On Achieving Immortality
The grand allure of immortality, the “elixir of life”, has eluded beings since the start of time. What would it take to achieve true, eternal immortality?
The primal drive to survive, which once made our ancestors build raw tools to feed & fend; is now responsible for our many scientific advances, which we hope, one day, shall help us unravel the secrets behind our inherent mortal nature.
Would we achieve immortality in our generation? That is a question I often find asking myself and many others.
The answer, in its varied forms, ultimately ends with these 3 magical words — “we don’t know”.
After all, every hero from Gilgamesh (circa 2600 BC) to Peter Weyland (God bless his soul!) have tried.
“Gilgamesh became the hero par excellence of the ancient world — an adventurous, brave, but tragic figure symbolizing man’s vain but endless drive for fame, glory, and immortality” — Samuel Noah Kramer
But what makes us, our generation, any different? Are we really poised to fail in our quest for immortality? Or will this generation be instrumental in achieving immortality where so many mortals from time immemorial failed.
The stakes are in our favor.
We are, after all, a generation that grew up knowing about magical devices that allow us to communicate with entities millions of miles away in just minutes - something that would be seemingly ridiculous just over a century ago.
It can hardly be denied though, that our generation today has the highest number of people alive who believe that one-day, achieving immortality is inevitable; or are at least willing to entertain that thought, without having the urge to kill the other individual for blasphemy.
What makes immortality seem so within our grasp?
Maybe because humanity, right now, is on the cusp of a revolution that can help us achieve two kinds of immortality:
- In the near-future, we could have an AI model our minds, feed-in our thoughts, emotions, everything that makes us “human” and live eternally ever after. Artificial Immortality.
- With DNA editing & Nanotech — we soon could prevent ageing altogether. There you go. Biological Immortality.
Both these supposed techniques could end up giving us immortality — one through the mind, the other through the body. But ask yourself, what makes YOU truly immortal? Is it your mind? Your body? Or is it your consciousness?
We all “know” that we are conscious, although the term by itself has become highly misused and is often hard to define. For the sake of this article, consciousness here means “awareness” of possession. For example, I am conscious that I possess this body and it does what I ask it to do — most of the time. :)
So if we know that consciousness is real, the next logical question is — where does it stem from? Does it come from our mind, brain, or something else?
If consciousness does indeed stem from our brain — does our brain have a switch, which goes on & off at call — and completely off when we die, never to be resurrected ever again?
NCC or “neuronal correlates of consciousness” is a sub-branch of neuroscience, which operates under the assumption that the brain is the instrument that produces consciousness. After all, what else could it be?
In this context the neuronal correlates of consciousness may be viewed as its causes, and consciousness may be thought of as a state-dependent property of some undefined complex, adaptive, and highly interconnected biological system. — Fundamental Neuroscience, Larry R. Squire
Undeniably, there has to be a system behind the creation of consciousness; however there is a high probability that the system belongs to a branch of science other than biology, a branch that we’re yet to discover, explaining why we cannot truly explain its source under the usual constraints of biology.
Then there is the research behind re-incarnation, past life regression, xenoglossy, and near-death experiences; which adds to question — does consciousness really originate from our mind & brain? And if it does, can we artificially put that consciousness from our brain to an AI?
Death by questions.
Will an AI model of your mind really make YOU immortal? Let’s say you have transferred everything you have inside your mind. Then, you die.
Would the AI resume from where you left, or be an altogether different entity with a baseline foundation of your original mind?
If we try to think of it in terms of realism, then of course, the AI model will be an altogether different entity .
I can feed the AI with all the information I want, but I can’t really transfer my consciousness into it. Mostly because my consciousness is extra-biological in nature and not really quantifiable into data.
So the AI model, while being everything you, is not really the conscious you. If you die, you don’t survive, just a replica of you does.
Hah! That’s hardly the immortality I’m seeking.
Ah, but what about biological immortality? Couldn’t I just stop ageing and live forever there after?
Nah, not really.
For starters, biological immortality is far more difficult to perfect than artificial immortality. The framework behind artificial intelligence was created by humans under inspiration. The framework behind our biology was created iteratively over billions of years of evolution. Oh, mother nature you!
Therein lies the exponential degree of difficulty in achieving general biological immortality over artificial immortality.
Even if we are be able to achieve special biological immortality, like that of eliminating cancer creating cells, we could still die by something as crude as a car-accident or a natural cause like an earthquake.
Oh, we could create steel-grade skin that auto-regenerates, that would help us survive that! But hey — the air you breathe-in can also carry life threatening diseases. What about that? What about biological or nuclear warfare?
How could we create a framework of immortality for each of those situations?
Simply put, we can’t. We can still die because biological immortality can only take us thus far.
So, mind immortality out. Biological immortality, not happening.
What remains then?
Ah, the sweet taste of nectar-like consciousness!
The word “consciousness” attracts a lot of “new age hippie” sentiment and is easily dismissed while discussing science. Maybe thus, the scientific research on consciousness is quite limited.
On the other hand though, although lacking much on the scientific side, the spiritual documentation on what makes a being “conscious” is quite extensive.
Almost every spiritual text says that “the soul is eternal”.
Due to the sheer lack of additional options, let us take a look at that claim in the most objective manner and try to deduce whether or not we can actually achieve immortality through consciousness.
Just as in science we assumed that consciousness must stem out from the brain, let us for the sake of our hypothesis assume that consciousness must stem out from the soul.
Do not be attached to the word “soul”. Just like consciousness, it carries a lot of baggage. The soul, in the purely scientific sense, could be any entity which controls the consciousness.
So if the soul is eternal, the consciousness should be eternal as well, no?
Then so, why does a human only remember its consciousness from birth, or a few years from birth? Why not from the history of its “eternal soul”. Not really a recipe for immortality that.
Let us play around with this idea a bit. What if — that soul “entity” — presses a restart button on our consciousness every time we die. And we then restart our life with a brand new consciousness, courtesy of the same damned soul.
So considering the soul entity as a constant, if we can achieve a method that can grant us “persistent consciousness”, that stays the same irrespective of birth and death, we could have theoretically hit the immortality we are looking for.
In simple terms, if I can achieve persistent consciousness, I’d have perfect awareness of who I am even after I die. So, I don’t really die. I am still me after I die. Yay!
But wait a second. Let’s consider how this would scientifically work.
Conscious immortality, to be considered “real” in terms that we perceive, shall require the raw consciousness to be projected on a physical entity.
Only then could we call it or know it as real.
Currently, the entity for human consciousness is our body. But how often do we feel the limitations of the human body (and even our mind) that obstruct us to fully realize the potential of our goals, ambitions, dreams?
What if — for the sake of argument — the soul behind this persistent consciousness, in its own shape and form, can “select” from an array of lifetimes and choose to apply the consciousness of a particular lifetime or a mix of lifetimes, and attach that selected consciousness to any entity.
That any entity, which receives the consciousness, can be living or non-living (spooky, eh?), and that entity can be used as a temporary harbor or a permanent one, depending on the preference & needs (aka karma?) of the persistent consciousness.
In a nutshell, my hypothesis is that true immortality can only be possible when we can achieve this “transference of consciousness”.
Transference of whaa?
Transference of consciousness. Let that sink in.
Doesn’t that sound like a more-modern rehash of the the age-old “cycle of birth and death” that’s present in almost every other spiritual text?
Not really. What I’m really talking about is having control over the achievement of the phenomenon of birth & death, through the creation of a method that can help us in achieving the persistence of consciousness, and creating a technology that can transfer or project that consciousness on any entity, living or non-living.
It’s a far-fetched idea. But considering the limitations of artificial & biological immortality, this is the only plausible option left.
It has been demonstrated that you can infact control the motor skills of another person through technology. If, case in point, what is stopping us from creating a technology to control the consciousness of another being, living or non-living, seemingly through a wireless medium?
There is one thing that can stop us from achieving true immortality.
It is our understanding of reality and how it functions. Maybe we need to transcend reality for a while to truly understand the possibilities of our own nature.
We may one day invent a machine that’ll allow us to select & transfer our consciousness on-the-go. And that is when I believe we would have truly achieved our goal of immortality.
But at what cost?
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