Image from sciam.com
I don’t want to die, and being an atheist I have to engage in far more contortions than the average person to convince myself that I can avoid this fate.
But I don’t think avoiding death is that much of a stretch.
I think in the not-too-distant future, people under 40 or so, with the financial means to buy something along the lines of an expensive home, have a good chance of living forever. This will happen by the simple process of mapping and transferring the contents of the human brain to an electronic form, and then back into another body (or maybe that’ll be old-school by then) 1.
I don’t mean to diminish the difficulty of doing this, but given how quickly we’re making advances in understanding the brain, combined with our computational achievements, I’d say this is entirely feasible within the next 25-50 years.
So here’s how this would play out: you’re upper middle class in 30 years (say you’re around 65, like I will be) and your body is breaking down. You go into your friendly regional LifeLease Inc. location and you start the process of getting a body swap. You basically pay for two pieces: the new body, and the transfer of your brain’s information, i.e. your identity.
Some may say, “Well, that’d just be a copy of you, not the real you.” Perhaps, but that’s the case for you today vs. yesterday as well. Our memories are our identity, and our memories are constantly overwritten, destroyed, and modified from one time to the next.
So, quite literally, you are not the same person you were yesterday. From moment to moment, day to day, and year to year, you are an altered copy of who you used to be. We consider this normal, and in time the transfer of our identities (even with some loss) will be considered normal as well.
So, once the system becomes mature, and barring major problems with the fidelity of the transfer, a bit of loss isn’t going to be a major issue. Your new self won’t really care. The changes will simply be a bit of uniqueness added to the package. They’ll probably have “fill in” packs available anyway–for those pesky dark spots.
It’s really not that fantastic, if you consider what we’re already able to do. The real problem is going to be the ethics around the replacement bodies, not the ability to download and transfer the identity information.
Anyway, to all you fellow atheists out there: chin up. We accept that our identities reside within our brains, so all we have to do is survive long enough to see science develop the ability to download them and transfer them to other bodies. Then we can live forever.
We don’t need no steenkin’ god to achieve immortality. ::
1 Perhaps people will then be able to live as disembodied identities within what we now call the Internet. Inhabiting a body would then be like a vacation.