I don’t think immortality would suit me.
I’d never get anything done.
So the fact that Russian scientists suggest we might be able to achieve it by 2045 is terrifying.
As a procrastinator, I am adamantly opposed to the idea of immortality.
If it weren’t for the impending fear of death, Alexander the Great would just have been Alexander. “Thursday,” he would have murmured, going back to bed. “I’ll start conquering on Thursday.”
Almost everything we’ve accomplished as a species has occurred in fits of mortal terror. Pyramids? Finding a reliable value for pi? “Look, Zeus,” we said, erecting large temples, complete with pediments and statues of all the relevant deities at their best angles. “Just keep this in mind, you know, down the line.”
Most great architecture is directly attributable to the fear of death. “This will be here when I’m not,” you say.
When you come right down to it, that’s the driving force behind almost everything we do and make as a species, even fruitcakes and excuses. “This will be here when I’m not,” you say, rubbing your hands together as you finish your perfect dismount from the balance beam. You create a legacy — which, like everything else you amass in the course of living, is something that confuses your heirs and that your children have to shelve in the garage once you pass.
If it were not for the fear that I might be hit by a bus, I wouldn’t write a line.
I gaze into the abyss. The abyss gazes back at me. “Hey,” it says, “you should really work on that novel.”
In fact, this seems to be the only way anyone gets anything done. You never see vampires writing seminal works of philosophy. If you have infinite time, you can certainly read Buzzfeed.
A French mathematician by the name of Evariste Galois might be the canonical example of this human characteristic. Convinced that he was going to perish in a duel the next day, Gaulois stayed up all night scribbling out his theories. And sure enough, the next day, he lost the duel and died, but we can thank him for lots of great math. Sometimes one wonders how he might have fared in the duel if he had gotten some sleep instead.
But it does not do to dwell on these things.
By all accounts, even if we were immortal, we would just be giant brains in tanks or vats, controlling avatars with our minds.
Forever! I could finally catch up on my e-mails!
But knowing what I do when someone tells me I have unlimited time to work on something, those avatars would just lie around checking Facebook every six seconds and eating cereal from the box, not do exciting things like construct avatar civilizations or build lasting works of art. What need? If you’ll be around forever, people won’t need anything to remember you by. You will still be there.
In fact, they might wish you’d go away.
Eternity, as anyone who has ever had to watch a child’s piano recital can tell you, is an awfully long time.
Most things in life are made precious by the idea that they will someday be gone. For instance, visiting relatives.
Violin music is only nice because we feel that, eventually, it is bound to stop.
“It’s not that I want immortality,” we point out. “It’s just that I would prefer not to die.”
But immortals are, by and large, jerks.
Zeus was not known for his ability to listen. To him, “No” meant, “Yes and turn me into a cow afterwards!” Dracula would always call at strange hours. Dorian Gray was not nice to his friends, and he did even worse things to paintings.
One upside of immortality is that we would possibly stop kicking the can down the road when it came to health care reform. We’d have to. It would cease to be a problem for our grandchildren and become a problem for us. Still, I can’t imagine brains in jars would require much maintenance. Just water them occasionally, or something, and you’re set. Forever.
But life without death is a form of death. All the urgency is gone. Besides, think of all the people you’d have to keep dealing with. The Internet is crowded enough as it is.
I prefer the kind of ersatz immortality to which we have grown accustomed, where you live on through your works or the people you touched or the elaborate collection of Star Wars Pepsi cans you donated to your alma mater.
I’m sure the avatars could go on forever, but I wouldn’t call it living.
All the fun things that you get to do in life — eat muffins, laugh, drive recklessly along deserted roads — traded in for the chance to linger on as a plugged-in electric shadow. Then again, most of us have done that already.