I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying. – Woody Allen
Humans have always been obsessed with immortality. From the Fountain of Youth to the latest cryogenics, people have always sought ways to extend their physical presence in the world indefinitely. They are going about it the wrong way.
All things must end–it is the natural order. Despite our brilliance, we cannot defy nature forever. I read an interesting article in Newsweek once about cancer. It’s virtually impossible to prevent error and damage to cells over the course of one’s life – think of how many times they replicate! One researcher mused how it seemed to be hardwired into our blueprint. If it’s not something else, it’ll be cancer.
But technology is always advancing, so let’s assume for argument’s sake that we do become effectively immortal someday. Maybe nano-machines will constantly clean our arteries and fix our damaged cells. Maybe we’ll dispense entirely with this weak fleshly existence and download our consciousnesses into the network. What then? Eat more food? Watch more TV? Will Year 1,000,000 have the same significance as Year 20? Part of what makes our lives meaningful is that they feel too short, and we are left wanting more. Everything means more when you have less.
To me, you achieve a far better sort of immortality by making lasting contributions to civilization. Plato, Michelangelo, and Caesar are all gone, but their spirits remain. Their achievements will be remembered as long as civilization endures. Best of all, this type of immortality is attainable by anyone willing to make an effort. You can write, teach, research, entertain, lead, or give, just to name a few. Physical preservation is only available to those who can afford cutting edge medicine.
So stop worrying about death, get out there, and live! Who knows? You might be around much longer than you ever expected.