Sunday, April 29, 2012

Surviving Immortality

Imagine for a moment that you no longer had to worry about your life coming to an end. How dramatically might your consciousness shift, with that nagging dread of impending doom no longer hanging over your head; like the Sword of Damocles? But, like Damocles, you might also realize you would be trading one dilemma for another. Perhaps a much bigger problem than you might believe, until realization of the full implication of immortality truly seeps in.

Humans are understandably anxious and consumed by their mortality. Not only do we have to imagine painfully infinite versions for our demise, but then what?

Oh there are so many possibilities! Maybe you truly just blink out of existence; or perhaps there is a heaven; maybe not, maybe just hell, or worse, just hell for you. You could be relegated to a lonely spirit wandering the Earth aimlessly, or be reincarnated as a Flounder, or just merge into the Multiverse as part of an endless, homogeneous oneness of spirituality; or find yourself trapped in the body of a politician (who is usually a lawyer)...I could go on. So many choices. And confound it all, someday when you're standing at the brink there, with your toes already over the edge, it's too late to ponder your choices any more. You're just along for the ride now; whatever happens, happens.

As Earth bounders, we live in perishable organic vehicles we refer to as human bodies. We assume body death is our greatest threat to existence. Well of course it is. Everybody knows that. But what if that was our least concern? What if we actually lived forever, no longer needing to contemplate any concept of mortality? Our options here are surprisingly few really. Either we live in indestructible bodies, or our spiritual essence and consciousness simply departs our bodies at death, we grab another handy model off the shelf and continue on unfazed in the least. Not unlike a driver abandoning their car by the side of the road, when their engine dies and dropping by the closest dealership to purchase another one. Too far out for you?

As it turns out, you may not be able to put off having to decide where you stand on this issue of perpetual existence for much longer. Man will apparently be forced to face that conundrum in the not too distant future...maybe even less than 30 years or so, according to Ray Kurzweil. Who's Ray Kurzweil? He's best known for the documentary film about his life as an inventor and futurist portrayed in Transcendent Man. In a recent Time Magazine article: 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal, he is quoted as predicting man's ascendance to immortality will begin by 2045. That's the year he predicts artificial intelligence will pass up human intelligence. After that, life as we know it now will come to an end.

He calls this the "singularity"; the game changing event which will spell the ultimate end of mankind's supremacy on planet Earth. We'll be replaced by "machine-kind"; cyborgs who will be faster, smarter and infinitely more powerful than their meat-stick creators. And where does that leave us "meat-sticks" in the post-singularity world?

Kurzweil is an artificial intelligence savant. Bill Gates has called him "the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence" and Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Technology in 1999. So he has the reputation of knowing a thing or two about the potential for machine intelligence. Kurzweil is, however, more upbeat about the fate of mankind, ardently believing an ultimate merging of machines with humans will create a new genesis for humans, culminating in the big carrot in the sky - an end to man's arch enemy, mortality.

So no matter your philosophical, or religious stance on man's soul, whether we have one or not, that argument may soon become a moot point really. You won't have to worry about where you go after death, you won't be going anywhere.

So back to that hanging chad of a question: would life be better if it never ended? Would life be blissful if you never had to worry about dying? Think about the relatively brief span of your life thus far, have you never been hopelessly bored, or occasionally even just sick to death of living?

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