Born Alone, Die Alone: What Does This Mean?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Oct 24 18:49:45 UTC 2011

On Oct 24, 2011, at 2:06 PM, Garson O'Toole wrote:

> [Begin comment by Fred Shapiro]
> I apologize for my cluelessness, but there is a quote by Steven Jobs
> that is getting some publicity and that makes no sense to me.  He
> said, "You're born alone, you're going to die alone."  What does this
> mean?  Many people die alone, but many do not, and it is not clear to
> me that anyone is born alone.  Some babies are given birth by mothers
> in secretive circumstances and the mother dies in childbirth, but this
> is unusual and the baby may quickly die when this happens.
> [End comment by Fred Shapiro]
> Here is one guess for the meaning Jobs was trying to communicate:
> The subjective experience of dying is solitary: Jobs may have thought
> this proposition was true even if one was surrounded by loving
> individuals. Jobs expressed ambivalence and uncertainty about the
> possible existence of an "afterlife". He may have thought that if an
> afterlife existed then one would enter it alone.
> The subjective experience of birth is solitary: It is not clear how
> well developed the neural system is at birth. If it is well developed
> enough that it is possible to speak of a subjective experience then
> emerging through the birth canal would presumably be a solitary
> experience.
Slightly less so if one is a twin (or more).  As for the other end of the process, here's some poetic evidence that even going to sleep, let alone dying, is a solitary experience:

You may wake up in the night and wonder if you're dreaming,
And referee the fight between the being and the seeming.
But when the victor holds a hand up to the great unknown,
You know you've got to go to sleep alone.
You've got to go to sleep alone.
You've got to go to sleep alone.
Even if you're lying with someone you really love,
You've got to go to sleep alone.
—Jimmie Dale Gilmore, as sung (wonderfully) by Rosalie Sorrels

A fortiori, I assume, for dying.

The American Dialect Society -

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