Nano-Immortality and Possibility-Spaces
I was checking out STMB and noticed that he linked a CNN story about an inventor who is exercising and dieting to keep himself healthy for what he sees as man’s ability to achieve immortality in 20 years through the use of nanotechnology. Now, while his claims are dubious at best and his regimen of supplements and 10 glasses of “alkaline water” per day are sure to make GNC happy without any true evidence in their favor, it got me thinking about whether corporeal immortality is an ideal that the human species should even work towards.
From a limited individual existentialist standpoint personal bodily immortality is an enticing possibility, certainly one without the superficial appearance of a discernable detriment. However, when one views the grand narrative of the human experience through the lens of an evolutionary perspective, taking into account not particularized events but the meta-narrative of the whole of humanity as a collective process taking into account time, the story becomes more complex.
Sexual reproduction and meiosis are ingenious developments of the evolutionary process that allow blind genes to actively search for the proper combination of environmental fitness and species specific enhancements through chance pairings and chaotic recombinations. The end result of the process is a metaphorically majestic genetic algorithm that actively searches the environment (while responding to it) and itself for increased adaptability to the morphing external world. However, increasing evidence from the sociobiology camp suggests that the genetic compliment that comprises an individual strongly influences (if not controls—separate debate) the personality/adherence to universal human morality (another long debate)/likes/dislikes/talents etc. of an individual. Therefore, within the very act of procreation (understood this way) is the genesis of individual human diversity.
Throughout human and cultural evolution the influx of unique ideas and birth of revolutionary philosophical advancements have created the ideological milieu within which societies have driven further the intellectual development of the human animal. Whereas the majority of individuals exist comfortably beneath the bell-curve of human achievement, the outliers, those rare statistical anomalies that are allowed for by the genetic algorithm, exist, and their accomplishments, their unique perspectives, drive humanity up the ladder of evolutionary possibilities. Their names are familiar; Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, James Joyce, Mark Twain, Socrates etc., there are many more, some named and studied, others exist without the laudation of entering into the common vernacular.
If we achieve corporeal immortality sometime in the near future, the possibility space of humanity will dramatically shrink. A finite world with limited resources is a saturable system within which a restricted amount of individuals can be realistically sustained. When the system reaches it saturation point the continual propagation of the species would need to be halted reducing the possibility space to zero (lest we indulge the fantasy of cultivating an as yet undiscovered world). Ideas and cultural evolution would effectively stagnate as the ebb and flow of generational diversity is limited to a continuous plateau of limited potentialities.
Death is a creative event in nature. The demise of an individual (be it a flower/bumble bee/or human) creates room for the newest cohort of the species with its unique genetic compliment to seek out new ways of adapting to the environment creating the possibility of newly discovered adaptations that enhance the species as a whole and further the trip along the genetic algorithm. Death creates possibility spaces (the demise of the dinosaurs lead to the rise of the mammals). Analogously, during the human experience the death of the individual creates the possibility space within which subsequent individuals (that house unique compliments of genes spawning the unique patterns of thought that give rise to the further evolution of ideas) take their chance within the environment of ideas, searching for the outliers that change the course of human intellectual evolution. Immortality is inversely related to absolute possibility in a saturable biological system. When the final compliment of humans are left with which to subsist within the world, the genetic algorithm ceases, as does the tireless drive up the ladder of cultural/ideological evolution, as novel ways of approaching problems/viewing the world/unique thought constructs will have ceased. Humanity will be left with a group of individuals whose ideas and thought patterns will exist unchallenged in an unchanging world of closed possibility.