By Joyce Anastasia
Faced with the challenges and opportunities that we experience in today’s world, it is understandable that we, as an evolving species, would be curious about the notion of living forever.
As friends and families, husbands and wives, Mothers and Fathers watch their loved ones go off to war, why wouldn’t they hope for immortality…Or, anyone else, for that matter?
In the past half-century, the concept of immortality shifted from Marvel comic strips and far-out Sci-Fi to technological advances which seem implausible, but are true. Immortality is the proverbial “carrot-on-a-stick” and the more evolved we become, the closer that carrot becomes a reality.
Do we want to live forever?
For centuries, numerous philosophers, scientists, religious leaders, artists, writers and people from all walks of life have asked that very question.
“How serious are we about this? And how would YOU feel if death was actually an option?”
In a series of thought-provoking interviews and articles from the quarterly publication “What is Enlightenment?”, Andrew Cohen, along with his notable guests and staff, took on the challenge of exploring the gargantuan topic of immortality. From the inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil’s “Radical Life Extension”, to the biologist Connie Barlow’s “Passion for the Perishable”, Managing Editor Craig Hamilton boldly presented these divergent approaches. As if those intriguing viewpoints (and other sci-fi off-shoots) were not enough, the Romanian poet, NPR Commentator and Social Critic, Andrei Codrescu contributed his poetic approach by questioning the ethical and socio-political ramifications of immortality.
The icing on the cake?…Evolutionary thinker and Guru Andrew Cohen and Pandit scholar Ken Wilbur created a dialogue which exponentially expands the definition of immortality and our relationship to it.
What WOULD it be like to live forever? Does the fact that you know you will die, motivate you to live? Have you grappled with the ethical and scientific concerns of immortality?
During an interview for “What is Enlightenment?” magazine, Ray Kurzweil (award-winning inventor and author of Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever) stated that within two to three decades “with the full fruition of biotech and nanotech, we really will have the means to indefinitely forestall disease, aging and death.” His embrace of the biological and nano-technological revolutions led him to his own “bridge-on longevity program”; he pointed out that at forty, his biological aging test (which measures forty or fifty different indicators) placed him at about thirty-eight years old. At fifty-six, his biological age was measured as forty, indicating that he had ONLY aged a couple of years in sixteen!
Do you remember the movie Cocoon (an entertaining, yet serious examination of the consequences of reversing the aging process)? Mr. Kurzweil, where are you hiding your pod?
Although Kurzweil indicated his awareness of technology as a “double-edged sword”…empowering “both our creative and destructive sides,” he seemed to embrace immortality. “I think in order to make this viable; we need not only radical life extension, but radical life expansion. We need to expand our intelligence and our capacity for experience as well, which is exactly what these technologies will enable us to do. Then an expanded lifespan would become, not only tolerable, but a remarkable frontier where we can pursue the real purpose of life, which is the creation and the appreciation of knowledge…And I mean knowledge in the broader sense, including music and art and literature and science and technology and relationships.”
But…what about the ethical considerations?
As poet, novelist and NPR commentator, Andrei Codrescu stated, “There is no scientific experiment that does not raise ethical questions in every aspect of its unfolding; from the premise it aims to prove or disprove, from the context in which it was conducted, from the results, and from the subsequent interest that translates those results into practice.” Codrescu believes that these ethical and philosophic concerns “fell by the wayside in the rush to improve control over nature.” He articulated the example of a literary utopian fantasy turned into horror. You remember Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the story of a Doctor who, through the use of electricity (the newly discovered invention which could “bring back the dead”) created a human, “a job reserved for God”?!
Codrescu was alluding to the “dark side of research” which is pervasive in literature as well as “the Funny Papers”. How can we forget the action hero whose powers were a result of an accidental mutation? The comic strip scientist, with the ultimate motivation to heal the body by regenerating cells, inadvertently ended up with a super-human creature unable to control his emotional impulses (particularly anger). The scientific notation, as the experiment unfolded, was “Regeneration is immortality.”
How does our modern scientific research measure up? Do you think that we are doing the right thing, technologically and ethically?
Like Andrei Codrescu, the “Evolutionary Evangelist” Connie Barlow is adamantly opposed to immortality, but her view (unlike Codrescu’s) embraces death. According to Craig Hamilton (Managing Editor of “What is Enlightenment?”), “Death, as Barlow tells it, is not something to be feared, or even merely accepted, but is a healthy and life-giving part of the cosmic process that deserves our wholehearted embrace.” With her fundamental belief that death is natural and generative, Barlow expressed concern that ‘life extension’ might actually exacerbate issues of overpopulation and class schism. More fundamentally, “our tendency to think there’s something wrong with death, limits our understanding and zest for life.”
What would it be like to embrace your own death?
Better yet, what would it be like to experience a new vision of eternal life, one you don’t have to wait for, one that asks us to evolve consciousness in a timeless state, now?
This is part of the extraordinary dialogue that emerged when the spiritual teacher and philosopher, Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber addressed the topic of Immortality. Upon reflection, the concept of eternal life may evoke a wide variety of emotions and reactions; whether it is fear, excitement or distain for “breaking some fundamental law of nature.” According to Cohen and Wilber, though, it may be an opportunity to create a whole new perspective on the subject. If immortality is viewed solely from the physical perspective, some people may embrace the fact that they will live eternally to accomplish all the things they “never had time to finish.” On the other hand, there may be a great deal of fear generated because of the unforeseen implications. For example, Ken Wilber asked, “What level of consciousness are you talking about? ...Why would you want Hitler to live 10,000 years? Why do you want Saddam Hussein to live 10,000 years? What exactly are you talking about when you say that this is necessarily a good thing?” Cohen replied, “To handle this extraordinary capacity, we would have to be evolved at the level of spirit.”
How would you define “being evolved at the level of spirit”? In the context of immortality, what does this look like for you?
Evolution ‘at the level of spirit’, may include concepts like the ‘Authentic Self’, the ‘realm of the non-dual spirit”, the ‘tension between the time-bound mortal and the timeless immortal self’ and the ‘commitment to manifest spirit-in-action’. During their extensive dialogue, Wilber and Cohen elaborated on the need for our moral, ethical, philosophic and spiritual developments to “catch-up” with our technological progress. As individuals awaken to the immortal nature of consciousness or that “creative impulse to become” (Cohen’s ‘Authentic Self’), they begin to experience the power and exuberance of moments without time. Wilber called this “the realm of the non-dual spirit” or “the ‘I AMness’ that you are, is radically without time.” This is the “awareness of eternity” that Cohen believes has “no beginning and no end…instant enlightenment…unconditional freedom.” Juxtapose this ‘freedom’ with the tension of our time-bond mortal selves and you have the fabric which binds our Universe together, according to Cohen. Then take this ‘enlightened immortality’ one step further, as Wilber described, “It’s God realization as the positive, absolute commitment to an exuberant embrace of the manifest realm, and the promise to carry it forward forever, as endlessly unfolding dimensions of your own deepest Divinity and Spirit-in-action.”
Cohen believes that the very direction of this evolutionary process literally depends on our willingness to take responsibility for it. Will you?
This article is intended as a summary and was directly inspired by:
“What is Enlightenment?” magazine, Issue 30, September-November 2005.
The authors included in this article:
Andrew Cohen—Editor-in-Chief (Dialogue with Ken Wilber)
Craig Hamilton—Managing Director (Interviewed Ray Kurzweil and Connie Barlow)
Andrei Codrescu—Independent Contributor
Special thanks to Chris Carey for her extraordinary idea & vision.