On Death and Immortality

At the gym today, I listened to a Very Bad Wizards podcast about the fear of death, and about what it would be like to live forever, and I thought I’d share some thoughts. It’s a podcast that I absolutely love, with philosopher Tamler Sommers and psychologist David Pizarro, although sometimes you’d think their educations were reversed.

I’m going to present a few hypothetical lifespan cases, and I’m curious to hear which one you would choose and why:

  • Live forever
  • Drink a magical elixir that keeps you alive every day, but if you decide not to drink it you die
  • Live 300 years, assuming you age proportional to your years, so a 299 year old would look like a 90 year old now
  • Live a normal lifespan and don’t know when you’re going to die, but assume around 75-90

In all of these hypothetical cases there’s a huge dependence on how much satisfaction you derive from living. If you don’t feel deeply satisfied with your life, and don’t believe you could become that way, then there’s no reason to think about immortality because it would be a (figurative) death sentence. This blog post isn’t meant to be about achieving satisfaction in life though, so I’ll leave you that and talk about immortality today. So, given the above options, which would you choose?

To me, living forever has some obvious problems. First of all, you would see family members and friends die time and time again. The people you become most attached to would leave, and the only way to not live in a miserable cycle of death would be to detach yourself from those people or detach yourself from the emotions that make you feel close to them. Eventually, you’d need to find fulfillment in other walks of life outside of personal connections to family and friends, and I could see that leading to a depressing and empty existence. You also run the risk of not needing to push yourself to do, well, anything. If you have forever to do it, why bother doing it now? Part of the satisfaction we get from accomplishments involves the timeliness of them, and I could see that slipping away as time becomes a non-issue for your immortal brain. Lastly (though there are probably a ton of others), you would simply get bored. I think that we try to pack in as much as possible in our short time on this earth, and that short time span drives us to become the best we can be given this restraint. Part of what fuels that exploration, curiosity and growth is the fact that we simply can’t get everything done in time, but we should certainly try.

How about drinking an elixir to keep you alive? Also what would it taste like? Would you go mad drinking the same flavour elixir every day? Is it purple? I imagine it’s purple. Anyway this option allows you to just end it when you get bored with seeing the same stuff over and over and over. Seems simple enough, and seems like a good choice. As they mention in the podcast, vampires will often retreat to their coffin for a couple hundred years just because they get bored of the scenery and want to wake up to a new world every once in a while. The hibernation option wasn’t presented here, but this choice would allow you to give up once you got what you needed from life. But the same problems about a lack of time pressure exist as in the infinite case, and I could easily see someone devolving into a boring blob of sensation-seeking meat with bigger things on the ever-retreating horizon, never actually reaching those things because they’ve got the time to do them later.

A 300 year life seems like it might not be so bad, if we ignore of course the economic, political and ecological issues that would come along with the first generation of 300-year-olds. For me, it would allow me time to learn more things, explore more of the world, learn to play cello (though I plan to do that in this short lifetime anyway!) and see more technology change throughout my life… sign me up! There are likely some issues I haven’t though of yet, so maybe just put me on the wait list for now.

The last option is the normal life-span life, which I guess we’re stuck with for now. Might as well enjoy it! …And still try to learn cello.

Here’s the link to the podcast, in case you want to explore in more depth. Just a disclaimer, in the first segment they remake classic thought experiments in philosophy using porn references and it’s absolutely hilarious.

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