An endless highway
There is an immortality pill laying on the table in front of me. It is red. If I take it, I become immortal. Would I?
‘Highlander’ is one of my favorite movies, with the main character (Chris Lambert), the soundtrack (Queen) and the cool New York set of the 80s. Don’t forget the bar scene in which Connor MacLeod orders a dram of Glenmorangie! He was traveling in time and space and his life was full of drama and adventures.
On the other hand, years ago back in school I read some sci-fi story, where its main character had become immortal in some lab and… just got bored having tried everything. In the end he (and his dog, also an immortal and his only friend) were sitting in some hideaway covered with dust, fed up with their endless lives and bored to death but death wasn’t not an option…
Out of these two paths I definitely choose the first one! Just imagine. You can be a pirate during your first life, taking ships by storm in high seas, drinking rum carelessly and loving women at your secret Caribbean island. A bright life full of risk, bravery, adventure and pleasure! It would probably be a short life, though.
Then in your next life, you could be a peasant working hard in some Rajastan rural area, ploughing the rich soil with your buffalo under the merciless sun, and looking at the Maharaja Palace up on the hill. You get tired every day and still stay strong, earning back karma that was spent so recklessly in your previous life…
Another life could be a life of a scholar. Spending hours till late at night in your office surrounded by papers and books, discussing things with your colleagues. Stubbornly developing your ideas. Finally making a brilliant discovery! Or probably not making it, but still enjoying your life adventure.
It could also be a life of a sportsman, a soldier, even an astronaut making his first steps on the surface of Mars!
The world is endless, the universe is even bigger. I’d take that pill. No doubt. Give it to me!
Here, take this pill.
As I understand it, there are two different paths to immortality…
Telomeres are little tails on the ends of your genes. Each time a cell divides, a bit breaks off the end of the tail. No more tail? The cell no longer divides.
Apparently, nature devised this little bit of business as a defence against cancer. I heard on a radio talk-show that we all have cancer all the time. But because cancer cells divide so fast they quickly run out of telomere tail and the cell doesn’t divide anymore. Cancer cured. The side effect is that all our cells eventually stop dividing and our bodies start to break down. Parts simply wear out and the effect is what we call old age.
This was a radio talk show from the early 90’s, so scientists have been fooling around with this for a long time. The problem is that if you make the little tails last, cancer will kill you. Get rid of the tails? Nope, you’ll get old and die, as in soon.
As far as I’m aware, the only other way you may achieve immortality is through downloading yourself. I know, I just got all freaky but hear me out. You know all about hardware and software. Well some bright fellow started calling the brain wetware. Now, the definition has shifted over the years to include controlling a computer with your mind but that’s another blog.
The brain uses electricity like any other computer; 23.3 watts if you’re curious. It uses this electricity to make changes that store memory… sounds familiar? You will already guess that a bunch of smart guys are prototyping wetware tablets, computers, and more.
Now the part where you get to roll your eyes: what if you could download the contents of one computer, your brain, into another computer. All your thoughts would still be there. Same memories just without the body. Could you shoot across the Internet and catch an uplink to Curiosity Rover, on Mars? Do you wonder if NASA would approve? Maybe they would like having a “real” person on board.
Many scientist now look at aging as an illness and believe the first round of life prolonging meds could be here within ten years. Yes, this stuff is in the lab now and the mice are doubling their life spans. But alas, that’s also another blog.
So, back to the subject at hand. There is a pill and if you take it, you would live forever. We will say that they have fixed that tail thingie. Your cells will never wear out. So until that fateful day when you accidentally step in front of the 7:15 shuttle for Saturn, you will live forever.
I’ve got to be honest here, at first I thought “Oh hell yeah!” Roger could have already told you that would be my answer. But now I’m a bit more circumspect; I would love to see the future but the truth is my past hasn’t been all that great. I suppose that’s the case for most of us.
I guess the real question is: do you think the future would be better for the average person than the past. I am not and never want to be a member of the one percent. So would I get just sick of it and accidentally step in front of the 7:15 shuttle? Do I want to live forever? Would I take that pill?
With some thought, my answer is yes, I want to take that pill. And I’ll tell you why. The swing of history has pretty much been in one direction. Life for most of us has gotten better over time. We may argue the fall of the Roman Empire gave us the dark ages but overall, it has been a steady march toward the light. I choose to believe this will continue to be the case – give me that pill! What do you choose to believe?
Nah, not for me thanks.
I would have to be convinced that I wouldn’t age, that my brain was capable of taking in trillions of years of knowledge, and whilst I was never going to die, that I would not get any debilitating illnesses. What’s the point of living for ever, after getting some form of dementia in the first few million years of eternity……
I don’t waste my life worrying about when I am going to die, so knowing I will never die, frankly, is no bonus whatsoever. Catchphrases will develop like: “Always put off today what you can do tomorrow,” because there will always be a tomorrow….
My fears about immortality include not wanting to risk anything ever. Imagine a motorbike accident leaving you with one leg and paralysed, for eternity. What fun. It would make people far less willing to be a firefighter, police officer, or any job that entails some danger. I think those kind of people are happy to be involved in these risky jobs, knowing that harm may come to them, but also knowing they will die anyway at some point.
One of the great things about death is that it guarantees that evil people will eventually get their comeuppance. Can you imagine a Hitler or Stalin or Vlad the Impaler or Pol Pot living for eternity?
Interestingly, philosophy professor at Yale Shelly Kagan, believes that there are no pros about the prospects of immortality, only cons. The main point appears to be that he can’t think of anything he would like to keep doing after trillions of years. At some point, he will eventually have tried to exhaustion everything there is to try, and immortality would become a curse for all eternity. If you had a machine, he says, which gave you the best orgasm you could possible imagine, every day, you would, eventually, get fed up with it. It never gets better, and you’ve had a zillion years of it……(Can I borrow it sometime?)
On the other hand, some might say technology can evolve infinitely, as can humans and indeed the universe. The human mind is designed to constantly keep searching and exploring. So how on earth can anyone ever get bored? As my American and Russian friends may say: Immortality, bring it on!!!! Nah, not for me.
I read somewhere that if we excluded ageing as a cause of death, it will be quite realistic that we would live to around 700 years on average until we succumbed to some other event which killed us.
Which brings me happily to my conclusion. I don’t mind living for a few decades longer, yes please, thank you very much. But basically, I want to live only as long as I want to. No longer. No lingering and painful demise for me. Once I have got everything I ever wanted out of life, surely that is the time to get out.