Battling diseases is great. Living a healthy and long life is good!
But what is the ultimate goal of all these health improvements? Would you live in your youthful body without any major defects or suffering until you are 120 and then say: “Thanks I have had enough. Switch me off”?
A few weeks back I had Facebook reminding me of a passage I wrote 4 years ago:
“There are some moments when you are endlessly happy you have been bestowed with a kind gift of walk on this magnificent land, hearing the mesmerizing melodies of motley birds, smelling its air after the spring rain and feeling and gentle breeze touching your sunburnt shoulders. At the same time, you feel an imminent sadness and helplessness for not being able to live this life 3, 2 or at least one more time, to be able to feel the spirit of vast Canadian lands, colorful and virgin African safaris, cold and distant Arctic ices, adrenalin-provoking rivers of Amazonia, and white beaches of Maldives, Hawaii, and millions of other places you won’t even have time to hear about…”
When I was writing that I did not have a slightest glimpse of what Transhumanism is and what it aims to achieve. But my philosophy was there with me. Just as it is with most people who know how to enjoy life.
Once we are able to live as much as we want we will have enough time to visit all places we want to visit, try any possible hobbies we can think of, read all the books we want to read, start all the possible companies we want and meet millions of people from all around the world.
In essence, we will become Gods, not limited by physics, time or suffering.
But first we need to understand what is holding us back…
Why Do We Die?
The problem with the human body just as any biological form is the malfunction of cell replicating mechanisms with age. This wearing down accumulates faster than we are able to repair this. Aging is characterized by a gradual functional decline. The DNA in each cell gets frayed. The cell walls get weak and begin to collapse. All our cells which once used to be stem cells have now settled down into one form or another — a heart cell, a skin cell, a brain cell, – all the way until a final breath.
As we age, some cells start to climb back up the hill towards being a stem cell again, but they can’t get all the way there and simply jump the groove into being another kind of cell, like a needle skipping on a record player. That’s how we get malfunctions, senescence and cancer.
One of the results causing senescence is the damage of telomeres, highly repetitive DNA structures located at the end of chromosomes. Thus, both ageing and death are embedded in our DNA.
Immortality Is Not a Myth
No matter how we believe in our uniqueness, non-dogmatic Transhumanist movement embraces the theory of evolution and acknowledges humanity’s humble place in the overall ecosystem of life.
This modest outlook, apart from giving us a proper impetus for harmonious symbiosis with nature, also opens our eyes to the wonders of our evolutionary brothers and sisters.
It is worth looking at how ageing is programmed in various representatives of the animal kingdom and what can we learn from it. We can look at 2 types of geese – domestic goose and Canada goose – one lives for up to 8 years, another to 23. Why is there such a difference? They look pretty much identical. It is like comparing Caucasian person to an Asian one, or Hispanics.
This difference in life span is nothing more than the instruction in their genetic code. To date, there are only one species that has been called ‘biologically immortal’: the jellyfish Turritopsis dohrnii. These small, transparent animals hang out in oceans around the world and can turn back time by reverting to an earlier stage of their life cycle. If there is environmental stress they can go back to the initiation seed-stage and wait for good conditions to grow again.
Hydra is another fascinating example – instead of gradually deteriorating over time, Hydra’s stem cells have the capacity for infinite self-renewal thanks to unique genes called FoxO.
Lobsters have a never-ending supply of an enzyme called telomerase, which works to keep regenerating telomeres. They produce lots of this enzyme in all of their cells throughout their adult lives, allowing them to maintain youthful DNA indefinitely. The only reason we do not see 200 or 300 years old lobsters is mainly due to overfishing.
Hacking The Code
If death is embedded in our source code, as soon as we get access to hack the code, why would we not do so? Even in accordance with Biblical version, curiosity and striving for meaning have been our long lasting friends, forcing Adam and Eve out of the comfort zone of the Garden of Eve.
In 2018 Chinese scholar He Jiankui edited 2 embryos and apart from sparing them from HIV apparently he also inadvertently increased their brain potential.
We have still to see how they develop. But one is sure. We are in the early beginnings of a major biohacking breakthrough and the race against time.
The cycle of birth and death has been the constant, the guarantee that nature can maintain balance – for any other types of checks and balances were not in place. It might be the case that time has come for the human race to decide their own cycle and have a say over the constant of time.
Who Gets the Elixir?
There are almost 8 billion people alive today, – we are still in the starting phases of gene editing research – and currently have only first practical cases – started from IVF and reaching CRISPR today. We can choose between multiple embryos based on the apparent health situation and lack or presence of unwanted mutations. No one, however, ever attempted to modify the genes of an existing person.
Once it becomes possible, however, how do we choose who obtains this option and who does not?
One option to distribute an available longevity solution is to get it auctioned – thus sold to those willing to pay highest price, further exacerbating an already peak inequality.
Despite an apparent common sense of the auctioning solution, it must be said that deciding to price immortality is very different from pricing plastic surgery – it is literally a way to have an individual stay alive indefinitely!
Should this decision come down to such an easily quantifiable factor as cash?
Is it a decision to be taken by markets?
This is a decision on nature, survival and long-term societal implication, – in fact eternal implications.
Thus I would argue it should not be taken according to the market.
Choice should be based on a carefully evaluated and approved criteria created by newly established Immortality Ethics Committees, – things that could be taken into account are person’s IQ, EQ, adaptability, compassion and environmental consciousness as well as other factors important at the time when Immortality option enters the world.
How Do We Feed Everybody?
Let’s suppose everyone gets the “Immortality Pill” and decides to take it. How can the Planet feed billions of people who never die? It can hardly provide for the existing 8 billion. Well, this argument holds true if we account for the same levels of population growth as we’ve seen in XXth and XXIst centuries. However, the research shows that the levels of childbirths negatively correlate with the improvements in economic development, education among women and increasing urbanization. Thus, some authors have even argued that taken the same level of progress as today at some point the Planet might even run out of people.
Moreover, when we quote doom and gloom scenarios of overpopulation and resource scarcity we account for business as usual energy usage – which is largely non-renewable, polluting and negative.
In a single hour, the amount of power from the sun that strikes the Earth is more than the entire world consumes in a year.
Once we solve energy-storing issues we should be able to supply billions of people with unlimited and clean solar energy, not to mention wind, water, and more and more ecologically sustainable ways of food production!
Moreover, it is very likely that people will procreate less if they themselves live longer – already now educated and developed societies have way fewer children as they do not need them as a social welfare safety net – or for the workforce. With the increased automation the need for manual labor and children as safety nets will be completely eliminated, ensuring people have children only if they can give them the best possible conditions for life.
This controversial yet extremely logical idea of licensing parenthood is currently being advocated by Zoltan Istvan, 2020 US Presidential Candidate running from Republican Party.
Quality of Life
No one said you will live forever if you are immortal – you can still die by a brick that fell on your head.
We tend to measure life value taking our own lifespan as a benchmark. Why do you feel ok killing a mosquito? At least I do. Part of the answer is a huge difference in the life span between yourself and a mosquito.
How can we measure a life value of someone who is virtually immortal? How will people measure their life?
How frustrating will it be to die of car accident when you could avoid all diseases that could have killed you down the road and missed out on thousands years of life?
Will life become extremely boring as a result? – Definitely it will.
The only way to avoid this is to follow Altered Carbon scenario of periodically recording one’s personality in the digital form.
Equally viable solutions to ensure Sustainable Immortality would be the discovery of time travel and colonization of other Planets, both of which could ensure we do not overpopulate Earth at any given point of time.
Will There Be Art and Beauty Left?
“Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?”
sings Lana Del Rey, – showing how much emphasis is being placed on the ephemeral qualities of youth and bloom.
Youth and innocence is being auctioned in the world of Capitalism as the scarcest resource on the Planet. People beyond certain age brackets are being discarded by society like a single use plastic.
More and more, however, this trend is being reversed, with scientists like Natasha Vita-More, celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and actresses like Jennifer Aniston proving us the world is more mature for the transcendental beauty and true power coming from within than a superficial and lucky by-product of gene selection.
Most of the art is said to be borne out of despair, struggle, and suffering. It is common to hear that the beauty of life and the beauty of art is due to the fact that our time in this life is limited. Whole philosophy movements and religions are created around this assumption.
Paul Gauguin’s picture Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? is a fascinating portrayal of the ephemeral quality of passing life, beauty and youth.
It does not have to be this way, however. Taken that we do not have to maintain Capitalistic system and work to ensure our existence we will have infinite time to explore art and self-expression.
Imagine what Da Vinci or Einstein could have come up with if they were still alive today!
Your Life Is Not a Danger to Life Overall
The main argument on which I base my interpretation and support for the whole Movement is the statement that if we lived to fully experience the consequences of our actions, we would care about the preservation of the Planet much more than we do today.