Healthy Life Extension and Boredom

I recently talked about the ubiquity of the Tithonus Error as an objection to healthy life extension, saying:

This is an interesting experiment: find any random person you know and ask them what the downside would be to using better medicine to live for 150 years. Nine times out of ten, I'll wager, your friend will tell you that living for so long would be terrible because a person would spend most of his or her life decrepit, increasingly crippled by age-related conditions. In otherwords, your random friend thinks that "healthy life extension" means "being aged for longer."

In a comment on that post, Alejandro Dubrovsky said:

No, i've done the experiments many times. The number one answer is 'boredom'.

He's right in that this is another common objection to healthy life extension. The world seems divided into two camps on this topic. For one side, it seems self-evident that longer life means boredom. To the other side - my side - this is a very strange attitude indeed. My life is so busy, by my choice, that I am prevented from doing nine tenths of the things I want to do. I must constantly, ruthlessly prioritize. It would take me a dozen lifetimes just to sample everything on my to-do list, never mind taking my time about it all!

How could anyone feel that they would be bored? In part, this might stem from the Tithonus Error itself. A person may assume they would be old and incapacitated in their extended life span, thus unable to do interesting things. But if you have the body and physical capabilities of a 30 year old, why not go clubbing in a new city to new music at 90. Or 190? As Joao Pedro de Magalhaes says:

Imagine that your grandmother looks like a teenager, plays soccer, parties at the clubs all night, and works as a venture capitalist. Or imagine your grandfather teaching you the latest high-tech computer software in his office, which you hate to visit because of the loud heavy metal music. Such a scenario is hard to envision because we are taught to accept aging and the resulting suffering and death as an immutable fact of life. We cannot picture our grandparents in better physical shape than we are. Nonetheless, aging may soon become nothing more than a scary bedtime story, perhaps one your grandfather will tell your grandson after a day of white-water rafting together.

Another possibility is a slightly more subtle one: a lot of people don't understand or appreciate the fact that change happens, and that we are ultimately responsible for change and betterment in our own lives. The future can always be better - if we make it so! We live in a society in which media, government and educators undervalue or ignore change, responsibility and self-improvement. So if a person is unhappy in their life now, he or she will often look ahead to see nothing but an extension of the present. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy at worst, and simply inaccurate at best. If you're bored today, do something about it!

Even active, inventive, happy people often assume that longer healthy lives will bring boredom through repetition, however. Ask someone you know how long it would take them to run out of new things to do and become bored if they could live in good health forever. Your friend will give you an outrageously low number of years, I'll bet. If you stop to think about it - rather than just going on instinct - you'll soon realize that you are never going to be any more likely to become bored of life than you are right now. There is simply too much to do, too many different things to think, feel, do and accomplish. In fact, the advance of technology means there is always more to do with each new passing year. New possibilities, activities and enhancements to the quality and variety of life are constantly opening up.

Instinct and gut feeling doesn't always serve us well, and healthy life extension is one area where it lets us down badly. For further reading, I recommend starting with Eliezer Yudkowsky's "Singularity Fun Theory", which handily answers questions like:

  • How much fun is there in the universe?
  • What is the relation of available fun to intelligence?
  • What kind of emotional architecture is necessary to have fun?
  • Will eternal life be boring?
  • Will we ever run out of fun?

It may surprise you to see that one can examine these topics from a fairly scientific basis. This is really all about the number of things we can do, how quickly we get bored, and related ways in which our minds work. You can put numbers, physics and cognitive science to work on questions like these and get sound, serious answers.

A last possibility occurs to me: we live in a world in which individual autonomy and self-determination is valued less and less as time goes on. Many people expect to have new scientific advances forced on them by governments irrespective of their own opinions and desires. This is also true of healthy life extension - a large number of people suppose that they will be forced to live longer lives even if they choose not to.

Sadly, unless the direction in which our Western governments are heading changes, this is probably true. People are currently forced by law to live longer than they would want in many cases, since euthanasia is illegal in many parts of the world. This is a troubling state of affairs, since your life and body should be your business. The length of your life should be your choice. In essence, the search for working anti-aging medicine is all about providing a choice that we do not currently have: to choose to live another day, every day, with the healthy and capacity to enjoy it. If you do not want to live longer, if you do not want to take the anti-aging medicine of the future, you should not be forced to do so against your will.

How does this relate to boredom? Being forced to live a longer, healthy life when you don't want to seems to equate to boredom for some people. Again, I think this links back to the Tithonus Error, and linking later years with sedentary, quiet, inactive, "boring" lives.

However you cut it, it's clear that a web of assumptions, instinctive responses and false premises underly commonplace disinterest in and opposition to healthy life extension. My previous conclusion stands:

In order to widen the appeal of healthy life extension and gain widespread support for serious anti-aging research, we must overcome barriers imposed by misconceptions like the Tithonus Error. This is one reason why education, of both the media and the public, is so important to the future of health and longevity.

In my short story "The Treatment" two characters refer to the choice of not having life extension as "suicide by neglect."

In a world where vigorous healthy life can be maintained indefinitely I think that society (right or wrong) would frown on those who refuse life extension.

The loss of knowledge when a person dies is part of the tragedy of death. Once this no longer has to happen, society will discourage it from happening. Society will argue that it has an interest in the knowledge that the person would take with them to the grave. Would "downloading" before suicide solve this? Perhaps, but they would still be taking a personality with them.

This will be an issue that looms large for people who are inflexible or who are cynical about learning. The habit of forgoing areas of learning because it is "hard" or "unnecessary" can lead to a shallow life. Likewise, the habit of pre-judging people who are different results in a narrow monotonous social circle. A life like that might get very long after sixty or seventy years.

On the other hand people who are flexible, inquisitive, creative, and who are socially active and egalitarian will not feel burdened by long life.

One of the best ways to get ready now for an indefinite life span is to cultivate varied interests, skills, and friends who have varied interests and skills.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at March 29th, 2004 7:34 AM

Travel alot.

In fact, travel all of the time if you can either afford it, or restructure your life to live and work abroad. Its much more enjoyable than living the patterned life(grow-up, get married, have kids, grow-old, and die) back home.

I lived in Asia for 10 years. It definitely made me a better "transhumanist". Especially when you completely disassociate yourself from the "milestones" of the conventional life-cycle, which is very easy to do as an expat. Also, most expats think cryonics and life-extension is cool, not like the weenies back home.

The biggest reverse culture shock for me was returning to the states to live, and found out that people still live the patterned life. Expats often don't do this. That's why they're a good market for life extension and cryonics. Again, not like the weenies back home.

Ithink most people live the patterned life because, A) society places expectations on people to do so, B) most people lack the imagination to do anything different.

I'm not like most people. I don't live the patterned life. Thats why people like Leon Kass & Co. don't like me.

I don't give a rat's arse.

Posted by: Kurt at March 30th, 2004 12:46 PM

If you are concerned that you might be bored if you were still alive 100 years from now, consider this: How bored would a person who was a young adult in the year 1907 be, if he were still alive (and young and healthy) today?

During that hundred years, he would have seen countless cultural and technological developments that he could never have imagined in 1907 -- telephones, antibiotics, jet airliners, movies, recorded music, space travel, the sexual revolution, the internet, and far more.

Will the cascade of innovation stop for the next 100 years, leaving us in a world identical to today's except for our own extended life-spans? Of course not. It will not stop, it will accelerate dramatically.

You will not get bored.

Posted by: Infidel753 at April 1st, 2007 10:18 PM

nature intended many of use to live until about 35 to 40 years old. whats the point in getting old anyways? the young ones will treat you like garbage and dismiss many or most of you. it's not special to be old anymore. it's become common. enjoy the maturity.

Posted by: Justin at May 13th, 2007 8:24 AM

Guaranteeing a certain number of years of healthy living is likely to open up opportunities currently denied, and lead to a less-boring life. Think of the years necessary to become a concert violinist. Would you undertake that challenge at 70 with a current lifespan? What if you could use that knowledge for the next 100 years? The boredom argument is real, but it's based in the futility of pursuing new, long-term opportunities in a limited lifespan world.

Posted by: Tom at December 4th, 2008 7:16 PM

To have enjoyable and interesting eternal life one needs eternal purpose.One such eternal purpose can be to explore the infinite universe -- it will take eternity to do that and it will never be boring because the infinite universe has infinite variety of objects and phenomena.

LIVE LONG AND PROSPER !!!, as Spock used to say in Star Trek movies.

Posted by: nikki at June 26th, 2009 5:47 PM

this is mainly a question of how your brain is wired. i'm just 40 and already bored to death about all the repetitive human behavior and stupidity you can see in the world. times may change, technologies may come and go, but a homo sapiens will stay homo sapiens at least for several hundred years (the masses, not optimized rich individuals). look how long the freaking main religions have survived already. THATs how boring and static humans are in their deepest wiring. and after a certain age and maturity, you begin to see through all this patterns and limitations, and then you begin to ask yourself - do i really need to participate in this repetitive human experiment for another 5 decades? that's how i see it ;) it's all a matter of how far reaching your brain is doing the abstractions of your existence as a relatively limited and stupid human being. and IF you can overcome your personal limitations and stupidity - all others wont for another 500 years. trust me. *g*

Posted by: qualia at November 16th, 2010 1:49 PM

Even the tiny microcosm of a well-designed board or card game offers far more variety of situations than any person could explore in a million lifetimes. The "nothing new to think about or do" argument is so feeble that it fails on intentionally circumscribed toy models fully explicable in one page of printed text.

Posted by: Jose at January 5th, 2012 9:57 PM

I suspect there is also another explanation against life extension: The young may feel that if the old people never die, they will never get their chance at "owning" the world. They view the world as a closed system, and in order for new college graduates to find jobs, old people have to retire and die. If no one dies, where are the jobs supposed to come from? It is of course a fallacy, as the economy always grows to accommodate any number of inhabitants.

Posted by: Daniel Ullfig at May 11th, 2012 11:06 AM

Personally I would like to live a lot longer however radical life extension I hope will be accompanied by radical life expansion such that life becomes more enjoyable and not so limiting in the ways it is now.

Posted by: Chris at July 14th, 2014 9:05 AM

This all evades the fact that surviving, little say doing anything, costs money, at least in the world as we know it. A lot of people would be spending a lot more years doing mindless, crappy minimum wage jobs that don't leave them time, energy or money for doing much besides survive. So, another 80+ years of scrabbling to get by? No thanks.

Posted by: Kari at November 11th, 2014 11:40 PM

The reason why people think they will get bored is because they are unable to imagine the possibilities of future technology or personal enhancement. They are also denied opportunities by minimum wages and are unable to do anything because they are most likely too tired working just to get by. Furthermore much of the work is tedious and does nothing to inspire creativity or develop their intelligence - from this perspective unless there is massive change soon then their isn't much hope at all!

Posted by: Chris at March 30th, 2015 3:53 AM

I could not agree MORE with this article and the mindsets represented by the quotes.

We are brainwashed into blindly accepting world's greatest murderer that brutally murdered billions of people after mutilating their lives and ripping wonderful families apart.

I sometimes dream about my great-grandparents at my age. All the stories they could have told me. And riding rollercoasters.

(Of course, I would rather die at age 90 than in a car accident at age 24. But aging is still hyper-horrible. Not golden years but bitter years. Who invented that obviously super-euphemistic term anyway?)

When I learnt about the concept of aging as a child, I was immediately gerascophobic.
I learnt about one detail after another, starting with ugly presbyopia, which makes the human eyes as useless as a camera without built-in variable focus lens. Swap the lens each time to make sharp photos of closer objects. That is nothing short of terrifying.

Old age is a parasitic disability. People glorify it out of denial.

The most humane thing one can do is contributing to health in any way (including encouragement and raising awareness), which is precisely what reversing the harmful aging effects do.

Also bringing families closer, and allowing them to spend more quality time together in better health.

Aging mutilates, then murders people we love, so we must fight back. Let's take revenge on aging.

I NEVER EVER take my youth for granted. The state of being young is truly priceless.

Posted by: A. Sharafi at August 15th, 2019 6:11 PM

Correction: "which is precisely what reversing the harmful aging effects does.".

(The current mobile phone keyboard I use does not have proper quotation marks.)

Posted by: A. Sharafi at August 15th, 2019 6:18 PM

"(Of course, I would rather die at age 90 than in a car accident at age 24. But aging is still hyper-horrible. Not golden years but bitter years. Who invented that obviously super-euphemistic term anyway?)"
Don't know about that honestly

Posted by: J at June 8th, 2020 9:15 AM

'golden years' phrase was first used in in 1959 advertising campaign for large scale retirement community.
Of course in advertisements everything is imbelished in order to sell. A cemetery is ' a final resting place', not a 'dump where corpses rot'.

Posted by: Nicholas D. at August 27th, 2020 7:50 PM

If one has achieved the regenerate state, the mind remains youthful and innovative, and should easily overcome boredom. In actuality, boredom is a necessary part of life, insofar as going through the 'boredom stage,' inevitably results with a natural explosion of creativity and problem solving.
When we are being entertained via movies, music, etc, our minds are distracted to their own inner creativity, hence, lacking useful forward thinking and planning [which is mandatory for longevity].
I regularly, and deliberately inter myself within a boring environment, because as kids, we soon learnt, that once 'bored to death', the mind naturally generates something to relieve the boredom. This is life's way. It is like mental fasting, which is mentally regenerative.

Posted by: H.S. at October 29th, 2021 8:32 AM

> "Don't know about that honestly"

In case you're reading this, J, someone dying at 24 would miss out on the ages 25-40. Those might not the prime years anymore, however, still can have quite decent health for people who make healthy lifestyle choices. But in the second half of life comes the (currently) unstoppable decay.

And yet people celebrate the passage of time. New year's celebration simply is a coping festival for being another year closer to decrepitude. The calendar is another year closer to the year where one will be 70 years old.

People celebrate new years but then complain "where has all this time gone?". People try hard to cope with it, as can be seen with the spike in memberships of fitness facilities. The best day to start a healthy lifestyle is not the next first of January. It is today.

Posted by: A. Sharafi at January 17th, 2024 8:09 AM

"Living forever is boring" - yeah, I'd rather be bored than ill and disabled.

Also, I will never be bored because there are unlimited books to read, online articles to read, movies to watch, and problems to solve. (By problems, I mean real-life affecting problems, not solving the gazillionth digit of Pi, from which humanity gains exactly nothing.) Also, a longer life gives one the opportunity to learn more languages and programming languages, and travel to more places to see more of the world.

There is no such thing as "too much time". Time is a scarce resource.

This is something that people who stand in line for hours for a free burger or camp outside Apple stores to be the very first to get a soon-to-be-obsolete product don't seem to understand. To stand in line for two hours to get a two-dollar burger "for free" implies evaluating one hour of life to one dollar.

Posted by: A. Sharafi at January 17th, 2024 8:33 AM
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