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The Four Immortality Stories We Tell Ourselves
Since the moment humans became aware of their existence, they have been haunted by the knowledge that it will inevitably come to an end and the hope to change this unfortunate fate.
This month, during Brain Bar Budapest – Europe’s leading conference on the future – Stephen Cave talked about the four immortality stories we tell ourselves and how they are changing in the context of new scientific discoveries and technological advancements. Stephen Cave spent a decade studying and teaching philosophy, and was awarded his PhD in metaphysics from the University of Cambridge in 2001. He is Executive Director of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and Senior Research Associate at the University of Cambridge.
Stephen Cave / Credit: Speakerpedia
Thinking about our own mortality has significant effects on the mind. Studies show that when people are reminded that they are going to die, those who are religious become more religious, those who are patriotic, become more patriotic – whatever makes up the core of their worldview, they defend it more aggressively. They are also more likely to believe any kind of story that tells them they may live forever.
We need to tell ourselves stories that deny the reality of death so that we can manage the paralyzing fear of death. In social psychology this is called terror management theory (TMT) – where humans embrace stories, cultural values, and symbolic systems to alleviate the fear of death. Stephen Cave points out that civilization as a whole can be viewed as a collection of life-extension technologies, the motivation for its existence being again – immortality.
In the age of unprecedented technological advancements, stories about how new scientific discoveries will extend our lives abound in our cultural narrative. As new as these may seem they are nothing but upgrades of four basic narratives we’ve been telling ourselves for ages.
Immortality Story I: The Elixir Story
Almost every culture has some version of the story of the elixir of life or the fountain of youth. It is the most basic form of immortality story - avoiding death physically by staying young and healthy day after day and somehow managing to keep it up forever. To some extent, civilization has helped us do that - our ancestors had a life expectancy of 30-40 years, while ours has doubled. This longevity revolution is one of the most important ones in human history and thanks to science and technology perhaps we are on the verge of even another doubling of life expectancy.
To sober us, Cave reminds us that the ancient Egyptians believed exactly the same thing 4000 years ago, and the ancient Chinese believed it 2000 years ago – seeing their civilizations as incredibly advanced and believing beating death must be just around the corner. Cave urges us to be skeptical about these stories. Perhaps in our lifetime we will live till 120 or even 150 – an unprecedented technological marvel - but that is still far from eternity.
Physicist Geoffrey West explains why we don't live for more than 100 years:
Immortality Story II: The Resurrection Story
If we are not able to extend our lives indefinitely, there is the hope that even if we die, we could rise again and live again. We see a symbolic resurrection in nature every year with the changing of the seasons as well as a literal one in Christianity. But even if you don’t believe that an omnipotent god could resurrect you, you can believe that omnipotent scientists and doctors could do the same in the future. As of May 2017, The Alcor Life Extension Foundation, for example, has 151 “patients” in cryopreservation – whole bodies or brains preserved in liquid nitrogen, awaiting a moment in the future when they could be brought back to life.
Here, Cave reminds us of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein – the creature that rises from the dead but has no identity. The resurrection story has a deep philosophical flaw – if a person seizes to exist and is rebuilt again, it is impossible to know if we are bringing the same person to life or we are creating a copy.
By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Google books) [Public domain] / Credit: Wikimedia Commons
To save us from this philosophical flaw comes the story of the immaterial essence that lives on even after we die – the soul.
Immortality Story III: The Story of the Soul
If we embrace the idea of the soul, we can give up on the body altogether because our true essence becomes not a physical organism but an immaterial thing. Many thinkers from Plato to the Hindus have argued that the body is an obstacle to immortality and the main goal in life is to become pure spirit.
This story too is being reinvented by our technological age with the idea of mind uploading and scientific fields like Whole brain emulation (WBE). Organizations like Carboncopies hope to create accurate computational models of neural tissue at the scale of complete brains, as well as develop neuromorphic hardware to run simulations of these models.
According to Cave, as science progresses the idea of a separate immaterial soul is becoming less and less plausible, as we learn that the real "you" is dependent on your particular brain. As bits of the brains are destroyed, bits of the personality are destroyed as well. And it is not just the brain itself that makes up who you are but also the millions of chemical reactions that happen in the body to produce sensations and emotions.
Unable to save the body or the soul, we are left with the last immortality story, which says that the real you is a bundle of things, and as you die the bundle scatters but its elements can live on.
Immortality Story IV: The Legacy Story
Here Cave reminds us of the story of Achilles who was given the choice to go home and live a long and happy life or stay in Troy, fight and die but be remembered forever as the greatest hero of all times. Many people have been inspired by the pursuit of immortality through fame and cultural legacy. Nowadays, technology gives everyone the means to instant fame, enables us to build our own statues through tweets and instagrams, and allows us to capture and preserve every moment of our lives.
But many consider this route to immortality far too indirect. Cave quotes Woody Allen who famously said:
“I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen, I want to live on in my apartment.”
Having run out of stories to keep us alive forever, in the end of his talk, Cave urges us to embrace a fifth narrative. He explains that the fear of death is based on a misconception, and while it is natural, it is not rational. He reminds us of the words of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein:
“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.”
The fifth narrative is to look at life as if it was a book. Just like a book is bounded by its covers, our life is bounded by birth and death. However, even though a book is limited by a beginning and end, the characters in it know no horizons.
“You can only know what happens inside the covers – these are the moments of your life. It makes no sense for you to fear what is outside of these covers – before your birth or after your death. In fact, if you think how unlikely it is that the book of your life should have ever come to be written – all of the coincidences from the beginning of life that brought you here - the proper attitude is not fear that it might come to an end but gratitude that it should have been written at all. So there is no room to complain how short life is - the only thing that matters is that you try to make it a good story.”
Bill Nye's has similar thoughts on immortality:
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?
- Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
- The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
- Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
How masturbation affects your brain...<p>Orgasms are a very common human phenomenon. The physical and mental health benefits have been researched frequently as a result, and yet, there is still so much to be learned about how our bodies and brains react to the chemicals and hormones released during and after experiencing this type of sexual release.</p><p>"The amount of speculation versus actual data on both the function and value of orgasm is remarkable" explains Julia Heiman, director of the <a href="https://kinseyinstitute.org/" target="_blank">Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction</a>.</p><p>Masturbation causes a rush of <a href="https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine" target="_blank">dopamine</a>, which is a chemical that is associated with our ability to feel pleasure. Along with the rush of dopamine that is released during an orgasm, there is also a release of a hormone called <a href="https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html" target="_blank">oxytocin</a>, which is commonly referred to as the "love hormone."<br></p><p>This concoction of chemicals does more than just boost our mood, it also can play a key role in decreasing stress and promoting relaxation. Oxytocin decreases <a href="https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol" target="_blank">cortisol</a>, which is a stress hormone that is usually present (in high volumes) during times of anxiety, fear, panic, or distress. </p><p>According to BDSM and fetish researcher <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/dr-gloria-brame-colbert-ga/278388" target="_blank">Dr. Gloria Brame</a>, an orgasm is the biggest non-drug induced blast of dopamine that we can experience. </p><p>By boosting the oxytocin and dopamine levels and subsequently decreasing our cortisol levels, the brain is placed in a more relaxed, euphoric, and calm state. </p>
Masturbation boosts your immune system and raises your white blood cell count.<p>How do those effects on the brain from reaching orgasm translate to boosting our immune system and making our body healthier?</p><p>The increase of oxytocin and dopamine that causes a decrease in cortisol levels can help boost our immune system because cortisol (well-known for being a stress-inducing hormone) actually helps maintain your immune system if released in small doses. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.health24.com/Sex/Great-sex/incredible-health-benefits-to-masturbating-20181030-2" target="_blank">Dr. Jennifer Landa</a>, a hormone-therapy specialist, masturbation can produce the right kind of environment for a strengthened immune system to thrive. </p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15316239" target="_blank">A study</a> conducted by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen (in Germany) showed similar results. A group of 11 volunteers were asked to participate in a study that would look at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on the white blood cell count and immune system.</p><p>During this experiment, the white blood cell count of each participant was analyzed through measures that were taken 5 minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching a self-induced orgasm. </p><p>The results confirmed that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the number of white blood cells, particularly the natural killer cells that help fight off infections. </p><p>The findings confirm that our immune system is positively affected by sexual arousal and self-induced orgasm and promote even more research into the positive impacts of sexual arousal and orgasm. </p>
Masturbation can ease and prevent pain, which allows you to achieve the restful sleep that helps your immune system stay strong and healthy.<p>The benefits of masturbation have long been debated, but the more research that is done on the topic the more we understand that there are many positive reactions that happen in our bodies and brains when we orgasm.</p><p>Orgasms can help prevent or mitigate pain, which boosts the immune system, preventing cold and flu symptoms. </p><p>According to neurologist and headache specialist Stefan Evers, about one in three patients experience relief from migraine attacks by experiencing sexual activity or orgasm. Evers and his team <a href="https://www.livescience.com/27642-sex-relieves-migraine-pain.html" target="_blank">conducted an experiment</a> with 800 migraine patients and 200 patients who suffered from cluster-headaches to see how their experiences with sexual activity impacted their pain levels. </p><p>The study showed that 60% of migraine sufferers experienced pain relief after participating in sexual activity that resulted in orgasm. Of the cluster-headache sufferers, about 50% said their headaches actually worsened after sexual arousal and orgasm. </p><p>Evers suggested in his findings that the people who did not experience pain relief from migraines of headaches during their sexual activity did not release as large amounts of endorphins as those who did experience pain relief. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.sharecare.com/health/chronic-pain/chronic-pain-affect-immune-system" target="_blank">rheumatologist Dr. Harris McIlwain</a>, people who suffer from chronic pain have immune systems that are simply not functioning at full capacity - therefore, alleviating pain (through orgasm, as an example) can help boost the immune system. </p><p>Orgasms can also promote relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep. Serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are all hormones that are released during sexual arousal and orgasm, and all three are known for counteracting stress hormones and promoting relaxation, which makes it much easier for you to fall asleep.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1233384" target="_blank">several studies</a> showing that serotonin and norepinephrine help our body cycle through REM and deep non-REM sleeping cycles. During these sleep cycles, the immune system releases proteins called <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity" target="_blank"><span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span>cytokines<span id="selection-marker-2" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span></a>, which target infection and inflammation. This is a critical part of our immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released throughout our bodies while we sleep, which proves the importance of a good sleep schedule to a healthy immune system.</p>
Masturbation promotes a high-functioning immune system; a healthy immune system prevents cold and flu.<p>The immune system is a balanced network of cells and organs that work together to defend you against infections and diseases by stopped threats like bacteria and viruses from entering your system. While there are many things we need to do to keep our immune systems functioning at optimal levels, masturbation (or other means of achieving orgasm) has proven to have positive effects on the immune system as a whole.</p><p>Just as bad habits (such as an inconsistent sleep schedule or harmful chemicals in your body) can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system. </p>
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.