Do you want to live forever?

May 14, 2015 • 11:00 am

I’m reading over old “Ask Me Anything” threads to prepare for my own reddit event next week, and have looked in on the discussions that Steve Pinker and Dawkins had with the group. (Oy—Pinker answers questions in perfectly formed and disgustingly cogent paragraphs!).

But at Steve’s discussion, one commenter said something interesting:

“True Story — I had dinner with Pinker and asked him this question as he got up to go: ‘If you could live forever would you do it?’, he paused am moment then said ‘Yes’. I asked him if he worried that his mind would reach some capacity, if he might become trapped in an endless cycle. He said ‘that’s what Iphones are for’.”

That’s typical Pinker humor, but I suspect he really does crave immortality. So do I. I’m glad to find a kindred spirit here, because, as I recall, few readers on this site have said they’d want to live forever. But I would—at least until the Earth burns up in a few billion years. I reckon I have about two more decades, and that’s just not long enough. I want to see Australia and Antarctica, I want to pet a baby tiger—and think of all those books to read and noms to eat!

Clearly it wouldn’t do to live forever as an old broken-down wreck, so there would have to be some stopping of the aging process (mine would be at about age 35). But given that, yes, let me live on!

(I can’t also help but suspect that many of those who say that they don’t want eternal life on Earth are making a virtue of necessity.)

174 thoughts on “Do you want to live forever?

  1. I know Mencken advised holding on as long as possible. “Life may not be exactly pleasant, but it is at least not dull. Heave yourself into Hell today, and you may miss, tomorrow or next day, another Scopes trial, or another War to End War, or perchance a rich and buxom widow with all her first husband’s clothes. There are always more Hardings hatching”
    But Mencken was talking about living a ripe old life, I think, not forever. It’s just because there ARE always more Hardings hatching that I don’t want eternal life here on earth. I have lived long enough that the dumb-assedness is starting to repeat itself and I feel like I’m seeing some slasher movie yet again. I want to yell to the girl not to go into the house, the guy is in there with the grisly farm implements, but there is no use. She can’t hear me. Even a rich and buxom widow isn’t much of a temptation.

    1. I equate this somewhat to retirement. Many people have a hard time with retirement simply because their work defines them. Mine does not. I’m just a prostitute for salary and insurance at present. I look forward to retirement so that I can expend my declining energies on my artwork, on writing, on reading what I enjoy,etc. I can’t believe I’ll ever get bored with so many interesting things to experience. The only limiter may be available funds.

      As far as living forever? If I could have my 30 year old body with my 60 year old brain I think it would be quite the thrill, from the simple pleasures of ever better CGI in movies allowing for the telling of incredible tales to the evolution of technology, or experiencing the spread of reason and the diminishment of fear across humanity. It boggles the mind even now the technological feats we’ve achieved to this point, and surely we’re still in technology’s infancy. What will man be able to create in the coming century and beyond? I really hate to miss out on that. At least I think I do.

    2. Yeah. I’d want to live for a few hundred (or a few thousand) years, as by then it’d get boring and confusing. Eighty years is too short.

    1. Unless I’m locked in a jail cell, I don’t see why tomorrow’s tedium will be less bearable than today’s. Its not like it builds up: after a good night’s sleep, I wake up in the morning refreshed and mentally ready for the same commute, same job, same exercise I did yesterday.

      In fact it makes no evolutionary sense for humans to have some extremely long-term biological or psychological cycle like that, where our sense of tedium or ennui builds up over centuries, because we don’t live that long. Our mental preparedness and will cycles function on days because we function on days, because our survival is a matter of getting food, water, finding shelter etc… every day or at least every few days. I bet it doesn’t matter if you’re 30 or 300 or 3000, your mental highs and lows are going to be about the same and occur for the same reasons/with the same cycles.

      Secondly, Moreover, human memory is largely constructive, not like a tape recording. I think this would provide a buffer for any sense of incredible age; you at 300 will not be filled with distinct memories of everything having been experienced before, because our memory doesn’t work like that even aging from 30 to 60. Old things can still feel new because most of us never remember exactly what it used to feel like.

      Another aspect of constructive memory is that we have an enormous capacity for maintaining a sense of self-hood even without recalling everything that’s contributed to our personality. By the age of 16, you probably don’t have a distinct memory of much before you were 4: you’ve “lost” a full quarter of your life down a memory hole! But this doesn’t bother us at all. It doesn’t bring on a sense of great age or ennui or angst. So I think if people were able to live to 3000 but couldn’t remember before they were 300, we would still psychologically hold up pretty well.

      So, I’m with Jerry, but for one caveat. I’d like to maintain the option of dying, even if I don’t think I’m going to use it. Forced immortality might be somewhat angsty merely because it was forced.

      1. But if you knew for a fact that you were going to exist for trillions of centuries, tedium might be far more of a concern than it is know, knowing that you’re probably not going get more than a few decades as most.

        Personally, while I find life a mostly amazing experience, there’s absolutely nothing that I want to do for trillions of centuries.

        The though that my consciousness will one day end is quite comforting.

        1. I think the “trillions of years” thing is a red herring. Normal biologically-based consciousness can’t possibly persist for that long, because biology will be history long before then. If consciousness can still exist in that remote era, the energy sources powering it will be much more diffuse, and the speed of thought correspondingly slower, by many orders of magnitude. Subjectively, eons will pass in an eyeblink, and ultra-long-term projects like circumnavigating the visible universe might become possible on subjectively reasonable timescales.

          If there’s some mind trillions of years in the future that can somehow trace its subjective continuity back to me, I’m certainly not prepared to say now what will or will not interest it. But I’d sure like to give it the chance to find out for itself.

    2. I would only take eternal life if there was an opt out clause when it became too tedious or otherwise unpleasant.

      1. One of the things that drove me away from religion when I was about 8 was a comic book I read in the barbershop. One of the Tales-from-the=Crypt type. The story was about a man who wished for and got eternal life. All well and good for a while until the sun flared up, the human race and all other life was extinguished, and he was floating around in space desperately unhappy. Scared the BeJeebus out of me. That last cartoon frame still comes back to me when I hear the happy clappy people rabbit on about eternal life. Thanks, but no.

  2. What future generations will have a chance to see and experience staggers the imagination. All that we, who are living in the present can do, is to help foster a sense of wonder and curiosity in those who will bring our imaginations to life. Provide a means for them to see past that which hobbles our potential to play in a Cosmos that beckons like a childhood friend…

    I mourn that which I will not be around to see and experience.

    Markham

  3. Knowing that my body will break down and my mind will decay, I’d have to day no. Fix those problems and I’m in! There’s always more to learn.

  4. To be perfectly honest I’d have to say I don’t know.

    I have nothing like any idea what it would be like to have, say, 500 million years under my belt. And that, of course, doesn’t even begin to approach infinity.

  5. Good old Pinker and yourself Jerry. I want to live forever because I want to see what happens, but have only ever been met with scoffs. A lively mind has to be curious about the future doesn’t it?
    Might the truth of solipsism guarantee this?

  6. Piet Hein, a Danish scienceman, mathsman, inventor, designer, author and inventor of a poetry form he called Grooks (he wrote 1000s)put his response this way:

    I’D LIKE —

    I’d like to know
    what this whole show
    is about
    before it’s out.

    Wouldn’t we all but senesence has a way of taking over.

    After WWII, Hein was a professor of Bioinformatics at the University of Ocford among other things.

  7. Infinite life sounds like a good approximation of Hell.

    And it’s difficult to imagine what could hold my attention for a million years.

    However…it would be nice to be able to go (centuries at least) until I got bored, take a nap lasting millennia or more, and wake up to see what’s changed — or some variation on that theme.

    But, once all the stars burn out, there won’t be much left to do….

    b&

    1. Dude, you probably can’t even remember what you had for dinner a year ago. What makes you think that something needs to hold your attention for a million years when you can’t even remember details a year back? Eon-spanning humans would be like the proverbial goldfish*; by the time we get to one side of millenial bowl, we will have forgotten most everything there was to know about the other side.

      *Which, yes I know, probably doesn’t resemble any real gold fish, as they have much better memories than the one in the proverb.

      1. Well, then…that’s another problem. Whole host of them, actually.

        What you describe is one of the big horrors of old age: dementia. It’s no biggie if you can’t remember the routine stuff…but can you imagine not even remembering your own wedding a few decades later?

        Humans also tend to be inventive creatures. We’ve already created artificial memory storage systems in the form of computers. Even if you’re not much of an engineer today, if you’ve got a few spare millennia to throw at the problem, I guarantee you you’ll have designed and installed any sort of prosthesis you might desire between now and then…

        …but how much of “you” is left in your own creation?

        Again, it’s a problem I’d love to have. But it’s far from a simple one, and it gets more and more complex the farther you get from a normal human lifespan.

        b&

        1. It’s no biggie if you can’t remember the routine stuff…but can you imagine not even remembering your own wedding a few decades later?

          Ben, there are entire jokes about just that; the elderly husband says X, the elderly wife says not X, and they both end with “ahhh, we remember it well.” We deal with fading or nonexistent memories of the past quite well. When was the last time your lack of memory of learning to walk gave you anxiety?

          It is debilitating and scary when you lack recall about fairly immediate things and about your present state. Who am I, who is that next to me, etc. But I took Jerry’s caveat (of age-stopping) to mean that this is not the sort of memory loss eternal people will suffer; they will suffer the normal type of forgetting what you had to eat last Tuesday, or how you spent your day a year ago Saturday. And that’s a good thing; such normal forgetting and reliance on reconstruction of the past instead is exactly why, IMO, Bernard Williams is wrong.

    2. I wonder too.
      Have you read any books by Ian M Banks?
      The ‘Culture’ series. They are really good if like science fiction.
      Do the sort of thing you describe.

  8. I would like to live forever as well. Hitchens commented something along the lines of “having to leave the party,” and that pretty much encompasses my feelings on the issue.

    Like Jerry, my conception of immortality is one in which aging is halted somewhere in my prime years (which would take a bit of restoration work at this point). It is also one in which I can end myself any time I want. Some people like to argue that that isn’t immortality. I think that is overly pedantic, but I’ll settle for changing terms to “living as long as I want to.”

    Regarding all of the dreary negatives people bring up for why they don’t want to live for an arbitrarily long time, I guess I am just an optimist. I don’t think that things suck, even right now. I think things are pretty damn good. I do think we are at a cusp where things will either go to hell for the human race in general, or will rapidly get much better for more people than ever before. And, contrary to Ben :), I think we can make it! And I’d purely love to see what happens after that. Eternal life here on Earth? If we make it past this cusp, I don’t think so. And that by itself is reason enough for me to want a lifetime supply of Boosterspice.

  9. I’d go for it, but only on the condition that I didn’t have to fill out a tax return every year.

      1. Also, compounding interest…if the conventional wisdom is that about four decades is enough to amass a minor fortune that’ll last until you die without immorality, then doubling or even tripling that should be far more than enough to set yourself up with an endowment that’ll grow exponentially for…well, infinity. But, if everybody does that…how is the economy supposed to function with everybody living off their savings…?

        b&

        1. Heh… Red Dwarf, three million years in the future – Dave Lister, the last surviving human, is tracked down by a debt collector from the Northwestern Electricity Board because he left a light on and his bill, with interest, now exceeds the value of the Universe. Or something like that…

        2. Heh – Red Dwarf, three million years in the future – Dave Lister, last surviving human, is tracked down by a bill collecter from the Northwestern Electricity Board because he left a light on and his bill, with interest, now exceeds the value of the Universe. Or something like that.

          1. Heh, I was thinking about the episode of Doctor Who where the last human is basically a flat face stretched out on a frame and she commands her attendants to “moisturize me!”

  10. I don’t think I’d want to live forever, since I don’t understand in what way *I* could do so. Psychological continuity of sorts is what I think individuates persons, and I don’t know how I could have an unlimited amount of that.

    (There’s a science fiction film _The Man From Earth_ which apparently discusses this. Apparently by the same guy who wrote ST:TOS “Requiem For Methuselah”, which also deals with an immortal human. I haven’t seen the former; only saw reviews which suggested that the memory consideration plays a role.)

    1. The Man From Earth guy was supposed to be 14,000 years old, as well as he could figure. No, he didn’t have serious memory problems. He actually remembered things from his past pretty well, though not perfectly. His biggest problem was having to move every ten years or so because people noticed he wasn’t aging. It’s a great movie. I have it on DVD, and it’s one of the few movies I enjoy watching again from time to time.

      As for myself, the answer is “Yes,” but with some of the same caveats others have expressed. Actually, though I’m an atheist, the picture some (but not all) Christians have of the afterlife sounds pretty good to me. A place of permanent good health, youth, good friends, adventure, continued scientific advances, etc. I want that. I just don’t believe it any longer.

      Barring that, I want to live long enough that medical science can rejuvenate my now 75-yo body, repair my arthritic joints, renew my nerves and heal my neuropathy and the diabetes that caused it, etc. I trust by then we’ll also be able to prevent mental disease and deterioration. Then I want to continue in good health as long as the human race exists, in good health, and experiencing as much of the universe as feasible. But with the same caveat as others, that I could change my mind if things ever get too bad.

      1. I too liked The Man From Earth. I like how he couldn’t remember different languages because language changed along with him.

    2. From this perspective, *you* have not even lived the length of time corresponding to your age. You may or may not have some foggy memories in your preschool days, but it almost certainly isn’t continuous into the present day. I don’t see how this problem is any more of an issue if we lived significantly longer than it is now. So long as the moments are still comprehensible in a way that you are largely the same person today as you were yesterday, why care if the whole lifespan can be recalled with clarity? I have no qualms with being alive now and haven’t having the faintest idea of my daily thoughts as a toddler.

  11. I want to know how this all comes out! For example, I want to see how far global warming goes and what species survive and what changes occur in my local area. I want to keep learning new things.

    Of course, wanting to live forever presupposes that I remain reasonably healthy and have a mind that can keep learning things. I’m already less healthy and more forgetful than I was; things aren’t looking good.

    And of course much of the future will be tragic and really, really difficult to live through. Perhaps I should just wish I could keep coming back in the peaceful, prosperous times (as a non-poor individual) so I can see how many things did turn out until then, and then skip ahead some more years. As long as I’m wishing . . . .

  12. Perhaps it’s because I’ve read too much Peter Hamilton lately, but I find I’d like to hang on at least until physics discovers how to break the speed limit of light and open the way to the stars. Should this happen, of course, I’d then wish to renew my lease on life over and over in order to see (visit!) more and more stars.

    1. until physics discovers how to break the speed limit of light and open the way to the stars

      Don’t hold your breath.

      It’s about as safe a bet as they come that that’s one limit that’s going to hang in there as tenuously as 180° as the limit for an interior angle in a triangle…because that’s really what it’s about: geometry.

      Physics is just describing the geometry of the Universe. And, unless that geometry is radically different from what overwhelming piles of evidence lead us to think it is, light’s the limit.

      As a check: everything we know about that geometry says that faster-than-light also, inevitably, means backwards-in-time. But time travel also opens the door to perpetual motion, something even more emphatically ruled out.

      But, there’s hope, of a sort.

      If you can live forever…well, it’s only tens of thousands or millions or billions of years to anything you can see in the sky. You’ve got time; enjoy the trip!

      More practical problems, there, though…it takes lots of energy to keep entropy at bay. Launch a powered-down spaceship at the nearest star, and all the gas will have escaped through the steel hull, all the rubber will have dried up and crumbled, all the lubricants will have frozen, all the electronics will have been fried by cosmic rays, and so on, long before it actually got there. So, now you need to carry huge amounts of energy to power a self-contained industrial repair facility — one that can repair itself. And the amount of energy you need to do that isn’t all that far off the amount of energy you’d need to get there at a sizable fraction of the speed of light…which itself is far more than our entire civilization currently consumes if you total up everything from cooking fires to nuclear power plants.

      So…sorry, man. I’d love to see the stars, too. But it just ain’t gonna happen.

      b&

      1. Whaaaa …?

        You mean I can’t just push some colored, illuminated buttons on a console (while wearing a nifty colored uniform of clingy polyester) and make the stars smear outside the window? 🙂

        1. I think, if the goal is to make the stars smear…you’re much better off ingesting certain colorful liquids and / or colorful pills than trying to push colorful buttons.

          It won’t get you anywhere any faster, but it might make it seem like it does. Or not…but would you care?

          b&

      2. “…well, it’s only tens of thousands or millions or billions of years to anything you can see in the sky. You’ve got time; enjoy the trip!”

        Should probably bring an extra bag of gorp.

      3. Relativity doesn’t say that faster than light means backwards in time. It says you can’t go faster than light. If you ever did go faster than light you wouldn’t be going backwards in time, you’d be disproving relativity.

        1. Er…you need to brush up on your basic relativity. That faster than light is also backwards in time is Physics 101 stuff these days….

          b&

          1. Sounds like an imaginative physics 101 course, applying mathematical models to things that are nonsensical under those same models. C I’m relativity is the mathematical limit that an object’s speed approaches as it accelerates with constant force for an infinite amount of time. Going past infinity under that, and the greater-than-infinite amounts of force needed, are nonsensical. Do that, and you either disprove relativity or discover a situation (like moving spacetime itself) where it does not apply.

            Of course, as relativity was developed with no data whatsoever concerning the existence of greater-than-infinite forces, if they do exist how do you know Einstein missed wrapping the whole time dilation thing in an ABS()? Those of us in the slower-than-light Universe would be none the wiser. Or more importantly, as relativity concerns the affects on time on the moving object itself, the actual effect would be *it* experiencing negative time, not the Universe around it. In other words, your crew would start de-aging Benjamin Button style. That may seem non-sendical, but so is accelerating past c in a Relativistic universe.

            1. Ever watchful for pedantic opportunities, I have to point out that c is in a vacuum. Some stuff can go faster than light in other media (like the radiation I just learned about: Cherenkov radiation, which goes faster than light in water and makes a pretty glow in pool reactors.

            2. Yes, of course; acceleration “past” the speed of light is an incoherent notion. But most fanciful faster-than-light travel scenarios assume something other than acceleration, such as magic faery wormholes or particle-of-the-week-powered space wrinklers. So the hands are waved and the characters are simply assumed to reach their destination before the light of their departure does.

              And, if you could do that sort of thing, you would also travel back in time. And never mind the threat to your own poor grandfather; time travelers can trivially create perpetual motion machines. For example: make a battery. Charge it. Wait a bit of time without discharging it. Take the battery with you back in time to when it first left the charger; now you’ve got two fully-charged batteries. Leave them alone for a bit, then grab them and take them back to when you set them down; now you’ve got four batteries. Continue exponentially doubling your battery count for as long as you want.

              Time travel stories use what’s known in Discworld as “narrativium” to deal with that sort of thing; there’s a “law” of time travel that says you can’t meet yourself in the past, or the elder gods of future time travel will smite you dead.

              But there’s also another reason we know that time travel is impossible: there aren’t any time travelers. And never mind delicate sensibilities about environmental preservation of the past…there’s no richer source of raw materials and no more strategically important entity than the Big Bang itself. Whoever controls that, controls the entire Universe. There’s no sign of hyperintelligent space beasties battling for supremacy in the cosmic microwave background, so, therefore, no time travel.

              b&

              1. But there’s also another reason we know that time travel is impossible: there aren’t any time travelers.

                Ben, we’ve been over this before. If there aren’t any train commuters in your neighborhood, that doesn’t prove that railroads are impossible. It just means nobody has bothered to build tracks to your town.

                General relativity tells us that time travel, if it’s possible at all, is like a railroad: you have to build the tracks (in the form of warped spacetime) before you can go anywhere. The fact that we see no time travelers doesn’t rule out the possibility of time travel; it says only that (a) nobody has built a time machine yet, and (b) any time machines built in the future must be of the type permitted by general relativity, i.e. incapable of reaching a time before the tracks were laid.

                There may be good reasons for thinking time travel is impossible, but the absence of time travelers isn’t one of them.

              2. Wormholes and warped spacetime ideas (the more plausible ones) don’t involve moving faster than light within spacetime, so even if any of them turn out to be correct special relativity would not apply. They involve leaving your local spacetime or warping it in some way so your spaceship’s relative speed remains low while the underlying fabric of space catapults you along. That idea is actually part of some inflation hypotheses (where the extremely young Universe expands at a speed > c due to spacetime itself rapidly stretching in all directions), yet none of the models have time reversing or the Universe re-imploding upon itself.

                If it turns out to be possible to jump backwards in time by leaving spacetime through a wormhole, that wouldn’t be described by Relativity. A new theory would be needed.

              3. The problem arises in that you arrive where you’re going before you leave where you started from…which is time travel….

                b&

    2. I think Fermi’s paradox applies to FTL (taster than light) and time travel scenarios. We do not see evidence of others, or ourselves, so where are they? The paradox probably speaks to that answer: FTL and time travel are not physically allowed as we would have already seen evidence of it.

    3. It’s not so much a “speed limit” as a fundamental property of physics. So, as Ben said, don’t hold your breath; even a long cryogenic nap won’t help.

    4. If it were doable, it would have been done, so where are they? The fact they aren’t here pretty much puts the kibosh on fast than light travel, even if physics didn’t.

  13. This phrase of Professor Ceiling Cat’s referencing Dr Pinker’s prose is just darlingly precious: “disgustingly cogent” … …

    On a google search, .it. as those two words jointly together has only four hits, two of which go already and precisely .to. this specific post of Dr Coyne’s.

    Anyhow, I am soooo going to remember these two words side by side each other and in that order. I know of too, too many folks who when they speak and when they write aren’t … … .same.

    No, I shan’t be a – sayin’ a thing to these folks. I shall just be recalling to myself then, when they soooo (seemingly almost purposefully sometimes) muck up their words, this particular phrase. And give to myself a solitudinous (harrumphing) smile.

    Blue

    ps And as for my livin’ forever ? O Yes, Quite … … Please: Bring it on !

    (… … inside a so much more youthful physique too, o’course !)

  14. When you do your AMA, be prepared for tough questions. The business of anti-theism, as you know can get quite political, and my guess is that, in addition to science/religion there will be questions on topics like Charlie Hebdo etc.

    Also, readers will love it if you check back in on the thread after the AMA is over (technically any thread is open for 6 months), looking at some of the sub-discussions that are created and weighing in on any that interest you.

  15. Reminds me of One of my Favorite lines from the the movie Troy when Achilles (Brad Pitt) says to the young maiden “I’ll tell you a secret. Something they don’t teach you in your temple. The Gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”
    I often wonder if I like that line because i know i wont live forever…

    Im in for much longer than the usual, a few Centuries would be nice and mid 30’s would be great!

  16. Live for ever? Really?

    You’re only renting this space, you don’t own it. Move on so that everyone else can have their turn.

    1. I like that…

      I don’t want eternal life. It is not a virtue of necessity. I am childless by choice, which I’m sure is a big determining factor, but I’ve lived long enough, so I don’t care. As I don’t get any assurances that I won’t end up with Alzheimers or cancer- like other relatives- or worse, I do not want eternal life. The expiration date that is on all of us is what keeps me motivated and on track. All I ask from the Universe is a heroic death. Or really funny. Either works for me.

  17. The trouble with living forever is that, if you could die, say in an accident, the loss would be infinite. Think about it; if you are 60 and die, you lose perhaps 20-30 years of potential life. If you could be immortal and die at 60, you lose an infinite amount of potential life.

    You would be so afraid of death you wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.

    See also The Twilight Zone: Escape Clause.

    1. And the grief of watching a loved one die who then lost that infinite experience would be incalculable as well.

      1. That’s the other thing. It would be unbearable to see my 3-year-old granddaughter Maeve grow to be an old lady and die. And there I am, taking up space at a healthy 35 years old.

      2. I don’t think there is any good reason to suppose that human emotional responses and cognition work as you and Doris Walker imply here.

        1. Well, then, as a practical matter, wrongful death liability awards would have to be infinitely larger then they are now.

  18. Harald Lesch, a german professor of physics, once said: “Millions of people want to be immortal but don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy sunday afternoon.”

      1. It’s been widely attributed to the Woodman, though I don’t know if anybody’s tracked down the exact source.

        But Woody definitely said: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying.”

  19. I think most people would like to live forever if that could be achieved in a way that doesn’t negatively impact others, but I can’t see how that could be; how can immortality be achieved in a manner that is just? For instance, do only a select few people get to live forever? If so, how does that decision get made?

    Its equally hard to imagine a situation where everyone lives forever. Would we still have kids? Would they all live forever too? We don’t even have the resources to support our current population of mortal humans, so how could we have a world full of immortal, constantly reproducing people and expect to have any quality of life whatsoever?

    For me, saying “no, I don’t want to live forever” is really more me saying “I’ve had my turn, I’ve had my fun, and living longer doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

    Or maybe I’m over thinking this. I know that this discussion is just for fun, and I should just say “yes, wow, I’d love to be able to see what comes next”, but I also know that there are folks out there who are actively pursuing ways to extend lifespans far beyond the maximum we see today and I find myself wondering if that’s really such a good idea…

    1. Regardless of the speed of light problem – which may or may not be absolute – people in a few hundred years will undoubtedly be living other places beside earth. I see no good reason why everybody couldn’t live a very long time and still have plenty of the things that make life worth living. I have to add that I’m more optimistic about the long run than about the next couple of centuries. Nevertheless, I sometimes regret that I was born 50 or 100 years too soon, so I have to die.

      1. Anybody living off of Earth is going to be doing so on Mars or in a low-gravity environment…and it’ll be a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time before we have the technology to turn solar energy and the sorts of raw materials available on Mars or from asteroids and moonlets and the like into the stuff of civilization.

        Simple plastics and lubricants, computer circuitry, food, air…all those things are utterly dependent on raw materials we take for granted here on Earth that you’d basically have to build from constituent chemical elements in space, and that takes insane amounts of energy even in principle…meaning you need vast solar arrays in a close solar orbit, which is again an environment we have no clue how to operate in…shipping that energy all over the Solar System…

        …no, I’m afraid, not. Makes for great space opera, but we’re as far away from that sort of thing as the Ancient Romans were from putting up an equivalent to the ISS.

        Nor is it entirely clear where we’d get the energy to bootstrap such an enterprise, either. You’d be talking about solar power production here on Earth that starts to cut into the existing biosphere….

        b&

  20. I’ll take forever, too (though it does sound like a long time, especially near the end).

    I imagine having the immortality option would have a major impact on phenomena presenting a risk of unintentional death (automobile use, gun-control, environmental hazards, etc.). It would also put suicide in a different light. I can’t imagine snuffing it, and have never given serious consideration to doing so, but knowing the option is there — that I could walk away (or, technically, not) from the party if I really wanted to — is one of the things that keeps life worth living.

    Also, I feel like I did stop ageing at 35 — at least until I look in the mirror to shave.

    1. Here’s a discussion on deaths from injury:
      http://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/6491/how-long-would-people-live-in-the-us-if-an-immortality-treatment-was-available

      Assuming the person who gave the top answer did their math correctly, here are your odds of survival to given ages, based on current deaths from injury:

      300 years – 83%
      1109 years – 49.99%
      5000 years – 4.3%
      32,000 years – is 1 in 488 million

      And that’s only based on deaths from injury, not disease. So, even if humans ever figure out how to stop aging, a few thousand years is all most people could hope to live.

      1. But there’s an important caveat there: “assuming no changes from our current society”. That doesn’t seem very likely on a timescale of millennia.

        Look at it this way: a technology that can maintain your brain and body in optimal working order indefinitely must necessarily have access to your complete internal state on a molecular level. At that point it’s not much more implausible to record a snapshot of your state and reconstruct a new brain and body on demand from raw materials.

        So even catastrophic accidents needn’t be fatal; you can always be restored from a recent backup.

        1. I think that’s correct. I think it’s also correct that, given the immortality option, society would devote more assets (economic and human) to the study and prevention of accidental death.

          Also, aging and disease, though analytically distinct, are obviously correlated, since some diseases are much more common among the elderly, either because of the cumulative effects of living or because they opportunistically strike those who are infirm due to aging. (Those who are infirm due to age are also at greater risk that a traumatic injury will be fatal.)

        2. Reconstructing a new brain and body isn’t exactly immortality – it’s cloning. And if you have the technology to do that, why would you deceive that new life with false memories to make it think it was someone else?

          Also, I’m not sure you’d need that level of technology. Wouldn’t it be more chemistry or medication?

          1. If we reject dualism, then you are (the action of) your brain, and a molecule-for-molecule reconstruction of your brain is just as much you as the original. There’s nothing deceptive about that.

            I’m skeptical that mere chemistry can confer immortality. It takes much more than oil changes and fuel additives to restore a classic car to mint condition, and the human body is orders of magnitude more complex. At minimum, you’ll need some system capable of scanning cellular genomes and recognizing and correcting errors. That’s not chemistry; that’s computation.

            1. If we reject dualism, then you are (the action of) your brain, and a molecule-for-molecule reconstruction of your brain is just as much you as the original.

              This presents somewhat of a conundrum. On the face of it, we can say that rejecting dualism means we effectively aren’t the “same” person we were a couple decades ago with all the cell replacement, and at a lower scale than that the swapping of our molecules and atoms for new ones. Yet, there is continuity and while a new copy of you, should you be destroyed, would seem in principle to not be any different than the difference between a person as a child and that person as a senior citizen, something about this seems wrong.

              Suppose we had the ability to back up a person and make a new copy in case of an accident. Suppose we use this same process but while the person is still perfectly alive. Now we have 2 copies of that person, which will immediately split and go on to have different unique experiences. But at the instant the person’s cloned, we have two copies and no one would claim the copy is just as much the person as the original person who is still standing there. This would be no more true than it is true that my current phone is the same phone I had before even though I got the same model and downloaded the backup data to it. (The old phone lived on with the data as well, just in a state where it has having electrical malfunctions). On the other hand, something still isn’t passing the smell test here. If we aren’t composed of the same matter that we were earlier in life, in what sense are we the same? It leaves only the continuity of experience and memory.

              Perhaps this is all merely a semantic problem with the dualistic connotations of our language. Or perhaps it’s good evidence of the illusion of self. In that sense, we’re always dying as memories are lost and final death is simply the end of that information being accessible in any way, but I’m not sure this fully solves the dilemma I described above.

              1. But at the instant the person’s cloned, we have two copies and no one would claim the copy is just as much the person as the original person who is still standing there.

                I think this can be rebutted fairly easily. Clearly the newly constructed copy is a person; to deny that would be ethically monstrous. If you ask them who they are, they’ll both give the same answer. And if you carry out the copying behind closed doors, such that one person goes into a copying machine and two identical people come out, and nobody (including them) can tell which is which, then there’s no basis whatever on which to declare one the “real” Fred and the other merely a copy. Continuity of physical substance is irrelevant, since both Freds are made of the same kinds of atoms in the same physical arrangement, and two carbon atoms in the same energy state are literally indistinguishable.

                It might be possible to make them distinguishable, say by using exotic isotope ratios in the copy machine’s feedstock. But the only reason for doing so would be to enable us to discriminate against the “fake” Fred.

                So I think we’d be obliged, both ethically and pragmatically, to regard both people as equally authentic instances of Fred, and any social problems arising from that would have to be dealt with on that basis.

              2. Yes, if the copying machinery was perfect, both people would be equally the ‘real one’.

                Scifi rears its head – Farscape cloned its principal character once, and they both regarded themselves as the ‘real one’. Didn’t help that they both had the hots for the same woman. There was a memorable vignette at the end of an episode where both Crichtons were grimly playing rock-paper-scissors and exactly matching each other, every time.

    1. Yeah I like that, although I’d want the renewal option to occur about every 250 years following year 500.

  21. I’ll bet there’s a reply or two up above that would change my mind, but I’d say no, I wouldn’t want to live forever. I think after 500 years or so, it would just become tedious: You’ve done everything you could on Earth and the nearby planets, you’ve read all the books including those by a reanimated HP Lovecraft, 23rd century Bleeblorp-Jazz sucks – yeah, nothing new to be discovered or thought about – just the tedium of another day.

    1. But, how do you know that? If you had the freedom to check out any time you like, would you still say no if you were required to decide right now?

      1. Yep, excellent point. As long as I could say “I want this to end now” I’d probably keep going.

    2. So I’m dying to know, man, is the 23rd Century stuff more Coltrane or Ornette Coleman (or maybe Ornette is more post-Bleeblorp)?

  22. Depends on the quality of life . . . if I am pissing myself and even more vacant than I am now now, well that doesn’t sound too fun. Plus, I would be more of a strain on everyone around me . . . even more so than now.

  23. Yeah I want to live forever as well as long as I’m not in pain. A nice metal android body would even let me do things my flesh body can’t!

      1. I reckon there’ll be a work around there too! Of course, I’d prefer my 18 yo body.

        I said it last time Jerry mentioned it – I would like to live forever, and I can’t imagine getting bored. There would constantly be new things to discover and learn.

        It must be in the way the discussion is framed, because I remember last time most people didn’t want to live forever. It’d be interesting to study that sometime – but I’ll never have the time. I never even get around to reading all the books I buy or borrow. It’s nice to imagine that one day I might catch up on my reading.

        1. Yeah and if we lived forever, there would be WEIT so we would never be bored! Except if Ben died because he got bored; then WEIT wouldn’t be as much fun. 🙂

            1. See Ben, by not living forever you’re ruining living forever for the rest of us. 🙂

              1. That’s more like it! And eat your vegetables too or no ice cream!

              2. Curiously enough, I just put a bunch of brussels sprouts in the steamer. But no ice cream for dessert…tonight it’s halvah and a cup of decaf….

                b&

      2. Meh. After the flesh body wears out who cares. Maybe a body like the Replicants but long lived. Tears in rain.

  24. The party is over when it ends. I prefer the party to never end.

    To me, the only life worth living is one that is filled with hard work. There will always be a rock to move and a tree to plant, until of course, entry is maximized, then I will maximize with it.

    1. You available for yard work on the weekends? I’ve got a couple of tree stumps and boulders I’ve been meaning to do something about. The pay isn’t much, but I promise plenty of hard work for your continued enjoyment.

  25. I’d be happy to live forever — assuming I had a body that was useable in ways I enjoy — this is a big. This is a huge proviso.

    But, since I won’t, I want to live as fully as I can during the brief time I have.

    And, when the time comes, I want to have the option to choose to end it. Which is not the same as knowing the day you will die (you wouldn’t know until a very short time before the fact.) I would not want to know the day I will die. but I try to live each day as if it were my last.

    Memento mori

  26. One problem — maybe not a big one for some people (not for me, personally), but I’ve seen it raised often — is the impact of immortality on one’s personal relations. What would it be like to watch one’s spouse, friends, children, grand children, etc die while one does not even age? I guess it would not feel good. Perhaps just the knowledge of this inevitable prospect could undermine intimate relationships. Imagine how you would break the story to your date.

    This wouldn’t be a problem if everyone is immortal, or at least everyone in a substantial community is. But somehow I feel that that would be more, not less, problematic.

    1. “Perhaps just the knowledge of this inevitable prospect could undermine intimate relationships”

      This is exactly what happens now. One of the two people in a relationship is going to die first (generally the male in a male-female pairing). I don’t see how knowing this (which we all do — unless you both die even earlier in a car wreck or similar accident) diminishes the relationship in any way. It’s the current situation — it’s just a matter of scale. Many women out live their husbands by decades.

      1. There are at least two differences. Maybe three. In order of decreasing importance (as I see it):

        1. One partner does not even age beyond a certain point. If, like Jerry, you would have aging stop at 35, then your partner needs to accept that in 40 years s/he will be 75 and you’ll still look like 35. As I said, whether it’s a big problem depends, but I wonder how many people would have no problem at all accepting that.

        2. It’s known for certain who will die first. Uncertainty usually has the effect of making inequality seem more tolerable, and removing it may have the opposite effect (e.g., we carry out construction projects knowing there is a risk of someone dying, but that’s somehow OK. However, suppose we are given a crystal ball that tells us exactly which person if any is going to die in a project. In that case I don’t think any project that will involve death will get public approval).

        3. It’s also known for certain that after one dies, the other still has not just decades, but an infinite number of years ahead. What is the whole life to you is 0% of the life of your immortal partner. It’s hard to avoid the thought that as your immortal partner’s “significant other”, your significance for him/her is approaching zero also. Yes, I guess someone people can happily live with the thought (I guess I can), but I’m pretty sure some people can’t, and that’s not because they see a difference where there isn’t any.

        1. That 0% thing, though, is a bit of a cheat. Anything can look bad in proportions, but 50 years happily married is still 50 years regardless of what happens before or after.

          1. I once came together with a girl despite we knew that she would emigrate in three months and none of us wanted a long-distance relationship. We decided to enjoy our love to the full for these months. It was worth every second of that limited time, not least because we knew its finiteness.

  27. Just need to find a serious purpose. Wowbagger The Infinitely Prolonged dealt with immortality by setting off to insult everyone in the universe. He included gods – in an effort to get them to kill him.

    Douglas Adams and HHG aside; forever is a long time, there is no appeal to being the last sentient being in a large cold universe.

    1. Not only that, but Wowbagger also decided to insult everyone in the universe *in alphabetical order*.

      I suppose you’d need a project like that if you truly were immortal.

  28. Forget living forever; I’d love to have lived forever already. I missed out on the dinosaurs, man!

    The only reason I’m dying is because I don’t have a choice.

    My biggest caveat, though, is that I’d also want to be in reasonably non-stressful, or at least non-torturous, situations at all times. If I fell into a volcano and everything except my consciousness was destroyed, that would be a good candidate for “fate worse than death”.

    Another caveat is obviously that my body doesn’t deteriorate or age to the point where I am basically a consciousness left drifting in space after the Earth is destroyed. That’s basically the volcano scenario all over again.

    A third caveat is that I don’t want a consciousness that would self-sabotage. No infinite boredom, for a start, simply because I have the bad luck of having a mind that responds badly to a few centuries.

    A fourth caveat is that the laws of probability don’t throw a catastrophe at me. It’s no good living forever if you have to spend a good chunk of it recovering from regular meteor impacts.

    Actually, while we’re at it, can we just redesign the whole universe?

    Thing is, as much as I really would like to live forever, there are simply too many obstacles to doing so comfortably in this universe.

    Still really badly want to live forever, though. The world’s too awesome for a single visit to suffice.

    1. Your volcano scenario is what Terri Schiavo would have been in for (albeit over a limited time period) if the right-wingers had been right about her mental state (which there’s no reason to think they were) — essentially a Johnny-Got-His-Gun consciousness trapped in a flesh-covered vat. I certainly agree that this type of rat-trapped-in-a-coffee-can existence is a fate worse than death.

  29. I would definitely want to live longer than our current average life expectancy, but forever? No thanks.

    The main reason is I don’t think the human race will last forever, and I wouldn’t want to be the last and only man standing. Even if we humans don’t kill ourselves by destroying the planet, I can still foresee another dark age where living would be miserable. (I’m thinking about some of Ben Goren’s oil/energy shortage musings). And odds are in favor that eventually another massive meteor will slam into the earth and cause a global mass-extinction. I wouldn’t want to be around for that either.

    1. I think there is a Bad Time coming at some point in the future.

      It may be that climate change precipitates it earlier than (easy) energy shortage: Lack of food or lack of fresh water. Leading to all-out global war.

      People won’t take loss of vital resources lying down. They will fight. I highly doubt I’ll be around; and I’m glad of that; but that doesn’t make me feel any better really, since I have children.

  30. About petting a baby tiger, Dr. C, would a lion cub do? This is not the ideal set of circumstances for the lion cubs, but here’s a very interesting opportunity where you might also get some unusual insights into what’s going on in Gaza and maybe get to visit relatives/friends in Israel. The foster family might be able to use a little donation too.
    http://www.upi.com/News_Photos/News/Zoo-sells-lion-cubs-to-family-in-Gaza/8884/?spt=rec_feat&or=1&r=2161431433220

  31. Body decay,endless repetition of humans’ folly, no, let me live my time then go.Let the world go forward without me. Pity for the marvels I won’t see, though.

    1. So how many years are you willing to give up off your current allotment to avoid bodily decay and human folly? Or is there something special about that number (the number that chance and evolution have now bequeathed you)?

  32. Assuming you mean we can’t choose to end our lives at some point, and are forced to live forever then hell no. A couple of millennia perhaps, but it’s eventually it’s going to be rather tedious. Particularly when the human race goes extinct, and you’re stuck all alone suffering to survive in a cave, for 4 and 1/2 billion+ years.

    1. That Queen line came into my mind as soon as I read the subject line of the post. “Who wants to live forever, Who dares to live forever, when love must die?”

      1. That song’s been in my head all afternoon because of this thread. As soon as I close it, the song goes away but the. I open the thread again & I hear Freddie. Still, it’s a great sound track and my favourite song from it is Princes of the Universe.

        I often mention how I want to live forever like Highlander.

  33. I don’t know if I’d want to live forever, but I certainly wouldn’t mind living longer. But it depends on the circumstances. For example, if the option was only available to me, but not my close family and friends, then I wouldn’t want to do it. I’m only in my mid 30s, and thinking of all the people I’ve known who have died is very melancholy (not that my friends/family have had worse luck than normal). It’s like every loss adds a bit of sadness, and I can’t imagine how bad it would be after centuries worth of loved ones’ deaths. But, if immortality were open to everybody, I can see the earth becoming over-populated rather quickly.

    I’m also reminded of this SMBC comic, since presumably we’re not talking magic immortality here, but just people no longer dying of old age:
    http://smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1916#comic

  34. So is man’s striving for immortality/avoidance of death assuaged by the promises of eternity/heaven in many of the world’s religions? CS Lewis would probably jump in with the argument from desire at this point.

      1. “Hey! It’s quantum Harry Carey here. It’s been about 5 billion years, and the Sun is pretty much a red giant now, but the Cubbies are still pluggin’ away and I think it could finally be their year. Holy cow! Steve, did I mention that my favorite planet is the Sun?!”

        1. Cubs’ fans are as deluded in their expectations as religious cultists. Now if we could only get the religious to indulge their delusions by sitting in bleachers behind ivy-covered walls while knocking back Old Styles and catching a few rays on a sunny afternoon — wouldn’t the world be a better and safer place?

    1. Oh, you can do that today.

      If, of course, by, “Cubs,” you mean, “juvenile ursids.” And, by, “win,” “defecate.” Also, of course, substitute, “woods,” for, “World Series.”

      Those minor little details aside, it’s a slam dunk!

      b&

  35. Many of the comments above seem to assume some sort of magical prolongation of life-as-we-know-it. To me, there’s no point considering such scenarios as living forever with a decaying brain and body, or being forever confined to Earth’s surface (or to 21st century civilization), or being the only person to live forever. Those scenarios can be dismissed as logically incoherent.

    To talk realistically about living indefinitely, we have to assume a number of radical technological advances not only for maintaining youthful vigor and brain function, but also for backing up and restoring brain states in order to provide redundancy and guard against catastrophic brain injury, and arguably for spaceflight as well, in order to escape catastrophes of planetary scale. All of these technologies will have profound effects on society and on concepts of personal identity. Living “forever” in the real world almost certainly doesn’t mean anything like what our naïve intuition suggests.

    That said, sign me up. I don’t think boredom will be a problem; if I knew I had even 50 year more years of good health ahead of me, there are any number of alternative careers I might like to try my hand at. And as the frontier of science continues to expand, the number of interesting things to do and learn expands along with it.

    Here’s a prediction: the first person to live to age 1000 will be someone who grew up in a time when the idea of living much past 100 was pure science fiction. That person might already be alive today.

  36. I wonder how religion would fare in a world where actual humans lived, if not eternally, for a very long time. How many people could actually hold on to faith, especially as their experience and knowledge of the material world increased over eons? I haven’t thought about this much but my initial reaction is that religion would fare poorly.

    Count me in for a very long life — unless I’m wrong about religion and I happen to be an underprivileged woman in a fundamentalist society. I would not wish that on anyone.

  37. Yes, if we assume the practical problems (such as having to abstain from procreation) are irrelevant. I realize that of course it is very unlikely for individuals, as well as species, to avoid extinction due to random factors.

  38. I say “no,” at least tentatively.

    I love life like the next person, want to keep seeing what happens in the world, etc.

    On the other hand, every time I’ve contemplated eternal existence it freaks me the ef out! It’s not “living for a far longer period” that I’d be wary of; it’s the “eternity” part, the never…NEVER..ending aspect, which not only seems to run far farther ahead than my mind could fill up, but which entails having no choice in the matter. Should I decide I want out – nope – stuck existing, thinking, being, forever.
    At which point eternity starts feeling all to much like a version of hell.

    So if someone who could grant me the wish asked if I wanted to live eternally right now, I’d say “Thanks but no thanks. I may be dying somewhat before I’d like to, but it’s a known quantity to some degree and I’m ok with that.”

  39. Depends. There’s a corollary that must be answered first. Is the offer just for me, or does everyone get the same choice? There are a few sons of bitches whose funeral I’m looking forward to pointedly NOT attending. I’d hate to lose that chance. Further, that would mean I’d have to put up with them forever.

  40. No thanks. I’m too literal-minded to consider the consequences in a philosophical way, and there are too many unrealistic conditions required. “I want to have my 30-year-old body and I want my mind to remain sharp.” “If I have a brainstem stroke and end up with locked-in syndrome, I want an out.” ::Insert Nope-Nope-Nope Octopus here::

    I’m also pretty pessimistic about what we’ve done, and continue to do, to our planet and our fellow plant and animal travelers, and I think it will get much worse, with climate change and pollution, in the next 40-50 years I’m assuming I have left on this mortal coil. I spend a good deal of mental energy and time obsessing about ways to be “greener” and to reduce my carbon footprint, and I try hard daily to implement many of the strategies, but the fact remains that I’m a middle-class USAian who uses a lot of resources compared to most other humans outside my own country. And if the people who have the most at stake – IOW people who have children, grandchildren, etc. – aren’t going to change their ways or reduce their carbon footprints (which they’re not going to do, obviously), we’re screwed anyway.

  41. Thanks to all for the discussion, and cool references and quotes. Here are a few more:

    After quoting Steve Jobs on death, Addy Pross writes: “Death then is not just something bad that happens to us living things. Death is part of the life strategy. Seeking eternal life? The term is an oxymoron. There can be no eternal life because the very basis of life is its transient and dynamic nature.” (from What is Life? p. 171)

    Not too surprisingly, science fiction deals with this issue a fair amount. Ignoring the “uploaded minds with redundant backups” idea, you still have Jack Vance’s To Live Forever, Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting and Drew Magary’s The Postmortal. And a bunch of others, too; see the articles at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and the Wikipedia page on Immortality in Fiction.

    I think the whole “presuming good health” proviso is a cheat; avoiding boredom and senility more so; while we’re at it, why not just wish for a magic wand? Even though I naturally figured on immortality during my long sojourn in the desert of religion, I never did forget the thrust of Fredric Brown’s story “Immortality”. It’s half a page long; my Google Fu skills have failed me, but it’s worth searching out.

    And, though it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, the story of Lazarus Long (about 2,300 years old, and “so in love with life that he refused to die”) in Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love is quite an in-depth look at what it would “really” be like.

    (For the record, I’m in the “not forever, but somewhat longer” camp; there are a lot of books I’d like to read).

  42. If everyone lived forever, that would be the end of evolution. It’s ironic that this website is called “Why Evolution is True” but most readers want to be immortal. Do you guys wish evolution were not true?

    Personally, I’m ready to die at any moment. I can’t imagine being happy while clinging to life. Let it go, people! And let the next generation carry the torch.

    1. Er…that’s the naturalistic fallacy. Just because Evolution is how we got where we are today doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to let it run its course into the future.

      Indeed, the entirety of civilization is about changing our environment and thus taking control of our own evolution.

      b&

      1. Consider the analogy to gravity. Gravity is true. We’re here because of it (amongst other things). Yet we spend much of our time trying to defy gravity in one way or another and occasionally (just after we’ve tripped or fallen off something) we would like to defy it more successfully.

  43. It occurs to me that there may actually be a couple of esoteric senses in which we may all live forever, like it or not.

    There’s a rather far-fetched idea called quantum immortality that says that if Everettian (“Many Worlds”) quantum mechanics is right, then for every world in which you die, there’s an alternate world in which some improbable event intervenes to save you at the last minute. The concatenation of such improbable saves gives you effective immortality in some exponentially-shrinking subset of histories, but the probability that you’ll actually experience one of those histories is effectively zero.

    The other idea depends on a cosmological conundrum called the Boltzmann brain problem. Basically, if the universe ends in a uniform vacuum in thermal equilibrium, quantum mechanics allows that vacuum to throw up fluctuations of virtual particles at all scales. Large fluctuations are exponentially less likely than small ones, but not impossible, and in an infinite universe, anything that’s not impossible must happen an infinite number of times, no matter how unlikely.

    That means that at some inconceivably remote point in the future, a random quantum fluctuation will throw up a healthy replica of you, but with all the memories of your elderly self on your deathbed. (Other fluctuations will of course throw up infinitely many approximations of you with varying degrees of fidelity.) This replica will live as long its randomly generated environment permits — usually not very long, but a vanishingly small fraction of them may live long enough to form a coherent thought or have some significant experience before dying. And then eons later, another fluctuation will throw up a healthy replica of that dying Boltzmann brain, with all of your memories plus those new thoughts and experiences, which may then live a few moments more. And so on, forever.

    That’s assuming that Boltzmann brains are an inescapable consequence of inflationary cosmology. Sean Carroll thinks they’re a bug in the models, not a real feature of the world. If he’s right, that path to immortality is ruled out (and that’s probably a good thing).

    1. Boltzmann Brains are a good indication that your theory isn’t sufficiently bounded. It’s a perfect example of those can’t-be-disproven conspiracy theories I keep banging on; how do you know that you are not yourself, now, right this instant, an hallucinating Boltzmann Brain, or a Matrix-style simulation inside of one?

      In reality, we can assume that such Quantum weirdnesses are every bit as much the stuff of fantasy as all the air molecules in the room spontaneously simultaneously “randomly” converging in a tiny sphere on the far corner of the room, leaving you to suffocate to death. If your theory says that something like that is possible, for any rational definition of the word, “possible,” your theory is, frankly, a bullshit conspiracy theory.

      Similarly, that Many-Worlds immortality theory can also be dismissed because it, of necessity, literally demands that we will all be immortal simply because of the anthropic principle. You see, some alternate “you” could have had an heart attack a minute ago and died, but that would mean you wouldn’t be here to read these words now; the only “you”s capable of reading these words are the ones that didn’t have heart attacks…and so “you” will continue on being at least minimally lucky enough to not die…literally forever. But that there aren’t any other similarly impossibly-lucky people around tells us that that sort of thing doesn’t actually happen.

      b&

  44. Nope, here’s why. Assuming age 35 me is magically sustained mentally and physically, the rest of humanity will evolve away from me until I’m just an anomaly. Or they all die out within a million years. No other humans to talk to? Count me out. I would never want to be the only human living in the time of the dinosaurs either–pretty lonely.

    Life is only worth living because of friends, books, food, language, travel.

  45. I agree that the two or three decades I probably have left are certainly not enough, especially if I can have my 22 year old body back, but I’m not sure about forever. That’s a hell of a long time. If I’m the only one to live forever, then I have to constantly watch the people I love die. That would become tiresome, so I’d stop making friends, which would be even worse. If everyone gets to live forever, I’d definitely against it. Without death, stagnation is inevitable. The problem is that everything about life assumes death, without which, none of it means very much, or makes much sense. I suspect it would not be that great. Nonetheless 80 years is cruel joke, you’ve hardly figured out what you’re doing and it’s all over.

  46. I recommend that Stephen Pinker & everybody should read Karel Capek’s play, The Makropoulos Case, or acquaint themselves with the splendid opera that Janacek made of it. It is likely to make one think twice about living for ever.

  47. I don’t want to ‘leave the party’ as Hitchens put it. But not for ever, I think ennui and boredom and mental fatigue might build up to the point where I was barely sane. Even the device of trying to insult every being in the universe (in alphabetical order) looks like a device born of desperation.

    So maybe a few more decades would be welcome. But not ‘forever’.

  48. After falling off the Eiffel Tower I think it was Neddy Seagoon who asked Eccles (or was it Bluebottle) “so you fell off the Eiffel Tower and lived” to which he replied:
    … you call this living?
    The Goon Show
    If I could live forever how much shit would I be responsible for, yes, shit. Literally and figuratively I guess your chances of winning the lottery or of running someone over with a vehicle, perhaps even committing murder would increase. One might be able to maintain a stable life (couple of centuries say) but life is not like that.. knock,knock, hullo long life individual! here is some big trouble, can you handle it.
    Since the planet is doomed I’d be off anyway, the open space highway for me. I’d probably be the guy on board looking after everyone else’s shit for a few hundred years, haunted by Eccles’… you call this living?

  49. Actually we all live the life as if we are immortal.If death was constantly haunting us we would be living entirely different life.
    So immortality would not change our quality of life.Our fallible memory would replenish zest for life.Advances of science ,technology ,medicine would also maintain our enthusiasm.
    Death is great evil and science continues to fight evil.I would love to see victory of science against its greatest enemy.

  50. There’s a great book called “The Postmortal” about the inevitable overpopulated hellscape Earth would become if everyone stopped aging.

  51. If I could live still be having a lot of fun while living forever, then maybe yes. The thing is what if your life were vastly different(for the worse), would you want to live forever? I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t want to live forever just to see how things turn out. I can use my imagination for that; even if I get it wrong, it won’t matter. As I get older, I’m OK with not knowing all there is to know.

  52. Forever’s a long time, but I’d love to live until I decide I’m good and done with life on my own. Keeping my youthful body and mind, thankyouverymuch.

    Which could turn out to be forever!

  53. Read “The Last Question” a short story by Asimov. The plot is summarized on Wikipedia, but there is no substitute for reading it.

    I won’t day more in order to avoid spoiling the plot, but suffice to say that it is related to this topic.

    1. Very effective, that little story.

      (I came across it this week while sorting out surplus books. “No-one who can read is ever successful at cleaning out an attic” – old tagline).

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