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A Really Long Time Is Not Forever

No matter how our lives are prolonged, there is a hard stop to our universe

Remember the start of summer vacation? It seemed like time was endless. But then, toward the end, time began to pass so quickly… we began to dread the start of school.

The modern human longevity project promises a sort of immortality but it actually just means living a really long time. And this “really long time” looks like a summer vacation without an end in sight—except that the end will inevitably come.

Imagine that we could prolong our lives indefinitely. No matter how our lives are prolonged, there is a hard stop to our universe. The second law of thermodynamics guarantees that the universe will not last forever. Eventually, it will reach heat death where entropy is maximized throughout the universe in a great blur of nothing much.

Yet, such a far-off point in time, billions and billions of years, seems to be practically forever in our imaginations. So, if we could prolong our lives to the death of the universe, for all intents and purposes it would be a practical immortality.

Or would it?

Recall again the summer vacation. The endless hot days pass in fun and excitement, without a care in the world. Yet the time always draws to a close. Always.

True immortality requires that there be no end to existence. Yet everything physical must end at the death of the universe. Therefore, because the universe must die, there can never be a true physical immortality and we will never overcome death, despite the greatest breakthroughs of science and technology.

Eternity is what true immortality looks like. Exchanging eternity for technolongevity sounds promising because the latter seems to be, is at least theoretically, within our grasp. And it is better to hope for what we can achieve than to sustain a barren, empty hope for what we cannot have.

Yet, is a really long life what we truly hope for, or is only eternity truly sufficient to satisfy our hopes? If we really want eternity, yet settle for technolongevity, it is like truly wanting to explore the world, learn to play the piano like a musician, or speak a foreign language fluently, but instead settling for watching these things on TV from the comfort of the couch. For the trip to be worthwhile, the destination must be better than the postcard.

If eternity is what we truly want, then we should not let ourselves become distracted by technolongevity, and instead, seek our true heart’s desire, and find out for ourselves if it is a sham or a reality.

A key question is whether we are merely physical beings. If we are only physical beings, then we are subject to the second law of thermodynamics and must necessarily cease to exist at the end of the universe. If so, then our hope for eternity is truly a sham. In which case, even technolongevity is insufficient to make up for our dashed hopes. If we are only physical, then seeking technolongevity is like frantically trying to enjoy all the finest luxuries as the Titanic sinks, to distract ourselves from the inevitable crushing, cold death.

So, even if we are purely physical, technolongevity and the Singularity are a sham religion. In that sense, pure physicalism destroys the motivation to even pursue technolongevity, if we are willing to be bravely and relentlessly rational about the matter.

A very grim note, but, let’s return to our summer vacation. As we near the end, there is still something that makes it bearable. What makes the end bearable is that it is only a small ending. It is not a big ending, as when the universe dies. At the end of the day, there will be another vacation after a bit. And once summer vacations are over, something even better awaits us. We reach adulthood and independence. We can seek even more of what we desire. So the end is only the beginning of something better.

Science and technology have achieved amazing results by focusing on the physical and have tremendously advanced the cause of technolongevity through modern medicine. But that does not mean that the physical is all there is to existence.

And if there is more to existence, as life, consciousness, abstract thoughts, beauty, goodness, truth, and even the physical world itself all seem to indicate, then it also becomes worthwhile to pursue all of these things for the sake of something even better.


Further reading on technolongevity and transhumanism: Can we cheat death by uploading ourselves as virtual AI entities? Transhumanism is a curious blip in a science and technology culture in which it is otherwise axiomatic that humans are merely evolved animals

Claim: Yes, you can upload your brain Fine print: They might have to kill you first

and

Attend your own funeral It’s easy if you upload your consciousness to the cloud, says futurist


Eric Holloway

Eric Holloway has a Ph.D. in Electrical & Computer Engineering from Baylor University. He is a current Captain in the United States Air Force where he served in the US and Afghanistan He is the co-editor of the book Naturalism and Its Alternatives in Scientific Methodologies. Dr. Holloway is an Associate Fellow of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.

A Really Long Time Is Not Forever