If there’s one credo I live by, it’s this: Ask Better Questions. Tony Robbins put that into my head decades ago. Since then I’ve been asking questions and I have a doozy for you.
What if we could live forever?
Thomas Edison’s rightful heir Ray Kurzweil thinks we are about to; and he’s been right about 85% of the time. If anything, he’s got the divining techno-rods that foretell the coming future; man intends to live forever.
But I wonder if that’s even sensible.
There are some pretty standard parameters that seem to define a human existence. We give our lives purpose by first evaluating where we are, compare it to some point in the future where we expect things to be better - then bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be, by doing something. Working, studying, or living in a particular way; our deliberate action allows movement towards a better state. Lives lived with purpose, find meaning. Lately though, we’re discovering, without meaning life itself becomes unbearable.
Think about it, for many who achieve the ultimate state of physical excess, their lives eventually distort, then self destruct. It’s there in the spate of recent suicides, behind the scenes in lives filled with every material comfort but bereft of meaning. Lives that froze in time, like insects in prehistoric amber, unchanging. Unmovable. Unlivable.
I suspect we need motion for the human experience to mean something. We need variety, challenge, obstacles to overcome, love and loss, sweetened with a touch of magic. Without them, when every physical need is fulfilled, what’s left? Either we find spiritual outlets to continue our human journey towards something, or we end up like the billionaire who collected his own urine in jars and walked around in Kleenex box shoes. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground.
It’s not unreasonable then, to question what happens to the human mind when it founders without hope for a better tomorrow. When nothing earthly is left to achieve, nothing remaining but an endless procession of days, numbing in their repetitiveness; stultifying in their lack of novelty and wonder.
Directionless, the mind cannibalizes itself. It first sets fire to the body’s nerve endings in orgies of sex and drugs, then numbs itself until it finally finds respite, sometimes by its own hands. It should be obvious, we are not meant to live without purpose.
Imagine then, a human existence as Kurzweil suggests, propped up by nanotech and unlimited access to a global informational cloud. Unsleeping. Eternal. Intelligent. Restrained only by the limits of data storage.
Could you live such a life?
This is where our technology would take us. Into the cloud. Recording data sequences that are the story of us. Our memories, our hopes and dreams, struggles and sacrifices written in lines of code that account for the facts but leave no room for the wonder of life or the mystery of simply being aware in a universe created by consciousness. There’s no way to capture magic in sequences of computer language.
We would be much reduced, living functional existences where the mind is finally untethered from the body. Free to wander in infinite fields of information and facts, forgetting however, the way we calm the mind is through the body. The only way to still the turbid waters of endless thought is by focusing within.
It’s only there, in the space between thoughts, we become aware of the existence of a thinker behind the thoughts. We are two things after all. An eternal observer. An awareness, folded into a body and its mind.
Without a body, the mind’s only remaining function is to accumulate and cross reference a vast store of knowledge spanning eons. On this path we become constructs. Alive but dead inside. Awake to endless possibility but living only to anticipate, to ponder, and pontificate as time and tides erode the face of the planet. Every day the same. Every mystery laid bare, every sprinkle of fairy dust dissected, cataloged and displayed like butterflies nailed to a velvet showcase. Dead but beautifully arranged.
And to what end? What would be the point and purpose of a life lived entirely in the pursuit of knowledge? We circle back to our modern plague of suicides; without direction, the mind consumes itself. Only this time, this time, it’s backed up, eternally replicated, downloadable and indestructible. The untethered mind has no escape. No body to end its suffering. No breaths to count and no respite from its own frenzied musings. There are entire medical pathologies centered around the inability to control thought.
Would you want to live such a life?
I daresay we would all like to be immortal, but able to live as human beings; to have the human experience for as long as possible. To live. To love. To win, lose, draw. To fight, to fail. To experience and then to tell the tale. Lives after all are meant to be lived.
But that’s something we can all do today, right now if we open ourselves to the possibility.
Why wait for immortality?