How I'd like to die
According to some guy I listened to on a podcast recently, there are four essential routes to immortality. At least, four ways humans have aspired to immortality.
They are resurrection, reincarnation, extension, and transference. As in, your body gets up again, you come back as a different body, you make your body last longer, or you take yourself, whatever that is, out of your body and put it into something else.
All of these are highly dubious, even when they’re taken out of old mythologies and put in a context of modern engineering. They all have correlations in cryogenics, cybernetic augmentation, rejuvenation, and uploading your consciousness.
I don’t think most of those approaches will work because your mind needs continuity in order for you to not simply perceive the end of your self, even if you are replaced by something that looks and acts like you so much so that all your friends thinks it’s you. So, even if you freeze yourself and are revived, I don’t believe consciousness is something that can be turned on and off. Your experience of you will stop. That thing that is arguably you, again not still, picks up from where you left off without you ever knowing about it.
Uploading your consciousness seems like a better bet because of continuity, but most methods people conceive of imagine your consciousness as a separate entity from your physical brain. Essentially, people think of their thoughts as software, and the brain as hardware. But that’s not how it is at all. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I spent a bunch of time in my life researching brain stuff for a book I wrote, and I know enough to know that your thoughts are only possible because of the physical construct of the brain. What you think influences the structure of your neural network, which in turn influences how you think. You can’t separate them.
I believe you could, potentially, create a more ethereal form of your consciousness by a sort of “ship of Theseus” approach, by essentially extending your brain, adding components without destroying the underlying structure until you had sufficient activity in the new areas. It would necessarily take time, and technology far in advance of what we have today.
Failing that, the next best option is to keep the current body going. Replace body parts as they fail, keep pushing back the mortality of cancer, extending telomeres, all that kind of thing. How long could you keep a body going with the right medical advances? Is there an upper limit to how long a bag of aging meat and bones can be propped up?
I don’t know, but I want to find out. I want to live as long as possible. I have so much I’d like to do and experience, it seems from where I’m standing right now that it’s more that can fit in one standard human life of 75 to 100 years, or whatever my current expectancy is.
But, I don’t know if I want to live forever. Forever is weird. Forever is eternity, which is infinity, which is a mathematical mind fuck. Assuming you kept doing different things, say you never repeated any activity more than once, then over the course of infinite time, you would eventually do everything.
Not only would you write all the works of Shakespeare like a bunch of monkeys, you’d write every version with every possible variation, ranging from simple singular typos all the way to versions that swap Hamlet for Godzilla, or a version of Richard II that’s interesting.
And you’d do everything else, to the point where questions start coming up about how much of doing anything involves greatness or random chance? Do the great artists and thinkers we admire actually have something the rest of us don’t have, or is it just that given enough humans on a planet all exploring random avenues of thought, eventually some of them will come up with things that matter, not accessing anything more than what monkeys access by slapping randomly at keyboards?
If all achievement is merely a product of existence over time, how interesting is it and how much do we want to participate in it? I’d like to live long enough to create everything I want to create. I don’t want to live through creating and experience everything everyone else creates and experiences.
To be honest, the value of life over infinity is a bit of an esoteric problem that is more interesting to philosophers than to me. I’ve had sex a bunch of times, at least twice, and I’m kind of down to do it again, no matter how similar and same it is to the last time. In fact, I kind of like doing certain sexy things over and over in just the way I like them. I also listen to certain songs over and over. There are all sorts of conditions I think are nice because they are comfortably familiar. I could definitely live a long time indulging in a lot of sweet sameness and be perfectly happy.
Also, there was this one time I was out to dinner with this woman that I ended up not sleeping with in spite of my aspirations, and we were talking about immortality. She said that when she was a kid she couldn’t see the world the way she can now as an adult because she simply had not yet achieved enough consciousness to even know that she was unaware of what she didn’t know. She was Christianish, so she thought about it in terms of an afterlife, but her point struck me as an interesting one. It’s arrogant to think that our current thinking is all the thinking that we could ever do. I might have whole new thoughts inconceivable to me now if the universe would grant me the time to get to where those thoughts are.
But, even the universe doesn’t operate in terms of infinity, so far as I know anyone knows. My understanding of how the universe is explained to me is that eventually it fizzles out into a lingering heat death, where atoms and bits of atoms drift apart and there’s not enough energy for anything to come back together again, and it’s this long cold sub-existence of essentially nothingness. Blah. No thanks.
So, when I say I want to live forever, what I really mean is that I want to live after now and up to sometime before the point where the universe is inhospitable. Yeah, I’m up for millions of years. Billions if I can have them. All assuming I am able to lead a life at least as livable as it is now.
The tricky part is making the choice on when to stop. The choice of how I make that transition is most likely going to be out of my hands, but I assume afterward won’t be a problem because there will be no me to suffer anything. For now, though, I know that I’m strongly compelled to hang on to this life, as was every organism that lead up to me. So what I’m really fighting against is going toward that darkness. I know it will end up being not being and that has upsides, but I can’t conceive of that, so I desperately, aggressively, passionately want to keep being what I can conceive of.
I’ve been really sick and fevered to the point where I’ve been histrionic about it enough to contemplate that it might be better to die than to suffer. I mean, I don’t know how seriously I felt it, because I was delirious, but it’s a slight hint of a feeling I know is real. My aunt made the conscious decision to let go of life because she was so tired of all the chemo. Being tired of life is a real thing.
So I can see the value of suffering in that it can make the transition more palatable, but that’s not really how I’d like to transition into death. Suffering sucks, and I’d like to do the least amount of it that I can.
I’d like to think there’s a way to be exhausted with life, the same way you can be really tired from a hard day’s labour and nothing seems better than sleep. Is it possible to be so psychologically, spiritually, emotionally exhausted from life that you just think, “yeah, I’m good, I think I’m done now.”
I don’t know. I’d like to find out. Just like that girl I didn’t fuck said, maybe that’s one of the forms of consciousness that’s out there if you can get to it.
And if it is, it raises the possibility that maybe you could get there within the standard allotment of life, seventy or eighty or ninety years or whatever number it is that I’m afraid of acknowledging is sooner than I want it to be.
I think it would be possible. Maybe some people have even got there. Some people might even feel that way after twenty years, who knows what’s possible, except to say that when it comes to people and how they are, anything is possible.
I’m definitely not that, though. And I know I’m not arcing toward that as much as I need or want. I could only imagine something like that feeling of exhaustion with life after having done a good amount of the things I’d like to be doing with my life. The creative works that I’d like to make manifest, and the life built out of the responses to those works that I’d hope to see happen.
I’m nowhere near that because if I’m being self abusive I can point to a life behind me of some bad choices made when I was too young and inexperienced to know how they would shape the life of old and experienced me. But even if I’m being charitable to myself, creative arts are hard and without a trust fund you are beset by choices between working on your dreams and paying rent and you sacrifice a lot of mortal time on jobs and tasks that feel a lot like an inauthentic life just so you can survive long enough to maybe roll creative dice again.
Wanting to live forever isn’t really forever, it’s just long enough so I can have a shot to really do things I want to do. And it’s not even really about having extra time that humans aren’t supposed to have, it’s just about the frustration that depending on where you splashed down into the river of life, and where the current took you, you might not have much say in how that time gets spent.
I’m privileged enough to have the delusion that dissatisfaction is an option.
Anyway, that’s how I want to die. Satisfied. I don’t really care how long it takes.