Immortality for Dummies, Part 1.

January 24, 2004

What is immortality?

Immortality is briefly defined as the ability to live forever, which probably is a little optimistic when viewed against the natural laws of entropy and decay. But still, is immortality attainable? That would really depend on whether you would be willing to accept a broad definition of ‘forever’, rethink your concept of ‘life’, and accept different values of ‘attainable’.

If you understood that last sentence I must have done something wrong.

Basically I believe that immortality is possible provided you accept that you’re going to have to die sometime.

The average human in a developed country can expect to live around seventy years and this is likely to increase for a little while longer. But there is a finite limit to what better conventional medicine, living conditions, exercise and healthy living can do to extend life. The prime reason is that the human body degrades at a genetic level with each cellular division over time and gradually ‘blurs’ as errors creep into a person’s gene sequence. That’s a rather broad description of what happens but it gives a rough idea. It is also believed that cells themselves have a built in clock that kills them after a certain number of cell divisions. This is thought to be a clever evolutionary trick to deal with rapidly dividing cancer cells.

The irony of using a terminal solution to combat a terminal problem never ceases to amaze me.

But anyway.

Imagine we found a solution to cellular degredation and self-termination and our bodies last forever, or at least eternity. Whichever comes first. What next? Well, the realization that everlasting and indestructable when used in relation to our physical bodies are two very different things. Your body might not grow old, but the world is still full of hazards, such as pickup trucks, knives in toasters, 800lb Grizzly bears and lawyers, that could still prove hazardous to our health. An ageless body isn’t much use if it’s smeared across asphalt, or exhibited in it’s own personal self-created crater. So we’d still have to take care of ourselves, drive responsibly, look both ways before crossing and avoid litigation, just like before. Imagine having to brush your teeth every day of your life till forever swings by.

Hm… is there really such a thing as eternity? Let’s digress for a moment. The short answer is yes. The long answer is no. The even longer answer is no one knows for sure. There’s an even longer answer that says we really haven’t figured it out yet. We’ve gone from Genesis, to the Static Universe theorem to flying turtles to the Big Bang. We’ve passed quite a few other theories along the way, but the Big Bang seems to be holding out for now. We’ve observed phenomena that support the theory and it appears to be valid. But we’re not quite sure what happens next, so don’t make any plans further ahead than a billion years or so.

And now to de-digress back to the immortality business.

Imagine six billion souls, all immortal. Now imagine six billion more. And another six billion, and more ad-nauseum until it’s standing room only. Sacrifices would have to be made. An immortal generation would have to be the last generation, except maybe for a few births to replace those noble winners of the Darwin awards. Might I suggest a reading of Poul Anderson’s amazing book, Outnumbering the Dead, which deals with something quite similar. Think of it as homework.

That concludes part 1.

Day 33 and I can’t remember where I put my lighter, and I don’t give a damn. Finished reading House Atreides, and found it to be an quite an acceptable addition to the series. Would have preferred Frank, but Brian and Kevin pulled it together well enough. Started on House Harkonnen, David Gemmell’s Dark Moon, and Philip K Dick’s Now Wait for Last Year. Currently listening to Dinu Lipatti playing Scarlatti, and starting to think that my spell-checker was created by a concussed idiot, on crack.

Drink more Vodka.

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