David Cook: The Walking David and the end of death

David Cook: The Walking David and the end of death

November 27th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Only a few episodes into the popular zombie apocalypse series "The Walking Dead,''which is partial inspiration for this Tuesday online-only column, do we realize the title of the series does not refer to the zombies.

Instead, the walking dead are the survivors, the humans left to deal with the zombie wasteland that essentially leaves them with only two choices:

Become a zombie.

Or survive by sacrificing part of what it means to be human.

The title and show itself point to the connection between our existence and our surroundings. When life is good and the pantry is full, are we more able to act ethically? When surrounded by half-dead zombies who are hungry for our brains, do our ethical and moral standards drop?

Do we become less human in a dehumanized world?

But what if we could live forever? What if death was conquerable?

"I get to be a part of the last generation to die," proclaimed Lewis Duncan to a group of Rollins College students.

Duncan, once a rocket scientist and now president of Rollins, was quoted in the Nov. 2 issue of "The Chronicle of Higher Education" doing what he's done countless times in recent years: talking with students about the coming age when death can be avoided.

"I'm absolutely confident that this moment is going to occur in your lifetime," Duncan said.

He's not alone.

Perhaps the most vocal prophet of the coming age of immortality is Ray Kurzweil, author of "The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology."

In the years to come, technology will become enlightened enough to re-invent and improve itself; suddenly, we humans will no longer be the smartest cats in the room as the computer of the future becomes inventor, thinker and creator.

"It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed," Kurzweil writes in his 2005 book.

He claims within decades this transhuman (or Singularity, as he calls it) will surpass the human brain and body.

"The Singularity will allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains. We will gain power over our fates. Our mortality will be in our own hands. We will be able to live as long as we want,'' he writes.

Kurzweil is an inventor, author and futuristic thinker who has the respect of many. He's not crazy, and he's not the only one who sees this on the horizon.

"The human brain is a wonderful device," Duncan told his students. "But compared to a computer consciousness, we suck."

So let's play their game for a moment. Imagine if, by mid-century, we could ingest micro-computers that would medically monitor and repair all our ailments and injuries. Aging - our slow walk to the grave - suddenly is reversed, or at least halted for an extra century. The body gets a long encore.

People live to be 150. Or 250. As old as you wish. 120 is the new 40.

Imagine the implications. You live in your house for 100 years. You retire after 90 years on the job. Finally, you break par. We have to introduce Great-Great-Great-Grandparents Day. Auburn has a chance to finally regain its football program.

Would religion - with its promise of afterlife and eternity, with its balm to the sick and suffering - crumble in the face of such technology?

What would happen to our consciousness if we believed we could live 200 years?

This, to me, is the inverse of zombie fiction. Instead of being surrounded by half-dead, the Kurzweil-world creates a population of never-dead.

But would we be anymore ... alive?

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.