What Does It Mean to Be Alive?

This foundational question cannot receive a definitive answer using today's concepts, but addressing it is useful for dealing with the challenges. Nevertheless, to continue to teach the seven properties of life as if they were sufficient to describe the living is not only counterproductive, it is also misleading.

What Does It Mean to Be Human?

The 1999 movie Bicentennial Man, based on Isaac Asimov's novella published in 1975, and the movie A.I., written, directed, and produced by Steven Spielberg in 2001, have already provoked people into rethinking not only whether a humanoid is alive, but also, more importantly, whether a humanoid should be granted rights reserved only for humans. Furthermore, taking up Hannah Arendt's task of reconsidering “the human condition from the vantage point of our newest experiences and most recent fears,” the discovery that humans may be nothing more than information calls precisely for a re-engineering of the concept of what it means to be human in the computational era. This discussion invites us to reflect upon ourselves and not only define whatever makes us human but also, more importantly, to identify those special characteristics that clearly distinguish us from non-humans and which we would like to preserve (Laouris 2013).

Mind and Body

Can the mind exist without a body? Aristotle proposed that the mind (soul) cannot exist outside a body and dies with it, whereas Descartes maintained a rigid distinction between the realms of mind and matter. Scientists today describe light as being both wave and particles, and quantum mechanics has questioned the foundations of physics as we knew it for centuries by proposing that particles exist in all states at once (in coherent superposition) and that a cat can be alive and dead at the same time! The deliberations that led to the Onlife Manifesto have also encouraged the members of this think tank to favor dualities over the classical oppositional dichotomies. Consequently, if we manage 1 day to upload a human mind to a machine (or the net), it will mean that the mind can be separated from the body but at the same time will be an admission that the mind requires a body, albeit a different one. All the same, the challenges and implications will be the object of many studies to come.

Immortality and Sustainability

One could argue that were humans to live longer or even become biologically immortal, that would be devastating for the environment and for sustainability. Moreover, many ethical questions arise, such as whether humans have the right to live longer than other creatures, whether people should establish rules and conditions to terminate life or agree to euthanasia, and how to determine who or what should live and die.

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