Of all mankind’s ostensible insoluble problems, one has remain the most vexing, interesting and important, the problem of death itself.
The denial of death is one of humanity’s deepest motivations.
In the decades to come we may see, one universe, one humankind, one religion, that unites us all but in the end we all share the same destiny – that just as surely as we are alive, so we die.
Death reminds us of our human vulnerability in spite of all our technological advances.
It is an integral part of our lives that gives meaning to human existence.
All that you are, and all that you’ve done and been is culminated in your death.
But now it is turning into a technical problem?
In recent years, medical technology has advanced rapidly. It has been suggested that methods such as nanotechnology, cell rejuvenation, and gene therapy might result in a significant increase in the human lifespan.
In theory, with the help of medical technology, it could be possible to keep living for hundreds or thousands of years, even eternally.
The whole brain definition of death is an unwieldy, historical compromise which will unravel as 21st century technologies permit the repair, replacement and manipulation of body, and especially brain, tissue.
We would basically be left with suicide, illnesses, accidents, famine, and homicides. Another words the like hood of dying from some disease or virus will be highly unlikely.
Even if it seems a distant goal the quest of immortality is very much on the cards.
The (current) essence of being human is to be mortal, immortals would necessarily be a different type of being and therefore have a different identity.
To control human destiny, with the dream of conquering death would raise profound questions.
You are not obliged to entertain all thought experiments, no matter how implausible, but if technology will make our current ethical views inadequate within some finite, foreseeable period of time, we should adjust our thinking, and law, to a more solid footing.
Our current concepts of death don’t very well address the status of a person who might eventually be brought back to life.
When and if these remediative technologies come available, there will be tremendous material interests at stake. These technologies will develop just as the industrialized world shifts to increasing proportion of elderly.
Nanotechnology is developing a bionic immune system, and by the year 2050 we could reach a mortal state.
Research is also being conducted on the creation of computer chip matrices into which nerves can grow, and which could permit two-way communication between neurons and computers.
Such computer-brain interfaces raise the possibility that computer technology may also be developed to remediate neural capacities.
Already advances are being made in electronic prosthetics for sight and hearing, from cochlear implants to optic nerve interfaces.
Computer engineers are also developing biological computing and storage media3, and software that learns, suggesting a future convergence between organic computing, neural network software and neural-computer interfaces.
Personhood in a cybernetic medium is a common, but minority, position in the field of artificial intelligence and cognitive science.
Most cognitive scientists accept the materialist assertion that mind is an emergent phenomenon from complex matter, and that cybernetics may one day provide the same requisite level of complexity as a brain.
Of course, those who embrace the possibility of self-aware machine minds do not necessarily want to see them be developed, or grant them “human rights” once they do develop.
Another technology that may eventually challenge our death concepts is cryonic suspension, the freezing of heads, or whole bodies, for eventual reanimation.
Barring the end of civilization as we know it, technology will eventually develop the capacity to remediate severe brain injuries, and perhaps even translate human thought into alternative media.
So you are can begin to see that we will be forced to acknowledge that the destruction of the “integrative” functions of the body is an inadequate definition of death, since the social person will remain intact.
When we get to the point where neurological functions can be controlled, designed and turned on and off, the illusory sense of continuous self-identity will become more obvious.
Once we cast off this fundamental predicate of Enlightenment ethics, the existence of an autonomous individual, we are beyond the ethical frameworks of contemporary bioethics.
It might be necessary that old people had a duty to die.
We soon have to answer the question: Is there can only be one death.
There are ethical worldviews that do not have the autonomous individual at their core, from the Democracy to Communism.
By the time we have developed adequate frameworks based on our cherished liberal democratic values it will be too late.
After more than a century of looking for it, brain researchers have long since concluded that there is no conceivable place for such a self to be located in the physical brain, and that it simply doesn’t exist. Luckily if we wished to cure death, there is absolutely no scientific evidence that we might be able to do that even in the distant future.
But don’t be fooled. Have a look,
The only modern ideology that still awards death a central role is nationalism. “The Glorious Dead.”
Warfare has been the crucial defining element for Britain and its empire in the 20th century. There have been only two years since 1945 that a serving member of the armed forces has not been killed.
The Cenotaph (literally “empty tomb” in Greek) May they rest in Peace.