Saturday, June 13, 2015

Thinking Through The Ultimate Far Fetched Dream of Materialists

I happened across this story at Alternet about billionaires trying to cheat death with science and technology,  as one of those quoted in the piece say, "they’re convinced there is nothing you can’t do if you can turn biotechnology into information technology".  

The article is quite a grab bag of flaky ideas and schemes to make people immortal, all of them ridiculous, all of them purported to be science, by someone, at least.   My question would be how these immortals propose to survive proton decay if that ever expanding model of cosmology turns out to be true.  Or, conversely, the big crunch if the whole shebang is coming back together into a primordial speck.  Or, a more pressing problem, how they expect to survive when the sun goes red giant, if that expectation of the cosmology of my young adulthood is still current.

That some of those who are investigating and funding the quest, presumably for them to achieve immortality in their life time - and is that even the word for what they're thinking of - are supposed to be religious is especially bizarre.   I'd think an immortal person would rather be stuck on Earth when their real destination is the afterlife.  I'd think they'd be kind of like the ghosts of Hogwarts, afraid to "go on".  

I came across it while trying to refresh my memory over some of Ray Kurtzweil's wackier ideas about achieving immortality through coding.  Why that idea isn't more ridiculous than the old notion of a vital essence animating life is curious, itself.  If there's one thing that is obvious about computing technology, it is that it isn't alive, it doesn't even have a very long sell by envelope.   Just try downloading a driver for your old printer if you want to see what I mean.  If immortality is the goal, computers would seem to be a silly means of achieving it.  Though not as silly as freezing someone like a piece of meat and expecting their bodies to reanimate and resume living.

Another of the striking things about this, which occurred to me while I was reading the article is how the "brain only" folks aren't at war with those true believers in Kurtzweil's immortality through computers.  If not only the essential mind of a person but also its memories, its perceptions, the products of its sensory experience are transferable to code, that removes them from being tied to the molecular and biological structures of the brain which they are supposed to not only be identified with but to be the actual, physical being of those things.  I doubt Kurtzweil has thought that out, being preoccupied with his machines, but it would be, I'd think, a death blow for a materialist explanation based on ideas being physical structures and consciousness as an phenomenon arising out of those physical structures.  If the mind survives that radical a transfer of physical form, from biological tissues to computer coding, it would mean the mind transcends any specific physical form.   Far from confirming the materialist theory of the mind, I think accepting those ideas is a fundamental challenge to it. If it succeeded, it would be a practical demonstration that minds are not the creation of the physical structures that materialists assert but can exist independent of them.


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