A-mortality is the indefinite extension of human life, a holy grail some believe is not far away. I don’t think I’ll be around to see it.
Life is made up of science and story.
Science is about the way things are, including those things we’re able to manipulate.
Story is about the tales we tell ourselves in order to make sense of the past, present and future science we find ourselves in.
Theoretical scientist and fabulist Alan Lightman brings the two together in his novel about creation Mr g. Nephew, the Creator in Lightman’s fable, encounters the sinister Belhor, visitor one of the planets in one of the universes. Belhor speaks first, then Nephew:
‘”All little lives, such little lives. […] I find it amusing to see how they live – their cities, their habitats and rooms, their squalid little alleyways filled with garbage. Did you notice the dirty pools of water in the alley in front of the young woman’s house?”
“Yes,” I said. A thin film of pollen floated down and covered their surfaces. The puddle of water split the sunlight and glimmered in colours. Like diamonds sprinkled about.’*
Here is story. Like diamonds sprinkled about. This is like that.
Lightman’s fable continues with Nephew reflecting:
‘One thing I have learned: the mind is its own place. Regardless of natural conditions and circumstances, even of biological imperative, the mind can control its reality. The mind can make hot out of cold and cold out of hot, beauty from ugliness and ugliness from beauty. The mind makes it own rules.’*
Nephew goes on to examine a world in which the males demonstrate and maintain their dominance over the females by disabling their hands by severing critical nerves. The females are as intelligent as the males but accept this as the way things are. Lightman is, of course, saying this is only a story they tell ourselves and they could tell a better story.
Someone was telling me yesterday, about a business event they’d attended recently with contributions from business person and a folk singer. The business guy was encouraging the audience to get into the latest technology, no questions. The folk singer told a story of a woman whose life had been dismantled by technology:
The following words, from poet Wallace Stevens, call us to stop and reflect on what we think is reality – what he calls “the pressure of reality” – but is only a story we are telling ourselves when our imaginations can do better:
“By the pressure of reality, I mean the pressure of external event or events on the consciousness to the exclusion of any power of contemplation.”**
This is a point creative writing instructor Robert McKee makes in his excellent book Story: we appreciate and enjoy stories so much because they offer an experience but also an opportunity to reflect on that experience. In life we only have the time to experience.
In his book Payoff, Dan Ariely tells the stories of two workplaces.
One involves a company that notices its employee cubicle’s were being decorated with all kinds of personal details so decided they had too much space and reduced the cubicles by 20% to get more “boxes” in. The other tells the story of Zappos, a company that encourages its employees to be “weird” when it comes to decorating their workspaces.
With alternative realities or stories available right now there’s already too much life for some – I’m not too worried about missing out on a-mortality; my question to self is, How will I live my life fully today?
(*From Alan Lightman’s Mr g.)
(**Wallace Stevens, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Wallace Stevens on Reality, Creativity, and Our Greatest Self-Protection from the Pressure of the News.)