Who Wants to Live Forever?

Last month’s post “On Cryonics” outlined why I’m skeptical of that transhumanist doctrine. In today’s post, I want to discuss more directly the goal which advocates of cryonics hope to attain – the achievement of immortality through technology that gives us the ability to halt or reverse the aging process.

In this case, my objection is not one of feasibility. I think it’s entirely possible that we’ll figure out how to do this eventually. (We already know of species, such as lobsters or giant tortoises, that show negligible senescence and that we can use as lab models.) My objection is instead along moral lines: even if we could do this, should we?

It’s often said that new ideas triumph not because their advocates convince everyone, but because all their old defenders eventually die out. What, then, would be the effect on human society if we ceased to die? To put it another way, what would the effect on our society have been if immortality had been invented in the era of slavery, or before women’s right to vote was recognized, or during the theocratic medieval ages when kings and popes held sway? Humanity’s moral progress would have been halted forever, our existing power structure and distribution of opinions lithified by a horde of immortal bigots.

I think we can agree that it would have been a disaster if immortality had been invented during the dark ages of our past. But have we made enough progress since then to be ready? It’s true that we have come far; but, I think any fair-minded person would agree, we have not come far enough. Many of the old prejudices still linger, and in some quarters their strength is virtually undiminished. And there are many more cases of bigotry and irrationality yet to be overcome, where whole groups of people are still denied the exercise of basic rights.

If immortality were invented, many of the people who would be among the first to take advantage of it are some of the ones we would least want to live forever. Wealthy dictators could exert a literally endless dominion over their oppressed people. Just imagine the theocratic clergy of Saudi Arabia or Iran living forever, strangling their countries’ liberty in a deathless grip of dogma; or North Korea becoming a cult state worshipping an immortal tyrant in fact and not just in ideology. Imagine racism or segregation enshrined as the eternal order of things. Up until now, natural death has forced every regime, no matter how despotic, to change eventually. But immortality could usher in tyranny that was literally never-ending. This is not a utopian vision, but the worst kind of dystopia imaginable.

Another point to consider is that the advent of planet-wide immortality would require us to give up something that is a deeply built-in part of our natures – the drive to have children. Yes, I’m aware that some transhumanists talk rapturously of settling other planets and expanding into the universe, but we should face up to the fact that voyaging on such a grand scale, leaving everything familiar behind, is never going to appeal to any more than a small fraction of the population. And even if it did, the economics of space travel are likely to remain prohibitive. We might be able to send small groups of colonists to other worlds to establish societies there, but it will probably never be a feasible way of emptying the planet of large numbers of people. Unless the advent of immortality brought with it drastic changes in human psychology, a world of immortals would soon become ruinously crowded and unsustainable, leading in short order to resource wars and the collapse of society.

And finally, what would be the effect on our individual lives? An extended life, with more opportunities to take in all that life has to offer, I certainly would welcome. But an endless life, in the long run, would lead inevitably to terminal boredom and despair. I find it more ethical and more rational to live life for a time, take advantage of its bounty, and then make way for a new generation for whom all the wonders of the world are brand-new. Who really wants to live forever?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    i do. i can’t imagine not wanting to.

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com Cannonball Jones

    The thought of life eternal has always instilled me with a little dread. First off I couldn’t even begin to contemplate the tedium which would doubtless set in. Also there’s the issue of overcrowding which is already a problem with our current lifespans. One of the main problems for more though is morality – I have long based my own principles on the fact that we are only given one shot at life and that it is a vanishingly short one at that. Given that fact we should strive to make this life as fulfilling and pleasant as possible, not just for ourselves but for all others who find themselves in the same situation. From that stems my entire moral code, simple but effective.

    By indefinitely extending our stint on the planet then there would not be any less requirement to act kindly and justly but it may well seem otherwise, especially with the aeons slowly warping brains which are only just able to handle finite lifespans. It’s a worry to be sure and while I love life I certainly don’t wish it to continue forever.

  • mikespeir

    But I wonder what we would be like if our minds–our brains, like the rest of our bodies–remained supple. Maybe we wouldn’t as readily lose the ability or desire to change.

  • Shawn Smith

    toomanytribbles,

    Really? I can’t imagine wanting to live forever. You’ve learned everything there is to learn, you’ve done everything there is to do, and then what? Do it again? And again? And again? And again? And again? And again? Sounds like a never-ending groundhog day at that point. No, on this point I have to agree with Ebonmuse. Get what I can out of this life, make the world a better place to live for everyone else, and then die quietly in my sleep. That sounds far more appealing.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Get what I can out of this life, make the world a better place to live for everyone else, and then die quietly in my sleep. That sounds far more appealing.

    Personally I’d rather be shot by a jealous husband :)
    Actually immortality or at least the chance of a vastly enhanced life span is very appealing to me. I’ve always assumed though that human life span would increase gradually over generations rather than quickly due to a technological big bang. If so society would ease itself into a different pace of existance. I agree with Ebon though that sudden immortality available to a wealthy or powerful few would be a disaster.

  • Marlon

    I have enjoyed your essays/posts for many months now. First time commenter.

    One thing that occurs to me when reading about the possible eventuality of immortality or greatly lengthened life span is the increased importance of the risk of death by trauma. I know that when I fly or sail or ride my bike or drive my car there is at least some risk of trauma death. I weigh that risk, mostly sub-conciously, against the certainty of my death in any case within 10-50 years. If I could expect 100 to 500 or more, would I even dare to cross the street? Would physical risk-taking be a thing of the past? Would the world be one giant air-bag? That seems kind of boring.

  • Euan

    “Really? I can’t imagine wanting to live forever. You’ve learned everything there is to learn, you’ve done everything there is to do, and then what? Do it again? And again? And again? And again? And again? And again? Sounds like a never-ending groundhog day at that point.”

    New science and art is being produced faster that it could possibly be learned, running out of new experiences certainly isn’t a problem. Of course if you did get so tired of life you could just end it. The difference is that you would get to choose how much time you get to enjoy your life instead of a brief period in which your body gets progressively less able to allow you to do the things that you would like.

  • John Gathercole

    Ebonmuse, I remember a past post of yours where you stated some lofty goals of yours — learning every language, traveling everywhere, studying every discipline. If you could live forever, you could actually do that. You could become an expert in every field of science. You could finally understand the world, in all its wonderful detail. Maybe someone who learned so much would be able to make scientific discoveries, or have insights about human nature, that are simply unavailable to a mortal person who is only able to really become an expert on a small sliver of a field. You can’t say that’s not tempting.

  • TJ

    Immortality is not the same thing as invulnerability. Just because you stop aging doesn’t mean you would have to give up the ability to die. If you don’t think suicide is immoral, you could always off yourself if you got bored after a billion years. I’d like a chance to live long enough to get that bored.

    Who knows, maybe near immortality is necessary for certain scientific breakthroughs. research shows that marriage and having kids puts a damper on scientific and other kinds of creativity. So, imagine being born into a society of immortals, and being raised on the idea that your first thousand years of life are for making your mark on the world. Maybe there are problems that can only be solved by a (young? human?) mind that is focused on the problem for 500 years.

    My concerns about immortality are economic: if you aren’t wealthy when you become immortal, does that mean you just have to work at Wal Mart for the next hundred million years making minimum wage? If only the wealthy can afford the treatment, will they continue to accumulate power and money while keeping the treatments out of the hands of the masses? One can easily go down a conspiracy rat hole with those ideas.. if you were rich and power-hungry and you owned the key to immortality, would you tell anyone you had it? Compound interest and unlimited time means there’s no greater amount of money that would compel you to sell it. Imagine the loyalty you’d have from trusted friends and family members you also made immortal. Yikes.

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Actually, I don’t think an endless life would necessarily lead to boredom and despair. I base this on the fact that most people are about equally satisfied with their life, regardless of their circumstances. It’s impossible to reach perfect happiness, because whenever our life takes a turn for the better – or for the worse! – our minds adjust to the new state and reach the same equilibrium again. Essentially, our brains are problem-solving machines that use happiness and unhappiness as means to make us do what is required to improve our lives. This wouldn’t just stop because we happened to have an endless life.

    Besides – unless you believe there’s a limit to knowledge, science will never stop. So we could all amuse ourselves with finding the answers to the big mysteries of the world!

    That said, I think the point about stagnating morality is a good one. People have a hard time changing, and it seems the older they are, the harder it gets. I’m with Steve Bowen though – I believe the human life span is going to be increased incrementally, as it has so far. The only sudden, dramatic step I might expect is the possibility of transferring a mind to a different medium than a brain (such as a computer). But there’s no magic key to aging – it’s an incredibly weird phenomenon that we still know very little about. It probably has many different causes and hence there won’t be a simple solution.

  • J

    I agree with your reasoning, Ebon, but I’m not sure I agree that immortality is even futuristically feasible. Large, multicellular organisms like us have serious biological imperatives to age. These are not the kind of things that will take “years of research” to overcome but rather are like the speed of light: Absent the discovery of some sort of “work-around” for basic principles of genetics, metabolism, and cell biology, we’re always going to die.

    Chief among these is the progessive shortening of the telomeres–strings of DNA that regulate cell division. As much as any single thing, telomere shortening–which occurs whenever our cells divide (in other words, as we heal, grow, and metabolize food)–is what causes us to age. We can slow this down–most easily through caloric restriction (eating less; a LOT less)–but stopping it is largely beyond our ability. There have been some successes in preventing telomere shortening in lab animals (mostly organisms like nematodes and such, although I thought I heard they recently did it with mice) but it tends to lead to very bad side effects, notably immediate and rampant cancer. Telomere shortening is like gently letting out the slack in a taut cable: Yes, it ages us, but it also keeps our cells reproducing in a more or less healthy way–that is, NOT producing cancers.

    For me, I hold out a lot more hope of lifelong YOUTH than I do of eternal life. I don’t even necessarily mean looking 19 until the day you die (although that might be nice, too) but rather staving off the effects of dementia, brain shrinkage, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological effects of aging. To have a mind as flexible and adaptive as a childs’–i.e. to learn new languages just by being continually exposed to them–is to me a genuinely exciting and also more scientifically/technologically plausible possibility. There’s real possibilities of this sort of thing in the nearish future; regenerative medicine for the brain, finally zeroing in on the causes of Alzheimer’s, etc. Something worth hoping for.

  • Ann

    Interesting post. The Pandora’s Star space opera (if you’re into that kind of thing) by Peter F. Hamilton paints his version of immortality and space travel for the human race. Its actually fairly believable in a way.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t mind living forever. Or at the least live as long as I feel like I’ve learned and experienced as much as I desire, which would probably be a long time since I feel like science has endless possibilities!

  • http://www.jamichon.nl John A. Michon

    For many years I have struggled with the following consideration. In the West we have lived for quite some time with the idea that the first 15 to 25 years of our life consist of being young and learning something useful. Then we have 40 or 45 years of hard or not so hard work during which we are supposed to fill our retirement coffers. This then is followed by 5 or more years of seniority, receiving our retirement allowances and (perhaps) having a good time. This, at least, was the idea of a post-WWII humane society from, say, 1950 onward, when we reckoned with a 70-75 years average timespan. Nowadays, however, we come close to the age of 80-85 on average. This means that our average seniority period has nearly tripled in the past 60 years. Meanwhile our working life has remained constant or even decreased as a result of early retirement options. How difficult it is to change this state of affairs is evident from the present struggle in many European countries to do away with early retirement altogether and to raise the age of retirement from 65 to 67 (not instantly but over a 24 year period!). This amounts to a five percent increase in working years compared with a 35 percent increase in senior years. This creates a socio-economic unbalance that will turn out not to be sustainable in the long run. Consequently, by the time people reach an average age of 200 years (healthy years, of course, not as vegetables) it will become the rule that after 25 years of youth and education, people — I am now talking about my and your grand-grandchildren — will enter a 120 year working career, followed by a 60 year period of leisure time, playing golf, bridge, going on cruises and taking care of their greatgrandchildren… still with me? What when eventually we reach 300 years? Now, close your eyes and consider immortality in this light! Still want to be immortal? Anyone?

  • Gauss wanna come back

    I don’t think one would get bored in an eternal life, but if so, he could just kill himself?

  • 2-D Man

    In the same vein as what J pointed out: even if you stop aging, cancer will kill you. It might take a little longer to die in some cases, but cancer will kill you.

    But the thesis of the post is one with which I have to fundamentally disagree. Yes, immoral people will use such technology immorally, but you cannot stop scientific research because someone will behave irresponsibly with it. I’ve been watching the Terminator Series recently, and this is a major theme of that show. There’s even one scene where Sara Connor dreams of shooting the scientists and engineers responsible for building the first atomic bombs. This approach to solving the problem is no better than abstinence-only sex-education: refuse to acknowledge the issue and you hope it goes away.

  • prase

    I don’t want the immortality become widely available now. The problems with resulting overpopulation and rigidity of doctrines are real and serious. But that’s not the same as to say that I wouldn’t pick the opportunity for myself and few people whom I like. It doesn’t sound much fair, but I can’t help: I want to live forever. (Or, better to say, until falling victim of some accident, disaster or murder. I just don’t look forward to being old, ill and knowing that I have only few years left.)

    Boredom isn’t really an argument. First of all, people don’t remember infinite number of things. We all forget our knowlegde, and we would remember almost nothing from few thousand years ago if it wasn’t used in between. Hence it could be learned once more with new genuine curiosity. And there are infinitely many things to learn, so many places to visit, so many books to read and experiences to gain, that you can’t possibly run out of them during the expected immortal-human-life halftime due to accidents (with the security level comparable to present, I expect it to be about 2000 years, just look at how much people die in traffic accidents only; without cure for cancer it would be even much less). The nice thing wouldn’t be that your time is infinite, but that it is unlimited – there would be no sure time of death.

    There are more risks of transforming the society than those mentioned in Ebon’s post. For example, people could become pathologically careful if they knew that they can live forever. Perhaps we will lack heroes sacrificing themselves for the common good since the value of your own life (and human life in general) would increase. Even with enough space to expand the violence will probably increase. If you knew your enemy will be here forever you may be more tempted to kill him; this can hold for criminals as “enemies of the society” as well.

    On the other hand, immortality would be a fatal blow for religions. They would lose their strongest weapon, the fear of death. Maybe people would try harder to improve their lives with no resignation in later age. The education could be much better without time constraints; even now people often become specialists in their fields after the peak of their powers. With the progress in science we can easily reach situation when the necessary education would take 30 or 40 years. Then, extension of human lifespan would be necessary if the progress is not to stop.

    Or maybe this all is wrong, I don’t know. After all, the single fact what is sure about the future is that all our predictions about it will turn out to be ridiculous. But it is not important. If the immortality will be achieved then it will happen surely step by step, by continuous prolongation of the expected life length. It will not be an instant revolution (unless you believe in singularity) and the society will have enough time to adapt. To propose that we should actively restrain from research in that direction, or that we should insist on some (arbitrary?) limit of the lifespan doesn’t seem to me as either ethical or rational.

  • Peter B

    The fear-mongering here could have been a little less one-sided.

    We have not come far enough? What if longevity is among the critical prerequisites to move any farther? In that case, we’re looking at a vicious circle: ‘We must not prolong our health-spans because we are too unenlightened’ and we remain unenlightened since our civilization gets ever more complex and hard-to-understand so that our lives are half over once we begin making sense of it. I think the absurd waste of knowledge and talent through mental aging is a main reason for our global predicaments.

    Your next mistake is to assume that anti-aging research will happen in a technological vacuum with no accompanying improvements to brain plasticity, capacity for rationality, and effectiveness of contraception. But the same bioscience advances that will extend our healthy lives will also allow us to remain mentally agile and youthful into old age, to maintain our desire for novelty, enhance our learning and thinking skills, and allow women and men to gain full control over their fertility. Thanks to the pill and other advances, birth rates in many industrialized countries are already well below replacement levels. Increased longevity would merely help us readjust the death rate to the lower birth rate.

    I don’t feel that built-in drive to have children. Am I a freaky mutant or is the author making an unwarranted generalization? Sometimes, the desire for sex is being bashfully veiled as a “procreative instinct”, and at other times, people procreate because they expect help and support from their offspring once the frailties of old age strike. But technology is separating sex and security from reproduction, a trend likely to continue. Thus birth rates are going down.

    I’m not sure at all if it would have been a disaster if “immortality” had been invented during the Middle Ages. Longer lives are the very reason we emerged from the darkness and ignorance of our past. Learning and integrating one’s knowledge into a rational outlook takes time. If folks continue to kick the bucket before they reach a mind-state approaching wisdom, the result may be more violence, groupthink, and superstition. In history, wars of conquest, civil wars and totalitarianism were usually driven by mass psychoses among, and power grabs by, the younger generations. Cue the 9/11 bombers, Islamic activists, and great early-20th century ideologies. But once again: these considerations are dubious because they assume a static level of neural and reproductive technology. The only way to find out how a world without biological aging would be like is to try it.

    People who truly love science want to see the future. I’m probably too far into mid-life to reap the fruits of superlongevity research, but pondering this coming triumph of our ingenuity makes me happy nonetheless. Those who prefer nothingness can choose to embrace it, but they don’t have a right to impose it on others.

  • MZ

    Immortality is only possible if lower entropy systems exist and we can hopscotch across them in perpetuity. Otherwise this universe will reach a point where there is no more usable energy (low entropy energy capable of doing work) and you will die. It may take 10^1000 years, but it will happen.

    If technology continues to advance at an exponential rate and things like super-intelligence and space colonization become possible, I think most of your (ebon) points are moot. If redesigning the brain or uploading minds onto machine substrate is possible, then we can escape the primate psychology that drives so much of the tyranny and destruction in the world. And if technological advances alleviate resource scarcity, there will be little to fight over. Sounds like crazy stuff, but even if it takes 100, 1000, or 10,000 years to reach that state, that’s early in your expected life of negligible senescence.

  • MZ

    Ebon, put another way, your argument is predicated on the idea that negligible senescence is the only technological advance that will happen. That we will live the exact same purely human lives for millions of years. IF we can live for another million years and technology continues to advance exponentially, we can’t even imagine what life will be like. There would be no humans as we know them. No primate brains looking for power and domination, because, most likely, advances in things like nanotechnology and spacefaring will provide us with as much resources as we need.

    Maybe we’ll opt for uploading and live out our existence in virtual realities of breathtaking fantasy.

  • Polly

    @Marlon,

    Would physical risk-taking be a thing of the past? Would the world be one giant air-bag? That seems kind of boring.

    I was thinking of writing a story based on exactly that premise! A society of stymied immortals, afraid to squander their multi-century, possibly multi-millenial lives for a few thrilling experiences.

    Without the near-certainty of death beyond a certain point, all risk-calculations become oppressive.

  • http://toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    first of all, there is no such thing as immortality in the sense that it’s been laid out here. our planet will change, as will our universe. they are finite and so are we. it’s not a matter of medicine, then — immortality would mean surviving the death of the universe.

    again, even that is something i would want.

    but here we’re talking about a very, very long life span — that, i would take very gladly. i don’t see how one cannot, especially if you’ve considered the enormity of what it means to die, especially if you do not believe in the afterlife. that is, to no longer exist, to disappear. there is no pleasure or pain or anything in not existing.

    between not existing or existing, i’ll take the latter, any day.

    besides, as long as there’s something new to learn, which there will be, i’m never bored.

  • chet

    Even if an infinite life is objectionable, Ebon, it doesn’t follow that the optimum human lifespan is 80 years plus or minus 40. You may not want to live forever but I’m certain that, at the end of your life, you wouldn’t mind another week. And another week at the end of that week. And so on.

    Why don’t you talk to some 90-year-olde and find out how boring they think their lives have been?

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    If we were nominally immortal (as in elimination of death by old age), the average lifespan would actually be finite anyway. We have accidents and get diseases. Even assuming radical changes in behavior (super conservative driving, for instance), we would have an average lifespan of around 1000-2000 years.

  • Valhar2000

    The people who eventually die and let the younger generations take over are generally old people, who, as is well known, tend to become set in their ways, conservative and more pessimistic the older they get. If the inmortality process was able to halt these aspects of aging, the old adage of letting defenders of old ideas dies would not hold so well.

    The conspiracy theory scenario is unlikely, at least the typical Hollywood formulation of it. The kind of research necessary to abolish aging would require many years, thousands of researchers and obscene amounts of money; a single person, or a small group of people, could nto possibly keep all that under control. A group of wealthy persons could fund the research necessary to solve the last hurdle and then keep the solution to themselves, but that woudl be no guarantee that another research team somewhere would not find the same answer, or an equivalent one, on their own. And even this presuposes that there will not be a smooth transition consisitng of ever increasing life expectancies, which is by no means a given.

    Now, if you argue that residents of 1st world countries will get this while the poorest people in the world won’t, you have a point.

  • velkyn

    I have to take issue with this “a deeply built-in part of our natures – the drive to have children.” Sorry, not all of us have this. I find it to be more societal than “built-in”.

  • http://schpatz.blogspot.com Peter

    This sort of technological breakthrough strikes me as a world-changing event. It’s a singularity of sorts in that it’s hard to imagine what the world would be like afterwords. Do you really think the world would go on exactly as it was, if people could be immortal? Would people continue to have children? How would the economy work? Would a person retire from a profession, only to find a different one? There are plenty of things in current society that would come into question. This is assuming that it is available to everyone.

  • DemonHype

    I’m female, will be thirty in March, and I still have absolutely no compulsion to have kids. In fact, the very idea of my becoming a parent fills me with revulsion that ranges from mild to not-so-mild. It’s not that I hate kids–far from it, I get along with kids great. I just have absolutely no desire to have any of my own. My biological clock should be harrassing me, or so I’m told, but I haven’t heard anything. I doubt I will, because I agree that’s more societal than biological.

    To many, I’m a total mutant as a woman, but to me they are the mutants. There is nothing more perplexing to me than these early twenty-somethings panicking wildly as they try to rope some poor confused dupe into jumping in over his head and ruining his life just so they can play out the ultimate Disney Princess script before they’re thirty. They seem to find that romantic. Bleah.

    When I was writing cheesy fantasy in high school, there was always a distinction in my elven societies between their potential maximum ages and average ages. They could live something like a thousand years, but only some lived past two hundred and rarely did any of that number live past five hundred. For someone to make it to eight or nine hundred was an honored achievement. The reasoning was the same as TX CHL Instructor outlined–sure you can live a thousand years, but even if you live a closed existence in a xenophobic little hole, a lot can happen in just a hundred years, between disease and war and all the other wonderful ways nature (or God, take your pick) has devised for us to go–one decent tornado or flood slicing through your elven grove could bottleneck your immortal population. Losing the age-based death doesn’t necessarily address all of those other things.

    I no longer write fantasy. I’m not gleefully idealistic enough, and I never was.

    Well, maybe when I was six. :)

    For that same reason, I see no reason why anybody (myself especially) should get bored, though I suppose for some it could. When I was unemployed for a year, my sister was amazed I didn’t have the TV schedule memorized–you see, I like to read and learn and argue and think and practice piano and animation, but her entertainment consists of mostly “TV” and “going out” (clubbing, or restaurants, etc.) If that’s the limit of your interest in life, you’re going to get bored really fast. But as others have said, you could always off yourself if it got that bad.

    I do agree that such a breakthrough at this point, with our current level of economic values (worshipping the religion of Predatory Capitalism, following the doctrine of Unchecked Greed Uber Alles) might get ugly. But I also agree that the potential of misuse is no reason to halt valuable scientific research. We could play the what-if game all day if it came to that, while still living in caves wiping our butts with our fingers.

  • http://generalnotions.talkislam.info Ergo Ratio

    How would immortality (rather, the end of death by age) NOT drastically change human psychology?

  • Tom

    MZ, have you read Asimov’s The Last Question?

  • Nurse Ingrid

    Not to harsh everyone’s buzz, but what happens when the sun goes supernova? I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be around to see that.

    I pretty much let go of my fantasy of “living forever” once it was pointed out to me that the Earth is probably going to be a lot less habitable and a lot more polluted within the next few hundred or thousand years, especially at the rate we’re going. Plus, if everyone just stopped dying, the overcrowding alone would become untenable in less than a generation.

    So forget about eternal life here on earth. Just ask Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged how well that worked out for him.

    And I used to be bummed that there was no afterlife, until I realized that no religion has ever described a “heaven” that I had any desire to experience. Seriously, sitting on a cloud forever with your relatives? Doing what, making eternal conversation? Singing endless praises to the sky fairy? I’ll pass.

    Which isn’t to say that I wouldn’t like a few extra thousand years to read every book and see every movie and visit every place that I possibly could…

  • Polly

    Oh, just to make it clear: Put me down for “immortality”, too; whatever that may mean.
    I’ll make my way onto one of those deep-space-faring vessels if need be.
    Or, off myself in a couple thousand years.
    Either way.

  • http://wilybadger.wordpress.com Chris Swanson

    Hey, I plan to live forever or die trying. ;) Actually, if I could effective immortality (ie: no disease and no aging), I’d take it in a heartbeat. I figure after a few thousand years I might get bored and decide to end it all by jumping into a volcano or something (especially if I had a brain cloud), but having enough time, unending time, to do everything I wanted to do and things I don’t yet know about? Yeah, I’d hop all over that!

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    In one way I’m a bit surprised this post hasn’t attracted some comment along the lines of ” we are all immortal in heaven”. Perhaps physical immortality is after all an atheist preoccupation, given we don’t expect it in the hereafter.

  • Eric

    This post strikes me as… I don’t really know what the word is. Short-sighted?

    First, we know from your Cryonics post that you read Overcoming Bias, so it seems if you were going to do a post on immortality it would at least be worth mentioning Yudkowsky’s ideas on Fun Theory, even if you disagree with them, rather than just saying that boredom is “inevitable.”

    Second, most of this post comes off roughly like this: “Immortality? But… but… It wouldn’t work because of this! Or this other thing!” It doesn’t sound like you’re honestly questioning (a) if it’s plausible, or (b) if it’s a good idea. It sounds more like you’re trying to come up with reasons why it’s neither. (I’m curious what the ratio is of dictators removed by force, and dictators who died of old age. And I’m also curious how many dynasties survived regardless of immortality. It seems like both of those would be necessary information to conclude that immortality would have a negative effect on morality.) Is it really true that humans could not improve to the point that they didn’t need to die off to improve their average morality? You take it as a given.

    Finally, if immortality isn’t good, then how old should we live to? That’s the obvious question that arises, and you don’t even mention it. You talk about generations, and living life for a time, but how long is the time? How long is a generation? Is it better to live 80 years than 30? Is it better to live 120 than 80? Is it better to live 500 than 120? At what point is it no longer okay to extend life? Where’s the cutoff, and why?

    And to all the commenters who left comments along the line of “But look at this problem today, what will we do if we live way longer?” I say this: Think about how much horse poop we’ll have in the streets if everyone lives forever and has a horse-drawn carriage! I wouldn’t want to live forever with that to deal with!

  • Entomologista

    If we could live longer it wouldn’t be rush rush rush all the time just to get things done before you’re old and decrepit. Most scientists don’t become acknowledged experts in their fields until they’re 40 or 50. By that time they’ve got 15-20 years until they retire, assuming they don’t drop dead from working too hard before that. During that time they’re trying to offload their accumulated knowledge onto others, create knowledge, and squeeze in time to have a personal life. It’s too much in not enough time. Part of the problem is resources, too. If I had all the money I needed, would 70 years be enough time to see all that I want to see and do all that I want to do? Probably not, but it would be a really good start.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Just to touch on one point briefly – several commenters have said they don’t feel any instinctive desire to have children. Well and good; you’d do well in a world of immortals. But that is not the norm for human beings, as I hope we can all agree; and even if it were, it would only take a small percentage of the population being determined to reproduce to cause serious problems.

  • bestonnet

    Original Post:

    My objection is instead along moral lines: even if we could do this, should we?

    No matter how immoral you could argue immorality to be, banning it would be even more immoral (since you are sentencing innocent people to death by doing so), not to mention that the only kind of society that could make such a ban last would be an oppressive, stagnant dictatorship (as a liberal democracy would eventually overturn any bans on useful technology). It would also have to be global and to suppress the space program (otherwise people who escape could develop the forbidden technology).

    Would that be an acceptable price to pay to avoid what you see as dangers of immorality?

    Original Post:

    It’s often said that new ideas triumph not because their advocates convince everyone, but because all their old defenders eventually die out.

    A worry, but something that should be solvable.

    The best case would be if in figuring out how to live forever (or close enough) that we also figure out how to ensure that it is still possible to change one’s mind in old age and if that doesn’t work then new minds can be created constantly much as happens today with children who can then go off on their own and try the new ideas that their elders won’t accept (and when you consider how big the universe is, there’s a lot of room for people to experiment).

    I suspect it’ll be a mixture of those (and even today, old people aren’t completely set and can change their minds).

    Original Post:

    But have we made enough progress since then to be ready?

    Improved morality often derives from improved technology, I suspect that will be the case here (i.e. the moral progress we need to make will be made soon after we get immorality, just as moral progress on slavery was made soon after we came up with technology that allowed us to not have slaves).

    Original Post:

    Up until now, natural death has forced every regime, no matter how despotic, to change eventually. But immortality could usher in tyranny that was literally never-ending.

    We’ve already had tyrannies that were effectively never ending even with natural death so this really isn’t anything specific to immorality (in fact it is what you’d need to stop immorality from happening).

    What ended those historical tyrannies was contact with outside cultures more powerful than they, is there any reason to believe that wouldn’t still be the case should immorality be developed?

    Original Post:

    This is not a utopian vision, but the worst kind of dystopia imaginable.

    A small proportion of the total people alive living under a totalitarian system is not the worst dystopia imaginable (I’ve already described one that is worse in this post).

    Original Post:

    Another point to consider is that the advent of planet-wide immortality would require us to give up something that is a deeply built-in part of our natures – the drive to have children.

    Aside from a basic mathematical error (if you actually calculate the effects that immorality would have on population growth you find out that it’s a completely insignificant difference) you also must ignore the fact that there is room for trillions of people in this solar system and the possibility that people will decide that they don’t need to have as many children (the “got to keep the family going” argument won’t make much sense to an immortal).

    Original Post:

    Yes, I’m aware that some transhumanists talk rapturously of settling other planets and expanding into the universe, but we should face up to the fact that voyaging on such a grand scale, leaving everything familiar behind, is never going to appeal to any more than a small fraction of the population.

    Just as moving to a different continent on Earth will never appeal to more than a small fraction of the population.

    If Earth really did get as over-crowed as you fear then space would start to look very good for a lot of people.

    Original Post:

    And even if it did, the economics of space travel are likely to remain prohibitive.

    That is an assumption that goes against a lot of history, new technology often starts out so expensive that it is a luxury good and then moves down in price (or the average wealth goes up) to the point at which even the poor consider it a necessity, why should space travel be any different? (other than your argument not making sense if it weren’t).

    Original Post:

    We might be able to send small groups of colonists to other worlds to establish societies there, but it will probably never be a feasible way of emptying the planet of large numbers of people.

    This quote and the previous should go into a file to add to a list.

    Cannonball Jones:

    I have long based my own principles on the fact that we are only given one shot at life and that it is a vanishingly short one at that.

    How is that any different from those who base their principles on the ‘fact’ that they are given only one chance from God to prove themselves worthy?

    You really need to come up with a better basis for your morality.

    Nurse Ingrid:

    Not to harsh everyone’s buzz, but what happens when the sun goes supernova? I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be around to see that.

    The sun won’t go supernova, it isn’t big enough (besides, we’ll probably have intergalactic travel by the time the sun becomes a red giant (and there are ways to delay even that)).

    Nurse Ingrid:

    I pretty much let go of my fantasy of “living forever” once it was pointed out to me that the Earth is probably going to be a lot less habitable and a lot more polluted within the next few hundred or thousand years, especially at the rate we’re going.

    The rate we’re going is to reduce the amount of pollution we emit, we’re not doing as well as I’d like but a lot of progress has been made in that area.

    Nurse Ingrid:

    Plus, if everyone just stopped dying, the overcrowding alone would become untenable in less than a generation.

    No it wouldn’t, in fact there would barely be a difference between having people die.

  • Christopher

    Not to harsh everyone’s buzz, but what happens when the sun goes supernova? I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be around to see that.

    Either find a new star system to inhabit (assuming that faster-than-light travel has been developed by then) or else sit on your porch and enjoy the show just before entering oblivion…

  • Dave K Welch

    Yet, overpopulation is as an inevitable a problem as those who have pointed out that the sun will supernova (or die out in some fashion) one day. It is the human way to survive. And either we will or we won’t, but as also mentioned, we will die trying. One vote for immortality from me. Too much to see. Too much to do.

    Regards
    Dave

  • Dave K Welch

    Very nice post bestonnet

    Regards
    Dave

  • bestonnet

    The death of the sun will be in about 5 billion years if we don’t take action to delay it, we won’t need faster than light travel to get to another star system (or even several galaxies over) by then.

  • abusedbypenguins

    Think where we would be if not for religion. 500 years of the dark ages, 500 years of human imagination ruined by religion. We would already be colonising Mars and medical science would be adding years to the average life span. Takes a long time to travel to a planet and colonise it. Perhaps without 500 years of stupid religion we would have learned to live with one another without trying to figure out better ways of killing each other. It’s way past time to eliminate religion and drive it back under the rock that it slithered out of

  • http://toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    the problem is beyond the supernova: the. universe. will. die. we may find a way to survive even that and i would hope that we eventually do.

    as for the social problems immortality would lead to, i think we have an obligation to improve our life spans. our generations or future ones will find solutions to problems this may raise. i, for one, see that my projected life span up to now is better than the miniscule one of my ancestors.

    one of my major questions is why humans haven’t dedicated more resources to this endeavor than to the destruction of life, and it seems to me that the reason for this is that most people can’t (or won’t) envision the end to their existence, the majority, of course, wishfully imagining an afterlife.

  • Dave K Welch

    OK Tribbles. Love what you implied there at the last:’ Lot’s of stuff coming that we’ll have to deal with’. Our survival isn’t limited to the next 100 years or 1000 years. And that’s the thing of it:… we will, or we won’t. Adam get’s a little carried away with this being a moral issue in the here and now sense, and I think he does so in the wrong sense. We have a moral obligation to survive. We will deal with the problems as they arrive. Always have.

    Regards
    Dave

  • Dave K Welch

    The lunatic is in the head…

    Regards
    Dave

  • bestonnet

    abusedbypenguins:

    Think where we would be if not for religion. 500 years of the dark ages, 500 years of human imagination ruined by religion. We would already be colonising Mars and medical science would be adding years to the average life span. Takes a long time to travel to a planet and colonise it.

    In 500 years I’m expecting us to be long past merely colonising Mars (and may have started terraforming the place). We’ll probably have people living at τ Ceti by then (further out if we figure out warp drive) and the majority of immortal (post)humans will be living in space not on Earth or any other inefficient planet.

    toomanytribbles:

    the problem is beyond the supernova: the. universe. will. die. we may find a way to survive even that and i would hope that we eventually do.

    There are possibilities in that area although nothing is certain (i.e. we don’t know the laws of physics well enough) although even if the 2nd law does catch up with us if we manage to fulfil most of our potential I’d say we’d have done pretty well.

    Dave K Welch:

    We will deal with the problems as they arrive. Always have.

    That’s pretty much the only way that works since you can’t anticipate everything (and a lot of what you anticipate ends up being proven wrong later).

  • Justin

    Ebonmuse, you’re arguing against a strawman.

    An argument about “an endless life” is reasonable in the context of religion, since that’s the sort of thing religions pretend to offer. However, it isn’t in the context of technological immortality in the real world.

    The problem I see in your arguments here is that you want to have it both ways: you want to argue against religious style immortality (“but an endless life…”), where tyrants rule for eternity and civilization falls to ruin, but you don’t want to consider the real context of what real immortality would look like.

    For starters, no real system lasts forever.

    So if you want to discuss this reasonably, Kim Jong-il is not going to rule for eternity. Perhaps technology might let him live to be 170, or 290, but not forever. Even if we assume some sort of indefinite lifespan, after some centuries or millennia, he’s going to trip while stepping out of his bath of warm virgin’s blood, hit his head on the gilded femur of a dissident he uses to hang his towel on, and ironically drown in the blood of his victims. He might live a long time, but not forever. If his own clumsiness doesn’t do him in, someone is going to assassinate him eventually.

    The only sorts of plausible technologies which would really let someone live indefinitely are ones where a person can be restored from backups. In other words, uploading your mind into a computer or the like, cloning new bodies, and that sort of thing. That might be possible, but of course, as anyone who’s used a Seagate disk knows, computers aren’t forever either. They just have the potential to be.

    In any event, you again can’t have it both ways: if people exist in computer form, then there will definitely be some major changes in psychology and society coming. If nothing else, the argument about overpopulation and children is much less relevant.

    My point here isn’t that extended life is good or bad: it’s that you have to argue about it in a rationally consistent context. If you’re talking about reality, then for starters, you’re certainly talking about life extension, not endless life.

    Lastly, I feel the need to point out one more thing: your argument about children is incorrect. First off, obviously the population is unstable (growing) now, so in any event as a species we’re going to have to stop having so many children, or other measures to stabilize the population (mass famine) will naturally occur.

    Assuming we succeed in stabilizing the population, the actual duration of peoples’ lifespan only changes the ratios of grownups to children at any time. Everyone gets to have (on average) one child whether people live to 80 or 800. The difference is that if we live to 80, the average person spends 1/4 of their life as a youth, while if we live to 800, the average person spends 1/40 of their life as a youth (assuming of course that people are still considered adults at the same age, an assumption that might be untrue if, for example, we changed human psychology while changing lifespan).

    This does mean that the average person would similarly spend only 1/40 of their life raising their children, so you might see that as a problem. I imagine children would be rather spoiled, too, getting attention from their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents…

    It’s reasonable to argue that this might be a bad outcome, but increased lifespan only implies a temporary change in world population — if people have more than 1 child on average, the world is going to go to crap regardless of span of one’s life.

    I suppose I must admit that arguments about immortality are a bit of a pet peeve of mine: I’ve seen too many bad arguments like, “but… but immortality is a curse! You’d be forced to live eternally!” which don’t even make sense. I apologize if I came on a little strong.

  • http://toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    i’m puzzled as to why we’re worried about what we’ll do with children and increases to our population. we’re talking about immortality here. such a thing will happen with a highly developed technology. it most certainly will have to deal with the inevitable destruction of the earth. how can we be discussing immortality yet be limiting ourselves to the confines of this planet?

    a great many scientists (hawking springs to mind) have already said that, if humans are to survive, they have to move to space. why on earth would we be limiting our reproduction then? if anything — for a time anyway, be wanting to increase it.

  • http://toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    plus:

    i just want to throw an analogy here, see where it goes.

    we need air to breathe. at the moment we have, for all practical purposes, unlimited air. we don’t think about not having air often.

    when we do, in terms of environmental disasters (or in movies), we realize how precious air is. it becomes very important. not having it seems unimaginable.

    how does having unlimited supplies of air diminish its value?

    i would like an unlimited supply of life — the alternative seems to me horrific and, if i had it, i’d surely value it — if only fleetingly and sporadically.

    thoughts?

  • TEP

    I’d say that in the air example, we value it just as much in both cases. In both cases we recognise the usefulness of air, but when we lack it, our need for it becomes all the more obvious and pressing, because we fear losing it (and all the things it makes possible). When we have an unlimited supply of air, we’re able to stop worrying about losing it, and concentrate on other things. We don’t value it any less; it’s just that there’s less need to think about the presence/absence of air when supply is guaranteed. The perceived increase in the value of air when supply is uncertain is simply because we feel threatened by the prospect of losing it.

  • LindaJoy

    Silly people! You CAN live forever! All you have to do is accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and believe in God. Then you get ETERNAL life! Of course, you have to spend it with Jerry Fawell! Hee, Hee, I’m only kidding folks!! :)

  • valhar2000

    Nurse Ingrid wrote:

    Not to harsh everyone’s buzz, but what happens when the sun goes supernova? I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be around to see that.

    Fuck, I’d give anything to be there when that happens! There can be no better way to die, in my book.

  • valhar2000

    Ebonmuse wrote:

    Just to touch on one point briefly – several commenters have said they don’t feel any instinctive desire to have children. Well and good; you’d do well in a world of immortals. But that is not the norm for human beings, as I hope we can all agree[...]

    Exactly what I was thinking when I read those comments. It is a common argument, and rather weird in my opinion, to offer oneself as a counter example to a purported trend. Unless that trend is implied to be universal, giving a single counter-example is just a red herring.

    Greta Christina has a very interesting post of this all too common human tendency of thinking that one’s own desires are normal and correct, and that opposite desires in others must be abnormal and incorrect.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    To more fully address some earlier comments:

    Ebonmuse, I remember a past post of yours where you stated some lofty goals of yours — learning every language, traveling everywhere, studying every discipline. If you could live forever, you could actually do that… You can’t say that’s not tempting.

    You’re right, it is tempting. But I think prase points out the major problem with it:

    First of all, people don’t remember infinite number of things. We all forget our knowlegde, and we would remember almost nothing from few thousand years ago if it wasn’t used in between.

    On a pure level of wish fulfillment, yes, I do want to know everything. From a practical perspective, I recognize that it will probably never be possible, no matter how tempting the prospect sounds in theory. Even with an effectively unlimited lifespan, the memory capacity of the human brain isn’t large enough. Make no mistake, I’d welcome an extended life – I’d love to spend a few hundred years or so learning as much as I could and exploring all that the world has to offer. But I think there would be a point where ennui sets in, where you’ve done enough and learned enough that new experiences would not contribute measurably to your overall happiness.

    Your next mistake is to assume that anti-aging research will happen in a technological vacuum with no accompanying improvements to brain plasticity, capacity for rationality, and effectiveness of contraception. But the same bioscience advances that will extend our healthy lives will also allow us to remain mentally agile and youthful into old age, to maintain our desire for novelty, enhance our learning and thinking skills, and allow women and men to gain full control over their fertility.

    I find this remark to be naive in the extreme. This is not a problem that technology can solve: even if there was a pill that made you more receptive to reason, people would still have to want to take it. Moral progress can’t be imposed on society, no matter how magically powerful we assume future technology will be. Human beings have to desire change before change is possible. And right now, we’re nowhere near the point where I would feel comfortable seeing the majority of humanity become immortal. The poisons of bigotry and superstition are far too common in our society for us to risk making them irrevocably fixed.

    I was thinking of writing a story based on exactly that premise! A society of stymied immortals, afraid to squander their multi-century, possibly multi-millenial lives for a few thrilling experiences.

    Polly, have you ever seen the TV show Lexx? That was precisely the backstory of that show: a race of people called the Brunnen-G achieved immortality and, as a result, fell into stagnation because they were afraid to endanger their otherwise endless lives by doing anything that was in any way risky. I wonder if the appetite for risk-taking, which could well be neutered by immortality, is necessary to achieve at least some kinds of social and technological progress.

    Is it really true that humans could not improve to the point that they didn’t need to die off to improve their average morality? You take it as a given.

    I have no idea what in my post gave you that idea, Eric. Sure, we might advance to that point in the distant future. Is it the case now? Manifestly not.

  • TommyP

    As long as I was relatively healthy I wouldn’t mind living forever, or as long as possible. I think that most people faced with longer lives would end up learning more and growing and there would quickly become less tolerance for dictators and evil. Even dumb people, given long enough to live and enough experience, can pull their heads out of their butts, I think. One problem now is that most people, just as they start go get wise, wear out and die.

  • bestonnet

    Ebonmuse:

    You’re right, it is tempting. But I think prase points out the major problem with it:
    prase:
    First of all, people don’t remember infinite number of things. We all forget our knowlegde, and we would remember almost nothing from few thousand years ago if it wasn’t used in between.

    With immortality technology we’ll probably also end up getting the technology needed to increase the storage capacity of the brain (and for all we know it is capable of storing many centuries of data already with no augmentation).

    Even if we can’t increase the memory capacity of the human brain a few hundred extra years would still be worth it (and suicide would still be an option if you really do get bored).

    Ebonmuse:

    I find this remark to be naive in the extreme.

    It’s your remarks on topics to do with technological advancement that are naive in extreme.

    Ebonmuse:

    This is not a problem that technology can solve: even if there was a pill that made you more receptive to reason, people would still have to want to take it.

    A pill that makes you more intelligent without any side-effects would be flying off the selves at the local pharmacy, I doubt there would be much trouble finding people who want to be just a little bit smarter, just a little bit stronger, just a little bit more attractive, just a little bit longer lived.

    Ebonmuse:

    Moral progress can’t be imposed on society, no matter how magically powerful we assume future technology will be.

    But you won’t get moral progress without more powerful technology.

    Ebonmuse:

    Human beings have to desire change before change is possible.

    We have to know that change is possible before we can even desire it.

    Ebonmuse:

    And right now, we’re nowhere near the point where I would feel comfortable seeing the majority of humanity become immortal. The poisons of bigotry and superstition are far too common in our society for us to risk making them irrevocably fixed.

    I don’t think we ever will reach the point at which you would feel comfortable before we get immortality technology. It is likely that the development of immortality technology will be what causes our morality to advance (that’s how it’s worked for every other technology that had a moral implication).

    Ebonmuse:

    Eric:
    Is it really true that humans could not improve to the point that they didn’t need to die off to improve their average morality? You take it as a given.

    I have no idea what in my post gave you that idea, Eric. Sure, we might advance to that point in the distant future. Is it the case now? Manifestly not.

    Well you certainly gave me that impression as well.

    But anyway, as I said before, I suspect that the point at which you think we are morally advanced enough will never arrive without us first getting immortality.

  • Brian

    I am a big supporter of transhumanism and as such I disagree very much with your comments.

    The problem with your first point is that it assumes a generally progressive narrative of human society, a narrative which I believe to be unfounded. Things are not always progressing to something better, they are all changing but not always for the better. The history of human society is the interplay of different “truths” winning out over others, not a transcendent truth that we can eventually come close to. Sexuality for example has been seen in a progressive light, that there was a sexual liberation in the 60′s and 70′s and that we are now free. It does not take into account that that “liberation” was just another exercise of power. The knowledge of sexuality would appear to be repressed in the Victorian era but there was no silence on the subject, new knowledge-power relations were formed, and the same with the sexual “liberation.” This may seem odd and it is a concept I cannot fully flesh out here. I would point you to Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 1 and other works of his such as Discipline and Punish for a more complete discussion of the workings of power. A short summation of my point on a progressive narrative is that your view of power is much like a view of weather that assumes rain is the only type of weather and that sunshine is the absence of weather, that the sun has been liberated. “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” is also a good short essay that deals with the idea of transcendent origins and truth and the idea of a progressive narrative.

    You assume death is the only way way for ideas to change, which seems odd on a blog such as your filled with people who were raised and believed in God and then have changed.

    To your second point, that about those who would achieve immortality first, I am much more sympathetic. However, this is rather a symptom of “free” market capitalism, resources are always un-evenly distributed. It is true that those most in favor of transhumanism come from the libertarian community, but there are some leftist anti-capitalist libertarians who do not see capitalism as a liberating force and that the distribution of the technology is a concern that should be taken up in the economic realm.

    About settling other planets, this is not a question of if but of when. Also this notion that this will “never going to appeal to any more than a small fraction of the population.” mention is laughable. It will at first be viewed in this way but then eventually be seen as no more strange then airplane travel. I realize overpopulation is a concern but it is not that we will just discover immortality and have not advanced in technology in other areas such as food production and space travel.
    “the economics of space travel are likely to remain prohibitive.” This is simply not true, and anyone involved in personal space flight will tell you so. Even long range spaceflight is being developed with creating wormholes or a “wrap drive.” Science Fiction meet Science Fact… and have glowing babies. It will happen eventually and that is to say that major breakthroughs in transhumanism, that of complete immortality, will also be far off. Just think of the increased productivity of a scientist who can live twice as long, with minor bio enhancemnets!

    To your last point, by far your most philosophical, I say that you sound religious. The point boils down to that you believe you cannot have a meaningful life without death. This argument is made by the very religious and “economist” Francis Fukuyama in “Our Post human Future” a common punching bag for us transhumanists. This is the man that also wrote “the end of history” and we see how that one turned out. for good rebuttals to this read Liberation Biology written by Ronald Bailey science editor at Reason Magazine. Also Simon Young wrote a more philosophical text Designer Evolution. Although I disagree with him on the idea of a transcendent morality that he seems to get to. For a much shorter argument read the Fall edition of H+ (http://www.hplusmagazine.com/) and look at the last article.

    Sorry to have taken up so much space. Also this was written rather hastily so if I come off as trolling or being arrogant I do not intend so.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Ebon, I’m sorry you decided to do another deathism post. First off, there have been as many despots murdered in history as have died of natural causes–probably more. Second, youth is no guarantee of moral progress, nor is age a guarantee of stultification.

    One of the things deathists assume is that we will only get “life-extension.” But the same technology will also be capable of providing “life-expansion.” No one would want to live forever as a 90-year old.

    It’s also false to present this as some sort of thorny moral dilemma. Or to claim that having long or unlimited lives would prevent children from being born. We should wish to have such problems to solve.

    We’ll have to get past the idea that suicide is a problem, and accept that the best person to choose the moment of their death is the person dying. That solves your boredom problem right there. Sick of it all? Take a lethal dose of barbiturates and drift off to eternal sleep.

    I find this whole business of opposing transhumanism to border on paranoia. We don’t have the technology now, we will probably have it someday.

    When that day comes, the people who extend and expand their lives will not be having this conversation. They will be undoubtedly grateful for the added years. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said. Any society which would prevent life-extension or expansion would essentially be murdering people who desired to live, and would therefore not be a humanistic one.

    Death is the ultimate tragedy.

  • bestonnet

    Once the technology is developed it will become essentially impossible to ban as it will just be too useful to too many people for any democracy to do such thing as ban it. Besides, it’s not like any other anti-technology movement has ever had lasting success (and I don’t see the anti-nuclear, anti-biotech or anti-copying movements of today lasting).

    This means that the only feasible option for those who don’t want a technology to exist is to legislate that it never be developed and when you go down that road you end up needing a totalitarian state to enforce it (otherwise a democracy will vote to overturn the research ban, just like bans on embryonic stem cell research have been overturned in democracies).

    Really worrying is that a Luddite dictatorship could very well last forever. I ask again those who think we shouldn’t have immortality now; is an eternal dictatorship a price worth paying for avoiding whatever problems you think immortality would bring? Because that’s the price you’ll probably have to pay if you want to avoid them.

  • bbk

    Extending the biological limits of mortality is not the same thing as immortality. People will still die and die often, it just won’t be from natural causes. The really important question is this: who will die off first? Anyone willing to go fight in a war, gang members, drunk drivers, etc. And in the meantime, the rest of society will be more keenly aware of safety. From seat belts and bicycle helmets to potentially hazardous chemicals in our environment.

    In the long run, everything is a question of probability. If you own a gun, in the long run you will accidentally shoot yourself. If you’re a dictator, someone will eventually shoot you. And if nothing else gets you, a lightning bolt will. What this means is that neither money nor power are the determining factor to long term survival, but long term planning and risk assessment.

  • melior

    An extended life, with more opportunities to take in all that life has to offer, I certainly would welcome. But an endless life, in the long run, would lead inevitably to terminal boredom and despair.

    This is an amazingly powerful argument! Let’s try applying it to some other areas.

    While I would love to have more money, I would hate to have an infinite amount of money. If I did, the balance in my bank account would overflow, thus crashing the computer inside any ATM I inserted my card into. It would be impossible for me to ever withdraw a dime!

    While I would find a man made of straw useful, perhaps for practicing my fencing skills or deterring birds from my crops, I would hate to have an infinitely large straw man. If I did, it would fill the entire universe, preventing any of us from even existing!

  • Arch

    Eternity in the fullness of God’s presence is more awesome than we can understand. This presence of God is not confined by time or space, so to think that we can explain it (or in this case, to explain why it would become boring) is a false assumption. We cannot fathom its awesomeness–that is far from boredom or despair.

  • bestonnet

    Biotechnology, nanotechnology, cybernetics, etc. whilst we haven’t quite figured out how to use them to be immortal we do have good reason to suspect that it might actually be possible to get immortality out of at least one of them and possibly out of many of them.

    God OTOH we have no evidence for the existence of and no reason to suspect that immortality will arrive by that route, with technology we might get it.

    If we are to live forever it will be through science and technology, not your imaginary friend.

    Of course there is the issue of who would need a god and an afterlife if everyone could live forever (or at least for thousands of years).

  • Edgardo

    I grew up from wanting to live forever because why would I live the rest of my pathetic life seeing my family come and go. Meanwhile, I remain unchanged and I begin to realize my own vain existence. Only through technology will forever come, until then, these religious fools will continue to ruin imagination of science.

  • Emrys

    First, even if we achieved means to extending our lives indefinitely, that is certainly not equivalent to immortality. There will always be obstacles to that, such as a disease, a bullet, or an exploding star. Or perhaps somewhere along the line, like Polly suggests, we would just choose to off ourselves when we feel good and ready. Second, if we do achieve those means, then we need not stop reproduction because all things will work themselves out either way. I guess what would probably happen is that survival-of-the-fittest will become considerably more pronounced within the human species, and there might be a divergence into 2 classes – those with access to life-extension and those without. Struggle would ensue, of course.

  • bestonnet

    Emrys:

    First, even if we achieved means to extending our lives indefinitely, that is certainly not equivalent to immortality.

    When immortality means undefined lifespan (which it does in this case) then it very well is equivalent.

    Emrys:

    I guess what would probably happen is that survival-of-the-fittest will become considerably more pronounced within the human species,

    Aside from survival of the fittest not actually happening at the moment(reproduction of the survivors is what happens in evolution).

    Emrys:

    and there might be a divergence into 2 classes – those with access to life-extension and those without. Struggle would ensue, of course.

    Life extension technology will probably be expensive at first but the cost will fall (and government subsidies could help reduce conflict as well by allowing everyone to “live forever”).


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