“If I die, and come again…in another lifetime…in a new body…soul…spirit, then…that is not me.”
― Michael Bassey Johnson
“Men who have nothing to lose never give a thought for eternal life.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym
“If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration, but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.”
― Ludwig Wittgenstein
“Christianity set itself the goal of fulfilling man’s unattainable desires, but for that very reason ignored his attainable desires. By promising man eternal life, it deprived him of temporal life, by teaching him to trust in God’s help it took away his trust in his own powers; by giving him faith in a better life in heaven, it destroyed his faith in a better life on earth and his striving to attain such a life. Christianity gave man what his imagination desires, but for that very reason failed to give him what he really and truly desires.”
― Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion
The question “Is it possible to live forever?” may be taken literally or figuratively. Literally, it is something that interests both science and religion. Figuratively, it may be interpreted in a lot of ways and the focal point is on what the term “to live” connotes which generally depends on the speaker’s context.
In the literal sense, the scientific location of the issue is of course the physico-material realm where empirical investigation by way of experimentation or observation is supposed to be performed to find out if there is such possibility. On the basis of known human experience on planet Earth, there is not an iota of evidence which could lead us to theorize on the probability (i.e., having a strong sense of likelihood) of one living entity to live forever, though, it doesn’t dismiss the possibility (i.e., the minimal likelihood) of such condition.
However, the literal take of religion on this issue posits a dualistic conception of reality wherein the lower realm of physico-material existence is limited and terminable while the higher realm of non-physico-material, i.e., spiritual, existence is eternal, timeless, deathless. In fact, in the religious sense, living forever is not only a possibility but a guaranteed reality as life that ends on earth (the lower realm) is extended and continued in eternity (the higher realm). Even if we sidestep into the oriental varieties of religion, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, the doctrine of samsara or rebirth (reincarnation) is a cycle of existence that merges the earthly and the spiritual and establishes the notion of life’s perpetuity.
As a figurative matter, “life” or “to be alive” or “to live” could mean a lot of things to different people so that even in the passing away of a person, that person could still be described as “alive” in the memories of her/his loved ones. In other words, as long as the good or bad reputation of a person lingers in the memories of people from one generation to another, that person remains “alive” to them. Such metaphorical “life” which that person possesses even after the literal decay of her/his physical composition could even be perpetually remembered in society as in the case of national heroes. Life in the figurative sense could also be an attribution of some material objects associated to a particular person as in the books s/he wrote, the gadgets or instruments s/he invented, the songs s/he composed and/or sang and so on and so forth. In this figurative or metaphorical sense, we could even say at this point that memory is a facilitator of immortality. Memory “breathes life” even if a person has long been deceased and it likewise writes history in the process. History as we understand it to be a corpus of written records of past significant events in the life of a nation is a potent vehicle that immortalizes heroes.
Now, looking at the present problematization as a philosophical issue, questions assigned into the realm of experience (or matters of empirical consideration) are always deemed to be possible as long as they do not violate human rationality tested through the instrumentality of logical analysis. What is therefore mentally conceivable without getting into a logical contradiction is always regarded to be possible. In other words, something of this category may happen and be witnessed in the empirical realm. An imagination of a state of affairs where a certain entity is described as one possessing eternal life may be perfectly accommodated in one’s “mental space” without committing a logical contradiction and is hence rendered possible. The same may also be said about the possibility of a unicorn to exist since an image of a unicorn may likewise be accommodated in one’s “mental space” without getting into a logical contradiction. However, a “square circle” or a “round square” is absolutely inconceivable because of the term’s inherent logical contradiction which precludes its spatio-temporal location in the empirical realm the fact that even one’s “mental space” cannot actually imagine such an object. We therefore appeal to logical consistency to determine whether eternal life is possible or not.
Conclusively, we could say that on the one hand, the proposition, “It is possible to live forever” is logically sustainable. However, empirical constancy, on the other hand, cannot concretely validate the probability of living forever.
(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 23 September 2014