Merits of the Gung Ho Argument for Immortality

I don't see anything wrong with standing up and arguing passionately for the merits of either immortality as a Platonic ideal or immortality as a practical goal. Here I take the colloquial modern meaning of agelessness attained through biotechnology rather than the old-school "never die, ever" variety of immortality attained only in stories and myths. But someone has to be out there pushing out the boundaries of the discussion:

The middle of the road, "reasonable" position in public or political debate tends to gravitate to midway between what are perceived to be the two opposite outrageous extremes, regardless of the actual merits of any of these positions. With this in mind, it is occurring to me that part of the ongoing problem in the modern political debate over healthy life extension is that our "outrageous extreme" has always been a tentative, reasonably proposal that medical research carry on and that near-term technology would seem to allow us all to live a little longer ... say, to 150.

Public discourse is an arena of the timid, people who build their own cage of narrow visions and incremental goals. Without loud visionaries coming along to rattle the bars and point to the mountains in the distance, nothing would ever get done. Live to 150? Peanuts. If we enacted the goals of SENS, producing a rejuvenation biotechnology toolkit to repair the biochemical damage of aging, we'd all live for thousands of years if the present rate of fatal accidents continued as-is.

So I'm always pleased to see people putting out opinions like this and provoking resulting discussions like this one at Hacker News:

I want to live forever. I've always thought that not dying was a pretty obvious thing to want. To my surprise, I've found that a lot of people whom I usually agree with on most topics strongly disagree with me on this one. Rather than write yet another piece extolling the virtues of a far-future post-scarcity post-singularity world, I thought I'd just document some of the objections to immortality I get and my counterarguments.

Note that for the purposes of giving my conversational partners opportunities to disagree, I typically posit a form of immortality where you, and you alone are presented with the option of eternal youth with no suicide option. You constantly regenerate to perfect health at the prime of your life. There are a lot of potential ways we might go about not dying, but people tend to find objections to this particular flavor more readily than the others. Please assume this working definition for the below.

Even discussion of the platonic ideal of immortality is, I think, useful provocation against the backdrop of advancing biotechnology that will be able to extend the human lifespan significantly in decades to come. Those advances won't happen by themselves: people need to work on them, support them, and demand them. An economy of longevity-enhancing biotechnology must arise, and for that there needs to be - at a minimum - a whole lot more people talking and thinking about the prospects.


I've gotten better responses from people when I frame it as "choosing when to check out". Phrased in that fashion, I find that a lot of the objections fall away. I can understand the fear involved. We've grown up with stories about immortality being a curse (ie Tuck everlasting) or mortality being a benefit (ie Lord of the Rings). SENS is about greater freedom, not less.

Posted by: libfree at May 3rd, 2011 6:32 PM

"choosing when to die" is not choosing immortality: it can be called :
"indefinite lifespan" but not infinite.

In contrast, choosing immortality means choosing to "never die", which excludes suicide as an option.

A more important question is : "Can you really choose something for which there is currently no physical and technological means exist.?"

Realistically, it can be only a contingent choice: " I solemnly choose to never die voluntarily and to do everything in my ability to prevent my death and to extend my life for as long as physically possible !!! "

Posted by: nikki at May 4th, 2011 2:44 PM
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