If you are reading this page then there are two facts I can state about you with 100% certainty. Without knowing anything anything about you I can state that you are alive and I can also state that one day you will be dead. Everything that makes you uniquely you will be gone forever and there is nothing that can be done about it, or is there?
Science fiction treats death very interestingly, there are the usual scenes common to war films, cowboys etc where people are being shot dead everywhere you look and life is cheap and then there are the usual science fiction aspects, such as (a) resurrection and (b) immortality. I will discuss both below, but before I do I have a question for you to think about. Why do we die? There are two answers to this question and I will give you my personal views on both. I stress these are our personal views and so if you feel we have got it wrong, then do get in contact with your own answers.
Why do we die?
Answer 1 - We serve our time and then go to a better place. Our view is that in ancient times the idea that you die is so depressing that a concept developed that there is a better place. Many cultures had/have that view, the Vikings had Valhalla, the Greeks had Elysian Fields etc. Think about it, if you wanted men to go into battle and fight would they have been so keen if they had known how truly precious life is?
Answer 2 - The ant theory, in other worlds you lay down your life for the benefit of your species. Think about it, as you grow older you get more innovative and creative, peaking in your 30s and 40s. After that you start to become more set in your ways and therefore less and less innovative and creative. Now of course there are exceptions, but as a general rule we think it holds up. Therefore when you die you make way for a younger generation and ensure the continuing development of the species. We believe this is hard coded into our genes and is therefore non-optional.
Let's move on to the three science fiction themes:
We've seen it in science fiction. Our hero is dead and along comes some alien technology and he's alive again. First we need to understand what it means to be dead. How would you know if someone is dead? OK let test you out here by giving you some symptoms. A person has no pulse, no blood in their body and electrical readings of brain activity is flat - are they dead of alive? I guess your answer would be that they would be dead and that their soul would be in Heaven/Valhalia.Elysian Fields etc. Maybe not, there is a complex medical procedure for open heart surgery when the patient is cooled right down, the heart stopped and the blood removed into a container. Brain activity falls to zero and to all intents and purposes that person is dead. However, once the complex operation is complete the patient is slowly warmed up, the blood pumped back into the body and the heart re-started. The patient makes a full recovery (as an aside, patients are asked for their experience of being dead. All said there was nothing - they went unconscious and then someone was bringing them round, nothing in between).
In terms of bringing people back from the dead, yes we're already doing it. However, everything needs to be in a fit and decent condition. It would not be possible with current technology to bring a patient back from the dead if a vital organ, such as the heart, had been destroyed. The same applies to science fiction, sure technology will get better and better but the basic fact is that the body, and the brain in particular, starts to decay very quickly and therefore you need to act quickly. Who knows in the future we may have cryogenic capabilities and so the patient whose heart is destroyed can be quickly frozen, a new heart grown from stem cells, patient thawed and new heart installed. Possible, yes, but we're a long way off from that.
In the section "Why do we die?" we believe answer 2 to be the correct answer. Therefore immortality is easy, you gentically engineer that command from our genes. The genes do not gradually decay (we've heard this described as errors in making copies of copies over time with the example of a VHS tape - we disagree, we believe the copying process is more like copying one DVD to another, i.e. digitial copies which are always identical without error). However, knowing what to do and doing it are two totally different things. Research on rats have resulted in longer lifespans (scale up to a human and it's about 200 years) but there is still death. However, work is on-going.
In Sci-Fi there are always doomsday scenarios where the world will be destroyed (and where usually only one man can save the planet). We seem to really enjoy doomsday predictions, the 2012 doomsday prediction is a classic example.