The Current

Digital afterlife: Can our minds live on after death?

Neuroscientists are making advances in their efforts to duplicate our brains — consciousness, memories and all — so we can live in a digital afterlife. The Current looks into disrupting death by allowing us to live on after our biological lives are over.
What if after our biological life is over, our minds could live on, as consciousness in a digitized afterlife? (Neil Conway/Flickr cc)

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As scientists continue to learn more about the brain, some predict that — eventually— a brain can be copied in a computer well enough to allow a person to "live on" after the body dies.

Dr. Michael Graziano, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University, believes it will be possible to live on in a computer after death. He tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti how a digital afterlife in the future can include a consciousness.

"We could create a second you, or at least a second brain that thinks it's you, has your memories, your personality," says Graziano on the possibility of a digital afterlife.

The concept of a digital afterlife opens up many interesting possibilities for people concerned with continuity.

Can we copy someone's mind one day so they can live on forever? Dr. Graziano says it's possible. (joiseyshowaa/flickr cc)
"Let's say you're an analyst for a company and you die. Your digital self is still there. It could Skype in on business meetings," says Graziano.

"I mean there's a lot of weird things that could go on …. in this digital form of you."

But, that technology wouldn't come without a catch. Graziano says there are also dangers to creating a digital afterlife since, "biological life would become devalued." 

Futurist Sanjay Khanna agrees there are dangers and says this kind of digital afterlife could potentially change the way we die. 

"It poses certain threats to religions, to the notions of afterlife they imagine," Khanna tells Tremonti.

"Some who would be able to imagine these things living in parallel, and others who would see them in absolute conflict with their spiritual and religious beliefs."

Khanna imagines a digital afterlife would change the way we deal with death emotionally, as well. He says it may become another way to distract ourselves from truly grieving.

"It would be a way to mitigate loss in spite of a great feeling of loss."

But Khanna says he can't imagine this technology could "eliminate the natural stages of grief that human beings go through when a physical body leaves a practical and vibrant presence in our lives."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sarah Grant.