Nanotech for eternal life?


I’ve  just watched the Richard Dimbleby lecture featuring author Sir Terry Pratchett, entitled shaking hands with death.

Pratchett, who announced he had Alzheimer’s in 2007, argued persuasively in this lecture for the right to assisted death at a time of his choice. This is obviously a contentious issue, and one which this post can’t hope to resolve. Suffice to say that Pratchett stated a thoughtful case case with humour and dignity.

Death is the great unifier- it is no more inevitable for Pratchett than for anyone else, it’s just that he knows the thing that is most likely to kill him without intervention, and has a reasonable idea of what the degenerative process associated with his condition will be like.

Pratchett’s lecture is not depressing, nor does it play for pity. Rather, he states that if he knows he can chose to die at any time, it will allow him to live every day to its fullest. If anything, his is a life-affirming message.

Recently, I read Nanofuture: what’s next for nanotechnology? by J. Storrs Hall, which outlines a vision for the future of nanotechnology and its radical effects upon society. I disagree with a lot of the predictions made in this book, in part because a number of the basic premises have yet to be proven, and because a number of advances are declared inevitable based on extrapolation from these premises.

Towards the end of the book, the issue of transhumanism is raised. This is the use of advanced technology to augment mankind’s natural abilities. Nanotechnology could rebuild Terry Pratchett’s brain, it could reverse the effects of ageing, and it could extend our lifespans to several hundred years. Crucially, these advances will apparently take place within the author’s lifetime.

Removing death from the process of living fundamentally changes the whole meaning of life itself in multitude ways.  But the technology is not just around the corner.  I think it’s better to think about what to do positively with life, with every day that we have, than trying to avoid the inevitability of death by imagining a nano-technological panacea.

Would a total halt to ageing and death, through technological means, be a good thing?


Another question just occurred to me- if eternal life is possible through technological means, what does that do to religion? I’d be really interested to hear a theological standpoint on this!

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5 Comments on “Nanotech for eternal life?”

  1. Tom Hayton Says:

    Many years ago I read a book called ”One Million Tomorrows” by Bob Shaw, which very imaginatively and intelligently explores what a deathless future would look like and its consequences for society.

    It’s probably still on one of dad’s bookshelves at home- check it out!

    • jjjhayton Says:

      It’s the stuff of sci-fi at the moment. Nanofuture does look into the social issues, but it assumes that nanotech can do anything, so any problem can be solved with nanotech. I actually find it a bit sinister in places…

  2. FF Says:

    Most young people think they are immortal, and most older people never really think about death. So in a way we are already living as if we are going to live forever.

    How many times have you heard someone on telly say “what would you do if you only had a year/month/day to live?” and the respondent comes out with all this random pleasure seeking stuff, like quit my job and spend the rest of my days on a Caribean island drinking cocktails with supermodels…this is blatantly not true, because everyone knows that their time is finite, and still they waste huge portions of their lives watching big brother or reading Dan Brown.

    What interests me about immorality, or just living a lot longer, say 200 years, is time perception. If the average life span in the UK was 200 years, would you actually feel like you had longer to live, or would you just have more of a time buffer to mess about, so that you only did the same amount of important things?

  3. Bernardamus Says:

    So what are the main consequences predicted by “One Million Tomorrows”?
    I think that the perspective of eternal life is not at all less scary than death. Actually one of my worst nightmares is to be damned to live an infinite life, which also involves going through all the most awful experiences of humanity.
    I think the trick for happiness is passing through a lifetime skipping major disasters and suffering.
    If there is one big thing about “science for life” it’s the pain-killers, allowing us to fade away from existence in a soft way. Very comfortable thought!

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