This speech is from Act II, scene vii of “As You Like It”.
These days the inevitability of old age is not quite so certain – as archy the cockroach observed in 1927:
the old fashioned
grandmother who used
to wear steel rimmed
glasses and make
everybody take opodeldoc
has now got a new
set of ox glands and
is dancing the black bottom
The Prophet Of Longevity is Raymond C. Kurzweil who coauthored a book called Fantastic Voyage.
His proposition is that if he can live to year 2030, which will make him 82, immortality will then be a practical proposition.
When I saw him on TV he was running on his treadmill, drinking green tea and telling the interviewer that he takes 250 pills a day. Maybe its possible to live longer by exercising and taking pills by the hatful, but nobody has had any demonstrable success yet.
If he were 100 years old and married to a playboy bunny he would have a better argument. “Methuslah lived nine hundred years; but who calls dat livin when no gall will give in to no man whats nine hundred years. ” (Porgy and Bess., 1935, by George Gershwin)
Is a modest increase in longevity worth having, if it costs a fortune and the extra time has to be spent on a treadmill? He is hoping to postpone death using currently known techniques or those he fondly hopes might work. The premise is that the longer one lives then there will then be techniques to postpone death even further. He predicts this will happen by year 2030.
Some of the longevity bunch go for continuity of identity at all costs, even speculating about mechanical replacement of their bodies or uploading themselves into a computer. But would you feel any sensation of transference? Even if you created a perfect clone of yourself, what good does that do you? And what good does it do to have a computer program that thinks it is you? It is only like having a twin. Your body will still die with you in it.
The idea that our identities are continuous in time may be a fallacy anyway, like other false beliefs that make life tolerable. What really appeals to us is that our identities are always developing as we try to better ourselves. Every cell of the body we had as a child has been replaced so the continuity is an illusion.
People can have dramatic changes in identity during their lives as the result of physical or psychological trauma; their former self is effectively dead and it doesnt trouble them a bit. It is obvious that not being here didnt bother us before we were born and it wont bother us after are dead. Of course we’re afraid of the process of dying – but being afraid of death itself makes no sense because we cannot experience it. We can only experience life.
Thats the logical viewpoint and it counts for very little. We are creatures motivated by emotion and superstition, not logic. Kurzweil and the longevity bunch allay their fear of death by popping pills in the hope of eternal life. Its a religion.
Living beyond a certain optimum age gets to be less and less fun. An older man has wisdom to impart and that justifies his existence in evolutionary terms. But in the end Nature is much better at making new people than repairing old ones. Thats why making new people is such an enjoyable process.
Theres an old cynical joke that death is natures way of telling you you need to slow down a little.
The picture is a Steel-plate engraving, by H. Bourne
of William Mulready’s painting, The Seven Ages of Man (1838)