IEET > Vision > Bioculture > Interns > HealthLongevity > Ben Scarlato
Immortality and Death in Battlestar Galactica
Ben Scarlato   Jan 18, 2009   Ethical Technology  

[Spoiler Alert: contains spoilers for the first episode of the final half-season of BSG Sometimes a Great Notion ] As the final half season of Battlestar Galactica opened with one of the darkest episodes ever, it gave me a lot to think about regarding death, immortality, and hope even in the worst of situations. Even if you happen to assign a low probability to the possibility of a high-quality future for ourselves here in 2009, it is worth dedicating a lot in pursuit of that future when its realization is of great value and permanence.

In the show, Dualla copes with the disappointment of finding Earth in ruins by abruptly committing suicide in an attempt to escape into death. It would seem that like D’Anna who choose to remain on Earth alone, Dualla saw the similarity between Earth being nuked 2000 years ago and the destruction of the Colonies, and saw a cycle of suffering that repeated again and again. As has often been proclaimed throughout the show, “all this has happened before and will happen again.”

In the earlier episode “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?” the Six called Natalie also seemed oddly intent on death:

“In our civil war, we’ve seen death. We watched our people die. Gone forever. As terrible as it was, beyond the reach of the Resurrection Ships, something began to change. We could feel a sense of time. As if each moment held its own significance. We began to realize that for our existence to hold any value it must end. To live meaningful lives we must die, and not return. The one human flaw, that you spend your lifetimes distressing over—mortality—is the one thing… well, it’s the one thing that makes you whole.”

After making that statement, Natalie joined with the Colonials to destroy the Resurrection Hub and make Cylons mortal. I see many flaws with Natalie’s statement; for a start it seems she values the exhilaration of a mortal life more than truly valuing death and its oblivion, for at what point would she be able to recognize the supposed value in mortality if the belief that she was mortal was removed and she were to die unexpectedly? Further, the moments of her immortal life must have absolutely zero value if even when multiplied by infinity they still do not exceed the value of a life that is, in the scheme of things, a blink of an eye. Although the immortal characters seem disturbingly intent on death, it is heartening to at least see some of the mortal characters eventually choosing life over death.

At first even Adama, one of the strongest characters in the show, seeks the escape of death after seeing Earth laid to waste and Dualla’s meaningless suicide. One of the most gripping scenes was when Adama confronted Tigh and attempted to provoke Tigh into killing him. However, Adama’s story about chasing away foxes beautifully illustrates the choice between life and death: when the foxes were cornered by a pack of hounds some would fight, others would desperately try to swim across the river, and a few swam halfway across to be swept up by the current and drown. The obvious reason for choosing drowning is desire for death, but Adama suggests the alternative explanation of tiredness. Whether the appeal of death lay in tiredness or a desire for death, Adama ultimately resisted the allure of death and continues on in search of a new planet.

The proper response to even devastating tragedy is not the seductive embrace of death and its incomprehensible oblivion, but rather perseverance even when it seems all hope is lost. The appeal of immortality lies not in continuously experiencing the pain and disappointment of life, but in looking forward and having the time to eventually create a situation that allows for a thriving life filled not with sorrow but with the things we cherish. A better place may be a long away for the Colonials, but by clinging to life it’s nonetheless a possibility for them.

Adama’s Cylon allies would seem to prefer a mortal life to an immortal one, but at least the mortal Adama has the wisdom to cling to life in the hope of a better future even when life is at its worst.







Ben Scarlato, a former IEET intern, studied Computer Science at Rochester Institute of Technology and works as a software engineer focused on security.


I finally finished watching the whole of BSG only last week, (OMG!?), and decided to comment here to reflect on this key issue of mortality – The obstruction for humanity, and key issue for both the posthuman and trans-human ideologies and goals.

I do not myself believe in reincarnation, (as with many in the western world). My predisposition and understanding of “samsara” merely encompasses an existentialist and holistic view of the sufferings of humanity, mortality, the cycle of life and death, and the chains of bondage that repeat for us all, and for every child that is born. Thus for me, “samsara” does define our mortality and our repetitive struggles for learning and self-growth, social struggles and reconciliation of understanding of ourselves and of our intellects.

For me the greatest achievement of BSG was in portraying the sociocultural study of both human suffering and human versatility. At first I was somewhat indifferent and at odds with BSG’s striving to be controversial to the end, which I initially discarded as merely hypocrisy. But then the proverbial “penny finally dropped”. Indeed hypocrisy of actions through intentions IS what drives human naivety and learning. It appears we are all doomed to repeat the same cycles of human growth and learning and understanding. And in a way this is how it should be isn’t it? Each of us has to learn for ourselves the lessons of suffering and “what it means” to be human – and then we die?

“All of this has happened before and will happen again” describes precisely the repetition of our chains of bondage and of our limitations. History repeats itself through us alone, with our lack of understanding and naivety. It is our mortality and “lack of longevity” which perpetuates this repetition and which stands in the way of the social progression of humanity?

I want more life. I want more “time” to pursue enlightenment and peace and an end to suffering. I “need” more time to learn and understand. It is mysterious how humans are so relatively short lived as compared with other animals like Elephants or Whales. Most likely this is a combination of our own irresponsibility, heart rates and metabolism, and our own social machinations and speed of lifestyles? We are not robust animals.

BSG raises the point of issue where mortals debate for their lack of longevity and fragility, and where the Cylon machines see their immortality as a disability that prolongs their sufferings – but why does it need to be this way? The shortfall of the Cylon’s is precisely because they have failed to learn, despite their logic and with their “high irrationality”, (in turn a failing in their creators).

Despite the highs and lows of BSG I loved this “space opera” and moreover it turns out to be a very poignant and profound reflection on humanity, and of where we as a species find ourselves today. We are reaching a point where our technology and ideals are merging. We do need to reflect on these key issues of suffering and conflicts driven by our lack of understanding. We need to pursue self-understanding that can lead to both sociocultural and spiritual evolution.

I do feel that the writers/producers were aiming to serve us a warning of what may possibly come to pass if we do not take heed? Although their persuasions towards fatalism and God perhaps went too far, to the delight and embrace of luddite mentalities. However, it was a delight and pleasure to watch this series from start to finish, the acting was superb and the overall quality and consistency of it’s drama was a measure of it’s strength. Sometimes It left me a little depressed, sometimes excited, yet moreover often left me thinking deeply about the misunderstandings and misconceptions we have of each other and of ourselves.

In the end I have no sympathy for either humans or the Cylons – and why? Because they are precisely the same, born of the same, and their free will is ultimately interconnected and reliant upon each other.

The Plan - “Don’t you get it? The idea is that we are all supposed to learn to accept and live with each other?”

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Military Futurism and Coming Climate Wars

Previous entry: Cosmic Engineers Defend Transhumanism’s Radicalism