Corliss Lamont defines immortality as ”The literal survival of the individual human personality or consciousness for an indefinite period after [physical] death, with its memory and awareness of self-identity essentially intact" (Lamont 22).
In previous posts, I explained how human personality or consciousness is hopelessly dependent upon the physical operation of one's brain and central nervous system. To believe in the continuation of this physical function, without an organ, device, or machine capable of maintaining this function, is ignorant wishful thinking.
So is immortality possible? Is the continuation of consciousness and the preservation of memories possible without a human body to sustain them? I believe it is indeed (eventually) possible, and I have evidence to support this assertion.
"But wait Aaron! I thought this blog was about disproving the afterlife! So why are you saying immortality is possible? Aren't you betraying your materialistic, godless worldview?"
Good questions. Actually, the reason I am asserting the possibility of immortality in this blog entry is to again argue against the afterlife concept. I plan to show how immortality is, in reality, an anti-afterlife concept.
The afterlife concept proposes a different world, or a different existence, or a different dimension, however you want to put it. The afterlife concept discards this reality upon death and proposes a heaven or a hell or maybe even a reincarnation, but the point is that the afterlife concept involves the transfer to a different existence in a different realm (even reincarnation holds this view in the sense that you are “reborn” as a new entity without the acquired memories and personality of your past life). It proposes a "next" world or reality, and stresses its importance or primacy over this "current" reality.
Immortality, on the other hand, does not propose a "next" reality, nor does it cheapen the importance or primacy of this "current" reality. Immortality, on the other hand, is actually the continuation of one's existence in this reality. Immortality, as Corliss Lamont stated, is the idea of keeping your consciousness intact in this world after your body has expired.
Now that we've distinguished the difference between an "afterlife" and "immortality," why should someone, especially a hardcore materialistic atheist like myself, even support the idea of "immortality"? Where is the evidence?
The first piece of evidence I would like to present is a man by the name of Matt Nagle. Matt Nagle suffered a vicious knife attack four years ago, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Matt eventually got in contact with the neuroscience department at Brown University in Rhode Island, where he became a guinea pig of sorts. Matt had electrodes surgically implanted in his brain that can "read" his brain signals, specifically, the ones that control body movement. A computer interprets Matt's brain signals, and then uses these signals to give commands to various mechanical devices. Thanks to the electrodes implanted in his brain, Matt has been able to control a robotic arm, a television, and the cursor on a computer screen (think Microsoft Windows), all with his thoughts. You can read about Matt and this technology here.
The second piece of evidence I would like to present involves Sony Corporation. You know, the company that makes the Playstation? Well, Sony has recently acquired a patent for a technique that allows the beaming of sensory information directly to one's brain. The sensory information beamed to one's brain would include images, sounds, smells, feelings, even tastes. No invasive surgery is needed, Sony claims. The sensory information would be transmitted via ultrasonic pulses aimed at specific areas of the brain. You can read about Sony and this patent here.
What do these two examples have to do with immortality? The first example I presented (the one involving Matt) is an example of information being created in a human brain, then being sent from the human brain to a machine that can interpret and act on the information. The second example I presented (the one involving Sony's patent) is an example of information being created in a machine, then being sent from the machine to a human brain that can interpret and act on the information. The first example involves output, and the second example involves input. What this means is that we have the knowledge and the ability to transfer information between human brains and man-made machines, and translate this information into something meaningful for both entities (the organic brain and the artificial machine). In other words, human thought can be reduced to electronic ones and zeroes, and ones and zeroes are the language of a computer.
Do I need to point out the obvious? We can understand the functions of a heart, and then make an artificial heart. We are beginning to understand the functions of a brain, and soon we will be able to make an artificial brain. If we can learn to understand the "language" of the brain, and get machines to "talk" in such language, then we can make artificial brains that can provide continuity to one's consciousness and memories after their biological brain has ceased operation. Human thoughts are quantifiable and measurable and translatable, and this is the key to immortality.
We already have our foot in the door, and it is now just a matter of time until we swing this door wide open. We already have machines that act on thought instruction. We already have patented methods of creating synthetic thoughts with computers and beaming them directly into one's brain. We have the "dots," and it is only a matter of time before these dots are connected to form a complete picture. With the development of these technologies, as well as nanotechnology, we will eventually be able to create machines that can take over the functions of the human brain, and we will even be able to "upload" one's consciousness and thoughts into such a machine, thus escaping the mental "death sentence" that comes with the death of our organic bodies.
What does technological immortality have to do with the afterlife? Everything! If we can cheat the death of our minds, then we can keep our consciousnesses intact in the here and now. Remember how I stated earlier in this entry that the afterlife is the belief in a different realm or reality? Well, technological immortality cuts the afterlife out of the equation like an Occam's Razor of sorts. With technological immortality, the "afterlife" concept becomes not only unevidenced, but superfluous as well. Immortality will keep us existent in the only existence we have ever known: this material reality. And a technological immortality, to me, is much more comforting than any imaginary, immaterial, and unevidenced afterlife.