There is one thing we know for sure about our future, we are all going to die. Ray Kurzweil and the transhumanist crew may disagree. They argue technology is the key to immortality. But for those still hooked into a biological perspective the future ends with old age, probably sickness, and death.
Death is a constant part of life. It is true of culture, social arrangements, and species. The Earth will die and the Sun will die too. We can migrate to other star systems but those too will die. Everything that exists is on its way to nonexistence.
Science Means Knowledge
Statements like these sound philosophical, even spiritual, but they are only statements of fact. I suspect this is evidence of how little we talk about them.
Science means knowledge so science fiction means fictional knowledge. Science fiction is fantasy, a delusion, or denial; they are stories of things we pretend to know. All science is fiction to a degree, because everything we thinkwe know depends on the denial of what we do not know.
People imagine fantasy scenarios for their future. They make plans based on their fantasies, such as space colonization or transhumanism. Their visions of grandeur are scientific versions of “the afterlife.” Their delusions act as a buffer for the crippling awareness of impending doom. Imagining future utopias and dystopias helps people feel better about the present, either by reassuring them that a better future is near or helping them reassuring them that present situation could be much worse.
The future is like the Second Coming, it never arrives because by definition its an event far in the future.
Religion of the Future
Transhumanism is the religion of the future. It is the escapist fantasy available to technologically spoiled, religion-sated people. While transhumanism has not become a regular religion yet it has taken hold of the imagination of technological-savvy people. Everyone is an aspiring transhumanist whether they know it or not.
Sheldon Solomon and the Ernest Becker Foundation have provided compelling that culture is a means by which humans deny death. Humans created culture as a way to distance themselves from the paralyzing awareness that death can, does, and will happen. Culture creates a powerful illusion of immortality via the manufacturing of extensions of the self and body—extensions which last significantly longer than we do, such as books, iPods, or spaceships. Human values are probably the most resilient or enduring extensions of self.
Most of the stuff we own will outlive us if given the chance. Ironically, a lot of it is disposable and will be discardedto be replaced by the newest model. The value of items is only temporary.
Science Fiction Predictions of the Future
Science fiction projections about the future concern themselves with technological advances that will improve our lives, enslave us, or both. It is not a coincidence that technology will outlive us even as it turns into useless junk.
An alien observing human progress could conclude that the more sophisticated the solutions humans develop, the bigger the problems humans face become. The desire for utopia is what creates dystopia, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
There is no reason to think this progression will not continue or even accelerate. In my opinion the reason utopian dreams tend to develop into dystopian realities is simple: the human subconscious. The subconscious mind prevents us from understanding issues completely, causing us to make our situation worse.
Science fiction is both the problem and the solution. It allows us to envision where humanity is headed without going there. Would we have smartphones if it were not for Star Trek? Would we care about space colonization?
It has been said that there is no way to talk about our current times without citing Goethe’s Faust as a blueprint, or metaphor, for modern science fiction. But, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is a more relevant example. It is one of the first works of science fiction and it clearly describes how death anxiety fuels the scientific drive to innovate. Dr. Frankenstein builds a monster from the discarded body parts of dead people.
Which Brings Us to Transhumanism
Transhumanism is a scientific movement based on the belief that what human-beings fundamentally are can be divorced from biology. Transhumanism divorces human existence from the psyche by suggesting that:
• Consciousness can be converted into digital information.
• Conscious data transferred will be self-aware.
• Digital consciousness will be a continuation of biological awareness.
Although it may be possible some day to create a replicant of Ray Kurtzweil’s father that believes it is Ray Kurtzweil’s father, Ray may even believe it too, it is a quantum leap to suggest that the replicant actually is Ray Kurtzweil’s father.
It is only possible to entertain the transhumanist belief if the subconscious is ignored. “Who we are” is not a mind-body system but a psyche-body system. People are not meat vessels. The vast majority of our total “psychosoma” system functions at a subconscious level.
To create a replica of a person from their consciousness is like taking a single word out of the collected works of Shakespeare and turning it into a Broadway show. Or, like stitching together a bunch of disinterred body parts and hoping to get the Übermensch.
Fantasies of immortality are really about suppressing awareness of death. We are born powerless and unfortunately we are destined to end exactly as we begin.
Can there be wisdom without acceptance of death? There can be culture and endless fantasies that strive to become reality. But there will always be a fundamental disconnect between our minds and bodies, between self and reality, when we refuse to accept death. If death anxiety fuels human progress, maybe accepting death would not only be the end of fantasy but the end of the fantasy called “history”? What it would be the beginning of is anybody’s guess