The Alchemist In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone
This past weekend a friend and I had a brief discussion about the pursuit of immortality down through the ages (Fountain of Youth, Holy Grail, alchemy, etc.) at the conclusion of which we both exclaimed that, even if living forever someday became possible, we wouldn’t want it. Passionately. In fact, the idea of living forever (or even a lot, LOT longer) was kind of repulsive.
My personal aversion stems from two separate issues. The first is the fact that life is riddled with tough spots, occasionally becoming harsh to the point of undesirability. The cumulative injury of those traumas over not just an average lifespan, but an eternity, would have to become unendurable at some point.
Pooh on that.
My second objection is that seizing that much life for myself feels unethical. We live in a finite universe full of limited resources that can only support so many biologically functioning human beings. So if I don’t die, then a fair number of future children won’t be born. I would, for all intents and purposes, be stealing their lives in order to lengthen my own and…well…isn’t that a vampire thing?
Although…the question of ethics and immortality gives rise to all kinds of possible plot scenarios for a novel or sic-fi movie. Which is pretty fun. Here’s one:
Opening scene: New York City, 150 years in the future. A mysterious wave of miscarriages has been sweeping across the world for fifteen years and the pace is increasing geometrically, potentially threatening the future of the human race. A concerned official from the World Health Organization comes knocking at the door of two, world-reknowned, research scientists who specialize in fertility studies. They’re married and (surprise, surprise) she’s nine weeks pregnant. The WHO official finds that enrolling them to look for a solution is pretty easy.
Break to next scene: New York City, present day. A small group of Swedish scientists reveal a startling anti-aging discovery to a secret committee of the World Economic Forum. They propose The Methuselah Project, a campaign to lengthen the human life-span by a couple thousand years, and the proposal is instantly and enthusiastically adopted. (It begins, of course, with the inoculation of power brokers, mega-wealthy, and top government officials.) Over the next hundred years, trials are run and all of the now-virtually-immortal insiders on the project consolidate their power over just about everything. Things are finally ready for the second stage where inoculation will be offered to pre-selected people at a hefty price.
Back to the future: As the two research scientists probe deeper into the growing problem, they uncover a secret network of wealthy, powerful, reclusive people who all seem to be unusually old, although their pasts are cloaked in mystery. As they start to question individual members of the network, all the usual, life-threatening car, plane, and other accidents quickly begin to happen to them. The couple survive everything thrown at them and eventually track down one of the original Swedish scientists who now works among the Inuit people in a remote region of the Canadian Northwest Territories. He reveals that he’s actually 193 years old, and then explains how the original vision of The Methuselah Project was corrupted for the purpose of establishing a two-tier world order; those who live for thousands of years served by those who die by their sixties. Part of the project involves drastically reducing the world population to a number more easily controlled, and the tool employed is a simple pennyroyal compound leaked into the water supplies of the world (all owned and controlled by Immortals BTW) to induce widespread miscarriages.
Conclusion: This will depend on whether the movie is a feel-gooder or a horror film.
Feel-gooder conclusion: the scientist couple manage to get the word out to the media and expose the scheme to the world, after which all the people rise en-masse to destroy the Immortals and return the world to it’s natural order.
The scientist couple re-engineer the anti-aging serum to bestow not only longevity but wisdom. The evil Immortals are transformed into kind, benevolent, enlightened teachers who then work to change the world into a better place for everyone. All are eventually inoculated with the new serum and the scientist couple’s baby grows up to be President of the New World Utopia. (This ending could be a tough sell.)
The horror film: the scientist-pair are killed before they can expose the plot, but not before their own baby is born and taken away to be raised by an Immortal couple who can’t have children of their own.
The bad Immortals are killed after which the original Methuselah Project is reinstated and everyone in the world is inoculated with the anti-aging serum. The widespread miscarriages are then replaced by a new set of sterilization, abortion, and lottery-pregnancy laws. (This movie obviously gives rise to the sequel where desperate women start becoming pregnant illegally only to be hunted down and treated badly when they’re caught. Or has that movie already been made? It sounds familiar.)
ANYWAY!!! This was fun but I really have to get on with my day now. I’m curious though. How many of you are intrigued by the idea of immortality (as versus just-not-dying, which is a completely different issue.) Here’s a quick poll to get an idea of where people stand on the subject and, if you need more room for nuance, by all means feel free to use the comment section.
My first fantasy novel is a story about a man who struggles with immortality, actually. I don’t think it’s everything it’s cracked up to be, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want a shot at it. There’s so much to see and so much to learn, but once you’ve done it all…it must be very lonely.
When I worked in the hospice field I once had a patient who was increasingly fearful that she might be immortal. She’d survived so many things that should have killed her we were all starting to wonder. It was a peculiar fear to try and work around and illuminated the potential downside of the whole idea of immortality (i.e. it would truly suck if the quality of life wasn’t exceptionally high.)
Did you ever publish that first fantasy novel?
Yeah, quality of life is pretty important. I don’t think I’d want to be an immortal senior citizen.
I just published the book recently, in fact. It’s available here if you want to check it out.
I would love to live forever, but only if time did not exist, and everyone lived in perfect harmony and all evil was destroyed. I am a Christian, so I believe this will happen anyway, for everyone 😀 But you know, nobody knows! 🙂
The world would definitely have to be in a lot better shape than it is now, I agree!
As far as what happens after…I think maybe that one really is the final frontier. 🙂
Being as pragmatic as I am, I would not want to be immortal as of this moment. If there is immortality, eventually, I think we will come to it gradually. At that time, the intergalactic travel or even teleportation may also be possible. In this case, overpopulation will become a non issue.
Dia, have you considered writhing science fiction? I think you would do well.
I agree, Dia, you have a knack for nuance and an engaging style.
I chose the third option above. Not that I think immortality would be the way to go, I just wish the human race lived longer (in a healthier state) so that we would be better stewards of the planet. Two hundred years might do the job, but only if at least 175 of those were normally part of the healthy/happy years.
Do any of you remember the name (I thought it was something like “The Golden Chariot,” but couldn’t find it through a quick Google search) of the story of a car that was made so well that nothing on it ever broke down. My great-uncle told it to me long ago. The moral/catch to the story is that one day after many years of not needing repairs it simply turned to dust.
Yeah, sometimes I’ve thought about all the additional things I could accomplish, experience, and learn with another hundred years…who I’d become with that much more perspective. I imagine the world would look very different after that much time. Maybe I’d feel more at peace with everything, being able to fit it all in a longer view.
I’m very curious about that story you mention…I spent about fifteen minutes Googling around, trying to find search terms that might locate it, but came up with nada. If you DO manage to find it, would you send me a link?
I definitely will, Dia. I had become used to Google’s infallibility. If I could only remember more…
Following some of the science news lately, I suspect important people are thinking seriously about other planets that might support human life. I (of course, because this is the way my mind works) start thinking about the ethics of going out and taking over yet another planet. But then that theme has inspired a few movies…(Avatar and Total Recall spring instantly to mind but I know there are more.) What a time we’re living in eh? Whew!
I am pretty sure that in every generation many people wondered: What a time we’re living in?
Have you read (not watched) The Hunger Games?
My son turned me onto the book over Christmas and I devoured it. Later I found out that the author has a written a number of books exploring the effect of war on children. It explained why it had such depth to me. I haven’t seen the movie yet but my daughter told me it was deeply moving (she’d already read the book.)
Some key aspects of the book are very political, or at least that’s what I could see in it. But I am not going to discuss it here.