X-Message-Number: 23071
Date: Tue, 09 Dec 2003 22:57:12 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Re: Deconstructing Immortality

Scott Badger, #23040:
>After some of you have had a chance to read it,
>perhaps we could 'deconstruct' this author's essay.
>(tear em up, Mike P.)

I thought Allan Randall's rebuttal, #23054, was a good start. Basically I 
think we are dealing with a sour-grapes gripe here, as has been suggested. 
Today our civilization is very bent on documenting its history, even very 
ancient and obscure events which nevertheless have enough interest that 
there is no serious call to discard the information. (Indeed, considerable 
efforts are being made to find more of it if possible.) The same, I think, 
will probably hold true in the future when personal history in the form of 
memories can be stored longterm, rather than perishing as people die. From 
there it is but a short step to the idea of an integrated system or 
continuing individual (a "civilization in miniature") recording and from 
time to time reviewing its personal history. If this went on without 
disruption you'd have an immortal, which could amount to a continuation of 
a person of today, one of us in fact. I also devote space in *Forever for 
All* to rebutting the kinds of arguments raised in the essay, though 
naturally not addressing them point-by-point. The extract I've included 
(from Chapter 16, "The Philosophy of Aspiration") may be of interest. As 
background, I am considering the possibility of resurrecting sentient 
beings from the past, possibly in replica form, based on certain notions of 
physics (particularly the Everett many-worlds theory or something similar). 
I see this as a project worthy of attention in a more distant future, but 
the starting point would be the "easy" cases such as resuscitations of 
cryonics patients.

Living, Loving, and Developing As Immortal Egos
          The love of sentient beings, I maintain, will have continuing 
importance however far we manage to go,   for reasons of rational 
self-interest. It is good to have such love, which also means we wish, as 
far as possible, to do good to the beings themselves. If a person we 
thought highly of were in a predicament, we would want to help. Such a 
predicament is being dead. Here our help would, I maintain, rightly consist 
of resurrecting the person in question and assisting that being's 
         In short, we should want to see that all sentient life-forms are 
resurrected and should want to contribute in meaningful ways to their 
everlasting happiness. A starting point in this is ourselves, and 
particularly, the past person-stages we will have gone through in reaching 
any point in our lives.  [W]e [have previously] brought up the problem that 
to maintain touch with these past selves and thus realize any reasonable 
notion of individual immortality would require the recall of an 
ever-growing family of memories.
         Suppose we assume that memorable experiences are given equal 
weight and continue indefinitely and burgeon our memory archives without 
limit--as we might demand for a reasonable notion of immortality. Then it 
seems we must, at least in most cases, devote an ever-shrinking fraction of 
our time to any given past experience. This could well include our entire 
first fifty years of life. The mathematical difficulty seems unavoidable in 
one form or other, and it may have something to do with the problems we 
actually see in the way people view their past.
         ...[W]e [previously] noted the misgivings [John] Hick[, a 
prominent theological philosopher] had on this issue. There must be a 
limit, he said, to how much we can identify with earlier states in which we 
were very different. Hick considers the diary he composed as a 
fifteen-year-old (emphasis original): " I know that it is _my_ diary, and 
with its aid I remember some of the events recorded in it; but nevertheless 
I look back upon that fifteen-year-old as someone whose career I follow 
with interest and sympathy but whom I do not _feel_ to be myself." This 
sort of dissociation is, I think, very common and perhaps a majority 
viewpoint among people today, though not universal. (I for one feel able to 
identify with my earlier stages, even going back to early childhood despite 
the many changes.) It is noteworthy that Hick says he does not _feel_ he 
can identify with his earlier self. It is not likely that any arguments I 
offer here would soon change such a viewpoint. But I will say that we both 
ought to be able to make an identification with our past selves and in the 
future, I think, will be able to do so, if our general advancement continues.
         I see no insurmountable obstacle to such identification, even 
though there is the issue we just noted, that, generally, only a decreasing 
fraction of our time can be devoted to recalling any given experience. If 
we must continually change so that, in time, our earlier experiences were 
of someone very different this might indeed prove a fatal impediment, but I 
do not think it must or will be so. Beings of good will who are seeking 
what is right and best and to develop in wonderful and rewarding ways over 
unlimited time, always with love, respect, and consideration for others, 
can be hopeful of not becoming "very different" in this sense--such is my 
view. If we are good enough, then our everlasting survival, as separate 
though interacting and considerate selves, becomes morally mandatory. It is 
this high calling we must aspire to; it may well be necessary to our 
survival. And, I submit, being virtuous and considerate will also make us 
more accepting of our earlier selves, even if they were less enlightened 
and rather "different."
         In the future there should be wonders aplenty for the searcher and 
many paths to pursue in a vast architecture of possibilities. So each of us 
should be able develop in interesting and unique ways, all the while 
maintaining a commitment to virtuous principles that goes far in helping us 
identify with who we were in the past. Such identification should be no 
burden but itself a joy: considering where you have been and how far you 
have come can both comfort and inspire. More generally, once again, joy 
will help us maintain a reasonable sense of our identity as time goes by. 
If this course of development can be pursued, the rich diversity of 
individuals will, I submit, produce greater benefits overall than if all 
were subsumed in a vast collective enterprise, with individuality devalued 
or obliterated. As a possible precedent, we may consider how collective 
enterprises in our own history, and particularly totalitarian governments 
with centrally planned economies, have been unable to compete with more 
decentralized, democratic systems. The separate, developing, considerate, 
immortal ego, then, should have more to offer all around than some form of 
"nonself" or a fused consciousness.
         In our advancement, of course, we should make use of whatever 
discoveries and technologies may be applicable. Inevitably this will 
involve risk but "nothing ventured, nothing gained." In fact I think our 
deepening understanding will make adaptations possible that would otherwise 
be out of the question. The elimination of aging and biological death 
should be accompanied by increased understanding of the psychological 
difficulties connected with immortalization, with a proliferation of 
possible remedies. People should have numerous means to deal with various 
"illnesses" they may have inherited from the mortal past.
         As long as we are considering the problem of self-unity and the 
hopefully immortal ego, it is worthwhile to briefly mention a more 
technical argument that the earlier self need not be overwhelmed and 
reduced to insignificance. We hope to accumulate infinitely many memorable 
experiences over infinite time. By our information paradigm [elaborated 
earlier], these experiences themselves will appear as chunks of information 
in our knowledge base--each then is expressible as a finite string of bits. 
The number of possible memorable experiences of given length or less, while 
generally very large, is only finite. It is easier to review shorter chunks 
of information than longer. Thus, as a long-term trend, the earlier 
memories will be more readily scannable than the later ones, one more 
counterargument to the possibility of earlier memories being overwhelmed.
         As still another argument for the immortal ego, there is the idea 
[offered in a previous chapter] of converging to an ideal self. We noted 
that it is not necessary either to preserve or identify with every chunk of 
information that might briefly appear along the way. Large parts can be 
discarded and left behind, this being true even if they are not really lost 
but remain in the historical record. Hick could decide, after all, that the 
fifteen-year-old diarist was not him or was not entirely him and still go 
on to his own immortalization. He would not be a continuer of the 
fifteen-year-old but would be a continuer of various other Hick-stages, or 
q-stages [quasi-stages, a technical term defined earlier], infinitely many 
of them. On the other hand, it is not ruled out that some other construct 
would both be a continuer of the fifteen-year-old and would care to pursue 
immortalization on that basis. More generally, a way seems open to the 
immortalization of every being, including every person-stage whatever.
         In summary, we have considered four main arguments for the 
feasibility of an immortal ego, in which one identifies with past versions 
of oneself as preserved in personal archives or memory. They are: (1) the 
future, with all the anticipated advances, will lead to states of joy, 
which will include joy in remembering, thus greater unity with past 
versions of the self; (2) the practice of virtue, for reasons of 
enlightened self-interest, will reduce the sense of alienation with past 
versions of the self, particularly if these past versions also understood 
and engaged in such practice; (3) a technical argument, based on the 
finiteness and relative ease of reviewing of earlier memories; and (4) 
easier requirements allowed by the notion of convergence to an ideal self.

Mike Perry

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