On Thursday in Schapiro Hall, the College’s philosophy department hosted David Pugmire, professor of philosophy at the University of Southampton in England. He delivered a lecture and conducted a question and answer session.
Pugmire, whose brother attended the College, studies the philosophy of emotions, but he delivered his lecture on his view of mortality in response to the development of the supermouse.
In 2007, the supermouse was developed in the United States. This mouse has a modification in a single gene for metabolism with effects that increase its life span. The modification increases the capacity for the organism to convert sugar to energy without the use of lactic acid. This mouse can keep its original body weight while eating twice as much food and can bare a litter at three years of age, the equivalent of a human bearing offspring at the age of 80. This discovery is seen as a step in the direction of achieving immortality. While many people look at this as a positive concept, Pugmire questions, “Should we rejoice in the supermouse?”
Pugmire defines and views death as the extinction of the cell, thus viewing immortality as something that evades death. He talked about human perceptions of death as something that hangs over us, like a “shadow of tragedy” that if eliminated would provide relief to much of the population. In his lecture he challenged this view. He called for the consideration of how the passage of time affects the human experience. If humans are mortal, Pugmire stated, “We can have special and pivotal moments that shape life as a whole and acquire meaning.”
“Our kind of life is life that is affected by being destined to end,” Pugmire said. He explained that because a mortal lifetime has a time constraint, it is possible to have experiences that stand out from others; however, when life can continue infinitely, there is a constant search for a replacement form of previous experiences. Pugmire believes that by achieving immortality, humans would sacrifice one of the most important aspects of life: the self. In a finite lifetime, humans can discover and achieve the self that defines them; yet, in an infinite lifetime, they have an unending amount of time to create several different selves, and therefore to not establish an identity. “Finite life precipitates identity and this power of mortality can matter more to people than they realize,” Pugmire said.
Pugmire believes this concept is the backbone to the problem of boredom that is frequently equated with immortality. If everything that is meaningful and sensible to a person happens early on in their infinite life, they may become bored of living and searching for a fulfillment similar to the one they have already received. He briefly addressed the idea that it’s possible for an interest of life to grow, not fade, yet argued that this is unlikely.
Pugmire concluded with an analysis of what our attitude toward death should be. “There would me more of life, but not more to it. One could almost say that death puts life into living.” He believes that there should be an awareness of death, but not a focus on it, stating that the prospect of death can energize the life one has. To tie together his argument, he finished with a quotation and analogy of death to the sun. Pugmire stated, “We can’t stare directly at the sun because it blinds us to the world we have while day lasts.”