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 Post subject: Concepts of immortality
 Post Posted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 2:25 am 
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Concepts of immortality

Considerations of immortality usually bring to mind the idea of unending existence, a freedom from the concerns of annihilation and death. Often times, talk of the immortality of the soul arises in conjunction with talk of immortality. The ideas of science and religion find common goals in the perpetuity of man's existence.

Types of immortality

Immortality can be divided into two main types: physical and spiritual. Physical immortality is the unending existence of the mind from a physical source such as a brain or computer. Spiritual immortality is unending existence of a person after physical death such as a soul.

Physical immortality

Technological immortality is the name given to the prospect for much longer life spans made possible by scientific advances in a variety of fields: nanotechnology, emergency room procedures, genetics, human physiology, engineering, regenerative medicine, microbiology, and others. Contemporary life spans in the advanced industrial societies are already markedly longer than those of the past because of better nutrition, availability of health care, standard of living and bio-medical scientific advances. Technological immortality predicts further progress for the same reasons over the near term. An important aspect of current scientific thinking about immortality is that nanotechnology will play an essential role in extreme life extension. For example, Robert Freitas, a leading medical nanorobotics theorist, suggests we may be able to create tiny medical nanorobots that could go through our bloodstreams, find dangerous things like cancer cells and bacteria, and kill them). Freitas anticipates that gene-therapies and nanotechnology will eventually make the human body effectively self-sustainable and capable of living indefinitely, short of severe trauma. Some suggest we will be able to continually create biological or synthetic replacement parts to replace damaged or dying ones.

Some people believe that such treatments will not be available in their natural lifespan. Cryonics is the practice of preserving organisms (either intact specimens or only their brains) for possible future revival by storing them at cryogenic temperatures where metabolism and decay are almost completely stopped. Ideally this would allow clinically dead people to be brought back in the future after cures to the patients' diseases have been discovered and aging is reversible. Modern Cryonics procedures use a process called vitrification which creates a glasslike state rather than freezing as the body is brought to low temperatures. This process reduces the risk of ice crystals damaging the brain structure. Many people who wish to become physically immortal think of Cryonics as a backup plan in case the emerging life extension technologies don't develop rapidly enough.

Some believe that biological forms have inherent limitations in their design--primarily, their fragility and inability to immediately morph to fit the environment. A way around that predicament may someday present itself in the ability to "exist" outside of the biological form. Over the long term, the biological nature of humanity may only be temporary; should technology permit, people may circumvent death and evolution, simply by taking artificial forms. One interesting possibility involves uploading the personality and memories via direct mind-computer interface. Some extropian futurists propose that, thanks to exponentially growing computing power, it will someday be possible to upload human consciousness onto a computer system, and live indefinitely in a virtual environment. This could be accomplished via advanced cybernetics, where computer hardware would initially be installed in the brain to help sort memory or accelerate thought processes. Gradually more and more components would be added until the person's entire brain functions were handled by artificial devices, without any sharp transitions that would lead to some identity issues mentioned below. At this point, the human body would become only an accessory and the mind could be transferred to any sufficiently powerful computer. A person in this state would then be essentially immortal, short of cataclysmic destruction of the entire civilization and their computers.

Quantum immortality is the name for the speculation that the Everett many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that a conscious being cannot cease to be. The idea is highly controversial. Theoretically given any potentially fatal event that could happen to, say, a quantum physicist, there will be possible universes in which the physicist indeed dies and other possible universes where the physicist somehow survives. As time goes on the physicist is dead in more and more of all possible universes due to random accidents and aging, however because there are infinite possibilities, there will always be at least one universe in which the physicist miraculously lives another day. The idea behind quantum immortality is that the physicist would only be able to experience the universes in which he survives, even though they may be an increasingly small subset of the possible universes. In this way, the physicist would appear from his own standpoint to be living forever. Some of the potential ultimate fates of the Universe could present an eventual death with no means of avoidance no matter how unlikely, but even then in an infinite universe there could be some means of working around such a limit.

Long before modern science made such speculation feasible, people wishing to escape death sought what we might term mystical immortality, turning to the supernatural world for answers. Examples include the medieval alchemists and their search for the Philosopher's Stone, or more modern religious mystics such as Sri Aurobindo, who believed in the possibility of achieving physical immortality through spiritual transformation.

Rastafarians believe in physical immortality as a part of their religious doctrines. They believe that after their God has called the day of judgement they will go to what they describe as Mount Zion in Africa to live in freedom for ever. Instead of having everlasting life, which implies an end in the word last, the rastas look forward to having everliving life. Another group that believe in physical immortality are the Rebirthers, who believe that by following the connected breathing process of rebirthing they will live forever physically.

Some people believe physical immortality would not be possible or even desirable. Jacques-Yves Cousteau, in the preface to his book The Ocean World, expressed his meditations on physical immortality, as a part of life and its adaptive processes: 'Death,' Cousteau states, 'is fundamental to evolution;' and 'evolution is fundamental to survival'. He concludes that, biologically speaking, 'immortality does not present a possible means to avoid death': "Mortal or immortal, [an organism] must die." Michael Shermer believes there is no significant scientific evidence for the proposed methods of achieving physical immortality. He says about them, "All have some basis in science, but none has achieved anything like scientific confirmation."

In Hindu myth & Yoga powers, there is rumoured to be what is known as "body jumping" - a forgotten and voodoo term used to denote a person chanting a mantra to jump into another host and therefore live a longer life. Many Indian fables and tales include such instances of people doing so, that such an "immortality" method cannot be dismissed outright.

Spiritual immortality

Spiritual immortality, on the other hand, is a belief that is expressed in nearly every religious tradition. In both Western and Eastern religions, the spirit is an energy or force that transcends the mortal shell, and returns to either the heavens or the cycle of life, directly or indirectly depending on the tradition. Below we consider the perspective some of the world's most popular religions on spiritual immortality.

Buddhists believe that a person goes through a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. However, in Buddhism there is no belief in an eternal soul, but rather a collection of habits, desires, and memories. After death a person is reborn on either as a human or in some other form, depending on the fruition of karma.

Christians believe that every person will be resurrected bodily: some to life forever in the presence of God, and some to never-ending consciousness of guilt, separation from God, and punishment for sin. Eternal damnation is depicted in the Bible as a realm of constant physical and spiritual anguish in a lake of fire, and a realm of darkness away from God. Some suggest that the fires of Hell are a theological metaphor, standing for the inescapable presence of God endured in absence of love for God. Catholic theology also teaches that there is a realm called Purgatory where souls who have accepted Jesus are purged of their sins before they are admitted into Heaven. Some Christian sects also believe in a third realm called Limbo (Latin: border), which is the final destination of souls who have not been baptized, but who have been innocent of mortal sin. Souls in Limbo include unbaptized infants and those who lived virtuously but were never exposed to Christianity in their lifetimes.

Islam believes that everyone has an immortal soul that will live on in either Paradise or Hell depending on how one lives their life. Like Christianity and Judaism, there are no second chances following death in Islam. On judgement day one's place of existence for all eternity is decided.

Hinduism believes in an immortal soul which is reincarnated after death. According to Hinduism, people repeat a cycle of life, death, and rebirth (a cycle called samsara). If they live their life well, their Karma increases and their station in the next life will be higher, and conversely lower if they live their life poorly. Eventually after many life times of perfecting one's karma, the soul is freed from the cycle and gets to live forever with God. Hinduism has no version of Hell, although if a soul consistently lives very evil lives, they could work their way down to the very bottom of the cycle.

Judaism claims that the righteous dead will be resurrected in the "messianic age" with the coming of the messiah. They will then be granted immortality in a perfect world. The wicked dead, on the other hand, will not be resurrected at all. This is in contrast to Christianity where the wicked dead are still immortal and exist forever in Hell. This is not the only Jewish belief about the afterlife. Others do believe in a version of Hell. The Torah is not specific about the afterlife, so there are differences in views among believers.

Shinto claims that except for those who choose or are dispatched to the underground world of Yomi, every living and non-living beings may lose their body but not their Tamashii (soul) and they live together with mortal souls as an immortal being called Kami. Unlike the previously mentioned religions, Shinto lets anything to attain Kami status regardless of its existence before becoming Kami. Therefore, even those that do not believe in Shinto may choose to become Kami, as well as things like a rock, a tree, or even a robot. Some may be reincarnated for various reasons. Shinto has no version of Hell or a judgement day.


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