Friday, October 28, 2011

Death Becomes Her?

I was recently chatting with a friend about life, immortality, and death.  We were mostly talking about the increasing human lifespan, at least in most developed countries, and what the future of technology holds for those who are lucky enough to live to take advantage of inevitable breakthroughs in the problems of aging, disease, and death.  Although my friend seemed excited by the prospect of eliminating diseases and improving the quality of life of the elderly, she surprised me by adding, "of course, I wouldn't want to live forever." Now this shouldn't have surprised me, I guess.  I've heard it many times before, as I've also heard her explanation:  "If you lived forever, wouldn't life get terribly boring?" 

OK, so I wasn't exactly surprised, but I was a bit taken aback, as I always am when I hear this thought expressed.  My friend isn't a particularly bored person, and she's certainly not boring.  She seems to always be interested in something exciting or new (to her, at least) or fun.  It's not that she's flighty or superficial. It's just that she's immensely curious.  "If you get bored," I told her, "move to the south of France.  But death?  At least France has email, and the return flights are cheaper."

On the one hand, I guess I sort of get her point.  There is arguably a finite amount of information to be learned in the world, so at some point I guess you will have seen it all.  However, it seems like it would take so long to reach that point that this really no longer becomes a reason to accept death, at least not death as we briefly-lived humans know it.  It would take so long, in fact, that I'm not even sure I can wrap my head around the length of time it would take.  To me, it seems like that alone is good enough reason to want to live "forever" or at the very least make death into a door we only open when we choose to.

And is there any other reason why we'd choose to open that door, other than boredom?  Dread of a few upcoming events might make it seem attractive to die before they come.  Eventually, our sun is going to die.  Before that happens, she'll balloon up, completely engulfing Mercury and Venus, and if not engulfing Earth, at least making it too hot for life here.  Of course, by then we may have moved the species off-planet to what by then might be a few balmy moons of Jupiter or Saturn.  Then, of course we'd face the eventual dying of the sun.  But maybe by then we'll have world-sized interstellar spaceships, zipping us along to new star systems.  Who knows?  But isn't finding out sort of the point?

Some will say that even if we last beyond the death of the sun, eventually we'll find our galaxy standing seemingly alone in a universe expanding so fast we won't even see our nearest galactic neighbor.  On the other hand, maybe we'll kill ourselves with climate change, or global war, or maybe get hit by an Earth-shattering asteroid while our backs are turned in political and religious infighting.  Even so, wouldn't it be enough just to know how it all ends?

Another of my friends, Ty, and I talked about this once.  He was equally as baffled by the death-welcoming attitude of most people we knew.  We agreed that we're going to have to be forcibly evicted from this life, kicking and screaming.  I haven't talked to him for far too long, but we have a standing date to do some inter-galactic backpacking a few million years from now if we get this whole death thing licked.  All the rest of you adventurous spirits are welcome to join us.  I can't begin to tell you what that will be like, except to promise that it won't be boring!


P.S.  A Christian friend of mine (also of the "won't it get boring" camp), reading a draft of this said that if I don't die, I won't know the joys of the next life.  My reply to that is two-fold:  First, if there is a "next life" it'll still be there when I'm kicked out of this one, and second, if you can't find enough to hold your interest now, what makes you think you'll fare better in "eternity" somewhere else?

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