The End of Death?
Conscious Life in Global Cyberspace
By Michael Purdy
Governors State University
In death we are all the same: food for the worms. Zorba the Greek, Nicholas Katzanzakis.
Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. - William Shakespeare, "Macbeth"
Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life. Brooke Shields, (during an interview to become spokeswoman for a federal anti-smoking campaign)
In The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser, in talking about the magical structure of consciousness, states: "All directing implies a consciousness process" (EPO 49). And so to die is to become not consciousness, to lose the power to direct, ultimately to lose control over our own destiny. Being only human, and realizing that death is often more real than an afterlife that we cannot experience while alive, we actively fight any loss of control-we fight the passage to death. In that directedness, the glimmerings of which began with magical consciousness, and that came to full awareness with the mental-rational consciousness, we exert control at every turn to put off the limitations of death and hold it in abeyance.
Perhaps putting consciousness on a chip is the last hurrah of the mental (rational) consciousness, the ultimate extension of instrumental rationality-the ultimate attempt to direct and be in control of life.
Do not go gentle into that good night. ... Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas
Consider the uproar over the shooting of high school students by other high school students in Littleton, CO, as well as other scenes of violence and death in the last couple of years. Despite that fact that these are rare events, and generally getting rarer (statistically, though no less stark for their horror) there was and is a compulsive desire to eliminate every threat to life, at any cost. We want a death-free life, we want to eliminate all risk of death-we want only life with no scary interruptions. Some schools have gone as far as to remove all student lockers from school; some have put in transparent lockers; some require that all students wear transparent book bags, and some have eliminated all book bags and backpacks so nothing foreign or hurtful can be brought into the school. Is there anything we could ever do to insure that death will not catch us? If there is we are probably already trying to do it-we want only life without death-total control.
Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it. William Somerset Maugham
Generally, we are compulsive about putting off death-death the disease of old age (Victoria Sharpe in Wade 1999). Who could imagine that any of us wouldn't want to extend his or her life. That any one of us wouldn't want to avoid death seems absurd to most people. Only a saint or a fool thinks otherwise, and even saints are sorrowful about the actual event of death for they have lived and know the enlightenment of living.
Jean Gebser expresses that the emergence of the integral structure of consciousness in modern times means new possibilities to master:
In his (Gebser's) view, if mankind does not master the new reality, it will master him; with the consequence of human self-debasement if not self-annihilation. According to Gebser, mankind is an event of universal time. He is concerned lest mankind become responsible for unwittingly foreshortening this event into an inane episode. (Mickunas, Transformation of the Occident, Chapter 6).
The possibility of putting consciousness on a chip-the end of death-is part of the new reality to which Gebser alludes. Not that Gebser envisioned such a possibility as putting consciousness on a chip (he died in 1973), but that he envisioned many things emerging out of our new awareness that posed serious challenges to humankind. It is of course ironic that what we humans are proposing is a way to surpass our experiential limits and our own self-annihilation.
Perhaps we can gain some insight about our own age, on the cusp of the integral consciousness, from Socrates' life, a life on the cusp of the modern mental (rational) era. In Transformation of the Occident, Mickunas discussed Socrates as an example of the shift from the communal we of mythic global expressiveness to the singularity of the rational individual.
Individuality is only created, or better, provoked when its essential autonomy is cultivated. When he was sentenced to imbibe the hemlock, Socrates suffered the irrevocable objectification that can be imposed upon one in the dialectic. But at the same time, Socrates' willingness, indeed, according to the Phaedo, his opining that he was duty-bound to drink it, and his composure over his apparently untimely passing established beyond question the incredible irrepressibility of that individual singularity to which he was so fervently dedicated. With Socrates, death itself becomes powerless before the individuate d subject. (p. 238)
Maybe that is the end, the "goal," of the mental, to affirm the singularity of the individual permanently-to lock the individual into the conceptualization of the mental-rational "I." Or perhaps, putting consciousness on a chip will be a major indicator of a shift in the structure of consciousness, and the shift to the emerging integral will mean a very different identity for the individual.
My position here is not to affirm the end of death, but to openly explore the question-not that we could now come to some final answer, anyway! To quote a postmodern guru, Woody Allen:
It's not that I'm afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens. Woody Allen
I begin with the scientists who are working and thinking about artificial intelligence (AI), for part of the modern impetus to immortality begins with the desire to create life from inanimate material. Take, for example, the scientist Douglas Robertson, a member of the Colorado Center for Chaos and Complexity at the University of Colorado. In an article in the journal Complexity (1999) he argues against any possibility of AI and grounds his arguments in the fact that computers are systems:
The basic problem concerning the relation between AIT (Algorithmic Information Theory) and free will can be stated succinctly: since the theorems of mathematics cannot contain more information than is contained in the axioms used to derive those theorems, it follows that no formal operation in mathematics (and equivalently, no operation performed by a computer) can create new information. (26)
Robertson is stating that no computer, because it is a system, could have free will, be creative, or we might conclude, be conscious. Humans, intelligent life forms, on the other hand, are beyond systems because they create and have free will. So it would seem the challenge to AI is to overcome the limits of computer systems, to create a system that is more than a system.
At the outer limits of scientific thought, perhaps beyond the rational systematic algorithm, reside thinkers who find no limits in the limitations of systems or mathematics. In contrast to hard science, in science fiction, there are a number of schemes for not only creating AI, but for moving consciousness into virtual territory and hence ending death.
William Gibson in his science fiction novels (e.g. Neuromancer) dares to think that human consciousness can "jack into" and soar through virtual space-that we can create virtual 3D worlds to re-present our intrusion into cyberspace. (Of course that trend is also reflected in current movies like The Matrix.) While Gibson and other early cyberpunk authors are content to build virtual spaces that we can visit, later cyberpunk writers want human consciousness to move into virtual space, permanently.
I think my first awareness of this concept of the end of death came in Frederik Pohl's Heechee Saga. In that work of science fiction, Pohl first proposes artificial intelligences that are assistants to humans-probably the most likely role for AI in the near future. There is Einstein who helps with problem solving, Freud who is the ever-present shrink, a stockbroker, etc. Late in the three volume work, however, not content to have AI support life and technology extend it, Pohl has the main characters merge with the computer networks they have created and take up residence there-we suppose for eternity. At this point in science fiction's conceptualization of virtual consciousness in cyberspace there is no explanation as to how this feat of magic is performed. How do the human masters of technology join their AI assistants in cyberspace? At this point we are talking about magic-it is magic to be a pattern on a chip or on a network-practically everywhere simultaneously and nowhere in specific.
Least we think this is merely fantasy, consider that there are other science fiction writers whose work is not only fantastical, but more importantly, scientifically speculative. These writers are science and mathematics professors, some of whom have written formal papers on the subject of pushing back the limits of death, first through AI, but then extended to include the transposing of human consciousness onto a chip.
Vernor Vinge, of the Department of Mathematical Sciences as San Diego State University, has written a paper: The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era. In the paper he describes a shift from human intelligence to a greater AI:
What is The Singularity?
The acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature of this century. I argue in this paper that we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence. There are several means by which science may achieve this breakthrough (and this is another reason for having confidence that the event will occur)
There may be developed computers that are awake" and superhumanly intelligent. (To date, there has been much controversy as to whether we can create human equivalence in a machine. But if the answer is "yes, we can", then there is little doubt that beings more intelligent can be constructed shortly thereafter.)
Large computer networks (and their associated users) may 'wake as a superhumanly intelligent entity'.
Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
Biological science may provide means to improve natural human intellect. (p. 1)
There is another che doesn't recognize here, moving human consciousness onto the hardware. However, the singularity Vinge describes is a step on the way to moving consciousness onto a chip. It imagines superhuman AI on computers, and it suggests we may accelerate our own development of intellect, but does not yet dare to think that our consciousness can be conveyed to a chip. But Vinge's thinking opens the way for others.
It takes the wild mind of a Rudy Rucker, described as a "mad scientist," to make the stretch in thinking that suggests concrete ways to put consciousness on a chip. Rucker has written three science fiction novels that develop the idea of consciousness as software, Software, 1987, Wetware, 1988, and Freeware, 1997. In his first book he suggests that putting a consciousness "into" software-taping-is a three part process:
Why, GAX [intelligent robot]? Why do you cut people up and tape [record] their brains?
We value information, Sta-Hi [human]. Nothing is so densely packed with logically deep information as a human brain. This is the primary reason. MEX [der uber robot] compares our activities to those American industrialists called . . . culture-vultures who ransacked the museums of the Old World for works of art. And there are higher, more spiritual reasons. The merging of all.
"Why can't you just use EEG's? [electrical wave patterns in the brain]" Sta-Hi asked... "Why do you have to chew up our brains?"
"So much of your information storage is chemical or mechanical rather than electrical," GAX explained. "A careful electron-microscopic mapping of the memory RNA strands is necessary. And by cutting the brain into thin slices we can learn which neurons connect to which. But this has gone on long enough, Sta-Hi. Drop the trigger-cell and we will tape you. Join us. You can be our third Earth-based robot-bodied agent. You'll see that . . .
"You're not getting me," Sta-Hi interrupted. He was standing now and his voice had risen. "Soul-snatchers! Puppet-masters! I'd rather die clean, you goddamn...(p. 94)
Further on in the book, Dr. Anderson who gave the robots of earth their freedom, is himself "taped" and inserted into a body-a body genetically grown-probably grown from his own cells. After the process is completed and Anderson is alive and conscious in his new body he reads a letter left by his robot masters:
Dear Dr. Anderson!
Welcome to your new hardware! Use it in good repair as a token of gratitude from the entire bopper race!
1) Your body's skeleton, muscles, processors, etc. are synthetic and self-repairing. Be sure, however, to recharge the power-cells twice a year. Plug is located in left heel.
2) Your brain-functions are partially contained in a remote super-cooled processor. Avoid electromagnetic shielding or noise-sources, as this may degrade the body-brain link. Travel should be undertaken only after consultation.
Every effort has been made to transfer your software without distortion. In addition we have built in a library of useful subroutines. Access under password BEBOPALULA.
The Big Boppers (Rucker, p. 112)
Eternal nothingness is O.K. if you're dressed for it. Woody Allen
I think there is a progression in the science fiction author's fantasy of immortality. First it was natural for human consciousness to "jump" from the body into a hardware AI system and take up residence there. There would of course be problems created by such a move-the consciousness on the chip would essentially be a spirit with no way to be in this physical existence, no way to have abilities in the sense that Merleau-Ponty talks of the body's "I can." Next, thinkers worked on ways to expand AI and maybe "jack into" the machi nes, and live there virtually, at least for short periods of time. But Gibson, for example, finds too much of mystery in the experience of the body, and his characters spend most of their time in "noir" worlds enjoying what the body has to offer. There is a paper on the subject of existential being and virtual communication, with a title something like: Why Cyborgs Don't Fuck on the Internet. Without a body life is rather limited.
Rucker being a scientist gets serious about discussing the problems of moving consciousness into an artificial intelligence. He realizes the need for an incredible amount of information to move a person to a chip: achieved through a scan of electrical pathways, a map of neuronal connections, and a full description of the mix of chemical elements in the brain. Still, how can a person have any kind of a physical existence, how can a person be without a body? Rucker's road to immortality is through a destructive scan-the body is literally processed to extract the information needed to put a person into software. And the software is inserted into a genetically grown "meat" body. One advantage of living as a meat robot with software "taped" in to the brain, is that you can backup your "memory" periodically in case your life is terminated. If your life is terminated you can have your personhood tape loaded into a new body. The time in-between bodies is an ecstatic experience called "heaven."
Ray Kurzweil has written the latest chapter about taking control of human destiny. In his book The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence Kurzweil is really arguing mostly for the "fact" that by sometime in the next century human beings will no longer be the most intelligent or capable entities on the planet. Kurzweil's assumption is that by sometime after 2020 the progression of computer chip density and the number of connections possible on a chip will vastly exceed the human neural net (thought to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 billion neurons, each capable of 1,000 connections, equals 100 trillion connections). His essential argument involves highly parallel computers "waking up" and becoming conscious-similar to Vinge's singularity. But Kurzweil also considers the development of the ability to replace parts of the human body, and ultimately scan the entire brain and neural system of the human being (more than the brain, he acknowledges the general importance of the body) to replace it with electronic circuits (p. 53). Kurzweil acknowledges that this can be done through either non-destructive or destructive scans (also suggested by Rucker). He footnotes the fact that we already scan the brain with MRIs, etc. to determine the neuronal connections; reverse engineering the connections is the next step. He suggests that it may not be as daunting a task as it seems:
Within a region, the brain's circuitry is highly repetitive, so only a small portion of a region needs to be fully scanned (124).
Later he compares it to the human genome project, which started slowly and is now moving faster each month as new technologies make it easier (p. 153). (We need be cautious, however with Kurzweil's notion of repetitiveness in neural circuitry; we had a similar view of genetic material and now find that some of what we thought was "junk" DNA is important coding.)
Kurzweil, of course, raises one critical question: Is the person on the computer chip the person who was scanned? As we begin to replace parts of humans with artificial parts do we continue to maintain the same essential person? And if we did a destructive scan how would we know what was in the computer was conscious or had the same consciousness as the person scanned? Kurzweil also slyly inserts little caveats that cover up for some of the difficulties of these consciousness projects, like: "Yes, there's a glitch in this regard [how consciousness crosses the body-machine divide]. But I'm sure we'll figure out how to solve this problem with a little more consideration." (p. 131)
Business Week magazine in a recent issue (08/30/99) discusses 21 ideas that may be key to understanding the next century. One idea is the simulation of an individual's brain activity, making it possible for future generations to converse with a virtual equivalent of the person years after his or her death. By the 2030s, technology may be developed to simulate a nervous system's electrical activity, allowing thoughts and feelings to be preserved (Educause, internet list, Aug. 23, 99).[i]
In another Business Week (06/21/99) article we read that the interface between silicon and brain cells is being developed:
A new breed of thinking computer? A team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a handful of other groups are working to develop hybrid biocomputers that marry living nerve cells with silicon circuits to create smarter computers. If they succeed, they could set the foundation for brain-like computer systems that could find solutions on their own, with no need for step-by-step programming instructions (Educause, internet list, 6/21/99).[ii]
The drama of developing extra-human consciousness is being played out and life takes on new meaning; as Gebser would say, there is a revision of the texture of experience. Life becomes extended indefinitely in time, linear time that is. Rather than intelligent computers taking over the world humans merge with silicon. Fiber optic cable and wireless transmission become the neuronal links of our body, and humans take awareness into a whole new dimension-we become spirit, a transformed pattern of energy. With machines and appliances becoming connected with our body by wireless communication we extend out bodies into the world of physical action. This is the first step in putting consciousness on a chip, the next is the genetically grown body that Rucker imagines.
Once we are living, "breathing," thinking circuits on a chip, roaming the network, we can live forever. However, don't let anyone near the plug. Once the power is off we better have a complete backup or what once was will no longer be.
Without death and decay, how would life go on? John Burroughs
What is death, and what is being extended/"preserved"? For clues we can talk about how death has been experienced, the texture of its experience with different structures of consciousness. We can also explore how consciousness is expressed by the "conceptualization" of the end of death.
For magical peoples, at death the "individual" doesn't go anywhere, there is no "where" to go to, as magical consciousness is spaceless and timeless. Ancestors are right here, amongst us. Mayan peoples planted their ancestors right under the floor-generation after generation piling up under foot. Many Asians know their ancestors are nearby and leave offerings of food and money at family altars. This all follows from the unity of the magical. This is also one of the themes of the end of death-in cyber life there is a seeming unity of all consciousness. Everyone who is on a chip and connected to the network is presumably connected and merged with everyone else.
For mythic peoples, actually for all of us, because death is often expressed mythically, death is a story that each culture tells to give a place in life to what happens when life is no more-the reining characteristics of the structure of death are imagination and the polarity of life and death. Where do we go? We go to a physical place, to another dimension or world, to a "spiritual" place accompanied by angels? What do we become-a transformation to a different sort of matter-energy? So it is a story of a journey from here to there, a transformation of character and personality. Does the plot of the story include the interference, interdiction or judgment by a "superior" being? Who tells the story? Who is the narrator? What is the setting? Who are the characters? All of this assumes the space-time frame of myth-the mouth that gives communal life to the stories of great doings-the play of imagination.
In the mythic world life and death support each other:
In terms of the mythic consciousness structure, life is death and death is life neither in some derived metaphorical nor in some empirically decidable sense. Instead, this equation is inscribed across heaven and earth; it is manifest in the unrelenting periodicity of nature and in the lingering disquietude of the human soul. It is almost as if to say, death invokes life as the ground possibility of their shared meanings. To anthropomorphize here, and from the mythic stance, this is permissible; death understands itself only in life and life only in death. Only together do they fulfill their office: only together is each complete separately. However illogical all of this may appear, Aristophanes, for one, grasped at least the principle clearly:
"Out of one two, and only when there are two is there one." 11150 (Mickunas, p. 190)
If we talk of the end of death, the story is that of the transformation to silicon existence-to energy patterns-but then we are already energy patterns. Do we still go someplace? Cyberspace is really a storyline; we actually go no-"where" in physical reality. Does that obviate the role of a superior being? In the cyberspace of life on a chip we become our own superior being. In fact, we now become the character in the story and the story creator, the world creator, and we live in that story and that world.
So far the end of death is being played out, explored and interrogated, partly through the virtuality of print media, which first and foremost requires imagination for completion. However, if the cyber imagination in modern and then postmodern science fiction is laid open we find it is also being presentiated and lived through the power of the visual media which gives concrete form to the imagination (Tron, Star Trek, The Matrix). Here we again tell a story of the voyages of the human whether in space or cyberspace.
In Katha Upanishad, the Hindu mystic path is set out as the Self and Brahman, and the two must become one-be realized as one; but it must be realized through yoga, discipline, through freedom from impurities.
By learning, a man cannot know him [the God of Death] if he desists not from evil, if he control not his senses, if he quiet not his mind, and practice not meditation. To him [Brahman] Brahmins and Kshatriyas are but food, and death itself is a condiment. (In Upanishads, 1957)
With the mutation to the mental, death is feared because humans have a spatialized sense of time. Death is diametrically opposed to life-life and death are not mythic polarities as in the Katha Upanishad (although in yoga there may be mental structures in the discipline required), but rational dichotomies. Rational spatialized time is primarily a measurement, making us very aware of the extent and limit of life, the inevitability of death. Life is measured and calculated in years, in actuarial tables, and partitioned into stages. Vast amounts of energy and creativity go into holding back the call of death through medical research and technological practice. The media are full of studies about how to live longer. We aim to conquer death, for death is the final frontier. However, it seems that the Star Trek project is just a ruse to keep us entertained until we die disappointed that we didn't explore another world in a distant galaxy.
I think there is a very strong directed sense in the story of the end of death-it is a story with a hard edge that loudly proclaims: this is about taking control of life and mastering all of its limits.
However, if we take up the hard edge of the mental-rational consciousness we discover that life in cyberspace is really a deceptive myth. The reality of cyberspace living is very unglamorous. Cyberspace exists on a computer, or a network of computers, and each program-here a scanned life-must have its own space in nonvolatile memory-i.e., physical space on a hard disk mapped out in hexidecimal code so it can be easily located by sector. Each program is carefully identified so no other program can commingle with it-although programs may share data within set protocols that are prescribed very carefully by the all-knowing network administrator. When the program is on, when it is running, it also is allocated its own unique space, otherwise the system would crash-two programs cannot occupy the same space at the same time-very rational. When the system is off the program is just a series of magnetic bits in a storage medium. Travel is limited to places where your computer is connected to another through wired or wireless channels, and strong security limits programs from just roaming around at their own will-such a program is a rogue, a virus, and such deviations are carefully controlled for. Nor does travel mean you freely flow through the channels of the world's noosphere, you-you're digital being-must be broken into packets of information, each labeled for identity and destination and meticulously tracked. Finally, there is no feeling or emotion in a computer circuit, because that would require a body-something science fiction concluded was necessary early on in its speculation. And if we do create bodies for our cyberconsciousness what advantage do they have over the bodies we have now? Perhaps there prime advantage might be that we could constantly recreate them-that is a long way off. And indeed there are unique features of the body that would likely be difficult or impossible to replicate in circuitry as elaborated in The Virtual Embodied, a series of essays on the advantages of the lived body.
The latest research on consciousness also supports this view. In a review of The Feeling of what Happens, by Antonio Damasio, it was said:
From these studies, Damasio, who is chairman of the University of Iowa's neurology department, concludes that consciousness is a layered edifice . . . It is based on an inchoate feeling of self that arises from the brain's detailed "diagram" of the body [under the cortex]. Damasio says this diagram, which is continuously revised by the senses, can be thought of as the "protoself"; it props up the rest of the structure.
All kinds of creatures, even ones as lowly as snails, have protoselves, Damasio says, but they aren't really conscious. Consciousness, he explains, requires a nervous system sufficiently evolved and complex that the organism can hold in mind the image of a protoself's moving through and interacting with the world.
It's this core consciousness, as Damasio calls it, that registers "the feeling of what happens" . . . But there is another form of consciousness that embellishes one's image of self with a wealth of autobiographical detail. Damasio calls this extended consciousness, and it requires such a vast capacity for memory that it is probably special only to humans and great apes . . .
Even so, Damasio doesn't regard any one region of the brain-or the brain as a whole-as the seat of consciousness. Instead he sees the brain as an interconnected system with cognition (language, memory, reason and emotion) and sensory processes (vision, hearing, touch and taste) centered in different areas. Consciousness, he says, is similarly dispersed (Nash, 82).
Damasio then conceptualizes consciousness as a whole body feeling of awareness that we exist and that we have feelings that are proof of that existence.
The precursors of artificial intelligence consisted of early attempts to preserve the knowledge and experience of valuable workplace experts in knowledge databases. In Rucker's novels it was robots that first began scanning human beings to preserve their experience and knowledge for future use, robots being limited in their ability to create knowledge and hence needing human experience and knowledge. There is no advance in AI/Cyberconsciousness with out the intervention of human consciousness. But make no mistake, the future of science fiction is descending on us very rapidly. No doubt, as expressed above in the Business Week articles, science is moving ahead, full speed with research on AI and the interaction of DNA with silicon. We don't know what the limits of artificial and transplanted consciousness are, perhaps they are unknowable now, but given time, there are many amazing possibilities. More important are the questions: What does it all mean? What are the implications of an extra-bodily consciousness? Is this mental direction more than it appears, or seems to imply?
Mickunas has said:
Thus, the mental-rational awareness intimates more than it can contain without being in a position to encompass the more. The more, we contend, is the cosmos. The tracing of the latter through the mental-rational awareness requires a careful exposition of the fundamentals of such awareness (Cosmos and Atemporality, 6).
So while I think the story, the myth, is powerful, and the instrumental rationality is predominant and also imaginatively potent, still there is more here than meets the ear, the eye or the mind. If the opening of the mental with Socrates is about the singularity of the individual, it is also about the power of the individual to know and question-a questioning that gets extended in the rational, deficient phase of the mental. As Mickunas has said:
This new domain of questionability uncovered through the emergence of three-dimensional, continuous space opens up to the docta ignorantia a vast horizon of applications that dwarfs the Socratean problematic (Transformation of the Occident, 278).
Indeed there are major problematics here, issues that require the openness of the integral. The integral being "a call to live an awareness that is present . . . (Mickunas, Cosmos and Atemporality 13). What could the move to end death tell us about the integral, cosmic consciousness?
First, we concede that with the advent of the integral the dichotomy of life-death has to be "deconstructed." It is not enough to give it tension as in mythic polarity, each of the many aspects of life-death must become transparent to the other. As Mickunas has said:
At this level there is no subject-object, no spirit-body division. The phenomena cease to be material without becoming mental; they are, according to Gebser, meaning that is the consciousness of integrating transparency. Simply stated, transparency is not an ability to be a Lynx who can see through things, but the emergence of the signitive awareness. The latter permits the poly-critical differentiae or continuous differential of integrating and opening (Mickunas Cosmos, p.11).
Thus integral sense of life and death is an awareness that both life and death are given together in such a way that each gives meaning to the other through their differentiation. Death is seen, felt, heard, touched through life. Life and death are mutually integrating and at the same time they provide openness each to the other. Death integrates and opens life. Life integrates and opens death. More than this however, life and death are part of a polycentric field. We cannot stop with any sort of duality, or even polarity. One way to configure the field is to consider that death becomes one force, one trace in the field of life. Death is not the opposite of life but part of the field of life. Similarly, other dualities must succumb to the integral awareness.
What the end of death, life in cyberspace, points to are the ultimate fruits of technological rationality: a life without end, i.e., an infinite lifetime warranty on this product called human life-life without illness or problem. In cyberspace all is plastic and manipulatable-at a whim. The ability to be all-knowing, to be smarter and faster than the limits of the human body are all here; and as a bonus, it all comes at small expense. Chips require very little energy and the usage gets smaller every year.
These are dreams-desires of an abstracted, rational consciousness. These visions of the rational instrumental consciousness are still far from a four dimensional, space-free and time-free existence, and are quite at odds with Gebser's sense of the integral. There is no concretion or integration in life in cyberspace, the dimensionality is limited, and space and time are predefined by the system of operation-the imagination would support these visions of cyberspace, but cosmic (integral) consciousness calls upon us to live an awareness that is present. There is no wholeness, no spirit in putting consciousness on a chip.
We can say, however, that the cyber impulse is cerebral, that the desire is for something spiritual and integrating; that there is a movement toward what is open and free in this thought for immortal existence. There are aspirations (things breathed) here for a life free of hierarchy, class, gender, and open to divinity. I think there is a desire for diaphaneity and wholeness, even if it is not realized. Maybe, future extensions of cyberspace will be more integral; right now it is not cyberspace that is integral, but a human awareness of cyberspace that is striving for the integral.
Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives. A. Sachs
I think we can say that the move to gain immortality through life in cyberspace is a failed, if imaginative, project. If possible it would solve the problem of death, but it wouldn't offer much of a life. It might offer immortality but would leave the same wonderful challenge-how to live.
Hélène Cixous has written:
In the beginning, there can be only dying, the abyss, the first laugh. After that, you don't know. It's life that decides. Its terrible power of invention, which surpasses us. Our life anticipates us. Always ahead of you by a height, a desire, the good abyss, the one that suggests to you: 'Leap and pass into infinity.' ... Live! Risk.... In the beginning, there is an end. Don't be afraid: it's your death that is dying. Then, all the beginnings" (Coming to Writing... 41).
A New Breed of Thinking Computer? Educause, email news, June 21, 99.
Cixous, Hélène. "Coming to Writing" and Other Essays. Introductory essay by Susan Rubin Suleiman. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991. Translation by Sarah Cornell, et al. La Venue ? l'écriture (1977).
Edwards, Paul. (Ed.). Immortality. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997.
21 Ideas For The 21st Century: The Mind Is Immortal, Educause, email news Aug. 23, 99.
Kurzweil, Ray. The Age of Spiritual Machines: When computers Exceed Human Intelligence. New York: Viking, 1999.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Phenomenology of Perception. C. Smith (Trans.). New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962.
Mickunas, Algis. Cosmos and Atemporality. Integrative Explorations Journal, Vol.1, No.1, 6-14, 1993.
Mickunas, Algis. Transformation of the Occident. Unpublished translation of selected essays from Jean Gebser's Transformation of the Occident, and essays on that work by Mickunas.
Nash, J. Madeleine. Mystery of Consciousness. Time, Oct. 18, 99, vol. 154, No. 16, 82-83.
Nietzsche, Fredrick. Beyond Good and Evil.
Robertson, Douglas. Algorithmic Information Theory, Free Will, and the Turing Test. In Complexity, Vol.4, No. 3, 1999.
Rucker, Rudy. Software. New York: Avon Books, 1987
_____. Wetware. New York: Avon Books, 1988.
_____. Freeware. New York: Avon Books, 1997.
Kirpal Singh, (1976). The Night is a Jungle and other discourses. Sanbornton, NH: Sant Bani Ashram (press).
The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal. Trans. By Swami Prabhavananda and Fredrick Manchester, New York: The New American Library, 1957 (1948).
Vinge, Vernor. "The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era." [www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/singularity.html], 1993. The original version was presented at the VISION-21 Symposium, sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, March 30-31, 1993.
Wade, Nicholas. Eek! The Hidden traps in fooling mother nature. The New York Times, Sept. 5, 1999, pp. 1,4.
Wood, John (Ed.). The Virtual Embodied: Presence, Practice, Technology. New York: Routledge, 1998.
 Gebser phenomenologically described five structures of consciousness (see The Ever Present Origin), the archaic, the magical, the mythic, the mental, and the currently emerging integral.
 There are Eastern mystics who offer a path to transcend the body while alive, see for example Kirpal Singh, (1976). The Night is a Jungle and other discourses..
[i] Initial versions of the hardware for this "Soul Catcher" have already been developed. A person's life could be recorded using tiny video cameras housed in eyeglass frames. These cameras could be linked to IBM's newest hard disk, which is the size of a quarter and stores 300 MB, or one month worth of data. IBM is also developing software to index video content automatically, allowing users to easily access a specific moment in their lives. By 2099, a "Soul Emancipator" will be able to access the hard data and reconstruct a person's thoughts and feelings, allowing future generations to receive realistic answers to questions posed to a person that has been dead for years. (Business Week 08/30/99)
[ii] So far, researchers have joined two neurons from leeches and linked them to a personal computer, which sent signals to each cell and correctly extracted the answer to a simple addition problem. The program that links the neurons and the PC, dubbed "wetware," is based on chaos theory, using the results to tune the neurons and alter the way they communicate. Ultimately, brain-like chips will be more creative and may mirror both the good and bad aspects of human thinking. William L. Ditto, who heads the project at the Georgia Institute of Technology, says it will be 10 years or more until biocomputers are commercially available.