Life is Change, and a Longer Life Means More Change

Change is coming, more of it in the next few decades than has taken place in the past few centuries: progress is accelerating. We are the species that builds and changes - but inside we still carry the evolved instincts of the ape, and he greatly dislikes change, no matter whether or not it is positive. How much of opposition to human life extension is predicated on fear of change?

"Wouldn't you eventually get bored?" Like clockwork, the question arises when I tell someone quixotically, arrogantly, that I plan on living forever. From the limited perspective of 20 years, even the prospect of living another six or seven decades in full color can be impossible to envisage. Hedging, I answer that assuming a world where radical life extension is possible, there will be no telling as to how different the human experience will be from what we know.

Returning to the original question - in essence: "Why choose to live forever if forever really just means eternal boredom and senescence?" - it's apparent that living forever would mean something other than continuing as our current selves. Technology futurists are reasonably certain that at some point in the next century, we'll be enmeshed in networks of artificial intelligence, bodily modified beyond immediate recognition, and confronted with a new set of identity questions, societal challenges, and existential ambitions.

If I'm fortunate enough to make it to 150, I expect to find a world where caring about ethnic politics in the Middle East, wearing university colors, impressing girls, and investigating my ancestral origins won't be of much, if any, use. In other words, I expect that I'll need to invent a new self for a radically new world. More than anything I can imagine, it'll be a tall order. We have good evolutionary reason to love ourselves to death rather than contemplate being completely reconfigured. It's a daunting prospect to imagine, but it's anything but boring.



Whenever I hear tell of evolved behaviour that we have supposedly inherited from our "ape" ancestors, it always gives me pause because such claims are rarely supported by any actual evidence. In order to convince me of such a claim it must be established that: the proposed behavioural characteristic exists at all, it has a well-grounded genetic basis (bearing in mind that there is far from enough space in the genome to specify the full range of human behavioural complexity), that there would have been a selective impact and that the selective impact would be of sufficient magnitude to drive the trait to fixation and to maintain it in the face of genetic drift.

Do apes fear change? To me, this is an open question in ethology, but there is ample anecdotal evidence to the contrary. In fact, they seem to be quite curious creatures that will investigate new aspects of their environment and that, at least in captivity, benefit greatly from environmental enrichment with new novelties to explore.


As for the quoted article, I would agree that there will be profound changes in the future, but this doesn't mean to me that *everything* will change. Specifically, if we have an attachment to something on an aesthetic level and there's no clear reason to abandon it, why would we assume that the new capabilities created in the future would cause is to do so? As far as I'm aware, most people are content with the general body-plan and form of the human being. Given this, I would not anticipate that we will become something unrecognisable for the simple reason that it's not very difficult to maintain "backwards compatibility" with the external interface we have now. Everything could be different "under the hood" and yet people could look roughly the same (except perhaps more beautiful on average and uniformly youthful and healthy).

Furthermore, some things do not progress at an accelerating, exponential pace. "Investigating [our] ancestral origins" moves at the pace of meticulous excavations archaeological and palaeontological. There happens to be quite a lot of crust on the Earth and the vast majority of it remains unexplored.

Lastly, it has always been obvious to me that my mind (embodied as it is in my brain) constitutes the core of my self, and I don't really find these supposedly profound philosophical challenges to "identity" &c. all that interesting or difficult. As for the evolutionary argument in the second to last sentence, I would refer it to the first part of this post with the understanding that it's a still more feeble claim than the one I was entertaining there.

Posted by: José at December 19th, 2012 9:34 AM

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