If a Martian (who, we’ll imagine, never dies except by accident) came to Earth and saw this peculiar race of creatures—these humans who live about seventy or eighty years, knowing that death is going to come—it would look to him like a terrible problem of psychology to live under those circumstances, knowing that life is only temporary. Well, we humans somehow figure out how to live despite this problem: we laugh, we joke, we live.
The only difference for me and Arlene was, instead of fifty years, it was five years. It was only a quantitative difference—the psychological problem was just the same. The only way it would have become any different is if we had said to ourselves, “But those other people have it better, because they might live fifty years.” But that’s crazy. Why make yourself miserable saying things like, “Why do we have such bad luck. What has God done to us? What have we done to deserve this?”—all of which, if you understand reality and take it completely into your heart, are irrelevant and unsolvable. They are just things that nobody can know. Your situation is just an accident of life.
Richard Feynman, What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character, New York, 1988, pp. 33-34
With respect to immortality, nothing shows me how strong and almost instinctive a belief is, as the consideration of the view now held by most physicists, namely that the sun with all the planets will in time grow too cold for life, unless indeed some great body dashes into the sun and thus gives it fresh life.–Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress. To those who fully admit the immortality of the human soul, the destruction of our world will not appear so dreadful.
Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, London, 1958, p. 92
The opinion that a belief in immortality is logically indefensible gains strength, paradoxical as it may seem, from the very fact that most of the western world desire that the belief may be true.
John McTaggart, ‘Some Considerations Relating to Human Immortality’, International Journal of Ethics, vol. 13, no. 2 (January, 1903), p. 170
Un poco más tarde, cuando el trago de café que quedaba en el fondo de la taza estaba ya frío, Leto alzó la vista de las hojas mecanografiadas, y apoyando la nuca en el respaldo del sillón y contemplando el cielorraso, se puso a pensar en el hombre que tenía que matar. Esa atención al objeto que era el blanco de todos sus actos desde hacía varios meses duró poco, porque sus asociaciones lo fueron llevando, lentamente, a pensar en la muerte en general. El primer pensamiento fue que, por más que acribillara a balazos a ese hombre, como pensaba hacerlo, nunca lograría sacarlo por completo del mundo. El hombre merecía la muerte: era un dirigente sindical que había traicionado a su clase y al que el grupo al que Leto pertenecía hacía responsable de varios asesinatos. Pero, pensaba Leto como si hubiese ido sacando sus ideas del vacío grisáceo que se extendía entre la lámpara y el cielorraso, matarlo era sacarlo de la acción inmediata, no de la realidad.
Juan José Saer, ‘Amigos’ in La mayor, Buenos Aires, 1976
Immortality would have been meaningless, trapped in a ‘machine’ with a finite number of possible states; in a finite time he would have exhausted the list of every possible thing he could be. Only the promise of eternal growth made sense of eternal life.
Greg Egan, Permutation City, London, 1994, p. 286
Immediately before taking up woodwork, he’d passionately devoured all the higher mathematics texts in the central library, run all the tutorial software, and then personally contributed several important new results to group theory—untroubled by the fact that none of the Elsyan mathematicians would ever be aware of his work. Before that, he’d written over three hundred comic operas, with librettos in Italian, French and English—and staged most of them, with puppet performers and audience. Before that, he’d patiently studied the structure and biochemistry of the human brain for sixty-seven years; towards the end he had fully grasped, to his own satisfaction, the nature of the process of consciousness. Every one of these pursuits had been utterly engrossing, and satisfying, at the time.
Greg Egan, Permutation City, London, 1994, p. 277
[T]he things we have created will eventually vanish once human beings are no longer around to preserve them. However, achievements are events, not things, and events that have occurred cannot be undone or reversed. Therefore, it will continue to be true that our achievements occurred even if humanity ends. One disadvantage of having an unalterable past is that we cannot undo a wrongdoing that occurred. However, an unalterable past is also an advantage in that our achievements can never be undone, which may give some consolation to those who desire quasi-immortality.
Brooke Alan Trisel, ‘Human Extinction and the Value of Our Efforts’, The Philosophical Forum, vol. 35, no. 3 (Fall, 2004), p. 390
Some people believe in an afterlife. I do not; what I say will be based on the assumption that death is nothing, and final. I believe there is little to be said for it: it is a great curse, and if we truly face it nothing can make it palatable except the knowledge that by dying we can prevent an even grater evil. Otherwise, given the simple choice between living for another week and dying in five minutes I would always choose to live for another week; and by a version of mathematical induction I conclude that I would be glad to live forever.
Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere, Oxford, 1986, p. 224