Immortality Interruptus and Humanism – a Review

Sep 20th, 2012 | By | Category: Humanity

The prospect of immortality has always been of interest to humanists, as the logical endpoint of taking our human place in the Universe under our own terms.

British philosopher Stephen Cave’s 2012 book on the subject asserts that there are four possible paths to immortality, which I shall not detail here – there are many good reviews on Amazon: and do buy the book there or rescue your local bookseller.

His recounting (it is mostly that) delineates humanity’s historical adventures in this quest, and it is useful for organizing it into those “pathways” and notably points out that there are no dead people – that’s an oxymoron – so afterlives are moot. It’s a perception that must be appreciated before moving on: Life simply ends, there is no death.

Let’s pick the ball where he leaves it on the field – here is a thumbnail of  my own critique:

Like most contemporary philosophers, Cave gracefully climbs down from his hoary subject and dutifully repeats the “wisdom” that it is best we forget the whole thing, and come to accept our fate.  So his book is a useful preamble to the topic, but essentially craps out at the end; dismissing the transhumanists and their variants as being over-concerned with the Self, and unwilling to recognize the communality of this human project, and its (recommended) macro sublimations as a tribe, species and Gaia, etc. Even the Universe is seen as too boring, too transient, eventually too cold for its success. Ridiculous.

Cave fails to discuss the one central issue that will someday be recognized as the crux of this matter: are identical twins (clones) the same person in two bodies?

Huh? Why is that material?

Well, if you are someday cloned, you are your own identical twin, in serial form. But you have lost your memories!! some will say, although you can cache a hell of lot of them, complete with videos, in today’s computing clouds…  Cave even points out that it makes no sense to carry forward memories out of context, what is important is your own consciousness. That will be important – understanding that tabula rasa is a good thing when resuming your life sequences.

Let’s suppose a man and woman get married and have two children – a clone of the mother, a clone of the father, both carried by the wife, as their way of reproducing.  Cave will assert that the Earth is too crowded, but it isn’t really – do the math. And imagine the emotional dynamics within that family, if you can or dare.

Why would we think clones are the same person? Because when two organisms as complex as a human are genetically identical, then they each must be viewed as the same thing, like a row of cloned carrots.  Any differences, especially from the perspective of epigenetics, are environmental and not of essence. If you say disagree on their identity status, then you have no objection – and just let these fools amuse themselves – please.

If you say yes -then consider that the Jesuits looked after the Catholic church for 400 years in pursuit of one credo, and admire them or not – you have a model for how ordinary humans can engineer immortality today, by placing each other in our mutual care.

This is the beginning of where Cave leaves off, and whether our body (phenotype) is simply a printout of our master blueprint (genotype) is a legitimate question, though none appear to be asking it.

I am.

– Dwight Gilbert Jones


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