But touch my tears with your lips
Touch my world with your fingertips
And we can have forever
And we can love forever
Forever is our today
– Queen, Who Wants to Live Forever
This idea of living forever is tantalizing, isn’t it? It fuels our fascination with vampires and elves and superheroes, but I’m not sure it’s in our best interest to be immortal. We waste so much time already. Maybe time running out is a gift. as Jason Isbell wrote in his magical song I quoted last week. It does tend to focus us on the urgency of the moment, doesn’t it?
There are advancements in science that offer legitimate hope for extending life 2-3 times longer than our current lifespan. Swap out a bit of DNA code for something better and become almost invincible. To cure all ills and live a healthy vibrant 150-200 years seems like pure fantasy, but there are people like Peter Diamandis with his company Human Longevity actively pursuing this now. Which makes you wonder, to what end?
Will longevity become like plastic surgery for the truly vain, with constant adjustments and tweaks to our genetic code based on the latest blood work? Probably. Who wants to live forever? Plenty of people. And the wealthy have the means to chase it. If you want to be in the genetic engineering game you’d better be adept at accumulating wealth before the bill comes due.
Will our pursuit of immortality lead humanity down unethical paths? There’s no doubt. Hostile governments are likely already working on superhuman soldiers with incredible strength and no fear. 60 Minutes recently aired a segment about foreign governments accumulating information about your DNA. We’re really just at the early stages of exponential growth in genetic engineering. Ethical questions abound.
“It is naïve to imagine that we might simply hit the brakes and stop the scientific projects that are upgrading Homo sapiens into a different kind of being. For these projects are inextricably meshed together with the Gilgamesh Project… since we might soon be able to engineer our desires too, the real question facing us is not ‘What do we want to become?’, but ‘What do we want to want?’ Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven’t given it enough thought… Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want? – Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens
Pretty heavy ethical questions right there. But fair to ask. What is the mission anyway? Perfection? Dominance? Immortality? To what end? There are plenty of selfish, irresponsible people who demonstrate every day that we can’t just trust people to do the right thing. If Sapiens detailed anything in fine detail, it’s that humanity has shoved aside questions about ethics and fairness at almost every step in our existence.
So where does that leave you and me? There’s the shared wealth of knowledge we can lean on as science sifts through what works and what doesn’t. We all know to exercise more and eat more blueberries and kale. Are we really chasing immortality or just a healthier, more vibrant life in the time that we have? Better surpasses longer on the priority list, I should think. Why would anyone want to extend a miserable life indefinitely? To hold out for just one more Fast & Furious movie to see how it all turns out?
What do we want to want? Yikes. Forever seems pretty attractive, but personally, I’d like to master today. Forego the maddening crush of distractions pulling you towards perfect smiles and perfect abs and the perfect family and just be incrementally better than yesterday. A good start would be to be fitter and sharper through good decisions and a little discipline. String enough good days together and maybe you have just enough life in the end. Immortality is folly. But we can have today.