The Sacred Cyborg

Fantasy 3: Cyborg Immortality

"You wanted to know who I am. I gave you one answer. A robot-remote. A servo-unit operated by a program stored in a bopper spaceship. But...I'm still Misty-girl too. The soul IS the software, you know. The software is what counts, the habits and the memories. The brain and the body are just meat, seeds for the organ-tanks." - Rudy Rucker, Software.

The most potent fantasy of traditional religion was its promise of eternal life. By claiming to possess the magic needed to overcome death, priests soothed our fear of inevitable physical annihilation and made bearable the loss of our loved ones. However, this false promise has long been discredited by the advance of science. This makes people yearn for a hi-tech way to avoid bodily disintegration. Like the Ancient Egyptians mummifying their dead, Marvin Minsky and others now advocate making digital simulacra of the deceased. They even believe that they will live on after death through computer or robot models of themselves. Instead of waiting for divine resurrection, their souls will be instantly reincarnated within new silicon bodies.

Ironically, this new spiritualism is inspired by the profound transformation of our everyday lives by technology. We take it for granted that we can have light at night, fly across oceans and communicate with people on the other side of the world. Above all, we expect medical science to postpone our mortality. Unlike our ancestors, we're unlikely to die in early childhood, almost certainly survive giving birth and will probably live for many decades. From glasses to pace-makers, we've invented an array of technologies to compensate for our bodily weaknesses and to prolong our physical existence. In the modern world, we're all cyborgs now. Yet, despite these technical advances, we still remain flesh 'n' blood humans. We're profane rather than sacred cyborgs. We have to accept our own mortality. As in the past, the search for the chimera of immortality distracts us from the practical problems of improving the years of life which we do have. There are no mystical solutions to the existential dilemmas of the human condition.

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