Day +5: Death is not desirable

26-27 Sep 2010

I woke up at 12:00 PM, after getting maybe four and a half hours of sleep. That's probably not enough sleep! For some time after I woke up, I think I had something like low blood sugar. You know that sensation where you feel really faint and lightheaded, and your vision starts to dissolve just a bit, and you have to sit down so you don't fall down? That's what it was like. I suspect it was from not eating enough. Anyway, it got better, and we all went out to dinner and had a party for my sister at some upscale restaurant. It was pretty fun. Later, I passed on Machete Season to another family member, so they can have their optimism about the world appropriately crushed. Seriously though, it's a great book.

A lot of my viewers might not know this, but I'm an opponent of death. That sounds like it would be pretty obvious - other people usually don't like dying, either - but it's a bit more complicated than that. I actually think that it's a worthwhile and important goal to develop the necessary technologies to stop death. People tend to say "so what?" to that too; keeping people from dying tends to be a high priority. The difference is that I'd rather stop it entirely: all of it, postponed for as long as possible, if not indefinitely. I support human immortality, achieved through fully naturalistic means. And I don't mean that in the sense of continuing to age and decline, without actually dying, but rather not aging.

Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, a lot of people really don't like this idea at all. Some people have become very attached to the idea of human death, to the point that they'll defend it as an actual necessity. I've heard plenty of reasons for why it's a good thing that we die, from people who essentially argue that we should be required to, and that even if natural immortality is possible, we should not be allowed to choose it. Some of them simply don't want to live forever. That's understandable - if someone wants to die, then barring any mental illness, they should be allowed to. It's their life. But conversely, our lives are not theirs; they can make that choice for themselves, but not the rest of us. Personally, I'd rather continue living until I no longer wish to, if I ever reach that point.

Others believe that the universality of human death "gives meaning to life". But it's really life itself that gives meaning to life. We're forced to do as much as we can and enjoy it as much as possible in the limited time that we have, but why should it have to be limited? Why rush things, and inevitably miss out on so many more wonderful experiences? The fulfilling pursuits in our lives are themselves enjoyable, and it's not the fact that they must end which makes them so. They wouldn't become any less enjoyable if they didn't necessarily have to end - if anything, we would have the opportunity to appreciate them to an even greater extent than our limited lifespans allow. And if some urgency really is necessary to make our lives worth living, does that mean increasing our average lifespan to 70-80 years has weakened our ability to enjoy life? Likewise, would once again reducing our lifespan to 30-40 years make our lives even better?

The concept of death as necessary, even good, is only the result of having to tolerate it. Of course we have to find ways to move past it or look for some silver lining, no matter how flimsy. We have to convince ourselves that it had to happen, or even that it was right to happen. We need to rationalize it - which is what we do when something isn't rational to begin with. If death simply never happened, it's unlikely that we would come up with any good, compelling reasons for why everyone should be subjected to it (often at random). We don't need to be punched in the face on a regular basis in order to appreciate not being punched in the face, and we almost certainly wouldn't come up with an idea like this and willingly subject ourselves to it in order to heighten our enjoyment of the times when nobody is punching us. Not being punched is already pretty nice on its own.

What it all comes down to is that life is good, and more of life is even better. People are extraordinarily valuable. Each human mind is inherently worthwhile, and worth preserving. Death is not just "a part of life", or the next phase of our existence, or any of the vaguely comforting platitudes we tell ourselves to help get through the grief. It is the absolute, final, complete destruction of a unique, intelligent human mind, one which will never exist again. It means a person was literally destroyed. I can't think of anyone who truly deserves that - let alone everyone, ever. It's difficult to fathom the mindset of someone who could think of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Alan Turing, Albert Einstein, Norman Borlaug, Paul Dirac, Charles Darwin and all the rest, and how many more wonderful things they could have accomplished if they had all the time in the world... and say "hey, good thing they died!"

People should not have to die. Minds should not have to be obliterated, ground into dust, lost forever. Our lives should not have to end. Anyone who tells you that death is necessary, and we must not avoid it even if we can, is willing to condemn you, the people you love, the people who love you, everyone you know, to utter annihilation. Whether you like it or not.

I'm not okay with that. If you want to die, that's up to you. But please don't tell me I have to lose everyone, including myself, when there could be a better option.

Filed under , ,

35 responses to Day +5: Death is not desirable

  1. Anthony Wood says:

    I had a some what difficult time understanding what was going on, but I think I got the gist of it, you are a adversary of death himself, you don't eat enough, we don't have enough time to enjoy life, and we should read more books? If I'm wrong please tell me.

  2. BYTE-Smasher says:

    Agreed. At one point, I'd rationalized that death was a good thing... but you're right: It would be much better as a choice than as an inevitability.

  3. I would definitely be in favor of living without aging for an indefinite period, but I must ask a question on the subject of death.

    Query: while this may be another subject entirely, I am under the impression that there are those whose minds and natural urges seem to be inimical to humanity and society as a whole. I refer to those who commit rape, murder, pedophilia, and other such atrocities, either as a matter of choice or mental illness; either way, they seem to be predisposed towards this behavior. Precluding death, what do you feel is the best approach to addressing those who commit these acts?

    I personally find it difficult to separate myself from the comforting thought that such people will one day expire, but I wish to keep an open mind on this subject (and in general, for that matter). I thank you for reading.

    - Morte.

    P.S. - Yes, I know that my name basically means "Dead McBody" - it's a theatrical thing, you see.

  4. Anonymous says:

    As I understand you imply that the choice of prolonging ones life should be available to practically everyone. I can't really make any assumptions on how many people that would take the opportunity.
    But lets assume a significant part of the entire world does. How do we handle the following consequences of overpopulation or how our evolution might be compromised?
    Speaking of Carl Sagan: "The secrets of evolution are time and death".

  5. Terry says:

    I could not agree more with what you said. I go around saying much of the same thing myself. I wish science would cure death already.

  6. Terry says:

    There would be no problem with overpopulation - people still die by accident and if we can cure death, we can have better and widespread birth control. I never did go for this "oh the world would be too crowded" line - birth control can be better, too. Accidents and war (sadly), still happen. Children would still happen but just not as high a rate.

  7. George says:

    ... Don't understand the premise , unless you're referring to those brainwashed religious nuts, who throw their lives away for some meaningless reward in " heaven " ... or those idiotic cult followers and their UFO friends....

    Personally : I will be very pissed off when my time comes and I have to go ... Life is a great gift that most of us humans can't appreciate enough. The exception might be those who are cursed with poverty , starvation., war , and the other diseases that we inflict upon ourselves..... those would make death a welcome release.

  8. StarmanReturns says:

    It would be nice to live forever or at least a very long time.I know I'd like to live a long time,but I think of the human body as a car,after so many thousand of miles on it,it just won't run anymore,no mater how many parts you replace on it(the idea of putting a new engine into an old car is not an option for most people).Plus if people could live forever or a long time,it would get really crowded in the world.The nation of Japan has many millions of people living past 100,they can't do much,they become a burden for their family and for society that already has a low birthrate.

    Someone once told me that the reason why people die of cancer,aids,hurricanes,earthquakes,people not having kids and refusing to become a breeder is nature's way of keeping the human population down.If those things did not happen you could barely walk.There was an old movie about overpopulation with Charlton Heston called "Soylent Green".The nightmare future world was so overpopulated people had to eat these little green pellets called soylent green,please use your imagination as to what s.g was made of.I don't want to give the ending away.I know sooner or later they will remake the movie.Hollywood has run out of new ideas for movies these days.

  9. Kile says:

    I generally support immortality, but the overpopulation issue is one I haven't been able to figure out yet. Even now, nations with long lifespans and low birth rates are running into problems because of this (Japan, for example). Now, this is probably because the elderly are no longer at a working age, but I still feel like a huge population that's not willing to die could have really negative effects, such as massive amounts of social conservatism and limited resource access, especially for the sparse new generations. The only solution I can think of so far is digital immortality--that is to say, 'uploading' our minds into a digital format, then getting rid of the bodies.

    The potentially biggest problem I see is the resistance to change. You're essentially halting biological evolution and severely limiting cultural evolution, and this might have very negative side effects. On the other hand, they might be counterbalanced by increases in education and biotechnology, so this might not be an issue after all.

  10. Penny says:

    I think your arguments are cogent and well-reasoned, but I'd like to propose something else. I've always believed that scarcity creates value. In deed, for me, the brevity of life is what makes every second so precious.

    One of my problems with the concept of heaven (yes, I'm a sort of deist/Buddhist/Christian - ~and~ I think you rock) is the "forever" part of it. Immortality means eventual tedium for me. I see learning to play the piano, and speak Russian, and visiting Guam, and becoming a chess champion, and teaching Physics, and playing golf, and inventing a new programming language, and on and on...

    But at some point I would have done everything; seen everything; known everyone. I would be bored, and death would be a release from the monotony.

    It was actually a friend of mine who helped me clarify my thinking on this quite some time ago, but it still makes sense to me decades later. Death stinks, but it's better in my mind than eternal life. It's so easy to take for granted that which you have in unlimited supply.

    It's certainly possible that I'm rationalizing about death because I expect to experience it, but this feels like very sound logic for me and the way I view myself and the world.

    Having said that, I wouldn't be opposed to some more time, though I've yet to hit on a goodly number. A few hundred years sounds nice.

    I'm also not particularly opposed to anyone besides me wanting to live forever, it's just not for me.

    • Zinnia says:

      "But at some point I would have done everything; seen everything; known everyone. I would be bored, and death would be a release from the monotony."

      Well, if you want to die after all that, that's clearly your choice. I suspect it would take a while to experience everything, though.

      "It's so easy to take for granted that which you have in unlimited supply."

      It is, but I kind of think that's the point - you would no longer have to work against a (literal) deadline.

      • :) Good answers. I have yet to hear someone defend your position well, though you seem to have your bases covered. Perhaps it merits a video?

      • Penny says:

        Sure. I'm not really arguing against more time than I have now, but forever is a very long time. I'm sort of working against "forever," not "more." More would be lovely; I believe that forever would eventually be torture.

        It's certainly an interesting thing to think about, and I think there's a very long way to go before I would argue against any advances in technology that lengthen life. I'm actually not sure I would ever argue against them.

        And again, I don't have a problem with anyone else being immortal.

        And just to be silly, to quote Woody Allen: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve immortality through not dying."

        ;-)

  11. Mr Pitchfork says:

    I'm sorry, but I'm really surprised at a lot of the readers simply not understanding the article, or not understanding parts of it, where it is just very easy to understand.

    Also, come on guys. How is birth control not the first thing you think of when you hear "overpopulation"?

    • Kile says:

      "How is birth control not the first thing you think of when you hear "overpopulation"?"

      I see this as a 'tragedy of the commons' kind of issue. Everyone will want to live forever; few will think that they personally should have to be the one to give up having children (or postpone it for the next few hundred years). And if it's government-mandated, that creates all kinds of social problems of class and control, such as the problem when inevitable favoritism leads to more children for the friends of those in power, and subsequently the selective breeding of an aristocratic caste.

      Perhaps extreme social pressure could work against people having kids, but assuming the immortality technology is widely available (which I would hope it would be, because otherwise you're inviting in a huge host of social problems) what's to stop some renegade cult from having huge amounts of children, and then imposing their resource costs on society at large? Could we justify denying any children, once born, necessary survival resources? I certainly wouldn't; even if having children is a crime (a disturbing idea) the children themselves should not be blamed. But this weakness in the system creates selective pressure to favor 'parasitic' child-rearing strategies, and moves all of society towards that state as those who don't have children are slowly killed off by accidents.

      I'm still in favor of immortality, but there are very real dangers in the process. Historically death has played the role of creating space for new individuals and new ideas, and getting rid of death involves a bigger shift in social structure than anything we've faced before.

  12. That's certainly an interesting stance. If I may, I have a couple of questions for you:

    When this technology to keep people alive indefinitely is discovered, should it be given to everyone? If so, do you foresee that being a strain on whatever resources it takes to produce this technology? If not, do you think that there could be some conflict in the world between the poorer people that couldn't afford it and the rich who could?

    Also, assuming all or most people could live indefinitely, do you think that would become a massive strain on the resources of this planet, considering that the population of the planet would double in only a few generations (not like it isn't doing that already, but it would happen even faster)?

    Finally, if the choice came down to more people surviving but everyone having worse living conditions, everyone being required to die and having whatever quality of life we can achieve, or some people dying and some people living indefinitely, which choice would you think we should go for?

    • Zinnia says:

      1) I can't really think of any excuse to not try and provide it to as many people as possible. Yes, this could conceivably be a "strain on resources". Just like providing modern medical care and trying to make it available to the rest of the world. We do it anyway, because it's important. Even if some people have access to it and some don't, that's still better than nobody having access to it.

      2) Like you said, we already have an issue of limited resources. However, we haven't responded to this by telling people that they have to die. Rather, we work to increase the resources available, as well as try to reduce population growth. That is, we prefer to limit the number of people who come into existence, not kill the people who already exist.

      3) I don't think there's enough information here to come up with a good response. I would have to see what the terribly destitute lives of immortals would be like before I could properly factor that scenario into my judgement.

      • :) Good answers. I have yet to hear someone defend your position well, though you seem to have your bases covered... Perhaps it merits a video?

      • Anonymous says:

        "That is, we prefer to limit the number of people who come into existence, not kill the people who already exist."

        Is that the intended solution for every generation to come? Don't you think that could cripple our evolution?

        • Lilith Schienberg says:

          No, Clinical Immortality will not cripple our evolution because the technology that will make clinical Immortality possible in the first place (genetic engineering) will also allow us to direct our own path of evolution. Think of it as taking over the evolutionary process for our own purposes... and if the technology is controlled by Humanity+. chances are it will not be a "rich and powerful only" kind of deal. Once the Singularity is here, it's here for good!

  13. Evyn says:

    As a transhumanist, I tend to agree with this whole article even tough I realize there are a couple issues regarding this. Overpopulation being the main problem. We can't force birth control, because it's oppressive of individual freedom, and seeing as the general populace wouldn't agree with this.. the overcrowding would become unbearable eventually.

    However, just because I can't think of a different way to handle the problem it doesn't make me agains the general idea. Any thoughts, ZJ? I'd like to be abel to resolve this eventually.

  14. nyoki says:

    I don't mind the concept of immortality for me. I doubt it's a good idea for all of humanity. Overpopulation may be controlled, but I think it unlikely if we want to keep a free society. Not aging is good; I hope it includes eradication of disease. Personally I don't think I want to live in my body, as is, for too long. My reasons for wanting it for myself and not everyone are completely selfish (duh!). I'd love to continue learning indefinitely and then not-learning for a few centuries while I "live" a lifetime. Mostly though, I'd like to witness people and history over time, something I really couldn't do if everyone else was also living forever.

    What to do with worst of criminals.
    Enmity on a forever scale is scary.
    Boredom, yet choosing not to die, malaise/ennui.
    I'm trying to figure out if it close the gap between rich and poor or exacerbate it.
    Evolution, would it essentially stop for us, as a species? That can't be good.

    There's prolly more, but I can't think of anything else at the moment.

    • Lilith Schienberg says:

      You're thinking that the Singularity will under the control of capitalist corporate America or the corrupt government. If there is anyone who should control it, it's Humanity+, the biggest name in Transhumanism. The Singularity will likely make a Socialistic Free-market hybrid economy possible and more acceptable as well as a political reformation. It'll be the start of a new Intellectual Golden Age! We just need to keep religion and corporate greed out of the picture... yeah, easier said than done, but that's gonna be the fun part.

  15. James Lengacher says:

    Perhaps those of us who have no other choice but to die are simply hoping that death is better than you have described! I do not look forward to death but believe that somehow I can learn to except it when it comes. But I do agree with you that if there was a way to live longer I would choose that over death as long as I was capable to function like walking which I am not doing now due to a stroke. Hopefully a way will be found to live longer. I heard on the ews that a Russian has made a pill to help to live longer and it is due to be on th market in about two years or so, we'll see! Ok so lets not give up on life and cotinue to search fo extending life, lol to all!

  16. Abby says:

    You know, Zinnia, I would also love to not die. Ever.
    But there is that problem of overpopulation. If no one dies and people continue to have children, the end result would be disastrous.

    • Lilith Schienberg says:

      If we become clinically immortal... or AT LEAST have an extremely long lifespan, the threat of overpopulation will spur us to move out among the stars and colonise. This is will bring on a whole new era of discovery, too. It'll be quite exciting.

  17. Saganic says:

    I'm writing my own wordpress theme, and I was wondering how you got the background of the header to align with the left side of the page. I'd appreciate any code/tips you can donate~

    • Zinnia says:

      html and body have a margin and padding of 0, #header has a margin and padding of 0 and a specifically defined height. I think that should do it, but really, all I do with CSS is mess around with it until it looks right.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Interesting post.
    Very eloquently asserted.
    Nicely done.

  19. strosz says:

    This is simply not true. Are you grateful right at this moment that you are not being punched in the face? No, you are not. You can think about it rationally and come up with the conclusion that you should be grateful about it. But deep down in your emotional core, you are not and that is the truth.

    The universe is based upon oscillation. Every second is a pendulum movement between black and white, on and off, silence and sound and so forth. To prolong one side of the oscillation would have no point at all, as it would lose it context and motion.

    Every action needs the background of a non-action in order to happen. Life needs death. If there wasn't any death, there wouldn't be any life.

    I strongly suggest that you listen to the philosophy speeches of Alan Watts, as he has a very eloquent process of thought about this subject.

  20. Matthew says:

    The two most likely ways I've found to push back at death are caloric restriction (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Calorie_restriction) and/or cryogenically freezing yourself after death till the technology exists to prolong life indefinitely (http://www.alcor.org)

  21. Your death would be pretty much unbearable, dahhling :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>