My book review of The Immortalization Commission over on ribbonfarm really hit a nerve with some people and I’m absolutely befuddled by some of the remarks that were left at the end of the essay. Apparently, if you really want to rile up a transhumanist, all you have to do is present them with the sobering truth that life ends with death.
This comment by a ribbonfarm reader illustrates one of the main points of contention with my claim that death is a necessary part of life.
Philosopher – “Without death we cannot truly have life.”
Transhumanist – “Why the fuck not?”
I think that sums it up. If you can explain to me what exactly is so necessary about death and what we would lose by eliminating it, I’m all ears.
If I say I don’t believe in Santa Claus because I have no empirical evidence showing me that he exists, is the burden of proof on me to prove that he doesn’t exist or is the burden of proof on believers to prove that he exists? Now, replace “Santa Claus” with “immortality” and answer the question.
Given the empirical evidence that nature has presented us thus far, i.e., all humans die eventually, the burden of proof ultimately falls on the transhumanists to explain the material conditions necessary for immortality, not vice versa. The burden of proof is not on the philosopher to explain why immortality is not possible, just as the burden of proof is not on me to explain why Santa Claus doesn’t exist. If transhumanists want to claim that death is not inevitable, the burden rests on their shoulders alone. I will acknowledge that some transhumanists have accepted this responsibility and have tried to explain why immortality is possible. However, their arguments are predicated on horribly flawed assumptions about immortality, consciousness, and the nature of reality.
How can a transhumanist claim to understand the material conditions necessary for immortality when we don’t even understand what concepts like “immortality”, “consciousness” and “reality” really mean? I don’t claim to know much, but I do know that anyone who thinks they fully understand these concepts is committing an egregious act of hubris. There are also technical explanations as to why death is inevitable, e.g., negentropy, but I’m not going to pretend to talk about technical things I don’t really understand.
Ultimately, humans are not privileged to change the fundamental laws of the universe at their whim. Furthermore, we don’t even have the access to understand the fundamental essence of reality because we are condemned to interpret the universe through our own human reasoning, which is completely and utterly fallible. We cannot take off our human reasoning glasses and put on a pair of reality glasses. However, that doesn’t seem to stop many of the 140+ IQ nerds, who suffer from what one commenter called a “Messiah Complex”, from trying to put on reality glasses.
I’m afraid that transhumanism is merely a symptom of a much larger problem that stems from the increasing nerdification of the modern world. Transhumanism and other types of techno-fetishism are predicated on the mistaken nerdy belief that numbers somehow correlate perfectly with reality.
I believe Karl Marx would have called this strange quest for immortality the ultimate bourgeois fantasy.
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1) If you missed it, check out the post and the comments here.
2) I also posed the question “Without death can there be life?” on Quora. I received some interesting responses, which you can find here.