Why Physical Immortality?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by bjklein_com, Feb 25, 2003.

  1. bjklein_com Registered Member

    Hello SciForums Members,
    Please allow me to kick off this thread with an article I completed recently for betterhumans.com. I'm the director of ImmInst.org an online membership based organization working to end death and wish to hear your reaction to the following article…. I'll be back from time to time to field questions. Thanks for your criticism, objections, suggestions, and general interest. If you’d like to learn more about us.. visit: http://www.imminst.org

    It’s probably impossible to prove there's no life after death, but thanks to technological interventions immortalists aren't taking chances
    By Bruce J. Klein

    [Sunday, February 02, 2003] "I'm a peripheral visionary. I can see into the future, just way off to the side." The audience erupts into laughter as funnyman Steven Wright walks across the stage, stops, looks up, and dryly delivers another off-the-wall remark. "I intend to live forever," he says. "So far, so good."

    Again, laughter. Most people are cynical about the idea of living forever, and poke fun at those who aren't.

    But a growing band of intellectuals, calling themselves immortalist, see physical immortality as no laughing matter. To them, the possibility of living forever -- without relying on supernatural beliefs or interventions -- is as real as the nose on your face.

    This begs the question: Why physical immortality? Ask immortalists and you'll likely hear something like this: Nature need not be the final arbiter of life and death.

    That's the short answer. The longer one's more nuanced.

    History of immortalism

    The Egyptians sucked the brains and innards out of dead kings and wrapped their bodies for burial under the pyramids, all in a quest for immortality; the hope for eternal life is nothing new.

    The current breed of immortalists, however, trace their lineage to the earliest days of cryonics, the practice of freezing dead people in the hopes of reanimation at a later time.

    The cryonics movement grew almost entirely out the work of one man, Robert Ettinger. Author of the The Prospect of Immortality, published in 1962, Ettinger is known as the father of cryonics.

    Back in the 60s, Ettinger actively promoted the idea of physical immortality through his book and by appearing on television talk shows. "Organizations sprang up immediately," recalls Ettinger. He even started his own organization, the Cryonics Institute, in 1967.

    Nearly four decades later, at the beginning of the 21st Century, the immortalist movement continues to grow. Hundreds have signed up for cryonics and dozens are now chilled near absolute zero at the Cryonics Institute and a newer facility called Alcor.

    Buoyed by the promise of fledgling nanotech and biotech miracles, immortalists today can easily connect the dots between theory and application.

    They also see promise in existing life extension efforts. "Never before have so many people lived for so long," says National Institute of Aging director Richard J. Hodes. "Life expectancy has nearly doubled over the last century, and today there are 35 million Americans age 65 and older."

    Stop the bleeding

    But with all this optimism about technology's potential, the question still remains: Why physical immortality?

    Think for a minute about what you remember before birth. A little hazy, right? Perpetual darkness, nothingness and oblivion are good ways to describe the prenatal void. Well, this is exactly what immortalists expect after death. In the face of this, physical immortality is a rather attractive alternative.

    And physical immortality doesn't just benefit individuals. "Each one of us carries within us a complex universe of knowledge, life experience, and human relationships," says nanotechnology researcher and author Robert A. Freitas. "Almost all of this rich treasury of information is forever lost to mankind when we die."

    Freitas arbitrarily equates the amount of knowledge in one's life to that of one book. Considering the fact that each year around 52 million people die and the US Library of Congress holds more than 18 million books, we have a real crisis of knowledge loss. "Each year, we allow a destruction of knowledge equivalent to three Libraries of Congress," says Freitas.

    Convinced yet? Well if that's not enough to get you reaching for a multi-vitamin, consider this: Without physical immortality, we will have problems overcoming short-term thinking and action.

    "Concern with the manner of our departure is dwarfed by the growing certainty that nothing follows it," suggests David Nicholas, author of a little known libertarian article entitled "Immortality: Liberty's Final Frontier." "Without the prospect of continuity there is a truncation of perspective and short-termism dominates in a hot-house world."

    Reason over faith

    Despite such arguments, we may never provide a fully satisfying answer to the question, "Why physical immortality?" It's likely impossible to prove conclusively that death equals oblivion.

    Nevertheless, immortalists persist, often attacking faith in a supernatural afterlife while promoting the value of physical immortality. "Denied the prospect of survival through supernatural agency secular Western man has become psychically traumatized," says Nicholas. "Increasingly life seems meaningless and absurd, and the fear of death and nothingness lie just below the surface of everyday consciousness."

    "The age-old dreams of immortality may not have been wrong but they depended more on faith than fact," Nicholas continues. "Scientific progress has now begun to allow personal immortality at least to be brought within the bounds of practical speculation."

    Some, most notably George W. Bush's leading bioethics advisor, Leon Kass, are trying to prevent this speculation from becoming manifested. Kass provides a perfect antagonist figure in the immortalist saga. As an exceptional writer and speaker, he manages to do twisted philosophical handstands in praise of morally justified death.

    In his book Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity, Kass leaves little doubt about his convictions, writing, "After a while, no matter how healthy we are, no matter how respected and well placed we are socially, most of us cease to look upon the world with fresh eyes. Little surprises us, nothing shocks us, righteous indignation at injustice dies out."

    Kass isn't the first to suggest this. On the face of it, living forever seems wholly unnatural, and death seems desirable. Immortalists call this type of reasoning "deathist" thinking. As science-fiction author Alan Harrington once said, we "die before we die" and "commit suicide on an installment plan."

    But turning to religion isn't the answer. "We can only engineer our freedom from death not pray for it," says Harrington. And immortality need not be bland. "Having invented the gods we can turn into them," Harrington suggests.

    Maybe immortalists can be faulted for being too early in a world that embraces death as a welcome release. But being too early is a problem that forward thinkers historically have had to deal with.

    So will humanity look back in 100 years and call immortalists visionary or laughable? I'll see you in 2103 to find out.
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  3. Xev Registered Senior Member

    Is this a sales pitch or do you actually have something to say?
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  5. bjklein_com Registered Member

    Heh.. yep.. i have plenty to say... maybe we can start with a simple question: Do you think we can live forever?
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  7. Jaxom Tau Zero Registered Senior Member

    A better phrased one would be, what keeps us from living forever?

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