Saturday, 2002 May 25, 18:14 — futures

the final enemy

Charles Murtaugh quotes from the NY Times obituary an interesting sentence from Stephen Jay Gould (apparently in 1982 when he first had cancer):

“When my skein runs out I hope to face the end calmly and in my own way,” he wrote. However, “death is the ultimate enemy – and I find nothing reproachable in those who rage mightily against the dying of the light.”

What a contrast to the mystical morality of Star Trek, in which death is a duty to posterity and progress – the progress that Gould (like Dawkins) denies so often.

I’m reminded in turn of Greg Egan’s story “Border Guards”:

“. . . Some people’s antagonism had nothing to do with the specifics of the technology. They were opposed to immortality, in principle.”

Jamil laughed. “Why?

“Ten thousand years’ worth of sophistry doesn’t vanish overnight,” Margit observed dryly. “Every human culture had expended vast amounts of intellectual effort on the problem of coming to terms with death. Most religions had constructed elaborate lies about it, making it out to be something other than it was – though a few were dishonest about life, instead. But even most secular philosophies were warped by the need to pretend that death was for the best.

I’m reminded in turn of hearing someone at a party, some weeks ago, speaking with derision – or at least bemusement – of the transhumanist dream of ‘leaving the body behind’: not that it’s impossible, but that anyone should think it important. (I didn’t comment at the time; didn’t feel glib enough or energetic enough to debate it in real time.) Well, for one thing, there’s the little matter of death and other degenerative conditions.

I look forward to uploading — preferably to a substrate that can fly! — partly because it would mean complete control of (the virtual equivalent of) brain chemistry: maybe then I’ll learn what it’s like to be completely free of depression. And maybe then I’ll have an attention span, too.

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