In the video below, ‘awe pundit’ Jason Silva discusses the ‘problem of death’, and how humans have approached solving that problem throughout the ages. He extols the virtues of our creative power and development of technology as the way forward, to “transcend our limitations”.
The human condition is characterised uniquely by our awareness of our mortality; in other words, we are the only species who are aware that we are mortal beings. This causes a tremendous amount of anxiety.
We have this capacity to ponder the infinite, we’re seemingly capable of anything; we can mainline the whole of time through the optic nerve with our astronomy and with our space telescopes…and yet we’re housed in these heart-pumping, breath-gasping, decaying bodies. So to be godly, and yet ‘creaturely’, is just impossibly cruel.
The belief that death can be conquered by technology is a common one in the Transhumanism and Singularity communities. But is it just another form of naive Utopianism that has previously characterised religious thoughts on the life eternal? Can we ever truly escape the threat of death, given that no matter how far we ‘scale up’ our imperviousness to existential threats, we will likely never be able to make ourselves truly safe from danger (for example, cataclysms can occur on galactic levels)?
Furthermore, is there an argument that our mortality, and our changeability, are what make life so precious in the first place? Though I have written about the possibility of the survival of consciousness after the physical death of our body – thus opening myself up to similar acccusations of wishful thinking about my mortality – I also was keen to tell readers that this possibility should not be the focus of our lives. In the final chapter of the book (titled ‘Memento Mori’), I wrote that regardless of our belief, we are united by the common thread “that this life is very likely the only time that you – at least, as ‘you’ – will experience this Earth and the singular joys it brings… We should therefore cherish every day alive on Earth as a gift”.
Scientists tell us that we are all “made of star dust”, while Christian funeral liturgies exhort us to remember that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. Both statements are worth contemplating: our bodies are a miraculous assembly of molecules born from dying suns, infused with the mystery of life and consciousness for the blink of an eye in the cosmic scale of things, before disssipating back into the universe once more. Regardless of our model of reality we should all recognize, and embrace, how truly magical our conscious existence is.
Returning to the question of whether an eternal life might somehow decrease our valuation of conscious existence, I am reminded of a quote from the movie Troy that I opened that particular chapter with. “I’ll tell you a secret, something they don’t teach you in your temple,” Achilles says. “The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier that you are now. We will never be here again.”
What do you think? Is death simply a human ‘illness’ that we should invest heavily in ‘curing’? Or is it one of the things that make us human and allow us to appreciate the beauty of our existence?