The Philodemic Society convened for the tenth time this semester to debate Resolved: Immortality is a curse, not a blessing.
Keynoting on the affirmation was Ms. Heather Regen (SFS ’14) of California. On the negation was Ms. Caroline Egan (COL ’15) of New York.
Ms. Regen began her speech by taking those in the room on a brief tour of what the life of an immortal might be like, describing the banality of painting, one by one, each grain of sand in the universe. While the gift of inexhaustible time makes limitless the potential for knowledge, it takes away something more: people to share it with. Death makes us value our lives more: our mortality “moves us with a sense of urgency.” Using Dr. Who as an example, Ms. Regen emphasized how having our own “sense of personal apocalypse” makes for a more meaningful existence.
Ms. Egan, conversely, posited that the knowledge that we will all die is a curse and an impediment to leading fruitful, ambitious lives. “Life is a terminal illness.” Immortality offers a reprieve from the rigid caution death instills in us and affords the opportunity “to do more, to write more.”
Ms. Madeleine Ringwald argued that the death of a loved one gives necessary exposure to our own mortality and of those around us, in that it awakens us to what is important and worth our precious time and care. Mr. Daniel Kendrick likened choosing mortality over immortality to opting for living off of one jug of water rather than a limitless supply, and urged the Society not to fall prey to a “sour grapes” attitude. Ms. Anna Hernick argued that life is not a checklist of experiences, as Ms. Egan suggested, but rather the relationships you construct and the people you surround yourself with. Ms. Colleen Wood responded that the most valuable interactions she herself has had have been ephemeral and with strangers, and argued in favor of an endless life full of interactions with all sorts of people. Vice President Pat Spagnuolo rebuked the idea that human connection is quantitative rather than qualitative: “You can’t stack up the connectons and say, I’ve had one billion interactions therefore I am fulfilled.” Mr. Spagnuolo questioned whether valuable moments can be expanding by expanding time, noting that the nature of our consciousness will not change, yet will have to undergo thousands of lifetimes worth of traumatic experiences. “You can gain all the knowledge of the world, but never know what happens after death until you die.”
Ms. Emily Coccia, quoting Hamlet’s To be or not to be soliloquy, admitted her own debilitating fear of death. “What would lead me to do the most, make the most of my life, would be the knowledge that it goes on forever.” Ms. Amanda Wynter compared immortality to the Inferno of Dante’s Divine Comedy, where, unlike the souls in pergutory that have something better to hope for and work towards, the damned must be subjected to their own sins for eternity. Being a “Georgetown mortal,” better known as a senior, inspires students to seize chances they wouldn’t had they an abundance of time. Mr. Warren Wilson argued that the only salvation from a nihilist reality is immortality, in that it would allow one to themselves become the infinite that philosophers have been seeking for centuries to no avail. Ms. Julia Christensen asked the Society to consider what will happen when the human race inevitably goes extinct and you, alone, are left. Further, immortality would mean watching your own children die, perhaps the most unbearable task of all.
Mr. Sam Klienman (COL ’16) argued that living forever would instill a sense of ownership in the environment and the world, suggesting that the community would be bettered if its members were immortal. Ms. Charlotte Pennington (MSB ’16) asserted that having infinite time would diminish the meaning of what we as mortal humans consider accomplishments, pointing out that meeting goals means nothing when it comes easily. Mr. Luke Schaeffer (COL ’16) drew attention to the plethora of unimaginable feats one could accomplish without a time constraint. Ms. Bella Blakeway-Phillips (SFS ’16) challenged the idea that death is somehow the end of being. While “what lies behind the veil” is uncertain, never dying means never knowing for sure.
Mr. Chris DiMisa argued that with infinite time to spend, one need not waste it on menial tasks. “In an endless life, I pick my own telos – and I would choose my own desires.” Mr. Jacob Arber emphasized that variety has its limits even when time does not. “There is a limit to how many profoundly beautiful things you can see. An immortal will stop seeing them.” Mr. Michael Mouch challenged the assumption that deeper meaning cannot be found in our immediate world, or that this meaning can somehow be exhausted. “The affirmation lives in a depressing world.” President Peter Prindiville argued that human kind’s continued belief in an afterworld indicates a fundamental flaw in our makeup, a tendency to seek but never find happiness. “An extension of this flawed humanity can never be good.” Mr. Gavin Bade argued that the negation ought to win over any humanists in the room. “If you believe you are here to help other people, you should be starved to know more and learn more to help others live better.”
Ms. Maggie Cleary contended that after centuries, millenniums of existence, one would want finality as opposed to a dragged-out existence. Ms. Abigail Grace asserted that while everlasting life would be a burden, one need only to position themselves to be a force for good to make it worth the troubles that are inevitably part of the package. Mr. Greg Miller argued that just as a caveman would feel out of place in the modern day, dying “young” is better than being left behind while humanity evolves around you.
To begin her closing keynote, Ms. Egan argued that hope of an afterlife is just that — hope. Our uncertainty ought to terrify us, and does, into immobilization. “If you value the story of your life, don’t let someone snatch that pen away from you.”
Ms. Regen, too, compared an immortal human to a senior that stays at Georgetown…forever. “There comes a time when you need to kick the seniors off the dais and make room for someone new.” Death brings with it renewal, and makes life possible. Life’s brevity makes it worth living, even if we inevitably cannot accomplish everything. Quoting Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, Ms. Regen reminded the Society that living longer does not mean living better. “When we have found all the mysteries, we stand alone on an empty shore.”
The Society voted 33 – 2 – 11 to affirm.
Madeleine M. Ringwald