Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Impossibility of Immortality

My last post was about the inevitability of death & perspectives on our mortality.

Despite our brief flash of existence in this world, mankind has always strove to achieve immortality, or at least a more enduring legacy. Part of the reason is the fear of what happens when our life force leaves the body. Another motivation is the desire to connect with other people in a different time & place.

I see the situation both ways. On the one hand, it's human nature to want to preserve some aspect of ourselves beyond our physical lives. On the other hand... a billion years into the future, it's possible that absolutely no trace of humanity will remain anyway!

The idea of our existence being completely devoid of inherent "purpose" or "destiny" is terrifying to most people. It's incomprehensible to the ego-driven mind that the entire enterprise of human civilization could one day... vanish.

The Buddhist are wise to emphasize non-attachment to the world, because it is a fundamental truth that "All Composite Phenomena Are Impermanent".

I think the creations with the best chance of surviving the ages are sculptures carved into granite mountains, like Mt. Rushmore, Georgia's Stone Mountain, or the Crazy Horse Memorial. I can imagine post-apocalyptic humans coming across these monuments in the far future, and wondering if these were carvings of leaders, mythic heroes, or perhaps even gods.

Here are a few proposed projects that seek to defy impermanence & extend human presence into the (relatively) far-off future:

• The "10,000 Year Clock" is an interesting attempt to defy our impermanence. It is a massive, yet precise timekeeping system that will be enclosed inside a mountain! It is being designed to operate with minimal human intervention for many millenia. The only major human creations that have lasted anywhere near that long are Stonehenge & The Great Pyramid. (These structures were also primarily designed to encode knowledge of time.) 10,000 years is a mind-boggling time span, however, it's only a cosmic blink of the eye!

The Long Now:

As an engineering feat, this clock will be one of man's most impressive & lasting to date.


The main problem I see with this idea is how people of the future would know the clock is inside this particular mountain.

If humanity is still around thousands of years from now & they can find the clock, it would be interesting to see how people react to it...

"The Last Pictures" conceived by artist Trevor Paglen, is another far-sighted project- to preserve remnants of humanity on a disc of photos.

Singularity Hub:

Again, the problem I see would be in the possibility of humans actually finding this artifact in the distant future. If it's in a satellite & ends up in an orbital junkyard, it may never be found... or it may be collected by space robots & treated like scrap.

"Voyager's Golden Record" This was NASA & Carl Sagan's approach to creating a vehicle for preserving the record of humanity indefinitely. Launched in 1977 (the year before I was born), the Voyager spacecraft are the first human creations to have left the solar system, containing media that may (...or may not) be able to be interpreted by other lifeforms if it's ever encountered.

• The next major hurdle is the preservation of the massive amounts of data now being generated & shared in the digital age:

Science Daily:

Besides the durable media needed to record the data, we also need a place to keep it all secure:


Ultimately, the only way humanity can have a continued legacy is to travel into the Universe &  beyond our home world. To stay connected, we will have to figure out how to network throughout interstellar space:


Our main functions, into the foreseeable future, will continue to be survival of the species & increasing connectivity on all levels. 

As time goes on, we will also evolve and change into new forms- for as long as the human lineage endures.

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