Friday, August 23, 2019

The Netflix series Altered Carbon brings up many questions regarding the subject of immortality.

For various reasons, I put off watching Altered Carbon on Netflix until the last week or so. If you haven't seen it, I think it's worth watching. The author of the series is Richard K. Morgan, and I'm familiar with this author through his dark fantasy series called, A Land Fit for Heroes.

The Altered Carbon film adaptation on Netflix follows a main character named Takeshi who is hundreds of years old because the human civilization has discovered alien technology to allow them to transfer their souls (called consciousness) into human bodies (referred to as sleeves). You come to find out that this technology was originally invented by a woman who simply had too much she wanted to do to fit into one lifetime. That seems like an admirable thing, right?

But when the technology was released unto the world, it allowed those with financial means to become immortal. Without death to keep people in check, a dystopian world emerged. The people who always had the power stayed in power, the people who always had the money just generated more money, and the evil that was always there was now allowed to survive in perpetuity. Basically, there is no upward mobility anymore, and there's no getting rid of bad ideas and tyrants, because the tyrants never die and never suffer the debilitating effects of old age.

This idea of immortality and how it is truly monstrous is something that I've thought about a great deal, and I think it hits really close to the mark of how it honestly might be if the likes of Peter Thiel (a very conservative billionaire) get their way.

The subject of immortality (as well) goes beyond just fictional study for me, as I live in the state of Utah (which is a kind of "special" place all to its own). As you may well know, Utah is heavily populated by religious people belonging to the Latter Day Saints. Many of them believe in an interesting afterlife, wherein family and friends are sealed together for all eternity and can enjoy each other's company for that same amount of time. This explanation is very simplified, and you just need to assume that it will be mostly if not all the way a blissful and happy existence. But thinking of immortality the way that Altered Carbon presents it seems to me to be the more realistic of how something like this could play out (if it is indeed a real thing). Unless personalities are altered--which (to be honest) would not make that person who they were on Earth--then humans are fundamentally flawed and awful creatures. They are judgmental, narcissistic, self-absorbed, prone to megalomania, prone to envy and greed, etc. So in my book, spending an eternity with any family member sounds like pure Hell, even if I were to believe in that kind of thing. And if people in the afterlife didn't possess those qualities because all needs were met, then I think it would be a very boring place, not to mention that I wouldn't recognize any people I knew to begin with because all the people I know have these qualities.

But I digress as I was talking about Altered Carbon and the particular view of immortality in which Richard K. Morgan paints, albeit with a "bloody" brush. In Altered Carbon, the eternal soul just jumping into bodies so that it can interact with the real world is horrifying. People treat their "sleeves" as disposable, and having an immortal life has caused many to become psychopaths...losing all connection they ever had to empathy. Immortals (for the most part) have become monsters. After having watched Altered Carbon, I think the show presents the idea that things coming to an end is actually a good thing for life, because the finality of an ending provides its own satisfaction that living an eternal life could never give. If this is true, I wonder then why so many people struggle with their age? Why is it so difficult for many of us to let go and to realize that death is just a part of life? Why have humans always been obsessed with immortality?

My own brother would be eternally young and immortal (I think) if he could be. So would many people. I don't think I would ever choose something like this for myself. Maybe it's because my own life's experience hasn't been all that great, or that there have been particular pains that I have endured that I really wouldn't want to relive over and over again. Rather than immortality, I think I'd choose maybe one more lifetime than the one I'm currently living. And maybe I'm saying that because I don't have the perspective such a long life would provide. I just hope that humanity never discovers a way through science to realize the ideas of Richard K. Morgan. If that happens, humanity may well enter an epoch of suffering unrealized by the crimes that history has thus far presented to us. Just imagine a world in which souls like Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot were allowed to continue forever. It gives me nightmares just thinking about it.


  1. That would suck if you were an Eric Trump or Prince Charles because you could never inherit your parent's wealth.

  2. I've always thought immortality was a thing for 20-somethings. At least, it fascinated me then. As I've gotten older, I'm less enamored by the idea. There is something to be said about the perspectives of age.

    It's a movie? I may have to check it out.

  3. This series is partly what led me to write The Immortality Game. I was not only interested in exploring a realistic version of immortality, but I kept asking myself what the resleeving tech of Morgan's series might have looked like when it was in its infancy. I don't recall it being alien tech back when I read the books, but perhaps it was.

  4. It sounds interesting, and with any story, they need conflict from somewhere. So, of course these immortals are going to be bad. We need bad guys. Perhaps there will be some good ones too. I hope it never becomes possible in real life. Too much power is always bad. It would be like a new advanced species of human. The kind that live forever, and then you have the common humans that expire.