Tuesday, July 26, 2011 6:37 PM
We are accustomed to think of immortality as a religious affair, a prize for good behavior, and always personal. In fact it is not only much simpler than that, it involves the whole universe and all that’s in it.
Let''s start with our corpse . Other animals take bites of the flesh –until nothing remains. Each bite is composed of millions of atoms which are then Incorporated into the flesh of the eaters. The atoms join with those in the animals’ bodies and they go on their way until they are eaten, as animals are, by birds, say. The birds incorporate the atoms of their prey that already include atoms from the original corpse, and the bird flies away to be shot down, may be, and becomes a hunter’s dinner. In eating the bird, the hunter also takes into his body atoms that once were part of the original corpse. This happens to us all.
The same is true not only of corpses but also of artifacts –the clothes we wear, the furniture we use, the houses we build, and all the rest of our civilizations. All these things are made of atoms that move around just as they do in the human body, becoming part of one thing and then another. Discarded clothing, for example, is eventually taken away, cleaned, and distributed to the poor. After some years it’s worn by someone else until it is so worn that it is no better than rags and is picked up by the scavenger company who sort it and send it on to a paper manufacturer who in turn boils it down to a sludge, compresses it, bleaches it, dries it and turns it into paper. The paper becomes part of a book, handled by millions – a bestseller perhaps – until it too becomes so worn it is cast aside and burned. The smoke of its burning goes up into the sky and its ashes are washed into the ground. The atoms of carbon, silica, bleach and so on are taken up by the winds or ground underfoot.
There is no end to it. The winds carry atoms everywhere while the earth of the planet feeds plants and animals and humans. Most of us hope or expect we will survive unchanged or even vanish, but In fact, it''s a glorious soup.