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

How to believe in Immortality

I'm aware that this may turn off some people. That's okay. Jump to the bottom if this is you.

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For a few hundred years now, the general scientific consensus has been that immortality is at best unknowable, and at worst, ignorant superstition. I saw a scientist the other day say that we now know immortality to be impossible.

Which I find funny, because I think the bigger problem in a few years is going to be which immortality do we want? But more on that later.

Modern science tells us one major fact: we live in a multitude of universes. I saw a Discovery Channel program the other day talking about 5 different kinds of other universes that probably exist. Every direction we look, we bump into other universes interfering with things.

So it is highly probable that our universe is not alone.

Of particular interest are the universes that contain parallel histories. These universes branch off from ours at any incredible rate, spinning off different chains of time in which you ordered something other than your usual at Starbucks, and in which the breeze caught that girl's hair just a little differently, and in which presidential elections somehow didn't result in a massive outpouring of stupid commentary.

Every choice you've ever made actually went the other way. Every random meeting happened differently. Your parents raised you differently, you had different friends, you chose a different career, you went to a different school.

On the scale of the multiverse, you don't just have one history, you have millions.

This isn't really speculation. It's pretty much what science says. We might argue that science is not the philosophical be-all and end-all (and I do argue that), but it would be hypocritical of me to sit at a laptop connected to computers on the other side of the world, and deny the science that allows this all to exist.

But if we accept what science says about the universe, we have to accept that this redefines who we are. We are no longer individuals living out a narrow band of choices and circumstances; we are individuals diffused across a multitude of realities and histories. We aren't branches, we are trees. We aren't roads, we're interstate highway systems.

We're like massive rivers pouring across the multiverse.

And from that vantage point, we can see what death really is. It's not an end, it's a divergence. It's a rock in the stream - and our massive self simply flows around it.

You've had close calls before, when death brushed by and narrowly missed. But from a higher perspective it's clear that all of our close calls are points where reality put a stop to one line of history, and forced us into a different path. Different lines of our personal history come to an end, but rather than mark the end of our "self", they mark the end of one line of story.

Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, we keep reading, and when we reach a dead end, we flip back and choose something different.

The only difference is that with Choose Your Own Adventure books, you always eventually ran out of options. But in reality, there is no limit, there is no end. We keep expanding forever.

This is called quantum immortality.

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It's weird, I'll give you that. I read about it when I was 13 years old, and have been living with the idea ever since. So I probably miss some of the strangeness, some of the horror (?) that this strikes in people.

But for me, when I encountered the concept, I instantly knew what it meant. I knew that I believed it. And I knew that it made me fearless.

Immortality was no longer something shady and far away, it was something I was experiencing right now.

Whatever you believe about immortality and death, I hope you can say the same thing. I hope that it makes you fearless.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

-Micah

Tobias Holbrook:

Actually, the many worlds interpretation plus entropy lead to the sad conclusion that we're all destined to hell. Let me explain. Quantum immortality doesn't require that we are well, only that we are conscious. However, there are many more ways in which we can be conscious and with a miserable life than with a well life. Take the example of playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun. In the quantum immortality thought experiments I've read, it is supposed that the gun will malfunction rather than fire and kill the person attempting suicide - but that ignores the probability that the gun will work, leaving you alive but with massive brain damage. Or take ageing - you will be unable to die, but you will not regain your youth, so you end up like Tithonus. Good luck relying on other people to develop solutions; there are enough branches where you're the only one alive to make it a dead certainty you'll find yourself alone. Quite depressing really. But I don't think it's likely the Everett interpretation is correct. Still, if it is, it behooves us to find a way to access these paralell universes and roll all our selves into one, and help rehabilitite the trillions of individuals (who themselves comprise many trillions of dividuals) who have found themselves in hell.

micah:

Yeah, this is the only thing which has given me pause. Still, I'm not sure our fate is sealed. For example, there is presumably a future timeline in which I am alive at age 120. But the timelines in which I live to 120 due to advances in anti-aging medicine probably vastly outnumber the timelines in which I live to 120 just due to chance. Similarly, if there is a timeline in which all past individuals are resurrected and live for millions of years, then the people alive at age 1,000,000 in *that* scenario will vastly outnumber the people alive at age 1,000,000 in any other scenario. We might even think of the pretty hard limit on human lifespan (<130 years) as a protective barrier eliminating nearly all of the hellish futures individuals might experience. That barrier guarantees (with great probability) that you'll find yourself in a future in which medical technology has dramatically advanced, rather than one in which it hasn't. It doesn't keep us from intense suffering, but it places a time limit on it. We might even look at the ultimate fate of the universe in the same way. Presumably the vast majority of universe timelines end in heat death, or some other fate that guarantees the irreversible absence of living beings. The few timelines which do not end in this way are the ones in which life persists for infinite time, only by exercising intelligence and cooperation at the ultimate scale. In other words, the only futures that last ultimately look like heaven, not hell.