Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I remember a line I read once that I loved: “How is it that those who long for immortality get bored on a rainy Saturday afternoon?” Excellent point.

We’ve all wondered what it would be like to live forever: I certainly have, and I realize there is a great difference between the prospect of living forever as an individual and being a member of a race that lives forever. The latter would be more comfortable, but less practical.

For an individual, the gift of immortality would come at truly terrible emotional price. It’s bad enough, in our limited time on earth, to watch those we love age and die around us even as we ourselves grow old. Imagine how terrible it would be to go through that same trauma time after time after time through eternity.

If all humankind were suddenly immortal, we would within decades breed ourselves (for it is commanded that we must be fruitful and multiply, and Lord knows we’re good at that) to the point of there not being a square inch of space on the entire land surface of the planet to hold us all. What would we do then, and how? Spread out like an infestation of bedbugs to other planets, to do the same thing there?

Science has fairly well determined that the universe itself will not last forever. At some point, our sun will grow dim and die, and the earth, too, will die, as will our solar system and our galaxy. Humankind may well, if it survives that long, be able to move on to other worlds other solar systems, even other galaxies, but those, too, would suffer the same eventual fate, and there would, eventually, be nowhere to run. Mankind, too must perish. And for a single immortal man (or woman) in the end, when the last sun has gone out, what then? (There are many things which cannot be conceived of, and this is surely one of them.)

Immortality would take other tolls. Any form of long-term relationship would be impossible when one partner grows older and the other does not. The ending of any relationship is traumatic. To go through it endlessly is nearly impossible to imagine. Who can comprehend such a thing?

What I would wish for all of us, were it in my power to do so, would be that every human being live, in good health, exactly as long as he or she wants to live. The decision to die would be completely up to the individual. I’m sure that for the first few hundred years, there would be very few deaths not brought about by accident or acts of God or other violent means at which we are so adept.

But eventually, the “rainy Saturday afternoon” syndrome would set in, and more and more people would say: “Okay, that’s enough. It’s been fun, but now it’s time to move on.” And “move on” to where opens another entirely new book.

I truly enjoy speculations like this, even though there are, and in many cases simply cannot be, any answers. To question is one of Mankind’s greatest gifts: to be denied the answer is one of its greatest curses. So I think I’ll just try to be happy with an elemental truth, for as long as it may apply: Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am.

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