Would you take the God Pill and live forever?

If you could live forever, would you?

For some, there is no break, no thought, no hesitation, you’ll hear their answer: yes. 100%, fully and truly yes.

I am far more skeptical, but its not surprising to me that others are without doubt. Death is the antagonist of all of our stories. If you could conquer it by taking a prescribed dosage of pills every day, wouldn’t you?

Tad Friend, in an excellent piece for the New Yorker, reports on some of the active efforts in Silicon Valley to find a way to beat death.

Dzau called on Martine Rothblatt, the founder of a biotech firm called United Therapeutics, which intends to grow new organs from people’s DNA. “Clearly, it is possible, through technology, to make death optional,” Rothblatt said. (She has already commissioned a backup version of her wife, Bina—a “mindclone” robot named Bina48.) Aging has long lacked the kind of vocal constituency that raised awareness of H.I.V. and breast cancer; as a species, we stink at mobilizing against a deferred collective calamity (see: climate change). The old wax fatalistic, and the young don’t really believe they’ll grow old. But Rothblatt suggested that the evening marked an inflection point. Turning to Dzau, she declared, “It’s enormously gratifying to have the epitome of the establishment, the head of the National Academy of Medicine, say, ‘We, too, choose to make death optional!’ ” The gathering blazed with the conviction that such events can spark: the belief that those inside the room can determine the fate of all those outside the room.

I’m reminded of The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky, which tells three different, but overlapping stories of men in pursuit of life for others, in a fight against death. It’s a beautiful movie, I highly recommend it, but it comes with a warning that death won’t be conquered.

Indeed, the idea that this solution is just around the corner has been believed since the 1970’s. Just as we were meant to be driving flying cars, we were meant to be young forever.

And what would it mean to live forever?

If everyone lived forever, would we still have children? How many? Would they be allowed to have children?  With limited space and limited resources its a question that needs to be asked and seriously considered.

So, considering a world without children, or strict control over them (good luck), is that worth it? And is it still human?hamlet

Frankly, without death, films like The Fountain wouldn’t be possible. Hamlet wouldn’t be as powerful. The Man of La Mancha would just be a silly show about a man having adventures forever without end (that doesn’t sound so bad).

It’s difficult for me to imagine a world where death didn’t exist, and to understand what things we would then find valuable. The goal simply cannot be to just live forever; you must also want to live well. Can you do both? Can you fight off every cancer? Cholesterol? Alzheimer’s? We’re already living longer than ever before, and facing new challenges in greater numbers because of it. Are we living better?

This wish to preserve life as we know it, even at the cost of dying, is profoundly human. We are encoded with the belief that death is the mother of beauty. And we are encoded, too, with the contradictory determination to remain exactly as we are, forever—or at least for just a bit longer, before we have to go.

If nothing else, the quest for everlasting life isn’t new. It has been something humans have done throughout our history. While you may feel or fear that this quest is unnatural, it is also undeniably human.

What do you think? Let me know!


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