OK, here’s a deceptively simple debate to start the week off with – if physical immortality was available to you, would you take it? Arguing the case against is Annalee “io9” Newitz, and here’s Jason Stoddard playing earnest devil’s advocate for the longevity lobby.
I have no ethical issues with human immortality, but I’m not sure it appeals to me personally; I’ve long believed that mortality is the only thing that has truly motivated humans to create things greater than themselves, and as such I kind of like the knowledge that I’ve only got so long to get stuff done. That said, every year that passes sees my faith in that idea becoming more shaky…
So, what’s your choice – to go gentle into that good night, or to burn the candle at both ends forever?
9 thoughts on “Who wants to live forever?”
I don’t think the case presented against immortality passes the laugh test. When you put those pulpy speculations up against the crush of degradation, pain, and death that we all always face . . . I mean, really?
Can I choose provisional immortality? That is can I choose life for as long as I remain creative and interested and shuffle off to oblivion when that option becomes preferable?
Many people that I meet say they wouldn’t want to live forever. To them, I ask, “at what age would you like to die?” If they offer any answer at all, it is always a substantial time from the present, regardless of their age. A relative of mine who developed heart disease in his early fifties, and worried that he might soon die, said that all he really wanted was to make it to 70, and that would be enough for him. He made it to 70 successfully, so I reminded him of what he had said nearly 20 years before and asked him (in words to this effect) if he felt ready to die now. Interestingly, he did not. He said he wanted to live to 80. Well, he turned 80 several years ago and he says he’s glad to have lived this long, but now he is going to try for 90. And I think that’s how it should be. Anything but wanting to live forever is, in effect, wanting to die sometime. If you are never willing to set a date upon which you plan to die, then I think you are for all practical purposes saying that you want to live forever. I think more people *say* that they don’t want to live forever than actually wish to die, regardless of their ages.
I saw an article once that made very clear the difference between “life extension” and “immortality.”
The article was on strategies for surviving the heat death of the universe.
At that scale, immortality seems kind of silly. Life extension, though—staying fit and health for considerably longer than most people do—sounds pretty appealing.
I also think that the question is quite absurd. Lets first conquer death. Usually when confronted with someone saying that he/she does not want to live forever, I ask the do you want to die today? Of course the typial answer is “of course not” and my reply is “ok,I ask you again tommorrow”. If our life expectancy will bi in the order of the universes life expectancy, e.g. in some estimates 100 billion years, it seems pretty ridiculous to ask a lets say 40-year old about whether he or she wants to live forever. We are like unborns in the light of that figure. And of course even that is not living forever but only as long as the universe exists. It is of course possible that we find a way out of that as well.
Me, me! I want to live forever. Or at least a whole lot longer. There are so many things to do, so many ideas to explore. I still haven’t quite given up on suddenly discovering myself to be immortal, but if I’m wrong (and giving the way I ache this morning, I could be) I plan to go kicking and screaming.
More seriously, I think Jason is dead on with his comment about long-term thinking. I suspect a significantly increased life span is necessary for human beings to achieve something resembling civilization. Just one example: As a society we’re still affected by things that happened 50, 100, 200 years ago, but we’ve forgotten about those things or only know them as a few facts, without context. So we keep making the same mistakes.
I agree with Dave; I have never heard an argument against extended health and extended life that wasn’t terribly flawed. Yes, there are many potential problems to navigate, but opposition to ending suffering always seems strange.
I strongly agree with Jason Stoddard and Nancy Jane Moore about the role of a longer life span for humans as a key factor towards a much needed switch to a long-term view of problems.
That aside, I think that the problem is not that of living forever, but simply of being able to *choose* when (and if) to die. I think that, given enough time, most of us would choose to end our life at last: but having that decision finally in our own hands would change everything.
Of course, any significant increase of the life span of humans without drastic changes in society (e.g., every 50 years you are forced to give away all of your possessions) would almost certainly lead to fearful power concentrations. To say nothing about the issues related to reproduction…
I don’t understand why Annalee even reads Sci-Fi if these are her thoughts about life extension. She had a post a long while back mocking transhumanism that got me hot under the collar. Apparently, the future for her should only exist in the imagination.
There is no good argument against life extension/biological immortality. I stopped arguing about it- due to frustration. We don’t have the technology to enable biological immortality but everyone already has the technology to counter it- bullet > gun > forehead- there you don’t have to live anyone.
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