Wednesday, October 03, 2007

In the Beginning was the End (parte quarta)


"Spend the money, mobilize the scientists, and hunt down Death like an outlaw," wrote Alan Harrington. And: "Having invented the gods, we can now turn into them."

Have I mentioned that Mr. Harrington had a profound influence on my thinking? Do treat yourself to The Immortalist some day soon. You may never be the same person again and never look at life the same way either. Or you may. In which case let me quote good old Albert Einstein: "Insanity is when you think that doing more of what you are already doing will lead to a different outcome." In a similar vein doing more of the same kind of thinking will also lead to nothing but ever-deeper imprints in the ground of your existence.

Of course, on might argue, not entirely unreasonably, that a long-term emortalist like myself could also do with re-thinking and some fresh perspectives. Thing is that emortalism by definition is replete with fresh perspectives. It is, after all, an affirmation of living: here and now and for as long as possible. Changing that—to something truly silly maybe, like a religioid perspective—appears counterproductive.

I mean, it would be nice if there were a true 'afterlife' that's more than, at best, a dim and fading shadow of whatever exists here and now. Say, something like what's depicted in What Dreams May Come, which is one of my favorite flicks—ironically; yes I know, and you may have that little chuckle on my account. But remember, as you do, that the movie ended on a reincarnation theme, so there's something to ponder before you laugh too loudly. And remember that, much more than about 'afterlife' it was about love—of the kind that follows the loved one into doom and damnation if this was the path it had to take.

And then there's Dead Like Me, a TV series I still have to work my way through, or maybe Medium, where Allison Dubois, a character based on a real person, chats to departed that are, to her, occasionally indistinguishable from live people. And so on. The fantasies that have sprung up around the notion that 'death is just the beginning'—quoting whom and from which movie? testing, testing!—and that it's actually quite cool to be dead, are as old as humankind's awareness of the dire nature of non-existence following existence.

Now, I admit without hesitation, that I have little-to-no actual knowledge of what happens to, as Gore Vidal once put it, 'precious little me after I die'. But then again, with possibly the exception of a very, very few individuals who can really and truly perceive things the rest of us can't—and the existence of said individuals is, itself, very much a matter of dispute—neither do 99.9999999% of the rest of humanity; the 'living' ones. Those who do not qualify as 'alive' anymore may or may not know. That, too, however, is a matter of, at best, speculation and conjecture.

Thing is, if I had sufficient evidence to believe that some of this afterlife stuff is actually as real or maybe more than...well, the fact that I'm sitting at a computer right now typing these words...if there were sufficient convincing evidence for it...Cool! Roll on, death. New adventure coming! I'd be game to have a look at this amazing new world.

But...but...

There is no evidence qualifying as 'sufficiently convincing'—not to me anyway. There is some evidence for some kind of post-death survival in ways that are scientifically not considered respectable; but it's nowhere close to what religions or mystery cults would have us believe. If anything, it tends to reinforce the notion that this life here and now is even more precious, or 'significant' if you will, than even emortalists like me give it credit for.

What's all that got to do with the end being there in the beginning?

Well, the little creature up there is, of course, the Methuselah Mouse. The broken cane he carries—or is it a 'she'? who knows?—symbolizes the breaking of our subjugation to the inevitability of death caused by 'ageing', which is a rather common cause of human fatalities. And the end of 'certain death'—meaning predictable death at the hands of that killer of all killers, the last of your enemies: old age— on a large scale will no doubt be a beginning of something that has no precedent in history.

You can't have a beginning without ending something. The notion that you can is at best foolish and at worst self-defeating. It is the result of wanting to hold onto what is there, simply because we generally have a hard time letting go of things. If you take that approach you just end up lugging more and more baggage around with you, and ultimately you find that you can't go anywhere anymore, because that baggage is holding you firmly in your current place with its weight and inertia.

"Ahh," I hear someone say, "But isn't that just like the 'baggage' of the body and this life holding you down, when really you ought to leave it all behind and go forward into that new life offered only by death."

Point taken. But I'd like to point out that the leap of faith required—against the available evidence—to accept death as a 'new beginning' is just a tad too great. New beginnings may require the ending of old things, but it's probably a good idea to make sure that there actually is something on the other side of that bridge, which, once crossed, will self-destruct forever. It's one of the obvious uses to which we can put that thing we call our 'intelligence'.

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