You are aware that most of you is not human. The human body contains 10 bacterial cells for every one of its human cells. There are 500 species of bacteria living in your intestines alone. Without these bacterial cells you would not survive. Your digestive system depends on them. Your immune system depends on them. Your you is you only because it contains them. Your you is, in fact, in some senses a we. You are not unitary, unified, self-contained. You are a host, a server, a router.
Some of your bacterial cells may survive what you think of as your death. They may find alternate hosts, servers and routers. Your death may not be the death of all of you.
And yet this offers you scant reassurance.
And it likewise offers you scant reassurance that the atoms in your body were forged inside distant stars billions of years ago, and will continue to exist billions of years hence, after your body is long gone.
What we humans desire in the face of mortality is not some biological blurring of boundaries or atomic continuity. What we desire is that what we call our consciousness persists.
And so we are drawn, among other things, to machines. To machines that protect and provide for us, at first. To the spear, the plough, the tank, the tractor. And then to machines that think for us: the calculator, the computer, the search algorithm.
And as machines grow more and more able to do tasks that we once did, as they grow more and more capable of thought, as they become more and more persistent, possessing more and more of the power to endure, possibly forever, we desire, more and more, to merge with them.
It is in the realm of the cyborg, we think, that Death can at last, perhaps, be defeated.
Already you carry a phone on which you enter the instructions that shape how your friends will see you: the well-chosen images of you at your most vital, the amusing quips from you at your wittiest. You stare into this phone the way that, in ancient times, meaning in the times of your grandparents or of your grandparents’ grandparents, people lay on their backs at night and stared at the stars, and saw the immensity of the milk-stained void that is the universe and saw their vantage point as something tiny, and saw, if they waited and were patient, the slow rotation of the planet Earth represented as a wheeling of the heavens.
Now you stare at machines that way. You carry machines. Soon you will wear machines. Machines augment and preserve and recall your thoughts. One day you will embed machines into your body. One day you will be unable to differentiate yourself from your machines, just as today you cannot differentiate yourself from your bacteria.
One day, you think, you will be post-human. One day – yes, surely – you think you will transcend Death. And on that day, when your machines will be capable of all you wish them to be capable of, on that day you hope you will also still be you.