Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Immortality In A Dying World

I recently had someone point out to me what they perceive as a flaw in my equation of meaning with the eternal. They point to our intuition that living forever in this world would NOT be a meaningful life, but an empty life. They used the film OUT OF TIME as their point of reference. In that film, people live according to a "clock" that measures out their lives. That time is actually currency in this world. Some leave near-immortal lives, while others have very limited life spans. There is this one scene where this man is so sick of his immortal life, he gives his time, and thus the currency he has accumulated to another man who is 'poor' and thus doomed to a short life. So, I recognize the insight in this, and yet I maintain immortality to be something good, indeed they key to understanding our intuitions about meaning and value.

The problem with this objection is that it imagines immortality as something experienced in this world. And any immortality experienced in this world is an immortality steeped in death. The problem with being some fixed point of time in this world, is that you'd be surrounded by death all the time. Even if everything in the world was immortal, we'd be surrounded by death. That is because the real problem of death, the real oppression death brings, is the death of the present moment. Every moment in this world is passing away, and so the experience of the moment is threatened by nothingness.

It is not so much my own persistence that my soul cries out for. It is the persistence of this experience, here and now, right now, this present, this passing 'something', that is what I need. Even the problem of boredom comes because the joy, the wonder, the beauty of right now passes into something else. When I feel joy, or when I play, or engage in fantasy, or experience beauty, or laugh, there is in that experience, in that simple nodule or droplet of experience (what A N Whitehead calls 'the epochal occasion')...an invitation. A call to believe in that experience as something real and something meaningful, as something that lasts. This isn't just the persistence of the various realities that come together to create the experience, but of the experience itself. It isn't like the beauty of the tree invites me to believe in the eternity of the tree, which is impossible for any rational person, but the beauty invites me to believe in the eternity of the moment of experience, with all its depth, and that 'quality' that Whitehead said transcends the facts of the world.

It isn't even like the moment calls me into belief in its temporal persistence, but in its timelessness, in its true freedom from the 'passing away' which seems to be a part of the endless dying of the world. The question is whether I can believe in that. Can I believe the invitation of the moment to believe in the moments infinitude? Only that could possibly be meaningful. Only the idea that that moment AS that moment, that experience AS that experience, is eternal and stands as it is beyond the passing of time, only that makes sense of meaning, only that makes sense of the deepest need of the human heart.

Immortality in a world of dying moments would indeed be a hell from which one can only seek escape.

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