The New Immortals

Vampires stake their claim (property of Anton Brand)

Vampires have always fascinated me. And no, this fascination did not begin with TwilightIf anything, that horrible movie franchise only served to strengthen my love of bloodsuckers.

After all, if I can survive Kristen Stewart‘s terrible acting and vampires who suffer more from teen angst than blood lust, I can handle anything, right?

What I love most about vampires—or the idea of vampires, since we all know they don’t exist (we hope)—isn’t the ability to transform into mist, a bat or even a wolf. It isn’t even the dark, brooding coolness you obtain the moment you turn into the undead.

It’s the immortality. That’s what appeals to me the most.

I know what you’re thinking: Why would anyone want to live indefinitely? Doomed to pay taxes, endure stupidity and otherwise suffer through the banality of a life that never ends? And what’s more, why would anyone choose to live eternally only at night?

Surely there is more to see in the light of the sun than in the glow of the moon.

Yes, I believe there is, but it’s the experience that vampires gain along the way that attracts me to them. Think of all the things they see—even after sunset—that transform our world: new technology, historical events, natural disasters, even evolutionary shifts. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of years of human development, right there at your fingertips.

And every so often, an actual human beneath your hungry fangs, blood warm and salty sweet, as you steal their life to sustain your own cursed existence.

Do you really want immortality? (property of Chrysallis)

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Alas, it will never happen, but there are other ways to taste immortality. And these days, they don’t come from superstition or folk-lore; they come from science.

Among many science fiction geeks—including me—there is a dream… sort of a fantasy… about having your brain or at least your consciousness transferred to a robot, android or synthetic human. In this vessel, and free from the expiration date of human meat, you can live forever, at least theoretically.

Well, fellow geeks and science nerds, we are one step closer to realizing that dream. Check this out.

It all began in 1998 with a couple of neuroscientists—Matthew Botvinick of Princeton University and Jonathan Cohen of Cornell University—who developed an experiment known as the rubber hand illusion.

The researchers showed their subjects a rubber hand being stroked by a paintbrush. At the same time, they performed the same action on the subject’s hand, which was hidden from sight. After a while, the subjects began to think of the rubber hand as their own.

In other words, their brains were tricked into thinking that artificial body parts were their own bodies. See where I’m going with this?

You just wait.

Flash forward to present day and Mel Slater, a computer scientist at the University of Barcelona who decided to take the rubber hand illusion one huge step forward.

Slater and his team used virtual reality to determine if the human mind could be fooled into thinking a computer-generated body was its own. Subjects wore head-mounted displays that allowed them to look down at their virtual bodies. These bodies came in one of two varieties: either they looked similar to their real bodies or were gross distortions of them.

I could get used to this look (courtesy of REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Next, Slater introduced cooling devices and had his subjects place their hands on them. Using slight temperature changes—both real and virtual—he noticed something very interesting: subjects with more realistic “avatars” seemed to consider their virtual hands as their own—they experienced temperature changes in the virtual world that did not exist in reality.

What this means is that the real bodies and the virtual bodies of these subjects merged into a single perception. Their minds accepted the artificial vessels, and that’s what makes this so important in realizing “The Dream.”

I know we don’t have brain transplants and haven’t figured out how to upload someone’s consciousness to a computer or artificial being yet, but this new development at least shows that our minds could handle it. And that, my nerdy friends, brings us one step closer to immortality.

Techo-immortality, I suppose, but immortality nonetheless.

Posted on May 30, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Oh the things our kids’ kids will get to see!

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