The Eternal Immortality Debate

Jack Horton, Staff Writer

Immortality across the world has warranted a wide variety of different interpretations. From being viewed as an end goal in achieving enlightenment to an eternal punishment, the wide variety of immortality stories and philosophical arguments both are daunting and remain alive with discussion. Let us explore the wide variety of interpretations starting with the traditional western interpretation.

According to an article, The Trouble with Immortality, in traditional European stories, “People may seek eternal life using elixirs, or by striking a bargain with the devil. The outcome is inevitably not what they hoped for. In fact, physical immortality often stands in stark contrast to spiritual immortality after death.” In other words, afterlife is portrayed as a good form of immortality and eternal material life is portrayed as cheating the rules of the universe which inherently comes with a cost. This is in contrast to a lot of traditional Asian stories as The Trouble with Immortality says that “the tales suggest that transcendence of mortality is a morally appropriate goal—though one only available to those who renounce worldly things.” In both tales the detachment from worldly things is an inherent result of immortality, but while characters in the traditional Asian tales are portrayed as aligning themselves with the universe and still able to interact with the world, those in traditional Western tales are portrayed as deviant from the world and often get bored and miserable with their immortality.

Overall, we have seen with the rise of the media this view of immortality as a bad thing become dominant in our culture. From vampires to grief to general boredom to even overpopulation there are many issues highlighted with immortality. A Jstor Daily article believes that the “prevalence of such negative views of immortality stems more from our own insecurity and existential dread than from actual intrinsic challenges of immortality and a life that does not end.” This article states that we often experience grief in our lives regardless of immortality and that we often enjoy doing the same activities rather than getting bored. However, there also appears to be a bias involved in the display of immortality as negative. After all, stories where there is no conflict often do not entice the audience or creator of the stories as much. Stories without conflict often get discussed less often. There was some dissenting opinion in regards to whether stories which cover immortality in this particular light are truly fun for the audience. For example junior Grace Yee states that “I have seen [immortality] in lots of media but, I guess it was not displayed or portrayed as well as it could have…[characters] got it for a selfish reason and it just felt too old of a trope to go along with.” Senior Brandan Yeo, speaking about a book called Scythe, by Neal Shusterman, says that “basically everyone was immortal, you can get healed after an injury, and there were these scythes, the grim reaper looking guys killing people every week to control the population…that seems pretty dystopian. I do not like dystopias.” This conveys that these immortality stories may be overly dark and saturate an audience with too much pessimism. Despite these dissenting opinions, immortality continues to be conveyed in a bad light, which leads to the questions of how much are these stories being dictated by what the audience want and how much are they guided by critics or authors who find the concept of negative immortality interesting.

Many of those interviewed conveyed ideas of positive applications of immortality. For example, freshman Ella Yee says though it “would be pretty sad because I probably would not get connected to many people since…they would die… [but] it is pretty cool to see what happens in the future…” Grace Yee states that she would “travel all over the world to see what problems there are…and what process would make the world better.” Yeo conveys he “would try to learn a lot of things like learn new languages, learn new skills, learn to play new instruments,  just try to take in as much as I can.” Sophomore Patrick Curling says he would “probably would learn every martial art and get as big as possible and then just be the strongest person on earth.” If one considers immortality as a positive then it would be fruitful to explore how it can be achieved. An article from The Guardian states that there is a “free online service that lets people live on through their social media accounts. Users can upload an unlimited number of photos, video, audio and text messages which will be sent out on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the DeadSocial website after their death.” Of course, such applications of immortality are rudimentary and merely serve to allow descendants or loved ones to feel more connected with those who are deceased. More advanced concepts include AI which learns how to act like a person based on their social media or copying human brains to eventually be revived. From Tech Interactive article, genetic modification is conveyed as having the potential to “tweak the [body] system to improve our cells’ ability to repair their DNA. In the end we wouldn’t be immortal but we might live longer.”

Of course, this harkens back to the original issues with immortality. If individuals desire immortality and see it as a positive and technology eventually enables these individuals to achieve immortality or at the very least vastly longer lives then there are some serious issues which cannot be overlooked. For example, overpopulation and the lack of newer generations.

Grace Yee states that immortality “would be hard to attend to because there would be a constant flow of life and no such death rate.” She says that “we would probably have to colonize other planets or figure out new ways of living like living in the sea itself, in the water. Or say even the atmosphere, in the sky. Maybe the space itself with space stations.” Curling provides a method for combating this through use of “ birth control and if that gets out of hand then maybe space exploration.” However, he states that “if we have the same people on earth forever then we cannot get any new ideas. It would just stay the same.” These are some serious hurdles to overcome, which will probably dictate the policies of future social debate and political discourse.

However, moving forward it would perhaps be beneficial to explore alternative concepts within this discourse as many interviewed concluded that immortality continues to be overused in the same way. Yeo states, “It has already been explored in a lot of ways but [it could be explored] through the lens of a biologist or a philosopher, someone whose career is deeply connected with the idea of mortality.” Real immortality is probably impossible despite us being able to prolong our lives through technology. However, it is only in extreme conditions that we can truly test the limits of a concept. Thus immortality will continue to be featured in media for a long, but not eternal amount of time.