My grandmother is one of my biggest fans, and has been quite attentive to this blog and my thoughts on life in general. She has even chosen a pseudonym for herself to be used in this blog, “Gaia,” the greek goddess of sorts which embodied the earth. It’s a bit conceited to call yourself mother earth, but hey, I’m claiming to be the bringer of knowledge and culture to all of humanity, so I really can’t talk. Gaia was also Prometheus’ grandmother (or mother sometimes) so it’s fitting anyway.
Gaia has been thinking about death recently, as one is prone to do in her stage of life, and she was hoping that I might have something to say on the matter in this blog. I have much less to contribute to the topic than a woman of her age and experience, but perhaps my youthfulness can offer a fresh perspective.
Death is an obsession of ours. Our mortality is the only thing that separates us from the Gods we create in our image, and it is a big part of what it is to be human.
And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.
When we overcome death we will be Gods. We will be able to develop on timescales we cannot imagine, and accomplish things beyond our current imagination. The singularity is the point after which we become immortal, getting everything we’ve ever wanted and feared. So let’s talk about immortality and the singularity a bit:
There is no such thing as immortality. Everything must die eventually, it is the law of entropy. While it’s impossible to live forever, it will be possible to live millions, even billions of years, and compared to our timescale that is practical mortality. One of the ways that we could live for this long is through mind uploading, the theoretical process of duplicating your brain patterns in software. Eventually we may be able to do this by harmless scanning, but at first we will need to physically deconstruct the brain to achieve this. There are proposed ways by which this could be a gradual merger into a computer environment, taking bits of brain at a time and having them still send signals to your actual brain from the computer until you are finally totally immersed in virtual reality, a seamless transition of consciousness. While this is well and good for the individual experiencing this transition, an observer would see a man have his brain taken apart until he is dead. There is no getting around the fact that the original person is dead, even if the computer believes they are that person. shortly after the singularity the human species will, in a sense, be extinct, replaced by an intelligence which will continue to believe it’s human for some time.
So oddly enough, immortality and death are the same thing. This all goes back to that one paradox between experience and reality, and the truth that we must arrive at is that there is really no such thing as death because there is no such thing as “us” that can die if we are but flows of information that can be repeated without our bodies. There is a very real sense that those who have passed on live through each of us, the great people in history have changed the way we think and therefore spread themselves into us, becoming immortal.
As I was talking to Gaia a couple days ago about the singularity and the possibility of immortality, she asked the pressing question of the meaning of becoming immortal, the point of extending life. Why do people obsess over the fountain of youth so much? Are they not satisfied with the life they are given? After all, we must all die eventually, so what does it matter if it’s in 80 years or a million. I responded that it is not just a few people who want to be immortal, it’s everyone whether they claim it or not. Everyone who has not committed suicide is prolonging their life uselessly, because after all, what is the difference between 20 years or 80? We all die eventually. We are programmed to prolong our existence, and that is what I intend to do. If I can live for a million years, I will take that opportunity.
Death, it has been said, is like the time before being born. There is no time, there is no space, there is nothing. We can’t look back and wish we were living, because then we’d be alive. It is therefore not a problem for an individual if they die, it is a problem for the people they left behind (as if they went somewhere…). When we lose a loved one, we grieve not because we feel bad for them, but because we feel bad for ourselves, because we are losing a piece of us which we valued greatly. This all gets quite contorted when we start inventing the afterlife so that we may feel comforted, but lose sight of the fact that when a person is gone they are gone, and there is no one to feel sorry for except yourself.
When my grandmother dies I will be very sad. Sometimes I wish I had been born just a century later so that I wouldn’t have to see my loved ones pass away, so that we could all transcend our mortal bodies together. Yet I value this fragile existence I have been handed, and I know that I have much loss to experience yet in my life, and while each loss is a loss of a piece of myself, through them I will understand that everything must fade.
(my grandmother has been inspired to write a poem in response to this post, and commented it below)