Thoughts of immortality make us human

About humanity’s greatest temptation of all — abolishing the inevitability of death, at any cost.

Thoughts of immortality make us human

About humanity’s greatest temptation of all — abolishing the inevitability of death, at any cost.

Continent Leonid Melamed
Leonid Melamed Continent

The realisation of one’s own mortality is an existential crisis that we all pass through. This crisis has led to the creation of immortal masterpieces of art as well as our species’ greatest ideas. We can accept the fact that the stars come to extinction, but we seem incapable of coming to terms with the fact that the same fate should meet the human consciousness, what we sometimes call the soul. «I,» the concept of the self as an image of one’s own internal universe, must be everlasting. It is our unremitting desire to fill the transience of being with meaning. Leonid Melamed, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors at Team Drive and RMI Partners, as well as Co-Founder and Board Member of NovaMedica and the Doctor Next Door, speaks especially to The World magazine about humanity’s greatest temptation of all — abolishing the inevitability of death, at any cost.

It’s most likely as soon as a person becomes conscious and can evaluate both himself and others, can analyse the past and predict the future, that he likewise becomes aware of death, and of its undesirability. The notion of death is then joined by the desire to get rid of this negative experience, to defeat it.

For the modern man, immortality is a familiar idea. But immortality takes on different forms for everyone: some people find it in their offspring, embedded in the biological model we come from. This is a basic instinct that doesn’t require consciousness. But, no matter how long we live, we eventually must face death. Reproduction softens the inevitability of this transition a bit, but each of us will ultimately pass away. This is what our dreams and hopes are aimed at avoiding.

Why is this? Because we fear pain? No. There are many ways to transition into death. It’s because death is the point beyond which no predictions can be made, and that’s terrifying. Normally, our thinking apparatus is constantly planning, trying to calculate the next step, and we fear points or conditions from which this is im- possible. Hoping to attain immortality, we try again and again to discover what happens beyond the point of death. If we know what’s next, we can engage our predictive mechanism, and we’re no longer afraid to plot our next steps. If we have at least an approximate map of a place, then we can figure out how to get there. And, if we don’t have a map, if we’ve reached a point where there aren’t any maps, then we aren’t ourselves. It’s thanks to these sorts of reflections that people become who they are. This question is the most important of all those that have haunted us since the birth of consciousness. The search for its answer has united a great number of people. The thought of immortality makes us human.


Each religion necessarily offers its own version of what happens after death. Modern man, however, is increasingly doubtful of the reliability of the current theories, constant- ly seeking new versions. From here, there are two paths: either trying to push back the trajectory towards death, applying all sorts of modern medical technology for the sake of prolonging life, or, alternatively, searching for what lies beyond that trajectory — studying, for example, the journey of the soul, concluding in reincarnation. Death, in that case, is conditional, just a sign that you have yet to complete a certain level in the game, or that a new level has already begun. A dichotomy arises: «soft,» as in the soul or consciousness, and «hard,» as in the body. «Hard» dies away and «soft» continues on into a «cloud» of some sort, to be loaded into another body.

There exists the point of view that our given reality is actually a type of «software.» Wherein what we refer to as «hard» is also «soft». This idea is represented well in the movie The Matrix.

Another direction, the classical scientific approach, deals with concepts like evolution and considers the possibility of immortality through the modification of human DNA or the creation of bionic bodies. If successful, we would generally be exempt from death, except as a result of accidents.

Major money and power have been invested in these areas, because we seem to believe that we’ve managed to develop enough, that we’ve reached the necessary level. Medicine works in a certain way: it determines what you’re dying from, and there’s an obvious answer and a less obvious, more complex answer — and, the more obvious the answer, the more resources are invested. People die of cancer, but there are ways to influence the body that cause the cancer to recede. Huge funds are being invested in the development of oncology. Alzheimer’s is also being studied rather actively. More and more, people are living till the age when the disease tends to show up. So it makes sense that we’re invested in finding out about its causes, prevention, and treatment.

Also attracting scientists’ attention are hereditary diseases, since the solution to these problems is relevant to the field of genetic engineering and the effect on the human genome. Learning to cope with diseases, we extend the human lifespan. On the other hand, we’re still talking about a huge number of people dying from injuries. Since the fundamental development of organ transplant technology, teams of scientists and physicians around the world have been developing ways to create artificial organs that can be replaced and updated endlessly, without facing ethical problems, or the danger of transplant rejection. Next will be the idea of creating an exoskeleton that connects to the nervous system and is controlled by the brain. From there, there are two steps to creating a completely artificial body. The brain, after all, also ages, so the question then is whether or not it’s possible to upload human consciousness onto an artificial carrier. There’s no telling what exactly we would become as a result of all this — immortal human beings, or immortal robots?

If we’re speaking about where resource distribution is concentrated, then it’s these categories. It’s part of the process of redefining the nature of death. Still, people aren’t giving up there. They continue searching, religious sages looking one way, scientists another.