Wednesday 10 April 2013

The finite life: Are we are meant to die?

Years ago I read an article about a politician who changed his ideological leanings later on in life, in his fifties I think. The journalist qualified this as remarkable by describing how almost all politicians remain entrenched in their position and do not change. A politician has his ideology and sticks with it for his entire life. It is rare that anybody jumps ship so to speak and walks across the aisle to the other side.

At the time I mulled over whether this idea was applicable to all of us. Do we change over time or are we formed in the first few decades of our lives and remain pretty much as is until we die? Religion, political leanings, ethics, social mores, etc., all of these ideas make up our character and remain as is all of our lives. Subsequent to this, I have heard the idea that regime change comes with a change of leadership. In other words, a regime doesn't change; truly change, until there is another human being with a fresh eye. And regime could mean any organisation whether a country or a company or a group of people.

This curious thought came to mind as I was reflecting on how to solve a problem at work, my relationship with my colleagues, and my interaction with the company in general. It dawned on me that I'm stuck. I have a way of looking at things and I'm not going to change. Sometimes it may be good but it's less than perfect and admittedly sometimes it's not so good but the point is that I'm not going to change. I'm not going to change the way I conduct my business or more accurately I can't change it. I can't necessarily change as what I do is the sum total of who I am: my personality, my experiences, my education, etc. We could debate if what I do is correct or not but I'm saying that regardless of whether I am right or wrong, from the view of the company, change, true change, will only come when I am replaced. Out with the old, in with the new.

But it's not just me. I see this elsewhere. I note that colleagues have their own approach to business, their own approach to life. Right? Wrong? Will they change? Can they change? After decades of dealing with these people, I would say the answer is no.

I read some writers on the Net. After two years now of blogging and following on a semi-regular basis others chronicling their lives, I see recurring themes about marriage, divorce, kids, jobs, and life in general. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good, these themes are repeating patterns of behaviour representing the author's way of dealing with something. Will we change? Can we change? After I read the same themes over and over again, I'm thinking the answer is no.

Physical Immortality
Others who have pondered this question have laid out three causes of death: aging, disease, and trauma. Aging we are all familiar with but even overcoming this obstacle in our quest to see the future leaves us exposed to the possibility of contracting a disease. I've heard it said that if we all live long enough, we will all die of cancer. As for trauma, sooner or later that bus with our name on it is going to drive by. That seems inevitable. So coming back to aging, even if we do achieve physical immortality there are two other reasons, diseases and trauma, which could extinguish our flame. Of course, if we overcome aging, who knows what we may have come up with to overcome disease and trauma?

Our Mental or Spiritual Limitations
I come back to the opening premise. Even if we could live forever, would we change mentally? Would we evolve spiritually? If the answer is yes, just how long would that take? I am certain there are more than enough examples from today where people spend their entire lifetime doing what many consider being less than exemplary. Addictions, addictive behaviour, personality disorders, the list could go on and on, and here I am talking about obvious defects of character. There are a host of behaviours classified as being off of centre which while not meriting being locked up in jail or deserving a 30 day stint in a psychiatric facility, continue to raise eyebrows for the duration of the person's life. Maybe this is a quirk rather than a character defect.

Even if we could live forever, do we have the capacity to change, to truly change? And here, let me bring up the dramatic. We get our arm caught in a wood chipper and have if amputated. Will we eventually accept? We get a divorce, the emotional equivalent of getting our heart and soul caught in a wood chipper. Will we ever get over it? Will we achieve that Zen-like acceptance that the sun is going to come up in the morning and there is nothing we can do about it other than accept it? Will we ever recite the Serenity Prayer and mean it?

Physical Limitations
Uncle Brady is 97 years old. He has had a slow-growing cancer for the past 7 years. The doctors are apparently surprised as his original diagnosis was six months to live but like the Energizer bunny, he just keeps going. He has confessed to me that he's tired. He knows his time is up and he'd like go. Physically he's quite limited and his quality of life has suffered. This is an important aspect of living a long life or living forever. If you don't have quality of life, who cares about quantity of life? Uncle Brady has chronic pain from his cancer. He has difficulty walking and ofttimes must use a scooter. He has macular degeneration in one eye and despite an operation, only has 50% vision in the other eye. Yes, he's alive but not in the best of circumstances. He wants to go. Continuing in these poor circumstances is more of a contest of endurance than a pleasurable experience. At some point, won't we all ask, "What's the point?"

Final Word
Our life is finite. Like Uncle Brady, we are physically going to run down. The body is just going to wear out; the quality of life will drop, and at some point we won't just shuffle off our mortal coil, we will want to shuffle it off. The party is over. It is time to go home.

But the other question is whether or not we are all meant to be here on a temporary basis. Staying around forever or even a longer than we currently do would not be good for us and would not be good for everybody else. The world needs a fresh eye. The world needs a change of leadership, and true change can only come about when the old guard takes its leave and the next generation steps up to the plate. It's interesting sometimes to completely clear off the table and lay out a brand new sheet of paper. Nothing has yet been done. There is nothing to correct, no smudges to wipe clean, and no mistakes to erase. Out with the old, in with the new.

This past weekend, I held my three month old nephew, Michael. He's a blank slate. He's a fresh start. He is unblemished by life and its many vicissitudes. He still has both arms having not yet encountered a woodchipper. Probably like all adults, hope springs eternal and I (and the rest of the family?) look upon him with the hope he will get it right.


Wikipedia: Requiem for Methuselah
"Requiem for Methuselah" is a third season episode of the original science fiction television series Star Trek, first broadcast on February 14, 1969.
Flint confesses that he is immortal, born on Earth in Mesopotamia in the year 3834 BC. He was a soldier, and after falling in battle and later recovering he discovered he could not die. As time went on, he lived several "lifetimes" under names that would become historically important, including Da Vinci, Brahms, Solomon, Alexander, Lazarus, Methuselah, Merlin, Abramson, and others.

Wikipedia: Immortality
Immortality is the ability to live forever, or eternal life. Biological forms have inherent limitations which may or may not be able to be overcome through medical interventions or engineering. Natural selection has developed potential biological immortality in at least one species, the jellyfish Turritopsis nutricula.

Wikipedia: Turritopsis nutricula
Turritopsis nutricula, the immortal jellyfish, is a hydrozoan whose medusa, or jellyfish, form can revert to the polyp stage after becoming sexually mature... effectively rendering the jellyfish biologically immortal.

my blog: Steve Jobs (1955-2011): Our Time is Limited
Death is Life's change agent. At some point, I will die. And that's a good thing. It's an odd statement to make that me dying is a good thing but then again, maybe not. Those who come after me will do, will hopefully do, a better job than I did. And that would most certainly be a good thing.

my blog: Immortality: simply by doing one great thing
In 2006, Johnnie Walker produced a 60 second television commercial called "Human" which was a science fiction story from the future from the perspective of an android. The story reminds one of Isaac Asimov or the film "I, Robot" by Steven Spielberg based on Asimov's writings.

Uploaded by thepabs06 on Oct 20, 2006
Johnnie Walker Android
I can achieve immortality by not wearing out. You can achieve immortality simply by doing one great thing.


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