Monday, April 06, 2015

The Billionaire's Guide to Evolution, Death, & Eternal Life

The Washington Post published an article this Saturday called, Tech Titans' Latest Project: Defy Death. The big idea of the article is summed up well in the title. The megarich around the world are using their vast wealth to pour money into research projects that use scientific methods to defy aging. These men (they are all men, which in itself is interesting given that most of the mass marketed products out there cater to anti-aging for women) all have some things in common, in particular that they made their billions in the technology sector: Peter Thiel is the billionaire co-founder of PayPal; Larry Ellison is the founder of Oracle; Mark Zuckerberg is the founder of The Website That Shall Not Be Named.

I have read about the topic of billionaires pouring millions of dollars into research projects that would postpone death before, so this of course caught my eye. I did find it fascinating that I found it over Easter weekend, published between the days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I'm not sure it was intentional, but interesting nonetheless. I wasn't necessarily amazed at the endeavor itself; what stood out to me most in this article was the undergirding philosophy that motivates these men to put hundreds of millions of dollars each into research that either prolongs life or, even more ambitious, make us immortal.

For example, Peter Thiel is quoted in the article saying:
I believe that evolution is a true account of nature. But I think we should try to escape it or transcend it in our society.
So much is wrapped up in this statement and knowing I only have 18 more minutes makes me want to just touch on a a few. First, this is a belief statement. He is motivated by something other than science using statements like "I believe" and "I think." I know that might seem far reaching, but look further, which is the second observation. He believes that evolution is something true for nature, which I assume includes how humans came into existence. That he might claim is backed by science. But still, he wants to challenge this belief by asserting that somehow, using science, technology and tons of money, we can actually "escape" or "transcend" evolution. Does anyone else see how bold this statement is??? How many people out there would readily admit, "Yeah, evolution makes the most sense of how things came to be, including us, but now that we're here, screw it, evolution sucks and we'll beat it."? I guess billionaires who tend to have egos the size of the sun and the money to try and back it up. So, from Thiel's standpoint, the enemy is evolution and our victory has to be over that.

But I think the motivation is more personal and deeper than that, existential even. Larry Ellison is quoted just a few paragraphs later with a grand admission of why he's donated more than $430 million to anti-aging research. He says:
Death has never made any sense to me...How can a person be there and then just vanish, just not be there.
OH SNAP! This isn't merely about "evolution" and "society," but something that hits home for each and every one of us: the fact that all of us -- every eye on this screen, every first world and third world person, every breathing human from Africa to Antarctica -- is going to die. Death is inevitable for all of us and most of us would admit, like Ellison, it doesn't make any sense. Isn't there a longing in your heart for life to be more than the 77 years you are predicted to live? Isn't it so difficult to try and picture what happens when you breathe your last breath? Remember, at least from Thiel's perspective, evolution is natural and the natural result is death. It seems that Ellison believes in this in part because he's not donating his money to churches or religious groups that promise some kind of afterlife. He's donating to continuing this life, here on earth. So on the one hand, there's this thought that evolution is true, but on the other that we as humans are somehow special and should be beyond it. Not only that, we have to be beyond evolution in one crucial aspect of life, and that's death.

I am just scratching the surface here, but it's an area that deserves so much attention. Which is it? Will people be so bold as to admit that evolution is true and thus death is what it is, nothing more and nothing less? Or is that longing in the heart for life, for true everlasting, immortal life, greater than this belief that evolution is "a true account of nature"? And if the latter is the case, are these tech titans focused on the right approach to fulfill this longing?

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate this post. We were talking the other day about how eternity is written on man's hearts. These are just examples of people totally missing the point of that longing!