In What Should We Have Faith?

Blue Mountains

The New York Times recently had a feature about a young woman (Kim Suozzi) who knew she was dying of  brain cancer and opted for the faint hope of cryonics to freeze her brain to be revived at some future date when/if a cure for her disease is found. She's playing the odds. She had 0% chance of survival and a 1%-2% chance that her brain will be able to be revived successfully.

She was only 23 when she died and had her brain frozen. It does seem unfair that her life, which held so much promise, would end so early. But it has always been thus. We are subject to  the seeming randomness of nature and to forces we cannot control or predict. The desire to feel in control and to wrap our minds around the unknown has given rise to both religion (prayer, ritual, solace in belief) and science (theorize, experiment, analyze, repeat).

Some people have claimed that science itself is a religion, in that people "believe" in science and have "faith" in its ability to solve problems. This is most certainly true. But the belief is based on evidence and the faith is in the search for ever more clearly demonstrable facts. Science fails all the time, as does prayer. The difference is people continue to say the same prayers, do the same rituals in spite of that failure. Science just keeps moving, looking for what works. It's not really a set of beliefs, but a method for learning how the world works.

Some people like to hedge their bets and try to blend religion and science as equal partners in their world view. But the effort to hold both approaches to life creates a level of cognitive dissonance that might be hard to sustain. In Kim's story, there is no mention of religion. Neither as giver of comfort nor hope. She cast her bread upon the waters of science. As science advances is this not what we will all be drawn to do? As the article states:

" the brain preservation research that was just starting as Kim’s life was ending begins to bear fruit, the questions the couple faced may ultimately confront more of us with implications that could be preposterously profound."

Who will we be as more parts of us are shorn away and replaced by titanium rib cages, 3D printed livers and partially preserved brains attached to an android? It's the same question that I would ask of religion: Once our bodies die, who/what is the thing that lives on? What is the continuity between the thing we were and the thing we become? And of course, how do we know?