storytelling the future
Different notions of Immortality – June 7

Different notions of Immortality – June 7

What does immortality mean?  Does it mean surpassing the thresholds that define our mortal existence? and how? using what instruments? As I mentioned before, there are many ways to interpret this “transcending” mortal existence.  We are all  aware that it would be impossible to cover the diversity of approaches that have accompanied the human understanding of immortality. This year’s Subtle Technologies Festival at least threw at the participants some quite dense examples in order to encourage discussion on this sometimes controversial and contentious topic.

What defines our mortal existence? Decay, disappearance, oblivion, dismissal, corruption of the flesh; becoming porous, becoming transparent, becoming immaterial etc…. each of these terms can be associated with different interpretations of immortality, different ways to embrace or to cope with it.

As it was repeated many times during this festival, the quest for “some form of” immortality is a natural ambition. But then the issue is: what immortality, and in what form?

Traces of this quest can be found in early traces of human existence, in ancient stories narrating the quest of mortal individuals not only to reach, but also understand the sense of immortality: for instance, Gilgamesh spent a great deal of time searching for the secret to becoming immortal. He didn’t succeed in his quest, but he came to understand that his legacy through the kingdom he had built would indeed give him some measure of immortality.

Then, immortality does not have to indicate material survival to death. But what about effective survival to decay? In the literary tradition, as well as in our Judeo-Christian morality, immortality is only granted to the gods, while it is considered corrupted when achieved artificially. It appears that in all the accounts, immortality has a price.  In fact,  we might postpone, or even obliterate our own death , but it doesn’t mean that this condition will make you happy. You might be immortal, but you might not exist for others. You may eliminate or slow down decay, but what about your humanity? or your expressiveness? In 2013, morality and artificiality are two fairly blurred categories: neither do we know what is morally corrupted and what is not, nor what is artificial and what is natural (is anti-aging treatment un-natural? how is keeping the terminally ill alive natural?). Then, how can we assess quest for all forms of immortality? should we judge those who strive to produce new scientific knowledge to improve our chances of survival? should we blame that starlet who refuses to grow older than 35? or those who pop vitamins and pills so they can be ready when the singularity will come?

there is something very fascinating and problematic at the same time in all this: immortality for whom? who gets to enjoy this? under what system and under which conditions? I came to the festival with a  great curiosity to understand this (in fact, I haven’t seen any discussion on this topic yet). will ST give me any answer?