18 November 2011


Even as medical advances improve the length and quality of life there may be parallel developments. We may eventually co-exist virtually, not in the sense of silly game avatars, but in full consciousness. This would mean essentially transferring one's consciousness for an indefinite period, or as long as the power stays on. Initially there will be stages that have already begun, such as using sensors to duplicate physical movement on a computer screen. The next step would be to communicate sensory responses to another person so that it would be possible to make love on line for example, although this would still be mimicry. But suppose it would be possible to somehow be wired in communicating directly from your brain.  There are profound consequences to this. 
First, you could be a different version of yourself, putting your best self forward. By that I mean the age at which you are physically at your peak accompanied by the wisdom you presumably have gained over the years. Or you could use an image of say Clark Gable or Marilyn Monroe. Or you could be a dog. Or you could visit the equivalent of another place and time, or roam the stars. The possibilities are endless. Second, you could duplicate your self, your consciousness. That presupposes that there is an actual mind that is more than a product of our bodies; if not there would at least be a representation of it. Although the consensus in mind science is that our mind is a product of our bodies and the world in which we live and nothing more it may not matter since it would be possible to construct one, or even the whole idea of heaven. Third, you are free from the limitations of the physical world and can link with others in ways we can hardly imagine. For example, it would be possible, when networked with others, to expand consciousness and intelligence exponentially. 
Thus there is physical longevity on the one hand, which must bump up against the limits of nature, and the possibility of an electronic existence that would make our current digital life seem as primitive as the dinosaurs. We cannot know what direction physical evolution might take but the “mental” may diverge significantly. If this were to be possible more people would opt for a virtual existence that eventually seems real. The potential relative immortality might be appealing, although even the universe is not timeless and will come to an end. It is possible that there is some intimation of this prospect in the developed world given the decline in birth rates. 
It is likely that some people, perhaps those with strong religious convictions, may opt for a "natural" life and eschew the virtual. But it is also possible that these worlds, the virtual and spiritual, may eventually converge. On the other hand it is also possible that those who opt for the virtual may just be postponing an even better afterlife. Whatever the case, the prospects for a post-material world make our petty conflicts and concerns seem lame.

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