There are two things that are assured in life, the old phrase goes – Death and Taxes. But while taxes don’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon it does appear that one day we may be looking at a world where humanity may no longer deal with death anymore. But what are some of the proposed models of immortality? And how soon could we be seeing them? And what pitfalls might arise from it?
Death specifically for the purpose of this article should probably be defined right off the bat to provide a backdrop for a few of the theories. While the death of the body might be inevitable as cells degrade and die off over time, the death of the consciousness or the interruption of our identity is the part that most of us fear the most. And that’s precisely the sort of thing scientists are researching to put an end to. And while it may not happen in our lifetime there are many scientists who are already saying ours will be the last generation to die.
So how would we do it? The problem with our identities at the moment is that they’re all tied to a very corporeal and temporary form. But if this form were able to reproduce our thoughts in a way uninterrupted and retain all of its old memories, we could essentially live forever. But unlike cloning this method would not be bound to the organic matter we currently live with. So if we could cross the barrier currently separating the human consciousness from an external machine like a computer, we could immediately start uploading or downloading our consciousness into a format that could live outside fo the body.
But this raises another possible pitfall so horrifying that it could have come from the pages of HP Lovecraft’s tales of terror themselves. If we were to download our identity into an external device like a computer, then that computer could very well fall into the hands of someone that meant to do us harm. And along with it, our consciousness would be in very grave peril. Just as Descartes’ demon that controls all reality and yet cannot be proven or disproved an unseen hand could affect every memory and change everything about the way we think so that we live through the nightmare that they suggest rather than our own. And if their consciousness were contained within a computer that could affect the computer containing our consciousness, but not vice versa then this could have an effect similar to an evil god suddenly entering our world who is in every way omnipotent. In the end it could spell grave consequences for the few who do ultimately decide to enter into this external form of immortality.
And if memories could be affected as well, cut and pasted and even outright changed – then the immortal person would have no recollection of the events at all. But before reality suddenly seems more horrifying, consider the following: If the possibility of a person’s immortal consciousness within a computer being compromised were possible, it’s also possible that the computer containing said consciousness could have been programmed to provide a positive and enlightening life. In fact, this is one of the first things a person would likely do when putting their mind into a new vessel to ensure the sanctity of their identity. And isn’t this the ultimate goal of immortality?