In search of longevity”—a buzzword now ringing through the hills of Northern —Silicon Valley billionaires are pouring liquid capital into cryonic vats and genetics labs. They’re popping supplements, receiving hormone treatments, even pumping young blood into their veins. For all their feverish effort, eternal le remains a distant fantasy.

Seekers of immortality are saddled with the body, the physical b, the fact of entropy. Eventually, things fall apart; cells stop dividing, DNA mutates, organs fail. In a piece for The New Yorker, Tad Friend neatly divided the “Immortalists” into two camps: the Meat Puppets, who “believe that we can retool our biology and remain in our bodies”; and the RoboCops, who “believe that we’ll eventually merge with mechanical bodies and/or with the cloud.” Both groups face potentially insurmountable challenges. The Meat Puppets struggle against the laws of nature and forces of decay. The RoboCops, who speak of “uploading” minds as by zip file, are stuck with the complexities of conscioness. But there may be a third way forward, a workaround that sidesteps some of the problems of the first two and targets subjective experience. Call them the Hackers.

Like the RoboCops, the Hackers want to tap into your b. But their goal isn’t to transfer the mind—“the ghost in the machine”—elsewhere. Instead, the Hackers want to mody conscioness, deceive the ghost inside your head, and make you feel as though you’re living forever. Their object of study is , and their inspiration comes from a plot device commonly ed in .

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  • For frazzled writers of the fantastic, it’s often convenient to rewrite the rules of . Depending on a plot’s needs, streams might flow dferently in dferent places. Over here, rhes by. Over there, trickles. The Quantum Realm referenced in Avengers: End is built around this sort of temporal manipulation, but -bending has a long history in the genre, showing up with particular frequency in those sci-fi television so enjoyed and binge-watched by workers everywhere.

    In Episode 125 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Inner Light,” Captain Picard is knocked out by a mysterio energy beam emitted from an alien space probe. As the bridge crew attempt to revive their unconscio captain, the “A Plot” follows Picard’s new le on the planet Kataan. Now “Kamin,” a married man and village blacksmith, he suffers delions of having once been a starship captain. Years go by and memories of the S Enterprise gradually fade. Kamin works in the village, masters the flute, and grows old enough to have grandchildren. None of it is real. In the final act, he wakes up, surrounded by his shipmates and in a state of shock. “How long?” Picard asks. “Twenty, 25 minutes,” his first officer replies.

    Rick and Morty has fun with the same idea in “Mortynight Run.” In a futuristic arcade on an alien planet, Morty puts on a VR helmet and plays a simulation called Roy: A Life Well Lived. He experiences an entire le in a matter of minutes. After 55 simulated years, it’s over for Roy, and Morty is pulled back to reality.

    Joe Potter isn’t so lucky. In the haunting conclion of Black Mirror’s 2014 Christmas special, it’s revealed that Joe has committed murder. A digitized version of Joe is trapped in virtual solitary confinement and condemned to experience a thousand years for every real-world minute. A few weeks add up to millions of years from his perspective. Black Mirror frequently rfs on the horror of eternity, and in “White Christmas” the extreme disjunction between objective clock and Joe’s of is brutally unnerving.

    This plot device, common not only in but also intrinsic to fantasy worlds like Narnia, Neverland, and Wonderland, is called “Year Inside, Hour Outside.” A hero goes on fantastic adventures (or lives a mundane le, or suffers in perpetuity) while stands relatively still. For now, YIHO is the stuff of fiction, a scintillating trope. But Elon Mk and others are right about the reality-warping potential of neuronology, then YIHO may be in humanity’s future as well.

    In 2016, Mk founded Neuralink, a secretive neuronology company developing implantable b-computer s. Inspired by the “neural lace” of author Iain M. Banks’ novels, Mk dreams of souped-up bs with upgraded cognitive abilities. (He’s also a Rick and Morty superfan, regularly meme-ing about the show.) In Mk’s view, we’re already cyborgs, stretching our “digital tertiary selves” across an ever-growing number of . The ultimate threat of an omnipotent articial intelligence demands that humanity augment or die.

    Neuralink’s objectives and projected lines—enthusiastically outlined by blogger Tim Urban, who interviewed Mk and his in 2017—are wildly ambitio. Mk talks about popup displays in a person’s visual field, the ability to “download” knowledge, direct b-to-b (i.e., telepathy). However quixotic this sounds, Mk is far from alone in his optimism. Mark Zuckerberg is funding into b-computer s in hopes of creating a “mind-reading machine,” a noninvasive device that would translate thoughts into digital interactions. Bryan Johnson, who sold his company Btree for $800 million, is investing $100 million of his windfall into Kernel, a company “building a noninvasive mind/body/machine to radically improve and expand human cognition.”

    It’s early days for this machinery. In the short term, companies like Neuralink and Kernel are foced on medical applications, aiming to help paraplegics and sufferers of Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s, and epilepsy. The crude nology es electrode stimulation of a few hundred neurons to manipulate motor function or strengthen memory formation. The human b contains more than 80 billion neurons. And higher-level functions—like those involved in planning, multitasking, creativity, memory—remain poorly understood.

    In other words, true sci-fi wizardry is a long way off and may ultimately be a pipe dream. Many of neuro’s more ambitio aims fall into the realm of “theoretically possible but currently incomprehensible.” Yet the upside is immense. Even skeptics in the b s—like David Eagleman, who balks at the idea of performing risky surgeries on otherwise healthy people—are glad that Mk and his cohort are attempting the improbable. One can chuckle at the mad while checking his progress with a sideways glance.

    Simply put, the b is where everything happens. According to neuro Anil Seth, reality is already a hallucination of the b’s making. “Our experience of the world comes from the inside out, not jt the outside in,” he said in a 2017 TED talk. As neuronologies open up our skulls and transform our hallucinations of reality, the most signicant consequence may be something our fictions have already imagined: altered à la YIHO. You can simply play the Roy simulation, over and over and over again—with your mindbody remaining right where it is. Year Inside, Hour Outside suggests a template for perceived rather than literal immortality. To develop a YIHO device, tomorrow’s Hackers can draw inspiration from the b’s innate capacity to distort the passage of .

    People have long known that is a mercurial phenomenon. Studies support the common-sense notion that time flies or crawls depending on a person’s activity. Lock yourself in a room with nothing to do and the hours seem to drag on forever. ’s “flow” fluctuates. To pull off a fluctuation like YIHO would require a radical expansion of subjective under an altered state of conscioness. Conveniently, dreams and drugs already meet this criteria and might provide crucial clues for developers of -altering neural implants.

    You’ve probably experienced temporal expansion while dreaming: the early-morning dream that seems to stretch on forever but actually unfolds in the precio minutes since you last hit the snooze button. “Five minutes in the real world gives you an hour in the dream,” says Arthur, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character in Inception. (Christopher Nolan seems fascinated with dilation, also exploring the concept in Interstellar and Memento). Daniel Erlacher, a sleep er at Heidelberg University, speculates that prolonged durations of dreammight be related to the lack of muscular feedback or slower neural processing during REM sleep.” But dreams, like so much of the mind, remain a mystery even to experts. For now, dreams point to the malleability of subjective and suggest a roadmap for manipulating perceived duration. a b-computer can precisely record b activity during particular dream states—and then articially reproduce similar conditions—then tinkering with a person’s of becomes feasible.

    Psychoactive drugs—including marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, DMT, and ketamine—are also associated with dramatic expansions of perceived . Whereas stimulants and alcohol seem to accelerate the passage of , ers of psychedelics and dissociatives often report experiences of slowing down, dragging on, or stretching out indefinitely. In Altered States of Conscioness: Experiences Out of and Self, Marc Wittmann suggests that certain drugs “lengthen” our of becae they distort our experience of physical space. He writes that the “representation of is linked to a functioning of space and body.” Intoxication alters the “neurophysiological processes that underpin the of and space.”

    Disrupt the comfortable unity of a mind/body existing within physical space, and warps—for better or worse, as any psychonaut will tell you. Virtual s could re-create the other-world quality of psychedelic experience, in which the rules of everyday le are frequently bent. As with dreams, the formula for -altering implants remains the same: figure out which neural buttons to press and then stimulate the b with the appropriate electrical/chemical signals. Observe the b under extreme conditions and then mimic its activity.

    The major hurdle is that is complex, irreducible, and distributed across the b and body. There is no one part of the b associated with , no single “inner clock.” In Your B Is A Machine, Dean Buonomano writes: “There is no organ of , there are no receptors in our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, or skin.” Instead, is born of a network of neural and bodily operations (including circulation, respiration, circadian rhythm) acting in concert. In other words, our setion of is a constant miracle.

    However, neuronologists need not grasp all of ’s mysteries in order to manipulate it, jt as lucid dreamers and acid-droppers can get their kicks without quite understanding how. The Hackers can make progress through steady experimentation.

    delivered through a b-computer —perhaps eventually foregoing the clunky headset—looks promising. Motor imagery-based s have already been ed to “control the steering of a virtual car, explore a virtual bar, or move along a virtual street or through a virtual flat,” according to an IEEE paper. As b-computer s and co-evolve, so will our experience of and space, with extraordinary consequences. What , instead of a prison, Black Mirror’s Joe Potter were in paradise? What , instead of a dystopia, the Matrix was an Elysium? As - er Marc Wittmann tells me, “ could allow to create fantastic worlds—in a safe way, which you wouldn't get with drugs—in which memory content, which shapes your subjective sense of duration, could totally expand.” You could explore your own personal Narnia while the world is more or less on pae.

    Mikhail Lebedev, a senior at De University’s Center for Neuroengineering, says that in order to manipulate subjective , “one needs to modulate b activity to make the b work faster—then the world will slow down—or slower—then the world will accelerate. Theoretically, this could be achieved with transcranial stimulation or nootropics.” According to Lebedev, ers are already exploring the neural basis of , and virtual and augmented realities will allow for remarkable possibilities. “Imagine a VR/AR sy that records the events in your visual but then replays them to you at a slower rate,” he says. “This could even be helpful for examining some details of a visual scene.” (An episode of Black Mirror, “The Entire History of You,” deals with this very idea.) Lebedev further suggests that “perhaps replaying your b states to you at a slower speed could change the of .”

    Is this a Hacker’s dream come true or a smoky hall of mirrors? You might envision a slowed-down augmented reality, a slow-motion Mirrorworld, in which computer-chipped citizens move through le at half speed, or quarter speed, or a tenth of normal speed. Every day could last a le under the influence of a Soma-esque euphoria. Except in this case the “drug” is an implanted computer chip.

    That neuro will pursue such a brave new world seems inevitable. Cracking the neural code of subjective would allow the augmented not only more to “live” but also more to consume. Today’s engineers of entertainment and social already take ample advantage of human b chemistry. Provided they’re safe, b implants aren’t a distant leap from our current situation, especially since has primed expectations. To borrow a memorable phrase from Thomas Disch, sci-fi has long supplied “the dreams our stuff is made of,” from iPads and credit cards to satellites and spaceships.

    As neuronology improves and social mores sht, what sounds strange will become mundane, even as ethical dilemmas arise. (Would it be wrong for a student to spend 30 simulated hours to one real-world hour learning calcul? What about thirty simulated years?) Complications aside, wouldn’t you buy yourself more you could?

    In a sense, you already can. ers of agree that the best approach to extending one’s perceived le is to frequently try new things. We remember what’s novel to , and more memories are associated with more subjective . This is why, in hindsight, a week-long vacation seems so much larger than a typical work week.

    But it’s human nature to want even more. The future of neuronology will be driven by primitive desires: above all, by the desire to survive, whether in this world or another. Year Inside, Hour Outside promises a virtual heaven on earth. Or a ted hell of hollow images and blurred hours. It all depends on how you look at it.


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