The Fourth Greatest Mystery of All Time:  Can We Defeat Death and Achieve Immortality?

When, I was young, I remember reading about the Fountain of Youth. For some reason, I found Ponce De Leon’s search for this fountain to be mysterious and magical.  I wanted to search for it when I grew up and to be the person that actually found it.  I have long since realized that I am not the only one enamored with the idea of immortality. The desire to find a secret to immortality permeates literature sheimmortalityand history.  (I also remember reading H. Rider Haggard’s She in which the queen has found the secret of immortality by bathing in the blood of virgins.)  Some say the two trees in the Garden of Eden were the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge.  To eat from both trees, was to become not merely Godlike but a God.  Thus, to be all knowing and to live forever are (at least historically, but perhaps this is changing) the characteristics most associated with God-ness.  Humans have been drawn to these concepts as a moth is drawn to a flame.

This blog is best read while listening to Celine Dion sing Immortality (click on link)

Today, modern medicine seeks to provide the “fountain of youth” in portents, elixirs, surgery and drugs designed to stave off death and allow humans to extend their lives.  Some scientists speak of finding the “death” gene and thus bestowing immortality upon humanity.  Others say that this is impossible since there are physical laws that show cells can only divide so many times before they are dead.  They call this the Hayflick Limit

“The Hayflick limit (or Hayflick phenomenon) is the number of times a normal human cell population will divide until cell division stops.  Empirical evidence shows that the telomeres     associated with each cell’s DNA will get slightly shorter with each new cell division until they shorten to a critical length.”  — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayflick_limit

There are proponents and opponents on both sides of the issue.  Each side has worthy advocates to support their positions and points of immortalview.  Statistics show that humans have increased their longevity but a closer look at these facts show that most of the increase has come about from declines in infant and child mortality. These declines have the effect of increasing the “average” age for adults.  This seems to support the position that humans do not have the potential to live much longer than they did four thousand years ago.  The longest lived humans are seldom much older than 100 and throughout history there have been many humans who have reached this age.  We may be living healthier lives but modern medicine has not been able to increase the potential life span possible for most humans.

“For the 2010, the latest data available, the life expectancy for men of all races is 76.2 years and   81.1 years for women.”  —  Life Expectancy at Birth by Race and Sex, 1930–2010

“Richard g. cutler at the Gerontology Research Center, Baltimore city hospital, National Institute on Aging, has calculated the maximum life span for about 150 extinct mammalian species, and has also assessed the genetic potentials and traced the progress of the evolution of the maximum potential lifespan of man.  The first truly human species was Homo habilis which emerged from Australopithecus africanis about 1.8 million years ago.  Homo sapiens evolved about 100,000 years ago.  The maximum potential life span of our species was increasing at a very fast rate until about 100,000 years ago when the increase suddenly stopped, and has since remained fixed at about 120 years.”   http://www.longestlife.com/forever.htm

Immortality-HeaderThe facts of course do not prove that immortality is impossible, but for numerous reasons, I would argue that the probability is highly unlikely.  Scientists can seek the “death gene” while lay people look for the Fountain of Youth.  I think both sets of seekers will be sorely disappointed.  However, I submit that we are not trying to solve the real mystery.   I cannot fathom why anyone would want to be immortal anyway?  A few theories which spring to my mind include either a fear of death or a fear of being forgotten and ignored.  Present circumstances seem to support the latter theory more than the former.

I recently read a blog wherein the author stated that celebrity has become a new religion.  The author David Porter noted that people are obsessed with fame, glamor and stardom.  Like a religion can bestow immortality so does the idea of being a celebrity.  In a world where meaning is ephemeral and people seek it through bizarre rituals and even more bizarre actions, becoming a celebrity can be akin to becoming a God.  You are suddenly worshiped by throngs of admirers and treated as the conquistadors initially were by the Aztecs and the Incas.

“Today, many people believe that the virtual reality they see on screen is the norm. They read and see so much about celebrities, they feel these people are their friends, their lovers and the myths of their red carpets, flashing press lights, big cars and idol adoration are in fact reality and worth sharing and imitating. Psychologists also recognize that despite the drawbacks, celebrities are common currency in our socially fractured world.” — David Porter

If we cannot achieve immortality, at least we can achieve celebrity status.  For many people, the next best choice in life seems to be to become a celebrity. If celebrities are not immortal, they nevertheless share many aspects of the old Greek gods: StardomTitlePic

  • They are exalted and unique
  • They have special powers and privileges
  • They are worshipped and admired
  • Their fame lives on long after they are irrelevant
  • They are glamorous
  • They lead exotic and adventurous lives

To be a celebrity is to be someone who matters. Someone who is on the A list, someone who has the red carpet rolled out for them.  If you are a celebrity, people will listen to you. Your opinion matters. The paparazzi will follow you everywhere. Autograph seekers will dog your footsteps and buy paper cups you have tossed away.  To be a celebrity is the next best thing to God-ness in today’s society.  Celebrities may even experience some sense of immortality in that while fame is fleeting, it can produce a trance-like state in which life and death are forgotten.  The only thing that matters to a celebrity is notoriety and popularity.  How many followers I have is the measure by which I gauge my worshippers.  Elvis Presley makes more money today then he did when he was alive.  Some people would say that a celebrity never dies.  Perhaps we have rechanneled our ancient search for immortality into a search for celebrity as the next best thing.

“We humans are naturally disposed to worship gods and heroes, to build our pantheons and Valhallas.  I would rather see that impulse directed into the adoration of daft singers, thicko footballers and air-headed screen actors than into the veneration of dogmatic zealots, fanatical preachers, militant politicians and rabid cultural commentators.”  — Stephen FryThe Fry Chronicles

Time for Questions:

Are you a celebrity? Have you ever had your 15 minutes of fame?  What would you do with it? What if you became a celebrity tomorrow? How would your life change?  Would it change for the better or for the worse?  Why?

Life is just beginning.  

Ozymandias:  One of my favorite poems by Shelley.

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

 

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jeanine
    Sep 16, 2014 @ 14:56:18

    I think it was very interesting that you ended with Shelley’s sonnet. After reading the meaning of it to get a better interpretation of the poem, I understood more the correlation between the blog and the poem. Excellent. I look at poetry as I look at art, and it can be interpreted differently by the reader or viewer. Now back to your questions. I am guilty of being enthralled by celebrities, but I would rather become famous for something good I did for humanity. I cannot help but see the greed when I hear about the extraordinary amount of money these stars spend on weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. I think very negatively when I learn that a star has doled out 5 million on an event that could help so many worthy causes. What a shame. I have not envied these people in the least, okay, maybe a little, but it is because of their financial security, not their beauty or status. What comes to mind is a little ditty my mom used to say when I was a child. “Beauty but skin deep, ugly to the bone, beauty fades away, but ugly holds its own”.

    Reply

  2. johnpersico
    Sep 18, 2014 @ 19:39:44

    I have asked undergraduates would they rather be beautiful and hunky or smart and intelligent. Most of them choose beauty over brains. I do enjoy the Shelley sonnet. One of my favorites.

    Reply

  3. Jeanine
    Sep 25, 2014 @ 21:49:20

    To that I refer back to mom’s favorite little poem. Bill Gates, not beautiful, average looking, but look at the money he made!! Yes, if you are among the ,”Forever 27″, group, and die leaving a good looking corpse, you will be remember for your beauty, and I guess the great beauties of all time are also remembered for their beauty, but unless you go senile, intelligence will long surpass beauty! No, I would rather choose brains any day. What would be more awesome than to be remembered for inventing some of the hi-tech gadgets out there today!! 🙂

    Reply

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