Ever hear someone recite the aphorism, “Life only has value because it ends,” or many of its variants? The basic premise being that mortality is the driving force behind why humans do things with their lives.
It’s clearly lacking foundation. I don’t know anyone who’s ever known an immortal, I’ve certainly never met one myself. There has not been a frame of reference for how such a being would exist and conduct itself, so speaking on the topic is speaking from a place of sheer ignorance. We’re left with the single reference point, that of the mortal, and we’re hopelessly bad at evaluating even that.
Death is not a motivator for accomplishment - at least not for a good long while. It’s certainly a motivator for some things like not walking in front of pesky trains, but a “mortality deadline” (har har) is not what gives life value and it’s not what compels people to lead fulfilling existences.
How can I say this with such authority? I can’t, really; I’m just as lacking in the alternate perspective as anyone else. I haven’t spent years of my life conducting relevant research (does such research exist?) or even so much as passed out a questionnaire. I base my beliefs on fuzzy observations, analyses of people I’ve known and read about. Instead of even pretending to claim I have hard evidence, I’ll ask a series of questions for you to contemplate, and then I’ll swing back around to reinforcing my points:
If death never loomed, would technology never progress? Would people be satisfied chiseling rocks all day because, hey, they’ve got so much time to chisel rocks? Or would they still move forward to find better ways to spend time?
Has the inevitable death of a young person compelled them to do something extraordinary or was it not even on their mind? Did Gandhi or Bill Gates or Napoleon think, “I’m probably going to be dead by 80, maybe I should get to work,” or did they realize the need for a change and act on that?
Is there a discernible change between the fulfillment people get from their existence when they are young versus when they are old and the “deadline” is looming?
I submit that in any of these cases, mortality changes very little. People are compelled to do things and live their lives and assign values to their existence because those things are there to be done, and that would not change whether the person lived to 70 or a billion or forever.
You could argue that in the face of immortality, there would be a major societal shift in the way life, accomplishment, and value are perceived and that could very well invalidate any of the above. And I would argue that you have absolutely no idea what such a shift would look like - you couldn’t even being to piece that topic.
And please, don’t attempt to extrapolate a poor, anecdotal analysis of short term deadlines and turn that into a comparison on death. They’re fundamentally different beasts.
Yea, that article inspired this post. So what?