What Do You Think About Immortality?

In the latest Longevity Meme newsletter, I wrote about "the problem with immortality."

The problem with immortality is really a problem with people, and it extends to any discussion of the topic. As soon as you mention immortality outside of a religious context you are in danger of being lumped in with the vocal wingnut and oddball fringe. Sadly, these are the people who tend to make the most noise outside of theological circles - vendors of magnetic rings, self-proclaimed mystics and the like.

From where I stand, the problem is the same as that suffered by anti-aging science and medicine - a confusion of alternate meanings, many of which are colloquial or specific to certain groups or professions.


In scientific, rational circles - such as the cryonics community or Immortality Institute forums - the term "physical immortality" is often used to denote "vulnerable agelessness," or freedom from the degenerative effects of aging. For many people, this accurately describes the ultimate goal of medical science: prevent or cure all disease, disability and degeneration, thus allowing people to live in perfect health for as long as they desire.


So what can we do - what should we do - when the wingnuts, frauds and a collision of definitions have rendered it hard to discuss a sensible topic in public?

What do you think about immortality, the varied meanings of the word and its use in rational conversation?


"vulnerable agelessness", yes but the degree of acceptable vulnerability varies by individual. Some desire a theoretical lifespan that's beyond that of this planet. To achieve this one must be capable of withstanding quite a vast number of forms of insults/injuries/attacks/accidents, some say that this be not possible.

But after giving much thought to this question, I've found that there is a way, one way to achieve this. I posit a name for such a state, "celestial". For it is akin to the celestial bodies a magnificent body, of extreme longevity, for no weapon of man can injure one who attains such a state, for no known phenomena can injure one who attains it.

Posted by: Asterix at September 21st, 2004 9:22 AM

I agree that we need a better word to describe someone who has been cured of aging, but can still die of an accident, homicide, suicide, or even infectous disease. Immortality, by popular meaning, means to live forever without the possibility of dying, which is clearly impossible.

Possible words include:

Any other suggestions?

Posted by: Kurt at September 21st, 2004 9:37 AM

I'm reminded of the "incorruptibles," dead people - usually Catholic saints - that don't decay.

I'm not suggesting that word, it's already got baggage, I'm just thinking out loud.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at September 21st, 2004 2:59 PM

"I agree that we need a better word to describe someone who has been cured of aging, but can still die of an accident, homicide, suicide, or even infectous disease. Immortality, by popular meaning, means to live forever without the possibility of dying, which is clearly impossible."

I find "ageless" to be a quite fitting description. But do not think that that's all there is to it. For example, If a portable means to quickly cryo-preserve the head is developed, one'd be able to survive most types of accidents and attempts at homicide. If a way is found to allow survival even after considerable brain damage(as occurs in some cases), and to regenerate, so as to regain lost ability, we begin to see that survival is far more likely.

Same goes for suicide and homicide, genetically modified to have a more stable mental state, and to be less agressive, and more caring, this would drastically fall too. Safer automated transports with multiple back-up systems would also provide a further degree of safety.

Some've talked of up-loads, but I'm not entirely sure about back-up copies. What I've labelled as celestial state, is for example a superintelligence spread throughout ever vaster networks, and self-improving. As you can see such a being would be capable of withstanding vast insults, and ever greater insults as it is self-improving, man made viruses and weapons would be useless as it defense systems would become impervious to such simple means of attack.

Posted by: Asterix at September 22nd, 2004 4:46 AM

I think physical immortality is an illusion, but who knows in the future we might have the means to live ,say for a thousand years without aging. At 55 I feel man's present life span is too short. I think there are still so many things left for me to do. I hope someone comes up with a cure for aging. My time here is running out.


Posted by: alakeshwar at November 21st, 2006 5:55 AM

the 'Encarta" definition of immortal is: "able to live or last forever". Being "able to" doesn't mean you you will, it simply means it's possible.

So why not define "physical immortality" as the process of continually making the biological, psychological and sociological changes necessary to achieve the objective of living forever.

Posted by: Doug Morris at March 17th, 2008 5:19 PM

This world isn't good enough for me to want to live forever in it. Not this world. Not this universe. Not this plane. If there is no God or afterlife, and I don't think there is, than I'm not interested in staying conscious of this world beyond my natural time.

I was already bored with the repetitiveness of the known world and universe when I was a small child. Why would I want to keep this life indefinitely? No. No. No. You can and will get sick of form. You will get sick of the very essence of this universe and plane, it will prove too limiting.

I can't see this universe having enough freedom and variety to keep me interested in any respect for an indefinite amount of time. I'm already sick of it. Maybe if we could become energy balls without bodies. I can't predict how I would feel in a completely new body with new freedoms in this world so you never know, but I am at this time in doubt of my enjoyment of it.

Posted by: Trevor at September 17th, 2008 3:44 PM

I think “Immortality” should be what it really is--Living Forever--never dying! The indefinite (or should I say definite) extension of good, robust, vigorous, active and productive health (and happiness)! The true aim of stem cells (specifically, adult pluripotent stem cells (APS cells))--NOT embryonic stem cells, please, and regenerative medicine will help cure Aging and get us there!!
Tissue engineering! Telomerase Activation! (That, I might add, does NOT cause cancer--Please burn that into you (our) brain!!!) They will also help get us there! So will curing cancer, Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, Osteoporosis, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson’s--among others!
Because Aging IS--I repeat--IS a disease!!! We need to change (not cha, cha, cha, change, mind you, just change) the FDA’s thinking and acting, on that important subject!! We need to seriously reform, (or even abolish--if that’s what it takes) the FDA! Or try and have it start--as soon as possible--to recognize Aging as a disease!! We need to persuade them to do that as well, (and as soon), as possible (That might help)!
That’s what Immortality should be--Living Forever in good, robust, vigorous, active, productive, and happy, I might add, health!! Nothing more, nothing less!!

Posted by: Keith Allison at July 28th, 2013 9:34 AM
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