Sunday, June 24, 2018
The only human desire that rivals the ancient wish for eternal life is to be remembered. In fact since researchers had shown other animals can cooperate in groups, use tools, and even have a type of culture, the desire to be remembered by those that come after us might be something that defines what it is to be human. I say “might be” because given what we have already learned from highly social animals like chimps and some cetaceans, it wouldn't surprise me that they too have some innate wish to be remembered by their descendants. How we would find evidence of that, I have absolutely no idea.
Some of the most poignant and hopeful pictures I have seen involve hand paintings on the walls of caves that can be dated to have being made tens of thousands of years ago. What goes beyond mind blowing is that such behavior was once thought limited to just our paleolithic Homo sapien kinfolk. An extremely recent discover in Spain has found cave artwork and a hand print produced by Neanderthals that dates back to sixty-four thousand years ago. The earliest evidence of Homo sapiens living in Europe doesn't appear until twenty-thousand years later.
Interpretations vary, but to me cave hand paintings are at least a partial declaration that “I existed.” That in a time long before writing, hand paintings on the walls of caves transcended the limitations inherent to intelligent creatures who know they will eventual die and be forgotten. Of course as humans progressed we created written languages that were often carved into the sides monuments to declare our triumphs and achievements so that the memories of great exploits would live on, hopefully forever. Years ago while reading about the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, I found it somewhat humorous to learn that the hieroglyphic these ancient kings had carved on the side of their vanity-driven monuments never really mentioned any defeats they suffered in their lives or military campaigns. One Egyptologist on a television documentary half-jokingly suggested that any failures or defeats were carefully spun by the pharaohs' scribes to seem positive by the clever use of careful wording.
As the centuries passed humans made sure anything they created had their name attached to it. Whether it be books, paintings, or any number of other creations or discoveries. It's just human nature for a person to want everyone to know that their hard work or inspiration produced something that will live on after they are gone.
This gets to the reason I am writing this self-reflective crap. A few months ago I got into a conversation with someone about our respective hobbies. Normally, I absolutely do not reveal my blogging to anyone, my politics alone makes me an outsider here in South Carolina but when your hobby can be considered rather abstract and even slightly cerebral, well that just makes you a total weirdo in the eyes of these sophisticated and nuanced folks. But since the individual I was talking with seemed a little obsessive over his model train collection, a fine hobby no doubt, I thought what the Hell.
The question this person finally asked what was the point to all my efforts? I had already told him that it has been years since I made a serious effort to have anything professionally published. He knew enough about blogging to understand that the vast majority of these websites go completely unnoticed by the wider world. My usual, and largely true answer is that I use blogging as a way to blow off steam and frustration. But there is a deeper answer that you can probably guess.
At some point I intend begin recording all my rants and various attempts at fiction onto some sort of permanent storage. The idea being that when I finally head off into oblivion my kids and their kids will have a record of my thoughts. While in no way comparable to the massive ancient Egyptian monuments left by the pharaohs, there is more than a little bit of vanity associated with my intentions. Then again, I like the idea of imagining what one of my descendants one-hundred years or more from now would make of my ravings. This is assuming humans do not bring about a planetary environmental collapse in the next several decades, civilization destroying pandemic, or just go out with a good old fashioned nuclear war.
This train of thought naturally leads me to speculate on the ultimate way to be remembered. As our technology has advanced the ways to recording our existence has become more numerous and sophisticated. Making a video recording of ourselves is so easy these days we're on the other end of Clarke's Law that says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Just image Joe and Jane Smith from the early twentieth century seeing a commonplace video recording of a kid's birthday party. They may not run away in fear from the magic picture box, but they would have absolutely no idea what to make of it.
While the technology is still decades, if not centuries away, I can see people making recordings of their consciousness that would be fully interactive with anyone accessing them. This brings to mind the question would such consciousness snapshots be sentient beings deserving of human rights and protections? Or would our descendants consider them nothing but more sophisticated versions of home movies no one wants to see?