As the human life span increases with the advents in medical sciences, the question of Immortality arises inadvertently. But how close the science actually is to keep us alive forever?
Pop culture thrives on romanticising the possibility of immortality. Just look at all of your favourite songs as a Gen Z ‘member’— Forever Young by One direction and Bob Dylan, Who Wants To Live Forever by Queen, Immortal Flame by Katy Perry, I Don’t Wanna Live Forever by Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik, Immortal by Kid Cudi, and, my favourite one of them all, My Immortal by Evanescence. And these are just a few of the many songs that got inspired by the notion of ‘living forever’.
But the concept of immortality isn’t only limited to pop culture and classical epics like Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. It has influenced the scientific community to great extents as well in asking — can we one day live forever and, if so, can we all be forever young?
If you’re an avid gamer, apart from having many online friends, you definitely must’ve heard of, or even played, CyberPunk 2077. Despite being quite laggy and terrible with graphics, the game plays with a concept that adds fuel to the ongoing fire of immortality uploading our minds digitally.
While the game may exemplify digitally copying your thoughts and controlling your memories, can human conscience live forever in a digital interface?
Unexplored Realms of Human Brain
Brain’s structure is intricately made from complex biochemistry and internal neural connections, to put it plainly. The theory that everything about our subconscious cognisance can be found within our brains is known as physicalism. Sounds like a term from sci-fi or an Avengers film, right? Perhaps, we can bring Tony Stark back through a digital interface.
Despite being so close and vital to all of us, the brain is still a mystery to many researchers and neuro-scientists. Many of the standard processes associated with our brain still puzzle many scientists. Dreams, gut instincts, neural reactions and the super-enigmatic subconscious mind – all these, for a large part, remain an unsolved puzzle so far. However, researchers are optimistic that one day our mind will be completely understood on a core level.
Scientists' Plan For Digital Immortality
Firstly, we need to understand what ‘mind uploading’ on a digital interface exactly means. Mind uploading is a theoretical concept in which one can make a digital copy of their mind and then transfer it to a computer. This will enable the person to simulate their consciousness, thus allowing them to live forever.
Once our brains and minds are understood well enough, and researchers finally devise all the technology required to prepare a digital copy of the mind, the computer software will be invented to host the mind and observe it in a digital interface. Like the CPU is the computer’s mind/brain and RAM is its access memory, we probably will have the physical manifestations in computers to support our brains’ digital lives.
Computers are very similar to our minds in their functioning. This also means that our minds are computable. Every aspect of our mind can be mapped and simulated, including our consciousness. Although the coding required for our reasoning could make a vast library, it is a real possibility in the near future.
Human Mind- A Complicated Ground for Scientists to Explore
Our brains have approximately 100 billion neurons! Neurons, also called neurones or nerve cells, are the primary brain and nervous system units, the cells responsible for obtaining sensory input from the external world. These neurons communicate with each other with billions of connections, sending signals to each other. At least 5 to 50 signals are being sent each second, and about one quadrillion of events take place at every second of your life when you are awake!
This is how powerful our brains are, and even more of our brain yet remains to be explored. Can you imagine this immense powerhouse sitting in a bone and jelly chamber (aka our skull)? However, it’s not only neurons which power our brains, but myriads of immune cells and other cells sustain our brains too.
Delve Into the Brain
Our brains are divided into different sections on a broader range, each responsible for particular functions like speech, reading, involuntary movements, skillset, critical thinking, etc. The most developed portion of our brain so far is the neocortex, or the outermost segment of our brain. This region is responsible for controlling our memories, planning, thinking, imagination, and dreams.
However, where the true ‘you’ — which is every human’s conscience, unique to every mind — resides in your brain is still unknown. Once the mystery around this ‘you’ is unfolded, it will be a game-changer and possibly a digital immortality breakthrough.
Only deep scans can help us observe our minds and their connections from a deep, cellular level. Sadly, our scanning technologies, like fMRI machines, is nowhere near good even to produce such a scan! But all hope is not lost.
A slice of the mind literally can do the trick. Researchers believe that slicing the brain into tiny slices and scanning those slices with the help of a high-resolution electron microscope can produce a highly accurate map of most of the cells and connections, working tirelessly in our brain. It looks like we had a brave group of researchers even to prove it!
In 2019, a team of researchers from the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, successfully mapped a cubic millimetre of a mouse’s brain. The size of a massive grain of sand is equal to a cubic millimetre! In that tiny space, researchers observed 100,000 neurons, One billion synapses and at least 4 kilometres of nerve fibres! All in that slight surface!
To understand this even further, researchers minced up this tiny cubic millimetre into another 25,000 pieces. With five electron microscopes, which ran continuously for five months, scientists collected more than 100 million images of the slices. It took another three full months to put together all the photos and form a 3D model of the pieces.
Results of the Experiment
The 3D scan revealed that the completed data derived from these pieces was sufficient to fill up to 2 million gigabytes (GB) cloud storage. That’s a lot of information to process, literally! Imagine a cubic millimetre of a human’s brain?
Researchers reckon that if they were to map out the human brain simultaneously, it would become impossible to store all of the data collected. Why? Because the amount of information in our brains far exceeds all of the data stored everywhere on earth.
Maybe if researchers can somehow find all of the brain’s data and collect it, we could potentially see how much of a brain’s data can circle how many times around the earth or how much of it will reach Jupiter, maybe even go beyond the Solar System!
Can We Upload Our Minds and Live Forever?
Are our brains and minds so complicated, that we still need to boost our technology to solve it? Or will our brains go beyond what we think we can do to understand and remain a forever mystery locked within our skulls? Who knows our consciousness extends beyond our minds, and other organs could be involved in it too?
However, what is certain is that we have reached an impressive point to start exploring the deeper realms of the brain. However, the day digital immortality will be possible is still very unpredictable. Maybe we will achieve it several years into the future, maybe when we are chilling on Mars or perhaps we never will solve this mystery.
But what is right is that we all already have aspects of us that are digitally immortal. Thanks to the internet and social media, one can now be alive forever, with your images, videos, quotes and voice notes stored in a digital format. But beware what you put on social media though, since a lot of it can harshly backfire and harm you.
Until then, those who have played Cyberpunk 2077, what was the ending you got? Or are you still trying to figure your way out of those laggy bugs and bad graphics? Whatever the case, you can be assured that you have achieved a digital immortality level somewhere.