How trying to solve death makes life, here and now, worse

Maybe we should stop worrying about what happens after we die, and make the best of what we have on earth right now.

MICHAEL SHERMER: Yeah. Ray Kurzweil, I met Ray several times. He's a super good guy; I like him a lot. And I'm glad he's out there doing it in this sense. I'm not skeptical in a cynical way like I hope that those singularity people are wrong, no I hope they're right. I hope he does it. I hope he lives forever because that means I may have a shot at it, whatever that would even mean living forever. And so when people like Ray say to me, "Shermer, don't you want to live 500 years, 1000 years?" Listen, I'm 63 just get me to like 80 without my brain going crazy and I'm losing my mind and Alzheimer's and senility and get me to 100 without cancer and get me to 120 without being bedridden, just one step at a time, one problem at a time.

That's how progress really happens, incrementally slowly, not this grand let's aim for Utopia. I mean aim for it fine, but just take it one step at a time. Cancer there's like 50 different cancers that kill people, just tackle them one by one. Heart disease, Alzheimer's, senility, just solve those problems because we know that the human body is so complex that if you live to 150 or 200 there maybe other things that happen we don't even know yet. I mean most people 500 years ago had no idea about Alzheimer's other than a handful of people that seemed to have lost their memories, but now we realize because so many of us live that long.

So that's the problem with that is too utopian in their thinking. Just incremental steps. And then second, my skeptical alarms always go off when the chief proponent of an idea that's going to be the next big thing always says it's in our generation. Every religious leader and cult leader in history has always said it's going to happen now in our generation all the way back to Jesus who said, "There are some standing here before me now who will not see the end of time before I return." Okay, and we're still waiting. So when Ray says it's going to happen in 2040 it's within our lifetime, Ray what if it's 2140? I know you're doing all the blood cleansing but you're not going to make it another century now, so what if it's 3140 a thousand years from now? That's possible but you and I aren't going to be here to enjoy it.

Why sell it like it's got to happen in my lifetime because that always to me seems like you're just tickling that part of the brain that religions like to tap in, that sort of egocentric it's all about me and I want to continue on in the future. I get that of course I do too, but all the more reason we should be skeptical when the idea on the table being offered to us feels too good to be true. It almost always is. Not always but usually. And there's hardly anything bigger than offering immortality or the afterlife because – so here's the problem, we are all aware that death is real because we see it all around us, 100 billion people have lived in before us, they're all gone; not one of them have come back, not even Jesus in my opinion, but that's a different video.

And yet you cannot conceive of what it's like to be dead because if I asked you picture yourself dead what do you see? Most people say well I see myself there at the funeral in the coffin and my loved ones are hopefully grieving. No you wouldn't see that you wouldn't see anything because to see anything you have to be conscious. To conceive of anything you have to be a sentient being, you have to be conscious and if you're dead you don't have any of that you're just – really death is just nothing and the whole idea of the afterlife is fairly new. I mean the ancient Hebrews their idea of the afterlife was nothing, you're just nothing you're just gone that's it. There's no place to go with angels and flowers and whatever, it's just nothing. All that was added on centuries later and probably for socio-political reasons. Offer the peasants something nice so that they'll keep building our pyramids or whatever. Again, we can't conceive of what it's like to be dead and yet we see it all around us so this creates something of a paradox that we have to resolve in our minds. Most people resolve it by thinking well I'm not actually going to die I'm just not going to do it I'm going to live forever or I'm going to accept Jesus or whatever and I'm going to heaven.

Yeah but what if you're wrong? It's not a Pascal's wager where you can say I have nothing to lose and everything to gain because which religion and their version of the afterlife is the right one? Which one are you going to pick? Well the Christians we're the right ones. Yeah well there's a billion Muslims who disagree with you. They don't accept Jesus as a savior. They don't think he was even the Messiah or the son of God so now what? And they believe just as strongly as you do. So what if your God is the wrong one, your version is the wrong theory and they have the right one? You wasted your whole life investing on this idea and it turned out to be wrong. Why not jettison the whole idea entirely and appreciate the here and now because that's all we have. Whatever is in the hereafter, the here and now is what we have.

Does science tell the truth?

It is impossible for science to arrive at ultimate truths, but functional truths are good enough.

Credit: Sergey Nivens / 202871840
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  • Science does arrive at what we can call functional truth, that is, when it focuses on what something does as opposed to what something is. We know how gravity operates, but not what gravity is, a notion that has changed over time and will probably change again.
  • The conclusion is that there are not absolute final truths, only functional truths that are agreed upon by consensus. The essential difference is that scientific truths are agreed upon by factual evidence, while most other truths are based on belief.
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Credit: MICHELE LIMINA via Getty Images
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  • Tzara, a key Dada theorist, says Dada seeks "to confuse and upset, to shake and jolt" people from their comfort zones.
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A computer image of a Higgs interaction. By Lucas Taylor / CERN, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia Commons.
Technology & Innovation

It sounds like a plot from a comic book or a sci-fi film, a theory that got a boost when one of the greatest discoveries in physics in the modern era, the discovery of the “God particle,”or the Higgs boson, the missing piece in the Standard Model of particle physics. In the preface to his book Starmus, Stephen Hawking warns that the Higgs Boson field could collapse, resulting in a chain reaction that would take in the whole universe with it.  

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Photo: agsandrew / Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
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  • A different study by the University of Maryland showed that blocking the hallucinogenic effects of magic mushrooms in mice did not reduce the antidepressant effect.
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