Michael Battalio

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Serious conversations (part 34):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth entries deal with leaving a legacy.

Sorry for the hiatus. Writing a thesis takes a lot of work. For the next few months, the blog should resume its normal post every three weeks schedule.

My friend begins: In the past, people have been studied and remembered through letters they have written or journals they have kept - what about us?  What will happen to our vast archives of e-mails, Facebook and Twitter updates, blog posts, etc? But the cycle of life and death and the fading of memories over time are central and fundamental to human existence.  Maybe they are ultimately the most fundamental things of all in the human consciousness, and that's why people are so driven to leave a legacy.  Whereas we are biologically driven to reproduce our genes, we also have this extra mental baggage of memories and ideas that we want to pass on, and that can't be done biologically.  Throughout our lives, we witness the fading of memories with time and death and also see younger generations running off with ideas of their own, and we are afraid of being forgotten.

I respond: As I continue to work in academia, I am impressed by the difficulty in making a name for oneself.  The renown meteorologists publish vast quantities of research across a multitude of different disciplines.  I believe it will be very difficult to leave a legacy in the scientific community though that is my ultimate goal, so I'm forced to consider ways to be remembered outside of the science.  Because I don't really have very many grandiose ideas that might make me memorable, I'm simply making sure that I leave all my thoughts and work that I do produce well documented in digital form and saved in many places.  It is partly why I am sure to keep my website up to date and easily visible.  If I die tomorrow, there will be some record of me out there that can be viewed.

        It might be that to be human, you must not only live and die, but accomplish and be forgotten. Consider this, think about all the people who have done something far in the past that made them be really memorable to their generation and the next couple of following generations, but we have no idea who they are now. I could site innumerable examples, but here is one: can you name something significant that each of the US presidents did? I bet you can’t. I can’t. (I can’t even name all of them from memory.) I bet no one except presidential historians can. They were the leaders of what would be (for a time) the “greatest” country in the world, but no one remembers anything about them except their names. (Another side question, what is it to be remembered? I don’t think merely having my name remembered is worth it. I think that what I’ve done must be remembered.) I think almost universally that to be remembered for long periods of time you must contribute something to the arts, sciences, philosophy. I don’t think any political accomplishments will be remembered for all that long. And beyond that, at some point we will all be forgotten even if humanity continues for another 100,000 years. Another example, who invented the wheel? We have no clue. An inventor who could rank up and beyond with da Vinci, Edison, Ford, Franklin and we have no idea who he/she is. The reasons are because it was so long ago, and the communication mechanisms used to record the event and name (stone, primitive language) were rendered obsolete. (Back to my side question, is it enough to have your accomplishment remembered but not who you were?) I would argue that the mechanisms that are used today to record history (paper, computers, modern language) will also one day become obsolete, and a lot of people’s names will be lost in the process even though the actual accomplishments might remain.

2003-2016 Michael Battalio (michael[at]battalio.com)