November 16, 2010

SETI's Seth Shostak opposed to radical life extension

How can the spokesperson for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence be as unimaginative and uninspiring as this?:
[O]ur society is made possible by the relatively short timescale of our lives. Extending our life spans a little is merely problematic. Extending them a lot demands a whole new paradigm. Otherwise, our future will be ugly and tedious, punctuated only by video games, dental appointments, and the occasional boorish lout.
Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at SETI, applies two primary objections to radical life extension: (1) extreme risk aversion on account of indefinite lifespans and (2) the problem of boredom and ennui.

To the first point, one could make the case that, given the current fragility and tenuousness of our mortal lives, we will be no less risk averse in a future where death is dramatically less common. Moreover, death from accidents in the future will be significantly reduced on account other developments, such as self-driving cars and suspended animation surgeries.

To his second point, Mark Walker has answered the boredom and ennui complaint better than I ever could. But suffice to say that different people are going to respond differently to superlongevity, and that boredom and ennui will soon be treated as vestigial psychological states that will be self-regulated it if not eliminated altogether.

Makes me wonder what Seth Shostak imagines advanced extraterrestrials to be like. His must be a very small ET.


Stu said...

After reading Seth's excellent "Sharing the Universe", I thought his thinking was a lot more comprehensive and forward thinking than this. I'm disappointed by this incredible small mindedness.

ZarPaulus said...

Doesn't he realize that life extension is the only way he'll live long enough to contact Extraterrestrial Intelligence?

toomanytribbles said...

i'm also puzzled.

seth must now be 67 if wikipedia is correct. that's certainly double, perhaps triple the lifespan of our ancient ancestors. i wonder if he's bored with his life now...?

XiXiDu said...

Could being overcautious be itself an existential risk that might significantly outweigh the risk(s) posed by the subject of caution? Suppose that most civilizations err on the side of caution. This might cause them to either evolve much slower so that the chance of a fatal natural disaster to occur before sufficient technology is developed to survive it, rises to 100%, or stops them from evolving at all for being unable to prove something being 100% safe before trying it and thus never taking the necessary steps to become less vulnerable to naturally existing existential risks.

kurt9 said...

I do not consider "deathist" arguments to be legitimate, regardless of the credentials of those who utter them.

Duncan said...

Do you seriously expect experts in a certain area -- here Shostak and astronomy, or as another popular example Einstein and physics -- being excellent in areas outside of there own profession?

When Shostak talks about life extension, or when Einstein talked about the meaning of life, he is expected to produce as much nonsense as everyone else.

Having said this, I'm not impressed by Shostak.

Frank said...

I suppose if he's right, it's the answer to the Fermi Paradox, unless we're to believe ETs won't do their form of life-extension...

All in all though,I must agree with Duncan. I recall a podcast interviewing Neil deGrasse Tyson on commercial space (billed as the man they go to 'for all things space').

I respect Neil to no end, but that isn't what he does, even if it is 'space.'