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Exploring the edge.
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The Global Brain
"It is not guilty pride but the ceaselessly reawakened instinct of the game which calls forth new worlds." (Heraclitus Reloaded)
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    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    For quite a while, I have the idea to invite Space Collective members to reflect, discuss and perhaps open a continuous exchange of thoughts and emotions regarding the prospect of extreme life extension. It seems to me there is no subject today of a more profound potential impact on the future of human civilization, and human life in all its aspects.
    As such, I would like to see it becoming one of the 'backbone' issues on the agenda of the Space Collective community.

    I had in mind to write a keynote post to present the issue to some depth. I have found today, to my delight, an excellent and highly interesting introduction to the discussion I have in mind. It is an edited extract from a book called: 'How to Live Forever or Die Trying', written by Bryan Appleyard, and published in Cosmos Online Magazine. Bryan Appleyard is a features writer for London's Sunday Times newspaper and also writes for the New York Times and Vanity Fair.

    Here is an excerpt:

    Developments in a number of scientific disciplines suggest that we may soon be able to increase life expectancies from the 70- to 80-year range already seen in the richest countries to well over 100 and, perhaps, to over 1,000. We shall, in one sense, have made ourselves immortal.

    We shall not be immortal in the sense that we cannot die; plainly we could still be killed in a car accident or by a cosmic event such as an asteroid striking the Earth. But we could not be killed by disease or age, our bodies would be immune to infection, dysfunction or the ravages of time. We would be medically immortal.

    Some say this will happen quickly within, perhaps, 30 years with the first clear signs that we are on the right track appearing within the next decade. Others think we are at least a century or two away from attaining medical immortality. Some consider it completely unattainable. But the majority of scientists and thinkers in this area now consider life extension and even medical immortality possible and likely.

    Not long ago, most would have said it was out of the question, that death at or well before the absolute maximum age of something like 122 was inevitable.

    canceling the debt

    The basis of this shift from unattainable to feasible is not generally understood. It involves a transformation in our conception of human biology and an expansion of our capacity to intervene in its workings that may yet prove to be at least as momentous as the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin or Einstein.

    But Copernicus to Einstein is not the only tradition that is at issue here. There are also the traditions that run from Buddha to Mohammed and from Plato to Wittgenstein, the traditions of religion and philosophy.

    Our relatively brief lives and our routine proximity to the deaths of ourselves and others are the foundations of everything we have ever thought or believed. Neither religion nor philosophy necessarily promises immortality, but each offers ways of coming to terms with or giving meaning to death and, therefore, life. If death is to be postponed indefinitely, then both religion and philosophy face fundamental crises.

    Of course, many other traditions of politics, art, commerce and culture are also at stake. In truth, it is difficult to think of any aspect of human life that would not face similar crises.

    What, for example, would be the meaning of the greatest works of the human imagination to a medical immortal? Shakespeare's sonnets may be said to be about the brevity of life and the painful transience of human love and beauty.

    But if we lived for 1,000 years or more in a condition of youthful health and vitality the postulated life extension technologies promise to hold us permanently in our late twenties then would we come to see these poems as the curious remnants of an antique world rather than urgent expressions of the deepest truths of our predicament? Would any art of the past survive this revolution with its dignity intact? Would there be any art of the future?

    Many may think that, as they suffer from no illusions, fantasies or sensitivities, new life extension technologies are nothing but good news, simple additions to the portfolio of benefits delivered by modern technology. But their worlds are also threatened.

    For example, the language of relationships is the vernacular of our contemporary, secular life. What would our precious relationships look like to medical immortals? Love itself would have to be redefined. Romantic love depends for its very meaning on the promise that it will last forever. But 'forever' now means no more than, say, 50 years, the average span, in other words, of the human life from falling in love to death. If falling in love actually meant a commitment for 1,000 or more years, then 'forever' starts to take on a new meaning. Love is suddenly relativised, its significance thrown into doubt.

    There remains, of course, love of self and surely in that context life extension must be an unalloyed good. Life extension must mean extension of the self and the cultivation of the self is, alongside relationships, the supreme contemporary preoccupation. But even here there are problems.

    How much cultivation of the self can we take? There will only ever be so many gadgets to buy, so many days we can spend at the gym or beauty parlour though these may well be unnecessary activities in the new world order so much sex we can have, so many cars we can drive. Perhaps medically immortal selves will seek alternative spiritual or intellectual diversions as the wealthier mortal selves, disillusioned with getting and spending, already do in increasing numbers.

    Maybe these will see us through the long centuries of life. Or maybe none of these things will matter as we shall not be just one self in the future but many.

    The rest of the article can be found here and is highly recommended.

    Let us talk about the vision and prospects of immortality, This is definitely a subject I would like to see as an independent project of the Collective.
    Sun, Jun 15, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: Aging, Death, Immortality
    Sent to project: , Polytopia
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