Not Buying This Immortality Thing

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)


As you’ve probably heard, immortality is again under discussion thanks to Nectome, which promises to preserve your brain in such fine detail you could be one day reconstructed. The process is fatal, but at least they’re open about it.

Allow me to remain skeptical – not if this is possible (at some point in theory maybe you can be copied over to a computer), but if we really can maturely think about – and handle – immortality as we conceive of it (usually in a very immature manner). If you read any of my previous writings on this you probably realize the answer – no.

A lot of quests for immortality I see among modern immortalists is really “how I will perpetuate myself so there’s a sense of continuity.” It’s basically taking the current “you” and extending it as long as possible. It’s a secular idea of heaven that believes there’s enough of a “you” to preserve that it’s really just a soul wearing a funny hat.

First, the idea really ignores that we’re not permanent, we’re not stable, we’re not eternal. We’re a rolling ball of experiences and information that changes. Modern techno-immortalism sounds like a desire to “freeze” oneself.

Secondly, because of this, it’s peculiarly non-evolutionary. All the idea of uploading one’s mind to the internet and such really ignores the idea you can change and evolve. All the life-extension cycles around the current self. There’s no growth or change.

But third, most importantly, modern simple immortalism sounds like it veers way to close to vampirism. I’ve felt this for years, but lately I’m even more convinced this is the truth.

If we extend the life of people, how much more power will they accumulate, and in turn, try to perpetuate their limited selves? We’ve already got serious issues of inherited wealth and power, do we want to jack it up further? Altered Carbon‘s premise is really just a simple idea of far more problems.

If someone’s entire life is about extending said life, that makes the rest of us, our world, our universe prey. It eliminates all meaning in one’s life and one society, an eternal quest for “more years” at the cost of everything.

Will we burden the future with endless seas of preserved brains? With digital personalities languishing away never changing – or making demands? How the hell will our ancestors think of us?

What does having children mean in an agle of immortality? Doesn’t this short-circuit both our need to reproduce but also the ability to create new, independent entities? Is the future a bunch of people repeating the same things and same habits over and over with nothing NEW?

How much could money to give someone another five years be spent on something better and greater?

Are we even building a world we’d want to live longer in?

How sane would people be living the same mind, same personality, immortal? Can we even handle it? Are we suited for immortality?

Our current immature immortalism’s focus on the ego, the stand-in for the soul, has some terrible repercussions for our future and ourselves.

In the end, as I’ve said in various ways, we don’t need to build a better Heaven; we need to build a better reincarnation. Rethink who and what we are. Think of more ways to be connected and leave a legacy. Focus on personal development and evolution – which may require rethinking death and life. Make lives worth living without us trying to find new ways to perpetuate our limited current idea of ourselves.

I would also add this – maybe we need death. We accumulate our burdens, our neuroses, our sadness our weariness. We get tired and wear out. Maybe at some point, having left our best legacies and influences, it’s time to put up the chairs on our lives and turn out the lives. Close the book, so more stories can be written. Approach life not as something to go on forever, but something that can be upgraded and rebooted to make room for more and greater things.

If I had a chance to extend my life? I’d probably go for it. But I’d want to be able to grow, to change, to evolve – and to declare when it’s time to shut it down. And I wouldn’t want to do it at the expense of things much greater and larger and more beautiful than me. Being that big would mean I’m not me.

– Steve