In the May 2013 edition of National Geographic I read a very interesting article by Stephen S. Hall about how genes may hold the key to prolonging life. I’m not going to talk about the article but it inspired me to communicate my thoughts on immortality.
History is filled with mythological beings who were immortal. The Gods of Olympus from Greek mythology and Sir Galahad from the Arthurian legends to name a few. Historical literature contains numerous legends of people who gained immortality through various means (or at least thought they had):
The first Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang Di (259–210 BCE) sent hundreds of people to find the legendary elixir of life. He eventually died of mercury poisoning from pills prescribed to him by his doctors.
According to Genesis 5:21-27 Methuselah lived to be 969 years old…that’s not a bad innings now is it?
15th century alchemist Nicolas Flamel allegedly gained immortality through the use of the Philosopher’s Stone, although records show that he died in 1418.
Politician Leonard “Live Forever” Jones (1797-1868) (No picture available) believed mortality was simply a case of bad morals and that one could become immortal through prayer. He died aged 71 of pneumonia.
Although I’m not sure if it’s eternal life that people seek as much as eternal youth. Yes it would be fantastic to live to be two hundred years old but what state would our bodies be in? If we are considered to be in the Autumn of our lives by the time we reach forty, would we really want to live another one hundred and forty years knowing that we are growing ever more frail?
I remember having a conversation many years ago with my mother on the subject of immortality. Her point of view is that she didn’t think people could cope mentally with eternal life. If, as an individual, we were immortal and eternally youthful we would have to watch the people around us whom we love and care for grow old, become ill and die.
But what if everyone else had eternal youth I hear you say? Well then we definitely would be in trouble. Why? Because there already seems to be a panic over our ever dwindling fresh water supplies and I’m sure in the not too distant future food sources will be stretched to their limits too. But then again if we were immortal would we need to eat and drink?
Where would we all live? There are seven billion people living on the planet right now and even with thousands dying everyday tens of thousands are being born. It wouldn’t be long before our already densely populated urban areas would devour what little hospitable rural areas remained.
There would be mass unemployment. If we were all young and healthy then we would need to work. There is already frighteningly high unemployment all around the world. What if people stopped retiring and the labour pool continued to increase exponentially? Some might argue that we wouldn’t need to work because we would not need to pay for food etc but then if everyone stopped working then society would come to a standstill. Who would drive the buses and trains? Who would work the power stations to work our electrical appliances? There are I grant you people who would work out of a sense of social duty but then again there are a large number of the population who wouldn’t
We would have to cope with the constantly changing technological world. I struggle to keep up with technological advancement now and I was born in 1983. When I was at secondary school my first IT lesson was how to use a mouse. In 2013 student’s first IT lessons in secondary school are creating web pages for themselves. Imagine if a person was born in 1869 and lived until 1969. Imagine the technological advancement they would have seen. From trains to cars to space travel, from simple rifles to the atom bomb, from candles to electricity, the onset of popular music and TV. Now I grant you some people can adapt and roll with the punches but what of those that cannot?
Society changes and you have to change with it. Even people over a certain age still refer to black people as “niggers” and Indian people as “pakis” because when they were growing up it was socially acceptable for them to do so. We as a society in the 21st century frown on these people and wag our fingers at them labelling them racist, and yet at the same time we quite happily tell racist jokes behind closed doors and think that it is acceptable. Our children may even label us as racist for the seeminlgy innocent jokes and words we use to describe people of other ethnic origins but to us, at present anyway, it is socially acceptable.
On the plus side however think of the careers scientists could have. Rather than have a thirty year career before retiring and passing the knowledge onto the next generation someone like Einstein or Newton would still alive today working on their theories. They would actually be able to work with the younger generation. Einstein and Stephen Hawking in the same room? Incredible to think of the possibilities.
But then what if Hitler, Stalin and Caligula were immortal….it just doesn’t bear thinking about.
Now I have given you some food for thought I would like to know what you think about immortality.