Views on Death and Aging (and What to Do About It)

Death, aging, and politics: insofar as I have views on these things, I'm against them all. There are deep mysteries in this universe of ours, the Fermi Paradox central to them all, and you can't make progress in these things if you are dead, dying, or drowned in the yammering of those who seek to divide a present stasis rather than build a dynamic, better future. The only thing that matters in the long term is technology, and of that technology the most important facets at present are those involved in the development of rejuvenation therapies that will enable either us or our immediate descendants to remain here, in this world, to see the long term up close and in person. That isn't exactly philosophy, but it does the job for me.

I don't think it is any big secret that the history of philosophy is replete with people giving serious consideration to death and the principle modes of getting to that state, such as aging, and from there what to do about it. In ancient times, the development of strategies for coping with the inevitability of suffering and death was a fine art. The best of these, such as the varieties of stoicism, are so good that they have survived for more than two thousand years in much the same form. We still have access to copies of the original advice as it was written in many cases, and that is only the case because forty generations of humanity have found worth in these thoughts. A great change is underway at present, however, a discontinuity in the making that within our lifetimes will separate both us and our descendants from thousands of years of civilized rumination on the human condition. We are building technology that will radically change what it is to be human in many ways - and of course the part of this great transition that I am most interested in is the end of aging and involuntary death. Ultimately there will be an end to suffering too, and any need for stoicism will be buried by the paradise engineering of the more distant future, but we have to start at the top of the list.

Over at The Meaning of Life, you'll find a recently posted collection of interesting references to various positions on death, suffering, and aging. It is worth perusing. After all, we should be able to deploy a good answer to anyone who earnestly asks why we do this, why we care, why we seek to bring an end to aging and age-related disease. The first place to look for good answers is in the works of those who have spend a good deal more time than you and I thinking on the topic. A part of that reading is a matter of understanding the mistaken paths, as sadly many of these people arrived at positions on death and suffering that supporters of radical life extension would reject out of hand. The world is full of those who embrace the march towards death, or even the extinction of all life, and who believe that longer healthy lives would somehow be a loss rather than a gain. This contingent of humanity has its philosophers, just as do those who, instead of accepting what is, reach to make something greater and better of the human condition.

Summary of Nick Bostrom's, "The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant"

Bostrom's article, "The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant," tells the story of a planet ravaged by a dragon (death) that demands a tribute which is satisfied only by consuming thousands of people each day. Given the ceaselessness of the dragon's consumption, most people did not fight it and accepted the inevitable. Finally, a group of iconoclastic scientists figured out that a projectile could be built to pierce the dragon's scales.

Summary - We should try to overcome the tyranny of death with technology.

Summary of James Lenman's Immortality: A Letter"

Lenman's article, "Immortality: A Letter," (1995) concerns a letter from a fictional philosopher to her fictitious biological friend in which she presents arguments against taking his immortality drug. She worries that if only some people get the drug, those who don't will regret it; while if everyone gets the drug, overpopulation will ensue unless people stop having children. But this will lead to more unhappiness, as people want to have children. Most importantly immortality would undermine our humanity by transforming us into different kinds of beings. In addition an immortal life might become boring. And finally the value of life derives in large part from its fragility, which would be undermined by immortality.

Summary - More value will be lost than gained if we become immortal.

John Leslie's, "Why Not Let Life Become Extinct?"

In the end, we cannot show conclusively that we should not let life become extinct because we can never go from saying that something is - even happiness or pleasure - to saying that something should be. And it is also not clear that maximizing happiness is the proper moral goal. Perhaps instead we should try to prevent misery - which may entail allowing life to go extinct. Philosophers do not generally advocate such a position, but their reluctance to do so suggests that they are willing to tolerate the suffering of some for the happiness of others.

Summary - There are strong arguments for letting life go extinct, although Leslie suggests we generally reject them because life has intrinsic goodness.

Summary of David Benatar's, Better Never to Have Been

It is commonly assumed that we do nothing wrong bringing future people into existence if their lives will, on balance, be good. This assumes that being brought into existence is generally beneficial. In contrast Benatar argues that: "Being brought into existence is not a benefit but always a harm." While most maintain that living is beneficial as long as the benefits of life outweigh the evil, Benatar argues that this conclusion does not follow. Benatar concludes by saying: "One implication of my view is that it would be preferable for our species to die out."[ii] He claims that it would be heroic if people quit having children so that no one would suffer in the future. You may think it tragic to allow the human race to die out, but it would be hard to explain this by appealing to the interests of potential people.

Summary - It is better never to come into existence as being born is always a harm.

Summary of Steven Luper's, "Annihilation"

In his essay "Annihilation," Luper argues that death is a terrible thing and that Epicurus' indifference to death is badly mistaken. Death is a misfortune for us primarily because it thwarts our desires. If we have a desire we want fulfilled, then death may prevent its fulfillment; if we enjoy living, then dying prevents us from continuing to do so; if we have hopes and aspirations; then they will be frustrated by our deaths; if we have reasons to live, then we have reasons not to want to die. For all these reasons death is a grave misfortune.

Summary - Death is a misfortune because it thwarts our desires.

Summary of George Pitcher's, "The Misfortunes of the Dead"

By definition harms are events or states of affairs contrary to your desires or interests. Of course we cannot be killed or experience pain after death - the post mortem person can't be harmed - but we can have desires thwarted after death - the ante mortem person can be harmed. If I desire to be remembered after I die with a statue on campus and you destroy the statue, then you have defeated my desire and harmed the ante-mortem person I was. Pitcher doesn't think he needs to invoke backward causation to make his argument work. All he needs to show is that being harmed does not entail knowing about the harm.

Summary - We are harmed by death because while alive the knowledge of death harmed us.

Oswald Hanfling on Death and Meaning

Hanfling accepts as obvious the claim that meaning is affected by our knowledge of death, and agrees that "death casts a negative shadow over our lives." Moreover, while the naturalness of death may provide some consolation from our anxiety, it does not show that our apprehension about death is misplaced. But are there any overriding reasons to regard death as mostly evil? Hanfling does not think such reasons are convincing. For while I may wish to fulfill some goal and regret that I cannot, I will not be harmed after my death by the fact that I didn't fulfill that goal. Or though one might argue that death is bad because life is good, it is unclear whether life in general is good.

Summary - The thought of death is unpleasant, but we cannot determine the implications of death for meaning.

Summary of Stephen Rosenbaum's "How to Be Dead and Not Care: A Defense of Epicurus"

In his 1986 piece, "How to Be Dead and Not Care: A Defense of Epicurus," he rejects the view that death is bad for the person that dies, undertaking a systematic defense of the Epicurean position. As we have seen, while we ordinarily think that death is bad for the person that dies, Epicurus argued that this is mistaken. And, since fear of something that is not bad is groundless, it is irrational to fear death.

Summary - The Epicurean argument that death is not bad and nothing to fear is sound. Being dead is not bad for the dead person.

Summary of Vincent Barry's Philosophical Thinking about Death and Dying

One of Barry's main concerns is whether death is or is not bad for us. As he notes, the argument that death is not bad derives from Epicurus' aphorism: "When I am, death is not; and when death is, I am not." Epicurus taught that fear in general, and fear of the gods and death in particular, was evil. Consequently, using reason to rid ourselves of these fears was a primary goal of his speculative thinking. A basic assumptions of his thought was a materialistic psychology in which mind was composed of atoms, and death the dispersal of those atoms. Thus death is not then bad for us since something can be bad only if we are affected by it; but we have no sensation after death and thus being dead cannot be bad for us.

Epicurus' argument relies on two separate assumptions - the experience requirement and the existence requirement. Counter arguments attack one of the two requirements. Either they try to show that someone can be harmed without experiencing the harm, or that someone who is dead can still be harmed. While there are many arguments that death makes life meaningless, there are also many philosophical arguments, in addition to religious ones, that death makes life meaningful. These latter arguments all coalesce around the idea that death is necessary for a life to be truly human. In opposition to all those who think death does or does not give meaning to life are those who argue that life has or lacks meaning independent of death. In other words, they argue that life gives or does not give meaning to death, thereby turning all our previous considerations upside down. But how does a life give or not give death a meaning?

Summary - It is uncertain if death is a good or bad thing. The connection between death and meaning is that thinking about death can make a life subjectively meaningful.

Summary of Tolstoy's, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Leo Tolstoy's short novel,The Death of Ivan Ilyich, provides a great introduction to connection between death and meaning. It tells the story of a forty-five year old lawyer who is self-interested, opportunistic, and busy with mundane affairs. He has never considered his own death until disease strikes. Now, as he confronts his mortality, he wonders what his life has meant, whether he has made the right choices, and what will become of him. Tolstoy's story forces us to consider how painful it is to reflect on a life lived without meaning, and how the finality of death seals any possibility of future meaning. If, when we approach the end of our lives, we find that they were not meaningful - there will be nothing we can do to rectify the situation.

Summary - Confronting the reality of death forces us to reflect on the meaning of life.

Comments

Hey,
Interesting read !

I think you are right, we should concentrate on ending aging, I'm not saying we should not ask ourselves philosophy and ethics questions as to if we Should or Should Not end aging. I think we are at the point in human history (We Control Evolution to our liking not the inverse with advent of biology/genetics/biochemistry/biorejuvenation/evolutionary biogerontology) where we can and should dictate our final fate; like you said and some philosophers questioning the meaning (or none) of life and death - You, and only you - in your decisional capacity, should decide of your Own Body's Fate (that belongs to no one but you for only you lives in it and makes it 'alive'(soul, Self, Me, Myself, and I, Ego)) for it is the biological vessel allowing you to live in this reality dimension on planet Earth and have a Life - in the first place. It is the most Self-ish Non-negative thing you can do for No One controls and lives in your body, but You. It's only Your Body, Your Soul, Your Mind and Your Life.
I hear the screams of overpopulation, resources draught, that would supposedly come with immortality and that we must think others by dying soon non-egoistically to let others replace us quick..
Nope. Sorry the tides of winds have changed and are going straight to one future, individualistic (selfish egotistical) immortality but altruistic available to ALL - for those who wish it so and get All the meaning in life by being alive one more day to the infinity. Those who want to die due to ethics, pain and philosophy reasons no one will stop you.
Dying is now officially 'old stuff we used to do' and that was then invariably accepted as a sealed fate for nearly all organisms including, us, humans. Not anymore, things evolve, death is about to devolve to extinction.

Philosophers take note:
I Think Therefore I am (aka I am thinking and I Am, because I am - Alive to figure it in first place).
I Think NoT Therefore I AM NOT (aka Dead... like uh... I think... F-O-R-E-V-E-R).

Come to think about it...I rather keep on thinking - and about it, cause by keeping on thinking
I AM...

' Keeping on Being Alive and Keeping my body alive too, which means immortality. The philosophers will die ...if they don't change their mindset, it sucks but some preter the finality of being mortal and want to die. Ok then. We won't (us crazy non-fatalist non-death loving people who believe that eternal life should not be in the next one (afterlife after death supposedly existing) but the Single Tiny 1 lifespan we have right now.

Posted by: CANanonymity at January 22nd, 2016 10:18 PM

Ps: and let me ask a simple condensed question to these philosophers, what is the meaning that cancerous cells are Immortal, why are jellyfish lucky Immortals, why does the Great Basin Bristle Cone Pine lives 5000 years, why oh why does God grant immortality to Them and not Us, why does he grant immortality in the first place (he is the only Immortal?) since he granted us mortality, Thank You For That Grant, now can I go transform into jellyfish by New Grant Request, Lord?.

I'm going to tell you why, because life is a clusterfck,

nothing makes sense and it is PURE Organismal BIO Survival out there, Biological Mother Nature at its meanest. It's law of the fittest, most Adaptable and Ever evolving, which biologically means getting the immortal good stuff ( à la telomerase) that means You will Biologically survive Evolutionary Survival Biology/Natural Selection Darwinism 101. "BIO" means BODY. Keep your BODY alive (BioSurvival) or your Dead. Extinct. If we get immortality we may not need to evolve that much anymore just like immortal jellyfish who are hundred million years old and still the same (very little evolution, they just found immortality million years before us).

Posted by: CANanonymity at January 22nd, 2016 11:03 PM

Yes! I totally agree with your first paragraph (and the long view linked). For me, LE is a means to pursue other dreams, mostly related to space: Mars settlement, interstellar trips, SETI, ... I want to be part of that future!

Posted by: Antonio at January 23rd, 2016 4:33 AM

I think the main difference between a science-oriented mind and a non-science-oriented mind (be it religious, literary, philosophical or wathever) is that the former tries to do something about problems, whereas the later tries to endure problems.

Posted by: Antonio at January 23rd, 2016 4:57 AM

@Antonio

Hi Antonio! Exactly, but for these non-science-oriented people it is not a problem, it is The answer to their problem. Death is a 'Deliverance' and Perfect Solution to their questioning of the meaning of life and, for their Epiphanic Realization and Pondering,
Death is the solution.

Nice thinking...

Not.

Not for us science supposed crazy deluded fools living in Lala land with our idées de grandeur of making immortality a reality, when to them it's one big joke on us and we are only fooling ourselves if we think our immortal fantasy obsession is anything more than that.

I rather be obsessed -alive- (a prerequisite 'to be obsessed' In The First Place, only Living humans do that) than dead. Or than be dead obsessed on death like these fatalists are.
They can tell me I'm 'dead' obsessed on immortality - lol, it's impossible. I can only be 'alive/lively' obsessed on immortality if I get immortality, cause I will never be dead and no obsession will make me either.

Posted by: CANanonymity at January 23rd, 2016 9:42 AM

Ps: The whole thing makes me think of an old song by American rock group Audioslave, here are the lyrics, they may seem like revolting/a revolt of someone (but people defend what they believe), they speak to me greatly and are highly revealing - meaningful - far more than the philosophers death imperative cries to me too. It's simple stuff but so very true (for me at least) :

'Cochise' (warning some lyrics are slight vulgar - Parental content advisory)
: D

"Cochise"

Well, I've been watching, while you've been coughing.
I've been drinking life, while you've been nauseous.
And so I drink to health, while you kill yourself.
And I've got just one thing that I can offer,

Go on and save yourself, and take it out on me.
Go on and save yourself, and take it out on me. Yeah.

I'm not a martyr, I'm not a prophet,
And I won't preach to you, but here's a caution;
You better understand, that I won't hold your hand,
But if it helps you mend, then I won't stop it.

Go on and save yourself, and take it out on me.
Go on and save yourself, and take it out on me.
Go on and save yourself, and take it out on me.
Go on and save yourself, and take it out on me. Yeah.

Drown if you want, and I'll see you at the bottom,
Where you'll crawl on my skin and put the blame on me, so you don't feel a thing.

Go on and save yourself, and take it out on me.
Go on and save yourself, and take it out on me.
Go on and save yourself, and take it out on me.
Go on and save yourself, and take it out on me. Yeah.

We could almost change that lyric (in a very vulgar uncompassionate way) to :

Go on and k*ll yourself, and take it out on me.
Go on and k*ll yourself, and take it out on me.
Go on and k*ll yourself, and take it out on me.
Go on and k*ll yourself, and take it out on me. Yeah.

Now Go die. I'm not stopping you since that's what you wish and leave me be alone, alive.

See what I mean...these lyrics say about all that I need to understand, on the meaning of Death and Life. It's dire I'll give you that, but sometimes things need to be dire for people to get the message. Death is Very much Dire, because it's forever. Our life is Not Dire, because it is Ultra-Short (compared to like forever in death) and Finite and has an End. So we will revert things and 'take away' the 'infinity (foreverness)' of Death and give it to Life and obtain Immortality.

Posted by: CANanonymity at January 23rd, 2016 10:15 AM

When reading through the pro-death arguments, I cannot stop my heart from feeling that those arguments are huge insults to my tremendous efforts to stay alive. I have survived through a lot and I have lived every day thankful that I am alive for the past decade. I have lost half of my intestines due to an unfortunate event, but I am still alove and the other half of my intestines are functioning well. How can anyone say it would be heroic for me to choose death? Despite all pains which I have endured, and I am sure most of you cannot imagine what it feels like to be conscious for hours while half of your intestines have died off and much more of such horrible episodes, I have never in my life wished that I had died. I endured terrible pains, but I accepted it as part of life, part of the deal. While I was lying on my hospital bed as I have been hospitalised countless times in my life, I had plenty of time to think about life. I defined life for myself as suffering, and I told myself that even if I had tp suffer like this for eternity, I would still choose life. This is what got me through everything. People who love death are just afraid of the suffering of life. They fear suffering more than death, which is strange. I think that fear of death is much more rational than fear of suffering, while there is plenty of suffering in life. We cannot avoid some pain if we are going to live, and I have no problem with that. It cost me a lot to be here today, and I am happy I am still here. I just hope I will still be here in 20 years. My greatest hope is that I will live to the day that anti-aging technologies will be available, so that I can be saved. Since I have looked death in the eyes almost every day of my 21 years on Earth, I know that I want to live. I do not want to stop being conscious, even when it causes me pain. I regret nothing. Everything I have experienced had been useful for something and it taught me one important lesson: never give up on life. I also realise that life is too short right now to do all the things I still want to do. That is why I hope that anti-aging technologies will be available as soon as possible. Without those technologies, I do not know whether I will make it to 60 or even 50. My body needs the kind of repair that anti-aging technologies will offer in the future, and I wish for that future to come as soon as possible. I have made it so far, and all would truly be in vain if I die before the anti-aging technologies will be available. I want to learn so much, but I do not have enough time for that in my current condition. I need radical life extension to make my wish possible of being able to study all the things I want to study. I am a very curious person who loves science with all his heart, and I have been reading scores of science books whenever I was hospitalised, because that kept me motivated to live. I live to know more. I truly do. Even if life were to become the most boring thing, which I doubt, I would still want to live. I do not care. I will face any problem as it comes when I am alive. I like that about life. We need to solve problems. Life is dynamic, and never static. Therefore, we can never get in a static state of boringness in life. It is simply not a realistic scenario. Human emotions, moreover, are also dynamic as we live in a dynamic world. So, I am confident that the future will be bright, even if I have to endure more pains. If I can live, all pains that I have to endure are worth. I used to live by the day, sometimes even by the hour. I never knew whether I was going to die the next moment, but I am still here. I want to be here longer, much longer.

Posted by: Plato at January 23rd, 2016 3:05 PM

@Plato

Hi Plato !

Thank you very touching, moving and emotional true story, it struck deeply with me. I am happy and wish you continued health improvement. You are a warrior, a true survivor that Really knows what death is and that means nothing will stop you from living your life, not even your condition will put you down (not without a fight at least). It also means you acquired experience life maturity very rapidly by having lived deadly pain and know truly how fragile life is. You are now more wise than people thrice your age because you lived death at your door.

I agree with you, no amounts of pain and suffering in life is worth your life Forever by dying.
Survival at ist meanest, our pain can be terrorizing, our health and body can deteriorate, but our will to live cannot.

Posted by: CANanonymity at January 23rd, 2016 4:24 PM

Welcome, Plato! I totally agree with your point of view about life, nevertheless I didn't have your medical problems. BTW, do you know that SENS Research Foundation is investigating intestine stem cell transplants?

Posted by: Antonio at January 23rd, 2016 6:03 PM

@Plato: If you're not already doing so, would you consider sharing your story in the social media to promote SENS type of research? These kind of real stories are what really catch the eye of the public and may lead to greater support for the cause. Furthermore, you express yourself excellently in writing. Perhaps SENS Research Foundation would consider doing some kind of campaign together with you? Just an idea. If anyone from SENS is reading, feel free to comment. All the best, Plato, and thank you for sharing this with us.

Posted by: sk at January 24th, 2016 4:47 AM

Hang in there Plato! I can't help thinking that those like you who have suffered for many years will appreciate a fit healthy young body (once anti-aging tech arrives) a lot more than those of us who have never suffered (a silver lining?). Hopefully you won't have to wait too much longer.

Posted by: jj at January 24th, 2016 5:55 AM

How about this.

The main objective to the anti-aging movement is neither overpopulation nor difficulty with replacing long aged recalcitrant people clinging to their ideas/money and not letting in replacements, but rather it is a view that a person is a part of something larger, being part of society/humanity/culture (you name it) and not a selfish element of the group, not a person thinking about prolonging just one's own life as if one lived alone on an uninhabited island. When one has a perspective of living for a very long time, does one think about their friends and family the same way as people think today? Will one go so far as to sacrifice oneself for the good of others, even for one’s own children? I think one would put higher value into one’s own life rather than one’s family and the society one lives in.

Even though the idea of prolonging aging is to help everybody in society/on earth to live as long as they want, there is a fear that every individual would think about oneself first. And therefore, the relationship between people in society would have to change. The change we fear.

Posted by: veriti at January 24th, 2016 10:57 AM

@veriti

Hi veriti ! I fully understand what you mean... We have to realize though that the future is more individualistic than communautarial/altruistic, wether we like it or not societies are becoming individualistic, it's to each their own only. Societies have been capable of balancing competition vs cooperation.

Being part of a non-selfish and non-egoistical cause for the greater good of all humanity (to help everyone by self-less giving) is, of course, part of what makes humans, humans; social creatures who need and depend on each other to survive.

But, this about to change, immortals can be solitary beings for they don't have ails, don't die and don't depend on you or anybody; they are self-sufficient. It is egoist and selfish, but remember that you are the only person living in your own body, no one else lives inside of you, but you. And no one else should ever live in you, besides you.

If you have children as an immortal, you will have to decide what you put above your very own soul and life. As a parent you put your child's life above yours and wish to protect them, and that they outlive you afteryour death... but now you can't die because you are immortal - like your kids are.
What are you going to do, protect your own immortal life or that of your children or that of others in society ? Selfishness or Selflessness will make you take that Personal Judgment call, it will be Neither good Neither bad, Just Your decision (i.e. Women who get abortion, their decision, the foetus child has no say, he gets aborted, hard decision to make but women abort their child, it is selfish, Life is Immediate Selfish Survival when long-term cooperation doesn't work anymore) and people who think you are selfish can go away and devolve to extinction for they will be mortal, this can get ugly (wars and people wanting to control you, survival of the fittest, competition vs cooperation).

Don't want to cooperate by leaving me alone and being a control freak to me and my selfish choices, ok, that leaves only one thing - competition. Pecking Order in Natural Selection, you Survive/Adapt or Die (Extinction). To stay on Top of the food chain, you Will have to compete when opinion/view divergence create a dead end problem and diplomatic talking fails, violence is often the last competition element to settle matter, the You or Me, who survives and who dies/kills first to alter the Survival Pecking Order. Animals do it everyday and face predation non-stop. When the society doesn't think like you, it Predates on you, like a Witch-hunt parasite-clean up and Inquisition lynching, it's time for to Fight or Flight ...away.

The question is will you be the Prey that flees/gives in (dies in good subservient altruist mortal) or the Predator that stands ground and competes to change the future (does not die but faces death straigth on and annihilates it to extinction, gaining rigthful pecking order top place, immortality)?

Posted by: CANanonymity at January 24th, 2016 12:56 PM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.