I think a lot about how to become immortal. More than I should, probably.
Many think it’s a waste of time. Everyone dies, and it’s foolish to think we can avoid it. This piece takes a different view, and describes a number of ways, with varying levels of requirement and effectiveness, one can either avoid dying or live on after death.
They’ll go from most practical to most effective.
1. Live On Through Your Children
This one is cheating a bit, mostly because you’re not actually becoming immortal.
But the fact remains that this does give many people (probably billions) a genuine feeling of lastingness, and that’s significant.
Again, I don’t really count it because it’s an extremely tenuous way of living on, but it deserves mention.
2. Live On Through Your Works
This one is kind of like the first, in that you’re not actually getting to continue living. So it’s a bit of a misnomer too.
What it deals with, however, can also provide a significant sense of contentment at the end of one’s life. Basically, if you leave behind works and ideas that will be used by significant numbers of people, for a significant period of time, you can think of this as living on.
It’ll take some sting off of dying, perhaps. But not much. You’re still dead.
3. Reconstruction Through Reproduction of Variables
Ok, now we’re getting into actual survivability.
This one works like this: either before you die, or after you are dead, an organization collects a series of inputs about you and uses them to create a working model of you.
Here are some of the input types:
- Your DNA (this is really important)
- Everything there is to know about where you grew up (what was happening in the world then, where you went to high school, what the major news events were, the major themes in culture and art, etc.)
- Everything there is to know about the people you grew up with
- All your personal, transformational experiences. This can be gathered from a myriad of sources, but your own description of the incidents will be key. It’ll also come from interviews with people who know those experiences and how they affected you
- Every piece of output you left behind, e.g. blog posts, Facebook posts, books, essays, schoolwork, letters, videos, whatever. They’re all harvested for evidence of who you are
Then, the system takes the environment data and models it against your DNA, which it got from a piece of hair or something. It runs your entire genome and determines how you would respond mentally to these various stimuli.
The output is a digital life form that is, as much as it can be, you. You now live in cyberspace somewhere, and you’re introduced to the fact that you were reconstructed using this method, and that you have this rich history, etc. You are you.
4. Preserving Your Brain to Be Put in Another Body in the Future
Another method for achieving comfort that you’ll continue to live after death is to have a reliable way to preserve your brain once you pass, with the belief that it’ll be either 1) put into another body later (not my favorite idea), or 2) it’ll be downloaded into a digital form to live permanently in cyberspace.
I much prefer the second option because transferring to another body seems like a mere postponing of the inevitable, plus it seems hard. But perhaps it’s several times easier than digital transfer.
5. Complete Mind (Brain) Transfer to Digital Form
This is the best and most realistic answer for immortality. It’s taking your essence and making it permanent in digital form.
For anyone living today it’s not likely to happen from your current form, i.e. you’re not going to transfer from your current, living brain and move that to digital form.
I think this method needs to be combined with the earlier (fourth) option of preserving the brain at the time of your death so that it can be downloaded at a later time.
This clearly will require significantly more technology and understanding of the brain (largely the same), but with proper storage techniques we can hopefully keep the brain in a state that can be extracted from later on.
The important component of all of these methods, for people living today, is the comfort they grant as your first (current) form is dying.
How much will you believe you are going to live on in this new form? The degree to which you do believe this is the degree that you’ll be comforted by knowing it will happen.
If you think you’ll be represented perfectly, via whatever method, then you’re not really dying at all. It’ll be more like going to sleep.
This is an important point. Don’t you basically die when you go to sleep? It’s well understood that our minds are constantly changing. We’re constantly forgetting and remembering and learning things.
In many respects, we’re not the same from moment to moment. Or day to day. Or year to year. And going to sleep is a big part of this because it’s where memories are retired or adjusted or otherwise modified. And what are we if not our memories?
So, if we were to drink the poison at the end of our natural life, but believing you’d just wake up again at some point and still be you (mostly), just like you do when you BELIEVE you’ll wake up after sleep, that’d be a pretty comforting to think about before death.
But if you believe that you’ll be dead, but that the ideas in your book will live on, or that you’ll live on through your kids, that doesn’t seem all that comforting.
Granting immortality to the dying
I think one of the best possible gifts a young person could give a dying person who fears death is a personal guarantee that they will do all the can to resurrect them in the future.
Maybe they’re saving their brain, or maybe they don’t have the money for that. But they can save their DNA. And they can gather every piece of work they’ve ever done. And they can also write extensively about the conversations they had with the person, about what they believe, about who they are.
And the old dying person can review that content, and bless it, before their natural form dies off. And the more they believe the person left behind–the more they trust them–the more they can view their final moments of consciousness as the time before sleep.
There are many different ways to live on after natural death. Some are figurative and others are far more tangible, albeit a bit theoretical at the present moment.
The human fear of death is one of the most powerful and during forces in the world, and I have no doubt that the methods described here will become one of the primary uses of advanced technology in the decades to come.
- I don’t include religious afterlife because I’m talking about reality here, not superstition.
- A primary measure of these methods is how much happier you are to drink a sleeping poison at the end of your life, thinking that one of these techniques are being used to “keep you alive”. The more willing and comfortable you are that you will continue “living”, the better the method.
- Image from Contrary Brin.