This entry contains SPOILERS for Dan Brown’s book Origin
When I received a ping from my news subscription ten mornings ago that smart man Stephen Hawking had died at the age of 76, I decided to play a small game with my Facebook feed called, “Which friend will share the most heartfelt soliloquy”
That was fun.
Then this morning I found a video of his interview with John Oliver from Last Week Tonight at the office and I started to think about things like how does his speech recognition thing work? We make so many typos on our phones. I mean I have a friend whose phone is single handedly ruining his life because it’s a dirty minded piece of crap. I wonder with that speech synthesizer thing using predictive text and receiving signals from the movements in Stephen Hawking’s facial movements, if he makes typos and if there were times he was misunderstood because of it.
I wonder if you’d met him and wanted to shake his hand, would that be weird? You realize how important handshakes are when you’re face to face with someone you respect deeply?
Watching that video reminded me of an entry I’d started when I found out that this one scientist was claiming to have succeeded in having done a head transplant. (or is it body transplant? Because the idea of you resides in your brain? If you changed your body parts and with someone else’s one part at a time, at what point do you stop being YOU? With this I’ve slid into a whole Theseus’s Paradox thing. Wiki Link at the end if you wanna read about The Ship of Theseus.)
So, a mad scientist by the name of Sergio Canavero had put together a project to make head transplants possible. He said he did this to help this man who’d suffered a certain disease that made him unable to use his muscles and others like him. In the article I read, Sergio Canavero was claiming to have successfully done the transplant testing and was very hopeful with what this technology could do for humanity. He even threw the idea of immortality in there. His work is basically taboo everywhere and has been followed by several other medical scientists that say that the science doesn’t check out and that what he’s saying is a flat out lie; that Sergio Canavero has never succeeded in doing a proper head transplant.
But too late, the panic has been struck. I remember getting into a conversation with the guy who’d shared this article on his Facebook newsfeed and he was all for it. He said any power can be abused so why take the idea that the disabled man could finally command his muscles away from him? A lot of people are for this technology from a medical perspective, but I didn’t know how to not think of how the human body could be commoditized further.
I discussed this with a couple of my cousins. One of them said a head transplant can’t really be the only key to immortality because it’s not just our bodies that wear out. Eventually our brains do too. The head transplants would make sense for accidents. I have seen one Episode of Altered Carbon but that I think it has a vaguely a similar idea of replacing one’s body.
Anyways, the idea my cousin raised was a basic one and I sighed in relief and felt annoyed that I hadn’t thought of that but instead decided to panic like Immortality?! What! No!
Many older tales and even recent ones speak of immortality as a curse. It’s all hypothetical of course because there hasn’t really been an openly acknowledged human known to have lived forever. My favorite immortality story is that of the Vampire in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. His story comes in how he is a slave to his immortality. There are people who’ve lived very long lives. The oldest person alive today according to Wiki is a Japanese woman by the name of Nabi Tajima who is 117 years old. But there are others who say that they have forgotten their ages and cannot verify it. Same cousin from above told me about a video he had seen about another old Asian person (can’t remember the gender) who said that the secret to their longevity was a quiet life. They are vegetarian and they eat one meal a day. They spend a majority of their time sleeping or meditating. With someone that old I don’t know how you’d tell the difference though.
There are a LOT of blogs and websites with “tips for longevity”. Some even scientific and with the way some people reacted to Sergio’s I’ll-make-you-immortal-with-my-science type comment and with the way people generally feel about death, I wonder what would happen if we did find a way to live forever.
I wonder, is the ultimate goal of science to stop people from dying?
The science of longevity is taken very seriously. There are researches dedicated to learning how we age, if there is a way to stop the aging process or even reverse it.
Let me share with you an ironic idea I found while trying to research if they have found a subtler “Elixer of Life” type thing to allow us to live longer or even forever.
We age due to a phenomenon called Senescence where our cells after dividing so many times, stop being able to divide anymore, and they reach what is called a Hayflick Limit. Senescence is normally achieved in human beings when puberty is complete. i.e when we become old enough to reproduce. (Remember that part in the movie Lucy where Morgan Freeman talks about how an organism will try to be immortal if the environment is not favorable but if it is, it will reproduce and die? Without our conscious thinking our “essence?” will try not to die out.)
At the Hayflick Limit, a human cell stops dividing when it stops being able to replicate the small non-coding DNA caps at the end of each chromosome called Telomers. Every time a cell divides the telomers become shorter and shorter so aging starts when the telomers become too short to divide and the cells start to die without replacement. Scientists are trying to see if there could be a way cells could divide without running out of telomers and it turns out there are such cells. They are called Cancer Cells. We all know what Cancer cells do. They kill. Don’t you just love irony?
Let’s go off topic for a second.
One of my favorite authors in the entire world happens to be Dan Brown and I’ve had a conversation one that time that went.
Friend: Favorite Authors?
Me: …Dan Brown…
Friend: No I mean like real literary authors. Not like Dan Brown.
Me: DAN BROWN IS A REAL AUTHOR YOU STUPID BITCH!!!!
I guess you have to be reading Hemmingway and Bukowski to be “literary” and “sophisticated”, but the thing is Dan Brown doesn’t use much mystic, wordy symbolism. He uses realism and he gambles with your reality to give you big ideas to think about. If loving Dan Brown makes me unsophisticated then I gladly embrace that I am an unsophisticated hobo.
Inferno was a phase for me. It stands one of my favorite books ever. In his book Inferno, Dan Brown addresses a topic as bone dry as population growth in such a beautiful and artistic way and he explains how lack of resources for human beings can drive people to desperation so that the world we know basically becomes hell and that’s how I learned that the only description of hell we know and believe actually comes from the poetic work of fiction by Dante Alighieri we know as Divine Comedy.
So, let me tie my above question of Immortality with Dan Brown’s Inferno for you but it might only make sense to you if you’ve read Inferno and remember the conversation Robert Langdon has with the silver-haired WHO Director lady.
If we say that a high population can drive people to desperation and hell with the lack of resources, what will the discovery of immortality do?
I don’t doubt that human beings believe to have the capacity to figure out the immortality question. Either death takes us over or we take it over. One of these things will happen and in a scenario that Immortality is somehow achieved, I don’t have a doubt that those who will probably be able to afford it won’t be your average nine-to-five working Joe. It will be the one percent. And if we feel that the one percent is reaping the values of the rest 99 as it is now, what would happen if they happen to have the code to immortality as well?
Do human beings really even deserve immortality?
While Sergio’s allegedly fake news came out, I’d also just finished reading Dan Brown’s Origin and that book has a weighty idea of the dangers of AI. It asks questions like “Where did we came from?” and “Where are we going?” Dan Brown gives a very vivid insight into where we stand with religious and scientific beliefs today. If you haven’t read that book yet, I don’t know what in the hell is wrong with you.
Dan Brown is always putting implications of the dangers human beings make unto themselves in his books. The celebration of technological advancement plus the preaching of the looming dangers they bring with them is falling on deaf ears.
When I took pre-engineering, one of the first things I was taught was that my job as an engineer was to make life for human beings easier. The work engineers and scientists are doing are solving problems. But aren’t they creating others? We can now kill each other in much more advanced and sophisticated ways. We don’t need to smile and woo each other because have you heard of those very life like glorified sex dolls they are calling “robots to keep you company” that you can aspire to fall in love with? We have Facebook to communicate easily with each other but at the risk of cat fishing and depression. We now have easy access to medicine and electricity and plumbing and skyscrapers and sugar (kinda) but at the risk of the environment and falling to the perils of capitalism. I mean you still gotta grovel and earn your living by working for your man Moloch (see Allen Ginsberg’s Howl) so you can afford Tylenol and Pepsi and a bed, right?
I’m Sorry. I’m sorry I sound like this. I don’t want to be the person who says these things but you know…
The advancement of AI technology is to make small metallic slaves for Human Beings, so our lives would be easier right? (See Season 4 Episode 5 of Black Mirror for how this can bite you in the ass. Actually watch all of Black Mirror to develop a love/hate relationship with your phone like I did.) ATM Pharmacies are about to become a thing now. I saw this on the news by accident last night. (By the way did you know ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine?) What happens to the pharmacy sales clerk when people become too anxious for human contact and they prefer the ATMs? What happens to Human Beings when all their jobs have been automated? What happens to us? Dan Brown thinks that we are going to evolve and morph into what he called a kingdom called Technium; where technology will not just take over humanity but “mix” with it to form a certain hybrid. It’s fiction of course but some fiction has a history of being a bit prophetic. You can see how you feel about Tvs and Books when the film Fahrenheit 451 comes out sometime this year. If you haven’t read the book by Ray Bradbury, now’s your chance.
If you think about how you are without your phone telling you when to wake up or your computer singing to you as you work, I’d say that Dan Brown has used fiction to send us a very good shadow of our reality.
I read another article that we have created a society so complex for its own good that we can’t even figure it out. They don’t know what to teach in schools now.
Maybe like Dr. Who said,
“You lot [humans] you spend your time thinking about dying- why you’re gonna get killed by eggs or beef or global warming or asteroids but you never really take time to imagine the impossible. That maybe you survive.”
Maybe we’ll make it in spite of it all but I’ll be honest with you, I just want some sign that it’s alright so I can sleep better at night so I can make it to a time when I don’t wake up at all.
P.S here’s the link about the Theseus Paradox. A real mind fuck. Trust me.
P.P.S You can use firstname.lastname@example.org to send me an email of your thoughts or answers if you have them or you can find the Facebook page at Circling Qalat