Posted by: NotAScientist | August 1, 2008

Eternal Life?

Are you going to live forever?

I’m not. Or at least, I see no evidence that I will. Or anyone else.

And yet the concept of living forever, of immortality, pervades our culture so much that it isn’t even a novelty any more. That’s understandable. The human mind can only conceive of so much. Ideas like “nothing” and “not existing” are too big to think about. I can’t imagine not existing.

But I can’t imagine living forever either. In that, the non-believer is unique. It’s quite easy for believers; Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, Scientologists, to embrace their own individual eternities. It’s even one of the selling points. Not just existing forever, but who has the best ‘forever’ to exist in.

Do these people have any idea of what ‘living forever’ would really mean? I think I do. And the best way I can explain it is through an example below the fold:

Doctor Who.

That’s right…I’m going to use a British sci-fi serial to help explain a complex theological concept.

Try and stay with me.

There are two main characters within the Whoniverse that are, essentially, immortal. These would be the eponymous Doctor and Captain Jack (Harkness, not Sparrow).

The Doctor is an alien. Through his unique Time Lord physiology, he has a way to cheat death any time he arrives at its doorstep. In what you could either consider a brilliant move or a cheap trick, the original writers designed it so that if The Doctor was on the verge of dying, he could ‘regenerate’. He literally changes every cell in his body, becoming a new man (and a new actor) in everything but name and mind.

All that nerdiness is simply there to say that that is how I would wish to live forever, if given the opportunity. Because to live forever your existence must eventually become a bore. That may take quite a while. Hundreds, thousands or millions of years, yes, but we’re dealing with eternity here! A million years is a second when dealing with something like forever.

The Doctor, however, gets variety no matter how long his life goes on. He may have done things before, seen things before, but with every regeneration he is seeing them through brand new eyes. Literally!

Now look at Captain Jack.

Through an accident with a near-omnipotently powered friend (this is sci-fi, remember?), Jack can’t die. Well, he can, but he can’t stay dead. Any time he is killed, his body ceases to function for a few seconds to a few minutes, and then he comes right back as if nothing happened. Couple that with the fact that he is a man from our future who is accidentally thrown into our past, with no choice but to merely live through the time that makes up the difference.

Jack, in my mind, embodies the religious view of eternal life. Forced to go on living, made to go through things over and over and over again. Maybe not with the same exact people, perhaps not under the same precise circumstances, but it is still all the same. Jack only manages through it because he lives in a world of science-fiction, with aliens and monsters and time-travel to keep him occupied.

While the real world is easily as amazing as the Whoniverse, with eternity on your hands you’ll eventually have seen everything.

So you can keep your immortality. It sounds tempting at first, but when you break it down you’re just being forced to watch the same episode over and over and over.

Give me a good long life with adventures, dangers, learning and a companion or two. And give me the sense to recognize that while it all may be over when I’m gone, I made the best of it while I was here.

Let’s not end it before the next season of Doctor Who, though, shall we?



  1. To me, there is no such thing as eternity or forever or infinity or even perfect. The only time these may be true is such as a mathematical problem where the answer has a sequence that repeats forever: man made. Or like you play a video game and get a perfect score or something in sports: again man made. They do not exist beyond that.

  2. Eternal life isn’e worth a damn anyway. It’s an economic principle. “Diminishing marginal utility” i believe, something is woth less the more of it you have, and infinity, well, that ain’t worth shit then is it?
    Maybe living a ridiculously long time, through hopefully up and coming medical science, would be great, but people get bored as the 30 year old millianaire and commit suicide. you see that heaven and hell would both suck because of boredom. Hindu has the only functional concept of eternity, and they never claim it to be eternal. eventually the circle of rebirth is completed enough and you join Brahman, which, for the record, is literally nothing itself. so you cease to exist as well. very nice.
    You know, if perfect is imaginary, then God is completely pointless, per Anselm’s ontological argument.
    >Imagine something greater than the greatest possible thing.
    >You can’t
    >this thing must exist otherwise it wouldn’t be the greatest possible thing
    >therefore the greatest possible thing (God) must exist
    No one can imagine the greatest possible thing, so it is pointless anyway; Zeno would have punched this guy in the face and then sit down and prove him wrong. One can’t imagine god because one cannot draw a line continually, or even a ray, because of the infinite length.
    Ah but if god cannot be imaginary, then he must exist in the real world. except that perfection is completely unfalsifiable, unless perfection is imperfection, which renders all this God nonsense moot anyway

  3. […] is a desire that most people have and, while I don’t completely share it, I do understand. Everyone wants to live longer. Thanks to science, we have more than doubled the […]

  4. I do desire to live forever and shall, not by some made up religion, but by technology that will make me immortal within our lifetimes, by means of ways described by Ray Kurzweil.

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