Why “no gods” doesn’t, necessarily, mean “no afterlife.”
By @Bauart (on Twitter)
I’m an atheist. For some people I’m sure this instantly qualifies me as a baby killer, satan worshiper or possibly just a fan of Blue Man Group, but the truth is much less dramatic.
As Richard Dawkins so clearly stated, “We are all atheists about most of the gods humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” I tend to agree (although the jury is still out on H.R. Pufnstuf). But having finally buried my long-held beliefs of religion, gods, ghosts and myths, doesn’t necessarily mean I have no hope for an afterlife, or that I enjoy Twilight any less (as if that were possible).
I do think the chance of there being a supernatural afterlife—where an all- knowing god judges me worthy, or not, to live forever in paradise or suffer forever in a hell of fire and daytime TV—is as close to zero as to be statistically meaningless. But the chance of my conscience thinking-mind someday having a reincarnation, of sorts, is a different subject.
It’s true that I cannot know what will come, but I believe the odds of a real afterlife, like winning the lotto, are not actually zero. In fact, I’ve learned that my chances at winning the lotto go down only slightly when I play.
I’m a stalwart believer in science and its inevitable march toward the future. I’ve seen every iteration of Star Trek, from the days of Kirk to the utter shit that was Deep Space Nine, and I know (that I know, that I know) it could all come true. (Well, maybe not the episode where Kirk kills the Gorn with a homemade cannon…that’s just crazy made-up sci-fi crap).
I believe science holds the keys that will someday open the door to an afterlife.
Back when I was a kid, 40 or so years ago, life wasn’t so bad. Yes, our concept of technology and fast food was juvenile by today’s standards, but big leaps were already underway. The microwave, disco balls and the butt-cut, along with most of the technology we now take for granted, was either nonexistent or relegated to a few scientists at NASA and PBS.
Because calculators in the ’60s cost about the same as a small car, I recall watching my mom having to do the family’s monthly bills with a pencil, in the snow, using only the dim light of a 40-watt bulb purchased with green stamps from Piggy Wiggly. She actually had to add numbers in columns on a note pad. It was medieval.
We did have television in those days, but it was fuzzy and arrived only in shades of gray and despair. Yet we still marveled that there were three unique channels flung through the ether at us from a distant metropolis. We reveled in the miracle of television just as my grandparents had listened in awe to their magic radio boxes a generation before.
We didn’t have computers or the Google; “fact checking” required a trip in a station wagon to the public library and hours of rummaging through dusty card catalog and periodicals (mostly Boy’s Life magazines donated from dentist offices across the region.) Phones of the era were bulky and affixed to walls via wires. A “high-tech” phone of the 60’s only meant it had a slightly longer cord than its “low-tech” cousin. It was designed to stretch to-and-fro across your kitchen while you talked to grandma AND made Jiffy-Pop.
But our 60’s “high-tech” was far ahead of what our grandparents had, and light-years ahead of what their grandparents knew. The march of technology had already broken into a trot, and we were anxious to trot from the outhouses of our grandparents’ era, to the heated Japanese toilets of the late 20th century. Little did we know the information age of the 21st century, and Lady Gaga, were only a few rest stops ahead.
What most people fail to realize about the “technological march to the future” is the speed at which technology changes. Like the ever changing length of Larry King’s suspenders, technological growth is not linear, it’s exponential. The pace of technology doesn’t slowly march forward like a zombie toward brains. It races forward like a BP executive toward retirement. Technology is now on an exponential curve that is pointing straight toward the Skynet.
It took hundreds of years for mankind to invent and then harness the power of the wheel and turn it into a Ford worth tens of dollars. But we went from airplanes, made only of canvas and wood, to enjoying vast quantities of peanuts at 30,000 feet. All in just a handful of decades.
Likewise our next 40 years will bring changes not at a slow linear pace, but equivalent to hundreds or possibly even thousands of yarns. I fully expect within my lifetime to meet a thinking computer that will be as far ahead of me as I am ahead of Jessica Simpson. By the time I reach 80 (I’m now 47), a human lifespan will be close to 120 years, and growing 2+ years longer for every “Extends” enhancement pill taken. We will soon have artificial or genetically grown replacement organs [livers]. Our mental abilities will be enhanced by internal computers the size of blood cells. We will be able to communicate using wireless thought exchange and be able to instantly receive and simultaneously reject the breadth of meaningless drivel expelled by Fox News.
We will, in many real ways, be much like the gods our forefathers invented.
We “may” soon be able to live indefinitely, but whether from disease, war or Stephen Hawking’s aliens…we will eventually die. We won’t yet be immortal. However, science does give us hope.
I envision a time, in the not-so-distant future, when we will be able to download not only our thoughts to a computer for storage, but our consciousness itself. We are after all just information made up of individual cells, brain waves and Cocoa Puffs. Initially we will make brain back-ups in case of personal injury, then later as technology improves, the back-ups will become a pathway to immortality.
I suspect that once our human mind has experienced thinking at the speed of light and direct one-to-one exchange of thoughts with other humans, our tolerance for Justin Bieber tweets will vanish. The idea of being relegated to our old flesh-and-blood Walmart bodies will seem nostalgic and quaint.
The point in the future where technology surpasses our human ability has come to be called “The Singularity.” Like an episode of Lost, the Singularity is a thing our Human 1.0 minds cannot fully understand. Change will happen so often and so quickly that we won’t be able to keep up. We will, in essence, evolve.
So, what kind of things might happen beyond the singularity that lead me to believe there is an “afterlife”?
How about all of humanity united in joint thought, sharing ideas and postulations at the speed of light? Or a future where our conceptual idea of “self” is more about science and reason and less about how to get home for “Dancing With the Stars”? We may someday even be able to see into the past and retrieve information about ourself and finally learn if Ginger and Mary Ann ever hooked-up one steamy night on Gilligan’s Island while rubbing the Professor’s coconut oil on their…(oops, sorry).
Future post-humans may even discover ways of retrieving that lost past information and sending it back to the future. And if that happens, it might then be possible to send the thoughts and even consciousness of long dead humans to the future as well. In essence, bringing them back from the dead.
Sure, this is just speculation, science fiction and made up bullshit with no footnotes. But only for now. Someday those footnotes *will* come, and the bullshit laid down here today will fertilize a tomorrow yet unimagined. If our future post-human overlords come to fruition, we actually may become the gods we have so long sought in the candle light of medieval churches and from the glow of prime-time TV.
Long live our post-human overlords!
More than 17,000 followers enjoy the musings of @Bauart, also known as Dallas-based graphic designer David R. Jennings.