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Chaos Trifecta #12: Life/Death, Evolution, Technology

chaos trifecta
Written By Ai Jiang

Ai Jiang is a Chinese-Canadian writer and an immigrant from Fujian. She is a member of HWA, SFWA, and Codex. Her work can be found in F&SF, The Dark, Uncanny, among others. She is the holder of Odyssey Workshop's 2022 Fresh Voices Scholarship. Her debut novella Linghun (April 2023) is forthcoming with Dark Matter INK. Find her on Twitter (@AiJiang_) and online (aijiang.ca).

Includes spoilers for Convergence Problems

One thing I’ve been contemplating lately is the cycle of life and the interconnectedness between life, death, time, memories, evolution, and now the impact of technology on it all—the way we think about, experience, and understand each has changed with each new technological invention and innovation, more so now than ever. These elements have been interwoven and inseparable. Technology has become something that impacts life, extends it, even going as far as extending beyond death, and perhaps even the potential to rid our world of death once and for all—but should it? Today, we’re looking at a novella by Wole Talabi titled “Ganger” in his collection Convergence Problems that explores all these ideas and facilitates further philosophical discussions on life, death, and technology.

In “Ganger,” we are presented with a world so technologically advanced that it allows all to experience stability but in exchange, there is a lack of privacy—emotional and physical motoring, collection of data. And this brings me to thinking about current technology and the way our phones seem to be listening to our every conversation, privacy agreements for the different apps, and tools we use becoming more and more invasive, algorithms catering to our interests and perhaps eventually flipping that and become the curators of our preferences instead and manipulating it to the benefit of corporations?

In the novella, death becomes something measurable and explicable as rendered by science and mathematics rather than something more inexplicable and philosophical, as something to be controlled, that can be controlled rather than as a result of nature, where previously it cannot be measured or predicted and left more so to fate and the unknown.

In connection, what is most interesting about this world is the way it explores the possibility of making coded models of the human mind so humans will be able to survive even without the flesh bodies. This reminds me of the animated series created based on Ken Liu’s stories named Pantheon where great minds are brought back to life through technological modelling to be used in another period’s battles. In a sense, technology is slowly becoming something that is transcendent, as post-human while still somehow including humans, and the implications on humanity as it allows for a kind of immortality might not always be one that’s positive.

With modelling technology, there might come a time where the evolution of humans become one that removes the need for adaptation and surpasses limitations as result of mind uploading, where the physical human become obsolete—the extinction of humans as we know today, the rise of new post-human species. But with new technology there is always the introduction of new fears and consequences.

With technological immortality come the questions: Are we still humans without our bodies? If our minds exist only through code? If we rid ourselves of humanity’s perceived and supposed flaws and weaknesses and thrive for ideals of perfection?

It seems appealing in the way that it may help our minds break boundaries, rules of space and time, accentuate perception and sensory experience, and reshape creation and retention of memory (an example might be the movie Limitless or Inception).

But without the fear of death, and the limitations of time and space, without problems and issues and struggles, would we also lose the meaning of what it truly means to be alive? Would we still be “living” if there is no death?

Though it may be bleak to think about, it seems that the struggles of humanity to come together, to solve the problems we have created, to survive is what makes humans who we are, a crucial part of our identity. Problems and solutions, consequences and victories, and a blend of all these things. Without them, what are we? What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to live? What does it mean to live and be alive in a seemingly technological perfected world?

Without labor, what would we pursue? What might become of our art that tackles social and political faults and developments, explore what it means to be human, and our connection to the world. Do we have to have issues to have art? Does art always have to say something? What will come of religion? Folklore? Mythology? Storytelling and history making?

What will become of our passages of life, milestones, marriage, employment, children, family? How will post-human worlds, if it comes to it, deviate from cultures and traditions as we know today? How will all of these reshape, fall apart, evolve, cease to exist except for in the oldest and most hidden parts of our memories?

What are humans without death?