I am perpetually surprised how few people realize that only the first kind can be discussed rationally, while the second kind is at best a purely theoretical hypothesis.
So you start talking with them about realistic, scientifically achievable, immortality, and you end up answering arguments against mandatory immortality. WTH?
This is probably a topic that does not lend itself to rational discourse, kind of like politics or sex. Most people create this coping mechanism to enable them to deal with the prospect of their own demise, and end up unconsciously hostile to the idea of immortality.
"Even discussion of the platonic ideal of immortality is, I think, useful provocation against the backdrop of advancing biotechnology that will be able to extend the human lifespan significantly in decades to come. Those advances won't happen by themselves: people need to work on them, support them, and demand them. An economy of longevity-enhancing biotechnology must arise, and for that there needs to be - at a minimum - a whole lot more people talking and thinking about the prospects."
Whatever sins are committed in the post are absolved by merit of generating a Hacker News discussion in which people are once again reminded that the biotechnology train is coming - and the opportunities it presents are immense.
Depends on how you define the immortal part. For example, my disk drive can't be immortal, but with proper care, the data contained on it can be.
Does data-dumped me count as immortality? I think it should. If you eliminate all the wacky religious stuff people believe in (though I assume most HN'ers are atheist), aren't we just big biological stores of information?
If so, "you can't die no matter what you do" is essentially true, in that you could be restored from a recent backup -- the same way as when a hard drive fails.
It depends on what consciousness ultimately is.
Even if consciousness goes with the data, this "wet" instance of it has still gone through death irreversibly.
Not necessarily. People seem to find talking about health care rewarding in some way, and that falls in the immortality discussion spectrum, I think.
> Sorry, please don't hate me.
You're going to make an awful immortal if you spend eternity worrying whether people will hate you or not.
In a society in which life-extending practices are widespread and accepted, an intentional "failure to take your medication" could be tantamount to suicide. Most governments don't currently support a person's right to choose to die, often acting to prevent suicide and (admittedly, inconsistently) bringing legal prosecution for the performance of euthanasia.
Granted, it isn't the same thing, but it suggests that consideration of "fantastic immortality" might bring insight into the ramifications of more realistic life-extending procedures.
Of course, even if someone passed a mandatory life extension law, it would be easy enough to get around if someone decided that it was time to die. Someone in good health who's actually serious about suicide is hard to stop, considering how many things are lethal.
After all, physicists posit perfectly spherical cows in a vacuum, why can't we posit something at the end of the spectrum of possibility?
"A farmer is having trouble with the milk production of his cows, and winds up engaging an astrophysicist to write a report. Three weeks later, he opens the report to find it begins: 'Let us consider a spherically symmetric cow, emitting milk equally in all directions..."
"Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent, it clears out the old to make way for the new." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hd_ptbiPoXM
"Uh huh," Harry said. "See, there's this little thing called cognitive dissonance, or in plainer English, sour grapes. If people were hit on the heads with truncheons once a month, and no one could do anything about it, pretty soon there'd be all sorts of philosophers, pretending to be wise as you put it, who found all sorts of amazing benefits to being hit on the head with a truncheon once a month. Like, it makes you tougher, or it makes you happier on the days when you're not getting hit with a truncheon. But if you went up to someone who wasn't getting hit, and you asked them if they wanted to start, in exchange for those amazing benefits, they'd say no. And if you didn't have to die, if you came from somewhere that no one had ever even heard of death, and I suggested to you that it would be an amazing wonderful great idea for people to get wrinkled and old and eventually cease to exist, why, you'd have me hauled right off to a lunatic asylum!
people dying does clear out old ideas. the leopard doesn't change his shorts.
or at the very _least_ you could make an argument that people can be changed, that old hard-line racists can be won over, instead of claiming that any idiot who thinks immortality might have its seamy side is just displaying 'cognitive dissonance.'
labeling arguments 'cognitive dissonance' ought to be a fallacy all its own. it says "I won't tell you what arguments defeat your argument; you're just being irrational."
Replace "aging" with anything else that kills people (malaria, AIDS, cancer, etc) and people want to fix it. The only difference between those diseases and aging is that aging kills many more, since we all get it.
And they should be made in _place_ of any reference to cognitive dissonance.
First, that's not necessarily true. Old ideas persist across generations even today. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, etc. etc.
Second, new ideas are not necessarily valuable anyway. Having just moved to the SF Bay Area, let new age religions and whatnot be exhibit #1. There's something to be said for passing the test of time.
Third, your implicit assumption is that immortality would then prevent old ideas from being cleared out, which is not necessarily the case. The reason why older people 'cling' to old ideas is that as we age our neural pathways become calcified along current paths and connections, making it more difficult to change our minds about something. If aging were inhibited, presumably that problem would be one of the ones solved as well, so people's minds would remain as agile and flexible as they were in young adulthood, indefinitely, and hence able to change and adapt new ideas.
That's quite a leap of faith, IMO. It might be so that clinging to old ideas is a chemical "problem", or it might be how the brain works.
When studying other people, I come to the understanding that around 30 years of age, many people have decided on an ideology, decided which music they enjoy, what food they like, and many other interests. When presented with new information which might require change in that internal model, many people seem to ignore the new information rather than changing their model, because changing our internal model is hard, and it becomes harder the more elaborate our model of the world is. So, the older we get, the more elaborate our models, and the more reluctant to change we grow.
I'm know people are different - I am fighting this kind of stagnation in my mind every day - but I'm not convinced that the people who are most likely to become immortal are the ones that are the least prone to stagnation. I'm afraid it's quite the opposite.
From the studies I've read, I believe it's common knowledge now in Neuroscience. IANANS, though, maybe one can weigh in here...
>It might be so that clinging to old ideas is a chemical "problem", or it might be how the brain works.
Same difference, imho. The brain is a chemical machine.
>When studying other people, I come to the understanding that around 30 years of age, many people have decided on an ideology, decided which music they enjoy, what food they like, and many other interests. When presented with new information which might require change in that internal model, many people seem to ignore the new information rather than changing their model, because changing our internal model is hard, and it becomes harder the more elaborate our model of the world is. So, the older we get, the more elaborate our models, and the more reluctant to change we grow.
You just described the process I'm referring to, and there's a neurochemical explanation for it.
>I'm know people are different - I am fighting this kind of stagnation in my mind every day - but I'm not convinced that the people who are most likely to become immortal are the ones that are the least prone to stagnation. I'm afraid it's quite the opposite.
I think those most likely to 'become' immortal are whoever receives the treatment, drugs, genetic therapy, whatever form the implementation takes, regardless of how prone to stagnation or any other affliction they are.
1. Like elves in Tolkien's works, people who can only die by disease or by being slain might be much more careful about starting wars that could kill them (politicians probably wouldn't, but those who have to do the fighting might).
2. Imagine a world where the Einsteins, Hawkings, etc. don't die just as they've come to master their field, but continue contributing for centuries.
3. Would the saying "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it" still hold? Would we keep making many of the same mistakes over and over, or would our longer term memory and experience allow us to better avoid them?
2. Yes, I agree that would be pretty sweet. Einstein was conservative too, though. It seems to me he refused to accept quantum physics because of a stagnating mind. I might be totally wrong.
3. I think we might become better at avoiding to repeat bad choices. I also think a lot of the people in their 20s who think immortality is just great underestimates the changes it would entail to human culture.
Immortality would really complicate things.
"Revolutions" in Libya and Egypt we saw recently aren't frequent occurrences.
Many dictators in history have stayed in power until the day they died. Yet, they are some of the people most able to afford "immortality".
Previously, if you had a very evil and capable dictator, the populace suffers his rule for at most half a dozen decades.
150,000 human beings die every day. About 100,000 of those are age-related. No dictator can hold a candle to that. Dropping that nuke is equivalent to delaying a cure for aging by 10 days. And yet you want to delay a cure indefinitely? That would condemn billions to the grave.
And yet you want to delay a cure indefinitely?
I'd assume most conservatism would die with the generation which rejects longevity. Those who embrace it are more likely to be interested in human progress and advancement.
How much do you hope to die in this coming year?
(Definitely / A bit / Not at all?)
Living this past year, did it make you less fond of life? Do you really expect people slightly older than you will not reply 'not at all'?
The same people who don't want to live forever, I bet we'll find they are perpetually in favor of living 'a bit longer.'
The problem that I foresee is that eventually, philosophy of mind and new schools of thought just won't be able to keep up with the Flynn effect. I've read things that my grandfather and great-grandfather wrote, and while they were not stupid men, they were certainly simpler than my cousins and I. Eventually, the immortal Homo Sapiens would make for an interesting pet at best.
The most important upside, assuming it can be managed of course, is that continually keeping an immortal up to speed requires less resources than bringing a newborn up to speed.
Ancient history is full of geniuses - and that's people that had the opportunity to use their minds. I'm willing to be a thousand Einstein-equivalents died every year as slaves on galleys, thralls on a farm, and footmen in war. The Flynn effect is still pretty new - it might only hold for recent times.
A sole question mark does not content make.
is this presuming that we all get Alzheimers? That theres a cap in mental capacity? ??
"If you only had 20 minutes, what would you do to convince an intelligent (college educated or professional) audience of the significance of life extension beyond 120 years?"
There would be many orders of magnitude more funding for life-extension research if most people wanted it. In fact, probably 90% of our health funding would be devoted to it. So I think it is a very bad thing that people generally don't want it (or think they don't want it).
The primary killers in the Western world are cancer and heart disease, and very few people argue with the billions of dollars in annual funding that these diseases receive.
What is often overlooked is that these are both fundamentally diseases of aging. Research in to retarding aging could easily have the highest ROI (where R is measured in the addition of years of healthy lifespan) of any avenue of research, yet it receives almost none because of societal bias that views it as fringe.
As much as I'd like to be immortal myself, it might not be a sustainable pattern for us as a species. And if I were around for thousands of years or more, suddenly long-term sustainability of civilization gains a good deal more urgency. It seems likely that affordable immortality would degenerate into a vicious war of all against all, unless it were paired with a Kardashev-II level of efficiency with energy and resources (and possibly even then).
(I'm actually with Kurzweil on this one: when consciousness becomes mere information, easily backed up and transferred to other substrates, the concept of mortality will lose meaning.)
See, two possibilities exist.
1 There's no life after death:
You don't exist before or after your life. You only perceive anything during your lifespan. Since you can't perceive anything before or after, your life is infinite for you. Because when it ends, there would be no you to notice.
Of course, such immortality ain't about prolonged lifespan, but it doesn't make it less cool (just maybe slightly off-topic here?).
2 There is life after death:
Then you won't die as such, period.
So the only problems left with are the inconveniences of aging.
I'd like to hear some critique on this, though; the idea seems too bulletproof to me, I don't like it.
 It may be impossible to correctly imagine the condition when there is no yourself, mainly because there would be no yourself in this situation (some kind of catch-22 here).
An immortal will see X go to infinity. A mortal will see it go into the three digits if they're lucky. The fact that you can't perceive your own death doesn't mean you don't die.
Using your metaphor… I think, variable X is going to infinity _in both cases_. It's just that we operate in an environment where the infinity equals to what is a finite number (two or three digit integer) in another system.
Another way to put this: One can't experience anything except one's life. Therefore, life is infinite to person's subjective experience (the only experience available).
EDIT: Okay, I think I see where we disagree. In my view, while what you perceive may not be the "reality" in some absolute sense, it is the only reality for you nevertheless. And your death doesn't exist there, much like dragons or wizards. In short, yes, the fact that you can't perceive your own death means that you don't die. You seem to have different point of view.
An immortal can count (by ones, out loud) from 1 to a googol. A mortal cannot.
I just wanted to throw this thought at the HN community -- let us know your thoughts!
Also, short-term thinking is fairly hardwired into humans. That won't go away until it somehow stops people from getting laid, which is amazingly unlikely and would certainly require more than indefinite lifespan.
Sure, we can live for a much, much longer time. But, "long" is relative, mostly based on what we expect. I.e. now we believe living 80 years is a long time, whereas centuries ago 40 may have seemed a long time.
What I'm saying is that surviving until heat death may seem long now, but that's only because it is currently impossible. Such "immortality" may seem very short if we could actually do it.
A similar situation is people who always complain they don't have enough money no matter how much they make.
However, I think a lot of the arguments "against" immortality are perhaps expressed out of subconscious fears of what damage immortality, presumably acquired via money or privilege, would do to society. If everyone had it that's one thing (and still a problem but at least everyone has the same stakes). But what about the more likely scenario that not everyone has it? What if only minority have it?
If no one ever died, the world would overpopulate even faster. Death makes life possible. Death clears the old to make way for the new. In Hinduism and Buddhism, accepting death is a part of the path to enlightenment. Personally, I believe the body can die, but consciousness cannot...so we are already immortal, we just have to re-member it.
If nobody ever died, the whole concept of procreation would change profoundly. With first world countries already in zero or negative population growth, creating an infinite lifespan would most likely further that trend.
And in any case, we're talking about longevity, not immortality. You can still get hit by a bus.
The stigma around childbirth is a little scary to think about. But all things considered, I think that a society would adapt to limit births by some means if we achieved clinical immortality.
And there are plenty of means to limit birth without stopping sex. Just asking people to sterilize themselves would probably be sufficient, especially since recombinant cloning actually is at least a reasonable thing to talk about with current technology. (Sterilization doesn't mean you can't ever have kids, just that it's going to cost you a fair amount, and you will have a lot of paperwork to do.) The concept of clinical immortality, in contrast, hasn't really advanced beyond the legend of the "fountain of youth."
As long as we push for women's rights, access to birth control and abortion rights, and move away from economies which encourage large families as sources of labor, we'll be fine, as has already been the case in much of the developed world (and is showing to be the case in the developing world as well).
Also, about a century ago people thought we would face terrible overpopulation by now, due to limited ground space for buildings homes. That's before we learned we could make apartment buildings.
Don't think of the future 100 years from now, with the eyes from 2011. You don't know what conditions might be created by then to allow for increased population. Humans tend to find solutions for everything, especially when approaching a huge crisis.
Enormous cascading effects, and comparing these possibility to past events ... im sorry the scale simply pales in comparison.
Overpopulation is an idea based on scarcity. The technologies which enable immortality will also work to overcome scarcity.
But the experiment has never been conducted with an immortal population, either, and his dire predictions seem a bit weightier with a bunch of 750-year-olds running around.
"A common objection against starting a large-scale biomedical war on aging is the fear of catastrophic population consequences (overpopulation). This fear is only exacerbated by the fact that no detailed demographic projections for radical life extension scenario have been conducted so far. This study explores different demographic scenarios and population projections, in order to clarify what could be the demographic consequences of a successful biomedical war on aging. A general conclusion of this study is that population changes are surprisingly slow in their response to a dramatic life extension. For example, we applied the cohort-component method of population projections to 2005 Swedish population for several scenarios of life extension and a fertility schedule observed in 2005. Even for very long 100-year projection horizon, with the most radical life extension scenario (assuming no aging at all after age 60), the total population increases by 22% only (from 9.1 to 11.0 million). Moreover, if some members of society reject to use new anti-aging technologies for some religious or any other reasons (inconvenience, non-compliance, fear of side effects, costs, etc.), then the total population size may even decrease over time. Thus, even in the case of the most radical life extension scenario, population growth could be relatively slow and may not necessarily lead to overpopulation. Therefore, the real concerns should be placed not on the threat of catastrophic population consequences (overpopulation), but rather on such potential obstacles to a success of biomedical war on aging, as scientific, organizational, and financial limitations."
That said I think the population will definitely level out when people realize they have literally forever to have kids and that infinite children are actually a total pain in the ass to care for.
Of course, since I have already had kids I would want there to be an amnesty :-)
Not if those 750 year olds are in no hurry to have kids.
It's certainly possible that much of the impetus driving us to want children stems from our own mortality, so maybe many people wouldn't want kids after long life became the norm. Or, maybe the psychological imperative would decline enough that some sort of lottery system would actually be acceptable.
As things stand right now:
1. Funding for science is appallingly low
2. Many of the best minds go into banking, management consulting and law
Making this happen within our lifetimes needs prompt ACTION.
Then only thing that could distinguish me from a rock is self-awareness.
One can argue that self-awareness is enjoyable but he is merely repeating words of gurus who achieved self-awareness. Without the slightest realization of what they are actually saying. In reality, self-awareness requires introspective meditation and there is nothing harder than to sit still for long periods of time without external stimuli. Just like it's easier to code in VB than to subject yourself to abstract concepts of LISP.
Most people who consider themselves "alive" are more like imperative biocomputers, programmed for a specific task by educational system. One part of their programming is repeating to everyone "I'm alive". I'm sorry, but most people are coded in Visual Basic whereas only some in LISP.
I'm pretty sure most people think the same way. It's a rather solipsistic view, isn't it?
PS. I am particularly half-conscious since I woke up five minutes ago :))