Welcome to Dinner Table #17 (if you don’t know what the Dinner Table is, read this). Here’s this week’s question:
If you could bring one person back from the dead, who would it be?
- The person you bring back would be 25 and healthy upon return with, presumably, a bunch of decades to live.
- The person would have all the memories of the life they lived.
- If you try to bring back a person who may or may not have actually existed, you risk losing the opportunity—if they did in fact exist, they’ll be brought back; if they didn’t, you don’t get to “try again,” you’re done.
- Two restrictions: You cannot bring back someone you knew well personally, and you cannot bring back an immediate family member (a parent, sibling, spouse, or child), even if you never knew them.
Tim’s Answer: As usual, this is a tough one. To think about it, I broke the possibilities into categories—
- Someone who will help advance the species as a whole. Some possibilities would be a scientist like Einstein, Newton, Feynman, etc. or an inventor or innovator type like Tesla, Steve Jobs, etc. A Steve Jobs-type person is compelling because while it’s unclear how Tesla would adjust to being in 2015 or whether he’d have a change of heart about wanting to dedicate his new life to inventing things, it’s pretty likely that Jobs would be pumped to be re-alive and would pick up right where he left off, and Apple’s keynote videos would stop disappointing me.
- Someone who will best improve the plight of today’s people. This would probably be either a great philanthropist or someone involved in medicine or life sciences. We could see what a Marie Curie or a Jonas Salk or an Alexander Fleming could do with six more decades and the benefit of everything we’ve learned since their deaths. Or, along the same “modern might be better” philosophy I mentioned above for Steve Jobs, it could make sense to pick someone like renowned AIDS researcher Joep Lange, who was killed last year on the Malaysia Airlines flight that was gunned down over rebel-held Eastern Ukraine.
- Someone who can bring a huge amount of enjoyment to humanity. Probably someone in the arts? Mozart wouldn’t be a bad choice. He had a solid showing in his first 35-year life, so with a handful more decades and the benefit of Logic Pro and every top orchestra drooling at the prospect of playing and recording anything new he wrote, I imagine we’d be treated to some very rad music. And weird picturing him getting on stage with Kanye West at some benefit concert. I’d also really like to hear some good Mark Twain witticisms about modern times.
- A spiritual leader whose return could potentially settle a lot of modern religious strife. Muhammad could be a good choice. But the key word is “potentially.” Entirely unclear what Muhammad would say or do when he got here, and his revival could also make things much worse.
- Someone who could give us answers to unanswered questions. For example, most of what we know about early humanity is educated guesswork—bringing back someone who lived in 80,000 BC, teaching them language, and getting them to describe their life in detail could be as riveting as anything and help us connect a lot of dots. A more useful choice might be someone who lived during the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution or in early Mesopotamia, but the 80,000 BC guy would be more fun.
- Someone that would make everyone ridiculously starstruck. Jesus, Genghis Khan, Shakespeare, Confucius, Caesar, Attila the Hun, King Henry VIII, Buddha, Homer, Tutankhamun, Abraham, Moses, Leonardo da Vinci, Plato, Socrates, etc. If any of those people were suddenly here, as a 25-year-old with all their memories, it would be cool. And it would redefine the word starstruck. Imagine Confucius, looking like a modern dude, being interviewed on 60 Minutes, or Genghis Khan coming out with a bestseller autobiography, or Shakespeare’s YouTube channel being the first to hit 100 million subscribers. Of course, many of these carry the “they might not be real” risk, so you’d have to take that into account.
- Someone who deserves to see how big a difference they made. I thought about this a lot during the presidents posts. Abraham Lincoln knew he did the country a solid, but he really didn’t get to enjoy it at all. The Civil War victory had barely sunk in when he was shot. It would be really gratifying to bring him back and for him to be able to soak it all in. He’d also be immediately elected the next US president, which is intense, and he’d be automatically effective, because no one in the government would have the guts to criticize him.
- Someone who wasn’t punished badly enough during their lifetime. Hitler, duh, but many others too. Lots of groundbreakingly bad dude tyrants and torturers and rapists and genociders throughout history who died happy and never had to suffer for what they did or feel any regret. It’s the opposite of the last bullet point. Hitler, for one, died by suicide knowing he had lost the war, yes, but accounts of his last days describe him as content, believing he would go down in history as a valiant warrior who did everything he could for his country. Kind of badly need him to know about his current worldwide reputation. I’d say the same about Christopher Columbus, except he’d be delighted to learn about his modern reputation.
- One of your own ancestors. It’s kind of a dickish choice because it’s only good for you, not anyone else, but it would be tempting to bring back a great or great-great-grandparent, or someone way farther back, and to have a chance to get to know them and learn about where you came from. One way to do this not-selfishly is by bringing back either Mitochondrial Eve or Y-chromosomal Adam, the most recent woman and man who are common ancestors to every modern living human. This might be particularly awkward for Y-chromosomal Adam, who was probably not a fully-evolved human and would be very bad at most jobs, but who would also feel extra special because he was all of our ancestor, putting us at risk of having to deal with the ultimate over-entitled Millennial.
My choice: After going back and forth a thousand times, I’d pick Isaac Newton. He’d hit a bunch of the above bullet points. He was a genius of rare proportions in his lifetime, and it’s pretty clear that he had a truly unusual brain and wasn’t just in the right place at the right time. Brought up to speed with modern knowledge, he might be able to come up with discoveries that would both advance and help humanity in massive ways. On top of that, he carries a high starstruck factor, and it would just be incredibly interesting to see what our greatest 17th century mind could do with 21st century knowledge—I need to know what his opinion would be on string theory and dark matter and the multiverse theory and the future of humanity.
And who would you bring back?