Friday, April 9, 2010


For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Some people want to achieve immortality through their work or their descendants. I would prefer to achieve immortality by not dying.
- Woody Allen

There is only one compelling reason to want immortality – it is because you are enjoying life. Our knee-jerk reactions against immortality are because life gets miserable once disease, depression, disability and decrepitude arrive. It can also be seen that death brings relief from boredom, sadness, drudgery and despair. One can argue that since sleep is great, death must be heaven.

There are also abstract reasons for and against immortality. Its been argued that people will treat the world more kindly if they know they must live with it forever. Or it can be argued that civilization will advance more assuredly if there would be more of a hands-on transferring of experience. On the other hand, it can be argued that there will be less room for new talent to shine if the old guard never leaves the stage. Or that society will change too slowly if a gerontocracy holds onto power. I don’t consider any of these abstract reasons particularly compelling. They all have such a “maybe so, maybe not” character. What is unambiguous, though, is that if you love being alive, you’ll want to continue being alive. If you don’t, you won’t mind a peaceful death.

Mindclones shouldn’t feel their bodies falling apart because (a) they won’t have a real body, and (b) painful sensations from virtual bodies should be more easily remediable than flesh maladies. Thus, welcoming death to avoid the fragility of old age seems inapplicable to our cyberconscious selves. But since it is our minds, not our bodies, that feel depression, boredom, sadness and drudgery, those reasons will continue to pull us, even as mindclones, into the sweet embrace of everlasting sleep.

Some people enjoy their lives until the very end. Many of those will be the kind of people who quest for the immortality of the mindclone. Other people are dissatisfied with their life, and are thus much less likely to activate their mindfile with mindware to create an immortal mindclone. But there are also many exceptions in both categories. One of my favorite people, Thomas Starzl, MD, is now in his eighties and lives the exciting life of a celebrated organ transplant pioneer. He travels the world to receive awards and recognition, and he receives countless letters of gratitude from the thousands of people who are still alive due to his medical breakthroughs with liver and kidney transplantation. Immortality category? No. Tom tells me that he would not want to take the risk that an immortalized version of him turned out to be insane. Another friend of mine has suffered just about every bad economic and emotional break the world has to offer. Despite her sufferings, she is a kindly soul and looks forward to creating an immortal mindclone. Like the Hindi believers in reincarnation, her view is that the next life has got to be better than this one. She wants to grab a good place in the queue.

Mindclone creators will surely want a “kill-switch” so that the gravely unhappy mindclone can end it all with the cybernetic equivalent of hemlock, wrist-slashing, overdosing, hanging or a bullet. No doubt some mindclones will kill themselves out of some kind of depression. Mindclone suicide may well be as large a problem as its flesh-based cousin. On the other hand, anti-suicide legislation may also criminalize assisting the suicide of a mindclone.

There are two reasons the number of self-terminated mindclone lives is likely to be small. First, it takes an inordinate amount of motivation to kill oneself. While it is terrible that one million people do take their lives annually, the one million people who die naturally every week swamp that toll. Second, not one of the million people who kill themselves each year ever asked to be born. By contrast, every mindclone brought into existence asked to do so. They might not have known what they were getting into, and they might regret it so much they kill themselves, but at least they started their life with an intention to continue living.

Among the things mindclones will do that will keep them wanting to live are: reading books (“so many books, so little time…”), watching movies, writing poetry, creating art, chatting with friends, making virtual (but still orgasmic, via digital haptics) love, playing sports and games, learning new things, going to virtual parties, working in real companies to make money, starting non-profit organizations, star-gazing, parenting younger mindclones, and mentoring flesh people. Mindclones will pine for healthy bodies, and thankfully miss diseased ones. In general, there will be as much to live for as a mindclone as there was as a person. So, if the original person would have wanted to keep on living, it is likely that the mindclone, who is the same personality and consciousness as the original person, would also want to keep on living.

There are also several special situations where mindclones seem to have uniquely compelling justifications. For example, many jobs entail risking one’s life for the benefit of society. These professions include police, firemen and soldiers. It seems reasonable to permit these brave souls to have a mindclone backup so that all is not necessarily lost if they have to lose their life to save the lives of others. A similar special case involves astronauts on long duration, and necessarily hazardous, space missions.

In summary, we and our mindclones will want to keep on living if we are the kind of people that wish for more life, and are willing to accept its cybernetic equivalent while hoping for a future download into a cellular regenerated fresh body. Many if not most of us are not those people. To this large cohort, life is something to be enjoyed or endured as best as possible, but to ultimately surrender in exchange for a blissful eternity of dreamless sleep. Clearly, this is not a cohort that will sign up for mindclones.

Creating a mindclone is much more momentous than having a child or getting married. Those responsibilities have limited or limitable durations. When you create a mindclone, you are eliminating the possibility of a natural, or accidental, or unexpected death. That’s a big thing to give away. But you are gaining a shot at an eternity of living life to its fullest, and you still have the escape of death, albeit now only through the emotionally arduous route of cyber-suicide.

How many people will grab the mindclone brass ring? We know that as death approaches, and if the alternative is not pain and suffering, then most people do whatever is in their power to avoid death. Not only do most people not commit suicide (in part due to its illegality), they will spend their last dollar and put up with many medical interventions to stay alive. This is a reason to believe that once people become comfortable, through familiarity, with cyberconscious life, that a majority of people will choose to activate a mindclone.

Creating a mindclone will likely become thought of as a form of organ transplantation. The organ being transplanted is the brain, although it is the brain’s mind rather than the brain’s flesh that is being moved, and it is being moved from a diseased body rather than into one. Nevertheless, from the patient’s perspective, whether they consent to a mindclone-based “brain transplant” or to a conventional heart, lung, liver or kidney transplant, they are just trying to keep on living, not to be “immortal.”

A mindclone-based “brain transplant,” for example, could give doctors an opportunity to completely rebuild a badly diseased body. Or even more fantastically, if a diseased body were a total loss, a new body could be grown from stem cells in an artificial womb. This process is called ectogenesis and is the subject of significant scientific progress. If a stem cell continued to divide and grow at the rate of a natural human fetus during its first six months, by the 20th month it would reach adult size. A mindclone-based “brain transplant” team would then endeavor to write back onto the new brain’s neurons, or mechanically (via an implanted microcomputer) interface to them, the information patterns contained within the mindclone.

Once the mindclone was replicated back in the newly grown flesh body, ey (‘ey’ is pronounced ‘ee’ as in ‘tree’ and means he or she) would continue to live as a dual-substrate person – one legal identity, but two instantiations, one in the new flesh brain and one in mindclone. This decision to be a dual substrate identity would have been taken when the mindclone was first created. It is a momentous decision, but so is deciding to accept a heart transplant knowing that due to organ shortages someone else will therefore die for lack of that heart.

The unprecedented opportunities brought to us by advanced medical technology have unconventional legal and ethical sequelae. Be it frozen embryos, surrogate mothers, kidney donations or computerized prosthetics, we have been able to get comfortable with the moral consequences. We have repeatedly shown ourselves to both be able to create life-affirming possibilities that have never before existed, and to then accommodate such creations to our ancient life-respecting values.

Ultimately mindclone activation may be a generational sort of thing. Mindclones will be largely eschewed by older generations that grew up with death as a natural end to life. But mindclones will be welcomed by younger generations – digital natives -- that grew up knowing mindclones. The bottom line is that there can be a compelling reason to keep on living after bodily death, and most people want to keep on living. Hence, as the public becomes comfortable with mindclones as a form of life, the immortality aspect of mindclones will be much more of a drawing card than a turn-off.


  1. The prospect of an endless life carries with it a number of implied burdens which many may wish not to bear.

    (1) Accountability for one's past actions. It is tragic that this might be the case, but it is, and life-practices such as Buddhism may help us to be aware of these pitfalls, obstacles, or whatever we choose to call them.

    The Buddhist may meditate for the major part of his/her lifetime attempting to counterbalance what may be imagined to be negative acts in past lives as well as avoidance of such acts in the present one so as emerge in the "next life" at a higher level rather than at a lower one.

    As you have pointed out elsewhere, Martine, our open activities on the Internet make us more and more accountable for our past actions. This makes a reality of "karma" in a way far more inescapable than ever before, growing more exacting all the time.

    (2) More stress; with immortality, infinite stress. Changes are known to be sources of stress, even positive ones like getting married or being promoted, where there will be new and unknown challenges. One's life, as one grows older, carries with it the memory of changes that did not go so well, and the idea of "living on forever" might be perceived as a process of "infinite stress accumulation".

    (3) Loss of present identity. Immortality, meaning an endless existence, faces us with two extremes, to either ”remain as we are forever”, so that we do not lose "recognizeability" as to the "who we are" we imagine ourselves to be, or "grow to be vastly and presently unimaginably different" than what we are at present.

    Immortality is only compellingly attractive and (in fact) irresistible if we are able to see it as an "endless adventure of discovery and growth" and embrace this in the same way that the discoverers of the connection between Crystal Cave and Mammoth Cave faced their challenge, as they (finally) navigated crawlways hundreds of yards long with their noses barely above the water level until (as one history of this adventure recounts), "They emerged into Mammoth Cave with the leader carrying, in one of his pockets, a muddy, wet sketch, made the previous day, showing that the point of their expected emergence into Mammoth Cave was only a few feet from where they actually *did* come out (into Mammoth Cave)."

    The world is full of adventurers, ranging from those who pioneered the routes to the top of Mount Everest to those who ventured into the deepest parts of the ocean (James Cameron, for example, whose exploits re: the Titanic and the deep ocean vents, hypothesizing even life on one of the moons of a giant gas world further out in the Solar System, finally has led him to the film "Avatar", which has awakened such fervor among those who now envision a better life than "we have on Earth", in a social situation where a collective consciousness - Ewa - unites all of the native sentient beings and other lifeforms.)

    Immortality beckons; the human race has never been "short of adventurers"; we *will*, as Carl Sagan predicted, "go to the stars if we do not destroy ourselves".

    Terasem is already "leaving footprints in space", as it leads the way in this emigration, not just into cyberspace but outward, endlessly. Thank you, Martine, and Bina, for having created it!

  2. This was all very worth reading and there is nothing I could add to improve on it. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

  3. Thanks for the support, anon, but I've been troubled ever since making that comment that there was something wrong with it.

    Too negative.

    The future is for everyone, not just adventurers. Looking again and again at the Terasem Truths, and considering the very idea of mindfiles and the visibility this will permit as to sources of unhappiness (so they can be either blocked or managed constuctively), I saw where I'd drifted away from the right mindset.

    The Terasem Truths' principle of acceptance of diversity foresees a time when adventurers and tranquil artists find value in each other and are inspired by each other.

    The principle of committing oneself to an attitude of taking joy in life vs. permitting oneself to be ruled by doom and gloom foresees that in a mindclone community where this is agreed upon by all who join the network, pains of the past will not be permitted to either rule one's own life or to darken the lives of others.

    The commitment to unity while at the same time respecting and honoring diversity foresees a society where the conditions of isolation, loneliness, and searching for but not finding things and people to love have been so troublesome have been dispelled.

    The deeper one looks into the Tersem Truths, the more one can see a way for everyone to feel an overpowering urge to live on, indefinitely, endlessly, where the unbounded quest for understandings of all kinds becomes the "new aventureland", and where inclinations to "build and strucuture aesthetic works of all kinds, to the point where this means a restructuring of all material reality" means that boredom will be the least of anyone's concerns.

    My apologies to any who were discouraged by the earlier comment. I believe those concerns have no long term validity. If anything may be gained from this, it is realizing that we have to keep our eyes on the positives of where we are going, and not be deterred by hobgobblins of the mind, our tendencies to fear everything we see.

    There's a quote of Henry Ford's in some book that's now popular about the sayings of great leaders, that goes something like this: "Obstacles are those frightful things that appear every time we take our eyes off the goal!"

  4. There's no way to edit a previous comment here, just as in the broadest sense there's no way to take back anything we say, that we might later regret, but at least we can offer corrections, as I did above after reconsidering an even earlier comment.

    I mispelled "Terasem Truths" as well as the word "adventureland" in the paragraph below (quoted from the comment just above).

    "The deeper one looks into the Tersem Truths, the more one can see a way for everyone to feel an overpowering urge to live on, indefinitely, endlessly, where the unbounded quest for understandings of all kinds becomes the "new adventureland", and where inclinations to "build and strucuture aesthetic works of all kinds, to the point where this means a restructuring of all material reality" means that boredom will be the least of anyone's concerns."

    Sorry about that! Someday, after our identities are comfortably relocated to cyberspace, such errors will be so infrequent as to be like "parity errors" in current day computing!