August 11, 2010

Erler: There's no point in worrying about immortality

Alexandre Erler, in his essay "Is there any point in worrying about the tedium of immortality?," rightly concludes that we should not regard this supposed threat as having "any serious normative implications for the use and development of life extension technologies." Erler writes,
As for those who might share Walsh’s view and enjoy their life more due to the awareness of their own mortality, they might still preserve that benefit by committing themselves not to use life extension technologies when these become widely available. Of course, when the time to kick the bucket seemed near, they might find themselves unable to respect their previous commitment. But they might perhaps protect themselves from such a hazard by writing advance directives stipulating that life extension procedures should not be made available to them. Or if this were not possible, they could at least publicly declare their resolution not to use such procedures, so as to make it embarrassing for themselves if they failed to meet it. However that may be, the risk that some people might prevent themselves, by their own weakness of the will, to die when they would ideally have wanted to, does not seem a sufficient reason to deprive other people of the benefits of a radically extended lifespan. Pace Temkin, I would conjecture that many of us would welcome greater opportunities to learn everything that we find worth learning, to accomplish more things, and to spend more time with our loved ones. Some have also suggested that future humans might become able to experience goods that we cannot even think of today.


ZarPaulus said...

And if you are immortal and change your mind later, you can always kill yourself.

Just another technical blogger said...

While I certainly would not turn down any kind of life extension technology, I have wonder exactly what it is that is being preserved for such an extended period of time.

Is it the body? That can be repaired like an old car, until none of the original parts remain.

Is it memory? Even with the best theoretical technology, you can not remember everything forever. Most people can not remember what they had for lunch last week.

Is it just maintaining some stream of consciousness and being able to say I remember that I existed last year and the year before that? That seems like a pretty weak reason too.

I certainly do not know the answer to any of this. I can only wonder.

Anonymous said...

I would think that, if people really despaired of existence due to boredom after a long enough time, they'd mostly get involved with whatever the future equivalent of extreme sports is, and sooner or later kill themselves by accident. And they wouldn't be able to make this illegal, because eventually more than 50% of the population would be screaming for it to be allowed. Unless it were a dictatorship. Oops, now they've got vast hordes of fanatics who no longer care about their own lives after them.

And that's only *if* this is an issue. It might not be. Nobody has perfect recall; given enough time, you'll forget nearly everything you'd ever done, and can do it all again... whee! But even if immortality somehow came with infinite memory and near-perfect recall, it would take hundreds of years for most people to do literally everything they might want to do, and by then there would be new things to do. If there's some kind of existential ennui that comes from vastly inflated lifespans, I don't think "nothing to do" would have anything directly to do with it.

I was going to end this here, but realized some people might be thinking along the lines of an eternal tedium of doing boring, everyday things and only rare moments of doing anything interesting or special. That's pretty much my life, so I know what that's like. But if so, that attitude still seems kind of silly. What, do you think you'll remember every detail of that tedium for eternity? Do you tell yourself "oh well, at least some day I'll die so I'll never have to wash the dishes again!"

Anonymous said...

My body, my choice. As soon as I have it, I won't be nice to anyone who gets in my way and will try stop me.