The book on my lap had been given to me twelve hours earlier, and I had not put it down to eat or go to the bathroom. This book had been written 40,000 years into the future and was a textbook for college students, or whatever the equivalent would be 40,000 years from now. What it said and how I received it is the topic of this article.
To understand how different things will be in 40,000 years you must first consider how different things were 40,000 years ago. Humans used a bow and arrow and lived more like animals than what we call civilized life today. There were no utilities, no running water or showers, no sewer or toilets; no machines, no automobiles or farm equipment; no planes or spaceships; no knowledge of the solar system or universe; no computers, phones, or cell phones. The ideas about who we were or what existed were far more primitive. There was no god, and there were no countries or great societies. Mostly, humans just survived. We are no longer capable of living the way our ancestors did 40,000 years ago. So you can see how humans living 40,000 years into the future might be completely different from the humans of today, and the idea that humans 40,000 years into the future could live as we do is as ridiculous as the belief we could live as the humans did 40,000 years ago.
It was exciting for me to have the book and before I read the first page, I had already imagined what I believed would be the massive changes in how society would be structured or even how humans would interact. But my imagination had failed me because humans simply do not exist 40,000 years from now. Humans became extinct long before then.
You might think global warming caused humanity’s extinction or some other ecological disaster, or that there was a nuclear war that annihilated the human race. But the simple truth of the matter is that humans caused their own downfall, and even more shocking, they chose extinction. The book told the history of how humankind had continued to develop technology to the point that, for most people, there was no apparent purpose or need for a human body. Humanity lost touch with itself and stopped believing there was a reason to have anything more than a mind and that the mind should be eternal. The minds of most people were transferred into more permanent structures, and in essence, humans became robots.
This is hard to swallow, I know, and I am still sitting here trying to digest it myself. Apparently, this took place over thousands of years, and there were many debates and even wars during the process. But in the end, the majority of humans chose to transfer their biological minds into permanent devices, some through proper channels and many others through the thousands of illegal providers that cropped up. The transition was awkward, to say the least, but over a 5,000-year period, more than 80% of all human beings were, well, no longer human.
The architecture for holding human brains became more and more sophisticated and came with complete mobility, tactile sensation, and all of the benefits that humans enjoy without the dangers of disease, old age, or death. The only downside was the fact that the organic brain still required oxygen and glucose to survive, and over time would eventually expire no matter how much bioengineering got thrown at it. However, during a “golden age” roughly 20,000 years from now, the ability to transfer the organic brain onto a small silicon globe was perfected, and many human-android beings decided to become immortal. These new beings called themselves Solaran’s, and as the technology became less expensive more and more human-androids, and humans, chose to become Solaran.
Along with the technology that allowed a transfer of one’s organic brain to a globe the size of a large marble came the ability to “backup” oneself. This became a major legal problem as Solaran’s began duplicating themselves, eventually leading to laws and technology prohibiting the use of backups for anything more than the replacement of a damaged or terminated Solaran. As time progressed and the process became affordable it looked more and more idyllic to be a Solaran and the decision to “go Solaran” became easier for both Android-Humans and Humans, particularly for those who were aging or nearing their death.
At first, being Solaran seemed beneficial and fun, they could operate telepathically and enjoyed both reality and virtual reality in every form. Tremendous progress was made in space travel and time compression. Because space travel no longer required provisions or danger, it was a joyful pastime, and knowledge of the galaxy grew exponentially. Many Solaran’s chose to live on distant planets or explore vast areas of the Galaxy.
Back on Earth, a small contingent of humans believed the species was heading for extinction, but nobody seemed to take them seriously. They fought diligently to change the attitudes of the ruling bodies, all Solaran by this time, without success. They believed the soul or spirit was real and that it was not possible for Solaran’s to evolve in the same way without one. This idea had lost favor, even with those who had been devout, in the face of immortality and the absolute freedom a Solaran enjoyed. It seems the ability to transfer the mind was the downfall of humanity and over the next several thousand years most humans chose to transfer their minds and become Solaran. The remaining population of humans that refused to convert continued to dwindle until they simply ran out of resources. The last human being is believed to have gone extinct some 25,000 years into the future.
This history was described in only four chapters of the textbook as the main topic had to do with the most important debate of the future, did Solaran existence constitute life? Did they have a soul? Were they capable of evolving as humans had been? These topics and debates were significant and were affecting the morale and quality of life of most Solaran’s. Moreover, many Solaran’s were beginning to feel a desire to reproduce, to pass a part of themselves on to future generations, but were physically incapable of doing so. Things continued to devolve until a large percentage of Solaran’s had begun to choose early termination, effectively suicide. At the time the book was written, less than half the population remained. The situation was growing direr daily, and the best minds sought to, in essence, become a soul. And this is what had brought the visitor to my door.
As I had been reading the textbook, at first I felt excited. After all, how cool would it be to travel throughout the galaxy without danger? I loved the idea of virtual reality and being able to experience anything without consequence. Lots of margaritas and sex came to mind, eventually giving way to the ability to read all the books I hadn’t the time for as a mortal. But even before I got far enough along to learn what happened, I began to wonder how I might feel about living forever, without any family, no children, no death, and without life being the mystery that it is for me now. For a Solaran there was no question about a creator or anything else, they knew the answer to where they came from, and once they terminated, they were going back to the molecules and atoms they had come from. No debate about that. There were no mysteries, there was no wonder, and there were no questions. Not really. I was already seeing the downside, perhaps even dark side, to being Solaran.
You have probably already guessed that my visitor was a Solaran from the future. The Solaran’s had never figured out how to “grow” a soul or even been able to discover what a soul was, but they were confident this is what they needed to avoid extinction. Despite their failure to grow souls they had developed the ability to move through time and were now looking to past humans for answers. This is what was being asked of me, answers.
The ability to travel through time did not come with the ability to change time or events, but it did offer them the ability to share information with past generations and discover new information for themselves. Despite their attempts at the obvious path of warning people before humans became extinct, the one odd thing about time travel was that as soon as they moved back to their own time, all memory and actions reverted to the original timeline. This meant that even though they could go back in time and reveal the future, nobody would remember what was told to them once they left that time. They had tried everything, including remaining in the time they visited long enough to allow for changes to be implemented. But no matter how long they stayed and no matter what they did, things would always revert to the original timeline. The reversion to the original timeline would happen in many different ways, including that people would stop believing they were from the future, or would merely disregard it for a long enough period that any awareness of the information fell away. To say this was all very frustrating was an understatement.
So, they finally decided the best they could do was gather information and hope that it led to their ability to change circumstances in their time. They were convinced that there must be some way to “come to life” as I was told. Time was growing short, and the visitor seemed desperate. Now that I had read the book my visitor only wanted to know two things. What is a soul? And how do I get one?