Re: Desirability of Immortality

Wed, 18 Feb 1998 15:25:15 -0500

While I agree that the kind of absent-minded foresight exhibited by Tithonus
dominates the thinking of most people when they are formulating their opinions
on immortality, I believe there are some fairly sophisticated concerns about
the idea of immortal humans. The most obvious question is what effect would
immortality have on human society? Some effects would appear evident but I'm
not so sure.

Immortality would:

"be the downfall of religions": I think this underestimates the concept of
religions and the grip they have on the general populace. Religions do more
than just offer a solace from that "death thing". Religions give people a way
to get along in an otherwise incompehensible (from their point-of-view)
universe. In my opinion, religions are also some of the most powerful memes in
existence and "mere" immortality would not spell their end. It would be more
interesting to speculate what the effect immortality would have on the
evolution of memes. Immortality might intensify the competition between memes
since they could no longer rely on the historical amnesia of ephemeral humans
to forget problematic pasts.

"allow humans to achieve higher levels of understanding of the universe around
them": I'm not sure about this one either. Aged people are not necessarily
more enlightened than younger people. Most revolutionary concepts are born in
the minds of the young not the old. Older people are considered "wiser" but
not necessarily "enlightened".

I'm not a memory expert but without memory augmentation, immortality might not
be a big advantage. To the extent that our memories and experiences (to the
extent we can recall them) represent who we are and how we relate to our
external surroundings, immortality would only benefit it us to the extent that
it allowed people to utilize the memory capacity of the brain to its maximum.

Additionally, old people are generally rigid in their beliefs and outlooks.
Perhaps they've tried lots of lifestyles but eventually they settle on a few
beliefs and they become very set in their ways. Imagine trying to change the
mind of a 400 year old codger.

Doug Bailey