Who wants to live forever?
January 19, 2005 2:55 PM   Subscribe

So I was perusing Alterslash today and saw a discussion about an article on Technology Review re Immortality research. This is something I myself ask people about and was kind of curious as to what the community response would be.

Leaving aside the actual feasibility of the science, and assuming you could maintain reasonably good health (say frozen at a physical age of 40) would you take Immortality or a hugely extended lifespan (1000+ years) if it were offered to you and why?

For me, the answer is yes because I feel a burning need to know how things end up.
posted by ad hoc to Society & Culture (66 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I doubt you'll get many no's. Me: for the fun, mate.
posted by magullo at 3:02 PM on January 19, 2005


Yes. One can always die later.

So far, it is a one-way street. I'll go down it when I'm forced to, and not before. I've got plenty to do here.
posted by bh at 3:02 PM on January 19, 2005


I'd love to live in every country in the world for a while and seriously devote myself to a bunch of different pursuits, thought I imagine that the whole thing might get old after about 500 years. I'd take it, but only as long as I had the option to kill myself at any point.

There can be only one.
posted by epimorph at 3:04 PM on January 19, 2005


I doubt you'll get many no's.

I would think that also, but people I have asked personally run 50/50 and divide solidly down gender lines
posted by ad hoc at 3:06 PM on January 19, 2005


Do you mean this article? I read it too and thought it would make the basis of a decent front-page post.

My answer: I'd take it as long as a painless death was always an option. You always want to have the bail-out option but I too am curious about the future and slightly dismayed that I'm going to miss out.
posted by vacapinta at 3:06 PM on January 19, 2005


Aye, that's the one.

A discussion of the scientific merits might still make a good FPP, but I'm not Blue-question-enabled :)
posted by ad hoc at 3:12 PM on January 19, 2005


Hell no. A 60 year lifespan is a miserable enough chain of horrible events and I can't imagine that living for a 1000 years would put a more positive perspective on it.
posted by cmonkey at 3:17 PM on January 19, 2005


I'd take it, but only as long as I had the option to kill myself at any point.

Seconded. Some people already feel life is too long. The psychological effects of extended life have not been considered deeply enough yet. Deep depressions could well be an effect. Loneliness, too.
posted by wackybrit at 3:23 PM on January 19, 2005


Yep, I want to see how the future turns out (flying cars, disposable clothes, food replicators, etc.).

On preview: I want an "out" as well.
posted by deborah at 3:25 PM on January 19, 2005


I'd like to see how things progress. My grandfather died before I was 1 year old but I'm close friends with one of my cousins who was a teenager when he died. When he was born the Wright Brother's invention was only about 20 years old. He saw the introduction of commercial flight, the assembly line and the automobile. He owned the fifth or so automobile in Canada. He died a few months before the first man walked on the moon.

My cousin got to talk to him about these things and recalls a lot of the conversations. I'd love to see progress over thousands of years.
posted by substrate at 3:29 PM on January 19, 2005


Absolutely. I want to live forever. I suppose entropy has to get you sooner or later, but I'll take all the time I can get.

As for the why, I'm agnostic and I don't trust that death isn't the end. I don't want to end. Also, I really enjoy life, and I'm just fine here even without harps or clouds or 75 virgins. But really, even if life sucked I don't think I'd ever want to stop existing.
posted by tirade at 3:38 PM on January 19, 2005


Although I think existence is a lousy enough metaphysical shell-game that it's a moral crime to have children, I'd take infinite-prolonging in a heartbeat.

Terrible food, small portions, you know.

Barring bodily or mental injury, I can't imagine ever voluntarily pulling the plug on myself, either. I just don't think I'd ever get bored.

[Additional: There are a number of interesting problems that come to a society with functional immortality, though, not least of which: (1) Assuming people could still die accidentally, wouldn't everyone become paranoid cowards when a single misstep could cost them an infinity of years? (Just like the Elves in Middle Earth.) (2) Would we forcibly sterilize the immortal to prevent overcrowding? Otherwise we'd run out of space and resources pretty quickly. (3) We'd need to figure out a way to survive the destruction of Earth and then the universe, or we're just setting ourselves up for the mother of all countdowns.]
posted by BackwardsCity at 3:42 PM on January 19, 2005


That's a tough one.

Imagine what a lifespan of even 500 years, on average, would do to general human experience (assuming for the moment that everybody had the potential to live that long):

Pros: People would (hopefully) be a lot more concerned with the environment because otherwise we'd be living with out-of-control waste, among other nasties. We could have multiple careers and continent-hop. We'd have time to explore the cosmos, even. Perhaps there would even be some kind of incentive to end millenia-old feuds and warfare, because people would just plain get sick of dealing with the nonsense for hundreds of their own years and learn to live with each other peacefully (I wouldn't hold my breath, though).

Cons: First, of course, population would be out of control, with people living 7 or so times longer than they do now. And maybe it would get boring to live that long. What if 'adolecence' lasted until the age of 75 or 80?
posted by contessa at 3:43 PM on January 19, 2005


I never wanna die. I would take 10 thousand years (no suicide allowed) if I could get it. I would take it even if it guaranteed a bad back and a sour stomach the whole time. I would take it if I were handed a Monkey paw.

I want to be free of the clock. Assuming everyone was not doing this, it would not take much to own property in the normal timeframe and then build up a bank of savings that would allow you to live a different sort of life than is currently possible for most of us. I would agree that the current lifespan is more than enough for some of us, but for those who feel differently, the extra time could be transforming. We would be a whole new kind of people with a totally alien perspective.
posted by thirteen at 3:45 PM on January 19, 2005


I'd take immortality. I want to see if society can end scarcity in another few hundred years. I also want to see us upload a brain onto a computer. Then we'd be safe even in case of accidents (which make immortality drop to about 10,000 before something does you in). Come to think of it, it'd end up like Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and I'd dig that.
posted by NickDouglas at 3:57 PM on January 19, 2005


Nope, no way.
(I have certain spiritual beliefs that lead me to think this would not be a good idea.)


I would think that also, but people I have asked personally run 50/50 and divide solidly down gender lines.

ad hoc, which gender yes and which no? How many people are we talkin' here?

posted by Specklet at 3:59 PM on January 19, 2005


The downside of immortality (if everyone gets it) is that you can't have kids, ever.

But personally, it is my dream. I loved every page of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom because of that one idea. You could be fearless, have all the time in the world to accomplish all your goals, and basically rid your life of fear (of death, anyway) which I believe cripples everyone.
posted by mathowie at 4:22 PM on January 19, 2005


Immortality without debilitation. I want to learn everything and that's the only way.
posted by casarkos at 4:24 PM on January 19, 2005


I'd say yes, because when I think about the future, it makes me sad that I'm not going to see it all happen, the way I can "see" everything that's happened in the past.

On the other hand, I already dread the 50 or so years of work I have ahead of me before i can live off my investments... I don't think I could stand another 10000 or so...

So I guess my answer is yes, if I could live the life of the independently wealthy, which I imagine only gets harder as the average life span increases...
posted by muddgirl at 4:25 PM on January 19, 2005


fear (of death, anyway) which I believe cripples everyone.

I believe it emboldens some folks.

I don't know that I'd want to live forever. I'm not terribly old, but even I've already had experiences where I say to myself "Please, not this bullshit again."
posted by rocketman at 4:28 PM on January 19, 2005


No. Life lasts long enough. Besides, knowing death is coming is an impetus not to dawdle forever.
posted by dame at 4:31 PM on January 19, 2005


Nope. Life as it is is more than enough.
posted by amberglow at 4:38 PM on January 19, 2005


I would if I was really rich, like Bill Gates rich. Otherwise, who would want to work support themselves for such a long time?
posted by gyc at 4:53 PM on January 19, 2005


Immortality. I want to see how it all ends.
posted by kindall at 4:54 PM on January 19, 2005


Yes. I have a list of things I want to do before I die. I'm only 39, but at this point there's not enough time left to do all the things on my list -- and the list keeps getting LONGER!

Oh: I would only want to do this if I could take my wife along with me for the ride.

This is a great fantasy, but there are huge problems in reality, one of which is mental capacity. I doubt we can store enough info in our brains to keep track of 1000 years. If I'm going to live that long, I want an augmented brain that can remember all the way back to my childhood. I don't see the point of only remembering the last 100 years or so. I don't have any evidence that we can't store eons of memories, so maybe I'm wrong, but I'd bet against it.

Also, odds are I'd die in a horrible, painfully accident. Every time I cross the street or drive a car (or any of many other activities), I'm at risk. The odds are somewhat in my favor for this NOT happening, because my lifespan is short enough that I can only take a (relatively) few of these short risks. But if I lived for a thousand years or more, the odds of ending horribly -- other than by a natural, peaceful death -- would go WAY up.
posted by grumblebee at 5:00 PM on January 19, 2005


My successes and failures should have a limited life span.
posted by sled at 5:02 PM on January 19, 2005


Count me as a yes. There are too many things to learn, see, and do to fit into one lifetime. I work for myself and enjoy what I do so the ‘drudgery’ of work doesn’t really bother me.
posted by Tenuki at 5:04 PM on January 19, 2005


Your life will get cheaper as you live longer. You do not need to keep buying things. You can pay off some property in 30 years of working, which leaves you with hundreds of years where you only need to have enough to pay for food and property taxes. Only an idiot would stay on the short life treadmill of consuming and spending. You could work part time and survive. You could leisurely gain valuable skills that could allow you to work even less. You could finally find the real work you were meant to do.
posted by thirteen at 5:04 PM on January 19, 2005


This is an inappropriate AskMe question. Questions should have a "correct" answer and not be merely an opinion poll.
posted by rushmc at 5:04 PM on January 19, 2005


I'd want to live forever, but only if I don't turn out to be a grumpy old man like rushmc.
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:25 PM on January 19, 2005


Absolutely. Science is just starting to get interesting, I'd love to see the next 1,000 years of discovery.
posted by krisjohn at 5:25 PM on January 19, 2005


Yes, simply through fear of death.
posted by pompomtom at 5:31 PM on January 19, 2005


If only I were given this choice, I'd definitely refuse. No parent wants to outlive their children, much less all loved ones and peers. I don't think even 5000 years could ease that loss. I also agree with those that say the brevity of life is one of its wonders, and that immortality would lead to procrastination.

Having a parent die when I was young, I've never been crippled by a fear of death. I somehow learned to accept death as a kid, and as an adult I've stared in its eyes only to be miraculously spared a couple times without flinching. I fear poverty.

So my caveat is: My loved ones are immortal too and there is no risk of poverty.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 5:38 PM on January 19, 2005


This is a great fantasy, but there are huge problems in reality, one of which is mental capacity. I doubt we can store enough info in our brains to keep track of 1000 years. If I'm going to live that long, I want an augmented brain that can remember all the way back to my childhood. I don't see the point of only remembering the last 100 years or so. I don't have any evidence that we can't store eons of memories, so maybe I'm wrong, but I'd bet against it.

Interesting story from Borges about a person who remembered everything. Maybe there is a purpose for evolving mechanisms for forgetting as much as we remember.
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:40 PM on January 19, 2005


rushmc:This is an inappropriate AskMe question. Questions should have a "correct" answer and not be merely an opinion poll.

You mean, like:

What book of poetry, published in the last 25 years, has meant the most to you personally -- the book you have found yourself returning to again and again?
posted by vacapinta at 5:41 PM on January 19, 2005


People seem to approach this question as if both themselves and the world would stay virtually unchanged over thousands of years. But if you did have an indefinite life span, the "you" of 1000 years from now would probably resemble the "you" of today about as much as the "you" of today resembles an embryo.

It's true, continuing to exist in the exact same circumstances with the same personality and limitations and so on, forever, would not be an appealing scenario. But that is not possible whether you die or not.

If you had unlimited potential to grow and evolve, why would you want to end your existence? Would it be to take your chances on something better happening in some type of afterlife? Or is it just that the nature of experience is so unbearable that you would want all experience to cease?
posted by mcguirk at 6:25 PM on January 19, 2005


The known laws of physics and ten thousand years of human storytelling lead me to the suspicion that this life is one of a thousand million billion possibilities and death is a step onward in the most mysterious journey. Why fight the change rather than embrace it?
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:35 PM on January 19, 2005


Not a chance. Sometime the thought of even living for another 25 years fills me with dread. I can't help but feel the human condition is best experienced in small doses.
posted by pookzilla at 6:53 PM on January 19, 2005


I am reminded of a line from "the last question" by Asimov), whenever I wonder about this question:
".. for what more could a conscious being want more than end itself ?" (paraphrasing from memory).

1000 years or immortality with an "out" is too easy to answer... immortality without an out is a much more interesting question...
posted by anonetal at 6:53 PM on January 19, 2005


ad hoc, which gender yes and which no? How many people are we talkin' here?

This is something I ask Friends and Coworkers over a few drinks or while hanging out. At a rough estimate I've asked 70 - 80 people of both genders(about equal numbers of each).

I've only had 2 or 3 women say yes to immortality and 2 or 3 men say no.

Not exactly a scientific survey:)
posted by ad hoc at 7:16 PM on January 19, 2005


I'll take immortality for as long a time as possible, thanks. Too much stuff to do, one way street, all that.

From the replies here, I get the feeling that a lot of those who wouldn't take it are profoundly miserable people.
posted by majcher at 7:18 PM on January 19, 2005


Heck yes. I'd love to be immortal.

And I'm female, btw.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:31 PM on January 19, 2005


Why fight the change rather than embrace it?
Why seek treatment if you feel ill?
Living to be 1000 years old wouldn't be "fighting" anything more than most people do already. Our life spans are augmented as it is. 1000 is no more arbitrary than 75 or 80.
posted by juv3nal at 7:32 PM on January 19, 2005


The known laws of physics and ten thousand years of human storytelling lead me to the suspicion that this life is one of a thousand million billion possibilities and death is a step onward in the most mysterious journey. Why fight the change rather than embrace it?

That depends on what you consider to be fighting. Most of us would not want to commit suicide today in order to hurry ourselves along that mysterious journey. We are already taking many "unnatural" precautions designed to delay that onward step, such as having vaccinations, building hospitals where doctors can shock us with defibrillators, etc. In a sense having running water and electricity is quite unnatural, but when I use them I don't feel that I'm somehow struggling against the natural condition.

So what happens if we, very gradually and naturally, arrive at a condition where death is no longer necessary? Should we seek it out, even though doing so may seem just as unnatural as refusing to use electricity or accept medical treatment? Is there something inherently important about death, or is it just a dangerously unpredictable method of transcending the self?

I think we are reaching a period where we need to grow up as sentient beings. Basing our decisions on what is "natural", or solely by what is mandated by a particular cultural or religious tradition, just doesn't cut it anymore. It's time for us to take full responsibility for the condition of ourselves and our world.
posted by mcguirk at 7:51 PM on January 19, 2005


I have to agree with rushmc that this thread is very similar to that "invisibility or flight" thread that got baleeted. But, I enjoyed that one, so may as well play in this one...

I have to wonder what happens to memory when someone lives much longer than their allotted lifespan. It's got to be strange because the brian doesn't simply loop and drop the first ten years of memory the way a computer might - eventually you are going to fill the banks and who knows what kind of dissociated existence you might end up with then. This gives me pause.
posted by furiousthought at 7:54 PM on January 19, 2005


Another yes here, and by no small margin. Whether you believe in an afterlife is probably a huge factor.
posted by abcde at 8:19 PM on January 19, 2005


I dunno, majcher. I am not particularly happy, but I wouldn't call myself miserable either. I just feel like I have enough time as it is (as long as I don't fart it away, of course).

On preview: I'm a no who doesn't believe in an afterlife.
posted by dame at 8:23 PM on January 19, 2005


I'm a no who does (sorta), but it's not important in my decision. life is what counts, not afterwards.

for the people who would want their loved ones along, what about all the new people you'd meet and love? do you really want to spend forever with the same small group?
posted by amberglow at 9:07 PM on January 19, 2005


Are you surprised that women are less interested in immortality when in the eyes of most men we're "over" at 35 and totally invisible after menopause?
posted by zadcat at 9:57 PM on January 19, 2005


Dude. This is so totally ChatFilter.

But for the record, I'd take the immortality so I could host New Year's Eve specials on TV until THE END OF TIME.
posted by antifreez_ at 10:55 PM on January 19, 2005


I can't imagine 1000 years of burying loved ones, relatives or otherwise. At some point before that, it has to be your turn to go and their turn to mourn. You might witness incredible progress, but also way too much death. I'm willing to bet that most people (myself included) can take only so much of the latter.
posted by trondant at 10:58 PM on January 19, 2005


mcgurk - Entropy rules. Running water and electricity are entirely a struggle against the natural condition. What allows you have those things today is the cycle of death and transformation that turned the dinosaurs into fossil fuels. Or the destruction of atoms. Decay is part of a universal cycle and understanding of that cycle is important in man's search for knowledge. Understanding naturally leads to acceptance.

(And death the most predictible means for fully transcending the self, no?)

amberglow - I think you would become like the Savage in a Brave New World. And nobody would want to hear your old man stories anway.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 11:03 PM on January 19, 2005


Yes, but only on the condition that I would have to fight with other immortals using only my sword and take their power when I decapitate them.

There can be only one.


I am Duncan McMadMan of the Clan MadMan. I was born in 1283 in India, and I am immortal.

From the dawn of time we came; moving silently down through the centuries, living many secret lives, struggling to reach the time of the Gathering; when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were among you... until now.
posted by madman at 11:36 PM on January 19, 2005


If I could still collect social security starting at 67, I'd totally say yes to immortality.
posted by horsewithnoname at 11:43 PM on January 19, 2005


ad hoc: I often ask people the same thing, and have found the same divide. Men want to live forever, women don't. Why it is that way is an interesting question.

As for me, I'd definately want to live forever. Even without an 'out', although I believe there is always an 'out' (just scatter my atoms all over the universe). I want to see what man is capable of, and want to experience all the things I just can't do now. I feel I'll only be able to get a glimpse of earth in this life. For those keeping track: I'm not religious, and don't believe in an afterlife.
posted by cameleon at 1:01 AM on January 20, 2005


I've wanted to be immortal my entire life, but I would prefer it if the format involved my brain being transferred into a machine - one virtual chemical model of a neuron at a time while I was conscious - so that I was no longer burdened with a body in any respect whatsoever. Backups every minute distributed across multiple planets/star systems plus redundant servers = uninterrupted immortality.

I want to live forever, but not if over the course of every million years I have to spend 300,000 years sleeping and 25,000 years going to the bathroom.
posted by Ryvar at 5:41 AM on January 20, 2005


Yeah, I'd love to live forever; I just don't want to have to work forever.
posted by theora55 at 6:02 AM on January 20, 2005


I'd only take immortality if my parents, siblings, and beloved were getting in on it, too.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 6:33 AM on January 20, 2005



I'd only take immortality if my parents, siblings, and beloved were getting in on it, too.


That is what Spike thought too.
/rimshot
posted by thirteen at 6:56 AM on January 20, 2005


yes ... even though i believe in an afterlife ... and possibly other lives ... i'd be very curious as to what would happen over a 1000 years and what i'd get up to over a 1000 years ... that being said ... if i knew i was going to live that long right now, i doubt i'd be doing anything different for awhile
posted by pyramid termite at 7:04 AM on January 20, 2005


I'm all for immortality with an out, but then I am a big Culture fan and I would like to see humanity several hundred years down the line when the concepts of race and gender are no longer an issue and when (with any luck) religion has been tossed out as a waste of time.

I would be interested in uploading so that my consciousness could be beamed out to the depths of space and i could experience other planets, other star systems etc.

With immortality comes answers to all the questions you never had answered and the chance to learn all the things you always wanted to learn. It puts paid to the biggest excuse in history "I don't have time to do that".

Reason enough for me.
posted by longbaugh at 7:57 AM on January 20, 2005


Nope, no way, now how. I have zero desire to watch all my loved ones die while I stay alive.

Actually, since I believe in reincarnation, I feel that we're all immortal. I'd rather have 100 lifetimes in different settings than 1000 years in one. Besides, I'm much more curious about what comes after the physical body ends than what the future will look like in a 1000 years.

We're born, we live, we die. Even if I didn't believe in reincarnation, I'd have no problem with this.
posted by widdershins at 8:05 AM on January 20, 2005


You mean, like: What book of poetry, published in the last 25 years, has meant the most to you personally -- the book you have found yourself returning to again and again?

No, not like that. That question was of direct practical benefit to me, as I discovered new-to-me poets to investigate and bought five of the works recommended in the thread, which was my purpose in asking the question. Immortality is not an option, so debating its desirability leads to no practical outcome.
posted by rushmc at 8:23 AM on January 20, 2005


I'm not afraid of death (and I'm an atheist) but I'm terrified of old age. So I'd take it for the eternal youth and the curiosity, and cheerfully clock out when I'd seen enough.
posted by squidlarkin at 8:54 AM on January 20, 2005


Assuming everyone was not doing this, it would not take much to own property in the normal timeframe and then build up a bank of savings that would allow you to live a different sort of life than is currently possible for most of us.

The thing is, enough people would be doing it to wreck your plan. Basic economics. There's not enough room (or resources) on the planet for everyone to have a permanent hold over a sizeable piece of property. Of course, once we start colonizing other planets, that problem goes away.

You might witness incredible progress, but also way too much death.

If you were immortal I dare say it'd start becoming like watching TV series come and go. You'd have known and loved so many people that even though you'd miss them, it wouldn't be such a big deal.
posted by wackybrit at 11:42 AM on January 20, 2005


Well, I can't make it not sound new-agey so I'll keep it shortish: Death is part of the process. You can't deny death without denying life. Processes have a beginning, a middle and an end. Not a beginning, a middle and an I-feel-like quitting.
posted by Grangousier at 1:35 PM on January 20, 2005


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