Recently I heard someone say something to the effect of “wow, you know, time’s going by really fast. We don’t have that much more time here.” I found out after the fact that she’s a senior and she meant that she didn’t have much time left at Cornell. My reply, however, was something like “yeah, only about sixty-five more years.” Her only response was an incredulous look.
This intrigued me. Mortality, I realized, is the last holy thing yet to be profaned. People my age have absolutely no problem talking about violence, drugs or deviant sexual acts. But remind them that they’ll die someday and they’re as bewildered as Jared Kushner at an intelligence briefing. I know this to be true because I conducted a social experiment in which confronted people with their impending doom. I asked about twenty people of various ages, backgrounds and nationalities if they worried about death or what happens after death. The most common response was “I’ve never really spent any time thinking about it”, which I find ridiculous; when I was eleven I watched Joel Osteen every night for a week because I thought I had a brain tumor. And beyond that, it just seems like a shortsighted attitude. Wouldn’t it be better to figure it out a little at a time so you don’t have to pull an all-nighter on your deathbed?
Our brains are designed to keep us alive for as long as possible by any means necessary. Evolution did its job too well, and we became too smart and we realized that staying alive indefinitely is impossible. For all that’s been made about the fragility of the human ego, I think it’s a marvel that any of us refrain from going mad. Because even if you force yourself not to think about your own mortality, I can guarantee it’s in there gnawing at the inner wall of your psyche.
I got high and I had a thought. Atheism doesn’t necessarily have to beget hopelessness. The current scientific consensus is that the universe began with the big bang, and it will eventually start receding until it collapses back into a singularity in a “big crunch.” Presumably the singularity will explode again, and the cycle will continue ad infinitum. But if life continues developing its understanding and influence of the matter around it, then the crunch can be prevented. If the bang-crunch cycle can be stopped, sentience will have a clear field to alter the universe. A billion billion minds working for a billion billion years could presumably create a nirvana-like reality that transcends the barriers between being and non-being, allowing all the consciousness of the past to exist in a state of pure bliss. I could totally happen, dude.
Now I don’t have many skills besides writing and tying a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue. And maybe I’ll never become successful. But maybe something I write one day will convince an auto mechanic to get out of bed and go to work, and maybe that auto mechanic will fix the brakes of a high school teacher. And maybe that high school teacher will have a child in twenty years, and maybe that child will become a brilliant astrophysicist that makes important advances in the field of space travel. And (skipping a few steps) maybe humanity finally comes into contact with extraterrestrials and together we make a tiny tiny step in death-proofing the universe. That’s how you have to think.
Ara Hagopian is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Whiny Liberal appears alternate Fridays this semester.