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Science

University Receives $5 Million Grant To Study Immortality 532

Posted by Soulskill
from the paging-connor-macleod dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Humans have pondered their mortality for millennia. Now the University of California at Riverside reports that it has received a $5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation that will fund research on aspects of immortality, including near-death experiences and the impact of belief in an afterlife on human behavior. 'People have been thinking about immortality throughout history. We have a deep human need to figure out what happens to us after death,' says John Martin Fischer, the principal investigator of The Immortality Project. 'No one has taken a comprehensive and sustained look at immortality that brings together the science, theology and philosophy.' Fischer says he going to investigate two different kinds of immortality. One is the possibility of living forever without dying. The main questions there are whether it's technologically plausible or feasible for us, either by biological enhancement such as those described by Ray Kurzweil, or by some combination of biological enhancement and uploading our minds onto computers in the future. Second would be to investigate the full range of questions about Judeo, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other Asian religions' conceptions of the afterlife to see if they're theologically and philosophically consistent. 'We'll look at near death experiences both in western cultures and throughout the world and really look at what they're all about and ask the question — do they indicate something about an afterlife or are they kind of just illusions that we're hardwired into?'"
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University Receives $5 Million Grant To Study Immortality

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  • The Answer for $5M (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 04, 2012 @07:30PM (#40881719)

    'People have been thinking about immortality throughout history. We have a deep human need to figure out what happens to us after death,' says John Martin Fischer,

    Nothing, You're dead.

    • 'People have been thinking about immortality throughout history. We have a deep human need to figure out what happens to us after death,' says John Martin Fischer,

      Nothing, You're dead.

      Most likely, but this sounds more or less like a grab for grant money.

    • Nothing, You're dead.

      Based on what evidence? I'm going to boldly assume you've never been dead before.

    • by Dunbal (464142) * on Saturday August 04, 2012 @09:16PM (#40882469)
      Yeah, usually decomposition, and depending on the humidity levels, mummification. But you won't be around to experience any of that, being dead. You'll have exactly the same point of view as you had before you were conceived. You remember all that stuff from the beginning of the universe until you were born? No. Well that's exactly what will happen after you die, until the end of the universe...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by surveyork (1505897)
      For $5M I'd tell them whatever they want to hear.
  • Sorry about that.

  • People yearning for immortality often tell themselves fictions about how they will survive death. I have started a project to record such fictions in the form of a documentary.

    I'm still working on it, but here's the trailer:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nbJcDiLLxU&feature=plcp

    • by PPH (736903) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @11:21PM (#40883319)

      So, I died and went to Heaven. When I arrived, St. Peter looked me up in his great book. "I see you haven't been entirely good when you were alive. It seems you killed a kitten when you were young. But don't worry. That's not enough to keep you out. However, as punishment, you will have to pleasure this woman for the rest of eternity." At this point, he introduces me to a fat, ugly, smelly old hag. I almost got sick. But hey, I made it to Heaven!

      A few months later, with this hideous broad in tow, I ran into CowboyNeal. And he was walking arm in arm with Megan Fox. "Not fair!" I thought. I knew CowboyNeal when he was alive. And I don't see how he rates such treatment. So I want to see St. Peter. St. Peter dusted off his great book and looked at several entries. "It seems", he said, "Megan killed a kitten when she was on Earth as well."

  • by stevegee58 (1179505) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @07:34PM (#40881755) Journal
    I mean, aren't there enough bad people in the world already?
    What? Oh, never mind.
  • Life? What do you mean life? I ain't gotta life!

    • by causality (777677)

      Life? What do you mean life? I ain't gotta life!

      Megadeth, "Captive Honor", from the album Countdown to Extinction.

      Nice reference.

    • by gweihir (88907)

      Good for you! Then you cannot die either!

  • No Dying! (Score:5, Funny)

    by mhotchin (791085) <{ten.nihctoh} {ta} {todhsals}> on Saturday August 04, 2012 @07:36PM (#40881777)

    I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying.
    Woody Allen

  • by gweihir (88907) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @07:37PM (#40881787)

    I predict the only thing that will really happen here is that some "scientists" with questionable ethics burn through 5M! Despite their grand claims, there is zero research need here.

    • by Skal Tura (595728)

      everything, absolutely everything needs research.
      Otherwise you wouldn't be making that kind of comments, instead you'd probably be hunting for wild animals to have dinner today.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        Ok, then lets research how to waste more money!

        Sorry, I am a still somewhat active scientist. These scams just piss me off. You are right, but not this type of research. Should have been more specific.

        There is quite a bit respectable research into these questions. Neurologists and quantum physicists are conducting a major part of it. It may yet still take a long time to bring any tangible insights though. The first thing to find out is what makes consciousness appear. Currently we have no clue. Same for int

        • by oakgrove (845019)

          The first thing to find out is what makes consciousness appear. Currently we have no clue.

          I've never thought that was a particularly interesting question. Imagine you have a computer that is so powerful and has such a comprehensive decision tree that it can simulate what we perceive as conscious behavior to a level indistinguishable from a natural human being. Is it conscious? Does it matter? I can see philosophical value in telling the difference but practically speaking I just don't see where it's relevant. And if there is a quantum mechanical principal that consciousness relies on then t

          • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 04, 2012 @09:03PM (#40882381)

            . Imagine you have a computer that is so powerful and has such a comprehensive decision tree that it can simulate what we perceive as conscious behavior to a level indistinguishable from a natural human being. Is it conscious? Does it matter?

            This is a common mixup between intelligence and consciousness (something-that-experiences). If we took away all your thoughts, decisions-making ability and intelligence yet left your perception alone, you would be experiencing sights and sounds just as before, you just wouldn't be intelligent, you wouldn't have any thoughts about it and you wouldn't be making any decisions. You would still be just as conscious as before you just wouldn't be able to tell anyone about it or even be able to want to tell anyone about it. You'd seem as conscious as a rock to the outside world and that's why we don't even really know if a rock is conscious. The point of AI isn't to create conscious computers, it's to create smart computers so your point is completely valid - AI has nothing to do with consciousness. The reason consciousness is interesting is that it seems to be mediated by the brain so that it is somehow related to the physical world. Yet physics has no concept of consciousness (an "observer" in Quantum Mechanics need not be conscious so there is no relation there) so there is new physics to discover there and we have not even the slightest clue as to how that physics works. So consciousness is very much important just not in relation to AI.

            • by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @10:17PM (#40882827)
              And maybe all that means is that consciousness is a flawed idea. We can't explain it, we can't observe it in others (but we assume they have it). The fact that we can't even describe what it is except using circular reasoning should be a big clue that perhaps it isn't anything at all.
        • by khallow (566160)

          Ok, then lets research how to waste more money!

          I quite agree here. The infrastructure in this area of research is woefully inadequate. There's not a big enough pool of green jello to dock my solid gold, waste detection yacht in, for example. And we need to research site locations for the pyramids.

      • by khallow (566160)

        everything, absolutely everything needs research.

        Uh huh. Pardon me if I don't sound in the least convinced.

        Otherwise you wouldn't be making that kind of comments, instead you'd probably be hunting for wild animals to have dinner today.

        Because paying people to derp about immortality for a few years will help us get out of the stone age.

        Frankly, I think the research load for immortality is easily handled by blogs and media pundits.

    • by twocows (1216842) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @07:49PM (#40881887)
      I agree. I was really sad when I opened this thread. I was expecting it was something related to the sciences, research into how to give people immortality. That would have been really neat. Instead, this. I groaned out loud when I read the summary.
  • If someone would only give me a mere One million dollar grant to tell them if the religious beliefs are valid, I could have taken care of half the task and saved them a good deal of cash.
    • by gweihir (88907)

      Sorry, that type of business is already going well for many. They might not welcome you getting into it as well.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @07:45PM (#40881845)

    Good. I have suspected that a long time. Some areas of philosophy may qualify though.

    • by bky1701 (979071)
      Empiricism is the basis of all science, but by itself philosophy is not science, and large tracts of it are readily anti-science. However, it does have the ability to ask questions science cannot. Science has to assume the material world and our perception of it is as it seems; a fair assumption if your primary goal is to deal with things inside that world. If you want to ask questions about anything beyond that, you get into other branches, and stuff gets murky.
  • Term limits (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Are a good thing.

  • by Swave An deBwoner (907414) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @07:47PM (#40881871)
    Why are they funding research that's already been published?

    Principal Investigator [wikipedia.org]

    Results and Discussion [wikipedia.org]

    Sex Also! [wikipedia.org]
    • by artor3 (1344997)

      I really hope the two people who modded this interesting did so as part of the joke, but I suspect that this is yet another case of mods not even bothering to mouse-over links to sources, let alone read them.

  • Incompatibility (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Livius (318358)

    A near-death experience is selective oxygen deprivation. It's the opposite of studying what it would take to lengthen a healthy life.

    • by kenj0418 (230916)

      A near-death experience is selective oxygen deprivation.

      So is the study methodology to put Fundamentalists in a sealed room and slowly remove the oxygen until they have a vision of some sort? If so, I'd like to volunteer Fred Phelps, and I'd like to know where I can contribute to the grant funding.

  • Mebbe everyone should just accept that Peggy Lee was right.

  • by Monsuco (998964) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @08:01PM (#40881951) Homepage
    Who wouldn't want a grant like that? There's absolutely no possibility of accountability. The notions are so vague and there's so many different views, even among the same religion, about what an afterlife would be like that you can't really be proven wrong. Basically, they weaseled their way into $5 mill with no chance of being asked for results.
  • by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Saturday August 04, 2012 @08:05PM (#40881979) Homepage Journal
    The headline really should specify that it is a private grant to study immortality. We're bound to get some people coming in here to bitch that the federal government is funding this (because after all even reading the summary is a lot to ask for some).
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @08:16PM (#40882047) Homepage

    I don't know who said it--when I heard it it was attributed to Mark Twain but that doesn't seem to be right. At any rate, someone asked a nonbeliever whether he wasn't terrified by the thought of nonexistence after death. He replied, "Not at all. I experienced nonexistence for eons before I was born, and I enjoyed every minute of it."

    I wish them luck with their $5 million, but I don't think they'll be any wiser than Omar Khayyam:

    With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
    And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
    And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d-
    “I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

    Into this Universe, and Why not knowing,
    Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
    And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
    I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.

  • Perhaps the biggest impact on society would be if immortality could be achieved (in physical body), the only death would be from severe accident (or incurable disease, which we assume is mostly done away with also at that point). Thus, as long as we are stuck on this planet, having children would have to be severely regulated... to the point that almost nobody should be allowed to have any.

    I don't think that is going to be easy for people. Plus, if you live for many hundreds of years, the chances of "acci

  • by Penurious Penguin (2687307) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @08:31PM (#40882157) Homepage Journal
    Well, maybe not; but for those with a moderately open mind, you really should -- before concluding -- examine the works of two people. Dr. Lawrence LeShan [wikipedia.org] and Dr. Daryl J. Bem [wikipedia.org] have done some tremendous work on the subject of ESP. LeShan, in his early years went further, working with some extraordinary people, under genuinely scientific conditions. I simply can't imagine someone reading LeShan's The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist and having anything negative to say.

    If ESP ever does prove itself an authentic protocol, then its tendency to allow the mind to accurately observe remote locations could suggest a breach in the presumed dependency of consciousness on the form. I also recommend visiting the CIA's CREST [cia.gov] database and searching amongst the many thousands of Remote Viewing documents that have been released. Despite rational assumption, there's more than redaction lines to look at.

    This is a fascinating subject and I am not telling anyone to make any assumptions either way, but please look at quality research that's available before making conclusions.
    • by Shavano (2541114)

      If ESP ever does prove itself an authentic protocol, then its tendency to allow the mind to accurately observe remote locations could suggest a breach in the presumed dependency of consciousness on the form. I also recommend visiting the CIA's CREST [cia.gov] database and searching amongst the many thousands of Remote Viewing documents that have been released. Despite rational assumption, there's more than redaction lines to look at.

      Here's my take on Remote Viewing: if any people (or animals) had this ability, it would be such an advantage that they would rapidly displace those who don't have it. But the vast majority of people don't have this facility, and animals don't have it, so probably nobody does.

  • Reality is an illusion we are hardwired into.

  • $5 million probably isn't enough to set up much serious biology. Maybe better than giving it to the Vatican.

  • 1) State alleged facts. GOTO 2
    2) Play Evil Laugh GOTO 3
    3) Run Flying Police Box Video GOTO 4
    4) Queue Dr. Who theme....

  • by CanEHdian (1098955) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @10:13PM (#40882801)
    What a waste of money!

    near-death experiences and the impact of belief in an afterlife on human behavior.

    Near-death experiences have nothing to do with immortality (but it's interesting for another reason). "Belief in an afterlife" is just some story made up for people to cope with death of loved ones (ohhh "they're with God now" and suddenly it's alllllllright), and their own ever-nearing death.

    Why not give the money to Aubrey de Grey [wikipedia.org] and/or the SENS Foundation [wikipedia.org] - have some actual research done on the causes of aging and what to do about them. You can say what you like about de Grey, but he's right about one thing: aging should be treated as a disease.

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