For transhumanists, who conceive as a moral duty the use of technological advances to unlimitedly enhance the physical and cognitive capacities of human beings, as well as to eliminate what is “defective” in it – such as aging and, ultimately, death–, transcendence is the goal by definition. But not the transcendence in the memory of others for the good that has been done, nor the one that survives in the family album or in the book that has been written. No: the goal is to live forever. Do not die. For this, the ideal would be to transplant the mind to a technological support, to a kind of computer where the individual –more exactly his mind; let’s forget about the body, about the biological – he would be safe from illness, fatigue, death, etc., endowed with infinite knowledge and, morally, good to the last screw (something perhaps more similar to RoboCop than Terminator ). One would speak no longer of the transhuman, but of the posthuman. All of this, however, seems to take time, so the question is “get by”, either trying to slow aging, or paying so that, at the exact hour of death, they freeze us, waiting to be revived. in the future. It has already been done with worms –frozen alive–, which is why, for the most optimistic, it is only a matter of decades before “Live this day as if it were your last!” is simply a nice exhortation from ancient times.
Lengthen telomeres, extend life…
“Today the sciences anticipate that it is outrageous,” recalls the character of a zarzuela, and it must be added that, if it is to improve health, they are welcome. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, has announced that in 2023 his company Neuralink will already be able to implant a chip in human brains. It would serve, he says, to detect any health affectation very early, or to, for example, give sight to people who were born blind – “we believe that we can still restore their vision, because the visual cortex is still there,” he says. At this time, the permits for implantation are already being processed with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If the aforementioned chip achieves a radical improvement in the quality of life of the person and contributes to increasing their years of existence, then perfect: it is what man has done since he drank an analgesic potion after being punched by a mammoth . A different matter would be the effort to use technology to violate the limits of human biology.
For the transhumanist creed, there are no non assumable risks if there are technological possibilities to end the limits of the human being and enhance his capabilities. An example of this is the attempt to modify the length of the telomeres, those parts of the chromosomes that guarantee the good condition of the DNA and that are shortened over time, which causes the aging of the cells. To “live forever” this reduction would have to be avoided, and this is what an American company, Libella Gene Therapeutics, proposed in 2019, with the development of gene therapy to repair them: by adding 1,000 nucleotides (the telomeres of a young man are between 8,000 and 10,000 of these molecules), hypothetically the person’s life would be extended by a couple of decades. The treatment would consist of injecting the person concerned with one or several viruses with genetic information that would “order” their cells to manufacture telomerase, which is responsible for lengthening telomeres. At the time of the announcement that volunteers were being sought, the dose cost a million dollars, and it was necessary to go to Colombia to inoculate it, since the FDA had not given its permission for the therapy in the US.
Asked early about the Libella trial in the South American country, outside the focus of the FDA, Jerry Shay, a world expert in cancer and aging at the University of Texas Medical Center, warned that the danger of this therapy was enormous, as it could activate precancerous cells “especially in people older than 65 years”. Only, for the transhumanist creed, the risk is the least of it: if there are technological possibilities to do it, it is imperative to do it. Do it now. Michael Fossel, president of Telocyte, an Alzheimer’s research company that has invested time and resources into the issue of telomere lengthening to “reverse” aging, sums it up in this question: “Or we run fast and risk have little credibility, or do we move slowly and gain more credibility and global acceptance, but in the meantime people have died?”
Freeze to order
Another possibility to reach the futuristic instant in which the mind can be scanned and transplanted into a computer or an artificial brain and thus “live” forever and ever, is by cryopreserving, freezing once dead for, when in a few years or centuries it is technologically possible, to be revived/resurrected. The idea has followers. The argument is that, if a frozen embryo can be reanimated, nothing prevents it from being done with a person born who died years later. At its Scottsdale, Arizona facility alone, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation has more than 200 “cryopreserved” patients (one of them, the founder: Fred Chamberlain), and more than 1,400 are on the waiting list. Note, before continuing, that the company speaks of patients, with the understanding – consistent with its hypothesis that death will be technologically defeated – that one cannot properly speak of death, of a definitive goodbye.
Joining Alcor has its “advantages”. According to its website: “With low monthly payments and an insurance policy, you have everything ready. When the time comes, we will carry out your cryopreservation in our state-of-the-art facilities, where patients are kept in safe, long-lasting cryogenic capsules until they are resuscitated. Welcome to your future.” The company describes the process like this: immediately after the person dies, blood circulation and respiration are artificially maintained, the body is bathed in ice water and the blood is replaced by a substance that preserves the organs and hypothetically guarantees their future functionality. Subsequently, protective substances are inoculated against extreme cold, so that it does not break the tissues. Thus, the deceased is ready for deep cooling (at -196 °C) and is placed in a capsule that is periodically filled with liquid nitrogen. Once accommodated, “the patient will remain in long-term care until resuscitation is possible.” When? There are no dates, only optimism: “Currently, no cryonics organization can revive a cryopreserved patient, but at Alcor we are confident that it is possible. Nanotechnology and other future medical technologies are expected to have very broad capabilities.” That the interested party is European and Arizona catches him far away? Do not worry: in Germany, Switzerland and Russia there are already cryopreservation facilities, and on the continent there are four ambulances equipped with the necessary technology for the procedure. At a recent event in Madrid –Transvisión 2022–, in which lawyers, engineers, doctors, biologists, etc., discussed cryopreservation, a group of doctors was offered a demonstration of the process with a mannequin. And it went “okay”, of course. In the case of a human being, it would not be different. He just has to pay, die, be sophisticatedly frozen and wait, wait…
The inevitable senescence
In what Alcor’s patients await, the hypothesis that it is feasible to achieve immortality faces stubborn realities. One of them is the impossibility of stopping aging without, at the same time, promoting cancers that ultimately cause death. In their research Intercellular Competition and the Inevitability of Multicellular Aging, Paul Nelson and Joanna Masel, PhD, from the University of Arizona, explain the phenomenon at the cellular and multicellular level: over time, cells lose their function and stop functioning. divide, “get old.” Then comes apoptosis, programmed cell death, a mechanism by which cells “cooperate” for the good of the organism as a whole and die. Those that, however, ignore the programmed signal, “enjoy a fitness benefit over more cooperative cells.” They mutate, again gaining the ability to divide and spread uncontrollably, thus becoming cancerous. “Mechanisms such as immune function, cancer suppressor gene redundancy, and tissue structure affect the rate at which cellular cooperation is degraded,” the authors note, adding that these mechanisms “could significantly delay aging,” but that decline, if anything, is inevitable. Questioned on the subject for Singularity Hub, Nelson and Masel are specific: “Intercellular competition, or the lack thereof, can eliminate cancer or senescence, but not both. While you keep one problem under control, the other gets worse.
Given that the variant of, once thawed, living forever with the same organism does not seem rosy –the biological decline would continue its course –, the transfer of the mind to technological support, to the artificial brain, is imposed. But this would bring other problems, some of them raised by Princeton neuroscientist Dr. Michael Graziano in the Wall Street Journal: Scanned the brain and inserted into a device, who am I: the biological organism, mind and body, that moving towards its natural end, or the exact mental copy that “lives” among metal, chips and wires? Two “I’s” perhaps, each one accumulating experiences on their part? What would the relationship of the I-person with the I-machine be like: one of subordination to the other or of harmony? One could add to Graziano’s questioning –who, in the end, sees no other “solution” than this mental transplant if one wants to be able to travel very far from the planet–, how can a mind installed in a machine, without direct bodily sensations, understand hunger, the cold, the pain… Will you be able to know, without having experienced them, what compassion is and how to exercise it with those who have not made the “transit” to that “perfect” state?
It is convenient to stop. Strictly speaking, it is fantasy disguised as science, too many incontrovertible assumptions –precisely the opposite of the scientific method–, and sold with arguments such as that, if Verne predicted the submarine and it is now a reality, there are no limits that technology cannot overcome. In any case, whoever has unbeatable confidence, and time, a lot of time, and Fred Chamberlain and the Alcor patients will tell us.