Eternal Life part 2


by Marcus Loane


4th June 2013



You may want to read my article Eternal Life part 1 first.


Technological immortality


Many people believe they will have eternal life, usually as part of a religious framework of beliefs. Others believe an extended life span will be possible perhaps using future medical technologies. We still have much to learn about which information processing states lead to a conscious experience. Once we have solved this we may be able to create conscious beings in silicon which could be much more durable than our organic bodies.


Quantum immortality


Still others believe we may live forever as a result of the laws of physics. For example some people believe quantum immortality is a possibility due to the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics. The latter works as follows. The world (universe) is constantly splitting into different versions and at the point of death there will be worlds where you go on living as well as worlds where you die. However as you cannot experience being dead you will experience one of the worlds where you go on living. You would witness the people around you dying with normal life spans while you personally go on living and become the oldest person in your universe. This would be the fate of everyone. They all get to live forever in their own universe while everyone dies around them. That is not a very pleasant thought. The subject is highly controversial and I can see a lot of problems with it. If you do find yourself experiencing this then you will know the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics is correct.


There is an entertaining and disturbing short story here

which explores the idea of quantum immortality.


Big universe immortality


Another less controversial way of achieving longevity is due to the fact that the universe is infinite in space and also going to last a very long time (the universe will go on expanding forever but at a certain point time could be said to end as the universe has become so thinned out that it is effectively empty space and nothing happens). As there is only a finite number of ways your brain molecules can be arranged, there is only a finite number of conscious states you can be in. This means that after you die, it is certain that in the universe somewhere (since it is infinitely large) the exact arrangement of particles that is your brain at death will exist somewhere else in the universe. Now whether you think of your consciousness "jumping" to this new brain as making any sense, is up for debate.


There is an article on which turns the usual thinking on its head and claims that it is supernatural thinking to claim that there is not eternal life. I quote:


I have gone on record that I agree with David Deutsch that the MWI (many worlds interpretation) is the only legitimate interpretation of QM (quantum mechanics) - and that all empirical evidence for QM is empirical evidence of the MWI- as all other interpretations merely ignore the other outcomes after measurement with no mechanism for 'wavefunction collapse' or description of what happens with those outcomes with decoherence- and I also agree with Deutsch that quantum computers PROOVE parallel universes- and that proof will be widely accepted when a qc (quantum computer) performs a calculation with more information than is in the observed universe- 

also the notion that there is no empirical evidence for parallel universes is I feel a POV (point of view) error from physicists that has baffled computer scientists and mathematicians where these ideas have been widely accepted for decades- there are very rigorous mathematical proofs which show that causal sets must sort through states algorithmically- and that show all possible states are realized somewhere in the computation- therefore the anthropocentric concept of a conscious observer dying is logically impossible- since the observer IS a configuration of matter- it is endlessly repeated in sections of the causal structure- any dissolution of that configuration in a local sub-routine of the algorithm appears elsewhere by definition-

I firmly agree with Deutsch/ Martin Rees/ Max Tegmark/ Nick Bostrom/ Jürgen Schmidhuber/ Marvin Minsky/ and many others who have extensively shown how these are unavoidable realities of living in a world with rules/time/locality/ and causality-

I have said many times that a claim that an observer can 'die' is a claim that the observer is a magical entity made of fairy dust and beyond the laws of physics because it is unique and some godlike demon edits the universe preventing that very discrete configuration of matter from ever being built again anywhere in any universe- but evidence shows that an observer is a discrete ordered configuration of matter- and as such it is repeated throughout the multiverse of the entire casual structure of the universe by definition- quantum immortality is the rational analysis of the logical structure of causality- death is a mystical idea- yet the reverse seems to be the perception of many physicists [at least in America- the UK is rapidly accepting these ideas]  - setAI, 17th Nov 2007.


I think this does make the assumption that consciousness jumps across space. However that may not be a problem. Think about what happens if you fall asleep on a moving aircraft, boat or other vehicle. Your consciousness stops where you fall asleep, say at a London airport, and starts again where you wake up which could be just outside Paris several hours later. Your consciousness has leaped across both space and time so why should it make a difference if the distances are in hundreds of miles or billions of light years?



Forever is too long


As described earlier, your brain particles can only be arranged into a finite, though enormously large, number of configurations and only a subset of these will lead to a conscious experience. This has consequences for seekers of eternal life. It means that there is a very large but finite number of conscious states you can be in. It becomes impossible for you to live forever and not end up repeating the exact same conscious states eventually. This would also mean that you would have to start losing memories to make room for new ones so your identity would not be the same as it was in the past. The ‘you’ would no longer be ‘you’ except for the continuity linking the states over time. Imagine that you could only remember the last 1000 years out of the previous 1000 billion billion years. In what sense would you still be the same conscious entity that experienced the start of those 1000 billion billion years? You might argue that we may find a way to enlarge the brain or its replacement's capacity but that would only delay the same problem. If you want to experience eternal life without losing memories and without eternally repeating conscious moments..


you would need a brain or brain replacement that was infinite in size


to be able to generate the infinite number of unique states that you want to experience over an infinite time. Even then, we are assuming that there can be an infinite number of conscious experiences theoretically and that is far from clear. We do not have to get too hung up on talking about brains either. The same arguments hold regardless of how the conscious experiences are generated – brains, computers, interplanetary information processing networks, exotic neutron star life forms or souls (whatever they are).


Perhaps in the far future it will be somehow possible that we could indeed extend brains or conscious computers or whatever is physically capable of generating conscious experience, outward into space and allow them to enlarge indefinitely into the infinite space of the universe.




a)    if theoretically there is an infinite number of unique conscious experiences and,

b)    if time does not end (which is looking unlikely in an expanding universe)


 the expanding brain/computer/consciousness-generator may indeed be able to live forever without losing memories and without repeating what it is experiencing. It then seems unlikely that such an enormous entity would have the same identity as its tiny (by comparison) progenitor.


That is a lot of “if”s and yet it is the sort of eternal life that religious believers think is obvious and simple. They imagine living forever, retaining their identity and their memories of their earthly life and afterwards and not repeating their conscious moments over an infinite time. Some of this confusion stems from our difficulty in grasping really large numbers. We imagine we can have infinite conscious states but we are not realising that there is a massive difference between a really large number of conscious states and an infinite number of conscious states.




Extending our lives may be possible through technology but we will eventually have the heat death of the expanding universe to contend with. It will not be able to support life.


We might find that our consciousness goes on longer than we thought due to the structure of the universe or quantum effects.


Living forever may not be desirable or pleasant and would most likely result in losing memories and going into a “repeat” mode.


The downside


Personally I would like to go down the technological route but I probably have not been born late enough into our civilisation for that to be feasible. Extending life with technology allows for control and voluntarily ending it unlike some of the other nightmare scenarios. Living for a few centuries or millennia might be enough to learn many professions, learn to play many musical instruments, study many subjects, have many relationships and explore many ways of being alive. It may have downsides though. It could lead to overcrowding if we do not get off this planet. It could lead to boredom and procrastination. Why hurry to do anything when you have millennia to play with? You might not value things as much when you can start over and over again along different life tracks. However I think we would adjust psychologically to great longevity and could plan out a 50,000 year life just like many people plan out an 80+ year life (although it might require a spreadsheet). You could embark on fantastic projects which take hundreds or thousands of years to complete. Think engineering on a massive scale – elevators into space, manipulating the behaviour of planets and stars and black holes, creating custom solar systems. You could work on the problem of entropy’s relentless march and how to survive the heat death of the expanding universe.



Marcus Loane


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