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University Receives $5 Million Grant To Study Immortality 532

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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  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @09:59PM (#40882357)

    The _only_ scientific connection between consciousness, intelligence and the brain is external observation. That is not even enough for a reasonable theory. You should read up on your science.

    LOL. By definition of science, external evidence is both the only source of evidence and sufficient for a theory.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 04, 2012 @10:03PM (#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 gweihir ( 88907 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @10:03PM (#40882389)

    You assume consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. That is a bit like assuming what is shown on a TV screen is generated in there. A good first assumption, but not more than an assumption. The currents state of scientific research is that it is completely unknown what consciousness is and what intelligence is. Both can be described by their effects, but to speculate on where they reside and whether they are generated there is very much premature at this time.

    So, no, we do not understand that "the brain is a biological computer". Actually we do understand that human minds can do things that computers cannot do, and that is currently fundamental, i.e. not a question of the power of the computer, but a lack of any implementable theory that could make a computer do these things. I have been following the state of AI research for quite some time (and know some people in it personally), and this is what comes out when you ask people on the side or actually read the papers. Nobody knows how strong/true AI could be built, yet every healthy human being has strong/true Intelligence. (Never mind the BS some researchers publicly say to get funding.) This is actually a rather strong indicator that either the brain is far more than a "computer" or that intelligence and consciousness are not generated solely/fully by the brain.

  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Saturday August 04, 2012 @10:16PM (#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...
  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Saturday August 04, 2012 @10:19PM (#40882483)

    Not necessarily.

    Necessarily. Having been dead for quite a few minutes myself, but being lucky enough to have been reanimated, I can assure you absolutely nothing happens. No white lights. No angels. Nothing. But then again who are you going to believe - me, who is not trying to sell you anything, or the guys/gals who want you to a) buy their book or b) donate money to their church?

  • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @11:17PM (#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 sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @02:12AM (#40883835) Journal

    Well, that is sort of the question now isn't it?

    I mean forget about all this mumbo jumbo on spirit and soul or afterlife, if a person is clinically dead, can they still think or experience something on any level? If so, to what extent and should we reconsider how we treat these people?

    On the other hand, we do not bother to much with restoring cognitive brain function in traumatic head trauma cases where the brain is damaged significantly. We do attempt to retrain them if possible to make use of other parts of the brain for the same type of skills and function. I know a guy who laid a bike down and impaled his head, through the helmet, on an Iron rod sticking out the side of a telephone pole. They said he is a 1 percent'er, as generally only one percent of people survive something like that and he made a decent recovery. Still has issues with balance sometimes and is a complete ass at times, but he was a prick before the accident too. His mother says he's changed, I think he's more of an ass more often, but most people can't tell the difference outside him constantly bringing the subject up and almost falling two or three times an hour If not sitting.

    So if the consciousness is there even though the ability to express it isn't, then perhaps we could recreate this ability and perhaps end some suffering from situations like that where people damage or destroy the ability to express their consciousness.

    This could have applications outside of mortality. But I guess is brain dead really dead could be the question.

  • by YttriumOxide ( 837412 ) <> on Sunday August 05, 2012 @05:32AM (#40884783) Homepage Journal

    '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.

    Not necessarily. Obviously the religious fairy-tales are just that, i.e. whatever people need to hear to strengthen the meme-infection. But there is room for reincarnation without the religious connotations. Consciousness and life itself are still not understood at all, so there is room for speculation. Obviously, the body (brain) plays a part (for many the dominant part, it seems), but it is not enough to explain what is observable. Still, no need to do "immortality" research, everybody finds out sooner or later what happens. I guess these 5M just show that quite a few rich people live pathetic lives and know it.

    Here's an interesting concept... not quite sure if I accept it or not, but it's something which has had me thinking a bit recently.

    Assuming the following things:
    1) Existence (I hesitate to use the word "universe" given the various theories of multiple "universes") is infinite in either direction, time or both.
    2) Randomness exists
    3) Consciousness is caused by a specific arrangement of the make-up of our brains and could also be caused by similar specific arrangements of other things

    Assumption 1 is very debatable; however certainly not outside the realms of reason. Assumption 2 is, in my understanding, pretty strongly confirmed - although there's still those who'd argue against it. Assumption 3 seems quite logical and reasonable in general.

    Assumptions 1 and 2 lead to the idea that anything that can happen eventually will. Adding assumption 3 leads to the idea that after our consciousness stops in our brains (death), it will eventually spring up again somewhere else including all of the memories from our lives before.

    It's also worth keeping in mind the idea that your consciousness is only aware of the present - the past is accessed through memories. Therefore it seems quite acceptable to say that there's no fundamental difference to waking up in the morning as a "different consciousness" today than the one you were yesterday whilst still retaining all the same memories versus actually remaining the same consciousness. You can't prove it one way or the other and it makes no difference whatsoever. Therefore this new consciousness that awakes a trillion trillion years from now that has all your memories IS just as much your consciousness as you are now.

    Like I said, I'm not sure I accept this general idea or not (I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say I "believe" it); but it definitely is food for thought for me, and I would like to hear others' (reasoned) opinions on it.

  • Re:Bad analogy. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @02:16PM (#40887567)

    The only thing I am claiming is a gray area. It is one that the physicalists deny. If you look the term up, you find that denying this gray area is the definition of "physicalism". (I am actually not claiming dualism has it right either. I just claim that currently there is no way to know and that there are indications matters may be more complicated. That is _all_ I claim.) If you look closely at physicalism, the funny thing is that its proponents are actually using religion-type arguments and "I cannot see it hence it does not exist" fallacies. That is a pretty pre-scientific thing to do.

    Now, I have been getting this non-rational response several times here. It may actually be explainable by the concept of religion as a meme infection: These people have been exposed to religion and in the course of fighting it off developed "antibodies". These now attack anything that even remotely looks like religion, even if it is not. That would also explain the circular reasoning and the broken proof-methodology used. These people can literally not see their mistakes as most of their mind is busy with the counter-reaction. That also explains the frequent accusation of me making specific claims, when I never did. Unfortunately, it would also mean there is no point in discussing anything with these people as they are not rational with regard to this topic.

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