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The Greyhound

Immortality: A realistic option?

By Sean Creedon, Staff Writer

Let’s be honest for a moment or two; we’ve all wished at one point that there was a way to escape death. Regardless of your particular faith or lack thereof, the finality and permanence of death is a concept that a lot of people aren’t ready to handle. Speaking personally, it’s a thought that’s kept me up on the occasional night even after I’ve completely resigned to the fact that I won’t win any fight I could bring against it. As far as I can tell, there is nothing more absolute than death. In seconds it can bring anything you dream of accomplishing to a violent, irrevocable halt.

I could spend a good amount of time discussing what death is (or “isn’t,” according to Tom Stoppard), but the conclusion is the same: we will all face death, no exceptions. Now obviously, this conclusion has been the subject of challenge. From the epic of Gilgamesh to the alchemists searching for the fabled philosopher’s stone, the quest for physical immortality is both tantalizing and—in a way—necessary. As long as men desire to live forever, we can be sure that the passion that drives society and its sectors is still alive.

But say the quest proved fruitful. If physical immortality was achieved and communal à la Tuck Everlasting, is it any better of a fate than death? It, too, is an absolute that negates purpose rather than spurs it. Why do today what can be done years from now? Stress may be eliminated from the individual life but productivity as a society will crash harder than the 1929 stock market. Add to that the degradation of interpersonal attachments as an effect of watching once valued people and things pass by as only the individual remains, and the scenario becomes almost nightmarish. Replacing one absolute with another does very little to remedy the fear.

Are those the only two options, however? That was the question my friend and I bounced back and forth over this summer when we stumbled onto an article titled “Do You Want to be Immortal? Really?.” It was centered on the hypothesis of Dr. Igor Vishev that firmly held that there are those alive today who will never die. The part that makes this thought so revolutionary isn’t the taste of immortality but the possibility of a middle-road for which we’ve been searching. The definition of immortality that Dr. Vishev puts forward isn’t a matter of negligible senescence; it’s what I would call “indefinite consciousness.” In the article it explains that “Genetic engineering, replacement of natural organs with artificial instruments, nanotechnology and other developing technologies, could now extend our lives well beyond today’s assumed limits. [Dr. Vishev] proposes that a 200-year-old person is a present possibility, and a person who could live at least as long as a 2,000-year-old redwood tree is certainly imaginable. Such longevity will be self-propelling.”

This process of repairing the effects of aging on the body as it develops provides one with a power that is radically different from the absolutes of immortality and death. Now, presumably, we could choose when we want to die. Aspirations will never be mired by the threat of impending demise, and the chance and likelihood of accidental death keeps significance in the life of the individual. Mortality is now forced to bend to the will of men. Suppose Einstein had a decade or two more to flesh out his theory of relativity or if any great minds could dedicate their time to their respective fields. Dr. Vishev even put enough faith in our medical advancements to suggest “’practical resurrection,’ toward which today’s cloning is a primitive first step, [that] would be able to restore life to those who somehow lose it.” With it, even war could become an antiquated practice as immortal armies become ineffectual on any kind of battlefield.

Dr. Vishev’s reality will not come without effort. “This shift requires radical new directions not only in science and technology but in economics, politics, morality, ecology, art—everything.” Not easy, of course, but he thinks it’s possible. The question of whether our species is ready for such a power is omnipresent, but it’s one that can and should be asked. The benefits of such a mortality middle-road, in my opinion, far outweighs the costs. If this is the direction our society is advancing, then unfurl the sails and full speed ahead. As Joseph Heller once wrote, “Live forever, or die in the attempt.”

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Immortality: A realistic option?