Life cycles, cryonics and cyber consciousness
Martine Rothblatt was still a man when she married Bina, whose mind today is uploaded to a robot. Martine has made billions of dollars creating satellite communication systems, and developing a drug to cure her daughter’s rare disease, pulmonary arterial hypertension. Today, she is connecting and curing people all over the world. Together, Martine and her wife Bina founded the Terasem Movement. Their mission is to educate the public on the practicality and necessity of extending human life. The movement focuses on downloading, preserving, evoking, and reviving human consciousness, and on supporting scientific research and development in the areas of biotechnology and cyber consciousness. As a kind of prototype, they created BINA48, which is a humanoid robot, consisting of a bust mounted on a frame, modeled after real Bina’s face and mind, through more than one hundred hours of compiling her memories, feelings, and beliefs. BINA48 is said to be able to have conversations with humans.
The founders believe that cyber consciousness needs to be developed consistently with full respect for diversity and unity so that the potential for extending human life and relieving human suffering, as they put it, can be realized. It is something not only for the elite, but for all people. They believe that we in one way or another can transcend our lives as they are now, and enter a second lifecycle. That we can essentially cheat death.
An other modern attempt to extend life is cryonics - the low temperature preservation of patients who cannot be sustained by contemporary medicine, with the hope that resuscitation and restoration to full health may be possible some day. Patients not accepting the arbitrary limits of living can buy themselves a suspended animation at cryonic facilities. One of the biggest is Alcor Life Extension which was founded in 1972 and today has 153 patients stored, four of them whole bodies, with over 1000 patients more to come, who have already completed full legal and financial arrangements for their cryopreservation.
A cryopreservation starts at $80.000 for just your brain, and $200.000 for your entire body. Alcor President Max More, says that when the body bows to sickness or ageing, they can store the cooled down body for decades or even centuries, and when the medical technology is ready for repairing the bodies, the patients will be brought back to life. Simply because it is good to live, he says. The cryonic procedure consists of opening the chest and entering the heart, using the body’s own plumbing to move all blood and fluids out of the system and flush in a medical antifreeze in order to keep the cells from crystallising during the preservation. The patients are immersed into a liquid nitrogen tank at -193 °C where they await their resurrection.
Right now the chances for revival from cryopreservation are equal to making ground beef into a cow again, but either way cryonics seems to represent a belief-system helping people deal with loss and mortality. And it is build on the dependence on technology, and a belief that we can somehow bring a body or a brain back to a new life cycle in some form, after our first life cycle is over. A second life cycle might be an upload of the brain to a computer according to neuroscientist Ken Heyworth. The program would have the same computation, memories and behaviours as the biological brain had.
Within a handful of decades we might be able to transcend our first life cycle. Our minds would live on, uploaded to machines and interact with the earth and its other inhabitants for eternity. These technologies are referred to by many of the believers as a cure to death.
That means the end of a lived life must be understood as a disease.
The belief-system that is tied up on technologies like these, are imitating religion in many ways. The belief on more than one life cycle is old, and very present in Buddhism. Here death is not the absolute end, but a passage to a new life cycle. The energy is reversed, so that life is not about avoiding death, because the fear of death is the fear of facing ourselves. Modern Tibetan Buddhist teachings say we have fallen into a laziness that is an active one. We practice distractions in fear of the empty life. But what we are really doing is to avoid looking at our inner selves. We do not want to reveal the truth about ourselves. A central element for Buddhism is finding inner peace and enlightenment. Only the unenlightened mind sees death as defeat, a tragedy. Buddhism teaches that facing and accepting that things die, is an opportunity for personal transformation and liberation. Death is only one cycle finishing - much like the believers in cryopreservation and cyber consciousness trust it is becoming in the near future.
As humans we are not at peace with the nature of things. We have an inherent fear for the change and decay of our bodies. We understand that the cloud formations are shifting forms, because we can observe them, but we do not understand that this also applies to ourselves and our surroundings on earth. Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgård suggests that we do not understand the change that things are going through because we are locked inside our own human time, and see all change from there. We have no eye for that all matter is changed by bigger forces. We see the clouds change, but not the change of the mountains, and therefore we can not understand it.
Ok, so maybe in a couple of decades there is no death but more like a data transfer. But does all things we do on earth not relate themselves to death - that we are not here forever, that there is a limit to what we can achieve? What would an extended life on earth give us? Laziness, definitely; meaninglessness, probably. Would the things and beings around us have any significance if there was no end to our presence? Is it an achievement in itself to stay on earth, even as a technological reincarnation?
A life without ending would blur the sense of time, and that would blur the sense of existing in the now. And the sense of belonging to a now is what sometimes gives us this unheard-of concentration about the moments creating that wild and waving feeling of belonging in the world.