Friday, April 1, 2016

The Search for Immortality

Death is the one certainty in life. Everyone who is born will die sooner or later. But this fact has not deterred people from searching for a way to delay the inevitable and, if possible, avoid it entirely. For a long time already people have searched for the fountain of youth and have sought immortality.

The most famous name associated with the search for the fountain of youth was the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León,  Legend says that he was told by native Americans that this fountain could be found on the island of Bimini and that it would restore youth to anyone who drinks or bathes in its waters. Though this fountain is a myth, it has persisted for a long time.

This myth appears already in the writings of Herodotus in the fifth century BC. and has been retold many times since. The search for remaining eternal youth continues today as well through the use of drugs, exercise, cosmetic treatments, and other means. In fact, our culture worships youth.

Today the search is extended to immortality. Remaining youthful is not enough for some people, they want to live forever. After all, if this life is all there is, who would not want to live forever?

Setting aside the religious search for immortality for a moment, physical immortality is the ultimate goal but the extension of life is a more immediate concern of many people. Stopping the process of aging is an important step, although this would not guarantee immortality since death could still occur in other ways such as disease and trauma. Yet disease too might be conquered through technology. Immortality lies around the corner.

Current scientific thinking about immortality involves some combination of human cloning, cryonics or nanotechnology. Technology will eventually make the human body capable of living indefinitely, short of major trauma. Technology will make it possible to create biological or synthetic replacement parts to replace damaged or dying ones.

Replacing biological organs with robotic ones could increase life span through the use of upgrades to the body. Genetic modifications or the addition of nanobots, would make the body impervious to aging and disease and theoretically immortal unless killed or destroyed.

Cryonics has also been proposed as a way of permitting clinically dead people to be brought back in the future after the cures to the patients' diseases have been discovered and aging has been made reversible. Modern cryonics procedures use a process called vitrification which creates a glass-like state rather than freezing as the body and thus lessening potential damage to the cell structure.

Another idea that has been proposed involves uploading an individual's habits and memories via direct mind-computer interface. The individual's memories may be uploaded to a computer or to a new organic body. Thanks to exponentially growing computing power, someday it may even be possible to upload human consciousness onto a computer system. 

A technological singularity is a hypothetical event in which artificial general intelligence might result in an intelligence explosion that yields an intelligence surpassing all current human control or understanding. Such a superintelligence might make it impossible for a human to comprehend. The technological singularity is the point beyond which events may become unpredictable or even unfathomable to human intelligence.

It is unclear whether this an intelligence explosion would be beneficial or harmful, or even threaten human existence. Some have even questioned whether such a singularity would be possible, but others surmise that it would help to make immortality possible through the use many of the proposed new technologies.

It is at this point that would raise my objections to all these technological proposals to achieve immortality. If technology is the way to do it, I am not sure I would want to. Let me  explain why.

Do I want to live forever in a body that is deteriorating by the day? Would I want to replace it with a body in which all the parts have been replaced with cloned or synthetic parts? Would I want my body to be cryonically preserved? Would I want my consciousness to be uploaded into a computer so that I would only exist virtually? Is my consciousness my essence, with all my virtues but also all my vices, the real me? My answer is an emphatic, no!

Even if I could afford these procedures, if and when immortality becomes possible, it would not be good stewardship of my limited resources. Moreover, it would be selfish of me to spend what little I have on extending my life in this way.

Only the super rich -- the 1% or even 0.1% -- will be able to afford them. The rest of us will not. This promises to be the ultimate Us vs Them, with nearly everyone excluded except those who can afford it. Such an exclusion would also solve the problem that a technological immortality would create. There would be only a few immortals. Most people would continue to die as they always have.

Many of you would probably agree with me that this type of immortality might not be desirable, even if it were affordable. Besides, there is a better to achieve immortality than putting faith in technology.

Many religions believe in immortality, although this does not always mean the immortality of the body; rather, it is the immortality of the soul. The Greeks believed in immortality, although the Orphics and Plato taught the immortality of the soul, Later, many Greeks accepted a physical resurrection from the dead while some believed in reincarnation.

Other religions, such as Hinduism, believe in reincarnation: the belief that the soul or spirit, after death, begins a new life in a new body. Many groups also believe in reincarnation, including Theosophy, Scientology, Spiritism, and Wicca.

In the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament, there is litle mention of the resurrection of the dead. But there is certainly no reference to an immortal soul. Later, Rabbinic Judaism taught a physical resurrection of the dead, but this included only those who are righteous. Those who are wicked will not experience this.

In Islam, the Qur’an teaches that there will be a corporeal resurrection.  After the resurrection, every individual must stand before God to answer for their actions. The destination for the righteous is heaven while the wicked will go to hell. The imagery of heaven and hell, if taken literally, show that the afterlife is an eternity during which the righteous will experience God’s infinite grace and the wicked his awesome wrath.

The New Testament speaks very clearly about the resurrection of the body. The four gospels teach that Christ rose from the dead on the third after his crucifixion. Other New Testament books also affirm this. The Apostle Paul describes Christ's resurrection as the "first fruits" and insists that everyone, whether righteous or not, will experience that resurrection.

That is the promise that I hold on to. It does not involve technology of any kind. God is the one who makes it possible. Moreover, it is free. Christians believe that everyone who has died, whether they believed in Christ or not,  will be resurrected from the dead when Christ returns. Thus, the resurrection is universal and involves a physical body, not a disembodied soul.

Many Christians neglect the physical aspect of what Christ promised. His resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. The resurrection of the all dead means that everyone will participate in the renewal that Christ made possible.

The New Testament does not explain clearly what happens in the period after death, which is sometimes called the intermediate state.  What is clear, however, is that when Christ returns, heaven and earth will be reunited. Revelation 21 describes this vividly by painting a beautiful picture of the new Jerusalem descending from heaven. A resurrected and renewed humanity will live on the new earth that has been united again with heaven.

Why do so many intelligent but secular people reject Christ's resurrection as unbelievable, but they blithely put their faith in technology? Why do they refuse to accept the immortality that God offers. Instead, they intend to have their bodies preserved cryonically or have their consciousness uploaded into a computer. That takes faith.

I know where my faith is. I know where I can find immortality. Others can search for it as much as they want, but I know where I can find it. They will never find it unless they turn to the same source.

At Easter time, Christians greet each other by declaring their faith: "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! For them, the search for immortality is over! Why resort to technology?

1 comment:

  1. I believe that immortal is not a myth anymore, though many doubts whether is immortality possible even now. This content is one such info for them. Thanks for sharing this in here.