What would it mean for ‘me’ to ‘survive death’?

Upon setting out to explore what it would mean to survive death, I instantly found myself imagining a dystopian future where the human race has lost its youth. Sagging skin and crippled figures clutching mobility aids, riddled with sciatica and unable to hear a thing, an undying race, refusing to leave the planet. Boredom settled in many centuries ago, a world full of chequers and chess masters with nothing else to do. But alas, to my relief the human body would not survive such longevity and would die. Hurrah! So now this returns me to the question, what would it mean for ‘me’ to ‘survive death’?

I am going to explore what it means to “live on” after death here on earth. I will discuss two ways in which to survive; Legacy and Physical. To survive through Legacy is to survive through others, survival becomes what a certain Being has reflected into this world. Whereas Physical survival is through the means of technological advancements and the survival of the actual ‘self’. I will be identifying with Heideggarian concepts throughout this investigation and will explain that to survive death through Legacy is to survive authentically. One of the basis of this is that Being-with creates a foundation for Legacy to occur

In order to begin looking into what each of these “survival” techniques will mean, an identification with who the “me” is and also an outline of what “death” is needs to be established. Physical and Legacy survival are so far separated that the outline for who “me” is differs. When identifying with the Physical “me” it is looking into an actual survival of a Being with technological aid. There is a dualistic claim that consciousness can live without the biological body. Medical advancements are coming close to causing an existential crisis, ‘Sergio Canavero, an Italian neurosurgeon…claims that he’ll perform the first successful human head transplant in 2017’[1]. Imagine if this surgery goes ahead and it proves successful, it would rock the foundations of what it means to be human. There is also a rising number of transhumanists who are behind Dmitry Itskov’s claim that, by 2045 humans will attain immortality[2]. If he is correct with his prediction it would prove detrimental to the value of human life, social structures and political advancements. The moment in which the ability to start life occurs is the moment in which man is reduced to machine. If this ability ever became learnt, then humans would become no different to robots as all life will become manipulated and programed. “Me” as we know it would be no-more.

To survive death as a Legacy is to survive through others. The “me” in this case is the impact that that certain Being has had on others and the shadow that they have left of themselves. For instance, artists often become remembered as their work. Personal traits, or key characteristics are often forgotten by the majority, they become the embodiment of their work. Vincent Van Gogh has lived on through his art, he has become “The Starry Night” for instance, or Elvis Presley is “Blue Suede Shoes”. There is definitely a crossover with technology and memory, I mentioned Elvis Presley, if the technological recording material was not available such Legacy of Elvis would not occur. The rise wide accessibility of digital media has allowed for a variety of mediums to be used in order to record memories of the everyday as mvan_gogh-starry-night2uch as celebrities and public figures. Yet this level of technology is supporting Legacy and allows for longevity and a more permanent survival of memory which is quite different from technology aiding Physical survival. This is not to say that there are moral implications of survival through Legacy.

The term death is problematic, ‘[i]n the UK at present, there is no legal definition of death and there is no international consensus, although it is generally taken to mean the irreversible loss of capacity for consciousness combined with the irreversible loss of capacity to breathe.’[3] The NHS, defines death through the brain stem. ‘Brain stem death is when a person no longer has any brain stem functions, and has permanently lost the potential for consciousness and the capacity to breathe.’[4] John P. Lizza writes about the problems of defining death. He expresses concern that we have reduced the definition of death to only a biological matter and therefore removing psychological, moral and cultural elements of being human[5]. This is crucial as both Legacy and Physical are not constrained within biological matter and therefore survival is possible for both by definition.

Physical – Inauthentic Survival  

The Physical and actual survival of death looms on the technological horizon. We are excelling within the realms of medicine, ‘National life expectancy is expected to rise steadily and reach 85.7 years for men and 87.6 years for woman by 2030.’[6] This expectancy is just shy of a 10-year increase from 1990.[7] The current acceleration within medicine is huge, genetic creation of organs and body parts is now possible. 3D printing has become a saving grace for burn patients and sufferers from organ failures. But technological advancement is not slowing down, boundaries are constantly being pushed, the ethical and existential implications need to keep up with these advancements. A protein called GDF11 which has the potential to reverse aging has recently been discovered. ‘According to Wagers, if aging can be reversed, instead of the slow, steady decline into senescence we are used to, we might just live and live and keep on living, as healthy and apparently young-seemingly humans, right until some organ or other fails catastrophically.’[8] Legally the future of possible medical advancements has become accepted. Only recently a young girl who had died a cancer won a court battle that enabled her body to be cryogenically frozen[9]. This is a legal court ruling accepting the belief that future medical treatment would be so advanced that reanimation of a body will be possible. Alcor, the company who froze the young girl, explains that “[d]ying is a process, not an event”. ‘The purpose of cryonics is to intercept and stop this dying process within the window of time that it may be reversible in the future…Cryonics is a belief that no one is really dead until the information content of the brain is lost… If cryonics patients are ever successfully recovered, they will not have been dead by definition. They will have been unconscious, not dead’[10] This is directly opposed to the NHS definition of death, where the cessation of Brain stem function determines death. It also reduces life and death to a mere biological matter which is problematic as Callahan highlights;

‘The language of science is a human artefact; the word “life” is a word devised by human beings in order to refer to certain phenomena which can be observed within nature. Scientific method can classify and analyse the phenomena and draw certain “scientific” conclusions…But the conclusions it draws will be a result of the humanly devised conceptual schemes used to approach the phenomena in the first place.’[11]

Physical survival is being pushed even further with the dualistic claims of Transhumanists. Itskov, founder of initiative 2045 believes that the use of avatars will become “superior to the biological body in terms of its ability” which will push us into an era of increased avatar popularity[12]. He argues that avatars will be used instead of biological bodies to complete certain dangerous jobs such as firefighting and mining. Yet it is not too much of a jump to imagine with a “superior” avatar that biological bodies will become obsolete and of minimal. This causes concern for many humanists, Roure Dupuy argues that ‘the whole human adventure would be destroyed forever, and indeed retrospectively. I fear that a philosophy of happiness or pleasure is simply not adequate to the magnitude of the stakes involved.’[13]

The outcome of Itskov initiative 2045 would prove to be detrimental to the human race and disrupt the existential understanding of what it means to be human. If the consciousness could survive outside the biological body and the ability to deconstruct and construct humankind was achieved, it would reduce Being to a mere scientific mater, thus destroying the mysteries of life. If these advancements ever became apparent, then there will be no difference between man and machine. Not only would immortality affect biology but it would also have a drastic effect upon social structures. The potential for a domination of the wealthy and elites is a realistic situation that could occur. If the technology becomes available, the likelihood is that it would be expe17811588_dmitry_itskovrussian_nsive and unattainable for the majority. Therefore, only the wealthy and elite would experience immortality and a longevity of life. A dividing wedge would be implemented between the classes and the mortal lower classes would not be able to attain social change.

The reasons why Physical survival of death is inauthentic is because the potentiality of death is no longer achievable. The fact that life is finite means that it will end, Heidegger argues that by understanding that a Being has the potential to die allows for a life to be lead authentically. The survival of death in this Physical sense would mean that authenticity could not be achieved as the potential of death could never be seen. Death would become an abstract notion. Physical survival can be identified as being self-centred and relations with others become of less value. Stephen Batchelor expresses that;

‘The root of all inauthentic manifestations of being-with-others is the attitude of self-concern. It is in this state of mind that, either consciously or unconsciously, we reduce the central aim of all value and meaning to the accomplishment of the welfare of our self alone’[14]

So again Physical survival would lead to inauthenticity.

Legacy – Authentic Survival

Any aspect of social history is a construction of memories. Any social event that took place, took place due to human participation. Certain figures stand out in history, look at the two great wars. The individuality of leading figures such as Churchill, Stalin and Hitler will live on. Yet also the soldiers who fought will also be remembered. “These men, they shall never grow old”[15]. Every year, across the country speeches are conducted and broadcasted projecting the sorrow and remembrance for the soldiers of Britain. Every year their names are read out and poppies are left upon statues, monuments and pinned to the lapels of jackets. The symbolism is powerful. Close to 1 million British soldiers lost their lives fighting between 1914 -45. The memory and Legacy of these soldiers live on collectively, but also on a personal level. This memorial, for many people will be a chance to specifically morn loved ones and family members who served. To mark the centenary of the first world war, an extensive art installation over the tower of London was installed. A ceramic poppy was placed for every British soldier who lost their life. The momentous instillation highlights the value society holds towards Legacy.

tower-of-london-memorial

There are many layers in which Legacy survival can be established. There is personal Legacy, in which a survival of said Being’s personal traits are remembered and the reflection of their Being is remembered through others. There is a large interest in discovering distant ancestors and understanding the Legacy of family names. Archive centres often house large sections purely for family history. The BBC Programme “Who do you think you are?” sets out about identifying the genealogies of the participants. The discoveries are often emotional for the participant. The Legacy of these ancestors live on, even the tittle of this program implies that the Legacy of a family name survives within the Being (participant) and actually impacts who they are.

Legacy can also be identified as a collective. As we have seen with the soldiers who fought, events can create collective Legacy. Legacy also can be either a chosen collective or a collective born into. Nationality is Legacy born into whereas clubs or society that said Being has joined is a chosen collective. Yet both collectives will survive after the death of said Being, each individual contributes to the collection and the collection will outlive the Being thus surviving death.

Legacy can also be identified as an embodiment through physical objects as representative Legacy. A Being can survive after death through their work. Artists become their art; writers become their literature. Through technological advancement, personal Legacy is able to survive for longer. Media such as photography and video enables survival of the everyday Being to occur long after the physical death of the biological body. Legacy can be contained within media and the memory of a person can live on. The rise of the digital self has also increased the longevity of survival for Beings. Resonance of Beings survive after death due to digital presence. Through the trapping of Legacy within object, recordings and digital impressions it is easy to mistake survival of Legacy as a true representation of the Being. Especially as technology becomes more advanced representative Legacy becomes more powerful. Charlie Brooker examines these issues in his programme Black Mirror[17]. He constructs a reanimation of a Being purely out of the digital representation that he left behind. The reanimation begins with an ability to converse on a phone, to eventually embodying a lifeliblack-mirror-be-right-backke synthetic representation of the Being.  Brooker identifies the difference between representation Legacy and the actual Being. It soon becomes apparent that this form of survival is not whole and complete. The digital replication is only part of the original Being, a mere shadow if you may.

The physical death of rapper Tupac Shakur did not stop him returning to the stage at Coachella in 2012 where he was visually projected and then performed. The company in charge, states that they have the ability to recreate dead figures and reanimate them visually. They are able to replicate likeness and voice and project it digitally. [18] Tupac Shakur has not survived the physicality of death as a whole, but as Lizza expresses death is not only a biological matter. Tupac’s Legacy has lived on after his death and the projection at Coachella embodied this Legacy.

Heidegger identifies that relations between Beings are different to that of objects and therefore they need to treated as such. He explains that;

‘Concern is a character-of-Being which Being-with cannot have as its own, even though Being-with, like concern, is a Being towards entities encountered within-the-world. But those entities towards which Dasein as Being-with comports itself do not have the kind of Being which belongs to equipment ready-to-hand ; they are themselves Dasein.’ [19]

Concern for others puts Being-with different to ready-to-hand equipment. By concerning for another Being it means that that Being has become present-to-hand. The importance of this is that concern builds relationships between Beings and therefore creates the very foundation for Legacy. This is because all Legacy or memory of a Being are initially established through relationships through Being-with. This is why Legacy is an authentic survival of death.

Survival of death as a whole is not possible, the Physical survival that transhumanists put forward is the separation of body and mind, whereas the Legacy survival is the survival of a memory and is a reflection of the self through other. It is possible to trap and preserve Legacy within media yet it is still not an entire survival of the Being, yet merely a reflection and shadow of said person. Being-with during life allows for the building of Legacy and the authenticity of this type of survival. The dualistic claims that Transhumanists put forward that consciousness can live outside the body would rupture current beliefs of what it means to be human. If Physical survival was fully achieved and immortality was reached, this inauthentic survival would destroy authentic Legacy. The fact that we are on this earth for a finite amount of time means that memories are precious. The importance of life would lose value, as it will be eternal, the fragility of life is what makes it so poignant. Not only this but through the fact that each individual is mortal their impact upon society is finite and change can occur. If immortality was achievable society and political systems have the potential to become destroyed. Through Physical immortality the potentiality of death can never be experienced and therefore immortal life would not be an authentic survival. Whereas mortality allows for the potentiality of death to be experienced, therefore life could be lead authentically. Also whilst Being-with others in life, relationships can be established to create memories. Therefore, after death the Legacy of said Being would survive authentically.

 

[1] Duncan Geere, ‘Can we build a human?’, in Focus, June 2016, Issue 295, pages 34-43 (39)

[2] International Manifesto of the “2045” Strategic Social Initiative, [accessed 15/11/2016] http://2045.com/manifest/

[3] Dr Mary Harding, ‘Recognition of Death; Patient trusted medical information and support’, [accessed 21/10/2016] http://patient.info/doctor/death-recognition-and-certification

[4] Brain Stem Death; NHS [accessed 21/10/2016] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Brain-death/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[5] John P. Lizza ‘Elvis Ain’t Dead Until We Say So’, in Helinski: Helinski Collegium for Advance Studies, pages 48-60 (54)

[6] James E Bennett, Guangquan Li, Kyle Foreman, Nicky Best, Vasilisk Kontis, Clare Pearson, Peter Hambley, Majid Ezzati, The future of life expectancy and life expectancy inequalities in England and Wales: Bayesian spatiotemporal forecasting, in The Lancet, July 2015, Volume 386, No. 9989, pages 163-70 [accessed 21/10/2016] http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2815%2960296-3/fulltext

[7] ONS Digital, How has life expectancy changed over time, September 2015 [accessed 21/10/2016] http://visual.ons.gov.uk/how-has-life-expectancy-changed-over-time/

[8]Betsy Issaacson, ‘NEVER SAY DIE. (cover story)’, in Newsweek Global, March 2015, Vol. 164 Issue 10, pages 26-33 (29)

[9] Gordon Rayner, Girl, 14, who died of cancer cryogenically frozen after telling judge she wanted to be brought back to life ‘in hundreds of years’, in The Telegraph [accessed 25/10/2016]  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/18/cancer-girl-14-is-cryogenically-frozen-after-telling-judge-she-w/

[10] Cryonics Myths; Alcor life extension foundation [accessed 25/10/2016]https://www.alcor.org/cryomyths.html

[11]D, Callahan. 1988.The beginning of human life. In M. Goodman (ed.) What is a Person? Clifton, NJ: The Humana Press. 29-55. Sourced from ‘Elvis Ain’t Dead Until We Say So’

[12] Betsy Issaacson, ‘NEVER SAY DIE.’ (32)

[13] Roure Dupuy, Les nanotechnologies: éthique et prospective industrielle, Tomme 1, Conseil Général des Technologies de l’Information. Sourced Jean-Pierre Béland, ‘Risk and the Question of the Acceptability of Human Enhancement: The Humanist and Transhumanist Perspectives.’ In Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review, June 2013, Vol. 52 Issue 2, pages 377-394

[14]Stephen Batchelor, Alone with Others; an existential approach to Buddhism (New York, Grove Press: 1983) 76

[15] Public Speaker, Prestbury War memorial 13/11/2016

[16]Fig.1, ‘Ceramic Poppies Remembrance Day’ [accessed 28/11/2016]   http://globeprime.com/sites/default/files/field/image/ceramic-poppies-tower-of-london-remembrance-day-11.jpg

[17] Charlie Brooker, ‘Black Mirror, Be right back’, aired February 2013

[18] Gil Kaufman, ’Exclusive: Tupac Coachella hologram source explains how rapper resurrected’ [accessed 28/11/2016] http://www.mtv.com/news/1683173/tupac-hologram-coachella/

[19] Martin Heidegger (translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson), Being and Time (New York: Harper & Row, 1962) 157

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What would it mean for ‘me’ to ‘survive death’?

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