"Would you want to live forever?" I asked a friend last week. He returned a blank stare of incredulity and horror as he imagined an eternal existence as his grandfather: wheelchair-bound, demented and dependent on others for every aspect of life. A blank stare of no thanks. Modern medicine has an impressive ability to extend the quantity of life, but not necessarily the quality. This is a distinction of paramount importance. What's the point of terrestrial existence without quality? And he's right. Given the current limitations of medicine and technology, it's easy to understand why people shudder at the concept of eternal life. When an elderly person becomes dependent on others--for dressing, eating, bathing, toileting--life all but ceases. To my senior citizen readers: dependency is death. Do as much as you can, for as long as you can. Independence--being able to do what you want, when you want--is the foundation for quality of life.
The episode "San Junipero" of Black Mirror--a gripping Netflix exclusive that explores the largely dystopian universe spurned by technological advancement--poses two essential questions for human beings: What makes you you? And, would you want to live forever?
San Junipero is a virtual reality utopia where you can hear the waves, feel the sand and touch your lover's hand. The simulated environment is inhabited by two types of uploaded consciousness: moribund "visitors" who are limited to five hours weekly and the deceased "residents" who spend eternity. These consciousnesses are real digital replicas of your body, memories and pattern of thinking. San Junipero is real to its inhabitants. In fact, San Junipero is better than real: a timeless playground without consequence, without deformity, without disability. A place where the deaf can hear, the blind can see and the paralyzed can dance. Equality in its purest form, San Junipero is a guarantee of quantity and quality of life. This virtual reality isn't like heaven, it is heaven, a cloud-based heaven hosted by computer servers on Earth. San Junipero is an epistemological roller coaster that will make you question what truly constitutes your being.
Now imagine, it's the year 2056 and you've received some unfortunate news: despite the best preventive medicine, a leukemia has established residence in your body. And, despite customized chemotherapy delivered by nanobots directly to the bone marrow, attempts to eradicate the leukemic plague from your corporeal existence prove futile. Your days are numbered. With certainty, cardiorespiratory collapse will soon ensue. You have an important decision to make: a final ceasefire of neuronal communication or a heavenly upload to the eternal cloud of souls?