Friday, February 21, 2014

Life After Life

Physicists tell us the universe is expanding and that someday we will all be shrouded in darkness. Stars will be further apart than ever and the hope of discovering other civilizations will become increasingly diminished. The analogy might be that of the Manhattanite who sells his expensive  apartment to satisfy his dream of owning hundreds of acres in some place like Nebraska, Colorado or Oklahoma, where land is still affordable and the idea of Manifest Destiny still survives in some form. The wish for the uncluttered existence is satisfied, but there is the loneliness of not having another human in sight. Man is a social animal and the laws of physics seem to be mitigating against our prospectively widowed planet some day finding eligible suitors who will provide a safe harbor from her self-created environmental storms. It would have been consoling to imagine our descendants shipping out on a space ship millions of years from now for some new found land. Samuel Scheffler, an NYU professor who has a dual appointment in law and philosophy has written a book called Death and the Afterlife which deals with this very subject. The afterlife is not a world that we the living will occupy. It’s a world that exists without us, but whose existence confers meaning on the things that we do today. By the time astronomers located a planet compatible to human life (something like the world found on the holographic level of Star Trek) it would already be too far for even a space ship that could negotiate speeds approaching the speed of light, were such technology ever in the realm of possibility. Remember the famous Twilight Zone "Time Enough at Last," where Burgess Meredith plays a bookworm who yearns to satisfy his dream: to be left alone so he can read. He gets his wish when a nuclear blast destroys everyone but him. However, he is damned to a life of hopelessness when he smashes his glasses? Both his present and his future are taken away.

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