True or False?A man is planning to live forever and aims to achieve this within the next 30 years!
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Do you want to live forever?
Forever is a very long time, to put it mildly! So the first question might be... do you want to live forever? Some people have a quick answer to this: "no", or "yes". However, if we reflect on this for a moment then we can see potential pros and cons to both sides.
If you are susceptible to getting bored then it is easy to see how living forever could definitely become a challenge. However, if you live an active adventurous lifestyle with a positive attitude and an enquiring mind then living forever would allow you to explore every opportunity and participate in every adventure.
Perhaps, when it comes to the crunch most of us might opt to live forever. This was best portrayed in a lecture where the speaker turned this question on its head and asked... who wants to die? Not surprisingly there were no volunteers for that option.
How might you live forever?
Stopping ageing and disease
There are a number of research projects that are looking at this, either directly or indirectly. It has been found, in the laboratory, that life expectancy could be increased in a number of ways by: reducing the amount of food that we eat; eating foods that boost our health and protect against some ageing mechanisms; or, perhaps taking some [future] medication. Living forever also requires strategies to deal with all of the diseases that have the potential to be fatal. Clearly, that is a long list of challenges, but we are making progress in many areas, at different rates of progress.
So one way to live forever might be to stay healthy and benefit from future anti-ageing treatments.
Thinking outside the box, or body
But is there another way of dealing with this? After all even if all of the above solutions stop ageing and offered the prospect of living forever, what happens if you are in a fatal accident? All of that effort might have been for nothing. Well there is also another approach to living forever...
If we could scan the brain in ultimate detail then we could, in theory*, put all of that data into a supercomputer and run that program. It would represent all of the details of that person's mind, including their conscious, subconscious, memories and personality. If the data was an exact copy of the brain then that computer copy would be an exact copy of the person's mind.
This might sound far fetched but right now there are large projects running to scan human brains in incredible detail. Every neuron and its hundreds or thousands of connections to other neurons is being recorded and stored in a computer. This is a massive challenge as there are trillions of connections in the brain and it will require millions of Gigabytes of computer storage. Nevertheless this approach has already been successful in digitising part of a rodent's brain; and the Blue Brain project aims to have completed their task in just seven years ! That's assuming everything goes to plan, then there's the challenge of learning what all this data means: learning how the brain works.
So once you have a brain in a supercomputer it can either be interfaced to a robot that can roam around the world like a person would, or it could be placed in the skull of a real human body, or it could just stay inside the computer and experience a simulated world [virtual reality]. On that latter point, some people already argue that we may already live inside a computer simulation [e.g. see Professor Nick Bostrom at Oxford University].
* The theory has a lot of scientific validity to it, and if every neuron and connection was exactly duplicated then it should duplicate the mind. Well, there is one area of doubt that we don't know the answer to yet: does the brain make use of quantum mechanics? This is the bizarre world on the molecular scale where strange things happen that defy common sense. It has already been shown that plants make use of quantum mechanics in photosynthesis, and other lifeforms may also make use of it, so this might apply to the brain too. If that were to be the case then a traditional supercomputer would not represent an exact copy of a brain and its mind. (But we have just started the development of quantum computers, which perhaps could make it possible, perhaps...)
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