Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Luke Comes to Grips with Mortality

Luke's fish died.

Just before I was going to put the boys down for the evening, Wendy came upstairs and mentioned to me in a somber whisper, "Luke's fish died. Should we tell him now, or should we wait till the morning?"

I couldn't stand the idea of my son sleeping peacefully while his fish was belly up in the tank, so I said she better go tell him right away. Plus, I was indexing a user guide, and I needed the extra time.

A minute or so later, I heard loud crying. Weeping. Wailing.


I would have laughed, but the poor kid was genuinely distraught. Should I tell him about Fish Heaven? In Fish Heaven, the most obedient fish attain the highest kingdom. Should I tell him that a fish dies like any animal? When we die, our consciousness ceases, our body rots, and that's the end of the miracle we call life. I suppose I could always go the vague reincarnation route. When we die, we become something different, but no one knows what.

I didn't tell him anything, because anything I said would have meant nothing. Luke had his own cross to bear.

It was a sad day for him. I wasn't particularly fond of Karen. He was a violent fish who ate his own feces. But Luke loved him. Or he loved having him.

R.I.P. Karen


  1. You should have told him the truth: Karen was never alive, but was merely part of a complex neural-interactive simulation we call The Matrix.

    It's tough on parents to see your children deal with the tough stuff of life. I take a little solace in the fact that kids are amazingly resilient and usually deal with it OK in the end.

    The RIP 2008-2008 was a nice touch.

  2. Oh, with a quick scan I though your subject said "Morality" and I wasn't sure I wanted to read this one.

  3. you named the fish "karen"?

    what, "laura" was taken? how about "tim"?

  4. The name wasn't my idea. Luke named his fish Karen, and Max named his fish Max.

  5. This post makes me sad, yet morose.


  6. "When we die, our consciousness ceases, our body rots, and that's the end of the miracle we call life"

    Of course, this is probably true, but like the other two completely untenable positions it cannot be proven either.

    Here is what we DO know and what would be very good for Luke to know as well:

    Living organisms are alive because the potential electric energy in their cells is maintained through nutrition and oxygenation. When the organism dies its cells die too (or the cells die to the extent that they take the organism along with them) and the potential electric energy dissipates into the surrounding environment since it cannot be destroyed...EVER. It goes SOMEWHERE.

  7. Earlybird, there is no "electric energy" in a human's energy. There is a membrane potential generated by a gradient of molecules such as calcium and sodium.

    When we die, the greadient is destroyed and therefore the membrane potential is destroyed.

    It's (mostly) true that "energy cannot be destroyed," but energy gets converted all the time. In fact that's what our bodies to every moment of every day. For example, energy stored in covalent bonds of carbohydrates gets partially converted reducing AMP and ADP to ATP, which pretty much fuels our bodies. Mostly though, the energy gets lost as heat.

    Therefore, even if we did have "electrical energy" in our bodies, when we die, it would just get lost as heat.

    I'm sorry if this bums you out; it depresses the hell out of me.


  8. We tried fish once or twice with our kids, but our last attempt ended when we were moving across the country. We stopped at a small hotel late at night in northern Nevada and forgot about the beta at our daughter's feet. The temperature that night probably got down to 15˚. Sort of cryogenics, but without the hope of a better future.

  9. John-Riley had a goldfish when he was 5 or 6. As we were leaving the house one morning, I noticed it gulping for air at the top of the bowl; I knew it was not long for this world. Once in the car I asked John-Riley how he would feel if when we got home his fish had died. He gave the answer that has become a classic in our family: "NOT FINE."

    Epilogue: Later the same day, John-Riley got to ceremonially flush the fish down the toilet, with Rachel crying and screaming the entire time. I kept trying to comfort her with promises of another fish, but when she finally calmed down we found out that she had wanted to be the one to flush the toilet!

  10. Rachel--it was 9 degrees Fahrenheit that night, not 15. 15 and the creature would have stood a chance. Like my friend's beta that lived for two years without food while he was on his mission.