Tuesday, 18 September 2012

9 Methods of Immortality - How to Survive Them


There are lots of forms of immortality. Humanity loves to think and dream about it above all else. This might be motivated by fearing the oblivion that awaits us when our bodies finally succumb to destruction or inevitable entropy, but once you get past that there’s also the inconvenience. I want to see this crazy ride through to the very end, whether that’s nuclear genocide next week or transcending the material plane a billion years from now. I also want to see everything that comes afterwards, like in that Future Is Wild show. Indeed, being alive is like watching an incredible TV series with dozens of characters that I really care about but knowing that I’ll probably die before I find out how it all ends.

game of thrones title
Naming no names…

Of course, for preference I’d rather witness all of human history with a time machine. I could skip all the waiting around for the future to happen and also witness the past too. But if my only option is the slow way then I’ll take it. So let’s have a quick chat about the various slow ways, after the click!


First of all, yes it will be awful to stay young while all your loved ones age and die around you. But that happens whether you’re immortal or not.

Also, after being alive for even a mere three hundred years you’d probably end up quite eccentric. Hell, you’d probably have become delusional in a variety of ways never before experienced by a human. Whatever trysts you’ll have with sanity will be purely by accident. Then you might get stuck at the bottom of a pit for a hundred years or fossilised forever. That kind of thing will certainly have a psychological impact. Think how much you changed between five and fifteen. Extrapolate that to the difference between five hundred and fifteen thousand; or five million and fifteen hundred million. Even a single bad day can alter your perspective in strange and interesting new ways.

Sure there’ll be downsides. We’ll get to that.


We’re All Immortal Regardless

We’re sort of all immortal through the effect we have on the world, the consequences of our actions rippling out over the ocean of humanity – but the ripples get lost in the waves and besides, you’re not around to enjoy it. Your ancestors live on within you but not very literally. Some people get remembered for a couple of thousand years like Achilles or Homer (if they ever existed) but again, they don’t get to enjoy it.

egypt pyramids sphynx
 Look upon my works ye mighty, blah blah blah


The Eternal Soul

You may get reabsorbed into the great extra-dimensional consciousness or get recycled/reincarnated. You may descend into ‘a hideous wailing and gnashing of teeth’, or maybe we all get into heaven and it’s exactly like in the cartoons with cherubs, clouds, harps and a big white guy with a beard and everything. For preference I’d pick Valhalla. That seems like a great place to ride out eternity. There’s mead, meat, violence and maybe even some hairy Viking sex.

heaven clouds jesus angels trumpets
 Sure, this looks like a wild ride

But none of this is any good unless I can occasionally glance out of heaven to see if cephalopods are building computers yet.


Cryogenics

I’ve written before about how you will die if frozen alive. The fact is that out of all the people currently frozen cryogenically, none of them have been defrosted yet. We don’t know how. Nevertheless I wouldn’t mind being preserved after I die and then revived again. Think of all the new things you’ll be able to discover!

Although there had better be some new stuff. And I had better not be revived into some kind of fundamentalist Vulcan world with nothing but logic, sterile grey architecture and beige nutrient paste. Sylvester Stallone had enough problems in Demolition Man, and he was only frozen for thirty years plus change.

Sandra Bullock in Demolition Man
 Although he did wake up to a foxy futuristic Sandra Bullock

Once revived your aging process will probably recommence. Even if you were frozen post-death and then revived, your death is probably inevitable once again. So cryogenics isn't really immortality; it's more like delayed mortality.


Uploaded

The Technological Singularity is when an advanced intellect is developed, much more advanced beyond anything human. We can’t predict what it would do, much less understand it. It could do a Skynet and try to wipe out humanity (maybe it would even be smart enough to use germ warfare rather than nukes and robots). Obviously I’ve got my fingers crossed that instead of genocide, this machine-mind would be willing to upload us all into a simulated shared conciousness of some sort where we could all live forever. The optimistic predictions are that this will occur around the year 2030.

Sure it’s not a physical existence but to paraphrase that white bald guy in the first Matrix: if it looks like a steak, smells like a steak, feels like a steak and tastes like a steak then brother, I’m eating some damn steak! Of course, once again I want to be able to see the outside world. I’ll also need to be able to talk to people otherwise I’m stuck in a tin prison like some kind of digital iron maiden.

iron maiden sleepy hollow tim burton
 This would suuuuuck

The real problem with this form of existence is that it might not be contiguous. We’re going to get into some sticky philosophical issues here so forgive me if I get confused. Say you make an exact copy of the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci. I mean exact, right down to the atoms. Then you destroy the original. The world can still enjoy the painting, continuing the long and storied history. But everything is over as far as the original is concerned.

The same is true of your mind. The computer-you is suddenly awake in a world of silicon and electricity, sparing a few processor cycles occasionally to reminisce about when you were made of bone and slime. But as far as the meat-you is concerned, nothing has changed. If the process doesn’t destroy meat-you then as time passes you’ll only end up growing apart from your copy. You can imagine how complicated that would get.


Dorian Gray

You might know Dorian Gray from the awful adaptation of Alan Moore’s amazing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He wasn’t a character in the books besides one brief cameo of his portrait. He was inserted into the film because it was an awful film.

If you haven’t read the The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde then you should really do so now after you finish reading this, since it's entirely available online. The basic premise is that Dorian’s soul gets put in a painting. His image in the painting ages while Dorian remains youthful for decades. Sadly he’s also an incorrigible sinner so his image in the painting also displays signs of disease, indulgence and corruption on every level.

“He would place his white hands beside the coarse bloated hands of the picture, and smile. He mocked the misshapen body and the failing limbs.”

If he was more sensible and less malignant then who knows, he might have lived as long as the painting existed. That could have been a few centuries at least, maybe longer, which I can only describe as a good start.


Vampires

We all know that vampires live a long time, and they’re often capable of fully enjoying life. Sadly there’s the predatory aspect but sometimes they can survive on animal blood or synthetic stuff like TruBlood. There are other downsides to the condition too – when exposed to sunlight they mostly either explode or sparkle. I’m pretty unhappy with either result. Beheading and being staked through the heart will kill them, but that will also kill humans and we manage to mostly avoid it.

french revolution guillotine painting
 Mostly

I really like garlic, my own reflection and intruding uninvited into people’s homes. However I can live without them in exchange for eternal life. I’d no longer have to worry about disease, starvation, dehydration, poison and most other forms of purposeful or accidental death. As long as I’m not transformed into a proper monster and as long as I’m careful, I could in theory exist in the darkness for millions of years, right? Until in some fit of madness I merely walk into the sunlight.


Wolverine

By this point surely everyone knows that he and his half-brother have already lived for very a long time. In some of the continuities they live even longer, way into the flying-car-future.

wolverine origins brother logan hugh jackman liev schreiber
 I think you and I are destined to do this forev…. Wait, wrong superheroes

Obviously the physical side of immortality is largely taken care of. However, as I mentioned at the beginning, there are still the psychological aspects of immortality to survive. You might have noticed in the film that the more death and murderous technology they witness, the less value they place on human life. Then Wolverine has the epiphany that they’re becoming monsters.

Personally I suspect that if he hadn’t had his memory wiped he might have become quite suicidal. His brother has no especial baggage because he has no especial character development. He remains a one-note violent killer with no self-doubt at all, capable of existing from moment to moment without any particular regrets, but this sort of works in the favour of an immortal. If you’re going to live forever then sometimes you just have to let things go.

The wolverine-effect of constant and perfect regeneration seems like magic but it might be feasible with nanotechnology – tiny machines the size of molecules that make more of each other, preserve your body and rebuild any broken parts including the neurons in your brain. I guess this is my ultimate preferred method.


Captain Jack Harkness

It’s not important if you’re not familiar with the guy. Basically he’s got some sort of quantum science-curse that means he never dies. He gets killed a lot but shortly afterwards he… sort of gets better. He can die but he cannot stay dead. He’s been shot, stabbed, suffocated, buried, poisoned, burned, trampled by horses, electrocuted, encased in concrete and once he had a bomb inside his stomach. His friends gathered up all the big pieces and put them in a body bag, and his body squished itself back together like a sea sponge. He’s more durable than Wolverine.

jack harkness john barrowman torchwood doctor who
 He really likes that watch

He does age however, albeit slower than the average human. At this point his age is somewhat subjective: he could be a century and a half old or he could be over two thousand years old depending on how you count it. Anyway, it’s slow but he does age. Who knows where he’ll end up in a few million years? Oh wait WE DO!

face of boe doctor who
 WARGH!

That sexy bastard is the Face of Boe. It’s heavily implied and basically assumed that this is Captain Jack after aging for several million years. In theory it could be billions. He’s literally just a head with some tentacle-pod things, who usually lives inside a tank full of gas. I assume the gas is full of nutrients and narcotics. Yes it’s quite an inconvenient mode of existence but it’s not such a large price to pay.

As Captain Jack he remains conscientious and somewhat engaged with society. Even as the Face of Boe he exhibits a guru-like serenity, compassion and indeed sanity. This might be because he pursues happiness on a moment-to-moment basis, much like Wolverine’s brother albeit less violent. Jack has many, many relationships and unfailingly flirts with everyone and everything he can without doubt or guilt. This is how he remains grounded without developing some serious existential issues.

jack harkness john barrowman doctor who torchwood riding a bomb
 Well, no NEW issues at least…


Orlando

This is another Alan Moore character from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Those books are completely riddled with various immortals, I’m not even kidding. 

I know there are very few (if any) truly original characters in LoXG, which is part of the genius. But Alan Moore's Orlando threads together so many characters, including Virginia Woolf's creation, that Orlando starts to feel very... Well, Moore-ish.

biography virginia woolf orlando book cover alan moore loxg league of extraordinary gentlemen
For example, Moore's Orlando insists the sword was once Excalibur, renamed as Durendal back when he was Roland

Anyway, the first issue with Orlando is that Orlando changes genders every few years or so – between seven and thirty. He’s a male for maybe a decade and then she’s a female, and vice versa. The other issue is that Orlando was born in roughly 1260 BC and is still alive and youthful in 2009. The two conditions are unrelated but it means that Orlando could have switched genders up to five hundred times.

I’m not going to bother explaining how this happened, so Google it if you want but just run with it otherwise. Orlando also presents a unique problem: because Orlando’s gender is constantly changing, I’m forced to rethink my pronoun set. He/she and his/her aren’t appropriate but neither are the multiple gender-neutral pronouns. Orlando is never gender-neutral but is instead always one of the binary, not both or neither. So I’m just going to constantly refer to Orlando as Orlando without pronouns. It sounds clumsy, but in this case it works.

Orlando might be the best example of how to survive longevity. In 2009 Orlando states outright that staying sane is easier for Orlando since ‘I’m really, really shallow’. Some insight does start to penetrate Orlando as time goes by and it manifests in various ways:

orlando loxg league of extraordinary gentlemen alan moore 2009 war

As a man Orlando is somewhat oblivious, aggressive and very obnoxious. As a woman Orlando is sympathetic, strong and apparently more capable of assimilating her unique insights. But Orlando is indeed always quite sensual, confident and shallow regardless of the gender.

Orlando has been involved in almost every significant western war since Troy and has survived. It’s not clear whether Orlando has the same magic healing rate as Wolverine. Orlando has been a skilled, lethal warrior since youth, regardless of gender, so maybe Orlando is just quick and lucky enough to survive every fight. Orlando’s youthful body has stayed both lithe and strong, which might have influenced Orlando’s outlook.

orlando melee sword excalibur fight loxg league of extraordinary gentlemen alan moore century
 There’s nothing suggestive about the placement of that decapitated head, right?

It might be Orlando’s constantly-shifting nature that helps Orlando endure the millennia rather than becoming stagnantly introspective and burdened with baggage. It might also be Orlando’s body enabling Orlando’s perspective to remain quick and flexible too, which it would have to with the constantly altering gender. Of course, as with the other successful and happy immortals we’ve looked at, the secret might just be to remain shallow.

6 comments:

tonyon said...
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tonyon said...
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tonyon said...
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Tamizh Selvan said...

Immortality has been just dream for all of us. But the content shared here proved that elixir of immortality does exist. Great work. Thanks for sharing.

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