Why It’s not Cool to be Immortal
- NOTE: I received and answered the following question from a friend on Formspring: “Do you think it is cool for a person to not die and acquire infinite knowledge through the use of uber-advanced technology and be like a god?”
“… try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests”— Ayn Rand
That’s a very interesting question, but let me start by touching the issue of “mortality”. I believe that our “mortality” is part of the law of nature and the nature of man. Since we are “mortal beings” and since our stay on earth is merely temporary, we have to know our values before we can know why we have to live our lives to the fullest. That’s why we need to define and understand our philosophy- and by philosophy I mean a good, rational one. That is, a philosophy for living on earth. It’s part of the law of nature and man’s nature. Man, in order for him to survive the jungle of life, must have a code of values or ethics. That is, he ought to know his values. Is he a self-interested human being? Is he a sacrificial animal? Or does he believe that everything is simply an illusion?
Now how is that related to the issue you raised: an “immortal” being who has the capability to “acquire infinite knowledge through the use of uber-advanced technology and be like a god”? Since I’m not an immortal being, I don’t know what that kind of “human being” or “robot” values.
What would your values be if you had an endless, eternal life? (Actually “eternal life” is contradictory, because life, by definition, is merely temporal and limited). That’s why that biblical term “eternal life” is a contradiction in terms.
First, I don’t think it’s cool at all to be “immortal”. Psychologically, “immortality” can make men lose their “values.” If you’re “immortal”, would you still think you need “philosophy” or code of values? These attributes (philosophy, values, etc.) pertain only to human beings. Why? Because they’re not immortal.
If you’re “immortal”, would you still strive to discover new ideas and invent novel things that would make your life more comfortable on earth? Would you still strive to discover new types of medicines and medical technologies that would prolong human life? Do both “moral being” and “immortal being” hold the same set of values or hierarchy of values? Certainly not. I cannot even say if an “immoral” still had the concept of values. What would an immortal value if he knew his life is infinite?
We, mortal beings, reached this stage, or phase, of human civilization because of one thing: That man is not an immortal being and that man is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. We have inherited this great civilization from our “mortal” ancestors who understood human nature and nature law. The great founding fathers of America established a constitutional republic not founded on any religion that preaches “immortality”, because they knew that for man to live as a civilized human being, he needs a productive political-economic system that is capitalism, a set of rational code of ethics, and an objective justice system.
Like Ayn Rand said: “To make this point fully clear, try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.”
- Steve Jobs’s death reminds me of this post. Jobs’s Stanford speech tackles the issue of Death and somehow immortality. The following is an excerpt from his Stanford speech:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.
This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.