Immortality

Read the photo essay (if you can call looking at photographs “reading” them) from Issue 148 of Granta, the Summer Fiction issue, along with the accompanying commentary. The photo essay was on H+, transhumanism, by the multi-talented Matthieu Gafsou. Each photo dealt, in some way, with mechanical and electronic and software augmentation and supplementation of humans. The pictures were mostly stark, cold, clinical. This starkness enhanced the effect of the technology and dampened most real human elements in the shots. In one photo, a rat looks more human than the human technician, who appears to be more of a component of the technology than a person.

Of course, the visuals, along with Daisy Hildyard’s commentary, got me thinking. The aim of transhumanists, generally, is immortality, to live forever. To me, this seems like a totally worthless, empty goal.

First, consider the practicalities of immortality. If you can make the body and the mind durable enough to last forever, you had better not be the only one to do so. To be the sole immortal would be to isolate you from the rest of humanity in unimaginable ways. Unimaginable in that no one would understand you and you would understand no one because neither you nor the rest of humanity could imagine what it is like to be the other.

The opposite situation, where everyone is immortal, would be scarcely better. The person you most detest would be around, forever. There would be no escape. The same would be true for other fates: they would last forever.

Then, of course, there is the absurd conclusion to a life that never ends, outliving the earth itself. (I know, I know, we’ll inhabit other worlds.)

A more subtle problem also arises. Anyone with a moderate understanding of mathematics knows quite well what an inverse relationship is. The relevance of this is that the worth we attach to things, how much we value them, what they really mean to us, is inversely related to how often they occur and how long they last. What if you were to only hear your favorite song one more time in your life? Wouldn’t you listen to it more intensely than ever? And wouldn’t it be memorable? Conversely, if you were going to hear that same song an infinite number of times, the joy of each listening would shrink to zero, and, no matter how many zeros you add end to end, you still have zero. Your very most favorite song would become worthless.

Same for your best friend. In fact, you would have no friends because you would attach zero worth to any time you spent with any of them because, after all, that time you eventually spend with them over the course of eternity would be infinite and the inverse of infinite is: zero.

The only escape from this infinite morass of absurd meaninglessness would be, of course, death. The irony there is that, after spending all one’s energy and time and resources on living forever and, ultimately, missing out on really living at all, one would throw in the towel.

I’m in no rush, but when it’s time for me to go, I’ll just go.

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