“When I’m at the pearly gates
This will be on my videotape, my videotape
Mephistopheles is just beneath
and he’s reaching up to grab me
This is one for the good days
and i have it all here
In red, blue, green
Red, blue, green” — Radiohead, “Videotape”
RECIPE FOR HEAVEN
Pt. 1: Ingredients
Spacetime travel. You’ll want a heaping helping of this, but not the fancy brand of spacetime travel where you can go back and alter the past. That’s not necessary for this recipe. All we need is the store-brand spacetime travel that lets you go back and be witness to the past. The package should say “Observational Spacetime Travel.”
Full spectral analysis. Ideally, you’re going to want to be able to observe every layer of every object you encounter, and record and analyse the observations. For this you’re going to need very advanced magnetic resonance imaging equipment and some powerful computers.
Full neural analysis. You’re going to need to be able to read minds, which means you’re going to need to be able to observe neural arrays, along with their electrochemical potentials and activity patterns, and interpret these elements to know the mind of the brain observed–its thoughts, emotions, mental capacities, memories. If you’re thinking about using a simple lie detector for this, stop. Certain consumer research groups are already using MRI imaging to tell whether a person prefers Coke or Pepsi without ever asking the person a single question–this is more along the lines of the full neural analysis we’ll need.
Full ethical analysis. This is the hardest ingredient on the list to get right. You might track down the other nine ingredients on this list and then have to wait a few hundred years to get this one. The idea with full ethical analysis is, once you’ve observed the life of a mind through full neural analysis, how can you evaluate that mind to calculate what it lacks in order to be a perfectly healthy individual, one who poses zero threat to himself and others?
Full neural translation. There’s only one kind of full neural translation that will work for our purposes–the kind that provides Continuity of Self. You’ll want to check the package for the CS label. Some people don’t buy that Continuity of Self matters, because it’s hard to prove it’s in there. But we know it’s possible to translate neural arrays in such a way as to preserve continuity of self… every night we become unconscious, and wake into a slightly altered mind and the next day, and somehow we identify with the brain and mind of the day before enough to assert that we’re the same person. The sleeping mind/brain alters its structure and acts as a bridge between the waking mind/brains of yesterday and today; other bridges between two minds might be stranger, less organic in structure, but if these bridges carry all of the information patterns of one mind to the next, and the resulting mind identifies with the originating mind, and so forth, we can say there’s a complete, physically continuous flow of one mind into the next. Some will still doubt that we can transmit consciousness through artificial devices or “bridges.” But consider two things. One: blind people have regained sight through the use of cybernetic implants, demonstrating that perception if not cognition can be housed in a substantially different form than the usual biological structures. Two: to translate a mind, does not require that there be consciousness during the translation.
Virtual realities. Note you won’t need to get the most expensive, fancy, real virtual reality possible. You can stay away from the top shelf. You will need to find one that can be custom-tailored and compartmentalized on the fly for each user, and capable of totally immersing the user in the experiences given. The virtual reality will need to be able to stimulate all manner of sensations, emotions, and cogent thoughts.
Solutions to suffering. If you’re gonna make a heaven, you’ve gotta keep the suffering out. You’ve gotta be able to wipe away every tear, heal every wound. As for specifics, well, season to taste–you’ll know you’ve got your solutions to suffering when every spoonful leaves a smile that doesn’t fade. Now, some will laugh at the idea of baking up a world without suffering; some think suffering’s inevitable. But note that most of those who think suffering’s inevitable still manage to drag themselves to doctors, psychiatrists, priests, and casinos in search of what? Exactly.
Solutions to evil. If this sounds like a weird one, remember we’ve been using imitation solutions-to-evil in our recipes for societies ever since we started cooking up societies. Truly redemptive and truly remunerative solutions to evil are hard to come by, though. You want to do the just and loving thing for both the offender and the victim in each case of injustice. To put it another way, you want to make sure the offender won’t repeat the offense, and you want to make sure the victim will be able to love the offender without obstacle. One solution accomplishes both these goals: the offender must know exactly what the victim experienced. The offender must be able to weigh his own small pleasure against the victim’s great pain and come to the same conclusion as the victim: that his offense was not in accordance with the golden rule. And this solution must be executed with enough accuracy to satisfy every victim’s desire for justice–the victim must be able to meet the offender with unoccluded love, safe in the assurance that the offender knows his pain perfectly and will never again see the offense as a worthwhile choice.
Solutions to spacetime limitations on populations. You’ll want a big heaven, is the point of including this ingredient. In fact, you’ll want a heaven so big nobody will ever get to the end of it, nobody will ever get bored. If it sounds unreasonable to ask for the ability to expand or create space at will, consider that our best physics lead us to believe that the universe expands space, creates new space, continuously and ubiquitously.
Transcendental bodies. Bodies enable us to experience limitations, enables us to interact with each other in a fair and reliable way, enables us to experience shared perceptions and thereby shared cognitions. In other words, any heaven worth its salt involves embodiment of some sort. But not just any bodies will do. Ask a bone cancer victim–they’ll tell you a thing or two about what’s less than heavenly in the typical body. Or ask an astronaut whose suit rips open on a spacewalk–he might have some thoughts about his inability to escape the vacuum of space, the inability to move at will to another location. So you’ll want to make sure you’re using the transcendental kind of body–one that can teleport at will, one that can go without food, one that can bilocate, trilocate, dislocate, echolocate. You don’t necessarily need to give every last person the most transcendental, powerful body imaginable, but you’ll want to be able to free people from earthly limitations in proportion to their abilities, proclivities, maturities. If this, like some of the other ingredients on this list, seems like a tall order, remember, humans are inventive, and are constantly expanding the abilities of our bodies and expanding the ways in which we can alter the hand–or whole fleshly body–we’re dealt. Extrapolate a little and you’ll find yourself in the right aisle. It’ll look a bit like the comic book aisle.