What is it that drives mankind toward immortality? Is it a mere fear of death and the unknown, or is it something else? Depending on the individual’s personal beliefs, they will say any number of things but a common thread through all is the idea of a continuity of consciousness. And that idea of continuity can manifest in several different ways – including the idea that we could one day retain our memories and place them in wholly new bodies either grown in a lab or artificially made from computers. But which thread will lead to true ultimate immortality?
Continuity of consciousness is the concept used by scientists to describe our investment in our own lives. It extends beyond the simpler self-preservation instinct into a whole new realm of importance. We want ourselves to remain in existence even after death or somehow be brought back as we are now because this experience and everything with it good and bad is the only way of existing that we are aware of. And since right from the beginning we are made aware of this body’s limitations, we will naturally look to technology for the next step, which we perceive as an indefinite period of existing like this and gradually realizing our full potential.
And the concept itself is not new by any means. Since the earliest stages of human existence and mythology, people have speculated that either the spirit exists in a different form after death or there are means by which humans can achieve a similar effect through discovery. Discovery has always been the motivating factor here, and discovery of eternal life or eternal youth have always been intertwined with one another.
But if we achieve it, are the technologies described really a way of staying immortal forever? In a previous article on the subject we touched on the possibility of a machine that keeps memories and indeed the complete identity of an individual within its databanks and even allows for this information to be transferred back into a human body. But is this even immortality? In a sense, in order to receive the benefits of the digital person the original must be destroyed – and that is in many ways the exact thing immortality seekers would be attempting to avoid. And what happens if the person doesn’t agree to be destroyed, but their identity is copied anyway into a new body? Is the identity the root of the soul? And if so, how could two exact copies of one another exist and lead their own lives independently of one another?
Perhaps the answer will come in the next 50 years as futurist Ian Pearson predicts. An incredible revelation made by Pearson in 2005 held that the current generation of gaming consoles are machines 1 percent as powerful as the human brain. And if these machines were to be given 50 years, Pearson says they may not only reach human level intelligence, but exceed it considerably. Since then technology has not slowed down, but indeed sped up thanks to explorations in nanotechnology and quantum computing. And if we give such a machine a problem like, “What should we do about our mortality?” it may very well give us the answer we’ve been waiting for so long.