from Thorton Wilder’s  marvelous play “Our Town.” I mean that selfish worldly concerns increasingly take a back seat to unselfish cosmic ones. Gerotranscendence also brings to mind this profound statement about aging from the great philosopher Bertrand Russell in his essay,”How To Grow Old.”

The best way to overcome it [the fear of death]—so at least it seems to me—is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.

So I do agree with Dr. Hively’s that there is a connection between age, and the wisdom to transcend the self and its concern with body, prestige, material possessions. Maslow’s self-transcendence is closely aligned with Tornstam’s gerotranscendence. This kind of wisdom and change of heart is hard to achieve without having lived and loved and suffered—the wisdom of the heart seems largely based upon time. This isn’t to say that older people are always wiser than younger people but, all things being equal, the achievement of wisdom is aided by time.

Yet, having said all this, I still believe that death itself is an evil that we should try to defeat. As I’ve written elsewhere, death should be optional. But for those of us who must age and die, Tornstam has shown us a noble and enlightening way to travel that road.

_______________________________________________________________________

1. “Transcendence in late life.” Generations, 23 (4), p. 11.
2. https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerotranscendens
3. Rivard TM, Buchanan D. National Guidelines for Seniors’ Mental Health: The Assessment and Treatment of Depression. 2006.

I would like to sincerely thank Dr. Jan Hively for introducing me to Tornstam’s work.

Nick Hughes:”Do We Matter in the Cosmos?”

NASA-HS201427a-HubbleUltraDeepField2014-20140603.jpg

The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field image shows some of the most remote galaxies visible with present technology, each consisting of billions of stars (the image’s area of sky is very small – equivalent in size to one tenth of a full moon)[1]

Nick Hughes is a postdoctoral research fellow at University College Dublin. His recent piece in Aeon Magazine, “Do we matter in the cosmos?” begins by placing humanity  in our true temporal and spatial perspective:

Travelling at the speed of light—671 million miles per hour—it would take us 100,000 years to cross the Milky Way. But we still wouldn’t have gone very far. By recent estimates, the Milky Way is just one of 2 trillion galaxies in the observable Universe, and the region of space that they occupy spans at least 90 billion light-years. If you imagine Earth shrunk down to the size of a single grain of sand, and you imagine the size of that grain of sand relative to the entirety of the Sahara Desert, you are still nowhere near to comprehending how infinitesimally small a position we occupy in space …

And that’s just the spatial dimension. The observable Universe has existed for around 13.8 billion years. If we shrink that span of time down to a single year, with the Big Bang occurring at midnight on 1 January, the first Homo sapiens made an appearance at 22:24 on 31 December. It’s now 23:59:59, as it has been for the past 438 years, and at the rate we’re going it’s entirely possible that we’ll be gone before midnight strikes again. The Universe, on the other hand, might well continue existing forever …

In response to the inconceivable immensity of space and time, Hughes poses two philosophical questions: 1) if we are so insignificant compared to the vastness of space and time, do we matter at all? and 2) if are lives are inconsequential, is despair and nihilism the proper response?

William’s Response

To answer such questions, Hughes quotes the English moral philosopher Bernard Williams:

… significance from the cosmic point of view is the same thing as having objective value. Something has objective value when it is not only valuable to some person or other, but valuable independently of whether anyone judges it to be so … valuable … from a universal perspective. By contrast, something can be subjectively valuable even if it is not objectively valuable … Williams takes it to be a consequence of a naturalistic, atheistic worldview that nothing has objective value. In his posthumous essay ‘The Human Prejudice’ (2006), he argues that the only kind of value that exists is the subjective kind …

Since, according to Williams, to be significant from the cosmic point of view is to be objectively valuable, and there is no such thing as objective value, it follows that there is no such thing as cosmic significance. The very idea, he argues, is ‘a relic of a world not yet thoroughly disenchanted’. In other words, of a world that still believes in the existence of God. Once we recognise that there is no such thing, he says, there is ‘no other point of view except ours in which our activities can have or lack a significance’. The question of what is significant from the point of view of the cosmos is incoherent: one might as well ask what is significant from the point of view of a pile of rocks.

Kahane’s Response

If Williams is right, then we are cosmically insignificance by definition. But, as Oxford’s Guy Kahane argues in ‘Our Cosmic Insignificance’ (2013), “if the naturalistic worldview does indeed rule out the possibility of anything having objective value, then it would still do so if the Universe were the size of a matchbox, or came into existence only moments ago.” Thus whether anything has objective value is independent of the size or age of the universe. (Thomas Nagel argued similarly in “The Absurd,” 1971.)

Kahane thinks that those who dismiss our significance fail to recognize that significance “is the product of two things: how valuable (or disvaluable) it is, but also how worthy it is of attention.” And how worthy of attention your life is decreases as the background against which it is measured enlarges. So your life is relatively imporant from the point of view of your family, but less so as you consider it from the point of view of your city, country, planet and eventually the univerese—from which we are surely physically and temporally insignificant.

But “significance is also a function of value” and “if the primary source of value is intelligent life, it follows that our cosmic significance depends on how much intelligent life there is out there.” If the Universe is teeming with intelligent life “then we are indeed cosmically insignificant. If, however, we are the sole exemplars of intelligent life, then we are of immense cosmic significance …”

My Response to Kahane

I’m not moved by Kahane’s argument that our cosmic significance depends much on whether other intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. There is a sense in which the species becomes more significant if we are the only intelligent beings in the universe—no other life exists with which to share significance—but that doesn’t ameliorate my worries about my life and the universe being significant. In fact, I would prefer there is intelligent life elsewhere so that, were life on earth to die, intelligent life would remain somewhere. Moreover, you could reverse Kahane’s argument and say intelligent life becomes more significant when it is diffused throughout the universe, for then it would be more capable of affecting that universe.  

However, I agree with Kahane that the size and age of the universe is irrelevant to the question of objective value. I also agree that we aren’t significant in the sense of being worthy of attention given the fact of the immensity of time and space. So I do think the cruz of the issue of whether we are significant has to do with values.

Hughes’ Response

Hughes begins by noting “that something can be significant while being neither valuable nor disvaluable.” For example, meteorologists may “say that the formation of the body of air was significant in the chain of events that led to the storm turning into a hurricane.” But there is no value judgment here about the body of air or the hurricane unless they affect sentient life. Instead, the body of air was significant in a causal sense. It “was significant because it played an important role in the tropical storm developing into a hurricane.”

Hughes argues that “it is a sense of causal, rather than value, insignificance that is central to the sense that we are cosmically insignificant.” And that’s because “causally speaking, we really are insignificant from the point of view of the whole Universe.” However, if our causal powers were infinitely larger—say we could control stars and galaxies or warp spacetime—then we wouldn’t feel as cosmically insignificant. Perhaps “the causal-powers explanation might also explain …some of the appeal of theism … through allegiance to a supremely powerful being [believers] are able to share in its power.”

Still Hughes doesn’t think our lack of causal power should lead to nihilism and despair. For one thing casual power, even if we had more of it, is merely an instrumental good. Yet what really satisfies us are things that are “intrinsically valuable to us,” even if they aren’t objectively valuable. As he concludes:

the ends that matter to us, the things that we care about most—our relationships, our projects and goals, our shared experiences, social justice, the pursuit of knowledge, the creation and appreciation of art, music and literature, and the future and fate of ours and other species—do not depend to any considerable extent on our having control over a vast but largely irrelevant Universe. We might be distinctly lacking in power from the cosmic perspective, and so, in a sense, insignificant. But having such power and such significance wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway. To lament its lack and respond with despair and nihilism is merely a form of narcissism. Most of what matters to us is right here on Earth.

My Response to Hughes

Hughes is right that we don’t need to be able to control the universe to experience intrinsic goods or subjective values. Still, without some power over myself and my environment, I can’t experience any goods. So, if our species became more powerful as well as more intellectually and morally excellent, then we would be well on our way to creating a more meaningful reality. Still I agree with Hughes that our lack of causal power, by itself, doesn’t necessarily lead to nihilism.

However, I don’t think causal insignificance is the main reason for a nihilistic view of life’s meaning. True, life might be more meaningful if we were more powerful, but I think the more pressing concern is that objective values might not exist, and subjective values might not matter.

So, do we matter in the cosmos? From sub specie aeternitatis, nothing matters. From our point of view we somewhat matter to ourselves and those close to us, but in the end, when the universe has grown cold and dark, when entropy has run its course, even our subjective values will vanish. In the end I fear that Williams has it about right.

Still I care about things nonetheless. I act as if my actions matter.

Vegetarianism and Nutrition

There is compelling evidence that vegetarian and vegans diets are healthier than those that include animal meat or animal products. (Find a brief overview of the literature here.) Furthermore, compelling evidence suggest that vegetarian or mostly vegetarian diets promote longevity. (And the evidence that eating processed meats is bad for you is overwhelming.)

The main types of  vegetarian diets are:

Ovo-Lacto Vegetarainism- No meat but incluces eggs and dairy products;
Ovo Vegetarainism – No meat or dairy products but includes eggs;
Lacto Vegetarainism – No meat or eggs but includes dairy products;
Veganism – No meat or any animal products.

The main nutrional worries about plant-based diets are that they lack: 1) protein; 2) vitamin B-12; 3) omega-3 fatty acids; 4) calcuim; 5) iron; and/or 6) vitamin D and D2. For ovo, lacto, or ovo-lacto vegetarians, the response to these worries is straightforward; for vegans getting all your nutrients is somewhat problematic. Before I proceed, a disclaimer. I am not a physician, nutritionist, dietician, or any other kind of health professional. So don’t take what follows to be medical advice.

With the disclaimer in place, here are a few options for providing these nutrients:

Protein – Proteins are composed of amino acids. For lacto-ovo vegetarians, eggs and dairy products provide all the essential amino acids.

For vegans sources of protein include: pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, hemp seed, almonds, pistachio nuts, flaxseed, tofu, oats, soybeans, and walnuts. Other sources of all eight types of essential amino acids: lupin beans,[59] chia seed,[60] amaranth,[61] buckwheat,[62] spirulina,[64] and quinoa.[66]

Vitamin B-12 – Eggs and dairy products provide B-12 for lacto-ovo vegetarians.

Vegans can obtain B-12 from fortified foods and dietary supplements.[75][76][77][78][79] Vitamin B12 can also be obtained from fortified yeast extract products.[80]

Omega-3 fatty acids – Plant-based sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include: soy, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, canola oil, kiwifruit, hempseed, algae, chia seed, flaxseed, echium seed and leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, cabbage and purslane. Olives and olive oil are sources of unsaturated fatty acids. Supplements which the human body uses to synthesize the long-chain n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are also available. (EPA and DHA can be obtained directly in high amounts from oily fish or fish oils for pescotarians. Note too that meat eaters generally don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids.) 

Calcium – Eggs and dairy products provide calcium for lacto-ovo vegetarians. 

Vegans can get calcium from broccoli, bok choy, kale, calcium-set tofu, turnip greens, mustard greens, soybeans, tempeh, almonds, okra, dried figs, and tahini.[86][88] In addition there are supplements and calcium fortified foods. (For more see the Vegetarian Nutrition Calcium Fact Sheet from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.)[86]

Iron – Vegetarian foods rich in iron include black beans, cashews, hempseed, kidney beans, broccoli, lentils, oatmeal, raisins, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, black-eyed peas, soybeans, many breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, tomato juice, tempeh, molasses, thyme, and whole-wheat bread.[70] Vegan diets are often higher in iron than vegetarian diets because dairy products are low in iron.[55] 

Vitamin D and D-2 – The human body generates vitamin D with sufficient and sensible exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light in sunlight.[90][91] In addition, cow’s milk, soy milk and cereal grains may be fortified to provide a source of Vitamin D.[92]

For vegans, alfalfa and most mushrooms (fungus) contain vitamin D. In addition, there are vitamin D supplements.

Note – To reiterate, animal product based diets are associated with all sorts of health problems and lack many essentail nutrients. Furthermore, there are both moral and environmental reasons recommending vegetarianism in addition to its health benefits.  Non-human animal suffering underlies the moral reasons, and the catastrophic environmental impact of meat eating grounds the environmental argument.

FInally, at the Oldways Finding Common Ground conference in Boston, MA on November 17-18, 2015, a group of leading nutrition and food systems experts reached consensus on the following points of common ground about healthy eating, as outlined below (or download PDF here):

The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains. Additional strong evidence shows that it is not necessary to eliminate food groups or conform to a single dietary pattern to achieve healthy dietary patterns. Rather, individuals can combine foods in a variety of flexible ways to achieve healthy dietary patterns, and these strategies should be tailored to meet the individual’s health needs, dietary preferences and cultural traditions. Current research also strongly demonstrates that regular physical activity promotes health and reduces chronic disease risk. (Source: 2015 DGAC summary wording)

Happiness and the Meaning of Life


Happiness and meaning while connected, don’t seem to be the same thing. We can imagine a paradigmatic meaningful life that is unhappy and vice versa. For example, one might seek truth, do good things, or produce beauty—paradigms of meaningful lives—and still be unhappy. Or one might have health, wealth, friends, and knowledge—things associated with happy lives—and yet live a meaningless life, say because individual or universal death undermine meaning. We could be happy, but think our lives ultimately meaningless.

Nonetheless it would seem that happiness and meaning are closely connected. Subjectively meaningful lives are generally happy ones, and happiness typically follows as a by-product of a meaningful life. In other words, meaning is an element of a happy life, and happiness an element of a meaningful life. So there is a reciprocal relationship between the two. If pressed I’d say that the meaningful life is somewhat more fundamental than the happy life. What I mean is that, similar to the way a good or happy life is more than just a pleasurable one, a meaningful life is more than just a happy one.
As for happiness, many people mistakenly think that happiness is a fleeting feeling pursued for its own sake, when instead it’s often a by-product of meaningful activities like helping others, seeking knowledge, creating beauty, becoming wise, or working for justice. Nonetheless, happiness may be determined more by our happiness set point, the average level of happiness set by our neurobiology and basic temperament, rather than by achievement or level of engagement.

Of course we can’t be sure that an individual life or the whole universe is objectively meaningful, but we can still derive subjective meaning by engaging in the worthwhile activities. And such meaningful lives are the most satisfying, the best, and the happiest. As the philosopher James Rachels put it:

When we step outside our personal perspective and consider humanity from an impersonal standpoint, we still find that human beings are the kinds of creatures who can enjoy life best by devoting themselves to such things as family and friends, work, music, mountain climbing, and all the rest. It would be foolish, then, for creatures like us to live in any other way.[i] 
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[i] James Rachels, Problems from Philosophy, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), 174-75.