Death & Taxes

It’s alive!  Alive!” -= Dr. Frankenstein =-

Do not take life too seriously.  You will never get out of it alive.” -= Elbert Hubbard =-

Last night I popped in, what I believe at least, is one of the best movies I have ever seen; Inception.  For those who may have yet to see this movie I highly recommend it, and I recommend seeing it twice.  Once to sit back and enjoy the visuals because it has some of the most amazing scenes in a movie, hands down.  The second time is so you can pick up on all of the story elements that you may have missed while paying attention to the visuals the first time.  There are so many layers to this movie, and it is so well done, that it is a daunting task to absorb all of it in one sitting.
And, as a side note, Leonardo DiCaprio has finally earned his Academy Award – the Academy just hasn’t caught onto the fact yet.  Giving him one for Titanic would have been stupid, I agree.  And perhaps this original snub is what has caused him to seek out the material he has been in since because he has only gotten better.  I actually don’t really believe I am saying that because originally I wanted to hate him.  But, he has continued to pick great roles and attached himself to great movies (Inception, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed), and I do believe he has earned that golden statue.  I choose to ignore Shutter Island as an experiment that went awry, not only on DiCaprio’s part but for Scorsese as well.

Anyway, back on point.  And, for those who may be new to my style of writing – Yes, that occurs frequently.

Inception revolves around dreams and how real they can feel while  you are in them.  And, quite masterfully I might add, it plays around the much deeper question on our perception of reality as a whole.  What is real?  What is not?  How do we differentiate between the two and is that, in and of itself, an individuals creation?

There have been several movies, stories, books, and even video games where the entire story arch is designed around our perception of reality, whether or not that is subjective, and if we as a species will ever overcome death itself by altering our perception of reality.  While those are all great subjects in which I will likely delve into deeper at a later time, the last one is where my mind settled.  Can we overcome the finality of death?  Would we want to?  What are the consequences of doing so, and, should we succeed in this, do we lose our humanity along the way?

Some of these ideas have revolved around the notion that “who” we are is summed up in the synapses firing in our brains and, should our brain stop firing, then we cease to exist; the lights go out, game over, thanks for playing.  But, if we could design a way to keep brain activity from ceasing and transfer that activity into another medium – i.e. one that is not going to slowly stop working over time – then we will have essentially rendered death as obsolete.  Of course, given the way of the world, this would not be an option available to everyone but only those who could pay an exorbitant  amount of money to do so.  Which, is a scary thought on its own.  I mean, can you imagine Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian being able to buy their way into immortality?  If that doesn’t bring forth the end of the world as we know it, I don’t know what will.

Although I have  yet to see it, the movie Transcendence focuses on this very idea.  What if who you are, with all of your complexities, feelings, memories, and emotional connections could be “downloaded” and transferred into something, or someone, else?  The question of life after death has been pondered since the beginning of time, but I believe the basis of this particular idea comes from Einstein himself and his thoughts on the afterlife.  He believed there was life after death for one very simple reason – energy cannot die.  It is absorbed, it is diverted, and it is fired off in different directions – but it doesn’t die.  Though our bodies may eventually cease to move and thus begin decaying over time, our energy lives on.  But, what if we could prevent our bodies from dying or, at the very least, prolong it for however long we wish?  What if we could bring people back from death?  In the not too distant future, that may no longer be a question – but a reality.

The BBC recently published a story titled The Ultimate Comeback: Bringing the dead back to life.  In it, scientists Peter Rhee and Samuel Tisherman are on the brink of overcoming human finality, having already succeeded in bringing animals back from the dead with their work.  In fact, they have been so successful that human trials have been authorized and are perhaps already being conducted in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  There are inherent limitations to who can be brought back determined by the manner in which a person has died of course, but the process involves a severe drop in body temperature and replacing a persons blood with cold salt water.  The story is fascinating and exciting to read through, but also raises several questions.  Does this process really bring back “who” that person is, or simply a shell of what that person used to be?  We, as humans, are designed to die – eventually and sometimes suddenly – but what if that is no longer a factor?  And, laugh all you want, but what if we are bringing forth a very real “zombie apocalypse”.  People who are moving and seemingly alive, but who are really doing nothing more than acting on the instincts of the body without the presence of the mind?  The story itself talks about possibly using hydrogen sulphide in the process, which is what gives rotten eggs their smell, something I found both humorous and odd.  Especially when “zombies” are not exactly the most hygienic of ideas to come from pop culture and are generally thought of as having the smell of decay and death around them.

Jurassic Park was a huge movie when I was growing up and I remember sitting in awe at the special effects.  Dinosaurs!  Walking, running, hunting, eating, and interacting with humanity.  The scene where the T-Rex is standing in the museum and lets out a huge triumphant roar still gets me every time I see it.  Sure, it was science fiction, but it was an amazing ride!  Within the movie is a great quote, and one that I believe many scientists should print out and put above their desks so it is the first thing they see every morning before they begin their day.

“…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Science has brought about may great, wonderful, and exciting changes to our way of life.  Of course, it has also provided us with new and exciting ways to kill each other in more and more grandiose ways.  There have been many happy accidents; such as the phonograph and the invention of Viagra!  Because making a 65-year old man harder than Korean Algebra is an amazing discovery!  There have also been scientific breakthroughs which are decidedly bad for our collective health and only serve to push us closer to extinction.  While this may sound as if I am not a fan of science, the exact opposite is true and I believe we owe it to ourselves to push it to its very limits.  But, with that, I also believe that we need to be careful in what areas of science we decide to push against and think things through before we take the next step.  We may find ourselves breaking down barriers that were never designed to be breached, and stumble upon things we have absolutely no idea how to deal with.

I am not suggesting that that the scientists above are not thinking things through, but I do find myself questioning the benefit of rendering death as an obsolete concept, or prolonging it to the point where it is no longer an active concern in the back of our minds.  As it is, most people are generally aloof to the concept of their mortality until it is bluntly in their face and they have no other choice but to deal with it.  This leads to questionable thinking and equally questionable actions because they never stop to consider that the chosen path may lead to their final act on Earth.  Imagine this becoming exponentially more prevalent in society if we take the consequence of death out of the equation!  Or, imagine our apathy towards progress because there is no deadline to meet.  Humankind is selfish by nature and acts for their own interests, so how much more so would we act on that selfishness if the end is never in sight?

Additionally, humanity and death have always been connected.  We have thought about it since time began.  Art has been inspired by it.  Literature, art, books, plays, philosophy and the concept of leaving something behind when your time is up has been a driving force throughout our collective history.  The question on the great unknown has inspired us to become greater than we are because, at least then, we may be gone but we may never be forgotten because of our actions while we were still alive.  Our immortality is realized in what we leave behind for those who come after, and the greatest of us are often times taken too soon.

But, what if the greatest of us were never gone and instead lived long enough to become irrelevant?  Would their inspiration become nothing more than the ramblings of a person who has outlived their usefulness?  By prolonging our lives, or rendering death as an obscure concept rather than a definite by-product of living, would we essentially be killing our future?  Who needs heroes when there is no reason to fight?

Plus, without death there is only taxes as a definite to life.  That alone should be reason enough to seek a final release.

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