Funerals are for the Living, True, But More for the Ape Inside

I had an artistic vision, a long time back, shortly after I had my initial realization with regard to engineered longevity, of the path to radical life extension as a sort of vertical ascension. I recall describing the vision of flight through darkness years ago, to my partner at the time - the rest of that conversation lost, along with much else, to failing memory. A room is packed with thousands of people, waiting. The walls and ceiling then unfold to reveal a void beyond, and the assembled masses begin to ascend towards some distant goal - arms spread and looking up in anticipation, as they fly upward, empowered by their own sheer force of will. The energies of their passage glow blue in the darkness, a thousand, thousand trails of light. But with each moment, some falter, and fall away into the abyss, their light-trails vanishing into the surrounding darkness - and the crowd thins and thins the further they ascend.

I am not an artist, needless to say, and so that vision will never make it much beyond the confines of my head. But it is an ugly reality of the human condition that only a fraction of us will have the opportunity to live through into the age of rejuvenation biotechnology - even under the most optimistic timelines, billions will die. The alternatives are far worse, of course, but this is far from the best of worlds. Intellectually we can grasp this scale of death and destruction, but the ape within filters it out. He only cares about the people we associate with - and there aren't all that many of them, even allowing for the artificial and strange relationships of celebrity or much-loved fiction. The rest of the world? Just numbers.

That memory of people in flight through darkness is with me again because I learned today that my former partner died a few weeks ago, unexpectedly. As though the expectedness or the delay in learning of it should change anything of the meaning, but the ape within feels - strongly - that the details of tragedy are important. If we felt even a minuscule fraction of what we do under such circumstances for the vast crowds who fall from the flight each and every day, aged to death ... well, we'd be better than human, and aging would be much further along the path to a solution.

More than a hundred people have died since I started to write this post, most of them from aging or the complications of aging. All just as much individuals as my former partner, just as much people with attachments, potential, things to do, desires and regrets. So very many regrets. But I feel only intellectual loss for that hundred, and not much of it at that - this is what it is to be built on top of a foundation of ape prehistory, to be able to put the terrible fates of countless others easily from our minds, but to be deeply troubled by the loss of one.

To make the best of being human, we have to do the important work, even though it will not reward us, even though the ape inside doesn't really give a damn. Being human is about not letting the ape drive, even though it's always far easier just to let him take the wheel. So no obituary and no talking to the dead to say things that perhaps should have been said one day - and now can't be. Hard as it may be. The only person who would be listening here is the ape inside, and talking to him is a pointless exercise.

The world, meanwhile, is lived in by the living - who are falling from the flight in great numbers, day after day, while too little is being done about it. When whatever happens to me eventually happens to me, I would hope that someone takes a few minutes to write exactly the same thing, and mean it.

Comments

Wow, Reason, that was beautiful. But it's the human in you, not the ape, that recognizes the tragedy of the loss of your ex, just as the ape within allows you to put the hundreds from your mind. Agreed, no sense talking to the ape, it doesn't care. But we do, because your humanity is awesome. Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Dave at June 4th, 2011 8:33 PM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.