Yesterday I wrote about immortality and people agreed with me more than I expected. Today I will write about immortality again and I expect most people to tell me I’m nuts.
What I am going to argue today is that you are immortal. Not only you: everyone is. With a caveat: you will see everyone else die and everyone else will see you die. But you will never die. And neither will they.
How is this possible, you may wonder? Thanks to our friend the Many-World Interpretation of quantum mechanics. However, I must emphasize that, even if the MWI is not true, there are still other alternatives that give exactly the same result. More on that later.
In case you’re not familiar with the Many-World Interpretation, I will include a very brief and inaccurate summary here. Feel free to visit Wikipedia for a more rigorous explanation. The MWI predicts that the universe we observe is just one in a myriad of parallel universes. These “branch off” from ours every time something equivalent to a quantum measurement is performed. To explain this correctly I would have to use other notions such as decoherence, so I strongly encourage you to read more about this and to not take my explanation at face-value. The bottom line is that everything that can happen, does in a parallel universe. For example, in a parallel universe the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct; in another one, the Pope resigned a year ago instead of yesterday. And so on.
The MWI allows us to tackle a particularly nagging question: why are you alive? Why do you exist? Your chances were pretty slim: if one of your parents had so much as sneezed during intercourse, some other spermatozoon may have reached your mother’s ovules. Think about the sheer number of facts leading to your birth and how many of them could have gone a different way and you will quickly see your chances of being born were not that high. So why are you here?
In the context of the MWI, the reason you exist is obviously because you could. Everything that can happen, does. Your existence was a possibility and is therefore a reality. End of the story.
Why are you not aware of being in a universe where you don’t exist? For the same reason that you’re aware of being on the moon. Simply, because you’re not there.
Now I’m going to take this argument and project it into the future. The first question is: will you ever be in a universe where you died? The answer is obviously in the negative, since once you’re dead you cannot be aware of much. Therefore, by definition, you can only be aware of existing in a universe where you’re alive.
And now, the punch line: will there always be a possibility of you being alive? Well, yes, because everything that can happen, does. There will always be a chance, no matter how slim, of your surviving one more second. Always. Worse comes to worse, you could come out as radiation from a black whole (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out Hawking radiation).
Therefore, you will always be aware of being alive, since the opposite is impossible. And your life will extend indefinitely into the future, since there will always be a possible world where you survive. Ergo, you are immortal.
Of course, this kind of immortality has some problems. It grants your immortality, not anyone else’s. So you will see me die. In fact, you will see all of our loved ones die. It is also not an optional kind of immortality: even if you put a gun to your head, you will always survive somehow and probably get crippled in the process (google “quantum suicide”). This kind of immortality also says nothing about your well-being: you will continue to exist as long as there is a possibility for you to do so, no matter how much pain you’re in.
That seems like a pretty frightening prospect. At least, it frightens me. But we can do something to make it less frightening. Since immortality is apparently not optional, we should do everything in our power to make sure we don’t live forever in loneliness and excruciating pain. A possible solution would be to start putting serious amounts of money into ageing research in order to increase the probability of some other people surviving with us. A good bet would also be to invest on pain treatment research.
Fortunately, it is overwhelmingly more likely that you will survive in a universe in which humans have conquered aging than in one in which you just happen to keep living by chance, so the prospects are not so gloomy. At least that is what I keep telling myself to avoid falling into despair.
Now if you were telling yourself something along “MWI is a stupid interpretation, so I have nothing to be worried about,” think again. MWI is not the only theory that predicts multiple universes. In fact, most current physical theories have similar consequences. For example, an infinite space (as in zero curvature of the universe, consistent with observed values) also contains an infinity of alternate realities: to locate them you just need to move far enough. String theory predicts something called “the landscape,” which involves as many as 10500 different universes with different laws of physics. The currently accepted theory for the expansion of the universe in its early stages, eternal inflation, also predicts a mind-boggling number of parallel universes.
In some of those models, however, there is not a “continuity of the mental process,” meaning that the copies of you that live in them are causally separated from you. If, like some of my readers, you believe that continuity is a necessary condition for personal identity, they do not imply immortality, at least not for this particular self. If, like me, you believe that continuity of the mental process is irrelevant for personal identity and that, in fact, personal identity is a baseless illusion, then their predictions are exactly the same as those of the MWI.
Anyway, those are my 50 cents on why you’re immortal. Now’s your chance to tell me I’ve lost my mind. Plenty of space to do so in the comments section below!