Editorial License: Living Forever - by Ernest Lilley - Editor/SFRevu
I've been reading a lot of SF recently that's primarily concerned with what to after you stop growing old, or after you stop being human, or stop having to work for a living, or after the singularity..
I'm of two minds.
The first mind says, "Go ahead, throw me in that briar patch!" I'd like to live forever with cosmic power at my command...but the other mind says "Hell no, we won't go (to the heat death of the universe.)" Our simple human brains evolved to deal with a life span of 40-70 years and thought of countless billenia boggles it.
Well, certainly the human brain, as it stands, would reach information overload and emotional distress. You'll find Brian Stableford talking about the "robotization" of long lived humans in his latest novel, The Omega Expedition, which we review this issue. Of course, in order to overcome the aging process, we'll have to rewire considerable human hardwired and possibly software, so why stop at the aging process? In the Hard SF Renaissance (SFRevu Dec 2002), there was a great short story by Greg Egan called, "Reasons to be Cheerful", in which a person who has suffered brain damage is given a software analog to make up for his inability to come up with natural happiness. It raises lots of good questions about how you define yourself when you can be anything you choose.
Over the next century, I expect we will come more and more to face our nature as biological computers, so dinking around with the code will become more and more unavoidable...though I suspect it will take more than another century to get a handle on what really goes on inside us...and until we do, we should expect the occasional system crash of our upgraded mentalities.
But I've no doubt that boredom and depression can be edited away and interest and ambition pasted in. What I think will be harder to fix is the loss of urgency that having an open ended lifespan would offer.
I'm now well ensconced in middle age, and I can feel a certain urgency to getting something done in the second half of my life. It's not a panic, but there's no question...I can sense time's winged chariot off in the distance. Ironically, our universe is approximately middle aged too, or at least halfway through this star rich period.
The thing is, I like it this way. I'm pretty sure I don't want to live forever. I don't want to beat death, though I'd be happy to be able to cheat it a bit. I wouldn't mind leaving a virtual legacy behind though...something to see the end of time, but it wouldn't be me. Of course, I'm pretty sure that if I lived for ten thousand years I wouldn't be me either. In the Omega Expedition, Stableford talks about the shortness of actual memory. Little of what we remember can be assigned to the primary memory, he points out. Mostly it's memory chained back to the original memory. Memories of remembering memories.
The question is probably moot for anyone born in the last century, but possibly not for the new humans coming out of the factory today. I think I'll keep trying to die young and leave a good looking corpse, but to all those who come after life extension technology gets good enough, well, may you live in interesting times.