Monday, May 25, 2009

The Elixir That Turned Bitter

Vitalia has in her possession the secret to eternal life. However she now vows to destroy it. Two hundred years ago, a genius scientist, Dr. Makropulos had given her the formula and the then foolish Vitalia had drunk it. After having seen all her loved ones die and continue to die, she struggled with her eternal imprisonment. She had lost her drive, her ambition to succeed and survive, and her enthusiasm to discover the splendour of the universe and revel in her eternal life. All she wanted was to rest in peace, so much so that ironically death seemed to be her only "ambition" and it gave her more purpose to her existence. She finally managed to get the antidote to the elixir of life. She'd consumed it a few days earlier and was happy at how her body was rapidly weakening. All that was left was for her to destroy the elixir and the secret formula, for she wanted no one to go through her misery. She poured the elixir down the drain and prepared to toss the piece of paper that contained the formula, into the fire... (Source: 'The Makropulos Case', in Problems of the Self by Bernard Williams)

It's not uncommon to see even a ninety year old person regret on the inevitable brevity of their time left on this planet. Very rarely do we hear or come across a person who is satisfied with what they have accomplished in the time allocated to them and is ready to accept the end of their life with graceful contentment. The greed and lust for life almost seems insatiable - and this is perhaps due to the romance associated with impermanence. We have the thirst to travel and explore the world, reach goals, experience all emotions and drench in every drop of the journey before our time runs out. But no matter how much time we get, I'm not sure we're true to our inner passions - at least not until the gong of departure resonates in our ears and jolts us out of our complacence. No amount of "extra time"seems enough. Despite all of us reciting the rhetoric on living life to the fullest, most of us don't stay true and slump into our complacence.

And when we are gifted with eternal life, there is no longer the pressing drive to live life passionately before the sands run out. Infinite amount of time means there are absolutely no deadlines. We have the blissful option to sleep and indulge in a life of meaningless pleasure for as long as the universe is alive and can still decide to pursue any goal at any point in time. Well, we all know how we humans function in the absence of deadlines, stress and concrete goals. Below is the popular human performance curve, in relation to stress. No demands, no deadlines, no stress lead to boredom. Imagine living a life of boredom forever. An eternal pursuit of goals, challenges and interests to save ourselves from boredom... how long can one maintain such a momentum of energy?Seems as if the only certainty in life - death, does indeed provide us with a sense of focus and purpose to our existence. Of course, it's perhaps just a pessimist who would choose to remain bored if granted immortality. An optimist might look at all the influences s/he can have over the world, the amount of knowledge they can gain and alter the future course of humankind and the universe. And I'm sure the optimists wouldn't commit the same naive mistake as Vitalia - they would make sure their loved ones are given a dose of the elixir and share an eternal tale of togetherness. Or perhaps being true optimists, they would look forward to forming new bonds of love to experience every generation of the human race...or they might have evolved to a state of emotional detachment wherein the need for emotional fulfillment dwindles and their overdeveloped rational mind takes over.

In a way, if we believed in our souls to be immortal, aren't we all cycling through multitudes of human generations till our thirst for life is quenched and our soul is ready to detach and exit?

Well, rather than hope for eternity it seems more pragmatic to not wallow into the depths of our little pots of existence, and then jump around lamenting about our regrets and time wasted when the heat gets to us and death looms closer; like the frog that frittered away precious time till the water started boiling and it was all too late.

PS: A while back, I read a similar discussion on Sumi's forum, which has lots of interesting trains of thought.

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