Who Wants to Live Forever?

Would I Dump my Ageing Body, but Keep my Brain?

When I heard the author Jeanette Winterson say, ‘Why would you want to be tethered to an ageing, dying animal if you don’t have to be?’ I felt like she was speaking directly to me.

During an online book club, the writer I have adored for thirty years was asking why we would choose to remain in our decaying bodies if, as mooted in her brilliant novel Frankissstein, we had an option for our brain to be downloaded and exist outside the ‘ageing dying animal’ we’re currently stuck in.

I thought it was an excellent point.

According to t’internet, human beings typically peak – in the physical sense – at around 30, but their psychological wellbeing peaks at around 82. That’s 52 years of physical deterioration whilst our brains gear up to feeling tippety top. That’s bonkers, isn’t it?

With this in mind, I’m already 20 years past my body’s peak, my frozen shoulder’s giving me gyp and the fight against the menopausal bulge is relentless, so, sign me up. Download me and pop me in a vehicle that doesn’t age. Do it now.

But…would I still be me?

Surely, who we are is inextricably linked to experiences we have had in the body we inhabit?

My current decaying mass of human meat has done Ok for me so far. It might twinge and click, but it gets me from A to B. It allows me to cuddle my children.

I’m sure a new vehicle (the term I’ve chosen for whatever carrier will be invented to help the brain perform human functions) would have sensory capabilities, otherwise it wouldn’t be a fully immersive experience. But, if I hadn’t worn this body for as long as I have, my brain would be a very different lump of matter.

I believe being a woman for 50 years has formed a significant part of my personality. It’s made me a fighter and it’s made me empathetic to the fights of others. It’s probably caused me to be more manipulative, finding ways to gain power in a society balanced against me. It’s allowed me to be a wife and mother, and I wouldn’t change either of those for eternal youth (Caveat: I reserve the right to change my mind on either of these points according to my hormonal cycle).

Despite my reservations, it might be the right time to consider becoming a disembodied brain, ‘Most of the world is transitioning into natural population decline.’ Researcher Prof Christopher Murray told the BBC. The world is ill prepared for the global crash in children being born.

Could living forever become an act of selflessness?

Previously, I’d imagine people at 140 years old sitting in bath chairs under tartan blankets and dribbling out liquidised dinners. But, if we all have new vehicles, then we could permanently be fully functioning members of society, a solution to the problem of an ageing population.

An elderly member of our family is very ill and the thought of downloading his gentle, funny, loving brain to make sure he stays with us for eternity is appealing.

But if this were universally possible, at what age would we aim to start the information transfer? Would we divide from our mortal body at 30 to avoid any decline? What about terminally sick children? Would we download their brains straight away, so they matured, but without the constraints of being corporeal?

In a world where we were all in vehicles from birth, there wouldn’t be male or female, black or white, gay or straight or any other physical differentiation, so I presume an extinction of the body would mean a death to prejudice.

Whilst that sounds perfect, a world without different races, genders and sexualities would also be one without diversity and the richness that social and cultural differences bring. That is not my idea of a better world.

Also, what happens to sex? (Don’t pretend you weren’t asking the same question).

‘Progress’ will happen, whatever our views on it. The world is changing at a blurring speed, but I’m glad the technology to download brains hasn’t been offered yet. On refection, I’m not sure I’m as keen on giving up on the ageing, dying animal as I thought I was. This imperfect collection of flesh doesn’t just house me; it has helped make me who I am.

Clearly, I’ve only skimmed the surface of this boundless issue. I hope I have at least another thirty years to consider it; I’d like the option to change my mind…

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