Lay Me Lowby Bill Tuomala
Some people think they gonna die someday
I got news, ya never got to go
- Ted Nugent
A while back, I read an intriguing article in the paper about transhumanists. The following is lifted from numerous online sources:
"Transhumanists see our era of rapid technological advance as the transitional phase between our human past and post-human future. Cochlear implants, artificial joints, genetic engineering, mood-altering and memory-enhancing drugs--all are preludes to an era when people will routinely enhance their brains, improve their bodies and perhaps live forever."
Those last three words grabbed me: Why would anyone want to live forever? Me, I'm hoping I get up there in years -- I'd be great as a cranky old man if I'm not one already -- but I just think at some point you gotta go already. Perhaps I feel this way because I spend what may be greater-than-normal time daydreaming about my funeral. I need to pass on before some of my friends and family do -- someone needs to be there to describe my self-deprecating/self-loathing wit, my bad puns, my forced humor. Someone needs to bear witness to my uncanny ability to avoid people, conflict, and parties.
Then again, maybe a glossy version of me will win out. I could be remembered as smarter, nicer, more talented, and funnier than I truly am. Hell, maybe I'll even be recalled as good looking. There could be candlelight vigil marathon readings of selections from Exiled on Main Street. And I'm hoping I get a newspaper headline (or at least a zine headline, I'd even settle for a blog post headline) like that of the late Marlon Brando: "Rebel and enigma, he lived the part."
And how will death come? Leukemia used to be a fear of mine, I imagined being diagnosed with it. (Though oddly, never any other form of cancer.) That fear has gone away -- the final blow to the anxiety came when I took my new cat to the vet and he asked if I let her outside. No, I said, she stays in my apartment at all times. Good, he said, she won't need to get a leukemia vaccination. Since I had already been on a months-long skid where I rarely left my apartment except for work, the coffee shop, or the bar, it dawned on me that the chances of me falling to disease were scant.
Nope, it won't be illness that gets me. I know, I just know an automobile will be involved. I also am certain it won't be my fault. Either I'm crushed in my Chevy by a huge SUV not paying attention as he talks on his cell phone, or it's some fratboy who plows into my car while weaving his way home from Champp's after eight or nine low-carb beers. Maybe I'm not even in a car. Sometimes I'm crossing 31st at Lyndale and someone is in too much of a hurry to make a right on the red that they run right into and over me. Or I'm on my Schwinn crossing Lyndale (yes, Lyndale haunts me) and I hear the screech of wheels and see myself hitting a windshield and then ...
Sorry to get so gruesome. Death does not scare me, it's the dying part. I just hope the dying is brief and relatively painless. Then all of you can start the bittersweet party. Just wish I could pull a Tom Sawyer and witness it.
The transhumanists article also mentioned the possibilities of extending memory with computer implants and uploading consciousness into an artificial intelligence; i.e. replacing your brain and mind with a computer.
But what would be so great about having a computer for a brain? I spend enough time sparring with my writing mind's nagging internal editor as it is. Instead, I would have some microchip telling me that my ramblings are inane and the only reason folks read them is to be nice to me? Nah, I need a human brain that is susceptible to ego-stroking and little white lie compliments. Not to mention that it is my human brain that allows me to pull off free association pyrotechnics -- such as a couple of weeks ago when I dropped a Fischer vs. Spassky reference into a conversation I was having about college hockey. Not even a Mac G5 could pull that one off.
I doubt computers can experience the twin pleasures of life. Coffee -- the ultimate pick-me-up for my writing discipline; and beer -- the ultimate reward. I've inadvertently dumped coffee on my iMac's keyboard and it did not like it. I assume the same would go for beer. Nope, a computer brain doesn't seem like very much fun.
Transhumanists equate living forever with being able to experience more, to find out more, to eventually have the means to save the human race. I don't see anything so noble if I were to be eternal. I see an eternal life as being like Bill Murray's existence in Groundhog Day. I see year after year of me struggling to explain what my writing is "about." I see an eternity of being rejected by women out of my league. I imagine hearing everyone still bugging me to travel Europe. I hear myself saying over and over: "Oh yeah, one of these years. I have an eternity, you know." It is said that the late Ted Williams was the all-time best 1) hitter in baseball, 2) fighter pilot, and 3) fly fisherman. I simply want to be remembered as the all-time best 1) one-man zine writer, and 2) bookkeeper. I don't need an eternity to get those down.
Would anything truly change society-wise in a transhumanists' future? Wouldn't rich assholes just become cyber-powered rich assholes who live forever? The rich would have forever to make sure the fix is in and stays in. They say death and taxes are inevitable, but thinking about the transhumanists makes me see a future where the rich live forever and pay no taxes; while the less fortunate of us live on and on to do all the grunt work for our eternal overlords.
The big question that arises when I contemplate the arguments of the transhumanists is this: What about the deadline? What about living each day as if it were your last? Greatly extending our lives could be the equivalent of when artists went from the typically 45-minutes-long vinyl album to world of the compact disc format, which allowed 70 minutes of music. What happened then? Each album had thirty minutes of good stuff and forty minutes of crap. You only have a small window in which to say your piece. And that's the way it should be: When it's time to go, it's time to go.
One last thought. If it were to be the year 2525 and everything's perfect and everybody's happy ... what and who am I going to make fun of?