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Will for immortality

As described in section survival, a fundamental concept of Metasystem Transition Theory is that of immortality. We understand immortality as the limit of stability, infinite survival, duration, persistence, and lack of change or variety. It is often observed that the phrase "survival of the fittest" is a tautology. We understand it more as a definition of fitness in terms of survival, and hence of stability. Since it must be that evolution produces stability, then we can say that evolution moves towards immortality. This can be seen in genetics, in which (according to some definitions) genes are immortal. (this, however, does not mean that immortality is an evolutionary necessity)

Living creatures display a behavior resulting from having both knowledge and goals. Both knowledge and goals are organized hierarchically. Similarly, in order to achieve a higher-level goal the system has to set and achieve a number of lower-level goals (subgoals). This hierarchy has a top: on the one hand, the limits of a creature's ultimate knowledge; on the other, the supreme, ultimate goals, or ultimate value, of a creature's life. As discussed in section philosophy, philosophy results as we consider the top of the hierarchy of knowledge, the deepest questions. In a non-human animal this top is inborn: the basic instincts of survival and reproduction. In a human being the top goals can go beyond animal instincts.

Ultimate human knowledge is science. But since an essential property of human intelligence is people's ability to control their goal setting, the ultimate human freedom is to choose our highest goals, our "meaning of life", and our ethics. Evolutionary ethics got a bad reputation because of its association with the "naturalistic fallacy": the mistaken belief that human goals and values are determined by, or can be deduced from, natural evolution. Values cannot be derived from facts about nature: ultimately we are free in choosing our own goals.

The supreme goals, or values, of human life are, in the last analysis, set by an individual in an act of free choice. This produces the historic plurality of ethical and religious teachings. There is, however a common denominator to these teachings: the will to immortality. The animal is not aware of its imminent death; the human person is. The human will to immortality is a natural extension of the animal will for life.

Since the newest mechanism of evolution is inside individual people, the will to immortality is now not only desirable, but also evolutionarily demanded. Since ultimate goals cannot be derived, only chosen, it is not possible to justify the will to immortality as the ultimate goal for people, or to assert it as dogma, as traditional religions do. Rather it must be the free, creative act of each individual.

Every human being experiences a moment in his/her life, usually in childhood, when he clearly realizes for the first time that sooner or later he will die -- inevitably. This comes as a shock. You feel that you are cornered, and there is no way out. Your imagination jumps over the years you have still to live through, and you find yourself on the brink of disappearance, complete annihilation. You realize that you are, essentially, on the death row. Different individuals react to this situation with different degree of acuteness. Some try simply forget about it, and succeed, to some degree. Others try forget but cannot. Life seems to have no point, because all roads lead to annihilation; one is haunted by the feeling that whatever he is doing is in vain.

This is a very ancient feeling. Remember the book of Eccleseastis. We can be sure, though, that the feeling is much more ancient than the Bible. The realization of one's own mortal nature is a most fundamental distinctions between a human being and an animal. Rebellion against death is found at the source of religions, philosophies, and civilizations. People look for a way to transcend the limit put on our lives by nature. They look for a concept which would reconcile the impulse to live on, which is inherent to every healthy creature, with the inevitability of death. Some concept of immortality becomes necessary for keeping life meaningful.

See also: Immortality and Life Extension

Copyright© 1993 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

C. Joslyn, V. Turchin, F. Heylighen,

Aug 1993


Metasystem Transition Theory


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Metaphysical immortality

Creative immortality

Biological immortality

Cybernetic Immortality

The Evolutionary Causes of Aging and Death


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