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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Review - Rick Mor­ton

Be­fore her death, our 16-year-old cat Sparky — with whom we had shared so many mem­o­ries — took up res­i­dence with an el­derly, for­get­ful cou­ple two doors down. It is not un­com­mon for an­i­mals, es­pe­cially cats, to take them­selves away to a quiet spot un­der the stairs or in a hedge to breathe their last, but it hurt that ours de­cided to do so a full year be­fore she carked it.

The neigh­bours even­tu­ally dis­cov­ered she be­longed to us but, in a mo­ment of gra­cious­ness, mum told them they could have her if it pleased them. They had be­gun call­ing her Fluffy de­spite pe­ri­odic re­minders this was not her name. They fed her milk and erected some­thing of a cat-palace for her in which to sleep.

When she died, our cat was buried in the yard of her new par­ents be­neath a sign that said: “Sparky / Fluffy”. It was a nod to her twin lives. It was as if, hounded from physics by cat fanciers, Schrodinger had be­come a sign-writer.

In her prime, Sparky had a habit of bring­ing in half a mouse. The front she kept for her­self. The hind quar­ters were dumped some­where on the kitchen floor for us to find. What does any­one do with half a mouse? Ask a sci­en­tist. In one ex­per­i­ment to tackle the ef­fects of age­ing, an old mouse is sur­gi­cally con­nected to a young mouse, shares its blood and be­comes younger. This has been touted as a suc­cess story for the older mouse — though, cu­ri­ously, one never hears much about what the youth­ful one made of the whole or­deal. Did it wake up older? Yearn for the bubonic plague?

Sparky was not a sci­en­tist. She hated ev­ery­thing she didn’t un­der­stand. And I sus­pect, like me, she didn’t want to live for­ever, un­like the new breed of tech bil­lion­aires such as Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife.

Some weeks I don’t par­tic­u­larly feel like liv­ing past Tues­day. I think it’s be­cause I am not a bil­lion­aire, nor par­tic­u­larly suited to Mon­days.

Dur­ing re­li­gious classes as a child, the idea of eter­nity bugged me. The whole point of be­ing alive is that we die.

Mum has swung the pen­du­lum a lit­tle too far in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, if you ask me. She rang me a few weeks ago to glee­fully in­form me that she had up­dated her will. A mag­pie statue named Ed­die, bought on a trip to Phillip Is­land and named af­ter the Colling­wood boss, is mine.

Thank you, I tell her, while imag­in­ing the im­pos­si­ble bleak ab­sur­dity of the day I take him home. My sis­ter, hav­ing ex­pressed an in­tense dis­like for a set of dis­coloured doilies, will be the new happy owner of them when mum goes. We have been hear­ing about our mother’s hy­po­thet­i­cal will since we were in pri­mary school, which might sound ma­cabre but it was her way of telling us she was pre­pared.

Emily Dickinson couldn’t stop for death un­til she got into a car­riage with him. It’s like Uber, but for mor­tal­ity. The tech bil­lion­aires Peter Thiel and Sergey and Jeff Be­zos have seen the writ­ing on the wall, how­ever, and have de­cided they want to beat Dickinson at her own game. Im­mor­tal­ity is the one thing money can­not buy, so they’ve tried to bring the start-up cul­ture to wind­ing down. They’re up against evo­lu­tion, of course, which is the ul­ti­mate start- up. Start small. Af­ter much faffing about one might end up with a eu­kary­ote cell and then a fish; a whale; a hu­man. Even­tu­ally you end up with a prod­uct do­ing things for which it was never de­signed.

Our bod­ies fail pre­cisely af­ter we reach the age at which we should have passed on our genes. Ev­ery­thing be­yond that is evo­lu­tion­ar­ily point­less. It’s shoot­ing sperm into the Pacific.

As­sum­ing parts of our mind don’t live ir­re­triev­ably in our bod­ies, fu­tur­ists like Ray Kurzweil don’t think the an­swer to eter­nal life even re­lies on keep­ing these fleshy ap­pendages alive. We just jump ship, to an­other one. Or a com­puter. Or a toaster, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I’m not sure we need to try so hard. Do we re­ally want to make Lord of the Rings longer?

I’ve not met a per­son of lim­ited means who wants to live for­ever, or in­deed much longer than they al­ready do. Life, even in the strug­gle of it, is a fi­nite gift and the joy we make in it is pow­er­ful be­cause we know it can­not last.

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