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.”

 

 

The Third Greatest Mystery of All Time – Is There Life After Death?

No one or at least hardly anyone wants to die.  Suicides included, no one really wants to die earlier than they expect to.  We don’t choose death, we chose life.  We want immortality.  We want to live forever and ever.  Ideally, we would like to live forever in a young, healthy and happy state, surrounded by our friends and loved ones.  Let all our enemies perish and if there is a hell, let them go there, while we go to heaven.

“Surely God would not have created such a being as man, with an ability to grasp the infinite, to exist only for a day! No, no, man was made for immortality.” — Abraham Lincoln

lifeafterdeath.headThe question that we all ask at some point in our lives is: “What’s next?”  After this life, is there another life?  Some like Houdini said he would come back if he could.  There is no reported evidence that he managed to succeed.  Thus, even the great Houdini himself could not manage the feat!  Two years ago, I attended a séance in Kentucky.  There were about 20 of us at this séance and two young girls were the intermediaries or mediums.  We were at the old Wickland mansion in Bardstown Kentucky where a young slave woman had once lived along with three former Kentucky governors.  Somehow, these two young local women had found a “channel” to this former slave and were able to converse with her.  We were all there with the expectation that the “channel” could be opened and we could somehow share in this supernatural experience.

This blog is best read while listening to Jonas Frisk sing Wings of Eternity (click on link)

Lights flickered, candles glowed, one of the young girls (they were twins) seemed to go into a trance.  Pretty soon, her interlocutor (an older woman who communicated with the young girls when they were communicating with the former slave) told us that Sally (I am using fictitious names here) was now in touch with Anna the former slave woman.  Sally appeared to be talking to Anna.  Our interlocutor asked if we had any questions that we wanted to ask Anna.  Several people volunteered questions and Sally gave replies that Anna told her in response to the questions.  The séance went on for about an hour with each person taking turns to ask questions and communicate with the dead.  After Anna went back to wherever dead souls go, we all adjourned to the upstairs dining room for coffee and snacks.

“If you were to destroy the belief in immortality in mankind, not only love but every living force on which the continuation of all life in the world depended, would dry up at once.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky

I would guess about half of the attendees felt they had communicated with the dead while half of us thought it was mostly entertainment and acting.  Perhaps the life-after-deathsisters really believed that they were talking to the dead, but believing and reality are two different things.  I saw no evidence of any dead person talking or of any real communication with the hereafter.  Thus, the question “is there life after death.”  The evidence all suggests no. No life. No immortality. No heaven. No hell. No coming back. No eternity no ever after.

“I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
And answer’d: ‘I Myself am Heav’n and Hell”
― Omar Khayyam

But what if we have the wrong conception of life after death?  What if we think that life after death is going to be some continuation of life as we have conceived it on earth.  Whether we return sentience or we morph into frogs or some other species, we are all basing our ideas of the hereafter on concepts we are familiar with.  We are thinking about “life after death” as strictly a continuation of life on earth.  Some of us think we will be sitting at the right hand of God and listening to his or her speeches on ethics.  Some of us think we will be playing around with 20 vestal virgins.  Some us think, Jesus Christ will be walking around and talking about faith, hope and charity with us.  Some of us think, we will be reunited with our loved ones. (If this latter case is true, I feel sorry for Mickey Rooney who had 8 wives).  Some us think we will born again as a prince or frog depending on the life we lived on earth.  Each of these conceptions is a continuation of our ideas of life as we know it now.  But what if there is another type of sentience?

life after death 1We all know that as humans we can only hear and see a small spectrum of the sound and light frequencies.  There are frequencies both above and below our normal hearing ranges.  What if the same was true of our thought ranges?  What if there were ranges of thought well above what we can think and perhaps well below?  Ideas and concepts that are hidden to us because they are out of our ability range.  We cannot fathom what it would mean to think differently because we think as rational human beings.

“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.” ― Carl Sagan

What if there was some other type of thought besides rational thought?  Let me give an example of what this might mean.  Let us go back to Houdini and his inability to communicate after death.  Houdini dies with the desire to commune back to earth if possible.  However, upon death, his thought patterns become vastly different from anything we can conceive of.  Houdini’s life force lives on but his rational thought has been replaced by something else.  Houdini’s new thought processes see no value or reason or desire to communicate with human beings.  We cannot conceive of thought patterns like this because they are beyond our range of understanding.

“There is no such thing as magic, supernatural, miracle; only something that’s still beyond logic of the observer.” — Toba Beta

If such thought patterns can exist, perhaps sentience after the death of our mortal lives on earth can go on.  However, it will not be anything that we long for or 1251950806_Life-after-deathdream of today.  We will not become angels or born again as frogs or toads.  If life after death does exist, it must be something totally alien and foreign to any conception that we have of it now.  Present conceptions of heaven and hell notwithstanding, I believe that  life will go on and must go on, but any continuation of life in terms of immortality and eternity seems well beyond either our desires or ability to understand.   I love the idea that I will meet up with Socrates and Plato and Aristotle and be able to discuss philosophy and ethics with them.  However, I cannot put much faith in such a possibility.  Desires of humans often seem to trump logic.  We all want immortality, but it is either reserved for the gods or life as we cannot begin to comprehend it.

“Oh how wrong we were to think immortality meant never dying” — ― Gerard Way

Time for Questions:

Do you believe in life after death? What kind of life do you think exists after death? How did you arrive at this perspective?  What if someone convinced you that there was no life after death? How would this change your life? Why?

Life is just beginning.

%d bloggers like this: