(This article was reprinted in Humanity+ Magazine, November 20, 2014)
I have written extensively on why death: 1) should be overcome; 2) is one of the greatest tragedies to befall us; and 3) makes completely meaningful lives impossible. In a recent post I summarized Nick Bostrom’s fable about the dragon-tyrant that makes similar points. In response I received this perceptive comment:
Love that story. Given that we now see death as a result of genetic programming. Literally, programmed cell death. You could tell a similar story but have everyone born with a ticking time bomb strapped to them—same point but more accurate. People of the religious or “death gives life meaning” crowd would be arguing against disarming this bomb.
The “ticking time bomb” conveys the sense in which death is always with us, not merely at the end of the road like the dragon-tyrant. In Bostrom’s image you stand in line awaiting your fate—which is bad enough—but strapped to a ticking time bomb you can blow up anytime. This is a more accurate description of our situation—death is always near.
The deathists—the lovers of death—often don’t disarm the bomb because they believe that dying transports you to a better address—from a slum to a mansion. And in the mansion your mind and body are eternally bathed in a salve of peace, love, and joy. That is a prominent justification for opposing the bomb’s removal.
The problem is the story that dying is moving to a better neighborhood is that it is almost certainly fictional. And most people agree because, as I’ve said many times in my blog and books, when humans conquer death—learn to remove the bomb—they will. Those who have the option to live forever will be eternally grateful that they have the real thing, instead of the empty promises they now pay for in church.
Consciousness has come a long way from its beginnings in a primordial soup … but there is so much farther to go. Let’s put our childhood behind us, and make something of ourselves.
I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough;
None has ever yet adored or worship’d half enough;
None has begun to think how divine he himself is,
And how certain the future is.
O strain, musical, flowing through the ages—now reaching hither!
I take to your reckless and composite chords—I add to them,
And cheerfully pass them forward.
~ Walt Whitman