Immortal combat: The Rosicrucian fantasy in 2011

December 14, 2011

This much is true. We do not want to die. And some say everything we do comes down to this. We look to fame, to children, to heaven, hoping all the while to grasp just a bit of immortality. We look to religion and we look to the occult, invisible solutions built on clouds and trust. We look to more tangible solutions as well. If we had a vitamin or a machine or a method — if science said it could be so, well maybe, just maybe, the end wouldn’t have to come.Although the Rosicrucians have retreated mostly into the dusty corners of the Internet, the Rosicrucian promise of immortality still tempts contemporary scientists. Every phase of scientific discovery since the Renaissance has brought with it a new breed of Rosicrucian. […]

Our very own modern-day Rosicrucian is a man named Raymond Kurzweil. Kurzweil — who invented a reading device for the blind and a quality line of synthesizers — may forever be known as the 21st century’s preeminent transhumanist. Like the Rosicrucians, Kurzweil believes that science can, and will, allow us to conquer mortality. Kurzweil calls his elixir vitae the Singularity. In his bestseller The Singularity Is Near, Kurzweil proposes that scientific knowledge is progressing at such a rapid rate that artificial intelligence will soon rival, and eventually overtake, human intelligence. As this happens, human and computer will merge. The division between man and machine will cease to exist and civilization as we know it will be healthier, faster, smarter, and more creative than we ever thought possible.

Ostensibly a book about the future of artificial intelligence, The Singularity Is Near is about transcending the limits of human intelligence, and indeed, humanity itself. The stuff of life that creates our misery — our histories, our personalities, our bodies — will soon be overcome and eventually eliminated. All the problems of the world will end because they will all have intelligent solutions. The 21st century “will be an era in which the very nature of what it means to be human will be both enriched and challenged, as our species breaks the shackles of its genetic legacy and achieves inconceivable heights of intelligence, material progress, and longevity,” Kurzweil writes. As human capacity becomes boundless, so will our ability to think and live and love.

Every day, we look at digital technology and see how it is transforming our bodies, our minds. So why couldn’t Kurzweil’s theories be true? Why couldn’t we become part computer? Why couldn’t we be immortal? […]