Eternal Life: Kenneth Hayworth Verses Jesus

Want to live forever? It may be that, rather than following Jesus, you should be following the work of the neuroscientist Kenneth Hayworth. Before the end of his career, he aspires to figure out how, exactly, to preserve his own connectome (the brain’s unique wiring pattern) in such a way that it can be downloaded to a computer and transferred to a robot a few centuries from now. Maybe he’ll take others with him.  Be nice to this guy. Do what he says. The following is in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Here’s how Hayworth envisions his own brain-preservation procedure. Before becoming “very sick or very old,” he’ll opt for an “early ‘retirement’ to the future,” he writes. There will be a send-off party with friends and family, followed by a trip to the hospital. “I’m not going in for some back-alley situation. We need to get the science right to convince the medical community. It’s a very clear dividing line: I will not advocate any technique until we have good proof that it works.”

After Hayworth is placed under anesthesia, a cocktail of toxic chemicals will be perfused through his still-functioning vascular system, fixing every protein and lipid in his brain into place, preventing decay, and killing him instantly. Then he will be injected with heavy-metal staining solutions to make his cell membranes visible under a microscope. All of the water will then be drained from his brain and spinal cord, replaced by pure plastic resin. Every neuron and synapse in his central nervous system will be protected down to the nanometer level, Hayworth says, “the most perfectly preserved fossil imaginable.”

His plastic-embedded brain will eventually be cut into strips, perhaps using a machine like the one he invented, and then imaged in an electron microscope. His physical brain will be destroyed, but in its place will be a precise map of his connectome. In 100 years or so, he says, scientists will be able to determine the function of each neuron and synapse and build a computer simulation of his mind. And because the plastination process will have preserved his spinal nerves, he’s hopeful that his computer-generated mind can be connected to a robot body.

In other words, Hayworth plans to be transferred to a new body not like his current body; that is, to a more resilient body–something akin to a resurrected body. Sound familiar?

Who do you think has the better method for attaining a resurrected life: Hayworth or Jesus? And if you say Jesus, why do science at all? Is Hayworth’s scientific quest a form of distrust in the power of God–and therefore sacrilegious?

Maybe Hayworth and Jesus both have it wrong, misplacing the proper focus of daily attention. William Blake thought eternity is now. If so, perhaps we should try and make the most of what we have. But this also is a fool’s game–an elusive quest. Trying to live fully in the present seems to be yet another way to invite frustration. If you manage, for example, a full day of present and peak attention, what then of the next day? Is it spent longing for a return of the peak moments that you experienced the day before?

Because God (if he exists) is not talking, the whole universe seems to mock us–theist and atheist alike, rendering all our attempts at meaning and permanent satisfaction absurd and pathetic.

What is to be done?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Eternal Life: Kenneth Hayworth Verses Jesus

  1. Paradigm says:

    I wonder what happens if someone makes copies of his simulated self. Is he existing in all of them? And if they alter the program just a little bit – is it still him? In a few hundred years he will probably not be morally acceptable since everything changes. So the authorities may decide to update him – maybe with a belief in God ; )

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      You raise an interesting question: how much of you is still you? I think there’s latitude here, thinking in gestalt terms. We all forget vast swaths of our past, then sometimes recall vividly bits and pieces, but so long as we have some recollection of our past, we are pretty good at making a story that connects them with our present, so we say, “I’m still me. I have a memory of a past that I once experienced.”

      As to alterations in the present, that’s happening naturally as well. Every surprise we have today will be a new experience tacked onto an old narrative, changing it in ways that may be subtle or profound. Each revelation is a trauma. When Oedipus discovered that he slept with his mother and killed his father, he was a different person, but also the same person.

      As to copies, imagine the copies having a conversation. It would be a bit like identical twins asking each other to recall specific events from childhood, but each would recall them not from the vantage of different bodies, but from the same body. They might even help one another recall themselves more fully. Over time, their experiences would diverge in ways large and small and ultimately they might think of themselves as different persons from one another, as conjoined twins that had been separated in adulthood.

      The copies might, on taking leave of one another to pursue independent lives, have a feeling akin to parents whose children leave home for the first time. The house is empty. Who am I now?


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