MasterPo says: This blog is about topics and issues that are of importance to me. I am not one of the countless blogging lemmings that are tripping over each other scurrying down the hill and off the cliff of blogging oblivion trying to write the greatest blog on the latest topic de'jour. Your comments are welcome.

July 19, 2008

The Pitfalls of Immortality (Who wants to live forever?)

Immortality has long been the dream of humanity. But living forever may not be as wonderful a thing as dreamed of. The impact on society – civilization itself! – could be far reaching and more devastating than the thrill of the discovery.

Sir Isaac Newton's first law of motion states that for every action there is an [equal] opposite reaction. This can similarly be applied to people and societies in the form of the unofficial "Law of Unintended Consequences" (the often stated "No good deed goes unpunished" philosophy).
For decades fiction and science fiction writers have fantasized about humans becoming immortal and all the wonderful things that (they hoped) would come from it:

Brilliant scientists could work for centuries on ideas and inventions.Doctors could longer research cures and treatments.People could stay in school longer and grow their minds.The workforce would be more productive as the rush to establish a career then settle down to have a family wouldn't seem so narrow a window.

These are wonderful futuristic ideas that draw on the milk of human kindness and thirst for good that is (hoped to be) in all people's souls.

But then other points of view, darker and more subdued, began to creep into the dream of immortality. In their writing and prose they envisioned several possible scenarios of dire consequences coming from immortality. These I think are worth exploring in discussion.

As one generation withers and leaves the world, a new generation comes to age. They bring new ideas, new concepts, new ways of thinking. Advancement in the sciences and technology comes from new minds with fresh ideas. Minds that challenge old concepts and assumptions. But if the old guard never moves on, these old ideas and concepts may never change. The establishment has a vested interest in keeping things the way they are (they won't rock their own boat so to speak). Technology and the sciences may not actually advance as much as it is thought if the same people work on the same problems for centuries or longer.

There may not even be enough scientists to follow suit either. If one lives for every the concept of a 4-year degree becomes pointless. Even investing the time for a 10 year Doctorate (the amount of time most PhD and other doctoral degrees take to earn, including dissertation) becomes irrelevant when you live for ever. So why bother going to advanced school right out of High School anyway? You can always go to college 100 years from now too.

That's also presuming there will be children to grow up and attend school. It is a touchy subject with some people but the reality is often women have children when they do for fear of waiting too long and not being able to conceive or carry a child. Age of the mother does play a big part in the decision to have children. Even men will choose to settle down and have a family while they are physically (and mentally) capable of the effort needed to make and raise children. But if people become immortal then (presumably at least) the window of child bearing years also extends with the immortal life. So the urgency to stop and make offspring just isn't there anymore. When a woman remains say 29 or 30 for centuries why be in a rush?

The dynamic of the family and relationship will change and maybe not for the better. One of the reasons people remain close and in contact with each other is because of the finality of time we have to spend others. But if you're immortal then leaving your home, family or community for 2 or 3 hundred years is meaningless. It's possible a person could leave their home for centuries at a time, get so involved in another part of the world and/or culture they even forget where they came from and how to return! Even upon returning, not having been with formerly familiar people the specific relationships between people in a family may be lost. It's possible they may forget who is their parents, their brother or sister, aunts, uncles, wife, husband, even their own children! After all, when you're immortal there's always time to spend with your family later – except later always remains later and may never become now.

The purpose of this isn't to discourage the dreams of immortality. As a philosophic goal it is worth always pursuing. Who knows, the search may lead to other answers, maybe even a cure for the common cold.

But, as the philosophers say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Buyer beware.

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