So, would you want to live forever?
Well, I would; I think. Under the circumstances that once you got to about age 25, the doctors could just turn off your ageing process, and then you could go for eternity with the energy and mind of a 25 year old, only you get to add more wisdom. It’s possible that your brain might deteriorate over a period of hundreds of years, but perhaps, they could keep the cells renewing themselves, or otherwise figure out how to keep them from atrophying.
I write about this subject, not only becasue it is inherently interesting, but also because the doctors tell us that very soon, within a few generations perhaps, we might well be able to ‘cure’ ageing – i.e., stop the human ageing process, genetically. In other words, we might finally be getting very close to one of the great goals of mankind, which has occupied us as a species ever since we woke up from our animalistic stupor, and began to think critically, and to realize that, guess what, we’re mortal, and further, that that really sucks, in many many ways.
Of course, this potentially immanent breakthrough is pretty crazy for a number of reasons; not only would it fundamentally change the main factor of human life from the dawn of homo sapiens to the present (the only certainty left would be taxes, since death would, in a sense, be removed), but it would mean that we would have to change a lot of the ways that we do things.
1) We’d really need to limit the number of kids we have, or we’d have 200 billion people in about 40 years. This means, you’d have to have baby waiting lists. And some international means to enforce them, or else there would be serious inequality and unfairness, that hopefully people wouldn’t put up with. And, not to mention, we’d need to come up with a pretty low population cap (see my post on ‘the ideal population of the earth’), in order to provide all of the people on earth with enough land and resources, and enough wild space to roam in. I wouldn’t want to spend 200,000 years in a Tokyo highrise apartment box.
2) It would freak out the religious people (and even the not-so religious). How would they handle not going to see their makers? Clearly, many of them would opt not to get the immortality treatment, although I suspect that many would opt for it, saying, ”hey, I’ll probably die at some point anyway, maybe this is god’s will to live longer, to do his work here longer” or somesuch. In the end, human selfishness will probably tilt the scales in favour of immortality, and only a few radicals will want to off themselves. (unless they get bored with life, which we’ll have to discuss below).
3) We’d have to rethink all lethal activity. War? Who wants to go to war, if they are throwing away not just 20 years of semi-youth, and then 20-40 more of declining age and finally decrepit death. Perhaps, people would finally realize that something like a world government is in order (done in a humane, democratic vein, of course–the chinese would have to finally get rid of their angry selfish old men leaders; the russians would have to get rid of their mafia rulers, and the texans would have to stop electing village idiots!).
3a) What about any accident-inducing activity? At current levels, statistics tell us that the average person, if immortal, would die of an accident on average at the age of 630. But if we could live forever? Well, we’d have the luxury of being able to slow down. We’d limit our cars to 30 mph, or less, I guess, so that no child got run over. I mean: imagine having a child that you knew could be with you for the next 2,000 years (or even more!), and then having them be run over by the drunken neighbour at 30mph? Maybe cars would have to be outlawed altogether? Ditto for airplanes.
Clearly, some people would want to do daredevilish things, even if they were potentially lethal. Others would wish to avoid all potential danger (i.e., mountain-climbing). That would be your choice. And there would still be natural disasters, but eventually, we could probably even control the weather, with something like Star Trek’s ‘weather net’? (Futurists say this is by no means impossible).
4) There is also the question of disease. It is quite possible that people who didn’t age would still die of heart attacks, cancer, etc., although if you stopped ageing at 25, those things are very uncommon, because your cells are so healthy then. But there are still possibilities. Presumably, a medical science which could cure ageing might also have cures for cancer, and some of the other major diseases which plague us today. But there would still be some, perhaps a buildup of toxins in the blood after centuries.
5) That brings up another thing, we’d have to limit pollution in a major way, or else, people who lived for hundreds of years would build up major toxins, and then they would die of cancer or whatever else due to their accumulation. But presumably, the advent of an immortality treatment would get the public much more concerned about this.
Then there are the social and mental questions that arise, such as:
6) Boredom. What do you do with, say, 2,000 years? Keep watching Opra? Clearly, people would want to have chance at variety, and want to have mental capacity to imagine, and be curious, and to be constantly learning. Would your brain get full? We might have to do some brain improvements, to keep out capacities up with our learning potential. Maybe we could engineer a whole race of people with 200 or more IQs. Futurists do suggest that we might be able to do Matrix-like brain-downloading. Why not?
7) This leads us to some other issues that we have already explored here, namely, that of IQ inequality. If people were grossly unequal in IQ, it would kind of suck for really dumb people to be really dumb for 2,000 years, knowing that other people got to be really smart for 2,000 years. The dumb people would always inevitably lose, and have to work shit jobs, and be doomed to lives of barely above animal existence, while others got to live sophisticated lives similar to movie stars’. That’s clearly unfair, so we’d want to increase IQ equality.
8) This would go a long way towards addressing a related issue, which would be : economic inequality. It’s one thing to have really really rich people and really really poor people now, when people are only doomed to about 80 years of such an existence. The rich still can’t take it with them. But, if suddenly India’s poor were faced with 2,000 years of poverty, and they knew that Bill Gates was looking forward to 2,000, or 2,000,000, years of super-luxury yachting, etc., and doing whatever he wanted, well, suddenly I think we’d have a lot more interest in creating a more egalitarian economy (see my posts on ‘an ideal economy’ for further thoughts on this). I’m suggesting that many of us let a lot of bad things slide today, because life is so short. If it was longer, we’d start to see a bigger picture, and I suspect that people would agitate for change. Suddenly, unbridled capitalism would not seem so rosy to most of us, I suspect.
9) Which brings us back to the boredom issue: if we all had millenia to be here, I suspect that we’d all want a fair chance to do cool stuff. We’d all want a yacht. And we’d all want access to all that life has to offer, or at least a chance of it, eventually, so that we always had things to do. Part of our task as long-lived people would be to be constantly improving our system, to provide for these egalitaran goals. And to stop those who would exploit things for themselves: or else, let’s face it: we could have a system where a few people rule over semi-immortal slaves. Now that, would suck.
10) Which brings up the point of government: it would have to be majorly egalitarian. This means, each person would have to have the IQ capacity to be responsible self-governing citizens, with the intelligence and training to understand complex issues, or else, they would end up getting exploited. And it also means that we’d have to prevent hierarchicalism, or else, as stated previously, the lives of the servant class could be truly truly terrible. So, with immortality comes the responsibility of creating the truest and fairest democracy that has ever been put into practise.
11) And what about our personal lives? For one, marriage would have to be rethought. Probably, very few people would want to stay together for literally ever. But this would be very sad for some people; I just don’t know. Probably some people would literally stay married for centuries, or even longer. But I suspect that more freedoms would have to be allowed, in the long run.
12) Morality would be thrown for an entire loop: sooner or later, people would want to try every possible sexual technique, and they would probably get bored of them all, and perhaps very soon. Others would try every drug possible. But they would then burn themselves out: perhaps there would be less drug abuse. But what would people do? How would their attitudes change, if they knew they literally had all the time in the world? There might be festivals that lasted months, or even years. The time scale of everything might slow way down; there might be people who wished to walk all the way around the globe. Would moral depravity result? For some people. For others, depravity might be passing, a cyclical thing, which they then tempered with temperance. Others might never opt for this route, but prefer to keep a calm demeanor.
13) Would it be better to curb sexuality? To genentically engineer ourselves out of it? Heaven knows, if people stopped ageing at 25, they would all have major libidos all the time. Do people want to be condemned to 1000s of years of masturbating every day, like so many 25 year olds do? Some might opt to have their sex instincts deadened, and yet, – it’s almost impossible to imagine life without sexuality: it’s basically our entire reason for being as a species, and as individuals – what would we replace it with? If we were very wise, and had high intellectual capacities, we could replace it with idealism, and philosophy, and love of science and mathetmatics and music, like many monks and nuns have done, and other such types, but this wouldn’t be for everyone. It would cause an entire rethinking of this major aspect of human life, however–that’s for sure.
14. In the end, there are a great number of unknowns, and perhaps many things that we can’t even imagine today, that would happen as soon as we have a widespread capacity to render ourselves ageless, to stop the ageing process. But it might come soon–so we need to think about it, I think ; and to be prepared, to have mature answers, so that when the time is thrust upon us by the rushing rapidity of medical science, and it literally might be within my children’s lifetimes, we need to be sure that we can meet the challenges that immortality presents to us in the most humane and ideal way possible. Otherwise, the gift of immortality could quickly become a curse, whose negative repercussions might last for centuries, or even milennia. I hope that we as a species are wise enough to handle this, and other such choices which burgeoning technology throws our way. Our handling of the internet, I guess, has been a mixed success… hopefully we can at least muddle through, always trying to improve our track record, when choice like immortality finally do arrive.
What do you think?