A mind-boggling conference

Mid 2013 saw a remarkable international conference in New York. To give you a taste of its themes, some of the workshop names included: Brain-computer interfaces, Cybernetic immortality, Meta-intelligence and Neurotransplantation. And the by-lines of two well-known speakers were: “Immortal minds are a matter of time” (Dr Marvin Minsky), and “Immortality by 2045” (Ray Kurzweil).

The Transhumanist movement

Most of the leaders of the Transhumanist movement come from the world of computing, robotics and neurosurgery. Born in California in the 1990s, the movement includes many who see our human future as limited, overtaken by climate change and redundancy at the hands of super-intelligent computers. They believe we’ll find immortality in a marriage of man and machine.

Common to movements like this one is a huge belief in the power of technology and the human brain. Underlying this lurk threads of pride and arrogance. A sober acknowledgment of the power of volcanoes, earthquakes and disasters, such as huge rises in sea levels, help us to acknowledge that we humans may be only tenants and wayfarers on this planet.

The Transhumanists’ dreams also ignore the tension points of our earth: dwindling populations in rich nations and burgeoning young populations in lands plagued by famine and drought. Access to such technology will increasingly be the privilege of the rich and powerful. How will they fill their fullness of years? What will become of the idealism and social conscience of the young and rising generation? Will there even be such a generation?

A right to die?

‘Right to die’ is a slogan used by those who favour euthanasia and those who believe that life has outlived its utility as the result of sickness or incompetency. I do not hold with that. Yet I do believe that death is part of nature; it shapes and focuses human lives; it’s the source of enormous love and service as well as sadness and grief.

When St Paul predicted, “death, thou shall die”, he was referring to death being conquered by Christ to usher in a totally new type of life, not to soulless machines infinitely dishing up more of the same.

Father Neil Vaney

Next steps

This writing is based on the content of ‘What Catholics Believe’. Should you like to read more just click the link below to download the complete set of ‘What Catholics Believe’.