Sunday, June 13, 2010

Aging ungracefully

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
—Dylan Thomas

Everybody wants to go to heaven.
Everybody wants to go to heaven.
Everybody wants to go to heaven,
But nobody wants to die.
—The Limeliters

There are two general theories on aging - of why humans get old and die. First is the theory of cumulative damage, and second is the theory of genetic programming; that is, we have an expiration date.

Both of these theories probably presuppose Creationism, or at least presupposes a god (or at least a cosmic puppeteer) who constantly circumvents the "laws" of Evolution: If Darwin were right then surely over millions of years our bodies would have evolved AT LEAST to the point where we had become immune to cellular damage and had evolved, through the simple genetic improvement of "survival of the fittest," RNA capable of replicating itself legibly more than 30-odd times. That is being said tongue-in-cheek. Mostly.

Anyway, all living things would have corrected the genetic defect of dying long ago if Evolution were doing it's job. Certainly over millions of years, right? All it would take is a better system of cell division fer crissake. Not dying would have been job one in "Natural Selection." Yet here we are dead-ending again and again and again with no improvement. Argh.

How did I get so far down this side road. ::backs up::

It's amazing (to me) how much information is out there on the internet about people's theories about (and desire for, I guess) immortality. I read a book a long time ago called "The Outer Space Connection" in which the author expounded on theories to extend life greatly in humans, if not exactly matching the true definition of immortality. That's religion's big attraction too, of course. Wow - that's a whole 'nother book, though.

I have my own opinion about how to make oneself immortal, if one is so inclined, and I don't mean living on through your children. Most of my theories are (as my loyal readers know) pretty hare-brained though, so I won't burden you with it.

How many stories or legends can you think of that you have read about, where the theme is immortality? Not counting science fiction. Ok, counting science fiction. Like the fountain of youth. Or maybe Greek mythology. Wasn't there a Greek goddess of immortality? I guess not, since they were all immoral anyway. Immortal, I mean. Did anyone reading this post name their kid Ponce? Just in case?

Dear Max:
What the heck was the point of this post?

Dear Mr. Thomas:
I'm not sure anymore. I started out with a mission but I forgot. Brain cells are dying.

Well, Max, don't feel bad. We all muse about our mortality as we drown our disappointments in strong drink.

Speak for yourself, Dyl. What is it with Irish poets that seem to only be able to write in pubs?

I was speaking of GOOD writers, Max.

Oh yeah? Well, take this one with you Mr. Death Rager. ::Max begins to sing to the tune of London Bridge is falling down:: "Dylan Thomas has come and gone, come and gone, come and gone. Dylan Thomas has come and gone - his blood turned to words."

Thank you Mason Williams, wherever you are.


  1. No evolution would be possible if the previous generation didn't die because the same genes would be carried forward over and over again. Immortality would have to be the last factor, when everything else was perfect. And I suppose if everything else were perfect, immortality would have been achieved.

    The Picture of Dorian Gray does have an immortality theme. I suppose by its very nature anything to do with immortality could be considered science fiction, but a good story should transcend that sort of classification.

    Uisce beatha, the water of life, the key to immortality. Have you partaken?

  2. I hope to live on through my books, and of course my kids.

    life would be bleak if this was it. life has to continue on after death.

    I guess we will all find out one day, hopefully a long time from now.

  3. Dylan Thomas was as Irish as Saint Patrick.
    i.e. Not Irish at all. Cymru am byth!

  4. I have no interest in living forever.

    I'm with A, though. If we were immortal, there'd be no incentive to grow, to move on, to change. As it is, we're too caught up in what is instead of what will be.

    "Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon."
    --Susan Ertz

    When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
    With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me.
    And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
    And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.

    @soubriquet, Celts, you couldn't put a cigarette paper between them. Or a whisk(e)y bottle.

  6. @A. - No evolution would be possible if we didn't die? Our offspring would have to be the same as us with no improvement? I don't get you. If our salamander (or whatever) ancestors were still alive, we would still be salamanders today? I was given to understand that Evolution was magic.

    Uisce. Whiskey? I've not partaken enough, probably. :)

    Vampires are immortal until you kill them. Somehow that seems contradictory.

  7. And you know very well that my (personal) definition of immortality is not finding a way to preserve one's body-shell, but rather in finding a way to preserve and transfer memory.

  8. @Jeff King - I feel the same way. Not about me living through your books :) but about believing life continues eternally, in some form or another.

  9. I actually think it's up to us individually to preserve our memories in some way, even a duty to some extent. I know I regret not having done enough to preserve my father's memories, but I've done what I can with his postcards and photos. Partly for myself but mainly for future generations who are only just now becoming interested in what went before. They need documentation or some background information though, to make them more than just pictures, to make them his memories and enthusiasms.

    I don't know that that constitutes immortality, though I suppose it does in a manner of speaking.

  10. @Soubriquet - I never said Thomas wasn't Welsh. I only asked him rhetorically if all Irish poets were drunks. I didn't print his answer, but he said, "Pawb Gwyddeleg awenyddion ydy drunks." At least I think that's what he said. Dead poets are even harder to understand than living poets.

  11. @Stephanie Barr - What a crock. One has the ability to enjoy things and to learn new things indefinitely. Just because many people choose not to do that doesn't mean immortality would be wasted on those who do.

    Why do you think there would be no incentive to continue to live fully just because your life were much longer?

    Thank you for not wanting to live forever.

    (I'm kidding!)

  12. @Sheila - I like that poem, if it is a poem. But don't be sticking cigarette papers between Celts. It could get dangerous. :)

  13. @Sheila - I wasn't talking about preserving memories by leaving diaries, though that is something I wish more people would do, having been frustrated by my ancestors' lack of records in my own genealogy research.

    I meant the physical and actual preservation of human memory; the ability to record, store, and eventually transfer, memory cells. The rest of the body is immaterial (so to speak.)

  14. You'd have to find some way of "distilling" the memories. You're not telling me you'd like *all* your memories to live on, I imagine.

    When you say transfer, do you mean between people? I'm not sure about that either. To have the memories to read, so to speak, is one thing but to have them somehow inside your own being would possibly feel like being taken over by someone else.

  15. @Sheila -


    Yes, All memories. For your own consumption, not others. Only for your clone or some tabula rasa brain. Obviously you wouldn't be immortal if other people simply could have your memories and not you yourself; you might as well just leave diaries if your life force didn't continue in another body.

    Reminds me of that old Arnold Swartzneggar movie about traveling to Mars and being able to share the memories of others on a brain machine for recreation. Remember that? For a price you were allowed to actually "experience" the lives of others?

    And you thought I couldn't write science fiction!

  16. Yeah, evolution theory tends to agree with "A." Evolution uses, and improve upon by mixing with other strains, humans to carry DNA; they're the shells and facilitators.

    But that gives "what's the meaning of life" a unhappy little answer! Personally I just intend to enjoy the ride, not worry about what happens when I get off it.



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