Manko & Life [#8]

Aston Revola
May 8th 2011

Manko sighed.

Nada: 'Did you like it?'

Manko: 'I have to admit that if this is the starter, I'm not sure I'll survive the main course.'

Everyone at the table laughed.

Manko: 'Let me ask you, how is this considered dinner? I did not eat anything.'

Bessy: 'That's a good question. We do not really need to feed ourselves anymore. In fact, the soup you ate contained more than enough energy and body-repairing particles to keep you up and running for the next week.'

Now Manko understood why he had felt so energetic after the soup.

Nada: 'A year ago, after we perfected our methods, we stopped eating. We realized that our biological instinct to eat had become pretty much obsolete. Yet we soon realized that our need to socialize is still part of our nature. We found that, to keep the peace in this underground facility, we suddenly missed the old ritual of eating together. That's why we designed a new ritual, a new way of having dinner. It bonds us in a way that other things don’t.'

Gill: 'And we still discuss our dinner the way we used to. This starter was excellent by the way, Bessy. It was a delight on every level.'

Bessy: 'Thank you. Next time I'll add one extra pinch of knismesis, I think.'

Manko: 'What's coming next? Should I brace myself?'

Bessy: 'Up next is our favourite main dish. We simply call it 'Mash', like mashed potatoes, but it's more like a mash-up. The idea is that each person has a very different 'dish' and then we share pieces of it with each other to create new and delightful combination.'

Today's dessert will be something we have not tried before. I've been told about your fascination with phantom limbs, so I've cooked up a very tangible experience of having various fantastic extensions to your body. Topped off with a touch of Gilles de la Tourette. It's quite a good laugh if I may say so.'

Zero: 'And after that we usually have a cigar.'

Manko: 'A real cigar?'

Zero: 'Well, since we can remove all traces of its toxins, tobacco is harmless to us. And we love how the dome fills up with real, authentic smoke. It's one of those rituals that works for us. Although Bess obviously smokes a virtual Cuban.'

Manko: 'Don't you miss real food? Wouldn't you rather enjoy an old fashioned dinner?'

Zero: 'I think I can speak for us all when I say that we prefer not to. We are so used to not eating, that if we did, we'd be in serious trouble. Our digestive organs wouldn't be able to handle it, as most of them have shrunk to more than half their size. All we can handle is water, which we still need to drink from time to time.'

Gill: 'Our bodies are hardly like that of yours anymore. We have nanofied and hyper-mediated ourselves almost completely. Sometimes I think back to the time when I would take a long hot bath in plain drinking water. No perfumed soap or oil, no nano, no AR, no nothing. Well, maybe a little music.'

Manko: 'Do you sleep?'

Nada: 'Yes, we do. Physically we don't need to, but in terms of giving our subconsciousness time to juggle and filter the events of the day without any new input, we do.'

Manko: 'Please tell me again why you brought me down here. As much as I love to hear about dinner, I would like to know a little bit more about immortality.'

Bokor, who rarely had spoken so far, replied: 'It's not really immortality. The absence of aging may provide humans with biological immortality, but not invulnerability to death by severe physical trauma. For instance, if your head gets cut off, nanotech will not grow you a new one. We call this living indefinitely. It means your lifespan is still uncertain.'

Zero: 'Bes, please hold the main course. I think Manko will need all of his senses to get his head around this. Instead, Gill please bring us some water.'

Gill got up from the table and left the room.

Zero: 'Manko, please close your eyes now for a full second, then blink fast once, then three times slow. That will bring up a layer that I'll use to illustrate our story.'

Manko did what Zero asked. In the middle of the room appeared a rotating model of the earth, with a clear distinction between the light and the dark side.

Zero: 'Our notion of time has its beginnings in the temporality of the sun disappearing every day and rising again the day after and we measure this time by the reoccurring of the seasons. Therefore the concept of time does not necessarily come from our own temporality.

Our internal sense of time is generated by an imprecise, biological mechanism. If you pay attention to time it slows down. That's why we consult our watches, humankind's oldest brain-enhancing technology, to correct the distortions of time that we experience.'

The animated earth disappeared and a collection of scenes from daily life popped up. It illustrated the lifecycle of one man at high speed intervals: growing up, getting married, in and out of jobs, children growing up, living together with his wife, all the way until his death.

Zero: 'What if the time we have been given or have created for ourselves turns to be unlimited? Then you will have to re-evaluate your experience of time and what you have learned from it. You will have to question every certainty you may have regarding what life is about. Basic questions about why we should still have children or have a career for example, the typical human habits that come from an urge to live on after we die.'

Bokor: 'And what do you do with a murderer for instance? A death sentence or being sent to jail for life suddenly gets a completely different dimension.'

Gill came back with a bottle of water and some glasses.

Manko: 'So tell me, are all of you immortal?'

Gill: 'Living indefinitely, no, not yet. You see, our advances in nanotechnology take time. So we merely lengthen our lives enough to have the time to do more research to lengthen it again. Right now, we've extended our time to a total of something like 150 years. That's not far from what could have been achieved without nanotech. But at the current rate of progress, we have speculated that by the time we're 150 years old, we can extend that to a few hundred years more. Unfortunately we will then be very old people, trapped in an old body. Even if we could get close to indefinite life, young people will have to take over the hard work needed to buy ourselves more time. If we draw up a progressive curve, predictions are, we will not be the first humans to truly live forever.'

While Gill explained this, an animated infographic displayed the cumulative extension of life expectancy. Zero now frowned and deleted the image. A new image came up. It showed a group portrait of six children. Three girls and three boys, all more or less around the age of ten.

Zero: 'A child living today however, treated in time, may well be the first real contender to have a shot at eternal life. Which, to come straight to the point, is what we are facilitating here right now.'

Suddenly there was a great silence at the table. Bokor's eyes shot fire at Zero and Nada turned pale. And while Bessy seemed to be frozen since dinner was interrupted, ignorant of the conversation, Gill seemed to be the only one at the table that showed a little smile.

Zero: 'I was going to tell you this after we discussed it among ourselves first, but I feel we've been keeping you in the dark for too long.'

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Should men be able to give birth to children?


Lisa Mandemaker: Using an artificial womb could lead to more equality between sexes, but also between different family layouts. If men would be able to give birth to children, it would maybe be easier for male same-sex couples to have a child together.

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