Mankind has always grappled with an instinctive fear of dying. Tales of death rattle us out of our monotonous malaise of lattes and bus schedules, our fretting over parking tickets and mortgages, and remind us all too starkly of the frailty of our lives. This fear of death manifests, most likely, from an aversion to the unknown – and, further, to what may never be made known. Nowadays, thoughts of death are casually tucked away by means of abject distraction. Who has the time to mull over something so horrifically maudlin when we've got taxes to sort and immigration policy to grumble about? Not to mention all of us are guilty of colloquializing death by means of some facetious utterance: I'm bored to death. This kills me. This is taking forever.
Forever. What if humans could live forever?
According to American futurist Ray Kurzweil, the possibility of eternal life is not far off. Kurzweil has been one of the forerunners of the Transhumanist and Futurist movements since the mid-1970s; he built his first computer at the tender age of 12. An inventor, engineer, author, nutritionist, and self-made millionaire, he's nothing short of a modern-day Renaissance man. His most notable work has to do with what he terms the Technological Singularity, the era in which machine intelligence will surpass the intelligence of humans. In order for humans to keep up with the intelligence of machines, we will have no choice but to merge with the technology. This is the essence of transhumanism.
Kurzweil believes we can lengthen our lifespans, and hypothetically live forever, with the aid of nanotechnology. What is nanotechnology? Imagine a tiny robot, the size and shape of a red blood cell, which can effectively treat infections and cancers before they spread. This machine, which would be far more intelligent and adaptable than any human mind, could easily add dozens of extra years to our lifespans. Although nanotechnology shows great promise (we've already developed microscopic robots that can mimic the behavior of red
blood cells), it does absolutely nothing to combat the inevitable process of aging. All of the most prolific health gurus and athletes are slated to die, typically before the age of 100. Even Jack Lelanne, the aptly-titled "godfather of fitness," who once swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman's Island – at the age of 60 – and whilst towing a 450kg tugboat – with his hands tied behind his back– passed away in 2011 at the age of 96. "Dying is easy," Lelanne once said. "It's like an athletic event. You've got to train for it."
Perhaps this accounts for the disdain for the natural process of aging that seems to abound in the contemporary transhumanist zeitgeist. "It's not good enough to be natural," Kurzweil laments. "It's natural to start aging by 20 and be dead in your 20s." This explains Kurzweil's excessive dietary regiment; he consumes over 150 vitamins and supplements every day in an attempt to "re-wire" his faulty bodily hardware. Although this attempt has been successful so far (Kurzweil was able to reverse the effects of Type 2 diabetes, and now, at the age of 72, lives without the disease), it is far from ideal, as it cannot lead to immortality. The harrowing truth is that the human body has not evolved in that way. Aging is inevitable.
Death is a promise.
Or is it? Not if our brains merge with the technology. It simply isn't enough to continue updating the outdated hardware of our bodies – and besides, our physical appearances don't really have much bearing on who we are inside. According to transhumanists, the preservation of the brain – and by extension, the mind– is to be upheld above all. So, what if you could upload the contents of your brain – your memories, passions, dreams, fears – and all of your personality quirks as well – into a bio-engineered body that couldn't age or die?
Living indefinitely does have its perks: for one, you'd never have to worry about missing out on anything. World events? Film premieres? Family affairs? Always room on
your agenda! And there's no such thing as wasting time when time is in unlimited supply.
Not to mention you could finally get round to reading all those books you've been meaning to, perhaps even start up that diet and exercise regimen you've been putting off. So, what do
you say? Would you be willing to surrender the essence of your humanity to live forever?
Well... does anything truly matter anymore if death is taken off the table? After all, nothing motivates the human spirit like the fear of dying: the ultimate executioner is also the ultimate deadline, and your time is money only if your time is destined to run dry. You certainly could do anything you wanted if you weren't incessantly fretting over your impending doom, but the larger question is: Would you even want to?