Lets face it, all SciFi boils down to the eternal question of “what if”. What if we could ascend to the stars, what if we had unlimited energy, what if our ability to shape our environment was only limited by our imagination? What if we were immortal?
We all recognize these themes from countless SciFi novels and movies, they make us dream of the possibilities that would open up if when the starting conditions change. The starting conditions being our current existence, of course. That’s what makes gives it the “Fi”. However, as a formally trained scientist, I always ask the “Sci” when I watch a movie or read a novel. “How” can we beat this pesky “FTL” issue. How can we harness unlimited energy to benefit us all?
Over time, I came to a rather sobering realization, namely that there is one constant in these thoughts: immortality. Yes, eternal life, a literal fountain of youth. This is the ultimate goal of all human endeavor but it isn’t limited to humans, we are just the only ones who are self aware of it (as far as we know). The quest for immortality is the literal essence of life, sustaining its own self while striving for propagation which is nothing but copying of self with improvements where possible.
Alright, pause. All of the above has been percolating in my head for a while and recently found itself in some ungainly 140 character bursts to @Feiryred who – as an exobiologist – does for a living what us terrestrial biologists dream about – imaging life so radically different from ours but yet consistent within the laws of physics. And get away with in presentations…
As an an old(fashioned) biologist, I learned that the definition of life is – while somewhat nebulous – somewhere along the lines that life of being an energetic upstream event, separated from its environment and seeking reproduction. Check the interwebs for better definitions; the best ones from the smartest people are likely the shortest.
Lets postulate that “life” will always strive for more “life”. Similar to “fire” which will burn surrounding fuel, “life” has an inherent drive (oh please, let me not slip into some New Age nonsense) to extend itself and make (preferably improved) more of itself. With this, we humans are in all of our activities united with the lowest parasite. All medical research is geared toward extending a meaningful and non-suffering life. And its working. Diseases that were deemed incurable are knocked down slowly but steadily. One horror of the past after an other has fallen or at least cornered, the bubonic plague, HIV/AIDS, Hep-C and many more. Cancer is next and given the complexity of this “emperor of all maladies” it may take us a few more generations but its end is inevitable. Ageing, the slow decay of our bodies, the ancient, great equalizer is being challenged.
Curving back to SciFi, extending our own, born body’s life is only one of several methods by which we could achieve immortality. There are more but curiously, its a pretty short list. Lets look at it, considering that I firmly believe that one or more of them is – quite literally – inevitable:
- Extension of the original body, essentially stopping the ageing process while defeating all disease. Humans will age to maturity (say mid-20s) and simply “stop” getting older. Neuronal process and learning need to be accommodated within the same body of course and its arguable whether the hardware (brain etc) can sustain the information load that we would experience over thousands, tens of thousands of years. Yes, @Feiryred, storage lacunas and other cybernetic augmentations may well be a solution. Its an intriguing possibility because it fuses our obsession with “youth” with the practical worth of “experience”. Society would be a parade of perfect bodies with ancient minds.
- Exchange of bodies. Effectively, if we can’t maintain our original body and accept that the flesh is weak, we transfer our consciousness into a new one (“sleeve“) as we wish. This is similar to EVE’s clone jumping of course but where EVE invents arbitrary restrictions on how many “selves” are allowed (1) in reality, we would face the possibility of artificially creating “mind twins” that diverge as separate experience shape new memories. Also, who says its a human body? Why not transfer the “self” into an elephant, whale or …
- …transfer oneself into a computer. Yes, Tron, inward migration, all of that. More SciFi books are written about AI becoming self aware than humans becoming effectively the “I”. Upload yourself into the limitless ether of information would be stupendous – if only if one counted the possibilities of multiplicity and limitless interaction with other “selves”. But hey, while there, who said that the uploaded “self” stays in one contiguous bloc? My moral self may well go one way from my immoral. “I” as an entity will cease but “I” as an informational imprint will multiply. Which leads to the whole concept of …
- … “ascension”. Forgive my terrible shorthand using “ascension” as a summative term for all events reaching to a state of consciousness that is truly disconnected from the physical reality we know. Use “enlightenment” if that works better. A true, albeit artificially conceived melange of all of our selves is likely the hardest to imagine for us simply because our definition of “self” has a separation to “other” at its core. Without that separation, we would be quite literally everything and nothing.
Let me restate, I firmly, absolutely believe that humankind will reach true, unambiguous immortality. It is our ultimate goal, our objective and our only reason of being alive. Whether we are researchers publishing papers, parents having children, entrepreneurs amassing fortunes, authors writing books or nobodies spewing pseudo-philosophical blog nonsense, all of our activity is geared toward preserving parts of us for the future. So, I have no qualms stating as a fact that humans will conquer death and we will have to face the societal impact of just that. How will justice work? What is murder, what does marriage mean, how will we feed all of us? Until it will be ubiquity, eternal life will be given to a chosen few, who are they? The rich? The smart? The worthy? The fortunate? What challenges will they experience? As humans we will have quite a bit of work to do to accept this.
If there is one certainty in my life, it is that this will happen. If there is one regret, it is that I will not be there to see it.
PS. Read Peter F. Hamilon @PeterFHamilton1. More or less everything above was borrowed from his work. He is -in my opinion- the most amazing SciFi writer living.