The meaning of life has attracted the attention of many philosophers, poets, writers, and other representatives of the humanities. For a long time, the problem of human immortality did not go beyond the framework of religious discourse. Today, the opposition of infinity and limitation is present in both minds of scientists and artists. The advancement of science and technology nowadays leads to the question of humanity. Therefore, immortality is an essential part of the meaning of life because the concept influences the development of scientific paradigms and contributes to new worldview trends in culture, philosophy, and medicine.
In the history of philosophy, there are three main points of view on the meaning of life. The first approach is directed on the religious interpretation of life, where effective participation in worship makes life meaningful. God created people in his or her own image and likeness, and the task of an individual is to discover the divine foundations in oneself. Namely, life according to God’s laws is an absolute meaning for a person. The second approach is based on a secular interpretation of life, which basically goes back to the same religious idea subjected to secularization. A person can rebuild the world on the basis of good and justice. The movement towards this bright future is progress, which gives meaning to human life. Finally, the subjective approach assumes that life in general does not make sense, stemming from the past and the future, especially from the other world. There is no predetermined meaning of life for every individual. Each person chooses and constructs his or her human essence. Therefore, only a practical interpretation of the life meaning has value for a person in the real world.
The Meaning of Life, Death, and Immortality
In every culture, thoughts of death cause people to think about immortality. According to Behr and Cunningham, an individual is doomed to think about death, which makes us different from animals who are unable to consider it (38). It is true that animals feel the approach of death, and their death-like behavior most often resembles a painful search for solitude and tranquility. Consequently, to prove and then to realize real immortality, the best minds of mankind are trying to refute this thesis. However, the idea of immortality is neither the existence of a unicellular organism nor angelic life in a better world (Santayana and Gouinlock 49). Aware of the biological impossibility of immortality, a person cannot accept the fact that he or she will have to leave this world.
Throughout religious texts, the meaning of life is connected with immortality. From a religious point of view, the immortality of a person is within a person’s soul that continues to exist after death. Fearing death and being attached to life in ancient times among primitive peoples gave rise to faith in human immortality. The Indians and the Egyptians had a widespread belief in a transfer of the soul from one body to another at the time of death (Dworkin 151). Later on, the Buddhist religion developed the idea of a consistent purification of the sinful soul in each new incarnation (Dworkin 154). Moreover, modern religions also discuss the concept of personal immortality. However, the religious dogma of immortality neither provides an answer to the question of what life is nor to the question of what death is. In Buddhism, the idea of personal immortality appears in the form of reincarnation, in which the social position of a person is the result of his or her soul’s activities in past lives (Dworkin 157). In Christianity and Islam, the idea of personal immortality is expressed in the promise of heavenly bliss beyond the grave for the righteous, whereas sinners are destined to spend eternity in hell (Dworkin 162). Therefore, in a religious context, immortality relates to one’s soul.
Moreover, scientists have been fascinated with immortality for years. Some believe that it will be possible to extend human life almost infinitely at some point. Through technology, scientists hope to one day modify the aging gene so that people will be able to live forever. If a person lives forever, it means that the whole system of values collapses and loses all significance. Humanity, compassion, and empathy are not needed in result of transhumanist development of mankind. The meaning of life in a scientific review is going beyond oneself, creating a post-man in an improved form. In 2016, the American scientists produced telomeres, whose function is to protect DNA from damage at the time of cell division (Bernstein 130). For six months, the subject received a drug that stimulates the formation of the enzyme, which promotes telomere growth. As a result, the average length of telomeres from 6,700 base pairs increased to 7,300 (Bernstein 131). With a successful resolution of the study, the subject will prolong his life by 20 years (Bernstein 131). There are other directions in the development of the idea of immortality in reality. Thus, based on modern advances in nanomedicine, digital immortality, and cyborgs, immortality can focus only on extending life at a given moment.
In addition, cultures around the world find it necessary to contemplate death and immortality to understand the meaning of life. There are different interpretations of these ideas depending on the leading spirituality and religious beliefs of a particular civilization (Behr and Cunningham 62). Life, death, and immortality are also greatly influenced by the existing economic, political, and social state of society. Sooner or later, an individual thinks about such eternal problems as life, its meaning, death, and possible ways of finding immortality. Therefore, everyone has a certain understanding of life, death, and immortality, which accumulate from various sources.
In sum, everyone contemplates immortality at some point in their lives. The religious concept of immortality oriented the minds of people in the direction of the otherworldly, posthumous, and afterlife. Religion has generally viewed earthly life as something very fluid, rapid, and temporary. On the other hand, scientists are trying to find ways to extend the lives of humans. If these efforts are successful, our idea of immortality would change significantly. Religious beliefs would no longer be as practical because of the advancement of humankind. Although death is inevitable, what happens after it remains a mystery. Perhaps our souls will be reincarnated as in Buddhism or we will reach heaven or suffer in hell. No matter what happens, there is no question that immortality plays a significant role in human perception and the meaning of life.
Behr, John, and Cunningham, Conor. The Role of Death in Life: A Multidisciplinary Examination of the Relationship between Life and Death. James Clarke & Co Ltd, 2015.
Bernstein, Anya. The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia. Princeton University Press, 2019.
Dworkin, Ronald. Religion without God. Harvard University Press, 2013.
Santayana, George, and Gouinlock, James. The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress: Reason in Religion, Volume VII, Book Three. MIT Press, 2014.