Why must all things that live ultimately die?
Is humanity alone in the universe?
Two interesting questions, the answers to which are currently well beyond the scope of human
knowledge. Before asking the question , Why must all things die? It might be wise to ask, What is the
purpose of life in the first place — why does anything live at all? What seems evident to every
observer is that living things go through an inevitable sequence of birth, development, decline and
death. In other words, birth is the start of the road to death.
Of course, philosophically, this is a materialistic view of life which is adopted by the majority of the
world's human population without question. However, there are those who do not accept the finality of
this naive observation. It is, of course, well known that followers of several religious factions believe
that life does not end with death of the material body. Some believe in a future material resurrection,
some in a spiritual life here — after, and some believe that we are reincarnated in a different body to
the one we discard at death.
Some idealist concepts which refute the argument for the existence of matter, find it easier to dispose
of the concept of death because the difficult transfer from matter to non-matter does not really apply.
Though the argument is more complex than this, as even for an idealist the 'idea' of death is still a
fact. There is also the notion that dualism provides possibilities for immortality.
The unfortunate situation with regard to death is that, although there have been claims for the proof of
spiritual survival, most people are fairly certain that no one has been back from the 'other side' to tell
us about it. We sometimes hear of those who are brought back from the brink;and, oddly enough,
they all relate the same experience of a peaceful drift down a long tunnel towards a bright light, and
some are very annoyed at having been dragged back. Of course, neurologists and psychologists do
not accept that this indicates transfer to another form of existence; drifting towards a bright light is to
them an indication of the last flickering electrical discharges of the dying brain. Until the real truth is
revealed it seems that the answer to your question is confined to the simple scientific explanation,
that all living things die to make room for the next generation. However, none of us are forced to
accept it, and, in philosophy at least, the search for the truth goes on.
As for your second question, we are still confined to scientific speculation. Considering that there are
one hundred thousand million stars in our galaxy alone, and that innumerable galaxies exist in the
universe, it is highly probable that several of the planets orbiting these stars support life very similar, if
not identical, to the life found on our own planet.However, the truth is, as yet, not forthcoming. You
may be aware that physicists are now discussing parallel universes in which each of us will be
represented. The search goes on and one day, like death and the after life, all may be revealed.
Well, look at it this way. Suppose you were immortal, in the sense that you didn't age. This will
certainly come to pass for people, as we discover how our bodies work, anyway (assuming we don't
destroy ourselves in the meantime). Ok... you cross the street (or whatever) and get killed by a
passing truck. A new virus, a mutation that our bodies can't handle, kills you. Your spaceship is hit by
a meteor. Someone shoots you. And so forth. In other words, in a universe which we do not control,
the odds are finite that we will be killed. In an infinite length of time, any finite probability will happen.
So we will be killed. Hey, even the stars die, eventually.
However, if you are asking why we are now mortal... our bodies are inefficient. One might argue that
in the beginnings of evolution we may have acquired this in order to cut down population pressure.
My own feeling is that latter argument is not convincing because single-celled animals are effectively
immortal (they divide, in effect becoming their own offspring). So solving the ageing problem is
solving a problem (a very hard set of problems, mind you) with our bodies. Unfortunately (that's my
feeling anyway), we ourselves won't live to reap the benefits of that research... maybe in the next
century. I don't see this as even a particularly difficult problem, especially given the computing power
that will be available in the next few decades. Problems like how people can get along with each
other are muchharder, in my opinion.
Is humanity alone? No. Period. As Douglas Adams says, the universe is a really bigplace. The
question is, why haven't we had contact? Well, you know, I actually don't think that's a hard question.
First, how long have we been looking? 50 years, max? Second, how could aliens find us, out here on
the edge of the galaxy, until we waved at them, which we've only been doing for about 100 years, a
mere tick of the clock, using a method so primitive that even creatures with our minimal intelligence
can employ it (i.e., radio)? Third, and most important, howhave we been looking? We've been using
telescopes, a ridiculous method, and lately, with SETI, some few radio frequencies. Not
unreasonable, given that aliens are like us... but why should that be true?
Let's put this in perspective. Suppose that dogs were trying to signal another species of dog. How
would they do it? By barking or howling, right? Would we notice that, as a signal of that type? Would
we care? How much smarter, given some theoretical maximal potentialfor intelligence, are we than
dogs? Infinitesimally, I would say. Our brains must fit, badly, inside our heads, folded up, in order to
have expanded to the amount they have, which is about all our bodies will take, both in volume and
Suppose we found out how to increase head size, or produce more efficient folding, or better, connect
ourselves to our computers? Where would our intelligence go then? In the latter case, the practical
limits would be... well, Icertainly can't even begin to envision it. Now, given that we could be, let us
conservatively say, 100 times more intelligent than now, how would we signal... what indeed would
our picture of the universe be, our physics, our electronics? We are not now 100 times smarter than
dogs. How would our physics compare with our present idea of physics? Etc. You see my point? To
aliens, if they notice us at all, we are, until we can consciously increase our intelligence, merely
another species of animal on this planet. So why should they want to contact us, any more than we
would want to contact those dogs? And how would we notice or understand it, if they did, any more
than dogs could conceive, build, and use a radio set?
That's one of my theories, I think the most likely one. The next most likely one is this: look at the way
computers are going. What if we are able to "scan" our brains totally, convert our neural dynamics
into another form, and embody ourselves within a computer (a very large one, of course, and a
radically different type from present digital computers, but those are — for the purpose of this
discussion — quibbles). I mean, totallymove into the computer, as a dynamic pattern in it. And not
just ourselves, but everyoneand our civilization... living in a virtualworld, having anythingwe want
happen (virtually, of course, but we wouldn't see any difference), and being immortal (as long as the
computer wasn't hit by a meteor, etc.). Now wouldn't that be wonderful? Think about it. Anything you
wanted, any life, any environment, any physical laws, no risk, no death... as long as you want.
Now, if Iwere an alien civilization faced with that possibility, vs. living in the cold, hard, limited real
universe, hey, why not? So the second theory is that we can't contact them because when a
civilization gets advanced to that stage, they just all move into their computer(s) and live happily ever
after, in a virtual heaven of their own design, with the computer protected behind layers of armor and
powered by something reasonably perpetual. Sounds good to me, anyway. So that's my second
theory as to why we haven't and won't contact them. They're out there, zillions of them. They're just
living luxuriously in the basement, so to speak, hoping to go unnoticed for as long as possible.
Or it could be a combination of the two above, with extremely advanced virtual civilizations
communicating with each other by means unavailable (and incomprehensible) to us, until we get to
Steven Ravett Brown