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November 2nd, 2006


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01:35 am - Bafflement at self-destructive ideas
An interesting NYT article on longevity research contained both some fairly hopeful information (one of the most hopeful being the increasing focus on longevity research) as well as the following passage:
While an anti-aging pill may be the next big blockbuster, some ethicists believe that the all-out determination to extend life span is veined with arrogance. As appointments with death are postponed, says Dr. Leon R. Kass, former chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, human lives may become less engaging, less meaningful, even less beautiful.

"Mortality makes life matter," Dr. Kass recently wrote. "Immortality is a kind of oblivion — like death itself."
Sentiments like this utterly baffle me. My guess is that this and similar pro-mortality statements most likely come from people who either don't believe that such research will pay off in their lifetime and so either don't want to get their own hopes up or dislike the idea of other younger people obtaining benefits they won't have. However, it also seem possible that these people honestly feel that way out of something other than a sense of resignation or sour grapes, and the entire concept of this completely and totally baffles me. From my PoV, the both whole "cycle of life and death" schtick, where people talk about dying or even less than one-century lifespans being "natural" (a concept I have a fair amount of contempt for in-and-of itself) and trust of some sort of afterlife that is not either completely imaginary or utterly pointless and lacking in comfort (such as my own rather dismal thoughts on reincarnation) are nothing more than methods of coping with the fact that no one has yet developed a way to allow anyone to live more than a century, and even that pathetically short length of time is rare. My own rather cynical guess is that when such technologies start to become available, a moderate portion of the population, mostly consisting of religious fanatics who could use them won't, but that at least three-quarters (and possibly more) people who can use them will do so. It will be very interesting (and from my own PoV rather heartening) to watch the ideology of "natural" lifespan dwindle away, along with the number of people who hold it. Definitely an interesting time to be living.
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From:amberite
Date:November 2nd, 2006 10:08 am (UTC)

Razors pain you, rivers are damp; acids stain you, drugs cause cramp

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I can think of a very obvious reason for mortality to be an important part of thought-structure. It's the same as deadlines: it's a motivator. For people who have trouble with motivating, these are very important crutches. For people who don't, somewhat less important.

I'm not sure how my consciousness would change if I became effectively immortal. If I was simply aging-and-sickness-proof, I don't think it would change much. I think that if I discovered (like one of our favorite television characters, let's *try* not to spoil all of Livejournal) that I couldn't die -- bullets could hit me and I'd snap back -- I'd be fairly despondent and not do anything for a few years until I learned how to adjust to not having that pressure.

Like losing a job: even if you hate it, it's a pressure condition and produces some necessary or addictive eustress.

I'm not saying that this adjustment is impossible, just that it takes time to acclimatize to conditions which involve dramatically more or less pressure than we've gotten used to.
From:axonfuel
Date:November 2nd, 2006 10:24 am (UTC)
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Totally with you, there. IMHO, pro-mortality arguments fall back on fallacy of appeal to tradition, as well as fallacy of appeal to authority. Or maybe just over-reliance on authority. What, you need a boss breathing down your neck to accomplish anything? :>

On the other hand, apeirophobia is a serious problem, and may be deeply rooted in the human psyche. The problem of transitioning from a mortal way of thinking, with its teleology and fatalism, to an immortal way of thinking is a major theme in a fiction work I'm planning...
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From:heron61
Date:November 2nd, 2006 11:02 am (UTC)
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IMHO, pro-mortality arguments fall back on fallacy of appeal to tradition, as well as fallacy of appeal to authority. Or maybe just over-reliance on authority. What, you need a boss breathing down your neck to accomplish anything?

Precisely so!

In any case, I had never encountered the word apeirophobia before, thank you. It is not something I in any fashion suffer from (rather the opposite actually) but I see it in a number of non-scientifically trained people when they discuss ideas about the age of the planet or the vastness of space. My own take is that a good education in the sciences is a sound cure for apeirophobia, as well as a preventative for many similar ills.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:November 2nd, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC)
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I think an increased lifespan would be a good thing, as it might people say, "Gee, I'll definitely be here X years from now, so global warming will impact me big time. Maybe I should trade in that SUV for a Prius and start recycling so the shit won't hit the fan." If people are around long enough to personally experience the long-term negative consequences of their leaders' bad decisions, they might start holding said leaders more accountable. A longer lifespan would definitely make folks more socially responsible in the long run, although it might cause a population and economic crisis in the short run as people don't retire at 65, which causes delayed entry into the job market for younger workers, etc.
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From:anomali
Date:November 2nd, 2006 03:15 pm (UTC)
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I found this life expectancy table to be interesting:

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus05.pdf#027

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From:antayla
Date:November 2nd, 2006 03:58 pm (UTC)
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Of course, a lot of people do argue that if they figure out longevity, that the rich will be the ones who benefit most... at least until they can figure out how to make it more affordable. We could only hope that they would.

But regardless, I think effective immortality would be great :)... or even just youthfulness until death would be nice. But I don't think they will ever get rid of death so long as we dwell in meat bodies.
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From:heronheart
Date:November 2nd, 2006 04:39 pm (UTC)
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The insurance industry has estimated that even if all sources of death due to age and disease were eliminated, the maximuim human lifespan would be about 650 years due to 99.9% of people being killed off due to accidents and murder.
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From:heron61
Date:November 2nd, 2006 07:24 pm (UTC)
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Indeed. Elimination of illness and aging is the first step. After that, the path to longer life would clearly involve fairly radical (and likely non-organic) upgrades to both mind and body. However, with several centuries to play with, I'm guessing that there would be plenty of time to figure those out.
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From:heronheart
Date:November 4th, 2006 05:53 pm (UTC)
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Hmmm, preventing death due to accident or murder would probably require multple redundant personality backups. It would be interesting to see the paranoia that would develop in a world where the primary cause of death was murder. Imagine having several hundred years for a grudge to fester.
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From:heron61
Date:November 5th, 2006 03:46 am (UTC)
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I'm guessing that accidents would be by far the most common cause of death. Murder is largely a hobby of the young, and with long-lived low birthrate population, and hopefully attitudes about lethal weapons closer to the EU than the US, murder rates would likely be fairly low - definitely non-zero, but low. However, w/o 100% reliable backups, people could still be instantly killed by being hit by a bus.

Medicine is already doing amazing things with saving the lives of accident victims if they survive to the hospital and with the ongoing developments in nerve regrowth and vat-growing organs, I'm guessing that within 20 years anyone who makes it to a hospital alive will have a very high chance of a full recovery. However, swiftly lethal accidents could still occur and w/o fairly impressive nanotech constantly roaming our bloodstreams and almost instantly repairing all damage (something I'd love to have, but consider fairly unlikely), buses will still be able to squash people flat.
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From:heronheart
Date:November 5th, 2006 05:08 am (UTC)
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Medicine is already doing amazing things with saving the lives of accident victims if they survive to the hospital and with the ongoing developments in nerve regrowth and vat-growing organs, I'm guessing that within 20 years anyone who makes it to a hospital alive will have a very high chance of a full recovery.

Which is why I'm betting on murder as the most common (although still extremely rare) cause of death. It takes elaborate planning to arrange something the nanotech can't fix AND wipe all the backups. ;-)
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From:heronheart
Date:November 2nd, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
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I suspect that your confoundment has to do with the idea that there are some people who actually do believe that some abstract principles are more important than their own safety and comfort. Of course, the real problem arises when they argue that those abstract principles are more important than *someone else's* safety and comfort.
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From:heron61
Date:November 2nd, 2006 07:25 pm (UTC)
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I suspect that your confoundment has to do with the idea that there are some people who actually do believe that some abstract principles are more important than their own safety and comfort.

Indeed, that's a PoV that I consider profoundly foolish and to a degree dangerous, since it leads to all manner of violence and other unpleasantness.
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From:lupagreenwolf
Date:November 2nd, 2006 05:56 pm (UTC)
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I think my biggest fear with much longer lifespans would be overpopulation. Humans already overun the planet and crowd out other life forms. What if we were to live 10 times longer? We could then accumulate more resources and make even more of an impact on the environment. I'm all for living longer, but not now--we're just too irresponsible.
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From:heron61
Date:November 2nd, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC)
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The inhabitants of the first world are the only ones who would benefit and populations growth is at zero or below across the first world. Given that I see no evidence of this trend reversing, I'm not particularly worried on that front.
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From:merovingian
Date:November 2nd, 2006 07:12 pm (UTC)
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I interpret the argument "death gives meaning to life" as a fairly sophisticated rephrasing of the statement "I hate and fear change, especially big change."

I can see why fearing change is compelling to someone. I'm not willing to die to comfort someone's fear of change.
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From:temima
Date:November 3rd, 2006 03:34 am (UTC)
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There is a lot to think about, and I am not sure if I can summarize my thoughts. My concern is if lifespans are increased for the majority, will other resources increase too? By that, I mean more brains, more opportunities, more resources, more friends. If living longer means you can work to get these and help others remove these other limitations to a good life now, then it will do more good than harm.

I hope this makes sense. I wondered why reading about increased lifespans made me twitchy. Looking at it, it had more to do with my own frustrations about having more ambitions than resources than a cohesive argument. So, I tried to look at it objectively. I wouldn't want a longer life if it meant 'more of the same, and maybe even worse.' However, that is not the only possibility.
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From:risu
Date:November 3rd, 2006 09:18 pm (UTC)
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I think an infinite expected lifespan might very well be problematic. It's like an infinitely long twinkie. You just don't need a twinkie that long. An extremely long twinkie should be enough for any purpose, *including* rotating it for time travel.

That said, as long as suicide tech keeps up with lifespan and antidepressant tech keeps up with suicide tech, I'm good with arbitrary increases in finite lifespan; I'm not planning to drop out until I've had 4-5 billion years here myself, although I expect I'll be sleeping a pretty long time between bursts of activity by the end.

Rebecca

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