Four views on immortality

In his book, At Home in the World, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about continuing on forever in a sense that’s similar to what Mary Elizabeth Frye writes about in her poem: Do Not Stand by My Grave and Weep.

Although not as beautiful as Mary Frye’s poem, Martine Rothblatt’s meditation on immortality is also thought provoking. However, some might say that while Hanh’s meditation and Frye’s poem are both beautiful, Rothblatt’s book is disturbing.

Personally, I find all three takes on immortality to be of interest.

In her book, Rothblatt explores a form of digital immortality that I call Digital Immortality Lite. In my review, I contrast her take on immortality with that of Ray Kurzweil, which I call Digital Immortality Heavy.

Personally, I also find Kurzweil take on digital immortality to be of interest.

I don’t know what Thich Nhat Hanh or Mary Elizabeth Frye would have to say about Martine Rothblatt or Ray Kurzweil and their respective takes on immortality. Unfortunately, both Hanh and Frye have both passed, so we cannot ask them directly.

Thich Nhat Hanh died today – 22 January 2022 – so he may have heard of Rothblatt or Kurzweil. Perhaps he’s written something down.


Fry, Mary Elizabeth

Born: 13 November 1905
Died: 15 September 2004

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye
31 December 1932

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
And in the morning’s early hush.
I am the swift uplifting rush,
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

Hanh, Thich Nhat

Born: 11 October 1926
Died: 22 January 2022

At Home in the World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh
1 January 2016

I Am Not in Here

I have a disciple in Vietnam who wants to build a stupa for my ashes when I die. He and others want to include a plaque with the words “Here lies my beloved teacher.” I told them not to waste the temple land. “Do not put me in a small pot and put me in there!” I said. “I don’t want to continue like that. It would be better to scatter the ashes outside to help the trees to grow.

I suggested that, if they still insist on building a stupa, they have the plaque say, “I am not in here.” But in case people don’t get it, they could add a second plaque, “I am not out there either.” If people still don’t understand, then you can write on the third and last plaque, “I may be found in your way of breathing and walking.”

This body of mine will disintegrate, but my actions will continue me. In my daily life, I always practice to see my continuation all around me. We don’t need to wait until the total dissolution of this body to continue—we continue in every moment. If you think that I am only this body, then you have not truly seen me. When you look at my friends, you see my continuation. When you see someone walking with mindfulness and compassion, you know he is my continuation. I don’t see why we have to say “I will die,” because I can already see myself in you, in other people, and in future generations. Even when the cloud is not there, it continues as snow or rain. It is impossible for a cloud to die. It can become rain or ice, but it cannot become nothing. The cloud does not need to have a soul in order to continue. There’s no beginning and no end. I will never die. There will be a dissolution of this body, but that does not mean my death. I will continue, always.

  • Thich Nhat Hanh, in “At Home In The World”

Kurzweil, Ray

nanobots will … go into the brain via capillaries and connect our neocortex (the outer layer of the brain where we do our thinking) to the cloud. So today, just as we can access many thousands of computers in the cloud when we need them, in the 2030s and beyond we will be able to access additional neocortex to think deeper thoughts.
– Ray Kurzweil in the forward to Virtually Human p. xi

Rothblatt, Martine

Review of Virtually Human: the promise – and peril – of digital immortality
Review by Fred M. Beshears
Book by Martine Rothblatt

The book’s thesis – that digital immortality is possible and desirable – rests on three ideas:

Mindfile – “A set of stored digital information about a person, such as the totality of one’s social media posts, saved media and other data relating to one’s life, intended to be used for the creation of a mindclone.”

Mindware – “Software that functions as an operating system for an artificial consciousness, including the capability to extract from a mind file the personality of the individual who is the subject of the mindfile and to replicate that personality via operating-system settings.”

Mindclone – “A humanly cyberconscious being designed to replicate the consciousness immanent in a mindfile of another person. A digital dopperganger and extended identity of another person.”

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