Why is life on Earth so precarious, with old age and death necessary?
As the truths of metaphysics and overcoming of aging is on the human threshold, it looks like that is what humans were designed to do — True?
Answer by Gershon Velvel
Let me make a confession, Dennis. I want to live forever. I really do. And I also want to know the ultimate nature of reality. I mean, really know. And do you know what? In my mind, somehow the two are inextricably linked. If I knew the ultimate nature of reality, I could not die. Death would be impossible. And if I found a way to escape death, now and forever more, I would surely know the ultimate nature of reality.
Actually, that’s not a new idea. That’s what Jesus told his followers. ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life,’ he famously says to Thomas (John 14:6). For many millions of people, the Christian (not only Christian) ‘family story’ IS the ultimate reality, and sincere belief is all you need — to live forever.
And if you are a philosopher, on the track of truth — or so you hope and believe — does that necessarily mean you have to be a sceptic, accept limitation and finitude, Heideggerian ‘being towards death’ and the ultimate nihilation of everyone and everything you have ever cared for?
If that thought makes you depressed, then maybe Plato is more your man. Actually, the Pythagorean idea of reincarnation — the Pythagoreans were one of Plato’s major influences — is not a million miles away from what the contemporary philosopher Daniel Dennett preaches. The self is just a program (a Pythagorean ‘number’ — it could be a Gödel number, get it?). Logic and set theory are eternal, true in all possible worlds. The Dennis-program is eternal. All you need is suitable equipment to ‘upload’ it to and off you go. Again. And again, for ever.
All material structures are finite by their very nature. Nothing can escape the ultimate death of this material universe. But sets and numbers don’t need a ‘universe’, because they form a permanent universe of their own. Your fragile human body will certainly die, but the possibility that YOU will come back is logical, not physical. The ultimate nature of reality is just as Plato said: logical and rational. The eternal Forms. And you — a ‘soul’ — are another entity of a similar kind (‘akin’ to the Forms, as Plato claims in the Phaedo), logically indestructible.
I’m not going to attempt to fill the serious logical gaps in this story, because although you ask whether your idea is ‘true’, I don’t think truth is really the issue. (You weren’t seriously thinking that somehow technology will solve the problem of human finitude, were you?!) This is about what you and I want, deep down. Trying to understand what that is about.
As a matter of empirical fact, or, rather, speculation, it is conceivable that human beings and all life on Earth were designed — say, by a superior multi-dimensional alien race. Why not? Maybe the multi-dimensional aliens didn’t need to ‘evolve’. Make up any story you like. But, obviously, it’s not going to solve any problem if the aliens are, essentially, in the same predicament as we are, dependent on a long chain of contingencies that could alter at any time, leading to their total extinction.
That’s not what we want. That’s just another ‘story’. So all all that’s left is metaphysics. See if you can improve on Plato. So long as you are on the way to a solution, however long that way may be, there is always hope. — Better put that thinking cap on!