Immortality is an idea with an everlasting charm. Though it’s only a figment of imagination till date, man needs this story always. The desire to defeat death is a very human desire as mankind alone is condemned to live with an awareness of his mortality. Of course, we have no means to know what other animals think about it. From time immemorial, man invented ways to come out of his fear of death. He wanted to deny the very fact of death because such a denial was necessary to pursue life for a majority of people. Whole books have been written on this quest. ( One of the most notable one is the magnificent work by Ernest Becker, Denial of death. I hope to write about it on another occasion) One of the major reason for people to cling to religions across various cultures was that they helped man to face the tragedy of death. They explained death for them and in the process weaved numerous soothing stories and promises around death. The offerings included rebirth, afterlife, immortal soul and so on … These beliefs provide comfort and a reason to stay calm to millions of people around the world. There is also a segment of the population who live perhaps without trying to find greater meanings for death and consider it as the natural end of everything. Their focus is only the life on earth. Out of many imaginations around death, immortality remains the most charming one.
Immortality is boring
In an interesting take on immortality, authour Paul Sagar writing in Aeon take us on a whirlwind tour of the many facets of immortality. Now think for a while. Does the idea of immortality tempt us? Have you ever imagined this life never-ending? Working under the same boss for an indefinite period? Doing the same job for an eternity? Though we have numerous stories from mythology about immortality, sometimes it’s beyond the capacity of mere mortals to even imagine that. Moral philosopher Bernard Williams said,
a life which never end may be an aweful one like a never ending cocktail party. We need reasons or new experiences to have interest in continuing with life .
If someone experiences all it will be very difficult to sustain the interest in them. They will find hundreds of years utterly boring. We should always have something to live for. Further, according to moral philosopher Samuel Scheffler, everything that human beings value makes sense only in light of our time being finite. Imagine all the things which we enjoy and make sense. Nothing runs for an infinite period. Will anyone be interested in a story which has no end? Once immortality comes into play we are likely to lose what is distinctively human. So here the issue is very simple. Despite the intense desire for immortality, it appears that it’s a very unattractive idea. If so, what exactly is driving the desire for immortality?
What drives the desire
More than anything else what trigger all thoughts of immortality is perhaps mankind’s fear of death. We loathe fading out. We find it difficult to accept the fact that we are mortal. We want to postpone it at any cost. Look what Milan Kundera says in his novel, Immortality.
To be mortal is the most basic human experience, and yet man has never been able to accept it, grasp it, and behave accordingly. Man doesn’t know how to be mortal. And when he dies, he doesn’t even know how to be dead.”
Another human dilemma is that man does not know when the death comes. According to some, if it comes after sufficient advance warning and after living sufficient years to do things one wants to do, perhaps man would have approached it with less fear. Imagine the different approaches to the death of an old person and a young one? Imagine an examination without the knowledge of the duration of time. Life is like that. If mankind was given the control to decide his time of death things would have been different. But that’s not the case. On the other hand, if we knew the time of our death or consequences of our actions still things won’t be that easy. Margaret Atwood dismisses that idea and tells that we will be ruined then.
If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next—if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions—you’d be doomed. You’d be ruined as God. ”
So you are caught in between and ultimately Atwood appears right. The beauty of life is in its uncertainty. In this scenario what are our options?
The option before us
If death is associated with uncertainty, we have something very certain about and that is this life. Only because the majority of people get up in the morning and keep on doing things, this world move on. So we need to think about life more than we think about death probably. We need to hug our lives and help others to do the same. There is an incredible life possible here if we are careful enough. It is possible to take the best shot at life here. How many years you need is an irrelevant question. What matters ultimately is how you lived and not how long you lived. You may be mortal but you are called upon to create the immortal in this world. You are free to create something which can survive after you. Thousands did that. In any case, those who want to read a little more on immortality can go through what Paul Sagar had written. ( see link below)