We as a species have always coveted eternal youth and eternal life, colloquially called immortality, and unlocking the key to this immortality will certainly be heralded as the ultimate triumph of man over nature. Perhaps that is why since time immemorial we the mortal beings of this ephemeral cosmos have been in pursuit of this elusive dream. A dream which on one hand is perceived as a quest for the continued existence of an immaterial soul beyond the physical body, while on the other, is one of the main catalysts that lured humanity to the fountain of knowledge that we now call science.
We may have come a long way from voodoo doctors, to alchemists, to modern string theorists, but the allure of this ultimate triumph is still as prominent and magnetic as it was, hundreds of, thousands of, years ago. The commitment and passion towards achieving this goal have transcended mythos and civilizations, a fact evident from thousands of necropolises scattered all over the world. From Great Pyramids of Giza, to Majestic Monoliths of Stonehenge. From ancient Greek myths, to urban lore, each professing of the pros and cons of this dream.
Eventhough, in the past, this quest had a philosophical undertone and more often than not was fueled by religious convictions that equated Immortality to eternal life, but mankind’s increasing prowess in science and medicine, accompanied by a better understanding of the physical and biological aspects of life has empowered us to manipulate the mechanisms of aging which in turn is dramatically altering the odds of realising this Sisyphean task. As now we know, that aging is neither mystical nor inevitable, its just a consequence that we gain by improving health and prolonging life, nothing more than a trickery of physics which the evolution hadn’t already perfected.
But still realizing this task would certainly be a triumphant feat for man, as this trick will grant us the ability to transcend time and see the world change and technology progress. Allowing us to see humans build colonies on Mars and humanity leave the confines of our solar system to voyage the interstellar space at speed of light.
Although the current methods and techniques at our disposal are insufficient in such prolonging but still, at present we are enjoying the highest standards of living that the world has ever seen. For instance, in 18th-century average life expectancy was 35, fifty was riped old age, and 90 was like forever while by the turn of the 20th-century average human life expectancy was about 45 years of age. And look at it now, average life expectancy has more than doubled over the past decades. Even if we could prolong our lives to maximum age, we still are just prolonging the wait for the body to fail. Because after all achieving eternal health and ending biological aging, would in no way be the end of death.
So does this mean there is no true immortality? Well… Yesss and no!
You see, there is no true immortality when taken in the context of time but only a perception of it. A human is immortal to a fly as a giant redwood is to us humans, Or like how a star is immortal to its planets as a galaxy is to its star. But on the other hand, its also true that even if we achieved eternal health, it will not end death but it will certainly end aging. And what is immortality? if not, not aging?
In fact, I am sure that achieving immortality or eternal health will make us make responsible humans and hopefully we would start taking better care of planet knowing we would be around longer. Although the pressures of life may not decrease, then again we would have much more time figuring out these intricacies. We will surely be spending much more time on refining our inner niches, learning about things that we are good at, goals we want to achieve and deeds to we want to do.
Then again, If given a chance to choose how long we want to live, how long would we choose? 100, 120 or perhaps forever. After all who wouldn’t want to live forever, but how long will that forever be once you reach that age?
When you have all the time in the world, you become mellow and laid back, that rushness and ephemeral essence loses its meaning. You begin to delay things, put more thoughts into risks and methodically plan your decisions. Your life becomes monotonous and predictable. Even though the sands of time continue to slip away, your life becomes static. There are no ripples on the surface, instead only a commotion inside, conspiring to send impending tsunamis out on the surface as the monotonicity starts to overwhelm your inner athlete and the sense of adventure. You begin to yearn for the ticking of the clock and ephemeral beauty of nature.
Just like a sunbather by the beach relaxing after taking a dip in the depths of the torrential ocean of time. At first, he loves the cooling effects due to the conspiracy of the sun and wind that evaporate water off his drenched skin but as the sun reaches for the apogee he beings to realize the conspiracy and once again starts to yearn for the cold and torrent ocean waves.
This reminds me of the story of Eos and Tithonus. Tithonus was the lover of goddess Eos. The goddess was cursed to fall in love for mortal men by Aphrodite. She begged Zeus to grant Tithonus immortality so that they could spend eternity together but she forgot to ask for eternal youth. The wish was granted but, Tithonus kept aging unable to die, he began begging Eos for death. But she couldn’t do anything as once immortal, there’s no turning back. Instead, she turned him into a cricket; eternally living begging for death to overcome him.
We humans always had a love-hate relationship with immortality and feared never-ending aging. But the irony is, we still want to live forever and in the now. Often neglecting or say overlooking the fact that we not only live in the now but we also die in the now, not in the future. We’re born young, we grow old, and then we die. This has been the natural order for eons. Getting old is good, right? Afterall we celebrate the idea of living long to experience old age, or why else would we call them the golden years.
But the reality is, everybody wants to become old, but nobody wants to be old. Most people want to die once they reach a certain age. After a certain age, they begin to see, death not as an enemy but a friend. For example, my granny who is 100, plans, who should be invited to her last rites and how much must be spent on the whole affair with such exuberance, as if she was a kid planning her birthday.
As the demons of time start running away from you, you begin to realize, eternal life or never-ending age is more of a curse than a boon. No matter what science offers us, the millions of years of evolutionary curiosity, adventure seeking and adrenaline rush of facing fear cannot be suppressed. Everything in this universe goes through or has to go through the cycle of life and death. Things born must age and die. It is, simply the equation that governs or has been governing the ethos of the cosmos since the beginning of the time. For the entirety of this mystic realm, death is a part of life. Without death, life loses its meaning. If one could question death, he would certainly reply, life is just a beautiful lie while I am the only truth. One can’t change the inevitable, they can only delay it, that too only to an extent. Eventually, the whip-snapper always comes to reap what he sowed.
So, does this mean we should stop our quest for immortality or eternal-health and let nature have its way?
No, it in no way means that we shouldn’t look for immortality or eternal-health. The relationship between life and death is that of a hostage who grows to love the kidnapper. Of course, death is a part of life or has been so forever, but our brains need to be cleared of the millennia of death acceptance.
In the past, people who lived past the normal life expectancy were seen as something unnatural and often immoral, someone who defied the normal. They were outcasted, labeled as reapers of the soul or even witches. As a result, we were made to believe, death was something good and natural. But death is, nor was a solution.
Just because something is natural doesn’t make it good or necessary. It may be natural to live lives nasty, brutish, and short, but it’s also natural to look at what indifferent nature provides as the starting point.
The changes longer lives will bring will surely clear our brains of this death acceptance. And how soon we start this quest matters, as for the difference of, but a day might determine what side of the future chasm we are on. Journeying forever forward or falling backward into the abyss.
Links and References: