Monica Byrne
972,118 views • 12:38

Do I look real to you? Hope so. I have no idea if you're seeing this, but I'm just going to look ahead and trust that you're there. I've drawn a semicircle in the sand in front of me so I don't walk past it and look like I'm floating in midair.

Right now I'm standing in the open air, on a beach under a palm tree, in the exact spot where your stage used to be. I have 12 minutes with you. I set a limit. My wife Navid once said that infinite possibility is a creator's worst enemy. For example, this dress: I'd asked her to design something that a priest might have worn in 23rd-century Cairo. But we only had three days to make it, and the only fabric we had was an old duvet cover that another resident left behind. But she did it, and it's perfect. And she looked at it and said, "Proof of concept — creation needs constraint." So with these 12 minutes, I'm going to tell you about my greatest discovery.

For my whole life, my obsession has been eternal life, as I know it is so many of yours. You may be happy to know that your research will pay off. I am 318 years old. The average human lifespan is now 432 years, and my work has been to extend the human lifespan indefinitely. And I've never questioned that someday, we'll reach a point where we'll be content. But the opposite keeps happening: the longer we live, the longer we want to live, the less we want to die.

Who can blame us? The universe is so big. There won't ever not be more to see. Just yesterday, I was reading about how you can take out a boat on Europa and sail from island to island all over the planet, and some of the islands have villages that you can stay and visit and sleep under the shadow of Jupiter. And then there's this other island where there's just one songwriter who sits and plays mandolin for the ocean. And then there are others where there's no one and there never has been, and so you go just for the pleasure of touching your foot to sand that no foot has ever touched before. You could spend 400 years doing just that.

Right now the Moon is rising in the Northeast. I can see the cities on it with my naked eye. They're connected like nerve clusters: Mariapolis on the South Pole, and Ramachandran on the Equator. And New Tehran in the Sea of Tranquility.

That's where Navid and I met. We were both artists downtown. The day we met, we were passing each other in Azadi Square, and we bumped shoulders. And I turned to apologize and she, without saying hello or introducing herself or anything, said, "Well, why do you think we didn't just pass through each other?" And first of all, I thought, "Who the hell are you?" But second, the question annoyed me, because the answer is so simple. I said, "We didn't pass through each other because elementary particles have mass and because the space between elementary particles is filled with the binding energy that also has the properties of mass, and we've known that for 800 years." She must have been in one of those moods where she likes to mess with strangers. Or maybe she was just flirting with me, because she looked at me and said, "I thought you'd say that. Think deeper." And then she took off her belt, this belt that I'm wearing now, and she said, "Our universe is built so that particles have mass. Without that basic constraint, we'd have just passed right through each other at the speed of light and never even known."

And that's how our romance began. Navid and I never ran out of things to talk about. Never. It was incredible. It was like we were both heroes climbing up into a mountain range together and we kept arriving at new vistas, and these new, perfect constellations of words would come out of us to describe them. And we'd forget them as soon as we made them, and throw them over our shoulder and go on to the next thing, on and up. Or one time, Navid said that our talk was like we were always making bread, and that we were always adding in a little more flour and a little more water, and folding it in and turning it over and never getting around to baking it.

If my obsession was eternal life, Navid's obsession was touch. She had a genius for it. All of her work revolved around it. My body was like a canvas for her, and she would draw her fingertip down over my face so slowly that I couldn't feel it moving. And she was obsessed with the exact moment when I would stop being able to tell the difference between her body and mine. Or she would just lie across me and dig her shoulder into mine and say, "Pilar, why does this feel so good?" I'd say, "I don't know!" And she always had a facetious answer for her facetious question, but the answer I remember today is, "It feels good because the universe chose its constraints, and we are its art."

It's always funny what you think the future is going to be like versus what it turns out to be. In your time, scientists thought humans could freeze themselves and wake up in the future. And they did — but then they died. In your time, scientists thought humans could replace organs and extend life for hundreds of years. And they did, but eventually, they died anyway. In your time, Earth is the only place people live. In my time, Earth is the place people come to die.

So when Navid started to show the signs, our friends assumed I would do what everyone does, which is say goodbye and send her to Earth, so that none of us would have to look at her or be around her or think about her and her ... failure to keep living. More than anything, they didn't want to be around her actual physical body. They kept referring to it as "declining," even though she herself was fascinated by it, the changes it was going through, following the rules of its nature day by day, independent of her will. I did send Navid to Earth. But I came with her. I remember a friend of ours, just before we left, said, "I just think it's arrogant, like the rules don't apply to you, like you think your love is that special." But I did.

So, even here on Earth, I kept working on how to extend life. It didn't occur to me that there could be any other response. I kept going back to that thing that Navid said to me that day in Azadi Square, that without that basic constraint — a universe that granted mass to matter — we would not exist. That's one rule. Another rule is that all mass is subject to entropy. And there is no way to be in this universe without mass. I know. I tried everything. I tried creating a photon box where the Higgs field was altered. I tried recording all subatomic movements in my body and replaying them on closed loop. Nothing worked.

But my final innovation was to create a coil dimension with the boundaries of a body in which time moved infinitely slower, but whose projection would appear to move in normal time. That body would then appear in our universe as a hologram — here but not here. When I realized I'd done it, I ran to her room, so happy to tell her I'd done it, moving through space almost normally to all eyes, even to my own, and went to lie down next to her, and forgot, and fell right through her. I'd found a way to eternal life, at the expense of the one thing Navid loved most, which was to touch and be touched. And she threw me out. I still got to watch, though.

Humans live 400 years now, and we still die. And when death comes, the dying still pick at their bedsheets, and their arms break out in blue and violet blooms on the insides, and their breaths get further and further apart, like they're falling asleep.

I've always thought that what gives a life meaning is adventure. And death is just a problem we haven't discovered the solution to yet. But maybe a life has meaning only because it ends. Maybe that's the paradox: constraints don't constrain, they allow perfect freedom.

(Sighs)

There was a thunderstorm here this morning. There is another forecast for tonight, but for now the sky is clear. I can't feel the wind here, but I just asked one of the caretakers who passed by what it felt like, and she said it felt warm, like melted butter. An answer worthy of my wife. I have to find my way back to the flesh. Until then, I take up no space but the space you give me.