Micah Redding — Christian Transhumanism: faith, technology & the future

Computer Science and Eternal Life

Kevin posed an interesting question about post-mortem fate and eternal life. Why are humans fascinated with this subject?

Let me answer by going as nerdy as I can, and approaching this question from the perspective of computer science.

In computer science, there are "finite state machines" and "infinite state machines"; two different types of computers or machines that can exist.

Finite State Machines must necessarily start repeating their actions at some point. They have a limited numbers of "states" they can be in, and after they reach that limit, they start doing the same thing over again.

For example, if you left a desktop computer running for an infinite amount of time, it would have to start doing the same thing over and over again at some point. It does not have the capacity for new "states", or new experiences beyond a certain limit. It has a FINITE amount of states it can exist in. This is fundamentally because it has a limit to the amount of information it can address. Any given desktop computer has an upper limit to how much information it can deal with, no matter how much you upgrade it. At root, that computer is built to deal with only a certain amount of memory, and so it is a Finite State Machine.

In its world, there is a certain amount of information that exists, and no more. Thus, there are a certain number of "thoughts" it can think, or things it can do, and no more.

In philosophy, our universe has often been thought to be a Finite State Machine, such that everything that has been, will come again in exactly the same way. Jesus would die again on the cross, I would write this post again, etc. This is called "The Eternal Return".

On the other hand, there are Infinite State Machines, which have a literal infinity of different states they can exist in. If you give an Infinite State Machine the rest of infinity to do as it will, it doesn't EVER need to repeat a given "state". It can "think" new things, do new things, process new information, ad infinitum. It recognizes that there is an infinite amount of information out there, and so it is free to grow and process for the rest of time.

The fundamental difference between a Finite State Machine and an Infinite State Machine is the amount of information it can address: Finite vs. Infinite. Because of this, a Finite State Machine will repeat given enough time, while an Infinite State Machine will never repeat.

If Human Beings were Finite State Machines, it would be pointless to give them Eternal Life. They would simply start thinking and doing the same things over and over after a certain point.

But if Human Beings are Infinite State Machines, then they have the capacity to extend their memories and experiences indefinitely, limited only by their "hardware" (physical body). Given infinite time in which to live, a human would never have to repeat any past state, or relive the same moment. It could grow forever.

I believe that Human Beings are Infinite State Machines, and thus have the built-in capacity for Infinite Life. And if a being is able to take advantage of Infinite Life, I suspect that this being would realize it, and consider it a shame not to do so.

This is, I think, the fundamental basis for our fascination with Eternity.