Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Immortal Lifetimes

I’m in the shower this morning, rushing through shampooing, conditioning, and shaving cuz we’re running late and I have to get the girls dressed, packed, and dropped off at school and get my own busted carcass to work.  What am I thinking of as I lather up my shiny luxurious hair?


Specifically, how one would go about living “normal” human lives amidst the backdrop of immortality.

I’m thinking about a tale by Borges that I read six or seven years ago during my JLB phase.  It’s focus was immortality, and how a life without death would drive a man insane.  The main reason being, if I recall correctly, is … what would you do with undying millennia spread out before you?  I have trouble figuring out what to do on a weeknight if the wife is overnighting on a sales trip.  The answer Borges comes up with, again if I remember correctly, is that one would live an infinite series of lives before insanity set in.  Indeed – SPOILERS! – one of the main characters, himself insane and immortal, is revealed to have spent a part of his existence as … Plato.

So how many lives would that be? the showering me wondered this morning.

Let’s keep the numbers easy.  Fifty years for a lifetime.  Every century the immortal you would live two lifetimes.

(This leads to an interesting tangent: being immortal means you can never form lasting attachments.  They die, you don’t.  They age, you don’t.  If the government gets a hold of you, man, you’re toast.)

Anyway, two lifetimes a century.  Let’s say recorded history goes back to 4000 BC.  I think that’s when writing was invented.  So we have 6,000 years of civilization here.  You, some average Chaldean joe chiseling out a cuneiform tablet one day, are granted the gift-curse of immortality.  How many different lives have you lived?

Simple math says only 120.

Yeah, “only” 120.

Once upon a time on this blog I posted how I could have had nine lives and my curse is to never have been able to choose among them.  Imagine having to decide more than thirteen times that, with no end in sight.

I think I’d spend a couple of centuries in one field, say, medicine.  Or astronomy.  Or writing.  You become such a specialist in such a broad field that establishing creds in it is like sleepwalking.  (Oh – and being immortal you’d eventually become the most wealthiest human being ever to have existed – have to be careful about hiding that financial trail!)  But out of sheer boredom and the urgent desire to ward off insanity, you’d want to spend a half-century here and there doing something completely off the wall.  Say, a fashion designer, or an Amazon explorer, or a – but wait!  Careful – you can’t become famous now!

Come to think of it, maybe this isn’t too farfetched.  Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and are not my shower musings a form of reincarnation-without-the-whole-pesky-death-thing?  I dunno.  But I think one time around on this rock might be enough.

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