by M.A. Istvan Jr.


Whether immortality from here on would be acceptable depends on the person. But whether one would accept such immortality—that is a better tool for detecting scorn for life than whether one would accept Nietzsche’s eternal return of the same.—




Most would embrace the power to keep animated
for centuries, say, by having their neural-networks
stored away in some secure external hard-drive
from which it could always be downloaded
into the next vesseltar when the need arises.

Such scenarios of course hold the possibility
that your neural-network gets lost, deleted.
The hard-drive contracts some sort of malware,
say. Or you unplug yourself, choosing instead
endless “nothingness.” Or the universe implodes.

Is the lack of guarantee on immortality here
a drawback? What might at first seem to be
an unfortunate lining on a tempting scenario 
is perhaps precisely what makes such a scenario
something that we would be open to embrace.


Think if you were made invulnerable to deletion.
Think if there were no possibility of erasure, even
by your own doing, from here on in endless time.
Think if it were guaranteed—no take backs—
that you would survive forever from this point,
forever with no memory resets—ever-onward,
self-conscious, on a linear path of sempiternity.

It is reasonable to regard such real immortality,
where one is not subject to death, as a nightmare.
After all, you may wind up all alone in black
after some etch-a-sketch erasure of the universe.
Could someone ever get used to such—hell?
And consider this as well. Whatever is possible
will come to pass eventually over infinite time.

That includes happenings unpleasant to a degree
only bearable in the sense that you, as immortal,
bear all that comes. And consider the boredom
that would overwhelm you. What would pass
the time? Projects, aims—those do. But mere
eighty year olds get weary of life. For what end
would we want to strive if there is no—end?

Creating a world, perhaps? Watching it develop?
Would the end of watching—making—beings
suffer—suffer just like you even—have the power
to propel you onward? But even if that would ease
the sting, infinite life—infinite cliché—is to be lived
after it stops doing so. Even teens, bear in mind,
grow weary with life, its pleasures included.

Are there pleasures never tiring? But one gets sick
even of shrimp after a time. Might pacing yourself
help—say, avoiding shrimp ten billion years before
going back? But would not such spreading out
merely postpone—even if on the order of eons—
getting sick of it? Is fear of nothingness so strong
that you would choose endless somethingness? 

With all there is to explore, however, one will be
occupied for infinity, no? And there is eating itself.
All the basic needs. Surely it will be pleasurable
to take in food and to relive bowels and testicles.
That never gets old.—Of course, since it is possible
for one to go without such accretions and excretions,   
there is bound to come an end to these pleasures too.

And even if I am pleasured and preoccupied,
how cannot the pain be nauseating to the absolute
when I know that I am trapped in a way that even
a finite being who will live billions of years is not?
You may say that together with another person—
say, in the same endless boat—things will be okay.
But that relation too would become tedious, no?


Of course, many hope for the immortality of heaven.
And some see existence in heaven, right or not,
as eternalatemporal—rather than sempiternal.
Is wanting to be where “time is no more” at odds
with not wanting to go on forever as above? No.
Timeless existence, existence as mere quality,
is without such on and on (and so without tedium).—
Wanting sempiternal heaven is another story, though.

Of course, many want to live on always in their art.
(Indeed, we push out of mind the idea that our work
will be disregarded by subsequent generations only
to be destroyed during our sun’s death conniption.)
But wanting to go on forever in art, is that at odds 
with not wanting to go on forever as above? No.
The art in question is not conscious, not subject
to becoming nauseated by the forever prospect.

Of course, we want the power to prolong our lives
further. But the guarantee of endless existence
is another matter. “Let it be long,” many would say
upon consideration. “But keep it indefinite-finite.—
We do not hate life. We hate a certain sort of life:
a human life without end.—We are not nihilists.
We yes going on forever in some other sense:
dispersing at death into flora, fauna, rocks, stars.


One form of immortality, however, may avoid
the problems with everlasting life. Imagine a form
of endless existence where resets of memory occur.
Taken as memory-wiping or just the memory-rot
familiar from our own short lives, such resets
would help us stay engaged in life. One worry
is that we will not stay engaged after we fulfill
all our desires. But with memory resets, interest
in pursuing desires fulfilled in the past can live
because one forgot about having fulfilled them
or because one forgot what fulfilling them felt like.

And if I remember all? Well, consider human power
to make light of bleakness. Look how we make light
of our path to death. And even granting total recall,
I would still be finite. Life would remain a challenge.
There would be urgent tasks: preserving humankind,
getting star-system mobile, easing pain. Pastimes
would open up in new situations. Others would be
greater than me. I could give up or improve myself.
Even in etch-a-sketch black, I could lose myself
in thought, fantasy. With so many ways untapped,
would it not be samsara-scorn to grow weary?


One wonders how valuable our time would be,
though, had we an endless amount of it. Death,
that boundary, is an “evil” that provides life
with a precious texture. We become enthralled,
affected more intensely, by certain sensations—
a good meal, orgasm, swim in a natural pool—
precisely because we will die. We care more,
pay more attention, when our days are numbered
with our children, our lovers, our mountains.

But that our loved ones will die off makes life
precious as well (or at least our time with them).
And what about the prospect of cosmic black
for millennia? That impetus to appreciate time
to work on projects and to be with loved ones
(even just to be with rocks) is perhaps greater
than that we will die. Our days with things loved
are numbered even as immortal. We cannot redo
mistakes made, say, raising kids who will die.


One wonders, however, how the immortal will stay
motivated to go on. To stay motivated to go on,
one needs to feel a sense of personal achievement,
which comes only through triumph over obstacles.
But what triumphs can there be when, over infinity,
the immortal is guaranteed to do everything possible
for him to do simply by living on? Merit seems lost.

But the mere fact of endless time does not guarantee
that I will build, say, the technology for star travel
in time to save earthlings. I have to sacrifice—risk
wasting even—my time. In general, I will never play
hockey well if I never try to. Endless time itself
gives no guarantee. I will do everything possible
for me to do. But my effort shapes that possibility.


What will happen next? That keeps us interested.
Happenings will take me by surprise. Happenings
will fall beyond the ken of my plodding ambitions.
We create technology for efficient interstellar travel.
That puts us more in control. And yet that opens up
more avenues for things to go wrong, and go right,
in ways unforeseen—for things, in effect, to surprise.
If the universe always honored or always defeated
our plans and our plans had no surprise outcomes—
that would be tedium. The universe honors plans
sometimes. It defeats them sometimes. Sometimes
it seems to defeat them, but we learn that it did not.
I will aspire to develop tools to master challenges.
With any new order that I create, new sore spots,
new avenues for pain, open up. I will be enticed.

What will happen next? We are hooked on wonder.
Even if there is an adequate cause for everything,
I will never know all the causes for most events;
the full cause will be too convoluted for me.
Thus even if the state of the world at any point
is the adequate cause of all the states to come,
what happens defies my powers of prediction.
There will still be surprises—indeed, sometimes
ones that defy expression. Things shuffle so much
even just considering Earth: meteors, volcanoes,
genetic mutation, continental drift, ice-ages.
Imagine at the cosmic scale. My life will be led
in unforeseen directions. I am still under control
of other forces no matter how much control I have.
Whatever control I gain opens me to currents 
that might carry me off in undisclosed directions.
I do not know what the limits of my abilities are.
I will not know when I reach such limits if I do.

What will happen next? This question enthralls us.
Who will use interstellar technology in the future?
To what end will they use it? What information
will be exchanged in such travel? How will others
react to the contagion that is that new information?
What new forms of loneliness, delight, despair,
satisfaction, exploitation, love, allegiance, respect,
guilt, slavery, ambush, failure, pain will be breed
by new technology? Overcoming death closes off
one way the universe may surprise. But it opens up
new ways the universe may surprise. Pain, pleasure,
truth, peace, love can still elude me. I am subject
to defeat despite all my effort. That animates me
to engage. Such engagement encourages further
elusiveness. Repetitive satisfaction would get old,
perhaps. But even for me as immortal the game
would be interesting. Wins here and loses there. 
New ways to win and new ways to lose open up.
Yes, just because you love a book does not mean
that you want it to go on forever (no middle, no end).
And yes, one of you reasons for loving the book
is precisely that it ends. But while we want a book
to come to an end, we still go after the next book.
Living on and on need not be seen as one book,
but a chain of books: stages in our own lives:
new characters, dramas, settings. That we want
the book to end does not mean we want total end.

What will happen next? What new artistic creations
will there be? What resolutions, what revolutions,
will they kick off? What new acts of courage
will appear? How will these change my perception
of courage? How will my coming from place x,
with its place-x idiosyncrasies, affect my journey?
Which wants will be honored, which denied?
How will they be honored, how denied? How will
the future crush me next? How will it satisfy me?
How will my perception of my past life change
as I gain new experiences by which to measure it?
How will what happens next change my past view
of the world? How will the new painting change
my perception of beauty? Will everyday people
seem more virtuous after my reading of characters
behaving in horrible ways? What perspective,
what insight, will I gain on myself as I contemplate
more and more events of increasing diversity—
not just mundane events (economic recessions
and terrorist attacks), but also beyond-earth events.
How will my hopes be ruined? What new reasons
to hope will show up? How will the universe
disappoint me next? What doors will that open?
What new fields will I master? What languages,
instruments? What new loves will I encounter?
In what new ways will I be exploited? What drugs
will I find or develop to spice up or ruin my life?
What uncharted orbits, what new dominions,
will call out to me? What will happen next?


However skillful the world is at surprising us
and teasing our curiosity, how long can life
fascinate? Can we be tail-wagging puppies
forever, forever sniffing each new object?
Are our characters suited for endless on and on?
People run out of steam, lose interest in journeys.
They see, feel, too much. The worn dog, droopy
in eyes and skin, just lays in the corner, no longer
even moving an eye towards a sound. Consider
many great historical heroes. Towards the end
they gave in to brooding alone. Losing interest
in combat or in securing a name may just spell
new interest, to be sure. But will this always be so?




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