[Back to A.Lazarevich's main page]
Readers' questions and comments about the modular system of immortality with my answers.
Question (received Nov.10,1999):
My name is Matt and I found your web pageThe technology of immortality via a search engine.
I am interested in knowing who is doing research in this area and how far things have come. If you could also extrapolate and tell me if you think this technology will be available within my lifetime (I am currently 33)
I am interested in your reply,
To answer you questions:
> who is doing research in this area
This depends on how you define the area. If you mean the work done by researchers who keep in their minds the grand vision of the Modular System of Immortality (MSI) as their final objective, then the answer to your question is "nobody", at least as far as I know. The very point of publishing my paper on MSI on the Internet is to make the general public aware of the possibilities and to create the public demand for MSI, which may stimulate the necessary research and development.
> how far things have come
On a brighter note, I should probably add that quite a lot of researchers around the world are already working on the two basic technologies needed for implementing MSI, although they may have never heard the acronym. One such technology is cloning, and there have been quite a lot of breakthroughs in that area recently. The other one is called nanotechnology. The true believers in nanotech are actually trying to achieve immortality, although not according to the MSI scheme, but rather using a "brute force" approach of repairing each cell in the human body. I have already compared this approach with MSI in my paper "What are the advantages of the system of immortality based on the modular principle as compared with the "classic" nanotechnological approach?" , and I won't repeat myself here. I only want to note here that besides the other advantages described in that paper (no memory overflow and no social stagnation), MSI can also be viewed as a sort of "short-cut" as compared with the "pure" nanotech immortality, because it does not require tinkering with every living cell in the body, but limits the use of nanotechology to only establishing a data interface with nervous system. The rest is done by cloning (which is already a much more mature technology than nanotech). This means that MSI could be achieved sooner than "pure" nanotech immortality.
And this brings us to your ultimate question:
> if you think this technology will be available within my lifetime
I would hate to raise any false hopes. Although some nanotech hotheads believe that they can achieve the "pure" nanotech immortality for themselves, I think this is a bit too optimistic. But, as I said above, MSI could be achieved sooner than "pure" nanotech.
So, I'm not going to give you any promises that I'm not sure I can keep. But I can tell you one thing: If there is no demand for a system, nobody is going to work on that system. We, the Public, can create the demand, if we are all aware of the possibilities. Spread the word - that's the only advice I can give you at the moment. But no promises.
Comment (received July 15, 1999):
I have just read trough your
concept of immortality and find it too "mechanical" in
the way it wants to substitute things, objects or methods to
parts of our body.
Immortality means eternity of our whole person to me. Such thing is possible (in theory) since 1986. Read arcticles from Cooke on telomerase.
>I have just read trough your concept of immortality and
find it too "mechanical" in the way it wants to
substitute things, objects or methods to parts of our body.
Then please read it again, this time very carefully, because while "reading it through" you have misunderstood what I was trying to say. I don't want to substitute "things, objects or methods" for parts of our body. What I'm talking about is substituting parts of our body for parts of our body. Namely, our old body is to be substituted by our new body, our old left brain hemisphere is to be substituted by our new left brain hemisphere, and our old right brain hemisphere is to be substituted by our new right brain hemisphere. Of course, you always have an option of, let's say, substituting our old body with a robot, but that's entirely a matter of your choice. If you are completely satisfied with the body you were born with, you just clone your new body module from your own cell. If you are not completely satisfied with your current body (for example, if you were born with a congenital deformity) you have an option of using a different source of genetic material for growing your new body module. What the modular system of immortality is all about is about having a choice. (And what all the other proposed systems for immortality are all about is about having no choice at all, about being stuck for eternity with what you were born with.) And if you don't like having to make a choice (many people don't) you have the option of always using the same genes you were born with for growing your body modules generation after generation, for an eternity.
> Immortality means eternity of our whole person to me.
People's personalities change as they go through their lives. A 3-year old is a very different person from the same individual at the age of 70. Except of course, when we are dealing with a case of arrested development. And this is exactly what is going to happen to an individual who will be made immortal through purely medical means. Somewhere around the age of 100 he will reach the condition of memory overflow, that is, there will be no place left in his brain to store new information. In fact, as everyday life experience shows, some people reach memory overflow as early as at the age of 80. They can remember perfectly well what happened to them 50 or 40 years ago, but they don't remember what happened to them only yesterday. As a result, they are forever stuck at one point in time - the moment when they used up the last free storage space in their brain. So, "eternity of our whole person" basically means being stuck at one point in time for an eternity. ("Beware of what you wish for, because your wish may be granted.")
If you don't want this to happen, if you don't want to have a case of development arrested at the ripe old age of 100 or so, if you want your personality to continue to change and evolve, you've got to dump unnecessary data from your brain somewhere along the way. And that's basically what the process of interchanging brain modules is about: it's about an opportunity to lose some extra data in the process.
I don't want to continue explaining what I have already explained in my paper. I hope that what I said above is enough to make you take a second look at that paper. Then we we'll be able to discuss what I REALLY said, instead of what you think I said, which seem to be two very different things.
Just as friendly,
Comment (received Nov 29, 1998):
It occurs to me that rather than trying to find a way of preserving our physical bodies so we can live long enough to experience (a very desireable result) the fact that our present actions will have long term negative results for most inhabitants of the planet (The author of the letter probably makes a reference here to my answer about the effects of immortality on society - A.Lazarevich.), we might do better to take seriously the possibility that the human spirit or soul exists independantly of the physical brain and the physical body and returns to earth anyway again and again in new bodies to experience the negative effects of it's former actions (as well as the positive ones).
Or to work on finding a way to circumvent the problem that few people seem to have any memory of this fact after the age of 2 or 3.
There have already been persuasive studies and case histories that lend credence to this idea but perhaps we need more. Perhaps we need alot more.
I am sure that if we can go to the moon, we can devise "scientific" experiments and studies that will yeild alot of interesting data on the subject of the voyages of the Spirit.
In addition, if we could become conscious of our past deeds in other lifetimes - in this lifetime, it might help us to deal better with current experiences.
Lastly, death is a necessary part of the cycle of birth-life-death-life after death-rebirth as is sleep a natural part of the waking consciousness-sleep state-dream state-waking up to the waking state cycle.
To eliminate sleep or death from their appropriate cycles would be in my view an example of undesireable scientific innovation. Instead of working on eliminating death we would be better served by working on our fear of death and ignorance about life after death and also simply increasing our consciousness of experiences in everyday life, and our consciousness of or information about life after death and factual information which points to the likelyhood of our being required to reincarnate over and over upon the planet earth.
Of course this concept goes against what many of we humans-especially in present day technological industrial society are willing to consider(or have been programmed to believe), so maybe we need some "science" to help us get the picture.
In your letter addressed to me and entitled Elimination of death vs. understanding of death you wrote:
>It occurs to me that rather than trying to find a way of preserving our physical bodies
I think there is a slight misunderstanding here, probably caused by the fact that you stumbled upon my web-page by chance and decided to join the discussion without having read my paper on immortality. If you had read it, you would have immediately seen that I dont propose to search for a way of preserving our physical bodies. (In fact, I strongly advise against it, although my reasons for this are very different from yours).
The ideas advanced in that paper originated from very simple questions that I put to myself about a dozen years ago. The questions were as follows: Lets suppose for a moment that the stories about reincarnation are not true, that they are just what people want to be true, but not a reality. Can we turn it into reality by means of technology? Does modern science have enough knowledge to implement an artificial reincarnation? And the answers to these questions seem to be Yes! And even more than that, the artificial reincarnation allows to preserve most of the memories of the former lives throughout the current life, while the natural reincarnation allows this only till the age of 2 or 3. (for technical details please see the above paper).
I agree with you that nobody can rule out the possibility that life after death is a reality. But I hope youll also agree with me that current evidence supporting such a view is, at best, inconclusive. A case can be made out for reincarnation being just a product of wishful thinking, and, based on the currently available knowledge, such case would be at least as strong as the opposite one. Im not going to take any sides in this dispute. But while the outcome of this dispute is still uncertain, I just propose to deal with this uncertainty in a practical way.
We have two possibilities here:
a) Natural reincarnation does not exist
b) Natural reincarnation exists
And we also have two courses of action open to us:
1) Proceed with developing the technology for artificial reincarnation;
2) Dont proceed with it, just sit on our hands.
There are four combinations of this two possibilities and two courses of action (or inaction). Lets review them one by one:
a1) Natural reincarnation does not exist, but we achieve it through technology. Net result - we will become immortals.
a2) Reincarnation does not exist, but we do nothing about it. Net result - we just die and thats it, no hereafter.
b1) Reincarnation exists, but we are not aware of it, and achieve it through technology. Net result will depend on what further knowledge well uncover about the inner workings of the natural reincarnation. Based on the new scientific knowledge we may want to either stop using the technological reincarnation and return to the natural one, or combine them in some form yet unknown to us, or find a way to abolish the natural reincarnation, because the technological one may turn out to be superior to the natural process. It all depends on the future scientific discoveries, and Im absolutely certain that if the phenomenon of natural reincarnation does exist, it will sooner or later be discovered by science, and moreover, it will eventually give us a much better insight into whats good and whats bad about the natural reincarnation, and what can be changed in this process, and whatd better not be changed. Well never find such detailed and reliable knowledge in ancient sacred texts or through hearsay. It is only through the due scientific process of reproducible experimentation that we will be able to find any knowledge compatible with our technologically-oriented culture. And any incompatible knowledge that cannot be assimilated into a particular culture is useless for that culture. I completely agree with you that we need some science to help us get the picture. But it may take several centuries until science uncovers this knowledge, and so, if you wish to be around when this happens, and still remember your earlier earthly existence even after your future embodiment turns the age of 2 or 3, the only way for you to do this is to embrace the technological method of reincarnation, if only for a few centuries.
b2) Reincarnation exists, and we do nothing about it. The only bad thing about this situation is that when science discovers the natural reincarnation, it may also discover some bad sides to it (for example, that the age-of-3 barrier is essential for the natural process, and cannot be worked around), and we wont have any technology of artificial reincarnation to replace the natural process.
The above analysis shows that we probably lose nothing if we go ahead with developing the technology for artificial reincarnation, regardless of whether the natural reincarnation exists or not. The same analysis shows that we are sure to lose everything if we do nothing, and it turns out that natural reincarnation is nothing but a figment of primitive mans imagination. Is it wise to take such risk?
And there is one more point in favor of going ahead with the development of the artificial reincarnation technology. Since you agree that we need some science to help us get the picture, what would be the best way of studying this phenomenon of natural reincarnation, which the science isnt even sure exists?
If we go by historical precedent, science have always studied nature by putting a piece of nature in an unnatural, artificial situation, which is called an experiment. Such unnatural situations allowed to bring out some heretofore hidden mechanisms of this or that phenomenon.
If natural reincarnation does exist, the most unnatural situation for it would be to co-exist with the artificial reincarnation. Its most likely that therell be some kind of interference between the two, which might be easily detectable. This may turn out to be the crucial experiment confirming the existence of natural reincarnation, and if you really want to convince the scientifically-minded pubic that natural reincarnation does exist, I think you should also be interested in the development of the artificial reincarnation, if only for the purposes of this crucial experiment, which will finally settle this centuries-old debate.
Question (received Aug.20,1998):
I'm a medical student studying at the University of California at San Francisco. I enjoyed reading your posted idea of brain and body modules and would enjoy hearing more on the topic of immortality. I admit that I haven't spent much time looking into the subject, so I come to you without any idea of what has been written and what's available. I am also interested on speculation as to the effects of immortality on society. Would you kindly point me in the right direction?
Thank you for your kind words about my ideas.
Although the idea of the modular system of immortality has occurred to me more than a decade ago, and I wrote a book about it, entitled "The Wish Generator", in 1986, I had no means of publishing that book until I got access to the Internet, which happened only a couple of years ago. This explains why there is still virtually no literature on the subject of the modular system of immortality, except for a letter from biophysicist S.Levin containing a critique of the method I used to evaluate the biointerface throughput. I have now posted that letter on my web page. You may find in that letter a list of literature that may have some bearing on that narrow and purely technical subject of biointerface.
As for a more general picture of the subject of immortality, I have also posted on my web-page a short paper comparing the modular system of immortality with the alternative system proposed by Eric Drexler in his famous book "The Engines of Creation".
My earlier paper that you referred to, summarized the contents of only one chapter of a book which actually consists of five chapters. I also plan to post a paper summarizing other ideas included in my book "The Wish Generator", which mostly deal with the effects of immortality on society.
To summarize that planned summary I can tell you that in my opinion the most important effect on society will be that immortals will start thinking about long-term consequences of their actions. Today most people only think about short-term consequences of their decisions, since they know that they won't live long enough to suffer their long-term effects. That's why people are destroying the environment. And that's also why they have made such a mess of the space research policies - they know that the probability of Earth being struck with an asteroid within their short life spans is negligible. But immortals will know that if they pollute the environment, they will have to live in the polluted environment. And they will know that in the course of their virtually infinite life span an asteroid or a comet will sooner or later hit the Earth. And so on. What I want to say is that the mankind only has a chance to survive as a whole, if every individual comprising the mankind is immortal. Otherwise, the mankind is doomed to an eventual extinction, because most people don't really care what will happen after they die.
Comment (received Mar 18, 1998):
First of all I dearly regret the fact that I can not write this letter in Russian. Unfortunately, I left former USSR many years ago and my Russian is rather poor, especially when it comes to dealing with my specialty, biophysics.
A visiting student, Alex Vainer in my lab has brought it to my attention your books, which in turn brought me to discover your homepage. While he idea of informational immortality is quite interesting, there is a number of flaws in your proposal, especially relating to biological interfaces.
Your calculations on the informational throughput of human (and for that matter, any multicellular) brain are a great underestimate. Visual perception is a very awkward field and it is important to understand that a great deal of processing of the images is done on molecular levels in the photoreceptor cells and further in the supretinal neuronal layers before it is even passed to the optic nerve.
In addition, axons do not just conduct binary signals, but transmit complex threshold patterns, which roughly squares the amount of information transmitted. Same is true for most of the other senses. Below are a few review articles that you could read on this topic, if you do not have an access to a medical library, I can mail you the reprints. The starred articles are my favorites.
* Gerstner W. Kreiter AK. Markram H. Herz AV.
Neural codes: firing rates and beyond. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.
Leiner HC. Leiner AL. How fibers subserve computing capabilities:
similarities between brain and machines. Int Rev Neurobiol. 41:535-53,
* Lisman JE. Bursts as a unit of neural information: making unreliable
synapses reliable. Trends in Neurosciences. 20(1):38-43, 1997.
Heinze HJ. Matzke M. Dorfmueller G. Smid HG. Flexibility in the
structure of human information processing. Advances in Neurology.
Hope you find the above useful for further developing our path to immortality. And thank you for great writing (despite the doubtful science, the writing is excellent and the ideas are incredible).
Truly yours, Sergei Levin
PS. I do not include any of my work as A) mostly irrelvant on this topic (I work on subcellular transport and axonemal machinery - nano- or pico-machines, if you wish) and B) for sake of modesty :).
Sergei "Shmul" Levin
Albert Einstein College Of Medicine
I was really glad to hear that my work has finally come to the attention of scientists. I nearly wrote "specialists", but of course there can be no specialists in a field of technology which does not yet exist. You said that your work is irrelevant to the topic, but I think it is as relevant as could be under the circustances. I think that I should admit here that I am no scientist at all. My scientific education is limited to a few years in a pedagogical institute where I got a diploma of teacher of physics.
But I strongly believe that all the mankind's great technological achievements can always be traced back to a "dreamer", that is, to some guy whose science was "doubtful", but who made the scientists start searching for the ways to resolve these "doubts" (Jules Vern proposed to go to the Moon in a cannon ball , Tsiolkovsky said "this won't do - you need a rocket", and Von Braun actually built the hardware). I'm just a dreamer, and as such I was satisfied to learn that I have managed to start scientists wondering whether there might be something in what I say. I have done my part of the work, and now I think it's up to the people who are much better qualified than me to work out the details.
So I'm not going to argue with scientists when they say that my calculations are wrong. I never considered these calculations as anything more than just a very rough order-of-magnitude estimates. I may even be wrong about the order-of-magnitude. But this in no way undermines the basic idea - if we have information channel with sufficiently large throughput, we still can transmit all the information. And we've got to keep in mind that the technology of information channels will keep improving.
Thank you for your kind words about my writing.