”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?”
“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.