Immortality

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.

2 thoughts on “Immortality

  1. Immortality is definitely a very interesting concept, but I also dismiss it as something irrealistic.

    What I find interesting though, is the urge to live longer. If I am not mistaken, our average life-expectancy has improved significantly(almost doubled?) since medical science began to develop; and I believe there is still a lot of potential.
    As to cancer – the inevitable error in duplication of cells – there is a trilogy, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, that explores the possibility of a medical treatment that kind of cures cancer, giving people atleast another 100 yrs(then other sicknesses appear, and the book ends :). It is my favorite, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Sci-Fi that centers around plausible scientific development.

    Lots of problems arise because of this so called “long-livity treatment”. My personal favorite, is the following:
    ” ‘Max Planck once said a new paradigm takes over not when it convinces its opponents, but when its opponents eventually die.’
    ‘And now they aren’t dying,’ Art said.”

    – Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Mars, p. 78
    In all, a very interesting chapter, if you ever get the book in your hands.
    Back to this problem – what does this mean for development? Doesn’t that halt everything at a status quo? People would just become hedonists, and enjoy their seemingly eternal lives within the system that already exists; because, of course, the cutting edge treatment is(as you mentioned yourself) only accessible to those who can afford it, at first.
    Then things are discussed, like a plague vector that kills everyon that doesn’t have the treatment… what effects would that have?!
    Shortage of agricultural workers for sure; and definitely much much more.

    Those are some very interesting thoughts to let roll over in your minds! Why? … who said any of this is scientifically impossible?

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  2. Rafael, thanks for your thoughtful comment and book recommendation. I am always looking for good sci-fi like that. I had not thought of it that way, but yes, arguments may never end if the principal parties involved never die.

    Reading your comment made me think of something interesting: both long and short life expectancies can lead to the same result – self destruction. People that expect to live 30 years might become hedonistic or obsessive, leading to behavior that hastens their demise. People that expect to live 300 years are not pressed for time, so they have no real reason to do anything. They might slowly “waste” their time trying to fend off boredom. As you mentioned, they are also susceptible to large scale disasters because they have gotten complacent and have stopped advancing.

    Long or short, time will drive you to the same unpleasant end if you let it. The only way to escape this cycle is to focus on doing something of significance to you. Then you become the driver, and time becomes merely a factor to consider.

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