Archive for January, 2009


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A thought experiment

I don’t really have heroes, or idols that I worship.  For some reason, I feel that putting someone in a glass box then setting them on a high shelf has zero appeal to me.  I do, however, vastly admire someone based on their work.  And this work can be very different from my own.  For instance, I greatly admire Rush Limbaugh.  I also disagree with him about 80% of the time.  But, you have to admire a man who is able to do his craft and stay relevant amid massive competition and pressure to stop.  Despite what he says, he operates in a world where he competes to live, and he succeeds.


That being said, one person I greatly admire is Dr. Norman Borlaug.  If you weren’t aware, Dr. Borlaug is credited with feeding about a billion people.  With a B.  On a sheet of paper write down the names of 6 people you know.  They can be family, friends, celebrities, yourself, whatever.  One of them is alive because of him (probably not, but it drives home the point).  He developed hardier and healthier wheat and corn strains that could exist in areas that couldn’t be farmed prior, driving down prices and allowing more people to afford the food they need to live.


Sure, it sounds kinda weird and geeky, but think of the fact that he allowed people to eat.  That’s it.  It’s so simple and innocent, the idea that we can put food in our mouths to sustain our lives; but to many it’s a real fight.  And sure, it’s a fight that’s probably not going to be over anytime soon, but it’s people like Dr. Borlaug that are able to show that we can make real progress towards that goal.  That we can really achieve things that many find impossible.


And unfortunately, he’s going to die.


Probably not tomorrow, or thursday, or even next week.  Hopefully not for a long time.  But he will eventually.  Assuming an accident doesn’t kill him, his body will eventually just give out.  Thinking of that, of someone with such a magnificent gift towards helping humanity, having to expire through no fault of their own…. it just makes me….. sad, really.


Sure, you can say, ‘well, it’s just natural, it’s the order of things’.  Which I feel to be an empty argument.  Nature, in many creative and devious ways, wants you dead.  If you want to anthropomorphize nature, it’s not a beautiful, loving mother and provider of things.  Nature is a maniacal killer and destroyer of all things great in this world.  Nature wants to kill puppies at birth and burn iguanas with volcanoes.  Nature.  Wants.  Us.  Dead.


And we’ve been fighting the battle against that since our species rose up and grabbed a stick to use as a tool.  And to top it off, we’ve even helped other species on this planet to live longer, better, healthier lives as well.  Now, I’m not discounting the good parts of nature; sex, sunlight, water, sex – but you have to remember that what we define as ‘natural’ isn’t the case.  We’ve changed it, pushed back the boundaries of nature, in order to allow us to live better lives.


I’m 25, about to turn 26.  Without modern medicine, I’d probably already be dead from the chicken pox I had when I was a kid.  Without modern nutrition, I’d probably be considered ‘past my prime’.  Without modern orthodontics, my teeth would be misaligned to the point I may not be able to eat as efficiently.  And without modern computers, I would have to relegate myself to looking at cave-drawing porn.  The point is, we have redefined nature and changed it to suit the ultimate goal for our species; to live.


So I have to ask you, and I honestly hope you take the time to do so, what if – and believe it, it’s not even that much of an if – you could live forever?


What if you aged to about 40ish, and then stopped.  You stayed that way forever, your body humming right along, keeping up with whatever you could do.  Barring an accident or some other calamity, you would perceivably never die of ‘old age’.  Your body would never wind down, never just up and quit on you.


I’ve been thinking about this alot lately.  Mostly out of my desire – I call it the ‘Doc Brown’ desire (from Back to the Future) – to see the future of the human race.  We have come so far as a species in just the past 100 years; it’d be amazing to see what happens in the next 100, 200, 500, 1000 years.  Do we travel the stars?  Do we cure the common cold?  What kind of politics will we have?  What will the economy be like?  Will we still have many nations?  Will we have found other intelligent life?  What will entertainment be like?


Now, imagine if you could.  Imagine if you would live forever.  First thing I see changing is that you will no longer be defined by your job.  Our entire labor force is dictated by the idea that you are trained to do one job, then do that job, only to then retire.  But if there was no need to retire, if you could work indefinitely, imagine the kind of life you’d lead!


You could go to school, head to college, and get a job as a lawyer.  After 20-30 years of that, you can tire with that profession and become a plumber.  After that, learn to become an astrophysicist.  Then a teacher.  Or a janitor.  What does it matter?  Your life isn’t defined by the fact that your going to die – it’s just defined by what you want to do while you do it.  There’s no reason to have the need to stick with a career until you retire; you could just move onto a different job – hell, just for the kicks of it if you want.


For instance, I always wondered about a career in politics; just local stuff, really.  But as an artist, I could never find a way to transition into that and then back out.  My entire school of learning for my chosen profession doesn’t even overlap with that in the slightest.  So I’m left to following it and discussing it on here.  But what if I wasn’t defined by my target of retirement.  If I didn’t have to worry about ‘running out of time’?  I could do this job until I earn enough of a savings to allow me to go back to college, learn political science and theory, then see what happens.  And if it doesn’t work out, I could transition back to this, or try something else.  I’m not defined by ‘the rest of my life’, I’m defined by ‘my life right now’.


Also imagine people like Dr. Borlaug, who are able to continue their research indefinitely.  They’re able to train their predecessors personally and build a coalition of minds around them that have the same drive and purpose as they do.  They could develop theories and actually be around to see the results.


Our lives wouldn’t be defined by ‘generations’.  Our entire society would have to deal with the results of our actions.  Global Warming, Economics, Politics; these things would all have very real impact on us, like they were going to happen next week.  The small stuff that seems to impede progress would just melt away.


So I can’t help but wonder at the future of humanity if the people who made the decisions were there to see all the results.  What about you?  How would you things differently?

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