by Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA
In Nikos Kazantzakis’s brilliant Zorba the Greek there is a scene in which Zorba declaims: “A man like me should live for a thousand years!” I am very sympathetic to his view but, unfortunately, in practical terms there are a number of factors that diminish the desirability of lasting so many years. First of all, one would have to build up a hell of bank account for retirement. I retired at 65, so I would need to make provision for my next 935 years. Then there is the issue of health. Unless one remains reasonably healthy so that one can be active and vigorously enjoy life, what would be the point of all of those extra years?
Last week I read several articles about some nematode “worms” that had been thawed out from the Siberian permafrost and are over 42,000 years old! Now imagine the kind of bank balance one would have to have in order to survive that long even in a state of cryogenic suspension. Imagine waking up 42,000 years from now. Earth could have been reduced to rubble or have made technological leaps that you could not begin to comprehend. Imagine if we were to transport a Yanomamo Indian from the forests of Brazil into the middle of Times Square. Think of the assault on the senses, the noise, the buildings, the masses of people, the traffic, I suspect if he survived at all he would go mad. And consider, what if instead of the Indian, we transported Socrates. I’m not sure that he would fare any better and that’s only a period of less than 2,500 years, so if we were thrust 41,000 years into the future like the nematodes, it is unimaginable what that would be like. Would there be anything left or would we have been stupid enough to launch a thermonuclear war? If not, then perhaps, robotics and artificial intelligence would have made humans irrelevant and disposable because we weren’t wise enough to guide and control their development. But suppose these future humans had been wise enough to direct the evolution of bio-machines in such a way as to create technologies which at this point in time, we cannot even dream of. Unfortunately, all three of these possibilities would have us stranded in an almost completely alien world beyond our comprehension. So, before you jump at the possibility of radically extending your life span, I can only say, be careful what you wish for!
Surely, the popular, vulgar notion of Heaven in which you acquire wings and float or flap around on clouds and strum a harp (or more likely a lyre) is not, in the end, all that appealing. Most busy, bourgeois types get bored after 1 week of their 2 week (or, horrors, 4 week) vacation. Try to conceive of floating, flapping, and strumming for eternity! Another version has streets paved with GOLD (designed and commissioned by Donald Trump who still hasn’t paid his contractors). There have been rumors of some of the gold bricks having been pried up by goldbricks who wanted them so that they didn’t have to work. But why would anyone work in Heaven? And who would need money? And I thought the mysteries of Nature were mind-numbingly complex, but now, I discover that theological mysteries are even more convoluted and apparently beyond the reach of empiricism. A scientist and a theologian were in heated debate on a variety of issues when the very, very old question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin came up. The scientist said: “O.K. let’s resolve this once and for all.” He turned to the theologian and said “Give me a pin.” The theologian gave him a pin. The scientist then said: “O.K., now give me an angel.” The theologian was apoplectic and had a heart attack and died. And, nothing changed much, we still have our skeptics and our defenders of “angel dancers”.
If, however, one is brilliant and bored, one might consider making a Faustian bargain: sell ones soul to Mephistopheles for a specified period of being granted unlimited knowledge and great physical pleasures. Faust, in the beginning, already knows an enormous amount, but his lust for knowledge is such that even this bounty is insufficient. “Zwar weiss ich viel, doch moecht’ ich alles wissen” What a thundering declaration! “Indeed, I know much, but I would know all!” While Faust’s contract with Mephistopheles is temporarily limited, Faust nonetheless is demanding omniscience, in other worlds, for a limited time he wants to take on an aspect of God–total, namely, universal, knowledge. But, what about the other aspect of the contract–extraordinary physical pleasure? Well, surely one cannot deny eroticism is a factor of God’s being, after all, he did get Mary pregnant if the accounts are to be believed. And Faust seduces Gretchen. However, Goethe himself, a rather concupiscent rascal, has God rescue Faust from the clutches of Mephistopheles (in part due to the entreaties of Gretchen).
This last bit about physical passion, I can understand, but the first part about being granted unlimited knowledge is a profound perplexity for me. I am in my present state of extreme ignorance deeply puzzled by the development of echinoid shells, by the bizarre structure and composition of tunicates, by the extraordinary behavior of protozoans, and now–SHAZAM–suddenly I have all this knowledge about how all of these things work–HOW UTTERLY BORING!!) My curiosity about things would no longer be relevant; I would know all of this stuff with no effort–where’s the fun in that? In fact that would strike me as a monstrous curse–to know everything; that, ironically would, I think, be Hell.
So again, be very careful what you wish for, not that there’s any possibility of your attaining omniscience, but any time spent idly dreaming about such a transformation is utterly wasted and you could spend that time with your microscopes learning about some very real wonders of the natural world. So pull yourself out of your self-indulgent morass and get your impasse into the lab.
All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.
Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at http://rhowey.googlepages.com/home where he plans to share aspects of his wide interests.
Published in the May 2019 edition of Micscape Magazine.
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