There are few fantasies so absurd as the idea of living on through fame. So why does immortality still beckon?
There’s an interesting article by Steven Cave at Aeon here dealing with the question above. Since I am near-fanatically lustful for “Everlasting Glory” (although rational enough to realize that for me, and other mortals, “everlasting” can only mean a few hundred thousand years at most), I read the article, finding it provocative and therefore worth reading, although I pretty much wholly disagree with Cave’s ideas.
I’m groping here, but I think no one really wants immortal fame. What many want is genuine immortality–a trip to some heaven or endless reincarnations. When a person says, as I did at the age of 18, that he’d rather be a short-lived tubercular genius like Keats than live to be eighty or ninety without accomplishing anything to speak of, he may speak of his ambition as as desire to immortalize his name, but what I feel he really (only) wants is to live a life that will make his name immortal. In other words, I wanted to become (at age 18) a great writer like Keats and that meant producing a body of work that would “live forever.” I would not enjoy any fame posthumously, but could enjoy posthumous fame while alive. To put it simply: I could enjoy thinking of posterity’s admiring my work (and me) as much as I, as part of Keats’s posterity was admiring his, and him.
I think that at times we, in effect, live in the future. It’s our version of the future, just as the past we more often live in is only our version of the past, and it’s nowhere near as accurate as it, but it’s not entirely inaccurate. We often live in our futures as heroes. Which brings me to my concept of the sagaceptual awareness, and my concept of the urceptual hero. In my discussions of urceptual personae (or beings fully or potentially inside us from the very beginning of our lives) I posit that we start off with an urceptual self and an urceptual other. These are neurophysiological puppets, the urceptual self being activated by anything we do: that is, when a baby move its left arm, its urceptual self moves its left arm, and the baby experiences a sense of self in charge of the movement.
I hope I don’t go off in too many directions. I’ll try not to. What I’m hoping to do is account for the urceptual hero, which requires a lot background in urcept . . . ology.
The urceptual other is a neurophysiological puppet activated by any human being the baby encounters. It is activated by any (gross) movement of that being: when the baby’s mother playfully pokes the baby’s nose, the baby’s urceptual other pokes its finger somewhere. Assuming the situation allows it. To put it most simply, the baby’s attention must be on its anthroceptual awareness–that is, the baby has to be in the part of its brain that has to do with inter-action with other human beings. Mainly there, at least.
If so, various stimuli will enable the baby to make the urceptual other which is activated by its mother the basis of a secondary urceptual figure, an involved process I will ignore except to say I believe I can advance a plausible idea of how it works. My taxonomy of urceptual personae is incomplete, to say the least, but I think the urceptual friend may be the first positive secondary urceptual persona a baby will form. Its first negative urceptual persona will be its urceptual enemy. The baby’s mother will almost surely be perceived as positive, and fairly soon activate an urceptual friend, which in turn will form the basis of an urceptual mother. The reverse is equally likely, I should think.
In any case, the baby’s urceptual self will ten to make connections with the urceptual friend that will cause the baby’s urceptual self to imitate (i.e., learn from) its urceptual friend.
We have now gotten enough background, I hope, for me to jump to the urceptual hero. This persona becomes active due to a complex group of stimuli indicating friend and father or authority, and a highly admirable person. Many real living people may have some of the stimuli, but so may fictional people. A person’s final urceptual hero will be based on more than one person, possibly many more.
The first requirement to understanding the urceptual hero is to understand admirability. I think one of our most important innate mechanisms is the need for the approval of others. A major way we learn to get it is through imitating urceptual friends, adults or siblings who gain admiration. That we will tend empathetically to experience the admiration a friend gains (likely along with other emotions I will ignore here) will give us enough pleasure to want to experience it for ourselves. The empathetic experience will come about because our urceptual friend will not only tend to imitate what our actual friend does, but (albeit crudely) how he feels–through his expressions, and through what happens to him, like being given an ice cream cone).
We will also learn how to gain admiration directly whenever we do anything, accidentally or intentionally, that causes others to admire us.
The point: a person grows to particularly strive to make his urceptual self and urceptual hero. This is possible because the urceptual self becomes the basis of secondary urceptual personae the same way the urceptual other does.
Both genders strive for a heroic role they can play when appropriate, to put it in another way. But it differs significantly between males and females due to the biological division of labor feminists refuse to accept. Because of this the great majority of males strive for cultural heroism of many different sorts, and females mainly for biological heroism consisting of bearing and raising children and making life bearable. Males are more concerned with making life meaningful.
I ought to be speaking not of heroism here but of different degrees of cultural admirability. Few really strive for what I’d call cultural heroism. Cave, in the article I directed you to, uses Achilles as his example of a hero, and he’s a good one: he is still important to us. As is Imhotep, for there are many kinds of heroic admirability. I believe, to get back to the idea of simply living a life admirable enough for one to be esteemed for it by some posterity, if only one’s grandchildren, that most people and and do achieve “immortality.”
To undigress–that is, to go back to my idea of living in the future, that’s what we can and sometimes do when in our sagaceptual awarenesses, which I’ll now try to depict. I hypothesize that it began, evolutionarily, as a simple mechanism encouraging organisms to carry out more and more complex kinds of goal-directed activities. The mechanism could have been very simple, like many such now incorporated in various technological devices (as you will see, I hope). A primitive example: a mechanism causes a primitive organism to move toward food; the closer it gets to the food, the more energizing pleasure it experiences, and the more it continues to keep doing what it has been doing; but the more distant the food goes from it, the more pain it experiences, and the more the mechanism makes the organism change what it is doing, trying always to maximize the organism’s closeness to food. Guided missiles behave this way.
I think an urceptual proto-hero happened into one of these mechanisms, and the mechanism became the first sagaceptual awareness millennia later. I’m confident a plausible evolutionary path for all this could be worked out, but I haven’t done it. This awareness, so far as I know, is unknown to science, so far. I may be the only one who has intuited its presence, in fact. All I c an say in its defense is that it makes sense to me, and that I don’t know of anything that makes it ridiculously unlikely.
I will use mine as an example (and I’ll speak of myself only because I’m sure of what’s true of me, but of no one else, and also to avoid making controversial but not very important material about how a male’s sagaceptual awareness differs from a female’s, or an Irishman’s from an Englishman’s–although the similarities are much more pronounced than the differences). I think that at times my urceptual self enters my sagaceptual awareness because something I’ve encountered in the real world strikes me as desirably likely to gain me admiration. Once in my sagaceptual awareness, I (and my “I’ is, to all intents and purposes, my urceptual self¹) and my urceptual hero become one, and the combination takes up a quest. Its goal, in my case right now, is to gain my readers’ admiration, and others through them. Including posterity, whom they will tell about me, and in some cases be part of. Young persons visiting this discourse of mine are my posterity.
(Short digression to say that one enters one’s sagaceptual awareness for many other reasons than gaining admiration. A big one is to pursue a mate, especially when one is young. Pursuit of food is equally compelling at times. A big complication is the pursuit of beauty or truth with little or now interest in gaining admiration. I’m sure this is possible. I want truth and beauty and maximal admiration for all I do to attain the former and produce the latter. Another complication is that one may be in one’s sagaceptual while in other awarenesses as well, bouncing between them but sometimes simultaneously in more than one. In short, I have a lot more to work out than I will be seeing to in this entry.)
Back to posterity. I believe we may have an urceptual visitor-from-the-future. No, not a real one, but an urceptual other who comes to represent what may happen in the future. Someone our urceptual hero will try to convince that we deserve his admiration. I believe one’s sagaceptual awareness builds him out of one of our secondary or tertiary urceptual others, our urceptual judge. His make-up is strongly influenced by what we take from our reading about heroes. (A main function of the sagaceptual awareness is to plug us into novels and the like, to make us their heroes, thus allowing us expanded experience as heroes. Similarly, stories function to attract us into our sagaceptual awarenesses. Ditto spectator sports.)
I’m probably going from one speculation to another too quickly but hope you take it as brainstorming, and necessary touching on every idea that comes us so as not to lose it. In any case, I’m going back to Keats, whom I’ve been many times when on a quest to compose A Major Poem. (Note: my urceptual hero has many identities.) And it seems not absurd to me to believe that Keats’s posterity–all who have admired him including me–join Me-as-Keats. Hence, in a certain respect, his posterity becomes mine.
Be that as it may, I become accustomed to taking it for granted that I can have a posterity like he had. Making sure that it admires me thus becomes possible. But I want it to admire me now. I don’t really care what it does when I’m gone. So I struggle to do what I think it wants me to do–rather than what the present certifiers of repute seem to prefer that I do. Although I can’t keep from trying to find ways of gaining recognition from such people since I do believe the approval of one’s contemporaries does support the thesis that one’s admirability is “eternal,” so long as one has gained some approval from those one admires, and so long as the approval of gatekeepers is approval of what one is actually accomplishing.
That’s it for now. I have no idea how much I covered, how much left out. It’d probably be easier for me to tell if I were sure what my primary topic was.
¹ According to my metapsychology, my true self is my urwareness or that which senses the material reality that seems supplied to it by my brain. My urceptual self is not that but my brain’s “I”–the exploits of which my urwareness passively observes and experiences.