There can be only one?
August 29, 2011 5:07 AM   Subscribe

People are thinking about immortality these days. Or at least living a long, long time. (There's a jellyfish that's already made it. [prev])
posted by rikschell (93 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Like the Brad Pitt movie character, the immortal jellyfish transforms from an adult back into a baby

Shut up
posted by nathancaswell at 5:14 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't want to be the Face of Boe.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:25 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Has anyone else found the new season of Torchwood to be totally lame? No aliens, padded episodes, tons of C-list celebs in throw-away roles, pointless characters constantly appearing then disappearing, and cheesy conspiracy storylines that come straight out of cliched US primetime procedural dramas. It's like it's Torchwood: CSISUV: New America Squad.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:26 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I love how to Wall Street Journal manages to slip in an anti- social security comment into a science article. They just can't help themselves.
posted by octothorpe at 5:33 AM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


If I may quote and link myself,
In the best possible future, there will be
no war, no famine, no crime,
no sickness, no oppression,
no fear, no limits, no shame...
...and nothing to do.
posted by localroger at 5:36 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Has anyone else found the new season of Torchwood to be totally lame?

Yes, and the legal issues are kind of crap, too (self-link).

On the longevity drug front, there has been some interesting research with sirtuins (the proteins thought to be activated by resveratrol). So far the drug only made obese mice live as long as normal mice, but there's a related compound that the researchers may be effective at prolonging life in regular mice.

And then there's the rapamycin study, which has got a lot of people very excited.
posted by jedicus at 5:52 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Over the past few years, I've had to deal with my mother's declining health and the state of elder healthcare (and it's "affordability") in the US. One thing I've learned is that, unless you've amassed a couple of shipping containers full of large-denomination bills, the last thing you want to do is live a long life.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:58 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can't imagine something I want less than immortality.
posted by tommasz at 6:18 AM on August 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


The only way immortality is worth it would be in the case of a person who has good basic health and who always can earn money. Otherwise, I will take the cards I was dealt.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:22 AM on August 29, 2011


Bah, you protest too much. Death ruins everything. Immortality would be alright. Maybe not great, but... alright.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:22 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


"instead of sure death, [Turritopsis] transforms all of its existing cells into a younger state"

how sad, to see anti-aging-spam on National Geographic |:/
posted by fetamelter at 6:34 AM on August 29, 2011


If I may quote and link myself,

People, not to derail too much, but do yourself a favor and read The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect. It's a fantastic piece of work.
posted by quite unimportant at 6:42 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Aren't lobsters meant to be immortal? They don't die of old-age, only of injury/melted butter.
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:58 AM on August 29, 2011


I love how to Wall Street Journal manages to slip in an anti- social security comment into a science article.

Would you work forever if you lived forever?
posted by empath at 7:02 AM on August 29, 2011


Ready for me to bring the hate?
  1. Really old people should die. I'm not normally one to associate myself with the negative population growth people, but they have a point when they say that we are dealing with a situation of limited resources being stretched increasingly thinly. And here I'm not necessarily talking about resource we humans want or need. I'm talking about the Earth being able to withstand the kind of consumption every is growing accustomed to.
  2. Keeping really old people alive and healthy longer solves a problem that doesn't exist. Do we need more people sticking around? No. Already people are working older and older, some by choice, some not. Assuming that mostly rich people will gain this "immortality" medicine (or whatever it is), they obviously could, if they choose, retire. But we all know they won't. So what does that mean for the next generation (i.e. my kids) who will grow up with even fewer social services, less opportunity, more competition, and increasingly expensive education that may never correspond to increased standard of living? It means they will be fighting tooth and nail for horrible jobs with low pay. I know, I know. Who knows what innovation might bring in the future? Well, honestly, with the trend of efficiency-per-worker increasing every year I just find it close to impossible to understand how we can ever support (in the sense of providing sufficient labor with sufficient pay) the next generation of workers. We're already overconsuming. How on earth will we consume enough in the future when one worker in the future can produce what three workers today produce?
  3. I blame atheists who want to live forever. There are plenty of atheists out there who say, "Okay, when I die, there is no afterlife, there is no reincarnation, and I'm cool with that. I don't mind that I'm dying." And then there are those who don't believe but aren't cool with the whole not-living-forever thing (which, let's face it, is the implicit promise of something like heaven or reincarnation). So what do you end up with? Now, these people have substituted science for religion. You have people how are freezing themselves cryogenically with the promise that, some day, they will be unfrozen to live again (but why!?!) in the lovely future. And now we have people actively trying to get people to live to be 1000 years old. And by the way, here I mean atheists in the most basic sense of the word -- people who, in their hearts, don't believe that G-d exists. They may be bible-thumping, church-going people who stand outside of abortion clinics or gay marriage churches or whatever screaming their heads off, but the whole time feeling that no heaven exists.
  4. In terms of ecology it gets even worse because: Very old people, on the whole, could consume more than young people. They generally have more money, and the kind of old people who could afford this treatment are also the kind of old people who have lots of money. I also can't help thinking that if you honestly feel you deserve to live forever, or close to it, you probably think you also deserve to have as much of this world as you can reasonably buy.
The only way immortality is worth it would be in the case of a person who has good basic health and who always can earn money. Otherwise, I will take the cards I was dealt.

The only way immortality would be at all sustainable would be someone who saved up money during their lifetime, retired at a reasonable age, and then lived as frugally as possible on a portion of the interest. And then, it would only really benefit society if they passed on their wisdom to others.

Old people bemoan how selfish and self-centered kids are these days but I can't think of anything more selfish and self-centered than not wanting to get old and die, ever.

In full disclosure, I hate the idea of getting old (except maybe the whole being-crotchedy thing) and dying, but I think it's a necessary thing to happen. But if longevity treatments were available and inexpensive I'm not sure I personally would be able to resist trying them. So in a sense I don't want this technology developed because I'm afraid of how I would respond to its existence. If I didn't know that, in my heart, I want all the things I know are bad, I probably wouldn't be quite as angry about it.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:05 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


All of your points are valid arguments for withholding any life-saving healthcare. We already live in an era of life-extension. Would you support cutting off all but palliative medical care for everyone over 78 or so?
posted by the jam at 7:35 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Keeping really old people alive and healthy longer solves a problem that doesn't exist.

If you'd like to volunteer to go first, feel free.
posted by empath at 7:37 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Deathalicious: "Really old people should die"

Eponydismal.

I want more life, fucker.
posted by adamrice at 7:37 AM on August 29, 2011 [11 favorites]


I blame atheists who want to live forever

Given the choice between death-conquering atheists who are going to create some really hard resource allocation problems and probably end up re-enacting my novel and the life-conquering religious zealots who think it's OK to trash the planet we have because God gave it to us and they're going to get their immortal reward in a spiffy sky after-life, I think I will toss my lot in with the atheists.
posted by localroger at 7:44 AM on August 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


I think the term "life extension" is misleading -- we're not just talking about adding few more years to the end of your life (when you're at your unhealthiest), we're talking about technology that generally makes everyone healthier. How can people be against that?
posted by Jonathan Harford at 7:46 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


All of your points are valid arguments for withholding any life-saving healthcare. We already live in an era of life-extension. Would you support cutting off all but palliative medical care for everyone over 78 or so?

No, but I do oppose creating a world where people stay in their 40s or 50s indefinitely. I have no problem keeping people alive and healthy well into their 90s, or in providing any kind of health care for people who are sick regardless of their age. What I oppose are treatments that actively reverse the natural aging process specifically with the goal of prolonging life well past the normal range, which appears to be the goal of de Grey et al.

Keeping really old people alive and healthy longer solves a problem that doesn't exist.

I guess I should clarify what I meant by "longer". What I meant by "longer" was specifically that continually pushing forward the maximum possible age isn't a benefit. I can definitely see the benefit in allowing anyone born today have the possibility of 90 years of healthy life. I don't see any benefit in pushing that number towards 150 for the people who have sufficient wealth to afford the treatment.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:49 AM on August 29, 2011


If you'd like to volunteer to go first, feel free.

I'll probably feel different when I'm 87 or 88 but at this point I'm perfectly comfortable with the idea of living for just 90 years. And you'd better believe it that if I can retire when I'm in my mid-60s to early 70s, I will.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:51 AM on August 29, 2011


I'll stick with Susan Ertz's take on it:

Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
posted by Mooski at 7:53 AM on August 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


I can't imagine something I want less than immortality.

I think, in almost every scenario that I can imagine, I would prefer immortality to a lot of things. Say, a kitten-head and gasoline sandwich. I mean, what would you do with it? You couldn't even throw it away....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:57 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Death sucks, and if we can find a way around it, bring it on. If you like the idea of fading away, go for it, skip the pills, or don't choose to get uploaded into a 'bot if/when you're given the option.

I want to the see the universe, up close.
posted by Static Vagabond at 7:58 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


When I was much younger, I believed that old people, resource sponges, should willingly die. Now I'm old; my views haven't changed, but I still look both ways before crossing the street.
posted by fredludd at 8:01 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hate the idea of getting old (except maybe the whole being-crotchedy thing)

Before you go too far down this road, you need to know that it's not as much fun being crotchety as you might think. Being crotchety is usually the result of chronic pain, not some emergent property of aging.

I blame atheists who want to live forever.

You blame them for what?

don't choose to get uploaded into a 'bot

Not to worry. You're never going to get that choice.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:05 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


All that said, my father is going to be 87 in a couple of months and so far this year he's flown an airplane, rode a jet-ski, gone parasailing, arranged music and sang lead for his vocal group, and routinely scores below his age on the golf course.

I'm afraid of what would happen if he did get his hands on anti-aging drugs.

(No word on him building a castle from a single grain of sand or making a ship sail -- huh -- on dry land yet, but it's only August).
 
posted by Herodios at 8:14 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's entirely possible that the tweaks made to create life extension would reduce a person's consumption of resources. The advent of healthy, able-bodied, long-living people seems more likely than sick, frail, long-living people.
posted by the jam at 8:17 AM on August 29, 2011


Thanks to Hurricane Irene evacuations, I just spent my weekend taking care of two eighty-year-old women, both of whom have failing bodies and minds and one slowly but seriously succumbing to dementia. They both led lifestyles as healthy as one could lead in the USSR between the '20s and '90s.

We have a lot of things to take care of before adding extra time to the, ahem, "golden" years are going to do anything outside of prolonging suffering.
posted by griphus at 8:17 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I blame atheists who want to live forever.

And I blame religious people who think that 90 years is a "normal" lifespan, yet see attempts to further increase longevity as "substituting science for religion".

On the plus side, once people start living to 150 we'll see the exact same argument with "150" cut-n-pasted in over "90", so it's not like it matters...
posted by vorfeed at 8:32 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


As an atheist who by definition thinks heaven is a pipe dream, I say fuck death. Bring on the immortality! Being an educated, but poverty stricken 40 year old, I figure if I can keep my health up for the the next 20 years and scrape up some serious scratch, somebody'll have discovered the fountain of youth by then. But I'm sure it'll be strictly for rich people( hence, the scraping up of money). And I'm quite sure that social inequaility will be written in stone at that point. Can you imagine a society with an immrtal Dick Cheney walking the earth. Just think Star Wars with a lot more slaves. And if everlasting life, how long would it take for the everlasting Great Game to take on even greater proportions. Seriously! One person could actually be afforded the time (which can also be translated into the proper resources) to actually take over the world. Now that is a game that even an immortal hippy might be obliged to take part in.
posted by jake1 at 8:46 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't forget that people who find themselves staring at a future life that could measure in the hundreds or thousands of years will likely start making decisions and taking a long term perspective. It's a lot easier to not give a shit about how the planet will be in 100 years if you're not going to be around to see it.

Then again, it seems that our current society has managed to become so addicted to instant results that one year in the future sometimes seems way too long to worry about.
posted by evilangela at 8:55 AM on August 29, 2011


Also: people who want to go to another world and live literally eternal lives after death are fine, but folks who hope to live a thousand years and then simply die want to "live forever"? I think you need to get your chronometer checked. A thousand years (much less 150) is not "forever", and it doesn't make death or dying any less inevitable -- it's not much more than a slightly-longer-than-before blip on the historic (much less cosmic) scale.

I don't mind the idea of dying, at least not more than the average person, but I see very little moral difference between dying at 90 and dying at 150 (or 1000), assuming that both requires a lifetime of medical care. Sure, longer lives might raise some resource allocation problems... but it's not like we don't already have those, and we'd really have to try to come up with something even more unequal than what we've already got.
posted by vorfeed at 9:05 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


resource allocation problems. . . we'd really have to try to come up with something even more unequal than what we've already got.

In the Barn, by Piers Anthony.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:20 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bring on the immortality!

Eventually the earth is going to get swallowed by the sun. On the off chance that you manage to escape from the solar system before that happens, eventually all of the stars will burn out, or get sucked into the black hole at the center of the galaxy (which will eventually evaporate), and even protons and neutrons will eventually breakdown, and the universe will be a vast infinite void for the rest of eternity with nothing but a few stray photons here and there.
posted by empath at 9:24 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


On that long a timeline, empath, I'm pretty sure that I'd hypothetically be creating and uncreating new universes at will, and at some point just make one where the processes of my consciousness are an emergent property of basic physics.

[Caveat: this is ridiculous]
posted by Ryvar at 9:27 AM on August 29, 2011


Eventually the earth is going to get swallowed by the sun.

This thread wouldn't be complete without a link toThe Last Question, by Issac Asimov
posted by the jam at 9:34 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that I would want immortality (at least not on this earthly plane). But the longer I'm alive, the more that I feel that 70-80 year average lifespan just isn't quite enough. It's starting to go by too quickly. Give me 150 good years, and I'll be a pretty happy camper.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:43 AM on August 29, 2011


I will never learn French, let alone read the Enlightenment philosophers' works in their native language. I will never take the time to understand the majority of the Millennium Prize Problems, nor - when solved - their solutions. I will never compose orchestral music, or even start a band.

I will never take the time to really dig down into FPGA programming, or study electrical engineering. I will never draft plans for a house, let alone build one.

I will continue to make games because I'm good at it and it will keep me fed. In time I may make some decent money from doing so.

That isn't enough, though, and there's no point in pretending it ever will be. I don't want to live forever because on a long enough timeline a non-static mind passes through all possible neural configurations, including (for example) some that Hitler would call home.

But I definitely want to live longer than is physically possible.
posted by Ryvar at 10:05 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, the question of population growth vs. resources has such boringly obvious answers (self-replicating machines of the traditional macroscopic variety, underground vertical farms) within the context of the timelines we're talking about that they're not even worth mentioning other than to dismiss them.

I would kill to see a conversation about immortality where these things were never mentioned at all.
posted by Ryvar at 10:07 AM on August 29, 2011


Is this the thread where I can get off my chest the fact that the new Torchwood series kinda sucks, and I hate the fact that it's all Americanized and dumbed down and the soundtrack music is ridiculous and the sex scenes are excruciatingly bad and with only two episodes left there's, like, absolutely no way it can come to a good and satisfying conclusion?

cause I really want to get that off my chest. Also, Gwen is still ridiculously hot.
posted by jbickers at 10:15 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is nothing like a deadline to motivate a person to finish a project. Think of all the things you would put off until later if death was not looming in the distance. Kids? Oh, there's no hurry, I'll do that later. (An attitude to which I personally subscribe.)

There would be lots of reasons to linger in the everlasting glow of your early 20's and avoid the responsiblity of the next life stage.
posted by Gwynarra at 10:18 AM on August 29, 2011


Immortality is impossible for complex creatures.
Not the whole physically living forever thing, but maintaining the same state of being is impossible.
At some point you either hit a barrier, where you're doing the same thing(s) over and that gets boring, or you radically change perspective from developing new things, skills, etc.
Experience changes one's outlook. Given a wide enough variety of experience, you might as well be a different person.
So what use does a contiguous physical existence serve? It's more a narrowing of options than expansion of them.

Memory? We know how elusive that is. And you can read experiences of others and gain knowledge that way. And you have the advantage that others can be in different places and approach experiences from different initial states so you can see with a wider variety of eyes.

Perhaps personal ego drives it, but man, people do serious drugs just to get out of their own heads for a while. I can't imagine being stuck in the same mindset for all eternity. You'd have that Swiftian struldbrug immortality as a state of mind even if you have eternal youth.

The longest lived and the shortest lived humans lose exactly the same thing when they die.
Only thing that makes that bearable is the sharing of the experience. It's the experience itself that matters, not the personal ego, so we've all lived for thousands of years and through billions of lives so far already.

And there are people who don't contribute to that at all. Lots of people who die without ever having lived in the first place. They neither share of themselves nor accept what others offer.
Living forever under those conditions, being sealed in with only oneself, is about the best definition of hell I can imagine. Even given a completely peaceful, contemplative existence - so? Hey, there's Buddha living forever just sitting there meditating. Swell. He might as well be a rock to us.

Again, perhaps it's possible to physically live forever and share and accept change, but there's not much point without radically augmenting the nature and conditions of our shared experiences in the first place.
Telepathy maybe?
posted by Smedleyman at 10:20 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is all kind of a pointless argument right now. Nobody in America ( or elsewhere ) spends a pile of money when they get old and suddenly has better health and decades ahead of them. People either die a quiet peaceful death, or spend increasing sums of money as their quality of life inexorably deteriorates - the more you spend, the more painful and drawn out your end becomes. There is no miracle drug.
posted by newdaddy at 10:27 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the Barn, by Piers Anthony.

Except the point of the story is that there's not much moral difference between our Earth and the "bad" Earth. One could just as easily write about the horrible planet Htrae, on which billions of infants are undernourished only to suffer as wage (or literal) slaves or subsistence farmers, just so the ruling class can have little gadgets.

IMHO there's little point in over-thinking this. Either life extension is impossible or impractical, in which case we'll keep trying and failing, or it is practical, in which case we'll do it and rationalize the costs as unfortunate-but-necessary. Like it or not, morality is largely determined by what's "normal" in a given society, not the other way around.

on preview: I don't think life extension necessarily has much to do with being able to share and change. Are the elderly unable to do so now that many more of them are healthy into their 80s and 90s rather than their 60s or 70s? I'd agree that this might be a problem once people approach actual immortality, but immortality has little or nothing to do with living to 150 or 1000... and unless we actually encounter a Last Question sort of scenario, it's not on the table in any meaningful way. Even a fantastical techno-lifespan of 100,000 years is still bounded and finite, and thus subject to the pressure of eventual death.
posted by vorfeed at 10:38 AM on August 29, 2011


newdaddy: "There is no miracle drug."

Yet. Would Penicillin not have been considered a miracle drug? And we're not just looking for something existing, we're walking down pathways that enable us to re-code our own programming, to take the randomness of mother-nature and tweak it with an engineers eye.

It might not be in my lifetime, but I'm pretty sure my descendants, near or far, will look back at and imagine, incredulously, of living just a century.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:46 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


jbickers: I also have found Torchwood:Miracle Day to be insufferably "American," although from reviews it seems that American critics are far more negative about the series than British ones.

On the bittorrent sites, all the fans are complaining about how "gay" the series is this year. Besides the two fairly explicit gay sex scenes, I've found the series to be very NOT gay, another one its weaknesses IMHO.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:28 AM on August 29, 2011


also previously here.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:38 AM on August 29, 2011


I feel like I should rearrange my life so that I can work on the project of immortality. At the rate they're going, it looks like they might be able to come up with some results without my help that would significantly expand my lifetime. But I will really be kicking myself if I die of old age and did nothing to stop it.

So I guess I should go back to school and get a PhD in genetics and do some research? This would take a heck of a long time, but if we discover immortality then, hell, that's just a blip. I can spend 20 years doing genetics research and then get back to our regularly scheduled programming (computer programming, that is. It's the funnest).
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 11:39 AM on August 29, 2011


I'm sorry, but me, personally, I wouldn't mind immortality or some immortality-like state one bit. Life is really cool most of the time.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:39 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Torchwood: Miracle Day ratings drifting into apocalyptic territory?
posted by homunculus at 11:45 AM on August 29, 2011


If I was immortal, I could eat an INFINITE AMOUNT OF PIZZA!
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 11:45 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


We would have no need for progress or art, faith or fame.

I would relish the opportunity to test this hypothesus.

posted by mmrtnt at 11:53 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I will eat twice as much pizza as you, Galaxor Nebulon. ∞∞
posted by Mister_A at 11:55 AM on August 29, 2011


I've spent a lot of time on the immortality through jellyfish problem, and I've come to several conclusions:

Decapitating them while screaming "There can be only one" doesn't induce any kind of quickening. Nor, if I'm completely honest, is it really all that clear that decapitation has been successful.

Eating jellyfish doesn't seem to absorb any kind of jellysoul, nor have any kinds of suppressed aging been witnessed or documented. Stinging of the mouth and tongue have shown that jellyfish are real bastards in the pain delivery department.

Stapling, gluing, or otherwise adhering jellyfish to the clothing doesn't seem to effectively stop bullets, knives, fire, monsters, arrows, or time. Some other mechanism must be required.

Interrogating jellyfish seems to be useless. They are very good at resisting even the most powerful enhanced interrogation techniques, up to and including water-boarding, which seemed completely ineffective.

At this time, all I can conclude is that the only way to enjoy jellyfish immortality, is to actually be a jellyfish.

Research into that is ongoing.
posted by quin at 11:56 AM on August 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


We would have no need for progress or art, faith or fame.

I would relish the opportunity to test this hypothesis.


Seriously, as if a trifling thing like immortality is going to solve the essential brokenness of the human psyche. Assertions to this effect are on the batshit crazy side of utopian.
posted by Ryvar at 12:01 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I don't live forever, how are me and Louis Wu ever going to see Ringworld together? I haven't even seen Mt. Lookitthat, for Chrissakes.

Besides, we're not really supposed to die at 90. We're just maturing into our protector stage.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:08 PM on August 29, 2011


If I don't live forever, how are me and Louis Wu ever going to see Ringworld together?

Obviously you will have to use a Second Quantum Hyperdrive.
posted by localroger at 12:59 PM on August 29, 2011


The wonderful thing about the past is that you can read about accounts of the past. You can't read about accounts of the future (sci-Fi notwithstanding), but you still want to know what happens next?, so therefore, life-extension or suspension is attractive, purely from this narrative perspective.

In practice, though: assisted suicide would be totally legal if immortality was also on the table.
posted by not_on_display at 1:05 PM on August 29, 2011


"You get what anybody gets. You get a lifetime."
posted by Foosnark at 1:19 PM on August 29, 2011


Just a Lifetime
posted by homunculus at 1:43 PM on August 29, 2011


The Illusiveness of Immortality: The longer our lives, the more we’ll realize that there’s no “self” living them
posted by homunculus at 1:44 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Research into that is ongoing.

Have you tried integrating yourself into jellyfish society and attempted mating with them in order to create an immortal human/jellyfish hybrid?

If so, do you have any good pick-up lines?

I'm still not even sure how I got a drink thrown in my face underwater...
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, what's a possibly hermaphroditic Medusozoa like you doing in a warm water bloom like this?..
posted by quin at 1:58 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


RE: Torchwood, they should've stuck with the 5-episode season. Miracle Day would still be no Children of Earth, but it would've been great fun without so much padding.
posted by rikschell at 2:40 PM on August 29, 2011


The Illusiveness of Immortality: The longer our lives, the more we’ll realize that there’s no “self” living them

Living long enough to fully embrace that reality would be the perfect lifespan, I'd say.
posted by the jam at 2:56 PM on August 29, 2011


Just One Lifetime (you can logout anytime you like but you never leave).
posted by infinite intimation at 3:12 PM on August 29, 2011


It might not be in my lifetime, but I'm pretty sure my descendants, near or far, will look back at and imagine, incredulously, of living just a century.

I think they'd have a vastly more complex society as well. Look at the level of interdependence and communication it took to develop penicillin. It's not just the idea.
People were experimenting with mold and dessication as far back as the ancient Greeks.

I don't think we would be able to stand extremely long lives without a vastly more complex culture to support us.
We're currently laboring under an extreme delusion of individual efficacy. Not that we shouldn't have technology that empowers us, but we can't forget how interdependent the forces that deliver that to us are.
- From Hom's The Illusiveness of Immortality link: "that the longer we live, the more tenuous the relationship our current selves will have to our future selves."
That, plus - the broader our spectrum of thought, the more tenuous the definition of even our current selves become.

Where is it "you" begin or end? Not the existential stuff. But who you fundamentally are as a person is shaped by your environment. The fact that you read English, have the internet, all that, are parts of the current "you." Without this, "you" changes. The bigger "you" get, the more dependent on others you are for maintaining "yourself." Someone's running servers, providing electricity, all that. And you participate in it by delivering whatever it is you provide too of course.

I'm sure this process will get so rarified in the future that we (now) would be as stymied as a caveman would be by the value of online game goods (which are sold for representational symbols - dollars - which are redeemable for real goods.) Or how your game avatar is "you" as well.

We're not discrete entities even as our present selves.

And indeed, we could be considered immortal in a number of very real ways. We alter the thermodynamics of the universe. Our actions do "echo in eternity" in a real sense.

It'd be neat to see how it all plays out, but you can't be all things in all ways. Then there's no drama or differentiation (and by then you're 'enlightened' anyway, no?). But we're all immortal in that sense anyway, we're here now. If you were going to change something simply because you haven't died, you would have done it.
And hell, you still can.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:34 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


homunculus - The overly specific sci-fi predictions aside, that was good. I'd agree that technological progress is going to force a serious reevaluation of the idea of self. And really I mean, *I* don't want to live another 1000 years. Really right now I'd just like to lie down and go to sleep. And yet I still find meaning in "me" waking up tomorrow rather than not, even though I recognize it will be a slightly different me than the one writing this comment

And for a "me" still around 1000 years from now, it's be hard to even understand what that would mean. But it seems like it would be interesting to try to find out
posted by crayz at 3:46 PM on August 29, 2011


Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Then let them die. I'll take the immortality, since boredom isn't an issue for me. There isn't nearly enough time in life to do everything I want to do (which includes copious amounts of things like screwing around on the Internet).

I really can't understand non-religious people who are OK with death, but I don't think it's necessary for me to (if you believe in the afterlife, then sure I get it). All I know is I'll take any options given to me to avoid it.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:31 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Where is it "you" begin or end? Not the existential stuff. But who you fundamentally are as a person is shaped by your environment. The fact that you read English, have the internet, all that, are parts of the current "you." Without this, "you" changes. The bigger "you" get, the more dependent on others you are for maintaining "yourself."

All that stuff just sounds like data *about* me, though. All the data in my brain- what language I speak, websites I like, etc. - could theoretically downloaded onto a big enough hard drive and stuck in a robot. But is that robot "me?" Probably not. It's a description of me.

As far as I know, science has thus far been unable to answer the question: "What is consciousness?" Wouldn't we have to know that in order to prolong "me" indefinitely?
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:44 PM on August 29, 2011


As far as I know, science has thus far been unable to answer the question: "What is consciousness?" Wouldn't we have to know that in order to prolong "me" indefinitely?

Most of my life, when that question would come up, it provoked a long, somewhat winding conversation - one might imagine easy chairs, cigars and cognac - as we attempted to get to the real crux of where 'we' (or you) really are.

A few months after taking up insight meditation, I started laughing hysterically while doing dishes. We'd always wondered how much of the brain you could replace before you'd replaced the 'person;' it'd never occurred to me there wasn't any person to replace.

I often wonder how many of the really complicated questions in my life have answers that are that close to the tip of my nose.
posted by Mooski at 5:00 PM on August 29, 2011


Douglas Hofstadter has some interesting ideas about consciousness, identity, and death in his books (most recently I Am a Strange Loop). I think there is plenty to keep me interested on Earth for several hundred years (to say nothing of the fact that people keep inventing new stuff). But then again there is plenty to keep me disgusted with humanity as well. Death sucks, but what sucks the most is people purposefully hastening or causing the deaths of other people. Until we grow up on that front a little, we don't deserve immortality.
posted by rikschell at 5:03 PM on August 29, 2011


"The test results are in."

Fluttering, in my stomach, and this sinking feeling.

When I was 12, I went to a planetarium, on a school trip, with my Catholic school. It was one of those shows where they project the whole history of the universe from it's beginnings in the big bang, to its inevitable heat death billions of years away. The feeling I had then, of the possibility of a kind and loving and personal God slipping away, the one that would sometimes come back at 2am, when I couldn't sleep and my thoughts circled around my soul and who I was and always I'd think about the inevitability of my own death, like a sore tooth that I can't resist prodding with my tongue. That feeling I got at the planetarium, or when trapped in those morbid thoughts, that was the feeling I had in the clinic.

"So, good news, right?" I asked.

"I"m afraid not."

And there it went, my soul falling out through the bottom of my chest.

"You're too old. You're not a candidate."

So that was it. I was going to die. Everyone, for as long as human beings had ever lived, had lived under that certain knowledge that some day they would. But not any more. And for a brief time, I had entertained the thought that maybe I wouldn't.

"It's just not possible now. Maybe the technology will improve…"

"Yeah, and every year, I'll be getting older, and it'll be harder and harder for the treatment to work."

"But on the plus side, you're completely healthy. All the genetic tests show that you're going to live a long healthy life, as long as you take care of yourself."

It was true. Physically, I felt fantastic. And just a year before, I'd have been thrilled to have heard that from a doctor, but then, with the possibility of a lifetime counted in centuries rather than decades, he might as well have told me I have incurable cancer.

So that's it. I'd be the last generation to die. I was 40, and I'd already lived almost half my life, and what had I done, what had I learned? Nothing. Nothing compared to those who would come after. They'd see the stars. Maybe even live to see the sun die and escape the galaxy.
--
"I can remember that day like it was yesterday, one of the few memories I still can recall vividly from that long ago. Hell, these days I can barely remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. But he was right. I was healthy. And I've lived a long life, longer than I expected. A hundred and twenty years! All the rest have already passed, and I'm the last. I never would have guessed. But it's not enough. I don't think it could ever be enough.

"Son, come here. Let me look at you. You look like a god, Johnny. How old are you? 70 years? And just a baby. My baby boy. Will you remember me? Will you remember what I did? When you're a thousand years old, will you even remember what parents were, where you came from?

"No, you say that just to make the old man happy, but you won't. You can't be burdened with so many memories. Oh god, I can't believe it's happening so soon. It's so unfair. Johnny, whatever you do, don't live the next 10 thousand years thinking about what might have been."

And so passed the last man on earth to die.
posted by empath at 5:17 PM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't believe for one second that any practical life extension for humans to even 150 years is within grasp, let alone more. And by "within grasp" I mean, like in the next 50 years. I am quite certain it won't happen in my lifetime (assuming I've got another 40 years, to be generous). I've been watching the rate of biomedical science progress since I was an excitable teenager - let me tell you, it ain't happening. That shit is slooow. And even if something was invented, it won't apply to us, 70-80 year olds (at the time) - the best chance you'd stand by monkeying around with the genetic makeup of a fetus (or earlier), i.e. a completely new generation. To then graft that shit onto a fully formed organism is another order of magnitude harder. For that, I'd say we need another 200 years or so - wild ass guess.

Anyhow, speculating about 1000 years or more is weird. After all, even if you abolished biological aging 100%, you'd still have disease around. Humans can live up to 130 or so (Calmet lived to 122), and yet many are felled by heart attacks or cancer in their 40's or earlier. But let us assume that we can cure all such disease, including all infectious agents (bwahaha!). You are still not abolishing getting hit by a truck or a meteorite - or a neighbor with a bad temper. I forget where I say this, but someone once calculated that assuming no disease just an accumulation of possible accidents, you really couldn't live much beyond 600 years on average - eventually no matter how careful you are, that bad dice number comes up, and you're a goner, immortality or no. And from my recollection, it was something ludicrous, like 600 years.

Of course, let us assume that we bioengineer bodies that can last a 1000 years. First and foremost you'd change drastically - simply because now death becomes a much more devastating loss. You'll be prone to extreme risk avoidance. Say you are 40 today, you've got maybe 30 good years left. Fuck it - you'll skydive, because at most you lose what... 30 years? Imagine you lose 700 years - a different matter. You'll risk a $1, but you won't risk a $1,000,000.

Anyhow, a bunch of rubbish speculation about how bad life extension would be. We already extended life for the vast majority of people, several times in history. By decades. Nobody squawked. Same here. I have not seen one decent argument advanced here (or anywhere) as to why LE is a bad idea in principle. The idea of death as a necessary part of life - necessary at a most fundamental level, is a deep topic and there is ZERO chance anyone can address that satisfactorily in a few comments.

Resources - that's just stupid. We'll make fewer kids, since we need less replacement. That's already happening in long-lived societies. Resources are not a problem. Yes, renewal is important - it's a way for the old to be cleared out, so the new can come in. But think about this. With more years, you also have more of a shot at wisdom. Society changes when your perspective is not 70 years, but 200 years. Everything changes with that - from architecture to social structures.

And I for one would not turn down another 100, 200, whatever years you give me. My curiosity is boundless, and I am learning every day. There's not one day when I don't think to myself - "I can't pursue this, that or the third, I don't have enough time on this earth". I believe we can all make a contribution to this civilization. More time would allow some to do so - it's pretty tragic if we don't feel we have the time to do so, because we're busy spending the few years we have on simple maintenance of our bodies so we don't starve to death. I think it would be a giant huge benefit to civilization to extend life span dramatically. Yes, there would be adjustments, but that's why we have brains.
posted by VikingSword at 5:18 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Interesting, I genuinely had no idea immortality was so popular. I grew in the country, on a farm. My childhood was in some respects an orgy of death; I was surrounded by it, infused and permeated by its omnipresence in every way. Things I loved died, things died so I could eat them, things died because they were old, they ate bracken ferns, they got a tick, just for the heck of it, whatever.

I'm extremely sanguine about the prospect of death. Not only is it crucial to the development and continuation of life as we know it, but frankly - well, shit, why should I, of all things, deserve to live forever? Those atoms and molecules that make up my being will be dispersed and used by other forms of life and the perpetuation of our now-doubt-compromised environment once I'm buried, burned, sunk etc.

My eyes might help someone else see, my kidneys help them drink, the rest of my body a springboard for learning in students who will go on to save thousands of lives between them. The remnants of my foetid corpse a small biome for thousands of different bacteria, beetles and bugs. How exciting! I've had the run of my body for so many decades, the prospect of sharing its wealth to continue life - a plural noun - is so noble and miraculous, and I don't even have to do anything, I won't even know.

Lots of people and things have died on this earth, and I'm not better, or special or extra than any of them. When lots of people don't even make it to thirty - much less with the kind of abundance and wealth that I have enjoyed - it seems churlish and narcissistic to pour resources and time into my own immortality, when I've already had so much. One thing growing up on the farm teaches you is that quality is far more important than quantity when it comes to life.

I don't want immortality; I don't deserve it, and I don't need it. The prospect of living forever gives me a kind of despair; what could possibly satiate a hunger like that? Life itself would surely not be enough. Far better to stop obssessing about when you're checking out, and enjoy the stay, and try to help others do so; that is boon enough for me.
posted by smoke at 5:54 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would kill you all tomorrow if it would guarantee my immortality.

Except localroger, who has a sequel to finish.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:06 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Don't miss this, it is a trip.
posted by rahnefan at 7:34 PM on August 29, 2011


Also, the question of population growth vs. resources has such boringly obvious answers (self-replicating machines of the traditional macroscopic variety, underground vertical farms) within the context of the timelines we're talking about that they're not even worth mentioning other than to dismiss them.

Yeah, we can handwave all that stuff because we've done really well managing all the earth's resources so far.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:27 PM on August 29, 2011


Eeek, SnowCrash! Swords at Noon-Dawn!
A teacher in high school assigned this question, 'would living forever add meaning to life'? Re-reading it (the response) today, after marvelling for moments at the eternally broken gramah cells in the brain, I wish I could resubmit a more accurate response to the query: "Well, yes, but then also no" (FTR, this is posted because it is proof that given time, even if one thinks they are thinking carefully, they may simply be waffling on with what amounts to unsightly inanities; now multiply that times forever). Would one continually reassess their views, arriving at enlightenment, or entrench and spend centuries at a time re litigating and lamenting their first formal failure (Ex. H.G Wells' Time Machine)

Though I shall unashamedly commit here the sin of tautology, Life, as a word means the experience of living; the course of human events and activities. But life as a philosophical idea, is it not much more than that, it is what we struggle daily to understand, improve, and generally prolong. Each decision we make is made to prolong and enrich our own lives whether intentionally, as in looking both ways before crossing the street, which is a direct decision not to possibly end your life, even choices on where to live, what to eat, and also how to act all weigh in on how long we will live. And even selfless acts enrich the individual giving sacrifice, however fleeting, the feeling is undeniable. Death seems to be the most feared, spoken of in hushed tones, stigmatized and traumatic event in our modern lives, yet when we are dead, there is not room for fear (whatever ones beliefs may hold), death, alas ceases to be that nightmare carrot forcing us to look both ways, once arrived; and subsumes the experientially crafted (were we lazy, accumulating inanity? Perhaps it aught to be Crufted) being becomes the final end of fear,
Soldier 1: I'm not afraid of dying tomorrow, only of getting killed.
Soldier 2: That's as clear as mud.
Soldier 1: Well, which would you rather be done in by: a bayonet or a machine gun?
Soldier 2: Oh, a machine gun, naturally.
Soldier 1: Naturally, that's just my point. They're both pieces of steel ripping into your guts, only the machine gun is quicker, cleaner, and less painful, isn't it?
Soldier 2: Yeah, but what does that prove?
Soldier 1: That proves that most of us are more afraid of getting hurt than of getting killed. Look at Bernard. He panics when it comes to gas. Gas doesn't bother me a bit. He's seen photos of gas cases. Doesn't mean anything to me. But I'll tell you something though, I'd hate like the devil to be without my tin hat. But on the other hand I don't mind not having a tin hat for my tail. Why is that?
Soldier 2: You're darn tootin', because...
Soldier 1: Because I know a wound to the head would hurt much more than one to the tail. The tail is just meat but the head- ah, the head is all bone.
Soldier 2: That's...
Soldier 1: Tell me this. Aside from the bayonet, what are you most afraid of?
Soldier 2: High explosives.
Soldier 1: Exactly, and it's the same with me, because, because I know that it can chew you up worse than anything else. Look, just like I'm trying to tell you, if you're really afraid of dying you'd be living in a funk all the rest of your life because you know you've got to go someday, anyday. And besides...
Soldier 2: Yes?
Soldier 1: If it's death that you're really afraid of why should you care about what it is that kills you?
Soldier 2: Oh, you're too smart for me, Professor. All I know is, nobody wants to die.
making a fear of death irrational and illogical… yet we do it daily (can a practice so normalized be said to be either?). So I wonder, is it a simple "fear" of death? Or is it not more a great appreciation, a worldly admiration for the small wonders of a life lived, a life experienced; with all the messiness and comedy of tragic errors and all that are the gift of life. To find meaning in life is to choose to define what , if any, nee many, the purpose is(are), and to give relative, relational meaning is to define how we perceive the world to have affected us, or rather effected us, however we define our words using whichever symbols, symbols not being universal. Towards examing what we leave on the world behind us.

Words in the Arabic language for example are completely different from those of English, yes we can do a translate, or even a transliteration, yet we may perceive that the words are interchangeable, and mean, or are signs and symbols actually for the same thing. But the are not equal, they hold meaning to one, where to another, there is none. Thus it approaches impossible to give meaning to something on a worldwide basis. Life is individual, singular, meaning that its experience is interpreted through the lens of uniquely interpreted signs and symbols that each individual assigns for their personal code of living (there is not one Prototypic Christian [Jesus didn't worship Jesus], one path to Judaism, one Ur Islam, or Jainism, or Noodle-ism... each solo being does a dance, a performance of how their unique set of neuronal activity "drives" them to move as influenced by their experiential realities and history.

If people were somehow given the ability to live forever, they would have an infinitely greater number of experiences, and since our experience affects how we view and interpret signs and symbols, experience gives the potential for insight, allows space for a person to understand actions and thought processes (even simple mechanical physics) more clearly. For example, a tennis player who practices daily from now until eternity will be so knowledgeable in the subtle variations, the infinite potentialities that such subtle variances as different spins, caused by angle of attack can give when applied to the ball; the ins and outs of tennis, that when this person played against a man who had only played tennis daily for 30 years, they would have such a superior understanding of the intricacies of the game, that they would leave the younger player dumbfounded and completely lost, with no chance to win.
Or maybe they would hate tennis so greatly as to blow up the court. Or then, perhaps the vastness of chaos and unpredictability would side with the junior player...

Given an infinite lifetime, people would be able to continually define and alter their perception and understanding of the signs and symbols of life, and in turn understand a deeper and much more scientific knowledge of what life means and is for. However, given eternal life, people would lose that which motivates us to exist and make decisions, fear of death, thus people would no longer feel that their actions had consequences, leaving them unable to care about ordinary life occurrences, making most of the decisions that we must make seem to be useless, since our decisions are based on a fear of death, the man with eternal life would be in fact a completely different animal from how humans behave in society today.
[the condemned men are awaiting execution]
Corporal Paris: See that cockroach? Tomorrow morning, we'll be dead and it'll be alive. It'll have more contact with my wife and child than I will. I'll be nothing, and it'll be alive.
[Ferol smashes the roach Medusozoa]
Private Ferol: Now you got the edge on him.
So if you must, if you wish; grasp the relationally grand and embedded potential of life, take what of life you may, because it is beautiful; Growth does happen, learning and realization are reality, so take what chance offers, and don't count on magic, nor delay till tomorrow what you dream of doing today. Remember not to fear death, only to at least theoretically respect what it teaches us. What life we must risk to capture the big things in life See what risk to life has taught us through history, and what we have yet to learn. How this changes as life-spans change, or is it immutable, and as Viking Sword notes, might there always be that fear of the ground rushing towards us (only delayed and removed from the here and now)?

And that, travellers, sums up my argument why teenagers should not become immortal, nor given creative writing assignments on such heady topics so early in the day (someone take away the teenager's writing utensil).
/In favor of experimental Bio-medical research, approve of life expanding techniques and practices. But remember; people risk $1, 000, 000 Every Day... and get LIFE from it; Not simply the risk to life or limb, but that "spark" that comes from risk (not necessarily "physical risk, or financial, but love, saying "I Love's Ya", or academic risks, or a new career, or so many other things, that 'risk' seems to be at least a "part" of a life fully lived (does one "risk" getting bad info by reading bad books, or go with an old classic, or new music vs. old standard... it's risk on top of risk, layers.
posted by infinite intimation at 9:03 PM on August 29, 2011


I think we can handwave population growth because we're selfish, have declining birthrates already, and seem happy to treat kids as possessions.

Immortality now!*

Immortality treatment results in mandatory sterilisation. KurganCo would be happy to meet your child owning requirements for an exorbitant fee to access government-controlled technology, and to manage the required future resource access fund for your offspring in accordance with sustainability legislation. Would you like to know more?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:03 PM on August 29, 2011


Wait, no!, I meant, "I don't think we're ready; For this Jelly!"
:)
posted by infinite intimation at 9:04 PM on August 29, 2011


"But is that robot "me?" Probably not. It's a description of me."

All that exists of "you" from yesterday is a description of you. Consciousness, whether contiguous or not, is constantly in flux. So no matter how long you live, or don't, there's still only now.

And I think Vonnegut had it too. Not that you constantly revisit your life, but where you are after it ends is pretty much like where you were before it began (without the spectrum metaphor it's tidier). So just 'now' is 'you.'

"Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web." - Marcus Aurelius

What if technology could compress the things you wanted to learn so you could learn them in less time? Or experience whatever you wanted in an abbreviated way? If we could control time, wouldn't that be essentially the same thing, practically speaking, as being immortal?
I guess what I'm asking is what is there intrinsically about immortality that makes it attractive?
Obviously having experiences is attractive, avoiding pain, enjoying performance, but immortality itself seems like an idea of exclusivity. Not just because of some of the religious associations (although those are obvious, be good, go to heaven, not like those idiot heathens the 'x-ists' who will go to hell, oblivion, etc). But immortality is, in those respects, resistant to the idea of change.

Don't get me wrong, I think it'd be great to eliminate to eliminate many of the silly cultural norms we have in place to give use the sense we may defy death. And personally I've accepted death as a natural part of life since I was a child, and I've trained to sustain that mindset.
I don't fear death. But I still procrastinate. And I think there might be an avenue to explore there, action losing it's meaning and whether art or other human achievement might lose it's uniqueness in the timelessness of eons. Eh, maybe not. We might be more pragmatic in our worldview. Whatever.

But, the presumption is that we would live a life worth living. Are we now? Would everyone?
What then would intrinsically change with immortality?
I think we overlook that making an immortal life worth living is a necessary prerequisite to having immortality and there's nothing stopping us from working towards that end now, even as we work for longer lives.

We still could ditch the experience of new perspective with powerful enough technology. Consider: we invent time travel. We cause the history of the local universe to happen instantly, collapse the assumption of a symmetrically evolving dimension. We can flip through time however we wish at an instant.
'Kay, now what? Keep having sex with the person of our choice forever?
I watched Primer (again) not too long ago and it struck me that this would essentially be existence after time travel. There's no set past. Weird shit you can never explain happens (like Mr. Grang... Thomas showing up in the middle of the night for no reason) you look for cats in the dark near massive water fountains for some reason - local history become subjective. And the interesting idea there is - if you can have anything, what is the thing you want (they even ask Rachel (?) "you have absolute impunity to do whatever you want...how do you fill your day?)
This, I think would be the same as the immortal experience.

Unless you want to be subject to change and then we're back to defining "you" and ceding that "you"'re mostly contextual (unless we get into the whole 'soul' thing, and even then, given a soul is subject to change from sin or good deeds, whatever other experiences, same thing as the Ship of Theseus).

And I think that's the thing, immortality that addresses us as an idea of ourselves, the unique product of many complex forces, is about the urge to define and redefine ourselves and have/create novel experiences more than just a longer continuity.

But redefinition is possible even without the extension (not that the latter doesn't have some value in and of itself). And without ever greater complexity and redefinition, immortality alone would lead to stagnation. So that antisphexishness (google book link & more on Hofstadter and consciousness) of redefinition and change would have to be a feature of immortality. We'd have to be something beyond human to attain. Which, that, yeah, would be nice.

"The problem with heaven is that all the interesting people won't be there." - Nietzsche
posted by Smedleyman at 9:16 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know about you folks, but I plan to live forever or die trying.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:18 PM on August 29, 2011


I can think of no greater good than the invention of a means to live forever. Death is monstrous. The process of senescence is evil. These things would be crimes if there was someone to blame for them. But just because they're natural, like smallpox or the piercing bite of a lion upon the jugular, doesn't mean they're inherently moral. On the contrary, if we could short circuit the self destruct switches built into our bodies I think we would become fully human for the first time, because on that day we would truly be in control of our own fates.

Our civilization is built upon selfishness because no one expects to live long enough to see the consequences of their mistakes. Imagine how different it would be if people didn't expect to die. Pollution, poverty, war, crime, anything that would put our survival in doubt would no longer just be facts of life, to be tutted over while reading the morning paper. They'd be clear and present dangers that would have to be solved. Everything becomes a present danger when you know you'll have to face it eventually. No more shoving problems over for the next generation. And long term development becomes much more acceptable when today's taxpayers know they'll reap the benefits eventually.

Solve the problem of death, and the solution to every other human problem comes within reach.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:03 PM on August 29, 2011


And having said that, even the elimination of aging wouldn't be true immortality. That's because there are other things like accidents and cancer that are always out there. If you live for centuries you will eventually roll snake eyes. But some people would still live for a really long time - and just as importantly, the process of senescence would no longer be lurking at the edge of people's lives like a horrific monster - and that would eliminate most of the fear that pushes people into living for today, instead of tomorrow.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:27 PM on August 29, 2011


Technology has already given me a much richer and broader life than was possible just 100 years ago: I've seen the world's greatest actors perform, I've heard the greatest musicians, I've communicated with people on all the Earth's continents, I've quickly travelled distances that would take me years on foot or on horseback. I can see my parents from when they were young, my kids from when they were babies, my grandparents with baby me, just from reaching to the bookshelf. I'm fairly certain that my kids and grandkids can access records of just how things are now in the years to come as well, allowing me to make an imprint on the world beyond my lifetime.

All this still doesn't mean that I wouldn't swallow the hypotetical anti-aging pill before you could blink, though...
posted by Harald74 at 3:22 AM on August 30, 2011


Except localroger, who has a sequel to finish.

Why do I suddenly have an urge to re-read Misery?
posted by localroger at 5:24 AM on August 30, 2011


Have kids, plant a tree, make something so good it will outlast you because medical science isn't going to give you immortality in the foreseeable future and money is no guarantee of even three score year and ten today, as the sad plight of billionaire Steve Jobs goes to show. Many more people live to be a hundred these days but the maximum human lifespan hasn't really increased despite all the scientific wonders of our age. No-one's going to keep your head in a jar hooked up to a nuclear power station in the future, if there's one thing humanity is good at it's making brand new humans.

We can only live in the present and do the best we can. I remember climbing a church tower back home in England to retrieve an errant Lanner falcon and noticing, as I clung somewhat precariously to the stone, how beautifully carved the backs of the gargoyles were and just how much trouble the stone mason had taken in smoothing hidden corners and perfecting little features hardly anyone was ever going to see. I don't know who he was, but he has the nearest thing to immortality any of us can hope for.
posted by joannemullen at 7:01 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm well past the self-delusion of naive belief in a continuous, identical self. But I figure death won't be any escape from conscious, linear existence, because conscious experience is an immutable fact of physical reality, in a certain sense, and so, as long as physical reality remains contiguous and coherent over time--that is, as long as any point in the past can always be found at the same particular point in space/time--then our conscious experience of that moment, illusory or not, will always continue to persist in the same form. We'll experience our lives forever, at a minimum, the same way we experienced them the first go around, and in fact, it will be the first go around--but the only path through that patch of space/time that defines our experience is the illusion of linear consciousness.

So the illusion of conscious, continuous existence remains a fascinating one to me. I like to indulge in it myself. God knows I wouldn't want to neutralize all my bad/good karma and disappear! I've still got some fun stuff to do. And I wouldn't mind sustaining the illusion of self for a good long while, but then, that's me, and that's why I consider myself a lapsed Buddhist. (It's sort of like taking the Bodhisattva vows but for different reasons. I'm just not ready for Nirvana and the complete annihilation of self. I'd like to hang around, take in more of the local color before I get there.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:39 AM on August 30, 2011


Immortality is one of those things I have thought of often. To me, the allure isn't actual immortality (though that has its own appeal), but a significantly extended, youthful life span. I think about all the things in my life that I just won't live long enough to do. Now that I'm in my 30's, I feel the hands of time slowly pulling more opportunities from my grasp. I'll have to pick and choose, the ultimate prioritization. And many of those choices will be made for me. But if I could live forever, think of all the things I could do!

And then I think of all the projects I could complete! I always have more projects going than I have time to finish. If I had an infinite amount of time, I could get them all done, eventually. But then a thought starts creeping in the back of my head. If I had an infinite amount of time to finish my various projects, no doubt I would feel I could take on an infinite number of projects. And that would me the dozen or so unfinished projects would just grow and grow until I had hundreds, possibly thousands of tasks I wanted to complete. As the time I had on this earth grew, so would the number of projects and ideas I tried to undertake. At least now, I have some sense of knowing that I can't complete all the things I want to. Immortal? No way.

I'd still take it though.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 2:15 PM on August 30, 2011


Perhaps dying only when you choose, when you're tired of life.
Although that's really just change too.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:40 PM on August 30, 2011


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