Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Fear of Death pt II: contemplating whist reading Dune
Thinking about the apparent, but I believe opaque dichotomy of death and life, I came on an analogy. Of course the nature of things is that everything is analogous.
Intake life sustaining oxygen
Outtake (seemingly) static Carbon dioxide
Both are separate activities as we delineate them, but as far as the body is concerned the difference is perhaps not so clear. More importantly, in and of themselves, neither one is the act of breathing. To breath we must inhale and exhale.
I am reminded of the different applications of the words death and life. "Death" is active, while "life" is passive. Inhale and exhale are active, while breathing is a broad passive. Life is a thing that contains death as the degenerative aspect of itself, just as exhalation is the degenerative aspect of breathing. What word is there for the regenerative aspect of life - the inhale?
Life is at least twice as large as the part we call life, it is also death and who knows what else.
I don't know why Dune had me in this state of mind, perhaps the characters' solipsizing led me to do the same. Here is some lint from my navel gazing, anyway. And before you raise a stink, which people often due on the internet, let me tell you that in addition to usually being true, all analogy is eventually false. Consider that, then comment.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Fear of death part III: Science!
After determing that it is just an elaborate ad machine for the labels, I have tried not to read Rolling Stone Magazine. However, I gotta take something into the john, and at work, it's all I've got. This month's issue contains a feature on Inventor Ray Kurzweil, the prophet of the singularity theory. The theory goes that technology will soon surpass human capacity for intelligence and at that point (of singularity) the two must merge, redefining life as we know it.
I don't even feel the need to refute his particulaly tech-heavy messianical vision. Even a lightweight like me can identify the logical, philosophical, technical and biological gaps in his staid prediction. What intrigues me is his purpose for arriving at this prediction, where the idea sits in our period of time and its place in our pre-agreed realities - an exagerated spike in a massive wave of our cultures paradigms.
His motivation seems to be a fear of death driven by the loss of his father 20 years ago. His belief in science is almost admiriably singular. There is no problem so great, he believes, that it cannot be overcome through application of creative human thought.
Some excerpts, mostly Kurzweil's own words:
"Death represents the loss of knowledge and information. A person is a mind file. A person is a software program - a very profound one, and we have no back-up. So when our hardware dies, our software dies with it....I've made an issue of overcoming death, and the strongest experience I've had with death is a tragedy.'"
Wow! This is today's paradigm for the mind - its a big computer. Is this true? I would venture not.
"'By scanning the contents of your brain, nanobots will be able to transfer everything you know, everything you have evr experienced, into a robot or a virtual reality program. If something happens to your physical body, no problem. Your mind will live on - forever....After 2045, Kurzweil predicts nanobots will replicate and spread throughout the tiniest recesses of matter, transforming the host - say, a tree or a stone - into a computational device. He calls this intelligent infested matter 'computronium, which is matter and energy organized at optimum level for computation. Using nanotechnology, we're going to organize matter into a computer.' As the nanobots spread computer intelligence beyond our planet, the universe itself will awaken as if a giant switch is finally being turned on. 'The universe is not conscious - yet, but it will be'"
What.The Fuck! This is a good thing?!?! But is artificial intelligence the same as sentience?
"'Most have a conventional concept of a lifespan...if they move more aggresively, they can actually be quite healthy In another 15 years, we get to a tipping point.' By then, he says, we'll have the means to reverse-engineer 'the information processes underlying biology' - giving us the power to ensure our immortality."
I recall reading a similar article in Wired a little while back.
Aside from the obvious, that Kurzweil has never read the science fiction implications of his irrationally rigid predictions, or seen Terminator, and that he needs some serious grief counseling over the death of his father (over 20 years ago), I am struck by the paradox of his quest. He truly believes there is no problem that cannot be overcome through creative human thought. This might be true. It has at least been the impetus to many of humanity's amazing acheivements. Perhaps, but his quest operates under the assumption that mortality is a problem.
RESPONSE FROM A FRIEND:
when i was in junior high i would sometimes lie awake at night scared of what would happen to my consciousness after death, mostly that it would continue on. immortality scares me. the desire for such seems to be a result of fear of death, of the unknown, but i would say i can't think of anything worse than my consciousness continuing on forever and ever and ever...i don't think anyone can honestly comprehend eternity, making it kinda silly for someone to desire. although i suppose we do desire things we don't entirely understand all the time.
as for artificial intelligence being the same as sentience, man, i love (in a very selfish entertainment driven way) that this is still up for debate. still a part of the moral discourse that has entered into every aspect of society, including our lovely pop culture that you speak of. central to the recent battlestar gallactica themes, might i add, which goes to my selfish entertainment.
well basically i'm adding nothing to your post that you didn't already write, and write more eloquently, might i add. purely self-indulgent. i'll leave on a cliche note. mortality makes us human. though human nature is theorized and analyzed to the point of no return (which i am in no way complaining about as it is an interest of mine), i do hope we won't have to change that aspect of the definition.
Posted by little on Wednesday, June 03, 2009 - 7:22 PM
The greeks knew that mortality made us human, and the immortal gods envied that and the passion it propagated.
As for immortality of whatever it might be, it could not be an eternity, because at least it has a start. An eternity would extend to infinity, which has neither beginning nor end. I would suspect that if there was en eternal consciousness, it would be dealt in stages with only a dim concept of what came before and would come after. Perhaps we are already at a great length along that continuum, having birthed out of a different past into the present and dying into an entirely different future.
I prefer the concept that most fits with the nature of matter as composed of energy, being reorganized constantly constantly by Life, but always seeking entropy. A human being, and consciousness and even spirit, would be the energy we are composed of. It is unlikely that energy would maintain any level of unified organization after death, but would be given off in heat and consumed by organisms. These organisms do not inherit our being as we do not inherit the being of the organisms we consume, so our being must be diffused to no longer exist.
However, what of those moments before full diffusion. I would like to believe that dying is like a deep sleep that deepens to be un-plumbable and un-returnable. I would like to believe that those lat moments are in dream state and I know that dream state is neither limited by space no time. To our consciousness, Death is a dream that extends time beyond the maybe seconds a death takes, a surreal wrap up of our lives that is like a vortex (a swirling has always been a symbol of traversing levels of consciousness either way) down into what he have carried in our lives. Have you died with fears? This last dream might be filled with fear and rather hellish. Have you found some equilibrium in life? This last dream might be rather pleasant or at least a carrying on of the things you have loved. The dream as a St Peter projecting the state of your soul. And that dream fades away imperceptibly, as all deep dreams do without fear of end or what is beyond - which is nothing.
Posted by Nick on Thursday, June 04, 2009 - 9:53 PM