Intimations of immortality

“No longer a mere mortal. You’ve imbibed a special potion that makes you immortal…How will you live life differently, knowing you’ll always be around to be accountable for your actions?”

It’s not like me to turn down the offer of a drink, but I’d certainly think at least twice before taking a slug of this putative special potion. This is another of those prompts that illustrate the importance of being careful what you wish for.

Immortality has obvious superficial attractions. The problem is, though, that a little thought leads to the conclusion that they are obviously superficial.

And whereas I’m reasonably happy to press ‘Agree’ on Apple’s Terms & Conditions without ploughing through their five hundred or however many it is pages of impenetrable legalese, the offer of immortality would require some fine tooth-comb work on the small print.

First of all, let’s think about what ‘immortality’ truly means.

‘Live for ever’. Hey, great idea, except:

What about aging? Would you really want to live for ever if your body continued to deteriorate in the usual manner? And what if this special potion conferred immortality, but not immunity? – from wasting diseases, say, and all the pain that goes with them. Would you really want to sign up for an eternity of torment?

Thought not.

The next big question is: who else is going to be in on this deal? If it’s an exclusively personal offer then you might want to think about the consequences. Like having to be around to witness the death of everyone you love. An eternity of grief.

Still want to live for ever?

Thought not.

Then there’s the whole thing about cosmological timescales. Presumably, immortality means being alive for as long as there is actually somewhere to live. That may be fine for now, but what happens when the Sun expands and swallows up the Earth?

Apparently, this is not due to happen for at least a couple of billion years yet, so might not be thought of as an immediately pressing problem, but in the great scheme of things a couple of billion years is nothing.

Where else would you go? More to the point, how would you get there? And if you did somehow migrate to somewhere more amenable, what happens when that planet eventually dies?

Which it will.

So you see, this immortality lark isn’t as straightforward as it seems.

All in all, I think I’ll just stick with finitude, even though it means remaining accountable for my actions while I’m still around to carry them out. A lifetime of acting responsibly.


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