Every death is caused and as any astute student of nature knows, most effects are the results of multiple causes.1

Any astute student of politics knows that demagogues are seldom limited by facts, science, or reason and will loudly trumpet multitudes of falsehoods to advance their power.

A corrupt means of acquiring power through confusion is to deny cause-effect relationships by selectively emphasizing and de-emphasizing parts of a multi-cause system. This fallacy is on display in the convoluted interpretations of COVID-19 death statistics.2

Here is a fact. Some microbes can kill us and they do so by compromising our bodies through effects such as respiratory failure, renal failure, dehydration, internal hemorrhaging, heart failure, shock, and the like. So, deaths from viral infections are the results of multiple causes that are set in motion by the infection.

Here is a fallacy. People who do not understand how infectious diseases work interpret COVID-19 death statistics to show that the virus is hardly fatal at all. They arrive at that conclusion because most of the people whose deaths are related to the infection actually die from multiple causes as reported on their death-certificates. So (as the tweet goes) if someone’s death-certificate states that they died from the infection AND some other related cause, then COVID-19 didn’t kill them.

Here is how this twitter-brained thinking works;

‘Cholera does not kill anyone, dehydration does.’
‘Ebola does not kill anyone, multiple organ failure does.’
‘HIV does not kill anyone, diseases that exploit immune deficiency do.’
‘The Black Death does not kill anyone, septic shock does.’
‘COVID-19 does not kill anyone, multiple causes do.’

‘So a death certificate that lists multiple causes proves that COVID-19 did not kill.’

The conclusion given in the above line of thought is the main idea in the social media posts which claim that only 6% of COVID-19 related deaths are actually caused by the COVID-19 virus.

On that view, since 6% of the 180,000 COVID-19 death certificates list “COVID-19” as the sole cause, the social media posters argue that the virus is reponsible for killing only 9,000 people instead of 180,000 people.

This claim is shared by the President of the United States of America.3

I pray that any capable thinker can see the logical weakness in these claims.

One feature that makes the novel corona virus “novel” is its effectiveness in attacking different organs for different patients. That makes it hard for physicians to predict and treat. A hypothesis for how this virus has such a variety of attack strategies is that it works through the circulatory system. It may be primarily a vascular rather than a respiratory disease. Since all body organs are sustained by the circulatory system, the opportunity for COVID-19 to damage any of them is very high.4

Infection by this novel virus may result in many different conditions including blood clots, brain swelling, eye inflamation, heart attack, lung fluid, liver damage, renal failure, extremity bruising, intestinal disruption, skin rash, and blood vessel collapse. Many of these conditions can be fatal, especially in combination. There are several hypotheses as to how the COVID-19 virus operates in the body. One possibility is that the virus stimulates chemical releases in the blood stream that in turn cause an increase in the cells that COVID-19 attaches to, thus increasing it’s own reproduction.5

COVID-19 infection is complex and the virus’s strategies are sophisticated. Much of human evolution has been driven by a continual dynamic between pathogens and the body’s defenses, each adapting to defeat the other over many mellenia.

We should not take statistical reporting for granted. All science and reasoning are open to challenge. They are open to the challenge of stronger reasoning. Questioning official information is critical.

We cannot be complacent in the face of deniers who use weak reasoning to sow confusion. It is critical that we not mistake doubt as refutation, nor should we confound misunderstanding for rationality.

We must not allow political myopia to occlude intelligence and common sense.

Causation is complex. Simplistic thinking does not change that. Even when echoed loudly.

In good spirit

Jon Louis Dorbolo


  1. Dresser, S. 2016. We must recognise that single events have multiple causes. Aeon.
  2. Spenser, S.H. 2020. CDC Did Not ‘Admit Only 6%’ of Recorded Deaths from COVID-19. FactCheck.org https://www.factcheck.org/2020/09/cdc-did-not-admit-only-6-of-recorded-deaths-from-covid-19/
  3. Gray News Staff. 2020. False COVID-19 claim retweeted by Trump removed from Twitter. FOX8. https://www.fox8live.com/2020/08/31/false-covid-claim-retweeted-by-trump-removed-twitter/
  4. Smith, D. 2020. Coronavirus May Be a Blood Vessel Disease. Elemental+.
  5. Smith, T. 2020. A Supercomputer Analyzed Covid-19 — and an Interesting New Theory Has Emerged: A closer look at the Bradykinin hypothesis.

Image Acknowledgements
“Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.jpg” by NIAID is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“The Law of Cause & Effect” by Silly Deiy is marked with CC PDM

For some people the simple act of driving home from work carries the weight that they may be pulled over for suspicion on no grounds other than who they are. Some parents live in persistant fear that their children may be harmed by the very officers who are empowered to protect them. For some people even open cooperation with power is met with cruel violence.

Ancient Athens was An original experiment in rule by the people (albeit flawed by its omissions) [1]. The three principles of Athenian democracy being: equal right to speak, equality under the law, and equality of vote. In the wake of a ruinous war the Athenian democracy was replaced with an authoritarian government later known as “The Thirty Tyrants.” There are always people in any community who are eager to inflict authoritarian control. The first order of business for the Tyrants was systematically reversing the democratic principles of law that were carved into a wall in city center, the Agora. The Tyrants turned the army against their own people leading to arrest, seizure of property, and executions without trial.

One of the methods of the Tyrants was turning the Athenian people against one another. They summoned certain citizens with the order of carrying out the arrest others. This policy was designed to undermine any unity of populace and integrity of individuals. Twentieth-Century East Germany made a total culture of betrayal by recruiting hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens to spy their families and friends.

Socrates (469–399 B.C.E.) was called before the Tyrants and ordered to arrest a fellow Athenian. At his own trial (which ended in the death penalty) he recalls;

When the oligarchy came into power, the Thirty Commissioners in their turn summoned me and four others to the Round Chamber and instructed us to go and fetch Leon of Salamis from his home for execution. This was of course only one of many instances in which they issued such instructions, their object being to implicate as many people as possible in their crimes. On this occasion, however, I again made it clear, not by my words but by my actions, that the attention I paid to death was zero (if that is not too unrefined a claim); but that I gave all my attention to avoiding doing anything unjust or unholy. Powerful as it was, that government did not terrify me into doing a wrong action. When we came out of the rotunda, the other four went to Salamis and arrested Leon, but I simply went home.” (Apology, 32 c-d).

Socrates refused to participant in perpetuating an unjust government. He accepted that his civil disobedience might lead to punishment for him. Later, after the Thirty Tyrants were overthrown, Socrates was brought to trial for “impiety and corrupting the youth.” Basically the charges amount to his showing people how they may think for themselves rather than be controlled by power, reputation, and appearance. His doing so, of course, offended people in power.

There are many tyrants in our lives; the bully on the schoolyard, the internet troll, the angry talk show host, the cruel parent, the insensitive boss, the impersonal bureaucracy, the politician who sees the increase of their own power as the only good. Yet the most dominating of tyrants is the fear in our own hearts. It is the fear that we too may suffer and that we might be criticized or mistaken. This inner fear causes us to shrink back while others among us are oppressed. It is this moral paralysis that Socrates addresses in his recounting his appearance before Thirty Tyrants. They gave him an unjust order under threat of death. But Socrates did not fear death, so he did not fear them. He could not be manipulated by the great weapon of all tyrants – fear.

Look into your own heart. Do you find fear? Do you want to act on the side of justice but find no clear way to do so? Another ancient philosopher, Siddhartha Gautama of 4th century B.C.E. India, was asked by a student; “But what can I do in the face of such great suffering and injustice in the world?” The philosopher answered;

When you see great injustice and suffering in the world, take it as a sign to you to increase your loving-kindness for the people you see everyday.

There are people now who frame peace as antithetical to justice and kindness as an obstacle to equality. Beware, this is a long worn formula for self-righteousness. From that vantage justice serves as justification, usually of violence. They will also speak of the absence of options in the situation, such as; “We have no choice except to…” (fill in the blank with whatever the righteous one truly desires).

We always have options. There is always something that we can do to choose justice, compassion, and truth. Fear is an innate rejection of change. Yet all is change, so all that we really have to lose is our fear.

In good spirit,


[1] Athenian democracy was limited to adult male citizens. Women, slaves, foreigners, and children were excluded from participation in the political process. 21st century democracies still have room to improve upon that ancient example.

photo-1558258932-d435783a2626.jpg, luliia Isakova, @asredaspossible, Unspash, https://unsplash.com/photos/gY6y01Me55s

photo-1587951326187-c9baa4606bff.jpg, Tyler Scheviak, @tylerscheviak, Unspash, https://unsplash.com/photos/-Edg-zf49O4

On the long view, you and I are living in extraordinary times. One hundred years hence students will study us now as a pivotal moment in the history of our species. What we are experiencing right now – the responses to a perceived crisis – is unprecedented. Once covid-19 passes, our world will not be the same as it was a month ago. There will be sad, bad, good, and better – but most of all there will be change. We are in a major disruption.

What changes may we expect? I believe that our species has developed the means for general self-regulation. It is an emerging consciousness on a global scale. This is mediated by our ubiquitous information network (internet and internet-of-things). Since the 1990’s we have been struggling to use that capability effectively and are frequently frustrated by the spread of false information and social triviality spurred by apparently out-of-control technology. Yet there have also been signs of new forms of social organization. Flash mobs, Improv Everywhere, social media, internet organized social movements, and more gave us indications of what new human self-organizing systems may be like. Bruce Sterling imagined such transformations in his 1998 novel Distraction. We now have this occurring in reality globally. This is a major change in the general patterns of collective thought and behavior. We in 2020 will be studied for centuries to come on the level of, say, the industrial revolution and the Great depression. You are living it now. Pay attention.

What are the implications of this change? We have been struggling for decades with the prospect of a failed species and planet. We are confronted by visions of mass-destructive war, economic collapse, social pandemonium, and the collapse of Earth’s ecosystem. Many of us feel helpless in this and our political/economic leadership provides no positive direction. The problems feel too large for us to manage and human-nature too limited to meet the demands of affirmative shift.

Yet, if our species is capable of a self-organizing modification of individual behaviors and social systems in order to respond to existential threats, then the game changes completely. That is what we are seeing now. We are spontaneously adopting behaviors, perceptions and beliefs that allow us to adapt to a generalized threat (pandemic) both individually and collectively. Can you see and sense it? I think that you do and grasp what I mean.

Humankind will not be the same after this. We will come forth with a universal shared conception of new conventions, choices, and ways of thinking with which we may address our wicked problems. Coordinating our choices and behaviors to reduce global threats will be our norm.

In short – the human conception of what we are and how we think is changing and the pandemic of 2020 will provide confirmation to everyone that it is possible to change the world by changing ourselves.

In this new environment we will need thinkers who can perceive, analyze, synthesize and explain what is happening. These will be our new philosophers who shine light on the possible and on the essential. You my dear friends will be among those philosophers because you are aware of the power of the life of the mind. Even a small quantity of philosophical consciousness carried forward by you will combine with others to create new global consciousness. You are an integral part of that.

Don’t be afraid. Listen to people. Help one another. Realize yourself as a spark in a growing flame that casts our world in a new light.

In good spirit,


william-navarro-82Xsw-pGsJI-unsplash.jpg, William Navaro, @williamnavarro, Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/photos/82Xsw-pGsJI

benjamin-davies-__U6tHlaapI-unsplash.jpg, Benjamin Davies, @benvisual, Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/photos/__U6tHlaapI


One way to characterize philosophy is as the art of questioning. New questions and new types of question open previously unexplored possibilities. The assumptions of an entire culture or generation can be altered by the posing of new questions.
Questions are often not welcome. One way to deal with questions is by force of authority:

*Many times I have witnessed young children asking questions which the attendant adults dismiss as irrelevant, silly, or worse.

*History shows many situations in which asking certain questions is dangerous to the individual. For instance, authoritarian religious leaderships have often equated questions with doubt and then unbelief. In cases such as The Inquisition, questioning is dealt with by severe force.

*Sometimes when people ask questions of their governments the reactions are strong. In some cases, when the questions probed too deeply or challenged to much, they are not acknowledged at all but rebuffed with accusations; such as “You are anti-Soviet, anti-Turkish, anti-American, enemy of the people, etc.”

*In interpersonal situations, among friends and family, unwelcome questions (i.e. those which challenge the status quo) may be met with anger, ridicule, or denial.

*Questioning ourselves to ourselves can be very difficult. Some thinkers have aptly described mechanisms of the human mind that resist change and challenge. It is not hard to test this on yourself by trying to seriously question your most basic and cherished beliefs in a sustained way. The defenses go up pretty fast – and they really are convincing when we are the ones putting them up. Here is one simple way to detect a defensive shield against some area of questioning in yourself: study some topics that are quite different from your usual interests or invest effort into understanding views that are opposite to your own. If you find yourself reacting with strong and involuntary emotion, especially with immediate and intense judgement of the topic as “pointless,” “boring,” “ridiculous” etc. – chances are you have identified a personal defense system that protects you against new, thought and potential change. Self-knowledge of this sort is very valuable.

*Even in education we can find questions to be unwelcome. In 3rd grade I recall being in a class in what was then called “New Math.” The teacher showed us the various symbols of operations including =, >, <. One symbol was called “less than or equal to.” I asked; “Since there is already an equal sign and a less than sign, what is the use of the ‘less than or equal to’ sign?” The teacher was angered by this and told me; “Stop asking stupid questions and just learn the lesson!” Instead, I responded by refusing to learn any more lessons from her ever again. At that moment I closed my mind to math altogether. Have paid the price for that defensive reaction my whole life with sub-par math skills.

I realize now that the teacher really did not understand my question. I meant it honestly. I suppose she thought I was smarting off (I was also known for asking unwelcome questions in catechism [i.e. religious doctrine] class). Even as I look back on this experience, I think that my question made sense. After all, a quantity can be less than another or equal to it, but not both. I know now that there was a mistaken assumption in my question, but that did not make it a poor question (much less a stupid one).

The problem was that I was not asking a question that fell within the domain of assumptions. If I had asked a question that accepted and made use of the symbols, how to work within the system, the teacher would have likely been glad to sho

w me what to do. My question, however, was about the givens. It challenged the reasoning for the system itself. If you want to get yelled at, shunned, ridiculed, fired, failed, etc., an excellent approach is to ask serious, intelligent questions about the assumptions of the given system.

When we ask questions such as “What is truth?”“What is reality?”“What is Good?” – or “What is reason?” we are asking to open the system itself to examination. deep-thought-1296377_960_720They are calling our most basic givens into question. It is natural that some people will receive such questions as ridiculous, irrelevant, and a waste of time. Some folks are inclined to say; “Stop asking stupid questions and just get on with it!” To be fair, perhaps those folks have a point worth considering. Maybe some things are not meant to be questioned. Maybe it is impossible (nonsensical) to pose some sorts of questions. But see? Even by opening this possibility I am doing it again! I am inclined to take their thought seriously even if they dismiss mine as worthless.

What is your own experience with questions? What are your most important questions? How have those questions been received by others throughout your life? Do you have an idea about how questioning will influence your future? What is the single most important question that you may ask yourself.

It seems to me that a question is a form of openness. By asking a genuine, serious question, one presents oneself as incomplete and uncertain. There is a vulnerability in the sincere question and an assumption that the universe remains open-ended in some respects.

I think that the idea of an open-ended universe populated by incomplete minds comes into conflict with some other ways of addressing reality. One common view (or my interpretation of that view) assumes that most of the important questions have already been answered and all that remains is filling out the details. Asking questions such as; “What am I?” and “Does my life have purpose?” and “What is death?” are impertinent and silly from that perspective.

I believe that how we respond to such questions shows much about our assumptions concerning the structure of experience, the relationship of the individual and authority, and the limits of human possibility.

My plea is this: when you encounter a question that evokes intense reaction such that you are inclined to dismiss the value of the question entirely, consider the possibility that your interpretation of the question and associated ideas is incomplete. Maybe it is not, but this is always a hypothesis worth testing.

Assignment – Pose and ponder these two questions several times in the next year:

What is the single most important question that I may ask myself.

What question about myself do I least want to ask?



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deep-thought-1296377_960_720 .png








Who wants to talk about death?vintage-1751222_960_720

Many people, it turns out.

Every week for the last two years, Death Café Corvallis has met to give anyone who cares to a space to share their thoughts on mortality.

Some weeks it is one person, at others it is ten. At most sessions there is someone new to the conversation and often folks who keep coming back.

On a recent sunny afternoon McKenzie and Piper showed up; both Oregon State undergraduates pursuing a writing assignment.

At first they listened thoughtfully taking notes, soon they began to share their own experiences.

Their participation resulted in an article that instructor Thomas Strini deemed strong enough to publish in The Corvallis Review: Death Café Corvallis: A Club All About Death.

We applaud McKenzie and Piper for their thoughtful work, Thomas for the inspiration that he gives to learners, and to all the intelligent and sincere individuals who continually make and remake Death Cafe Corvallis.adult-2028245_960_720Image Acknowledgements:  

vintage-1751222_960_720.png – CC0

adult-2028245_960_720.png – CC0

Errata: In regards to academic rank, I am an Instructor of Philosophy, not a Professor.
Much of my life has been in the company of young people like McKenzie and Piper, 17-25 years old, the typical age range of undergraduates. I believe that is part of what sustains me in a youthfully optimistic state.

Conversations on topics such as in this post are common at Death Café Corvallis, in which you are welcome to participate.

172352729A vital factor in who we are as individuals is how we conceive of death.

This is because how we conceive of death conditions how we value life.

Few of us value all lives equally, even when it comes to human beings.

Nor do many of us think of our own deaths in the same terms as we do for others.

Some folks may have a degree of clarity in these variations, but I suspect that for most of us the deep questions about life and death are a confused tangle.

Plenty of the day-to-day disquiet of our minds arises from this confusion.

Our mortal struggle is explored by Stephen Caves, a philosopher at the University of Cambridge, in his essay Not Nothing.

“When I squidged it, I summoned the Reaper to my desk. If only briefly, I caught his eye.”

Caves sets out the dilemmas of life/death values starkly then seeks a balance point between them.

The degree to which he succeeds at this depends upon the insight gained by an attentive reader, such as yourself.

I suggest that you read this article and come back to it on successive opportunities for at least three readings.


Take your understanding of Cave’s analysis into conversation with people in your life.

They may embrace the topic outright, recoil at the mention of death, or dismiss the entire issue as meaningless.

In any of those cases, and the points in between them, you will at least gain a perspective on the various ways that people think about dying and accord value to the living.


Image Acknowlegements

CC Search

CC Search

John Shields was not a man to let death get in the way of a good party.

His wife sent out the email invitations so that at 78 years, John could leave this life surrounded by family and friends.

He chose to die by assisted suicide rather than by the amyloidosis that was shutting down his body.

A New York Times article – At His Own Wake, Celebrating Life and the Gift of Death – by Catherine Porter explores voluntary dying, love of life, and John Shields’ legacy.

Conversations on topics such as in this post are common at Death Café Corvallis, in which you are welcome to participate.

jose_fallenWhatever I anticipated on Friday morning it was not to witness the last breath of a young man.

I walk to work whatever the weather and this morning the rosy fingertips of dawn hinted at a sunny Spring day.

I had an early meeting so stopped at the corner café to organize my notes over espresso.

After coffee I set off to campus. A block away I saw something on the walkway my side of the railroad tracks.

The object looked like a sleeping bag, though as I approached it moved and I knew there was a person there, perhaps asleep.

There was a person there, but he was not asleep. He was unconscious. He had fallen face down, his left shoe at a right angle a few feet behind.

His arms were tucked under as if he grasped something to his chest as he fell.

Blood seeped from his forehead and saliva pooled at his lips.

There were no others around and I said to him; “Are you awake? Can you hear me?” No response so I called the responders at 911.

The dispatcher asked the right questions in the right order and instructed me not to move him.

One of the questions was; “How far did he fall?”

As I think back, my answer was strange; “To the pavement.”

I was not being glib. I was speaking from an image in my mind of a human body falling from upright to fully prone without catching itself. My image was of the impact such a fall onto cement must incur. That is, I suppose, what happened.

While answering the 911 dispatcher’s queries a man passed walking along the tracks. He was shouting something. I looked up to catch it. Waving his arms the man said; “He’s a drunk!”

Ignoring the irrelevant I asked the dispatcher to repeat his question. I do not recall what it was or how I answered.

While waiting for the paramedics an elderly woman approached walking her small elderly dog. She asked if the man on the ground was awake as the little dog sniffed at him. They moved on.

There was a moment of stillness – quiet and lonely. The sun was not yet high and we were in the shadow of buildings, he on the ground, me standing near.

He lay motionless but for a deep exhalation that came from his mouth bubbling the saliva which mixed slightly with the blood.

I did not see him inhale and felt this may be the last of his breath

Ancient texts from Egypt, India, China, and Israel speak of the life-force as a form of breath. The Greeks called it Pneuma.

As Jose’s life leaked out onto the pavement I said aloud; “You are not alone.” That was all.

In a moment the stillness broke with a siren wail and police were there.

They knew him as “Jose” and tried to awaken him. One checked for a pulse at his jose_response_pastelthroat. They turned him over, opened his shirt and began CPR.

A fire truck arrived with paramedics who broke out equipment and became busy.

A police officer had questions for me and I turned away from their efforts to bring Jose back to the living. He was not coming back.

The officers were respectful of Jose and tried to save him. They were kind to me.

The remainder of my day was not so eventful though I remained slightly disengaged.

My words were in a measure unclear to others and by the end of the day I felt as though I were speaking through a veil.

I walked home late by the same route and found flowers in a cardboard box where Jose had fallen.

jose_momento_pastelLater I learned that Jose was known to his friends as Francisco.

In my evening meditation I contemplated the death of a young man, just 34 years.

The Gazette Times had an article about the incident in which Jose is identified and I am designated a passer-by.

In truth, I am but a witness to the passing by of Francisco “Jose” Semadeni.


He did not die alone.


Yama – God of Death and Dharma

Among those who contemplate death, few are as thorough in detail and depth as are Buddhists.

A traditional Tibetan book, Bardo Thodol, is often referred to in English as The Tibetan Book of the Dead, though a more accurate translation is The Great Liberation through Hearing.  A modern classic of Tibetan Buddhism is The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.

Two contemporary Tibetan Buddhists, Patty Winter and Gregg Ruskusky, share their understanding via workshops – one of which is coming to Portland OR this April 28-30.

This extended session addresses care-giving for the dying and grieving with a overall objective of opening insight to our personal mortality and self-care.

I have registered and am looking forward to learning! Maybe I’ll see you there.

The workshop is sponsored by Maitripa College, the single degree offering Tibetan Buddhist College in the US.

Our Common Ground: Death and Dying
Patty Winter, RN, and Gregg Ruskusky
April 28-30, 2017
Friday, 7-9 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 12:30pm and 2-5pm

Information and Registration

Conversations on topics such as in this post are common at Death Café Corvallis, in which you are welcome to participate.

Image Acknowledgement


starkAs family matters go, death is surely a big one.  How families respond to the deaths of loved ones is likely a primary determinant of a culture’s treatment of mortality.  Death is not a common social topic in the U.S. and I have sometimes thought that stemmed from a form of denial.  On the other hand, perhaps it is a function of propriety in which as a family matter, death is left to the family.  Still, it is my experience that death is not a common topic within families until someone within dies.

The W.H. Stark House in Orange, Texas is a museum that took an interesting approach to the typical silence on death with an exhibition specifically about the aspects of death in a family over a decade.  At issue is the Stark family who lived in the mansion that has since become a museum.  The exhibit – A Death in the Family – explores the private lives of the Starks in the context of loss and mourning.

Stephanie Fulbright reviewed the exhibit noting;

“By grounding the conversation in someone else’s story” the exhibit “opened the door to the conversation about death and mourning and offered people an avenue to think and talk about mourning and loss in their own context.”

Effectively representing personal experience with death in a publicly accessible way is an accomplishment that will hopefully be continued in other venues.


Image Acknowledgement



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