Despite the fact humanity is littered with examples of less-than-reputable individuals and negative impacts on the world, we’ve done a lot of good, too.
Humanity’s positive achievements are easier to overlook than our negative ones. But when it comes to the good things we’ve done, advancements in science and technology are at the top of the list.
Technological breakthroughs have helped to eradicate diseases, greatly reduce poverty, and bring humanity to a new standard of living. But we must enjoy that standard of living while we can, because no matter how robust our technology becomes, living forever is simply impossible – or is it?
From the beginning of human history, the concept of our own mortality has functioned like a dark cloud hanging over our head. While it does incentivize us to live life to the fullest while we have the chance, it is a constant reminder that nothing is eternal and we cannot escape our own limited existence on this planet.
But with all the things technology has done, is it possible that it could help us live forever? Even the idea of living forever seems outlandish. But what is the closest we could actually come to it?
The Medical Case
Could Improved Medicine Lengthen Our Lifespans?
The first topic that usually comes up when we mention technology helping us live forever is medicine. Improved medical technology could bring us closer to eternal life, right? No – it’s not just that it could do that. It already has.
Less than two centuries ago, the lifespan of the average human was about 40 years. We were doomed to several decades on this planet and no more thanks to the problem of disease and bodily deterioration. That meant breakthroughs in medicine that we take for granted today were considered miraculous at the time.
From that perspective, they’re still miraculous today. Modern medicine has essentially doubled the lifespan of the average human in the last century. With this amazing achievement in mind, it brings up an interesting question – if this pace of innovation continues, would the results be the same?
Could another 100 years of medical innovation lead to humans living 100, 150, or even 200 years on average? This is certainly a possibility. And while it isn’t the same as living forever, it is certainly much closer than we are now.
We’ve already seen great leaps in medical progress through the advent of things like vaccinations, lifesaving surgical procedures, and even basic concepts like improved nutrition and medical hygiene. If we continue on the road we’re on, it is likely we will see more improvements and thus humans will live much longer in the future.
Scientists do believe the human body can only age up until a certain point – does that mean that a human who is, in all other aspects, healthy, is doomed by father time in the end? Possibly. But scientists have been able to double the lifespan of mice by knocking out a couple of genes connected to aging.
Combine these techniques with things like robotic prosthetics and rejuvenation technologies, and it is possible humans could one day live for centuries on average.
The Philosophical Case
Could Your Mind Live Without Your Body?
The concept of living forever is a deep one, primarily because it brings up the existential question of what it means to live.
This doesn’t mean rating a person’s life based on what they’ve done or how many risks they’ve taken. But rather, it means questioning what it means to be alive. While we usually attribute life to a pulse rate, there are some other ideas we can go off of to determine what counts as living.
For example, the brain is an interesting organ and arguably the greatest marvel nature has ever created. Within it lies us – our thoughts, our experiences, our tendencies and more, all link together to create a unique combination that is fundamentally us. This is what constitutes a living human in most peoples’ eyes. So long as this organ is capable of processing information and making decisions, the person it belongs to could be considered, in some way at least, alive.
One futuristic concept is the mindfile. This unique digital creation would essentially be a digitized version of you. It would have your memories, your opinions, your personal quirks, and everything else that makes you. While it wouldn’t technically be you, because it wouldn’t be conscious and self-aware of its own existence, it would be as close as possible that technology could feasibly come – at least when it comes to keeping you in a digital folder.
While you wouldn’t be living forever, a part of you would. Your descendants and anyone else who was interested would be able to consult you and get an opinion from the file that would be in line with what you would say if you were still around.
So we’ve gone from medical technologies that could help you live a hundred years or more to digital takes on philosophical concepts that would allow part of your essence to live on in a hard drive. What is the next step?
The Far-Futuristic Case
Putting Your Essence in an Autonomous Being
We’ve already established there is some debate about what constitutes being alive. But when we’re talking about living forever, we’re talking about your unique personality being able to live on.
But we’re not just looking to have a set number of data points pouring out results – that would essentially make you like a search engine, and who wants to live as Google forever? No, we’re talking about allowing your consciousness to go on and continue growing, adapting, and changing based on the interactions you have with others.
For that to happen, you’d need to be able to interact with others and being a file on a computer doesn’t cut it. Going back to the medical side of things, we’re seeing options now where vital organs can be transplanted in other bodies with ease. If a heart can be transplanted, why not a brain?
Since technology could soon have us seeing cyborgs and human-robot hybrids depending on cybernetics and Nano-computers to keep bodies going in spite of the harsh elements around them, what possibilities does that present for living forever?
If your brain could be transplanted into one of these beings, and the being could be configured to use the neurological map of your brain to continue making decisions and learning as it goes, it would be the closest thing possible to living forever in the sense that we know it.
Imagine it – your consciousness, your memories, quirks, and tendencies – living and continuing to pilot a body that relies partially or entirely on advanced medical technology to allow that consciousness to continue growing.
Would it be you, though? Technically, from an existential standpoint, no – there is no reason to believe the unit would be completely conscious, or be able to tap into your memories the way you did. There’s evidence that our genetics carry memories, both good and bad, through our body parts. You aren’t just your mind – you are your body, your organs, your cells, and the combination therein. And perhaps even something more, as the whole constitutes something more than just the sum of its parts.
But there’s no way of knowing exactly whether or not this cyborg with a human brain inside could truly be aware of its existence and the past history of the spongey pink organ in its cranial cavity – maybe when technology develops to the point one can be developed, we can ask it.
Living Forever Might Be Impossible
When we’re talking about living forever, we’re talking about a concept we don’t really understand. Why? Because to truly understand a concept, we have to understand its antithesis.
To understand the effects of warm temperatures, we must be able to observe the effects of cold temperatures. To understand the effects of prolonged exposure to light, we must be able to study prolonged exposure to darkness. To understand what life is and how consciousness functions, we must be able to understand what a lack of life and consciousness is like – which we cannot due to our own physical limitations.
Sure, we can get close to it. We can theorize using neurological mapping and cybernetics – these could put us close to eternal life, as the firing of our neurons is merely electrical circuitry. But when we’re talking about consciousness, and the concept of life itself, our very ability to think about it means we must always be intertwined with it.
For this reason, in some senses of the term, living forever is an impossibility.
There was a time when space travel, 3D printing, and even global networking was considered to be impossible. But science has taken us to the peak of impossible and down the other side before – and if it can do that with the concept of life itself, we may come to look at life very differently.