Technological Immortality

Friday, September 25, 2015 -- 5:00 PM
John Perry

Immortality, of the desirable kind, usually brings Heaven to mind.  A great place to live, if the details are a bit obscure.  But, as far as I have been told, the only technology involved is doing what God wants you to do, and then dying.  So has Apple or Microsoft come up with a better way of getting to Heaven?

No, getting to Heaven isn’t the kind of immortality the new technology is all about.  And immortality doesn’t quite mean eternal life either.  It’s living on earth for a very long time --- until squids evolve to climb trees, as one writer put it.

People have two basic things in mind, plus various combinations.  One is improved bodies and body parts --- livers that don’t wear out, brains that don’t blow up or slow down…. that sort of thing.  In theory, at least, with biological improvements, a person could live on indefinitely.

The other technology is computational ---- we somehow upload ourselves into a computer, and techies keep us going indefinitely.

I think I would enjoy being in Heaven, looking down at all my “immortal” computer science colleagues, probably stuck in a warehouse in Hayward --- where Stanford keeps library books that aren’t read very much ---rather than on a cloud with a harp like me.  A tech guy comes over from Stanford once a month to replace transistors, at least until the grant runs out.   And maybe, just maybe, occasionally someone comes by to ask what they’ve been thinking.  Or if they remember where they put the key to the boathouse.   In the meantime, I’m playing my harp…

Okay, maybe there being a traditional heaven, much less me taking it there, isn’t too likely.  Being uploaded and living on as a computer still strikes me as a terrible fate.  How about the biological alternative? 

I think it's a terrible idea, too. One thing the world isn’t short of is people.  There are already too many.  More are coming; the current biology seems quite adequate to keep up the supply.  And the new ones are children --- cute, cuddly, teachable children.  We’re supposed to quite having children, to make room for narcissistic old people?   Let’s focus on feeding and educating children and making their eighty or ninety years on earth as happy as possible.

Maybe you agree that developing the technology of immortality is a bad public investment.  Still, letting yourself think selflishly for a minute,  wouldn’t you like to live forever?  Or at least for an extra hundred years or so?

Well, frankly, I wouldn’t.  What does that mean?  In 2115 there would be someone occupying this body, full of or improved organs, having experiences and the like.  I’m all for people having experiences in 2115.  But I could care less that they are connected with this body.  So let’s suppose in addition this someone will have vague memories of doing Philosophy Talk, even vaguer memories of growing up in Nebraska, and memories of putting forward long philosophical views that will have been refuted and/or forgotten by 2115.  Why would I, now, care whether some person in 2115 has such weird memories?

In this scenario someone in 2015 meets the criteria for being someone who was born in 1943.  But those criteria of personal identity are the basis of a concept for dealing with life as it evolved and as we know it.   It’s silly to apply them in this altered scenario, and suppose they should have the same meaning for us. 

I just want eighty plus years here on earth, hoping to move on before the Singularity or the Zombie Apocolypse, which may amount to the same thing.  Call me a grouch.

Comments (11)


Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Saturday, September 26, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Both modes of 'immortality'

Both modes of 'immortality' are conceptually flawed. The human person, 'mind' if you must, is an organism, not a separable soul or set of whatever a computer would pretend to make of it. The organism is a community of parts, not an assembly. It is grown, and every cell is an active member in that growth. The mystery is, how can a community be a complete entity? We are dogmatically denied ourselves the means to ask, let alone investigate this. But more to the point, each cell in the body, as an active participant in the whole, must be understood to realize the whole, and to do so by being recognized by the organism as the essential part of its being the complete community it is. This means there can be no separable survival supporting the fantasy of soul and heavenly life. But it also means that the organic 'mind' is infinitely more entailing than anything a machine can manage. That is, its parts are alive active and vital to it, whereas the parts of a machine are refined purified and eliminated of anything like an active role. Each part must be made to react passively, as absolutely according to design as it can be made to be, or the result is a 'crashed' system. In other words, machines, even electronic machines, are designed and built to be DEAD. The question, in other words, is inane. But that never seems to stop us.

Gerald Fnord's picture

Gerald Fnord

Saturday, September 26, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

John Perry: why, then, do you

John Perry: why, then, do you care about the person you will be tomorrow? Where is the qualitatively relevant line?

Gerald Fnord's picture

Gerald Fnord

Saturday, September 26, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

I disagree; if one is a

I disagree; if one is a strict materialist, as I'm glad to see you seem to be, there is no reason of which I can think why, at least as a Gedankenexperiment, a sufficiently advanced computer cannot simulate _any_ physical process, which to a materialist must include any particular person's embodied consciousness. 

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Saturday, September 26, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

That's a very jaded and

That's a very jaded and unperceptive view on matter. Matter is much more than dead stuff. We make it dead to serve our conceits. By conceit, I mean a motif of mind that resists change even in the face of countervailing evidence. Physics cosmology and logic are incomplete in a way that should make life that evidence. That that evidence is invisible to us is the work of that conceit that these incomplete sciences are, counter-factually, complete. Think again!

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, September 28, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Is there anything 'it is like

Is there anything 'it is like to be conscious'? Some thinkers, supposed thinkers, ask what this something is 'it is like to be conscious'. But there is nothing it is 'like' to be conscious. it is so itself it renders the term 'unique' vapid. Because person is too real. Glib assumptions don't substitute for careful thought. Even a cursory study of elemental botany will show us that replication is not the fundamental motif of life, it is differentiation. How does a blobby mass of cells constitute an individual and complete organism? An organism is more than just a colony of cells. And it is such because each cell is abandoned replication, for its own part, to take up a role that seals responsibility for reproduction away from it. This is why stem cells are so hard to produce. Because each cell is defined the organism as a complete individual precisely through the act of taking up a role that does not include or even permit its taking a direct part in reproduction. How does it decide to do this? DNA has become more of a dodge than an enlightenment in this question. All DNA does is provide a map for producing proteins. Nothing else. What these proteins then get up to, and how this influences the life of the organism as a whole, is as mysterious as ever. But clearly there must be some sense in which the blobby mass of cells operates as a community. Whatever it is that each part does that augurs the community as a whole, it is nothing whatever 'like' what a computer does. I am not imbuing matter with mystical powers. I am pointing out that the elimitivism of 'instrumental reason' dodges the issue it pretends to address, and that those who promote or espouse that methodology haven't got a clue what they're talking about.

viscount flyte's picture

viscount flyte

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

finally these dons discuss

finally these dons discuss something important.
and they'd never admit me to their Stanford "philosophy" department as i only scored 800 800 800 on the old GRE...
and KNOW that ALL Anglo-American "philosophy" following and including Russel is...
100% pure CRAP...
for FOURTH RATE minds.
FUCKING PROFESSORS.
WHERE'S BLOKHIN WHEN YOU NEED HIM?

chaos1's picture

chaos1

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Regarding the idea expressed

Regarding the idea expressed on 01 October 2015 about Nature being "delicate":  In my view Nature is not something opposed to humans. Humans are part of nature. And nature really isn't delicate. Nature is just what is, however different it might be from what was. So nature is still nature without any dinosaurs, passenger pigeons, or humans. Nature is not delicate and will never go away, even if individual components such as species and ecosystems go extinct. Perhaps nature is just change. But individual species and ecosystems ARE fragile and delicate. However these are just components of nature and such things come and go even without human intervention. Eventually our sun will go out and all ecosystems on earth will vanish, but nature will be somewhere in the universe.

jaIBH8bg2bnn's picture

jaIBH8bg2bnn

Saturday, October 3, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Reality check.  What dialysis

Reality check.  What dialysis patient would not rather have a real kidney?.  We have witnessed with what horrors we have subjected artificial recipients?  And in this discussion we are contemplating replacing the entire body with something artificial?

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Saturday, October 3, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

During the reign of Elizabeth

During the reign of Elizabeth I the city of London passed an ordinance requiring bakers to assure the weight of their buns. Apparently, the penalty was severe enough so that when bakers filled an order for a dozen they threw in an extra one to assure of meeting the weight requirement. Hence a "baker's dozen". Should'a bought buns!
I am not an oracle of the philosophical attitude, but I am pretty sure it does not include "flaming". Though I admit, a boggled mind is a much better coping mechanism than a mechanism, like a boggled computer. What does an avatar do when it crashes? Go back to the shop?

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, October 8, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Is it midterms or something?

Is it midterms or something? Seems a little early, but these 'discussions' go dead periodically. Must be a reason.
A question of philosophical substance may just deaden things more, but bears attempting. Since the merger of early Christianity with Neo-Platonism the world has been conceived as a worldless consciousness experiencing thoughtless material. Various themes of philosophy have militated against this stark division of labor in the universe. Each new philosophy finding its own themes in critiquing tradition or convention, or all too often explicit dogmatism. This is only possible where entrenched ideas yield to variations that emerge in the rigorous effort to complete them. It is this incompleteness to all systems of cionceiving the world that most nourished philosophy, and most discourages dogmatists from pursuing it. Only insofar as philosophy is anti-dogmatic is it proper philosophy at all. But such is the retrenchment of perspectives that this can only take place in some sense that confirms rigor rather than offering an alternative or alien mode of rigor. Otherwise we might just as well stick to our guns. And that we do, or dispair. But what if the term that ememrges only where the rigor is proved uncompleted is there any completed concept of anything? What if the changing mind is the only "linqusticly competent" one? What if the most rigorous form of reason is its formlessness? What then? Can formalism prove itself the lie? And is that proven lie "language"? Frege, Russell, Tarski, and many others, would 'have a lot of 'splainin' to do'! But they, or their current epigones, are devilishly clever at evading responsibility for it.
Anything noumenal is the lie of it. But it is a lie dogmatically entrenched as a cultural icon, and as a weapon against that most rigorous term that otherwise ocassions the changing of minds. Many efforts were made over the history of ideas to plug the leak, as it were. Efforts that still go on, but the most notable ear in that history was the interface between the Kantian noumenon and the Hegelian phenomenon. The impasse Hegel faced was, of course, the shameless convention that would understand even the phenomenon as a noumenon, or as the dead sevant of the, supposedly, more alive, because 'immortal', noumenon. But once a phenomenal event is recognized, what completes it? What supports our conceiving it noumenally? Somehow we must conceive it complete, in a sense time so clearly defies. In a sense, that is, that time proves the incompleteness of the noumenal. That is, the phenomenon is not complete as a beginning, duration, and end, but as a beginning, noumenally perceived, that erases that originary concept in its end. In this sense there is no ends, no epochal duration, time is, as Husserl tried to rescue the noumenon from the Hegelian dialectic effacing it. It is precisely lost which one it is, beginning or end, that its completeness would be that it is proven time is no noumenon. But is it matter or mind? Or, agin, is it the final rigor proved, not that it is indeterminable wich, but that it is determinate that it is neither. What if time is no one? What if it has no oneness to it? How then would it be digitized?!!!!! God and number both stumble about in dogmatic ritual arming itself against the most rigorous term time is of proving them the lie of it. But can philosophy permit itself to be such THE LIE? This is not material for the dabbler. Life is not dead matter, but neither is matter as dead as it needs to be made to be to build computers, and so give pretense to a completed noumenon. It is the ability of the living to beat back the dogmatics of dividing the world into units determinately enumerated the noumenal oneness of it that nourishes and sustains the very means of such dogmatics. The can be no 'avatar' produced in purely noumenal terms, because there are none. There is no pure noumenon, there is no numerical account or 'input' that can reproduce the absolutely unreproducible realness of the act of proving the incompleteness of the capacity of number, digital or divine, to count it. Eternity is the conceit of that completeness. Mortality is the absolute proof of an act, life and death, too much more real than such evasion of its completing term. But is philosophy ready to turn the page of this?
 
 

Marc Bellario's picture

Marc Bellario

Saturday, November 14, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Very Interesting but Mind

Very Interesting but Mind Boggling Stupid!
or - "to see a world in a grain of sand" -
- does everyone get to, can everyone, does everyone, can anyone ?
12 eggs.  If you go to the store, and by a dozen eggs, being educated I know
there are 12 ? right.  Go home, and put the eggs into a bowl ( not counted
when into the bowl ) and then, as I use them I count them, and at the end
I count 11 eggs.  The question is - What do I do now?  An egg went missing
in my head or in the eyes of the universe and if it's the eyes of the universe
then where is my egg?  < and you can't count again because you've
already used the eggs .... >  
Just wanted to add, I don't know the answer but I might know
someone who does......

 

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