Monday, February 11, 2013

Do We Really Want Physical Immortality? Part II

Psychological Consequences

· Belief in religion – One of the main functions of most religions is to provide an answer to the question of what happens after death. The immortality of the soul is an essential part of most religious traditions. If we have immortality of the physical body, would there still be the same need for religion?

· The big questions. Existing indefinitely in the physical world would prevent us from getting the answers to the big questions: is there a soul, is there life after death, is there a reason for our existence, does God exist? We will be forever relegated to living in the black box of the physical world. Or maybe there is a way of getting out of it without dying?

· Risk aversion. If life is indefinitely long, there would be a lot more to lose. People may restrict their daily actions to reduce the chance of being severely injured or losing one’s life. Sports like skiing, hokey, football, skydiving, mountain climbing, car racing and so on may no longer be tolerated. Even driving a car or traveling by any mode of transportation may be seen as too dangerous. A time may come when people will no longer even be willing to leave their homes. They will just live in cyberspace, letting their avatars take all the chances.

· Dating. How will people know whether their date is 20, 200 or 2000 years old? Everyone will all look like they’re twenty. People will still want to be with someone with similar experiences and maturity. How will people with such large differences in chronological age be able to relate to each other? Will there be a need for a system to prove one’s age—a tattoo listing one’s birthday, for example—and will there be a black market for removing or altering the tattoo?

· Body image. We will be stuck with the same body indefinitely. Most of us don’t think our bodies are perfect. We find something we’d like to change: we may want to be taller, skinnier, with different color hair or eyes, a more athletic body, be able to play the violin or to understand quantum physics. We may want to look like George Clooney or Julia Roberts. How long will it take before we get tired of our bodies? Will a cyborg future be the answer? Or will we return to some religious beliefs which entail reincarnation in different bodies and with different life experiences?

· Bucket list. If life is short, many of us have a drive to complete certain tasks before we die—writing that novel, creating that company, leaving a legacy, taking that round the world trip and so on. If we are immortal, will we put things off indefinitely because we have all the time in the world?

· Drive. Part of our drive to achieve something comes from leaving something behind that will outlast us. Will we lose our drive to achieve? Will society become stagnant as a result? Will we just become hedonists? Or will we achieve even more knowing that we have the time to experience the fruits of our labor?

· Boredom. Wherever you go, there you are. Will we get bored with ourselves after 500 years? 1,000? Will we get tired of the same psychological problems, the same childhood history, the same emotional scars, the same personality quirks, fears and idiosyncrasies, the result of genetics and a life that keeps going forever? As we get older in years even though our bodies remain that of a 20-year-old, will we feel old, as if we’ve seen it all, been there done that? Will we lose our drive to live? Will boredom and depression become pandemic?

· Fear of death. When death is common, it becomes the norm and we accept it. Will our fear of death increase because it will be so rare? Will the saying “Death is part of life” no longer apply?

· Those who refuse the cure. There will be some, maybe even a significant number, who refuse immortality, either for religious or other reasons. How will their aging bodies fit into a society in which everyone looks like they are 20 years old?

· Suicide. After hundreds or thousands of years, will people get tired of living in a gilded cage? Will they feel that there is little new to learn either emotionally or socially? Another profession, another relationship. Suicide may become the number one cause of death.

I am sure there are myriad other psychological issues to be faced by an ageless individual. These are only a fraction of the most obvious.

The World
And then there is the rest of the world. If this discovery is made tomorrow by someone in the United States, should it be made public? What if there isn’t enough drug to treat everyone in the world, which country after the US would get it first? Since there are thousands dying every day of diseases related to old age, how long will people wait for the cure? And even if we do have enough medicine for everyone in the world, would the US government give it to unfriendly countries? If not, would these countries go to war to gain immortality? Would people be willing to go to war and possibly die to become immortal, or would they wait and hope? Would we insist that countries change their rules of reproduction, their economic, power, and social structures, before we would give them the cure? One option is to set it up in a way similar to the European Union: each country can join and get the cure as soon as it meets the requirements.

 In the final analysis, if the cure for aging is discovered tomorrow, there is a strong argument for our government to treat it as a national security issue and to keep it secret, at least as it decides how to set up a world-wide regime to deal with all the social and economic consequences of an ageless society. But then, who wants to be the last person to die of old age before the cure is released?


  1. Not aging and having eternal life are different categories. If one can still die secondary to trauma, then the questions of afterlife are still relevent, whereas if eternal physical life is available, then afterlife questions are meaningless. Hence, it is an important distinction

  2. Are you kidding, boredom, depression, suicide, you had me sold at looking 20 years old, although I liked me better at 25. It would be brilliant, you'd have sooooo much longer to make money. Hmmm, how would that affect property markets? Those that didn't live forever and chose not to take the cure would be very unlikely to ever make enough money to buy a house.

    No, not everyone can have 'the cure' only the wealthy. Why would you want starving Africans being hungry for eternity, that's just mean.

  3. I do prefer the current arrangement...


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