I’ve been struggling all weekend to come up with something to blog about. Content, right? That’s what blogs are all about. Instead, I did yard work, took my kid to the park, visited my mom and dad, and eked out a synopsis for my next novel. In between, I followed the 9/11 anniversary on my social media feeds and all the fallout of President Biden’s COVID edicts.
I’m not going to blog about any of that. Instead, I’m going to make a bold prediction. A controversial prediction. Are you ready? Prepare yourself. Here it comes…
In fact, everything living eventually dies. Crazy concept, huh? Planet Earth is the only place in the known universe (like, 98 billion light years of universe) known to harbor life, but is also the only place known to harbor death.
Death is different than lifelessness. Life must first exist before one can have death. A planet that has never know life has also never known death. Death is a concept all unto its own. If Earth is the only place in the universe with life, then it is by definition also the only place in the universe with death.
Therefore, death deserves serious contemplation. Not morbid contemplation, just a matter-of-factly examination of its reality.
No one forgets to die. People die (even Jesus died, but he got better. That’s another topic entirely). Trees die. Bugs die. Bacteria and turtles die. You’ll die. I will die. Death is built into our DNA. It’s part of our programming. Seriously, it is. We have these things on our chromosomes call telomeres that act like a countdown clock (yes, I’m dumbing it down). These end-caps on your chromosomes get shorter and shorter as you age. When they run out, you run out. Scientist on are on the cusp of reprogramming these telomeres, and perhaps opening the door to human immortality. Good news, right? Or maybe not.
If living forever was desirable you’d think evolution would have found a way to achieve it by now. Life has evolved to fill every environmental niche on Planet Earth, but immortality is nowhere to be found. Living creatures thrive in dark, oxygen-free environments at crushing depths near scorching undersea volcanic shafts. Insects can be found in the upper atmosphere on the edge of space. Creatures exist in the hottest deserts and the frigid poles. Birds fly, fish swim. Everywhere there is evidence of life filling the three dimensions of space, and yet no living creature naturally exists beyond the limits of time. It’s as if evolution has totally abandoned that niche. Sure, some trees live thousands of years and there are sharks and tortoises that live hundred of years, but eventually even they kick the bucket. Everything kicks the bucket. As far as we know, no living creature is truly immortal. Bottom line: No species that has developed immortality as an evolutionary survival mechanism.
Crazy as it sounds, maybe death is part of the natural order of things. Maybe death is a survival mechanism. Maybe immortality runs counter to survival of the fittest. Maybe immortality is a BAD thing, especially for a self-aware intelligence. Any creature that lives forever is a creature that will never change, never evolve, never truly face consequences. All of this brings me to my point.
Scientist often discuss a concept called “The Great Filter” as part of something called Drake Equation. This equation postulates how many advanced civilizations may exist in the universe. Since we have been discovering potentially habitual exoplanets over the past few decades, that equation has made a stronger and stronger case of advanced life out there somewhere. Yet, the cosmos remains strangely silent. Scientist may think we haven’t heard from aliens because there aren’t any due to this thing called “The Great Filter.” It could be they annihilated themselves in nuclear war, or were wiped out by an astroid impact, or maybe even a gamma ray burst. Maybe, just maybe, they discovered the secret to immortality.
In doing so, these races of immortals simply faded away into digital oblivion. They no longer reproduced. They got lost in their own version of the Matrix or Oculus or Neurolink. Robots and computers served their every need, and they forgot how to take care of themselves. Oh, they may still be out there, but they’ve stopped being a part of their own environment. Time has a way of ossifying the spirit and the mind.
I call it the Morla Effect, named after the immortal turtle in the movie Never-ending Story. In the movie, the hero Atrayu seeks the all- knowing, ancient being to help save their world from the terrible Nothing. He finds Morla a disinterested, bored entity who can’t be bothered with the affairs of mortals. Wise, but mad, Morla talks to herself and finishes each sentence with “Not that it matters.” She even says, “We don’t care that we don’t care.” In her case, immortality has become a living death
I think immortality would induce the Morla Effect in us. It would kill what is best in humanity. In a world without consequence, love and relations would wither. Compassion would die. With it, art and music and the very beauty that makes life worth living. We, too, would eventually not care that we don’t care.
Maybe death is a safety valve to keep life vibrant and ever changing. Immortality, while it sounds great, may be the worse thing a species can do to itself. Maybe death has an intrinsically important evolutionary purpose.
With that said, death sucks. No one wants to die. No one wants those they love to die. A lot of people, me included, would like to give earthly immortality a test-drive.
Pretty deep thoughts for a Monday, eh? Maybe I’ll write a story about it. See ya Friday.
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