The idea of death is scary to most people. The uncertainty of whether there will be an afterlife and the potential for eternal darkness is frightening to many, but my writing may ease this anxiety and actually make you excited for the future.
A large amount of our known universe is composed of particles. We ourselves are composed of these particles along with the bed I’m currently sitting on, the beach I just ran on, the Earth that we live on, the star we orbit around, etc. Everything is composed of these particles, but in a different combination. That’s why the same particles can create something that’s living or nonliving, conscious or not conscious.
There has been a raging philosophical debate for all of human history of what consciousness actually is, but let’s simplify it by saying that something is conscious if it’s able to observe and react to its reality. So under this definition, a plant would be conscious since it’s able to react to an outside disturbance such as a shift in the angle of sunlight, but a rock would not be conscious since we have not found if it has the ability to observe or react to anything in its reality. We’re conscious since we’re able to see and react to our reality (to simplify, our ‘reality’ is what we observe).
So the idea I’m getting at is that the same particles (protons, neutrons, electrons, etc.) can form something that is conscious or not conscious, simply based on its composition and combination. The particles that we’re composed of have composed many other things before us, whether it’s a plant or dirt or a rock or an asteroid or a star. The particles that we’re made of have created other objects in the past, except with a different combination and in a different quantity (think about it).
Now, I keep on emphasizing consciousness and combination, but why? Because we’re simply another combination of particles in the long history of our known universe, but the only difference now is that we can observe those particles. So basically, with us and any other conscious being, these particles are just observing themselves (think about it. Your eyes are made of protons, electrons, and neutrons, and you’re able to look at your feet, which are also made out of protons, electrons, and neutrons. Hence, the particles are quite literally observing themselves). In the future, the particles that we’re composed of will combine with other particles to create other things whether it’s a plant that’s then eaten by a bunny, which is then excreted and used as a natural fertilizer for the food of a chimpanzee. And then after Earth is destroyed, those particles will be flung out and help in creating a new planet or asteroid or star or black hole or whatever else there may be. And this cycle will continue.
So if you think about this deeply again: we’re simply another combination of particles in the vast expanse of space and time, but the only difference is that we’re actually able to observe space and time. Basically, the only difference between our combination of particles and a non-conscious combination of particles is that our combination is able to learn and comprehend every combination of particles (it’s crazy to think about, I know).
So although people may view their ‘life’ as short and finite, I view us as eternal. When we ‘die’, the particles that have combined to create us will combine with other particles to create other stuff in the future, including other conscious beings. For instance, as I said earlier, when we decompose, the particles that were once a part of us will create other life whether it’s a plant, bunny, or intelligent being. We are eternal, except in this iteration of particles, we can actually observe the universe and the particles that create us. And that is something that we should celebrate. The fact that we’re able to observe the universe that we’re a part of is amazing, and when we ‘die’, our eternal being is continually cycled throughout the cosmos.
Now, let’s go even deeper into the idea of consciousness. The same particles that create us, conscious beings, can create other conscious beings. For instance, right now you could be made up of the same particles that made up a T-Rex in the past. So based on that, we might be able to say that consciousness is not transferred between singular particles. And in the future, the particles that currently create us might combine to create other conscious beings whether it’s at our level of intelligence or not. This could mean that consciousness is simply defined by a certain combination of particles.
So let’s go even deeper, shall we? With the emergence of artificial intelligence and Neuralink specifically, we come to the idea of storing consciousness. With Neuralink implanted in someone’s head, it can measure metrics such as brain wave frequencies, which can be used for many tasks whether it’s treating neurobiological diseases or playing an immersive, action movie-inspired dream in your sleep. As the Neuralink would continue to store data of a person’s brain metrics, what if it can then learn to model their thinking. What if Neuralink can learn to model someone’s consciousness! What if we could do this for someone like Elon Musk, who’s constantly teeming with new, innovative ideas. What if we can model a person’s consciousness and from that model, creativity can emerge. Think about it. What if years after Elon’s human ‘death’, the AI that’s modeling his brain can continue creating ideas like he currently does whether it’s for Tesla, Boring, SpaceX, etc. (what if this model of Elon’s consciousness can take over as CEO of his ever-expanding portfolio of companies). And then, what if the AI could learn to think of ‘better’ ideas, which can then create new AI that can create even ‘better’ ideas (and the cycle would continue).
So now, another question arises. Would you be able to experience yourself as ‘you’ if some technology were able to ‘store’ your consciousness? If consciousness is simply a combination of particles it could potentially be like a barcode that can point to a specific consciousness (think about it. A specific ‘barcode’, or combination of particles, would always be pointing to the same consciousness). So if we could store Elon’s consciousness, he could experience and react to the universe through the AI itself long after his human ‘death’. This is obviously speculation and there is much more to be discovered, but it’s something that we can and should continue to think about and explore.
‘What is consciousness ‘and ‘how can we model it’ are a couple of big questions that we may or may not ever be able to find a consensus on. But let me pose another question. AI will continue to advance, probably at a level of intelligence greater than that of us (although this will take a relatively long time). If it’s possible for us to create AI more intelligent than us, then we know that this AI can then create an AI even more intelligent than itself, and so on. So knowing this, can we potentially create (or lead to the creation of) a super-intelligent, conscious AI that can transcend physical boundaries, existing in just the form of energy? Wait a minute. This is essentially the same wording that people use when describing God — a transcendent, all-knowing being that is not hindered by physical boundaries! What if we can create a being of this sort through continued progress in AI and consciousness. What if this human-transcendent creation can now go on to create another universe with its own funky parameters such as zero-gravity and really anything else we can or can’t imagine. What if our universe is a product of this exact process. An ancient civilization led to the creation of a transcendent being that had the ability to create our universe, and then in turn, our form of life.
What if this is the end goal of humanity. To create an eternal being that, too, can create, and leave a lasting impression of our existence in the seemingly lonely expanse of our universe.