Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Remember This

Ceramic art has been around for quite a long time. In fact, the oldest known ceramic figurine, The Venus of Dolní VÄ›stonice is dated to 29,000–25,000 BCE. That’s pretty old. One could argue that as an art form, ceramics have some serious lasting power.

As an artist the notion of my work out lasting my life had always been something that was extremely important to me, until recently. In fact, it was something I seriously considered when switching my primary work from paint on canvas to glaze on ceramic. What concerned me, was that while the potential to last thousands upon thousands of years existed, if it’s not treated carefully ceramic art is also quite likely to end up like the photo I’ve posted, or worse.
Broken ceramic think

What I would spend the majority of my time on had the potential to last a thousand lifetimes after I was gone. At the same time, what I dedicated my life to could shatter in a split second upon a concrete floor.

As I have gotten older the fragility and possible destruction of my life’s work now really appeals to me. I’m pretty darn happy with this moment right here and the fact that me and you and everything else in the universe is but a temporary dot in time and space. It brings me a sense of comfort. It takes the pressure off. It makes the mistakes a little less painful and it make the victories more sweet. We are all a beautiful accident, delicate and temporary. My art like everything else around us is fragile and fleeting and that is totally fine with me. I don’t care how long my art outlasts me after I am gone anymore. It can last 25,000 years or 25 minutes after I hand it off. My only realistic hope is that it can somehow make my world and the world around me a tiny bit better while we share our time together. Either way, it’s ok.

Is your legacy important to you? What do you hope to leave behind after you die? What do you wish to be remembered for? Do you even want to be remembered? Or is this moment right here enough for you and you wish to leave nothing but the remnants of the star stuff from which you are made?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. So far my two legacies are Duct tape art and a sign on the microwave at work reminding people not to use that microwave for popcorn. It’s an old and evil microwave that has the supernatural ability to burn any popcorn with in a three foot radius. I believe this microwave is a reincarnation of the toaster oven seen at the end of the time bandits movie. I am most proud of the second accomplishment.

  2. I think most people want some legacy, some kind of mark on the world that will outlast them. For most I suppose it is children. For me it is the written word in my field of engineering. The idea that I may have added some little piece to the collection of human knowledge gives me some comfort.

  3. Why would I care about a legacy when I am far past caring? I think that a concern with legacy is tied indirectly, but irretrievably with the concept of an afterlife. I would much rather have a positive impact on my part of the world while I am alive and can enjoy the results. After my bacteria eat me it could all evaporate instantly and be perfectly okay.

  4. When my son was born, I had a very profound moment were I realized my place in history. My son would have children and they would have children. My actions today in raising him could literally echo through the generations. If I screw up, he could teach his kids horrible life lessons, and my grandkids could be jerks or worse. It was a very powerful moment in my life.

    Fast forward two years, and my son’s favorite thing is to yell “Poop!” at the dinner table. Go figure.

  5. My basic view is that if you won’t be aware of your legacy (either good or bad) why bother stressing about what it will be? It’s like getting worked up over how soon until the sun goes nova: it just doesn’t matter.

    What I would be worried about is if I was married and/or had kids. Families come with obligations and I’d want to know that I’m leaving everyone well off enough in my absence. But as a bachelor that isn’t even on my radar. If I die today I’m not leaving behind any major piece of unfinished work, and whatever impact my brief life had will be forgotten relatively quickly (from the perspective of all of time and space). No reason to get worked up over any of it.

  6. @davew: That is exactly what I am thinking. It seems like a very interesting side effect of an understanding of science, the eventual and inevitable death of the universe and and in my particular case being child free. When I’m gone, I’m gone. Why even worry about it.

    Yes, I want to be a positive influence on the people I encounter, absolutely. But I’m just no longer worried about the things I may or may not leave behind.

  7. My legacy is named Spencer Alexandra, and she is 5 months old today. At this point we don’t know if we’ll have any other children – we’re waiting until she’s at least 5 to make that decision. Like Gabriel said, I just hope I raise her properly. If I do my job well, she’ll be an outstanding individual as a child, then as an adolescent and then still as an adult. And she’ll hopefully do the same with her children (if she decides to have them).

    Barring outside forces beyond my control turning her into a jerk, that is.

  8. Hmm, the best I want to aim for is hopefully most of the people who have met me will not walk away thinking that I was a huge douche or something.

    @davew: “Don’t drive like my brother” – Tom Magliozzi

  9. Having a child I guess he would be the closest I come to having a “legacy,” but only because he is the human I have been able to have the most influence on, not because he is carrying on my insignificant genes or even less significant family name. I do care deeply about what happens to my species (but only, I suppose, while I am able to care. After death, not so much). So, even if I didn’t have a child (and there shall be only one. Maybe I should start calling him my little Highlander), I think the things we do send out ripples that can impact the way others act. So if we always act constructively and positively we can all leave a pretty good legacy: making Earth an incrementally better place to live.

  10. I would like to leave the world a much, much sillier place. To that end, I am raising my children to be silly. Fortunately my husband is also raising them to be considerate.

  11. I’ve still got a big enough head that I’d like to be remembered, but I still have no idea what for and I recognize that I won’t know whether or not I’m remembered.

    It would be really nice to be remembered as a leader in some sort of social change, like promotion of gay marriage, increasing the electability of atheists, or something along those lines. I’m currently not nearly active enough in any of those groups to be remembered as critical to those kinds of changes, though.

  12. @davew: A legacy is the only type of afterlife that we get. While we don’t experience it, we do have a lasting impact on the world after we are gone. Our actions influence the people around us, and their actions influence the people around them. It is almost as if we are going though life leaving a wake behind us. We are the products of all our experiences and interactions. While I’m not going to be around to experience it, it makes me happy today to think that my actions will be making people happy after I’m dead and gone, even if they can’t trace back their influences to me. This post turned out a lot more philosophical than I intended it to be, but oh well.

  13. I want to go back to school and get back on track on the path I used to be on, I want to do research and increase humanity’s knowledge base.

  14. @davew: I disagree…I think our innate desire for a legacy is linked to our instinct to pro-create. We need to leave a piece of ourselves in the world. That is based on no research or science, just my thinking.
    I chose not to pro-create and it occasionally weighs on me when I consider legacy.
    In particular I want to leave something that future generations will enjoy, as Amy is doing. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc – will likely be listened to for hundreds or even thousands more years.
    And even with that kind of impact – its time and effect compared the larger universe is so minuscule as to be nothing. It is silly. But I still feel it.

  15. @Amy: As usual, very nicely put. I learned a while back that, as far as my art goes, never be precious about it. I had a teacher once who told us that we should never be afraid to erase a line, because if you come to that point, you will be too afraid to ever change the drawing, even if it’s for the better.
    As far as my life is concerned, I’m with @jogleby. I hope that I at least make my little corner of the world a bit sunnier, a bit less miserable. And that after I’m broken down into my constituent elements, if someone who knew me thinks of me, they will smile.

  16. @jogleby: Very well put!

    I’ll be trite and boring by echoing the comments about my children being my legacy, and one that I think is very important. As my children are now beginning to notice, some people have really unpleasant home lives. Angry divorces, abusive parents, bigotry, etc. and so forth. And it’s not hard to see how easily this can become a legacy as well. It’s REALLY hard for a kid with fucked up parents to break that cycle and not visit the same kind of Hell on their own kids.

    Since my kids were born, I’ve never questioned that the most important task I have in this world is to raise happy, self-confident humans who actually have a decent shot at attaining their full potentials in life. When I look at my parents, I can see the legacy of my grandparents, and infer some of the great qualities of the generations that came before. I want nothing more than to have my grandkids and the generations that come after them to look at me with the same respect and admiration.

    Never be the obstacle that someone has to overcome to have a decent, happy life!

  17. I want to leave A legacy. I want to the world, when I leave it, to be better than when I arrived on it. It doesn’t have to be in a big way, it could just be a collection of small improvements and acts of kindness, done just for the sake of doing them, without reward or thanks. I’m not worried who remebers me or how they remember me.
    If you stress about how you’ll be remebered…. well, that way madness lies. If only because you won’t be around to find out.

  18. When I was much younger my “stuff” and legacy meant a lot to me. I’m also an artist. Having stuff bought by people and lasting beyond my lifetime was important. Now, ahhhh…I’m downsizing and getting rid of stuff I thought I’d hold onto forever. When time begins to run OUT you begin to see how important how you spend your time is…rather than on what you have. I used to make a lot of stuff to sort of “immortalize” myself. Now I realise that making stuff that makes people happy and smile NOW and being generous is where it is at. I have 2 paintings of the girls and one of my favorite cat I’d like to think might live on after I’m gone. But I’ve told my kids, “if you want to ebay it all after I’m gone…GO FOR IT…just be sure you do something really exciting with the money!”

  19. For the longest time, my Dad’s ambition was to leave enough money to his alma mater (Kansas State in Manhattan) to have a building named after him.

    He wanted the engineering building to be Hall Hall.

  20. @Amy: I, too, am child free, and will continue to be child free for the foreseeable future. If there is a god that isn’t sadistic, then I will stay child free for the rest of my life. You don’t want me raising a kid. I’m already messed up in the head, I’d just impart that onto the next generation, and then some.

    Back to the topic at hand, I would like to have had a legacy. Something to be remembered by. Not that I’ll give a damn, I will have ceased to exist. However, being remembered, etiher fondly, or hatefully, will, in essence, give you an extended life…until people forget your name. Would that still count?

    Ok, again, back on topic. I wouldn’t mind someone naming a building after me, or a bridge, or, hell, I’d even settle for a waste water purification plant, because of all the crap I cut through….

    Unfortunately, I will most likely die a no one from no where who did nothing. I’m trying to come to terms with this, but its not easy. When I get depressed, I don’t imagine suicide, because of all the pain I’d cause. Then I’d be remembered with pain. I don’t want to be remembered with pain. I’d rather just go away and forgotten about than cause pain.

  21. Unfortunately, I will most likely die a no one from no where who did nothing. I’m trying to come to terms with this…

    @Infinitemonkey: Buck the trend, my man! Rather than try to come to terms with ‘most likely not doing anything’, DO something! Okay, easier said than done, right? But if you want to be remarkable, start doing remarkable things. Why don’t you start a blog? Oh, you have a blog? Why don’t you ever promote it over on Facebook or here? And you should because you have a unique spot as far as Skeptic blogs go.
    Once you start down the path of ‘doing something’ you just have to keep going.

  22. I don’t share the notion of my kids being my legacy. I think they should be their own legacies that I (hopefully) will have had a positive (hopefully) impact on. But a legacy should be about you and I don’t want my kids being about me.

    I’ve had an effect on numerous people I’ve known but not in any ‘legacy’ sort of way. More like “Thanks for showing me that” or ” I never would have thought of it that way” .

    What will ultimately set me apart will be showing the world you can indeed die by getting stuck in there like that.

  23. Legacy. Why yes.

    This conglomeration of imbalanced chemicals and electrical misfirings will decay along with this planet and this solar system eventually.

    Some untold amount of time later, these ‘bits’ will be swallowed up by another newly formed solar system and then, at last, provide a small bit of matter for some being’s third ovapositor.

    In this, satisfaction.

    *cracks open a Coke.

  24. Ya know what’s weird…I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about legacy as it pertains to me personally until right this moment. I guess that demonstrates it’s lack of importance to me. I try to think on it and my brain just says, “meh.”

  25. Have I mentioned I’m going to save the world? When aliens come visit Earth, there will be a sign:

    Now entering Earth, a member of the Completely Safe Planet Society, brought to you by Elyse Anders.

  26. I think a strong difference between atheism and theism is the way we think about the dead. I for one want to be remembered for who I am, and that makes me want to be remembered as a great person.

    I think at the same time as we accept the idea of death and live to leave things behind we also in a position to uniquely value life. As okay as I am with my eventual fate, I want to live a REALLY long time.

  27. I’ve never been particularly driven by a need to leave a legacy. I suspect that this is why I appear to have no desire to have children. Legacies, IMO are tied up with a desire to “live forever”, either through our genes, or through our ideas. I like what some have said about it being linked to a desire for after-life. It really does seem like a hold-over from the sky father/tooth fairy nonsense that passes for ideaology.

  28. I’m of two minds on the children as a legacy thing. I lean toward parenting as an immediate responsibility and any legacy is gravy after doing the right thing now, today and again tomorrow and the day after that. Then if you’re lucky the kids turn out okay.

    I spent twenty years investigating child abuse and neglect and I know my actions and decisions led to life changing events for hundreds of families, children and parents. I have saved the lives of some children and prevented horrible abuse in the lives of others. I have run into some of these children years later when they were adults and married with their own children, and had them tell me that my involvement in their family is something the will never forget and changed their life. I’m also responsible for dozens of children being removed from unsafe abusive homes and being adopted by loving caring families. I’m proud of this and think I was able to make a real difference. On the other hand if I had not been there to intervene someone else would have been. My efforts were not unique to me or a result of my altruism, it’s my profession and job to deal with these situations. So knowing that my work has a real life impact on those in need doesn’t really make me think I’ve left a legacy so much as I’ve tried to be a good human and act in a professional respectful manner to every client that I’ve been responsible for. (Mind you some of that respectful professionalism was an act because while I was being a polite bureaucrat to some clients I wanted to reach down their throat and pull out their lungs, but that’s another discussion.)

  29. Though I didn’t intend it, my legacy (along with about 6 billion of my closest friends) will be leaving a planet that will be in a runaway global warming pattern. Oops.

  30. @Mark Hall: Love it. I used to want this as well, just so more people would know how to pronounce my last name.

    As my art form of choice is dance, I’ve long ago come to the realization that it will not last. Video has helped, but it’s rare that what I want captured is captured the way I want. :) Plus videography adds a layer of another artist, yadda yadda.

    I have picked up some crafty habits, and making things for my family & friends gives me (and hopefully them) some happiness. I like the thought of hand-me-down things like blankets and clothing. “Your great-Aunt Elizabeth made this” and such. This is probably because I had some quilts and afghans as a child made by great grandmas and cousins, and it made me so much happier than “we got that blanket at Meijer.”

  31. As a geoscientist, even 25-29ka is still pretty young. When you work with timescales of millions of years on a day-to-day basis, the thought of one individual from one species leaving any kind of legacy is quite futile. The best we can do is try and understand the past, speculate about the future, and enjoy the here and now.

  32. As a genealogist I want to leave something that’ll cause future relatives to spend a few extra paragraphs on me, exactly what I’m not sure. Maybe one of my students will feel they’ve been influenced by me and mention me when they go on to Do Great Things, maybe I’ll be the first president of Norway, maybe I’ll be the second cousin 15 times removed who did the original research on this branch of the family. Or maybe, no matter what I do today, I’ll just be Bjørnar Tuftin, b. ##-##-####, d. ##-##-####.
    The most important thing is to be happy now.

  33. @jogleby: Well said.

    My hopes for my legacy are modest: I hope I leave the world no worse off than when I found it, and with a little luck, slightly better.

    Of course, I will also have a cover credit on Scott Sigler’s The Starter ( – pre-order today!), so that’ll help.

  34. I would like to be known as the first person in the world with radioactive spider powers. Failing that, at my funeral I hope that people say “Johnny Slick once ate his way out of a house made entirely of bacon”.

  35. I have no expectation of, or desire for, leaving a legacy. I think it may come down to my personality, I’m pretty introverted, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the best I can hope for from my brief time alive is for as much time as I can grab with the love of my life, as much learning as I can cram in, along with a few* carnal pleasures along the way.

    It’s probably also down to my personal philosophy being that my life is temporary, planet earth is temporary, and so is the universe. I’m sure that many people would see that as a rather bleak view of life, but I find it both beautiful and comforting.

    *I say a few, I mean many!

  36. My legacy?
    “Mostly Harmless.”
    “Pay it forward.”
    “Commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of love.”

    We raised two more or less well-adjusted daughters to adulthood. They have kids of their own now, so I guess that’s my legacy – Our kids were raised sufficiently well to become successful adults. That’s more than many people get in this life. (Tip of the hat to James Fox, among others above.)

    I don’t spend much time thinking about my legacy, because most people on Earth don’t have one. Even having a legacy is a very temporary thing when examined next to the infinity of deep time and space. In the grand scheme of the cosmos, we are the brief flare of a match.

    “The most important thing is to be happy now.” (Bjornar)
    That’s the key, isn’t it? That’s the problem, too. We have the freedom to pursue happiness, but there’s no guarantee we’ll ever find it or catch it. Or is the happiness in the pursuit?

  37. Been thinking about Poe and Van Gogh recently.
    Had a teacher once tell me that it was all very nice that people loved Van Gogh’s work now, but he really would have preferred they got it while he was still alive to enjoy it.
    Of course, it’s not like that teacher actually knew the guy – but I wonder if it’s better to be celebrated while you’re alive for things that make no impact or recognized long after you’re dead for having made a significant contribution to human culture or history?
    Me, I think I’d rather have a comfortable life, but at times I honestly do not know.

  38. @Elyse
    I think you might be better remembered for putting up a sign that says:

    “Save yourselves the aggravation – We’re not worthy of befriending helping or defeating.
    As food we probably cause cancer.
    Suggest you find another place to visit.”

    You will probably then be hero to the hypothetical aliens.
    I figure we would just spread our general screwedupness to a whole new species if one comes to visit. We should remain quarantined. :)

  39. One aspect of legacy that I’ve been lazy about is a directive to physicians. If I’m in an irrecoverable coma or a PVS, I want them to keep me alive long enough to harvest every organ they can out of me, then burn the rest.

  40. @jogleby: A legacy is the only type of afterlife that we get. While we don’t experience it, we do have a lasting impact on the world after we are gone.

    (And to others who expressed a similar sentiment.)

    I realize there are other ways to look at this and I don’t think they are any less valid than my viewpoint. I do worry about people, however, who sacrifice the present in exchange for a “better legacy” or who feel compelled to have children just to gain facsimile of immortality. These both strike me as illogical reasoning.

    A legacy of some sort is inevitable. I believe if you take good care of your day to day affairs your legacy will take care of itself.

  41. I hope after I die, people will say of me: “That guy sure owed me a lot of money.” -Jack Handy

  42. I’m no artist (well, not sustainably), but I do craft and indeed sell my goods and longevity is always an issue, because I want to put out a quality product. If I can figure out how to make something stronger, I will.

    But that’s not what I want to leave behind. I am also a microbiologist, and I used to say I wanted to be the person all the students curse for figuring out some complex-but-essential piece of the puzzle which they now have to learn. Seriously, if no one ever figured out photosynthesis, my Cell Biology class would have been so much easier.

    Now I’ll settle for saving (and improving) some lives.

  43. @davew: “A legacy of some sort is inevitable. I believe if you take good care of your day to day affairs your legacy will take care of itself.”

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