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!futurism comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.