We Create Technology to Remove Suffering and Death

Right from the outset, the spur for the creation of new technology was the desire to reduce the personal impact of suffering and death. In this I agree with author Stephen Cave that to a large degree the rise to civilization was driven by the day to day minutiae of the quest for immortality: don't starve, don't be cold, don't get injured, don't be conquered, cure sickness, heal wounds, preserve life and health in the moment so as to see another dawn. We're still building the medical aspects of that edifice one small brick at a time, most of the way through dealing with infectious disease, and now turning our view to aging. The agents of technological progress, the researchers and the developers, gnaw away at each of the myriad individual causes of pain and mortality, one at a time, sometimes getting rid of them entirely (smallpox, insufficient food production), sometimes merely reducing them a little (heart disease, cancer). The next group picks up the banner, and continues to try to further erode that cause of mortality and sickness.

Progress is accelerating. We can envisage numerous paths ahead that might lead to a defeat of degenerative aging before the end of this century. We may well begin the replacement of our evolved biology with much more efficient and resilient designed machinery, such as artificial immune systems and oxygen transport nanomachines. We may augment ourselves with new tissues, perhaps genetically improved, such as additional thymus organoids or extensions to the kidneys and liver. Alternatively we may remain in our present human form for a long time, and simply repair the damage that causes aging. All of these will be spurred by the desire to remove first mortality, then pain, and finally - when nothing else is left - inconvenience and frustrated desire. There is a hierarchy of needs, and we will follow it.

If death is inevitable, then all we can do is die and hope for the best. But perhaps we don't have to die. Many respectable scientists now believe that humans can overcome death and achieve immortality through the use of future technologies. But how will we do this? The first way we might achieve physical immortality is by conquering our biological limitations - we age, become diseased, and suffer trauma. Aging research, while woefully underfunded, has yielded positive results. In addition to biological strategies for eliminating death, there are a number of technological scenarios for immortality which utilize advanced brain scanning techniques, artificial intelligence, and robotics.

But why conquer death? Why is death bad? It is bad because it ends something which at its best is beautiful; bad because it puts an end to all our projects; bad because all the knowledge and wisdom of a person is lost at death; bad because of the harm it does to the living; bad because it causes people to be unconcerned about the future beyond their short lifespan; bad because it renders fully meaningful lives impossible; and bad because we know that if we had the choice, and if our lives were going well, we would choose to live on. That death is generally bad - especially for the physically, morally, and intellectually vigorous - is nearly self-evident.

Yes there are indeed fates worse than death and in some circumstances death may be welcomed. Nevertheless for most of us most of the time, death is one of the worst fates that can befall us. That is why we think that suicide and murder and starvation are tragic. That is why we cry at the funerals of those we love. Our lives are not our own if they can be taken from us without our consent. We are not truly free unless death is optional.

Link: http://reasonandmeaning.com/2016/02/03/8135/


"Yes there are indeed fates worse than death and in some circumstances death may be welcomed."

Circumstances or mindsets? Honestly, I can't imagine any circumstance in which I would want to die.

Posted by: Antonio at February 15th, 2016 11:29 AM

I can imagine plenty, Antonio.

Suffering from deep depression since childhood which no medicines have been able to remove (but added an awful lot of secondary effects), degenerative maladies which will lock you up in your body, untreatable forms of cancer (look up Chantal S├ębire), etc.

Basically many conditions which call for therapeutic euthanasia.

Posted by: Nico at February 16th, 2016 7:06 AM

@Nico: The depression scenario is more in the mindset side than in the circumstances side, IMO. The other scenarios, at least for me, don't seem worse than death.

Posted by: Antonio at February 16th, 2016 2:43 PM

Depression has very much physiological roots, i.e. in the mind yes but due to structural, chemical/wiring problems.

As for the other scenarios, well, you might revise your judgement if one day you have to cope every day with such catastrophic afflictions.

Posted by: Nico at February 16th, 2016 2:48 PM

Personally I'd go for the "put me in a coma until there's a cure" option.

Posted by: Arcanyn at February 17th, 2016 12:22 AM


I agree with Antonio. What you describe are not problems which may not be solved in the future. I did not know for sure whether I would wake up fine today, because I had really painful stomache aches yesterday. To me, the pain does not matter. I just hoped and prayed I would be fine. Deep depression? Well, you better toughen up because there are worse things you can suffer from. Incurable diseases? They might not be so incurable in the foreseeable future. I am optimistic. I just hope I will also get to see the benefits myself of the major advancements of medicine and technology in the 21st century.

Posted by: Plato at February 17th, 2016 12:56 AM

@Plato: we're talking about the present, as I believe this is what the author meant.

So it's not about hoping for better times because you've had a few rude days or snapping a finger to get your all-in-one cancer/AIDS/Parkinson cure, no, it's about enduring excruciating pain right now, which you already had to deal with each day for the past years without any having timeframe about a potential relief which could help you cope.

And I'll tell you: in those cases, pain very much matters. It's actually the only matter, because it has filled your head and eclipsed any other previous concern. Everyday you feel and think about pain. Every week, month and year. Pain is here and will not go away. People pointing at worse maladies are not magically erasing your aches and science cannot do much for you, or maybe it will, but when? You are no longer in the mood for gambling because pain has worn off your patience. You need relief right now - you've been telling this yourself for the past years, yet nothing came to your rescue. Only death can save you, because death ends everything.
So how do you act? You cannot take it anymore. Taking pills won't do, but taking your life sure will.

This is the real dilemma that some people are faced with. Those who chose death didn't select this option because they liked it, of course not, but because it appeared as the most realistic one to reach peace in their tortuous existence.

It's also sad that in 2016 people are still contemptuous of mental ailments and handicaps, just like you're doing, belittling depression sufferers as if all they had to do was to "grow a skin" or "toughen up". It just shows how removed you are from this subject, and actually, how stuck in the past your mindset remains. Which is paradoxical as I'd expect the commenters here to be forward-thinkers.

Posted by: Nico at February 17th, 2016 12:44 PM

@Nico: Perhaps you missed Plato's comment in the following thread showing that he/she is not removed from this subject at all:


Of course there are people who choose death due to pain and depression, and it is their right to do so. But there are also people who choose to continue living regardless of pain and depression because they know that the world will not always be as it is today. True forward-thinkers like Plato.

All this said, I do understand your main point, Nico, and I do agree that there probably are some circumstances (like unbearable pain or depression) where most - if not all - people would choose to die rather than continue living. Perhaps you are just going a bit far in defending this argument because it's almost like you were promoting death.

Posted by: sk at February 18th, 2016 6:06 AM


I know you are talking about the present, but the present will not last forever. I am very familiar with excruciating pain myself. If I had to rate it with a number from one to ten, I would give it rate it 10 most of the time, a 9 or 8 on the good days. And of course that kind of physical pain has psychological effects. There is not much to think about except for pain. In my case, when I have such pain, I cannot sit still and have to move my body in spastic-like movements to relieve the pain a bit until I fall asleep of exhaustion. So yes, I know what pain can do. This pain is not psychological though. However, for all the pain I experience and have experienced, I cannot say death is the way out for me. Despite all the pain, I can still manage to do some stuff. I taught myself to endure it. It is exceedingly difficult, but it works. Doctors have told me that they have rarely seen someone in so much pain as me. It is like winning the lottery, but only with the wrong kind of thing. I hope this sort of thing can be cured in the future, that is what keeps me going and what I am looking forward to, but I won't regret the time I spent on Earth if no cure is found. Pain can make living nearly impossible, but I can say that I have still managed to live. It cannot get any worse than this, and I have already managed to get up to this point. Death is something I have had to consider on a daily basis, but since I have so often been confronted with death, my mind cannot give up on life. My suffering will be in vain if I choose death just because of the pain. I learned to never surrender and that is why I am still here. Death is worse than the pain, I know that. Death may be seen as the end to the pain, but it means I will not be conscious anymore, I will be gone. I do not want to be gone. Despite the fact that most of the time I focus on pain, I want to be here for just the few moments I can focus on something else like writing this message or reading an article or whatever. I want to do so much more, but unfortunately I cannot right now. Do I opt for death merely because of the present? No, I will try to last for as long as I can. If my body gives us one day, then so be it. However, I will not give up until the last bit of life leaves my body. I will hold on to life and keep on trying to pull through all ordeals. I have faced death on so many occasions, but I managed to pull through, often with just a bit of luck and thanks to modern technologies that we did not have a few hundred years ago.

Posted by: Plato at February 18th, 2016 6:07 AM

@sk, Plato: I acknowledge your points, thanks you for expanding on your views.

For the record, I am all for bettering and extending lives, especially those of people who have to endure debilitating maladies, which is why I frequent this blog and donate to the SRF and SENS-related projects.

However, at the same time and without contradiction, I am defending the right to death. Again, especially for those who day after day are being punished by life and must endure suffering. I've had enough of people calling suicide/euthanasia "selfish" or "cowardly" without understanding what it takes to come to that point.

Posted by: Nico at February 19th, 2016 1:24 AM


I have lost a niece to suicide/euthanasia not too long ago. She suffered from mental illness and decided to opt out. She left behind 2 little children who are yet too young to comprehend what happened to their mother. I understand it must have been unbearable from her perspective and she may have seen suicide as the only option. She could not see the light anymore in life. Maybe had she lived longer, she might have started seeing the bright side again. It also makes one wonder whether her choice was actually the only and best option. What is certain, though, she made an irreversible choice and people ought to be aware of that when they speak of suicide/euthanasia. Euthanasia is legal where I live. I do not know about your country. In any case, death is death and optional death can still get very ugly.

Posted by: Egil Thorgeirsson at February 21st, 2016 9:31 PM

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