On Immortality

Sunday Morning Breakfast Philosophy
Yeah, we had bagels. Maybe we should have hit up IHOP...

Last weekend, I had an interesting breakfast conversation with my good friend Sonicsuns regarding immortality. Naturally, the question came about – would you take immortality, if given the choice? To which he and I had opposite responses.

Sonicsuns (henceforth SS) said, as a matter of fact, that yes he would. I, of course, opted for death, to which SS asked me, “So, at which point would you like to die?” which completely blindsided me. Thank you for that.

I like to say that I will probably meet my end around the age of 29, just due to probability of being hit by a bus or jumping off of something just a smidge too high this time, but in all seriousness, I wasn’t able to answer that question until I was driving away later.


The Case for Immortality:

SS: “I do these things not for a fear of death, but for a love of life.”

SS basically said that the things he does and enjoys in life are a product of loving life instead of fearing death. We don’t write love letters while thinking about our impending morality, generally, though that would be a poignant vignette. Meanwhile, I was attempting to advance the point that death brings meaning to life – that, given infinite life, progress is inevitable and therefore meaningless. This hooked us into a conversation about the dichotomy of progress and contentment that I’ve been subconsciously mulling over in my head, with Contentment as Yin and Progress as Yang.

SS saw Contentment as laziness, but I felt that was just casting things into terms of Progress. Laziness is the absence of Progress, whereas Contentment is the refutation of Progress. But, as SS pointed out, I was still reaching toward something beyond that dichotomy. I came to it as I left his house and started driving away.


The Case for Death:

Kung: “I guess what it comes down to in terms of immortality is the advancement of humanity to the point were nothing is out of our control.”

It was about Control. The point was similar for Contentment and Progress. Progress is the clenched fist controlling and altering the future, whereas Contentment is a hand left trailing in a gentle, flowing river. As a risk taker, a daredevil, and a tricker, the primary characteristic of my life has been overcoming fear. But to take away all fear, to control every aspect of life, including death, is to take away the zest of living. I don’t know when I will die. I don’t really care. Today is a miracle because tomorrow I could be gone. Neither is it fear. It is the joy and yet melancholy of a single snowflake. I have no urge to control that, and so to answer the question, “When do you want to die?”, I would answer, “When it happens.”


To Control death absolutely is farther than I’m willing to go. To limit ourselves from that ultimate test of courage is, to me, a damn shame. Someday, I’m going to see what’s on the flipside, and I’d love to tell you about it when it happens, but…

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  • I side with the argument for death. Without death, there is no chance for progress. Is is when old minds fade that the new take from these old theories and come up with a new solution. On a different point, it is the fear of death that drives us to love what we do. We could lose everything at any moment so we strive to do our best in our living moments so that we do not die with regrets. Love itself is an idea only strengthened by the idea of death. Till death do us part may be the standard, but in many romances, the “Love even after death” gives the idea of love that extra strength and conviction. Why would a man want to live forever to witness the unending hatred of people. There will always be war and we will never achieve peace as some people claim. There will always be conflict and to see my children die before me would be something i'd rather not carry around for an eternity.

    • Similarly, from an economic standpoint, immortality is a networked good – you mentioned your children. The instant you can buy immortality, everyone will want it. Not only will everyone want it, people who have it will try to pass it on to their loved ones.

      Control death, and you have to control every aspect of life, and aspects we've barely begun to touch on with birth control and population control (China) will explode.

      Yang begets Yang – Control begets more Control, becoming a nightmare I've no wish of partaking in. But if we could Control all of it…would it be worth it?

      • if there is anything that history has taught us, nothing can be controlled forever. also citing murphy's law, anything that could go wrong, will go wrong.

      • “aspects we've barely begun to touch on with birth control and population control (China) will explode.”

        Yes, overpopulation is a legitimate concern. Possible strategies:
        1. Populate more planets
        2. Decrease the birth rate
        3. Kill people at a certain age (perhaps well-behaved people get to live longer), even though it would be possible to keep them alive.

        I don't really have the answer, but that doesn't mean the problem is unsolvable.

        “Control begets more Control, becoming a nightmare I've no wish of partaking in”
        That depends on what kind of controlling we do. Technically, our very existence is dependent on control- we plant crops and use them for our purposes, we control diseases with medicine, etc.
        “control” doesn't always mean “dictatorship”. Power does not always breed corruption. Think of all the people we've saved by “taking control” of various diseases!

        • Our very existence need not involve progress, or even saving people. The amount of people we've saved with modern medicine has not contributed to our continued survival – only our continued proliferation. Control of any human level is not necessary for survival – ask the plants and the animals.

          1) Populating more planets? A very Last Question type of response. What next? More universes? More galaxies? More dimensions?
          2) Decrease the birth rate is possible, but highly unlikely to ever reach zero, which we'd need for a zero death rate.
          3) Killing people purely for population control is now moral. Hallelujah, another debate that I don't want to get into.

          I think humanity itself has to fundamentally change before immortality becomes feasible. Humans as they are now aren't fit for immortality.

    • “Without death, there is no chance for progress”
      I don't understand. Surely there are people who make progress while they live. If they die, does that make the progress go any faster? If Thomas Edison had lived to a thousand years old, would we all agree that more progress would have occurred if he had died in his eighties?

      “it is the fear of death that drives us to love what we do”
      I repeat my quote from the post: “I do these things not for a fear of death, but for a love of life”

      “so that we do not die with regrets”
      I would still avoid regrets if I were immortal. Regrets are regrets, whether we live with them or die with them.

      “Why would a man want to live forever to witness the unending hatred of people”
      Why would he want to die, and miss the unending love of people? Don't pretend that hatred is all that we do.

      “to see my children die before me would be something i'd rather not carry around for an eternity”
      Supposing your children were also immortal?

      • Supposing your children were immortal?

        And their children?

        And their children's children?

        This just perpetuates the population problem above. And would you deny your children the right to have children? Kids are a blessing.

  • ophidimancer

    Ahh, but you see the fundamental misconception here is that there is something that ends when someone dies. Existence is just a continual evolution and for us to section off a little bit of reality and call it a “self” is arrogance on a very basic level. So when we “die” all that's happening is that the bits of reality that we think makes up our “self” get sorted back into the deck and reshuffled. In fact, it doesn't just happen all at once either, it's happening every moment of every day, bits of your mind/body/spirit complex are getting shuffled in and out of the box you call your “self”. Big Death is really the same thing that happens to you every day, just a matter of degree.

    • So you're siding with Death?

      • ophidimancer

        Basically?

    • “So when we “die” all that's happening is that the bits of reality that we think makes up our “self” get sorted back into the deck and reshuffled”

      Yeah, but I prefer my deck sorted. Stuff seems more interesting that way.

      • Uh…as compared to what?

      • ophidimancer

        But it's already getting shuffled out as you speak/type. You can't stop change and all change is basically death. You die every moment, because the box you label a self isn't ever really as stable and constant as you fool yourself to think.

  • Very interesting thoughts, though I still prefer immortality to death.
    (btw, I did a video series about it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ondQGZ83SuY )

    “I, of course, opted for death, to which SS asked me, “So, at which point would you like to die?” which completely blindsided me. Thank you for that.”
    You're welcome. Thank you for writing this post. =)

    “SS saw Contentment as laziness”
    Not exactly. Contentment can come with laziness, but it is not the same thing. I remember that one of the first things I said to you, when you raised the subject, was “What about if you're content to be making progress?”
    Also, I'm detecting some trouble with definition here…

    “immortality is the advancement of humanity to the point were nothing is out of our control”
    Not so. Immortality is the advancement of humanity to the point where death is in our control. Even if we became immortal, there would still be infinity more things we do not understand and do not control.

    I created a metaphor called Paco's Cartographer that fits this. On the (fictional) island of Paco, the King instructed his cartographer to map the whole world. The man happily complied, but worried that he would finish rather quickly, and then be out of a job. However, as he mapped the island of Paco, he discovered other islands. Beyond these were continents. Eventually he mapped the whole planet, and said with a sorrowful sigh “I am done.” But then, he looked *up*, and realized there were infinite more worlds to explore.

    With everything that we do, there is always more to do. Death is not the final obstacle. Having conquered death, we still will not be bored or finished or over-powerful.

    • The human experience is defined by two events: Birth and Death. Perhaps Taxes. Control Death, and we essentially control it all. I trust in the ingenuity of humanity to solve all problems, given enough time, and doubly so with immortality.

      Given eternity, how can you say that we will not have finished everything? And even so, how long can you even want to solve every problem in the universe, and for what purpose? Intellectual curiosity?

      Your cartographer is finished with task given him, by the way, and if he is worried about job security and has an eye on Pluto, he has the problem of faster than light travel to overcome first.

  • I side with the argument for death. Without death, there is no chance for progress. Is is when old minds fade that the new take from these old theories and come up with a new solution. On a different point, it is the fear of death that drives us to love what we do. We could lose everything at any moment so we strive to do our best in our living moments so that we do not die with regrets. Love itself is an idea only strengthened by the idea of death. Till death do us part may be the standard, but in many romances, the “Love even after death” gives the idea of love that extra strength and conviction. Why would a man want to live forever to witness the unending hatred of people. There will always be war and we will never achieve peace as some people claim. There will always be conflict and to see my children die before me would be something i'd rather not carry around for an eternity.

  • ophidimancer

    Ahh, but you see the fundamental misconception here is that there is something that ends when someone dies. Existence is just a continual evolution and for us to section off a little bit of reality and call it a “self” is arrogance on a very basic level. So when we “die” all that's happening is that the bits of reality that we think makes up our “self” get sorted back into the deck and reshuffled. In fact, it doesn't just happen all at once either, it's happening every moment of every day, bits of your mind/body/spirit complex are getting shuffled in and out of the box you call your “self”. Big Death is really the same thing that happens to you every day, just a matter of degree.

  • Similarly, from an economic standpoint, immortality is a networked good – you mentioned your children. The instant you can buy immortality, everyone will want it. Not only will everyone want it, people who have it will try to pass it on to their loved ones.

    Control death, and you have to control every aspect of life, and aspects we've barely begun to touch on with birth control and population control (China) will explode.

    Yang begets Yang – Control begets more Control, becoming a nightmare I've no wish of partaking in. But if we could Control all of it…would it be worth it?

  • if there is anything that history has taught us, nothing can be controlled forever. also citing murphy's law, anything that could go wrong, will go wrong.

  • So you're siding with Death?

    EDIT – that's too simplistic, but you lean more towards Death because, to you, there really is no difference. That's like something I would argue for.

  • Fair enough.

  • Very interesting thoughts, though I still prefer immortality to death.
    (btw, I did a video series about it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ondQGZ83SuY )

    “I, of course, opted for death, to which SS asked me, “So, at which point would you like to die?” which completely blindsided me. Thank you for that.”
    You're welcome. Thank you for writing this post. =)

    “SS saw Contentment as laziness”
    Not exactly. Contentment can come with laziness, but it is not the same thing. I remember that one of the first things I said to you, when you raised the subject, was “What about if you're content to be making progress?”
    Also, I'm detecting some trouble with definition here…

    “immortality is the advancement of humanity to the point were nothing is out of our control”
    Not so. Immortality is the advancement of humanity to the point where death is in our control. Even if we became immortal, there would still be infinity more things we do not understand and do not control.

    I created a metaphor called Paco's Cartographer that fits this. On the (fictional) island of Paco, the King instructed his cartographer to map the whole world. The man happily complied, but worried that he would finish rather quickly, and then be out of a job. However, as he mapped the island of Paco, he discovered other islands. Beyond these were continents. Eventually he mapped the whole planet, and said with a sorrowful sigh “I am done.” But then, he looked *up*, and realized there were infinite more worlds to explore.

    With everything that we do, there is always more to do. Death is not the final obstacle. Having conquered death, we still will not be bored or finished or over-powerful.

  • “Without death, there is no chance for progress”
    I don't understand. Surely there are people who make progress while they live. If they die, does that make the progress go any faster? If Thomas Edison had lived to a thousand years old, would we all agree that more progress would have occurred if he had died in his eighties?

    “it is the fear of death that drives us to love what we do”
    I repeat my quote from the post: “I do these things not for a fear of death, but for a love of life”

    “so that we do not die with regrets”
    I would still avoid regrets if I were immortal. Regrets are regrets, whether we live with them or die with them.

    “Why would a man want to live forever to witness the unending hatred of people”
    Why would he want to die, and miss the unending love of people? Don't pretend that hatred is all that we do.

    “to see my children die before me would be something i'd rather not carry around for an eternity”
    Supposing your children were also immortal?

  • “aspects we've barely begun to touch on with birth control and population control (China) will explode.”

    Yes, overpopulation is a legitimate concern. Possible strategies:
    1. Populate more planets
    2. Decrease the birth rate
    3. Kill people at a certain age (perhaps well-behaved people get to live longer), even though it would be possible to keep them alive.

    I don't really have the answer, but that doesn't mean the problem is unsolvable.

    “Control begets more Control, becoming a nightmare I've no wish of partaking in”
    That depends on what kind of controlling we do. Technically, our very existence is dependent on control- we plant crops and use them for our purposes, we control diseases with medicine, etc.
    “control” doesn't always mean “dictatorship”. Power does not always breed corruption. Think of all the people we've saved by “taking control” of various diseases!

  • “So when we “die” all that's happening is that the bits of reality that we think makes up our “self” get sorted back into the deck and reshuffled”

    Yeah, but I prefer my deck sorted. Stuff seems more interesting that way.

  • Our very existence need not involve progress, or even saving people. The amount of people we've saved with modern medicine has not contributed to our continued survival – only our continued proliferation. Control of any human level is not necessary for survival – ask the plants and the animals.

    1) Populating more planets? A very Last Question type of response. What next? More universes? More galaxies? More dimensions?
    2) Decrease the birth rate is possible, but highly unlikely to ever reach zero, which we'd need for a zero death rate.
    3) Killing people purely for population control is now moral. Hallelujah, another debate that I don't want to get into.

    I think humanity itself has to fundamentally change before immortality becomes feasible. Humans as they are now aren't fit for immortality.

  • Supposing your children were immortal?

    And their children?

    And their children's children?

    This just perpetuates the population problem above. And would you deny your children the right to have children? Kids are a blessing.

  • The human experience is defined by two events: Birth and Death. Perhaps Taxes. Control Death, and we essentially control it all. I trust in the ingenuity of humanity to solve all problems, given enough time, and doubly so with immortality.

    Given eternity, how can you say that we will not have finished everything? And even so, how long can you even want to solve every problem in the universe, and for what purpose? Intellectual curiosity?

    Your cartographer is finished with task given him, by the way, and if he is worried about job security and has an eye on Pluto, he has the problem of faster than light travel to overcome first.

  • Uh…as compared to what?

  • ophidimancer

    But it's already getting shuffled out as you speak/type. You can't stop change and all change is basically death. You die every moment, because the box you label a self isn't ever really as stable and constant as you fool yourself to think.

  • ophidimancer

    Basically?

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