Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Dumb Daily Dvorsky: "Immortal" Jellyfish Edition

Our intrepid Robot Cultist asks the question: "Could This “Immortal” Jellyfish Unlock The Secret To Human Life Extension?" Oh, George! The answer, in a word, is: no.

Although I will grant that there is a certain deathlessness in the desperate and deluded endless re-circulation of anecdotal accounts of sooper-longevous tortoises and sequoias and ocean-floor goo-a-poids death-denialists trot out among themselves as "evidence" that any time now the labcoats are going to techno-immortalize them, mortality still kills the messenger however many times however energetically the message is reiterated.

There is much of the usual fraudulent futurological word-magic employed in Dvorsky's piece: The metaphoric assignment to degenerated goo of the status of "fetal position" rather than "dead husk" is a conspicuous example. The repeated recourse to apparently neutral descriptions of a "regenerated" or "rejuvenated" jellyfish "self" "itself" begs the crucial question at hand, of course. And so on. You will forgive me when I gently suggest it would be a tricky business to ascribe the narrative and ontological substance and continuity of personal selfhood in the human sense to any jellyfish, let alone any remote reason to ascribe such continuity to the "before" and "after" glamourshots first of a jellyfish that after spawning has sunk to the ocean floor, degenerated into a gelatinous blob which forms a crust, the matrix out of which eventually another jellyfish emerges to spawn.

Dvorsky draws our attention to marine biologist Shin Kubota, who we are told "grew up on science fiction" -- which doesn't actually have to mean that he cannot distinguish science practice from science fiction while valuing and approving both, tho' with futurologists this seems an endlessly bedeviling quandary. As I said before, I personally see no reason to agree with Shin Kubota's curious discernment and then equation of "selves" here from which alone comes his boast that "Once we determine how the jellyfish rejuvenates itself, we should achieve very great things. My opinion is that we will evolve and become immortal ourselves." This seems to me, shall we say, a faithly interpretation of a series of interesting events rather than a scientific hypothesis, strictly speaking. That the technological accomplishment of human immortality is, according to Shin Kubota, "the most wonderful dream of mankind" seems to me the faith that has inspired these incautious leaps and lapses in reasoning.

Quite apart from the apparent delusiveness of this quest, the derangement of priorities and sense it inspires in those who cherish it, and the distractions from worthy effort it demands, I really must say that even as dreams go, for me personally at any rate, I daresay the accomplishment of an ever more sustainable, ever more equitable, ever more diverse planetary democracy is a dream more wonderful, and certainly prior to, the dreams of some privileged people who want to enjoy their privileges for centuries rather than the usual three score and ten or so that has always been and remains our lot for the most part.

By the way, if I may say so, jellyfish are awesome.

1 comment:

jimf said...

> "Could This “Immortal” Jellyfish Unlock The Secret To Human
> Life Extension?" Oh, George! The answer, in a word, is: no.

Hey, that idea was actually used in Arthur C. Clarke's
_The City and the Stars_. During Alvin's peregrinations
after he leaves Diaspar, he comes across an ancient
intelligent creature on the verge of completing the last
stages of its current incarnation before dissolving
into a lakeful of jellyfish. (Clarke uses that idea of
immortality through serial reincarnation -- technical,
not supernatural -- for the inhabitants of Diaspar, too.)