The Tedium of Discussing Boredom in Connection With Enhanced Longevity

It seems I have become jaded - one might even say bored - by repeated discussion of the potential for longevity-induced boredom. My capacity to enjoy the novelty of each new appearance of this fairly simple exchange of views has been blunted. For now, at least - it'll take a couple of years for that to wear off. There really isn't much to it: one side says, without any real evidence to back it up, that longer lives will inevitably lead to the boredom of repetition, and a dulled, meaningless existence. Those of us with more sense and imagination pull out the numbers to show that this viewpoint is nonsense however you choose to look at it. There is more to be experienced than any person could undertake in a million years, even in this limited world of ours today.

And if you have the prospect of a million years on the table - or even a thousand, or even a few hundred - I'd suggest that you have ample time to figure out how to keep yourself entertained indefinitely. In my case, I'll just have to strike thinking about longevity and boredom from the list for a few years. I'm sure I won't miss it - there exist a countless multitude of other topics to think about, other debates to follow, other tasks to work on, none of which are in any way lacking in novelty.

Sadly, as for many of the debates over the development of engineered human longevity, those who argue for inevitable boredom aren't really debating from a position of rationality. Facts, figures, and logic don't do so well when emotion is driving. Atop that, advocacy of any sort is very much a business of holding the same debate over and over again with as many different people as possible. Even though there are novel things I would much rather be doing with my time, it is important to return time and again to the basics - for so long as there are a significant number of people out there who haven't yet heard them.

Given that, I'm always pleased to see other advocates taking up the slack for a while, even if they do so more even-handedly than the debate merits:

Technologies meant to help extend the human lifespan, such as cryonics, or the procedures investigated by gerontologist Aubrey de Grey under the name "Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence", are increasingly an object of discussion, including in the popular press. A recent example of this is John Walsh’s piece in The Independent earlier this month. He is one of several authors who find it worth telling us that they wouldn’t want to live forever, even if they could. At times his article appears to aim merely at being entertaining and polemical, yet his central idea has been put forward by respected philosophers such as Bernard Williams, in his famous essay The Markopulos case: reflections on the tedium of immortality. In short, the idea is that living forever would just be atrociously boring.

Should we draw normative conclusions from such pieces about the development and use of life extension technologies, regarding them as superfluous or even downright undesirable? I want to argue for a negative answer to that question.


It is interesting that many who might disdain the prospective boredom, expound the virtues of eternal life in a spiritual dimension they claim to have knowledge of. Wouldn't St. Peter be bored at the gate too?

Posted by: Tom at July 30th, 2010 7:20 PM

What irritates me about these "deathist" pundits is their presumption to speak for all others. It is this presumptuousness that makes them arrogant pricks.

Posted by: kurt9 at July 31st, 2010 1:14 PM

The following cartoon is funny:

Posted by: kurt9 at July 31st, 2010 1:34 PM

Plenty of people are bored now but I don't hear anyone suggesting to shorten the average lifespan.

Isn't it surprising that evolution, plus a couple centuries of primitive medicine, have arrived at the perfect human lifespan. Truly, everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Posted by: Will Nelson at August 2nd, 2010 11:31 AM

I've got an idea. Let's go ahead and develop radical life extension and then whoever becomes irreversibly bored, let them voluntarily end their lives.

Posted by: Allen Alger at August 2nd, 2010 1:15 PM
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