Better Off Dead?

11 babe ruthIf resurrection becomes permissible, would reanimating legends diminish their utility?

Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, and other pioneers all had measurable impact in our world. Their contributions continue to resonate through time; but, if we had the power to bring them back, I’m skeptical that their intellectual currency kept pace with inflation—perhaps they work best in our memory.

Let’s draw an example:

It’s often said by baseball pundits that Babe Ruth, arguably the best player of all time, couldn’t hold a candle to modern major leaguers. They argue that these days, it’s hard to fathom him edging-out stars who’ve been trained in highly-competitive talent development leagues since diapers.

If Babe Ruth—The Great Bambino—were to miraculously return to baseball, we’d be risking what he means to baseball, possibly tainting what he is to so many people. (Just ask any three-year-old who the best baseball player of all time is.)

In this way, Babe’s most useful as an ideal, not as a player.

Reanimating the thinkers and doers first mentioned in this entry could have a similar effect: it’s not that restoring Albert Einstein wouldn’t be beneficial to science and mankind; it’s that in all likelihood, he’s no smarter or able than modern scientists who have followed in his footsteps.

A living Einstein couldn’t possibly create the edifice as a dead one could; much less could he meet demand for his time. Likely, his active involvement in the scientific community would be lackluster compared with the great expectations for him; and, likely, he’d on-par with the rest of the active community.

Like Babe, Einstein’s most useful as an ideal, not as a player. To further the risk, if Einstein proved not to be a modern-day Einstein, his reanimation could detract from his story.

Perhaps this is true for living legends as well.

Though, as an afterthought, a postmortem comeback to the top would be an impressive feat, one that would create a new benchmark for legend; but, we do need to recognize the possible (and likely) deleterious effects associated with returning the idea of a specific person—an idealistic person—into human form. Having it be a net benefit would be a long-shot, one pragmatism should prohibit in almost all circumstances.



I think I peppered enough uncertainty in my statements as to not really declare a position either way. Regardless, I'm not sure I'm ready to reduce my thoughts to such an extreme as you've suggested. It's a slippery slope, for sure, and you've distilled one conclusion quite eloquently.

Sorry for the delay in approving your comment; akismet picked it up as possible spam.


Barry Kelly
Barry Kelly

I presume that you are aware that the utilitarian reductionist interpretation of what you just wrote justifies genocide and mass murder of people in society and in other countries that you judge unproductive.

If reanimation were a possibility for some values of death, it would mean that certain values of death are medically treatable conditions. By arbitrarily saying that those people have accomplished all they could accomplish (and I don't see that you've justified your value judgement), it means that you support withdrawing medical treatment from accomplished individuals who are very likely to have reached their peak.

But the value of a life isn't simply its instrumental effect on broad society. Not only is it worthy in its own right, but to be a "net benefit", a life need not be a whole lot more than economically self-sufficient.