Arthur C. Clarke

Merlin Speaks – Arthur C. Clarke on technological resurrection

Sir Arthur C. Clarke wasn’t a believer in any traditional religion, but he had a “Possibilian” open mind – he was open to the wonders of the possible. Sir Arthur’s disciplined but visionary scientific imagination included technological resurrection – the possibility that future super-advanced science and technology could bring the dead back to life.

In conversation with my friend José Cordeiro, Clarke said: “I’m always paraphrasing J. B. S. Haldane: ‘The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine’.”

An excellent 2008 Strange Horizons article by Nicholas Seeley, titled “The Wizard in the Space Station: A Look Back at the Works of the Late Sir Arthur C. Clarke,” offers one of the best reviews of Clarke’s work, interlaced with observations and reminiscences by science and fiction writer Gregory Benford, one of Clarke’s collaborators and one of the greatest science fiction writers himself.

Seeley’s article is full of Benford’s recollections of Sir Arthur, given in a phone interview. But Seeley adds his own. “[Clarke] would have said religion is akin to science in its earliest developmental phase,” notes Seeley. “What remains beyond the realm of ‘how’ is the domain of the mystic, the one who gazes into the future for technologies advanced enough to blur the distinction between physical law and magic. As a writer, this was where Clarke lived and breathed.”

According to Seeley, Clarke was “a mythologized figure of intellect and prescience, standing on the shadowy frontier of modern science.”

America in the early 1960s was Camelot, and Clarke was Merlin.

The Merlin of his time, Sir Arthur was indeed. In Camelot – that magical land of legend where dreams can come true – Clarke indicated the way to the stars and the mystical wonders of a vast universe out there. “Through his writing he became an embodiment of wisdom, both as it applied to earthly science and metaphysical mysticism,” notes Seeley. “[He] was both the wizard and the sage.”

Like many others I – an avid Clarke reader since childhood – owe my love for scientific imagination to my Master Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

“Camelot falls,” Seeley says matter-of-factly. Today, Camelot and the magic Apollo sixties seem very far. But “in the myths, all the great heroes get the chance to come again.” Now the question is, can heroes only come back in myths? Could Sir Arthur get the chance to come again in reality, whatever that is?

“My problem with reincarnation is: what is the input-output device, and what is the storage system?,” Clarke wondered in an interview with Dr. David G. Stork for the website 2001: Hal’s Legacy, Seeley reports. “This is a question that I’ve never had an answer to, but it’s a rather interesting one I think.”

“If we are somehow stored after our deaths and could be revived then there is the question – if no information is ever lost, if it is stored somehow in the fabric of the cosmos, then anyone who ever lived could be reincarnated – and this has been the subject of serious philosophical speculation.”

Clarke is using “reincarnation” in the sense of “resurrection”: coming back to life with the original memories and sense of self. The interview mentioned by Seeley has long disappeared from the web, but there is a copy in the Internet Archive. You see: before “dying” the document had been scanned by an overseeing intelligence, and a backup snapshot archived. The backup snapshot can be used to reconstruct the original. This is the concept of technological resurrection, aka Quantum Archeology or Akashic Engineering.

Seeley notes that Ervin Laszlo proposed similar ideas. According to Laszlo and other thinkers, a fundamental information and memory field associated with the quantum vacuum is “the deepest and most fundamental level of physical reality in the universe.” In “The Akashic Experience: Science and the Cosmic Memory Field,” Laszlo wrote:

“A universal information and memory field could exist in nature, associated with the fundamental element of physical reality physicists call the unified field… Honoring an ancient insight, this is the aspect or dimension of the unified field that I have called the Akashic Field.”

The above passage is quoted by renowned mathematician Ralph Abraham and physicist Sisir Roy in their book “Demystifying the Akasha: Consciousness and the Quantum Vacuum,” where the scientists propose a tentative mathematical model for the Akashic field. In his preface to Laszlo’s “The Connectivity Hypothesis: Foundations of an Integral Science of Quantum, Cosmos, Life, and Consciousness,” Abraham wrote: “When a great grand unified theory will appear it will very likely conform to the prophetic vision of Ervin Laszlo.” After “The Connectivity Hypothesis,” Laszlo wrote a simplified but thoughtful account of his ideas in “Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything” and then several related books.

“Is it science, or modern mysticism?,” wonders Seeley. “Who knows… If all information is indeed stored somewhere in the vast fabric of space, if what I hope is true, then Sir Arthur C. Clarke isn’t really dead. He’s just been uploaded somewhere. We will never know, but as Clarke himself has said: we can always wonder.”

In “Profiles of the Future“, revised millennium edition, at the end of the chapter “Brain and Body,” Sir Arthur wrote:

“I recently sacrificed some of my few remaining hairs, to be launched into space as part of the AERO Astro Corporation ‘Encounter Project’. If all goes well, they will leave the Solar System (after a boost from Jupiter) and the hope is that, maybe a million years from now, some super-civilisation will capture this primitive artefact from the past. Recreating its biological contents might be an amusing exercise for their equivalent of an infants’ class. Of course, I’ll never know – unless the experimenters are both very considerate – and Masters of Time.”

It is easy to imagine that a super-civilisation may be able to recreate a body from biological samples, but to recreate a human personality with memories, thoughts and feelings, they would need to be Masters of Time with at least read-only access to the past. So it seems that here Sir Arthur had in mind resurrection via time scanning technology plus mind uploading, aka “copying to the future.”

Clarke doesn’t doubt the conceptual – and future technological – feasibility of mind uploading. “Men and machines will merge,” he says in the Seeley interview. “We’ll be able to download our thoughts, our personalities into a computer. I think that’s inevitable. It doesn’t worry me. The fact that I’m a carbon-based biped, I wouldn’t look down on a silicon-based biped.”

In the chapter “About Time” of Profiles of the Future, Sir Arthur covers time scanning, Akashic Engineering and the reconstruction – resurrection – of the dead:

“If there is any way in which we can ever observe the past, it must depend upon technologies not only unborn but today unimagined. Yet the idea does not involve any logical contradictions or scientific absurdities, and in view of what has already happened in archaeological research, only a very foolish man would claim that it is impossible. For now we have recovered knowledge of the past which it seems obvious must have been lost for ever, beyond all hope of recovery…

No one can yet say how far such techniques may be extended. There may be a sense in which all events leave some mark upon the universe…

The reconstruction of the past is an idea even more fantastic than its observation; it includes that, and goes far beyond it. Indeed, it is nothing less than the concept of resurrection, looked at in a scientific rather than a religious sense…

Suppose that sometime in the future our descendants acquire the power to observe the past in such detail that they can record the movement of every atom that ever existed. Suppose they reconstruct, on the basis of this information, selected people, animals, and places from the past. So, though you actually died in the Twenty-First Century, another ‘you’, complete with all memories up to the moment of observation, might suddenly find himself in the far future, continuing to live a new existence from then onwards.”

In the last passage I have restored the “himself” in the original edition, which had been changed to “yourself” in the millennium edition (Clarke mentions “Political Correctness” in the foreword to the millennium edition). I prefer the original, which is grammatically correct, if not politically.

“Re-reading the above words after almost forty years, I see in them the genesis of the novel that Stephen Baxter has now written from my synopsis,” notes Clarke. In “The Light of Other Days,” Sir Arthur and Stephen Baxter describe a fictional time scanner, the “Wormcam”: a remote viewing device that permits scanning any location at any time in the past, by using micro wormholes naturally embedded with high density in the fabric of space-time (every space-time pixel is connected with every other space-time pixel). Soon, engineers are able to resurrect the dead.

Perhaps that’s how it will happen. Perhaps it will happen in other ways, stranger than we can imagine, as in Haldane’s words dear to Clarke. But I believe that happen it will, and one day I will be able to shake my Master’s hand.

Arthur C. Clarke

Picture by Jorel Pi/Flickr.

  • Peter Lehu

    Possibilian is a great concept that is new to me. The more I read authors like Clarke the more I feel open to the possibilities of existence. The Light of Other Days is one of those books that make speculation seem like possibility and potentiality.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Hi Peter. Yes, possibilianism makes a lot of sense. I don’t know if resurrection will be achieved by means of the technology described by Clarke and Baxter, or other technologies imagined by scientists and science fiction writers, or (more likely) technologies that we cannot even imagine at this moment, but one thing is certain: the universe is BIG, and striving to find ways to resurrect the dead will be fun.