Thursday, August 2, 2012

Who Wants To Live Forever?

An awful lot has been said throughout history on the subject of immortality.  Religions of all denominations proclaim eternal life as the successor to death.  Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon was obsessed with it.  Humans for millennia have been trying to achieve it.  And it's a major theme in speculative fiction, from Dracula to Highlander.

Immortals come in a number of varieties: deities, vampires, ghosts, zombies, alien races, observers, and even humans who, through science or magic, have escaped the grasp of death.  Some forms portray immortality as gruesome; tales of warning perhaps.  Some laud it as the holy grail of all life.  And all make us question our own feelings when faced with such a possibility.

A recent news article - where Russian scientist Dmitry Itskov is working to create a humanoid robot, capable of housing artificial brains which contain a person's complete consciousness - got me to thinking about this subject.  This project, if successful, would allow the human consciousness to escape the body before death, and live on forever in the body of an avatar.  Some of our wildest science fiction could soon become reality.

Da Vinci Vitruvian man, © Luc Viatour (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Aside from the initial knee-jerk reaction of not wanting to die, it's an interesting quandary. One could quite realistically choose to avoid death, but could one choose to give up that borrowed time later on? There are many ethical and moral questions to be pondered here besides simple immortality. What about things like human relationships and sex? Since a venture of this nature is so incredibly expensive, what of the implications of Itskov suggesting that such cybernetic immortality can be exchanged for a price? At what point does one's intellect and contributions to society factor into the equation? And when will the ability to choose potential immortals be bought and paid for? Almost immediately after implementation, one would assume.

And while many people jump at the idea of living forever, many others are repulsed by the idea. The thought of always being around, outliving anyone you ever cared about, watching as those around you die off one by one is something they'd rather not face. To those of this opinion, it's a horror - a curse, not a blessing at all.

I intend to live forever. So far, so good.

- Steven Wright

That's my opinion on the matter too. While death is said to be the last great adventure, I'm not quite ready to give up adventuring where I am just yet. I'm having far too much fun. I don't think, even after pondering it as long as I have, that I'd be too disappointed with immortality. I think I'd kind of like it. After all, it'd give those "back in the day" stories some real meat, wouldn't it?

A lot of this argument centers around quality of life. "I wouldn't want to outlive my usefulness, my ability to really get out and live!" we opine from the comfortable sanctuary of the couch. We say this, while hiding the fact that not only haven't we been anywhere or seen anything special in longer than we care to admit. We love the adventurer, the world traveler, the guy who gets into these fantastic, chaotic situations around the world, but we only love it because we can watch from the safety of our own little world.

A symbolic gravestone in Foulden Churchyard,  © Copyright Walter Baxter 

And it seems the main argument is that we'd have to sit around for all eternity watching our loved ones die, but really, that happens even now. And we continue to live and move on, as does the circle of life. We're constantly making new friends, losing track of some of the old ones. Would immortality really change this pattern? I don't think it would.

So how about you? How does Itskov's possibility of cybernetic immortality strike you? Is it the coolest idea ever? A nightmare too horrible to consider? Some combination of nightmare and dream?


  1. Na, count me out. We should celebrate our lives and accept that when it's time, we leave the world to new people. It's our time now. When that's done, it's done.

  2. That's the opinion of a lot of folks, and I can totally see it. I mean, if/when death is unavoidable for me, bring it on! If I have to go out, I'm going out in style. But my curiosity of the future is just too much for me to pass up an opportunity like this.

    Heh. Wonder why I write science fiction, eh?

  3. I talk about this very thing in the book I'm working on now: immortality. Personally, the thought of having to live forever is horrifying. However, I'm a tad curious to see how that consciousness thing would work. Would it really be me? I don't think so. It would just be some android who thinks and talks and acts like me. (Who might even possibly think they are me.) But me? I would be dead. And happily so. Because I don't believe this is true immortality. I don't believe you can house a real person in a robot. And if they ever found true immortality. I would run, screaming, in the opposite direction.

  4. Krystal, from what they say in the article, at least based on the science they claim, your consciousness is directly transferred over to a cybernetic form. It's still you. You're still alive, at least as far as the brain is concerned. And since brain dead is pretty much the norm when pronouncing someone dead, I'd say that's what we're working with here.

    Assuming you'd still be you - at least from the standpoint of being "alive" or "dead", would that change your opinion? Would knowing you'd still be completely sentient, aware and cognizant, be a positive thing or a negative thing?

    I'm not trying to convince you otherwise, just curious as to what your answer might be.