Mary Midgley on living forever among the boys playing computer-games in the solitudes of space

"It has for some time been proposed that Homo sapiens should colonize space, and should, for convenience in this project, transform himself mechanically into non-organic forms. This project is now held to look increasingly feasible, on the grounds that computer software is the same whatever kind of hardware it runs on, and that minds are only a kind of computer software. Thus, as the eminent Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson puts it:

'It is impossible to set any limit to the variety of forms that life may assume. . . . It is conceivable that in another 1010 years life could evolve away from flesh and blood and become embodied in an interstellar black cloud . . . or in a sentient computer . . .'

"Our successors can thus not only avoid ordinary death, but also survive (if you care to call it surviving) the heat-death of the universe, and sit about in electronic form exchanging opinions in an otherwise empty cosmos. This, Dyson thinks, would restore the meaning to life, which has otherwise been drained from it by the thought that final destruction is unavoidable.

"Could fear and hatred of the flesh go further? Behind this life Bernal's prophecy, which we have noted earlier, a prophecy to which Dyson acknowledges his debt, that,

'As the scene of life would be more the cold emptiness of space than the warm, dense atmosphere of the planets, the advantage of containing no organic material at all . . . would be increasingly felt. . . . Bodies at this time would be left far behind . . .'

"Reason, in fact, can at last divorce the unsatisfactory wife he has been complaining of since the eighteenth century, and can live comfortably forever among the boys playing computer-games in the solitudes of space. Is that not touching?"

—Mary Midgley, The Myths We Live By (Routledge, 2004, 2011) 142-143


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