Monday, 22 February 2016

The New Immortality

My partner and I attended the opening of a thought-provoking art exhibition at Brighton's Phoenix last Friday. A collaboration of contemporary artists including our friend Guyan Porter had come together to produce - The New Immortality - a collection of musings on the human desire (and the scientific race) to create immortality.

Exploring the art works, I remembered my late father. An ardent atheist, he traded the promise of eternal spiritual life for a desire 'to live to at least 100'. Sadly, circumstances conspired to fell him a few months shy of his 80th birthday. Though he is far from the only example of atheism and veganism going hand-in-hand.

I also vaguely remembered the existence (if not the name) of a 1970s society which didn't believe in death, and presumably offered a discount if you joined it and its sister 'Flat Earth Society' at the same time. Apparently each time one of its members dropped off the perch it was explained away that he/she had simply not believed strongly enough.

It seemed to me that anyone who seeks eternal life on the earthly plane through scientific advance is also likely to be an atheist and seeking to put off what they perceive as oblivion for as long as possible. Whereas anyone with faith knows that it is only the body which dies. The spirit or soul cannot die for it already is immortal.

One piece of work expressed the alarm that the scientific art of immortality would be cornered by a wealthy elite who would promptly exert their life and death powers over the rest of the world, deciding who could live and die. To take this line of thought a step further; does really anyone want an immortal Simon Cowell, Rupert Murdoch and Piers Morgan or, god forbid, Donald Trump?

On a human level, would the art of immortality also deliver accompanying eternal youth or would we still age to look 110, 120, 130 accordingly? We are all only too aware of what a shallow looksist, ageist world we inhabit. How would we cope with an ageing body that just went on and on ageing until we could scarcely remember that we had ever been young? Conversely, keeling over at the age of 150 whilst still looking and feeling 25 would also be weird.

Then we have the rising social acceptability of 'assisted suicide' when life gets too much, sitting incredibly uncomfortably with all the anti-suicide campaigns and charities.

It's a somewhat mixed message. Life is precious, but it is also increasingly throwaway, at both ends of life's spectrum. No longer a 'gift' but something that can be destroyed if and when expedient or inconvenient, no guilt, no blame, no sin. So why on earth would we seek to extend life indefinitely? Would that really be fun or desirable? (being as we are continually being told that the world is overpopulated anyway). What constitutes progress in matters of life and death?

Interestingly religion played little part in the exhibition, save for a mock and rather good 'hymn' In Praise of Renewal sang by Brighton Festival Chorus choir and a neon installation proclaiming 'God is in the mind'.  Reincarnation didn't get a look in, which would be the obvious obviation to the need for immortality.

Strangely, I have more than once come across the following sentence in books I have read lately: 'We are spiritual beings having a human experience.' What an intriguing thought, and one which potentially has the ability to turn a lot of earthly assumptions on their head if one day we all find it contains even a modicum of truth as we are greeted at the pearly gates.

I like to think that the Big G (if he exists) takes a somewhat Oscar Wilde approach to humankind  'There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.'

The Big G's nemesis Professor Richard Dawkins is apparently hopping mad that Christians have been praying for him after his recent stroke. Maybe he will be the first guinea pig for an immortal solution to his mortality.

Racks and racks of cryogenically frozen millionaire bodies and heads already await reanimation around the world, But since they have already died, then according to atheist belief, surely they no longer exist? Moreover, even if the science bit was made to work, how (on earth) would the re-animators capture the lost personalities, let alone ensure the right personalities re-inhabited the correct bodies? Though perhaps there is no need to worry. They have already handed their money over. Who's going to check that anyone bothers to try re-animating them at all? Particularly after a few years have passed and they become yesterday's men/news!

I urge anyone likely to be in Brighton between now and 20th March 2016 to go and see this exhibition. Then go home and download Pandora and the Flying Dutchman to reconsider immortality.