Sunday, July 12, 2015

Life Everlasting

       Give Me Transmigration or Give Me Death!

. . . but did I finger-comb my beard?

Plant a watermelon
On the bottom o’ my grave
And let the juice –
Slurp! Slurp! run through.
Plant a watermelon
On the bottom o’ my grave
That’s all I ask of you.
 Now Mom makes chicken
And she makes it mighty fine,
But nothin’ can compare
With the watermelon vine.
So plant a watermelon
On the bottom o’ my grave
And let the juice –
Slurp! Slurp! run through.

I recently had a conversation with UC Berkeley biologist Steven A. Garan about his systems approach to studying life extension, or what was once more modestly termed longevity, and about  his little business on the side – cryopreservation of humans. I was polite. On the inside I may have been howling with laughter when I asked, did he expect any serious competition for business from the Whole Brain Emulation folks? But I posed the question with a straight face. Before meeting with Professor Garan, my most recent update on cryogenic suspension – that is, on preserving dead humans at sub-zero temperatures, would have made excellent material for a stand-up comedian. For not only was benighted Homo sapiens sapiens spending megabucks in the quixotic hope that science would soon figure out how to “wake people up,” people who couldn’t afford the whole gruesome package were still spending megabucks at a discounted rate for the privilege of having their heads kept indefinitely on ice, giving new meaning to the term Deadheads.

Where was Mark Twain when you really needed him?

So you thought selling aluminum siding was the worst job in the world, did you? Try being head (so to speak) of the sales team whose job it is to close on the deal with the guy who can only afford to get his head frozen.

You want to know the answer to my question? The answer was that the technology for bringing the cryonically-preserved back to life is a mere ten years away, whereas the technology for up–  (or is it down– ?) loading people’s brains lies a good fifty years hence. So no competition. No competition at all. The cryonic preservers are earliest to market – earlier than the WBE folks by forty-odd years.

I never wanted to have my brain uploaded anyway. What would be the point? I’m not Einstein. Nor am I Steven Hawking. I have a good, unexceptional brain. Most humans do have good brains – thanks to evolution we have good BIG brains inside our craniums, and they keep on growing and developing postpartum for something like twenty-five years. And these good BIG brains are supplied to our species free of charge, with every new generation.

How about waking up as-is though, body and all, after, say, an interval of about fifty years? Let me say this about that. RIP is there for a reason. Do we say, “Rest in jollity”? Do we say, “Rest in hilarity”? or “Rest in audacity”? Do we say, “Rest in party-mode”? No. No we do not. Someone dies, we don’t say: “Party on.” We say: “Rest in Peace.”  What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. And what happens with the dead stays with the dead.  Not to put too fine a point on it, the beneficence of phrases like “Stay lucky” pales in comparison to the good wishes we may bestow in future when we tell friends and colleagues to “Stay dead.”

Oh you thought RIP was an acronym for Rip Van Winkle did you? Well, why not? Van Winkle’s tale might serve as a weak analogy for the fifty-year resurrection.

Rip had some issues, his creator tells us. Fortunately for Rip, he fell asleep and woke up in a backwater: in a rustic society where people didn’t bathe all that much to begin with. So what if he slept in his clothes, perspired in his clothes, etc. in his clothes? Everybody smelled bad in those days. So what if he hadn’t flossed or finger-combed his beard? Neither had the rest of the ornery recluses and neurotic misanthropes who lived thereabouts. The colonial American backwoods was full of benign eccentrics and sly curmudgeons. If he had any social problems on waking, therefore, such problems were related to disorientation, not hygiene.

Now the example of Rip was just an analogy, and a weak one at that. So what would it actually be like to die unto cryonic preservation and wake unto life fifty years hence? That is assuming some controlled intervention that has not disrupted the organism. It would perforce be an intervention  less passionate than the kiss that brought Sleeping Beauty around, less romantic and more targeted to arouse consciousness itself than merely to bring the endocrine system back online.

Babe, you've been at 77.15 Kelvin for 100 years but I still have the hots for you.

What state indeed would your awakening resemble? Would you experience new life as enlightenment, as being suffused with tranquil illumination, amidst a shaking off of the ether whilst a kindly medic warmly held your chilly hand?

     I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and 
as the morning mists had risen long ago when I left the forge, so, the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw the shadow of no parting from her.
 –– Great Expectations

Or perhaps not so much resurrection as rebirth –  the experience of rebirth where birth had been  but a cacophony:

The baby assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin and entrails all at once, feels it as one great blooming, buzzing confusion. . .
– Principles of Psychology

So said William James of the baby’s experience of the world following birth.

Enlightenment? Cacophony? I think not. For you would not be regaining consciousness among the Angels. Neither Seraphim nor Cherubim would attend you; rather  they would send you back from whence you came. Look Homeward, Angel, if angel you may be; look earthward, not with a mind that’s tabula rasa, nor like a convict with a clean slate; or even like a kid with an Etch-a-Sketch. You bring the rudiments at least of the mind you left with; if there is any backsliding, it should take one no further backwards in time than very adolescence.

Surprise! It's 3030...

Ever had a surprise party? That’s what it would feel like. You haven’t brushed your teeth or had a bath. You weren’t expecting this party, no, and you’ve had no time to find a suitable outfit. You’re not at your best, not having a good day, and to be honest, you don’t just not look good, you look like shit. Because the thing is, you’ve been dead. Not just kind of dead or out-of-body dead, or in a coma dead, but really, really dead. Dead as a doornail kind of thing. Dead as a doornail on ice, sure, but still and all, long-time dead. That doornail’s been on ice for fifty years, see. And who really knows how much suspension takes place in fifty years, how much devolution, dementia, decay? And there they all are, those party-goers of the future, jazzed because you’re awake, because they woke you. And they’re screaming, “Happy birthday!” and “Party on!”  And you look like shit and you feel like Frankenstein’s monster. You never meant for it to happen this way. It’s the worst, the very worst surprise party ever.

Remember the time your friend was in a coma? That was in another life. Lying in bed for over a week, not using his muscles, he developed foot-flop, thought he might never get back his muscle tone; took half a year with PT to recover.

And they’ve de-iced you, sure enough. It’s your début. What are those hellishly bright lights scathing your tender eyeballs? You’re here, what’s left of you. What hasn’t atrophied. Or been infected. Or inflamed. But you haven’t exactly been getting regular exercise, a healthy diet, and fresh air.

You thought you’d be burning with curiosity to see what life was like in the future, but you’re sodden with something that feels like a hangover, jetlag, and  “I overslept by forty years” all rolled into one: you’re a morning lark at midnight, a night owl at high noon.

So this is 2075? But no. There was a war. They didn’t have the resources, the technology to wake you in 2075. Your contract, you say? They howl with laughter. May have been binding in the old US of A. But this is 3030, you're in Pan-Solaria. . .

OK. I got carried away. But I do so love Sci-fi. And you get the point.

Humans have searched for immortality probably since they understood that they die. They have always overstepped. Then they created warnings, stories, myths. Calendars and clocks. The Phoenix. Shangri-la. Aurora and Tithonus.

For those who were not fools, there was transmigration, meditation, reincarnation. For the fools there was the Fountain of Youth, immortal fame, and cryonic preservation.

For the wise, there was knowledge never contained in the words by which they remembered it.

And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven,
and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things
which are therein, that there should be time no longer.
–– Revelation

It takes a while to value time
I'll take a break
Arrive too late
If I fall behind it is you I'll find
In a lovely house
In a lovely town 
–– Good Occasions

The moment you stop thought, Time too stops dead.
 –– Shakespeare

1 comment:

linda colman said...

+linda colman Powerful insights on enlightenment and reincarnation of the mind, your descriptions euphoric and transcendental. I love this passage, as I can relate to the chaos:

"Or perhaps not so much resurrection as rebirth – the experience of rebirth where birth had been but a cacophony:

The baby assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin and entrails all at once, feels it as one great blooming, buzzing confusion. . .
– Principles of Psychology"

Cognitive dissonance is another term for the disorientation of new ideas, learning, and thinking, and the experience can be traumatic, confusing. You question old and traditional ways of thinking about beliefs you have clung to for a very long time. However, growth emerges from the chaos, an evolution in thinking and feeling. This is the ideal anyway.

Cognitive dissonance challenges our beliefs, our brains seriously questions the way it thinks. Amazing, isn't that? We have the capacity of metacognition: the ability to think about our own systems of thought in order to consciously evolve them toward truth.

The resolution is more complex and difficult than our original state, but we are so much wiser for the process.

That is why I love your conclusion with the challenging Shakespeare quote: "The moment you stop thought, Time too stops dead." Thought patterns evolve and adapt, and if you stop with your metacognition, time starts. You are dead, at least in the mental sense.

The concept of neuroplasticity illustrates this. Neuroscience has discovered that your brain changes throughout your life, even into old age. This means you can improve your thinking, even in your declining years, if you actively devote your mind to it. The opposite is what Shakespeare describes in so few word - time stops.

Thank you Linda, for engaging my mind with your powerful writing.