Mortality is progress

Perfection is possible. So is the complete comprehension of reality. But not before the sands of time run out—death comes for us, always, before we reach them.

Traditionally, this is seen as a negative. Mortality prevents the attainment of utter perfection and true comprehension, so surely, the rhetoric goes, if we can extend our meagre lives we will, individually and collectively, be better off. Thus, mortality is synonymous with an impediment to progress.

But is this true? Is our mortality a curse that prevents us from reaching the heights of the legendary beings we love to hear stories of—elves, ents, deities and all those who exist outside the clutches of the poisonous hands of time? I don’t think so. Mortality is the enabler of, not the impediment to, progress. It sweeps away the best of us, as well as the worst of us. Its rising tide washes away the grand and great structures we create in the sand. But it is also casts down the abominations we think it wise to have invented in the first place.

You may well be thinking, “How does this enable progress?” Well.

On balance, humanity is wrong more often than it is right. But one of the things we have got “right” is the creation of mechanisms that allow us to pass messages into the future. We’ve created (albeit imperfect) stores of information that allow us to communicate with those who come later. This means that a record of our virtues and our vices are preserved, and because of our mortality the generations they are preserved for can decide what to make of them. This is what progress looks like. We live, getting many things wrong and a few things right, and then we die.

True, the living and the learning is important. But so is the death.