I recently read an article about Silicon Valley billionaires who are intent on finding the key to man’s most elusive dream, immortality. Included in the mix are such high-tech legends as Peter Thiel (cofounder of PayPal), Larry Ellison (cofounder of Oracle), and Sergey Brin (cofounder of Google). These Silicon Valley giants are pouring vast amounts of money into research to find a way to extend life.
Thiel, for example, has given $3.5 million to the Methuselah Foundation, whose main focus is on discovering drugs that cure seven types of age-related damages in an effort to prevent the human body from following its normal downhill path and, ultimately, simply wearing out.
But even this project is small potatoes compared to Google’s plans to invest billions in a partnership with pharmaceutical giant AbbVie in an effort to create a drug to mimic foxo3, a gene associated with long life span.
All this is quite exciting, but perhaps a more meaningful question is whether immortality already exists in the form of life after death. In other words, is it possible that mankind is gifted with immortality, but only a tiny fraction of that immortality is experienced during life here on earth? If so, the billions in research the Silicon Valley giants are committing to “curing death” becomes somewhat of a moot point.
Of course, the possibility of life after death raises all kinds of unanswerable questions. For example, is everyone included in the deal, or just “good people?” And, if the latter, it raises yet another question: Who decides who is good enough to be granted immortality?
Undoubtedly, the answer most people would give to such a question is that God decides, and it may very well be the correct answer. But from our limited secular perspective, how can we ever hope to have even the slightest idea of how God’s rating system works?
Is the guy who screwed you in a business deal going to be prevented from living forever? What about the fact that, no matter how sure you are that he’s a dishonest character, he adamantly believes that he didn’t do anything wrong? Or — as is usually the case — he probably believes it is you who screwed him?
It takes a great deal of naiveté to believe that the guy you see as being 100 percent in the wrong agrees with your assessment. Experience has convinced me that even in the most egregious cases of my getting shafted, the shafter honestly believes that he didn’t do anything wrong.
And if someone actually acknowledged that he was dishonest (which I can’t even imagine), would he be punished with nonexistence after death along with people like Charles Manson and O.J. — or, worse, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid? If everyone ends up in the same place after they die, regardless of the kind of life they led while in their human form here on earth, what’s the purpose or point of life?
Helen Keller had a fascinating view of death from a blind person’s perspective, saying, “I know my friends not by their physical appearance but by their spirit. Consequently death does not separate me from my loved ones. At any moment I can bring them around me to cheer my loneliness. Therefore, to me, there is no such thing as death in the sense that life has ceased.”
British philosopher Alan Watts had an equally interesting take on death when he said, “There is no separate ‘you’ to get something out of the universe. … we do not come into the world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. … When the line between yourself and what happens to you is dissolved, you find yourself not in the world, but as the world.” (I would suggest that this is the equivalent of a sort of human pantheism, but that’s a discussion I’ll resist getting into in this article.)
In this Watts’s view, the physical body gives form to spirit in a similar way that language gives form to thought. The idea is that spirit and thought always exist, but the emergence of the physical body and language make them visible and audible, respectively.
While it is certainly possible that nothingness follows death, the term itself raises an obvious question. If nothingness is our destiny, why would we be here in the first place? What meaning does life have if there is nothing beyond it?
How could we even know of our own existence — or have an existence at all — if the universe is benign? Simply put: How do you get something out of nothing?
Some readers might be thinking, “Perhaps the purpose of every human being is to advance the human race and make the world a better place for future generations.” Sounds idealistic, but not logical.
If advancement of the human race is the endgame, yet every human being ultimately descends into nothingness, there’s not much substance to man’s purpose. Human beings would be like windup toys, hanging around until they break down — after which time they are thrown away. Kind of depressing, if you ask me.
In any event, since we won’t know if we’re immortal or headed for nothingness until we leave our earthly form, it’s probably not a good investment of time to give it too much thought. Better to focus on the here and now — hoping that the here and now is not just an illusion of our consciousness — and try to be a better person every day than you were the day before.
Better at what? For starters, how about being a better husband or wife, a better father or mother, a better sibling, a better friend, a better creator of value in the marketplace, and better at being more tolerant, gracious, kind, and, above all, grateful. And, of course, better at connecting with the Universal Power Source.
For most of us, I suspect that’s a pretty substantial — and worthwhile — to-do list. And beyond that — who knows? — we just might just end up meeting on the other side. Stay tuned.