Do you really want to live forever?: The Science of Immortality

The immortality of the soul has been on the philosophical agenda arguably since day one. On the scientific agenda, however, it registers fairly low down. Until now, that is. In his new book, The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death, political philosopher John Gray explores the history of scientific attempts to prove the existence of, and to even achieve, immortality. A history, it seems, that is more rich and contemporary than one might at first expect of the traditionally pragmatic and non-metaphysical subject.

In a lengthy article for the Guardian, Gray gives a summary of some of the more eyebrow raising events which go to make up this particular part of the history of science. The first is the reaction of post-Darwinian scientists, who for one reason or another felt compelled to respond to the anti-spiritualist worldview that Darwin’s work entailed. They did so by meticulously examining thousands of automatic-writing scripts – a popular phenomena in 19th century clairvoyance whereby the medium channels a spirit in such a way that a message from beyond can be written out – in search for evidence that might suggest their authenticity, such as information about the purportedly channeled spirit that would otherwise be unknown to the medium, or the occurrence of “cross-overs”, where separate mediums appear to be channelling the same thing independently of each other. Continue reading “Do you really want to live forever?: The Science of Immortality”

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Genes, memes, and…

First there were genes. Then there were memes. But is there a third kind of replicator? In this week’s New Scientist meme theorist Susan Blackmore boldly proposes, “[w]e’re close. We’re right on the cusp.”

A replicator is an entity that makes hi-fidelity copies of itself. Genes do this and it is due to the different extents to which genes enable their hosts to survive that we get biological evolution. The origin and continued existence of life and intelligence was famously explained by this process one hundred and fifty years ago. Meme theorists propose that the same process underlies cultural evolution, where (on some accounts) the replicator of that process is the so-called ‘meme.’

In her article Blackmore warns us that “electronically processed binary information” is coming to exhibit the same characteristics as genes and memes, and so is coming to be a new kind of replicator. As a selection process this may not be so unlikely: a form of selection on the servers that sustain the internet…why not? But Blackmore goes much further: “The temptation is to think that since we designed search engines and other technologies for our own use they must remain subservient to us. But if a new replicator is involved we must think again.”

For Blackmore’s article follow this link.

Related articles:
£1.99 - small The levels of selection debate: philosophical issues
By Samir Okasha, University of Bristol
(Vol. 1, February 2006)
Philosophy Compass

Evolutionary Psych: Too young to be this sexy?

Wasserläufer_bei_der_Paarung_cropEvolutionary psychology is all the rage nowadays. Researchers from around the globe are looking at the interplay between a species’ behavior and its environment, past and present, in an attempt to crack the mysteries of how we came to be as we now are. The appeal is obvious. Darwin seems to have provided a successful explanation of our biological traits. Why not think our psychological traits are to be explained similarly? After all, psychology just is an expression of biology. If reflection on our hunched-back ancestors and their habitat can explain how we came to walk upright, why can’t such reflection also explain our anger over spousal infidelity, why can’t it explain our own infidelity, our altruistic and egoistic behaviors, etc? Continue reading “Evolutionary Psych: Too young to be this sexy?”