Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

Would it be a bad thing to live forever?

‎”Blindly we dream of overcoming death through immortality, when all the time immortality is the most horrific of possible fates.” -Jean Baudrillard

One of the worst things about my deconversion was realising that there probably wasn’t going to be an afterlife. I’d been counting on that all my life, and as a result, I had to do some serious rethinking on my timescale. A universe without me? I’m not an eternal being? My religion had flattered me, made me feel so important, and appealed to my sense of vanity. I hated thinking that I probably wasn’t going to live forever.

I was surprised, then, to find that some people aren’t concerned about it, and don’t particularly want to live forever.

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, one character is immortal, and it’s a curse.

To begin with it was fun; he had a ball, living dangerously, taking risks, cleaning up on high-yield long-term investments, and just generally outliving the hell out of everybody.

In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, and that terrible listlessness that starts to set in at about 2:55, when you know you’ve taken all the baths you can usefully take that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the newspaper you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.

So things began to pall for him. The merry smiles he used to wear at other people’s funerals began to fade. He began to despise the Universe in general, and everybody in it in particular.

“I think I’ll take a nap,” he said, and then added, “What network areas are we going to be passing through in the next few hours?”

The computer beeped.

“Cosmovid, Thinkpix and Home Brain Box,” it said, and beeped. 

“Any movies I haven’t seen thirty thousand times already?” 

“No.” 

“Uh.” 

“There’s Angst in Space. You’ve only seen that thirty-three thousand five hundred and seventeen times.” 

“Wake me for the second reel.”

Immortality might be horrible. Really: how long can you enjoy the vitality of life? How many more times can you listen to Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’? How many times can you watch your favourite movie? Eventually you’ll have found all the things that do it for you. And habituation’s a bitch. What if I became so accustomed to the sunset, or the touch of my sweetheart through repeated exposure that I could no longer enjoy it? I’d be dead then, but still walking around.

Okay, so I can see that eternity would be a long long time, but I don’t envision a check-out date. There’s too much to learn! There’s enough for fifty lifetimes. I’m doing linguistics now. I think in the next lifetime, I’ll do maths and get really good at that. Then what? A lifetime of typography! What kind of computers will people invent? What will English be like in 500 years? And so on. Seventy years seems so short.

Even so, it’s probably a good thing that people die. Max Planck has been paraphrased to say “Science advances one funeral at a time.” And Steve Jobs has his take on it:

 
Transcript for people who don’t like watching videos.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

It’s true, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

So what do I do about it? Steve continues.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Have you made peace with mortality? Or do you rage against the dying of the light? I haven’t decided which approach I like best. I guess at this stage I’m just glad to have escaped the liars who make big, empty promises about forever.

11 Comments

  1. This is one that I'm struggling with. I don't like the idea of annihilation upon dying, so I'm fighting deconversion as if continuing to believe in immortality will somehow make it so.

  2. After the disillusionment, anger, sense of betrayal, disappointment, frustration etc etc came a deep sadness and sense of loss as the sense of certainty of life after death in glorious "heaven" ebbed away. Most of the other negative feelings that characterized my deconversion have faded a lot, but I am still dealing with this one.

    One life seems too short. At 37 I feel I am only just beginning and there is so much more I want to do. I am certainly hoping for many more years (all in good health) than the three score and ten you refer to Daniel.

    "Stay hungry. Stay foolish."
    I like that. I am going to tuck that one away to play over ias a mantra when I feel myself wallowing and wasting precious time.

  3. Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
    —Susan Ertz

    But I know what you're talking about. I want to see how the story ends. I don't want to miss anything!

  4. Get on over to Pharyngula and play the clip at the following url:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/08/31/the-sentiment-pleases-me/

    I bet it will help.

  5. "You" will never die because there is not and never was any "you" in the first place.

    "You" did not come into this world, you came out of this world in just the same way that leaves come from trees, and trees from soil. This world, universe, whatever you call it manifests what you call "yourself" for awhile and then passes on to manifest something or someone else in some other way. What was "you" goes back to it, and that was your real home all along.

    This is not meant as mysticism, it is meant as being in accordance with what I understand as scientific fact. I am a full blown materialist and don't believe in any separate "soul" nor any separate "mind".

    Nor does this mean you shouldn't fear "death". Of course you will fear death and struggle against it, as will I. That is how what you think of as "you" happens to be. Part of being alive is to be terrified of not being alive. That is, I think, how we know "we" are alive.

    Even though I fear death, as I should, I notice that actually "I" have already been dead for around fourteen billion years give or take, and I don't recall minding it a bit.

  6. My last comment probably should have said that I struggled with it, rather than was struggling. Steve's speech and Daniel's post actually made me feel all warm and I went on to enjoy the rest of my day. Must have been the spirit testifying the truth of their words! Ha!

  7. I don't like the idea of living forever in heaven. But if I could live life on earth forever, I would.

    What do you do as a god after all of your kids have become gods/average zombies/tortured souls? Is there a retirement home for grandpa elohims? Is there an infinite amount of intelligences so that you just keep playing the same game forever?

    Knowing that I don't live forever in a heaven brings me comfort. I don't look forward to dying. But I prefer dying over any of the afterlives proposed by theists.

    However, reincarnation would be interesting. I could be down with that.

  8. Gotta love Baudrillard, and Dylan Thomas. The other thing, besides feeling immortal, that religion gave me, and I really felt, was a great sense of protection. Not only was I going to live forever as some zombie-god but there was important work for me to do while I was on earth. So god was going to protect me until I fulfilled my potential. And O, I had so much potential!

    I'd still put my hand up for immortality though, just to have the privilege of eternal ennui, if nothing else. I'd even go for "me" being copy and pasted into an electro-digital grid, as Richard Gibson describes in Neuromancer.

  9. How interesting to me that this is your first post for Super September. I am sooooo in this quagmire atm. I am kicking against the pricks big time. I want forever and I am pissed off at the Mormon church for lying to me … just to have it pulled out from under me and then to feel THAT awful pain. Better that I never 'knew my future'. Grrrrrrr. Yeah, I'm in the early stages of enlightenment. This post of yours, and the commenters, have helped a lot. Great place to start Daniel!

  10. I do not fear death. I fear dying with the song still left in me.

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