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Possible side effects of immortality.
Posted: 27 September 2008 08:03 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I’m with Aubrey de Grey in believing that this is the last mortal generation. What would be some of the effects of immortality on the human psyche? Knowledge of our own impending death is one of humanities defining characteristics how would immortality change what it means to be human. Drastically of course but would that change be for the better or would the loss of a core human truth destroy us as I’ve heard some suggest.

They say the difference between a go getter and the laid back is mostly dependent on how soon and intently they become aware of they’re own impending death. Successful people, usually by their late teens begin to feel a sense of urgency about their life. “I must get good grades so I can get into a good college now”. They don’t like to put things off because they feel the ever present tic toc of their life rushing along to it’s inevitable conclusion. They are keenly aware they only have one shot and want to make the most of it. People whom are while certainly aware they’re going to die but tuck it way back in their subconscious will have a sense that there’s plenty of time until much later in life. Some of us just have a naturally high energy level and you would be surprised how many successful people have OCD, but where these energies or obsessions are focused is largely controlled by the awareness of our mortality. Would immortality effectively chill most people out?

Arguably the root of all evil is a side effect of our mortality. We don’t have time for people to get out of our way and that drives many to extremes to get what they want. “Everybody dies it’s just a matter of when” could no longer be used as an excuse to kill or send people to their death. With death no longer inevitable the very concept will become less and less palatable. The fear of death eats at us, it’s a constant unwanted companion reminding us that all we are could be just gone and it is the very thing that prevents most of from giving up on the irrational superstitious belief that somehow our consciousness can survive the death of the brain.

Some cultures are more death centric than others and the reality is much of the world wouldn’t want anything to do with immortality. Cultures where death is considered to be a new journey that everyone must take will be resistant to prolonging life. After a while cultures with high populations of productive <150 citizens will enjoy an ever increasing advantage. Their populations would grow twice as fast, even if they didn’t maintain the same birthrate, because people could bear children at any age. Families would grow massive completely changing the dynamic of what a family is and what it means to be an elder. The heads of families physically the same age as their great great grandson would enjoy a status difficult to even imagine. In society their knowledge and wisdom would make them irreplaceable treasures. We would never feel alone again. 

Natural human evolution is pretty much over, like the crocodile we’ve found our niche and we’ve eliminated the natures pressures to adapt. Living longer could cause a new form of natural evolution. One that can’t occur in such a short life cycle and could cause large changes even without genetic manipulation on our part. If enough time passed with some cultures refusing to live longer than normal, eventually humans that lived thousands of years could diverge enough that they wouldn’t be able to breed with those living a normal life span and a new species would result.

In the interest of brevity I’ll stop there but I would love to hear other opinions.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 08:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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While I agree that the ramifications of immortality would be stupendous (just imagine what it would do to believers in heaven and hell!), I think we need to question your premise.

1. Medical science will not cause life expectancies to jump from 76 years to 100,000 years. We will instead see life expectancies slowly climb upward, and we’ll be lucky if life expectancies increase by one year of life for every ten years of calendar time. Over the last 50 years, life expectancies in the USA have increased from 69 years to 77 years. That’s only 8 years of life expectancy gain over 50 years, or one year of gain for every 6 years of time—and we’ve already fixed the easiest problems. It’s only going to get harder. Even if we maintain the current rate of gain, it will take 150 more years to get life expectancy up to 100.

2. There will always be accidents and crime, so nobody will ever be certain of long life. At any time, a car in the oncoming lane could drift into your lane and poof!—you’re dead.

3. I won’t go so far as to say that we’re programmed to die, but I do believe that there are strong genetic factors at work here that we will not easily foil. If two similar species are competing, the one that can adapt more quickly (by means of shorter generations) will outcompete the species that has the longer life spans.

4. There are also some fundamental considerations about the maturation of the brain. The process of learning changes the brain. There are some serious questions we have to consider about the brain’s ability to learn as it becomes superannuated.

5. Lastly, there are cultural considerations. People don’t change their fundamental beliefs. Today, we still have old geezers who are racist to the core, or still dominated by their anti-communist attitudes. What if we had people hanging around from the nineteenth century, insisting that slavery isn’t such a bad thing? Or other people demanding that we burn those damn atheists at the stake? The process of progress seems to require us to sweep out the old antiquated people with their antiquated ideas.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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As I’ve said before, I don’t find de Grey’s position credible. It strikes me more as quasi-religious millenarianism than science. (I’d include “the singularity” in that description as well).

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Posted: 28 September 2008 09:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Hello Doug, how’s your economy?

My apologies for not being more clear. Whether or not Mr. deGray’s timeline is plausible isn’t relevant to my post. I think we can agree that it will eventually happen. I was assuming a premise and then outlining some of it’s potential ramifications.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 09:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Grayscale - 28 September 2008 09:33 AM

Hello Doug, how’s your economy?

question

Grayscale - 28 September 2008 09:33 AM

My apologies for not being more clear. Whether or not Mr. deGray’s timeline is plausible isn’t relevant to my post. I think we can agree that it will eventually happen. I was assuming a premise and then outlining some of it’s potential ramifications.

Well, for it to happen, we would need to expand the cranial capacities of humans. The human brain was not designed to function, nor to store memories, for more than a few decades’ worth of time. So we’re talking about massive human re-engineering, including creating something like hybrid human/cyborg beings, or biologically re-engineered humans, to make this come true.

And then, the question will be one of planetary overpopulation. To the extent that people live for centuries, this will mean that birth rates will have to trend to near zero to sustain the same (overloaded) population densities we have now. So families will have to restructure to the extent that people are disallowed from having children; either that or perhaps more likely as populations explode, there will be more common wars over land rights, water rights, mineral rights, food production, environmental degradation, etc. Viruses also develop and spread with much more alacrity in overpopulated zones of habitation. So just as likely we will see mass epidemics as well.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 10:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Grayscale - 27 September 2008 08:03 PM

They say the difference between a go getter and the laid back is mostly dependent on how soon and intently they become aware of they’re own impending death. Successful people, usually by their late teens begin to feel a sense of urgency about their life. “I must get good grades so I can get into a good college now”. They don’t like to put things off because they feel the ever present tic toc of their life rushing along to it’s inevitable conclusion.

They are keenly aware they only have one shot and want to make the most of it. People whom are while certainly aware they’re going to die but tuck it way back in their subconscious will have a sense that there’s plenty of time until much later in life. Some of us just have a naturally high energy level and you would be surprised how many successful people have OCD, but where these energies or obsessions are focused is largely controlled by the awareness of our mortality. Would immortality effectively chill most people out?

My experience is completely opposite what you are saying here. I became aware of the fact that I was going to die in my early teens. I was not “spurred on” to do anything. I find that as one learns to accept the fact of death, one tends to experience a real sense of peace. I make time to smell the flowers, as it were. “Success” is not important to me. Everything dies.

I think the person(s) you describe above are acting out of their fear of dying, not their awareness of it.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 10:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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dougsmith - 28 September 2008 09:47 AM
Grayscale - 28 September 2008 09:33 AM

Hello Doug, how’s your economy?

question

I’m watching the news too much.smile

The body and brain adapt to the demands we place upon them. We assume there’s a limit and there is but that limit maybe far greater than what is possible in a normal life span. If natural aging were halted these adaptations would go on for centuries and the limits of biology would truly be tested. We have much unused brain capacity and yes memory upgrades are very plausible.

I agree there will be numerous problems that we would need to overcome but hey we cured death, fixing these problems should be a cakewalk.

Removing the first sentence in my post this my question. “What would be some of the effects of immortality on the human psyche? Knowledge of our own impending death is one of humanities defining characteristics how would immortality change what it means to be human. Drastically of course but would that change be for the better or would the loss of a core human truth destroy us as I’ve heard some suggest”.

[ Edited: 28 September 2008 10:43 AM by Grayscale ]
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Posted: 28 September 2008 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Grayscale - 28 September 2008 10:41 AM

We have much unused brain capacity

Not so; this is a myth.

Grayscale - 28 September 2008 10:41 AM

hey we cured death, fixing these problems should be a cakewalk.

Er,

(1) We haven’t done anything yet, so let’s not count chickens before they hatch.

(2) Even on the scenario that you and de Grey suggest, we will not have “cured death”, but only mitigated many of the key processes in aging. Death will still exist, from accident, war, disease, et cetera, as Chris and I have noted.

(3) Fixing senescent tissue may be an extremely difficult problem, but it pales in significance with that of re-engineering human society. The first one at least we have some sort of road map in place which could lead us to eventual success. The second, frankly we don’t have a clue.

Grayscale - 28 September 2008 10:41 AM

Removing the first sentence in my post this my question. “What would be some of the effects of immortality on the human psyche? Knowledge of our own impending death is one of humanities defining characteristics how would immortality change what it means to be human. Drastically of course but would that change be for the better or would the loss of a core human truth destroy us as I’ve heard some suggest”.

As I say, we will not become immortal on this picture, so knowledge of our own eventual death will persist. Whether we live to 100 or 1000, we will eventually die. If not from aging, then from something else. True immortality is, I think, impossible given the second law of thermodynamics. It is certainly impossible if there will be an eventual heat-death of the universe.

[ Edited: 28 September 2008 10:58 AM by dougsmith ]
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Posted: 28 September 2008 11:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Shawn - 28 September 2008 10:04 AM

My experience is completely opposite what you are saying here. I became aware of the fact that I was going to die in my early teens. I was not “spurred on” to do anything. I find that as one learns to accept the fact of death, one tends to experience a real sense of peace. I make time to smell the flowers, as it were. “Success” is not important to me. Everything dies.

I think the person(s) you describe above are acting out of their fear of dying, not their awareness of it.

Then you fall in the later category, you choose to file that awareness away and tried to not let it get to you, but the older you get the harder that will become. One way is not necessarily better than the other, whatever makes you happy and accepting death and not being afraid of it are two entirely different things.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 11:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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You may have misunderstood what I wrote. I am saying that I have embraced and accepted the fact that I will die. I have not ‘filed that awareness away’. I use it to help me understand and appreciate the world in which I live, as opposed to some who ‘live’ in fear of death.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 11:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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dougsmith - 28 September 2008 10:41 AM

Er,

(1) We haven’t done anything yet, so let’s not count chickens before they hatch.

(2) Even on the scenario that you and de Grey suggest, we will not have “cured death”, but only mitigated many of the key processes in aging. Death will still exist, from accident, war, disease, et cetera, as Chris and I have noted.

(3) Fixing senescent tissue may be an extremely difficult problem, but it pales in significance with that of re-engineering human society. The first one at least we have some sort of road map in place which could lead us to eventual success. The second, frankly we don’t have a clue.

As I say, we will not become immortal on this picture, so knowledge of our own eventual death will persist. Whether we live to 100 or 1000, we will eventually die. If not from aging, then from something else. True immortality is, I think, impossible given the second law of thermodynamics. It is certainly impossible if there will be an eventual heat-death of the universe.

Your just not going to let me have my premise are you. You have no more of a clue what we will be able to do in the future than I do. The statement “hey we cured death, fixing these problems should be a cakewalk” was of course sarcastic.

I never said true immortality but that’s not relevant. Knowledge of the possibility of accidental death and immutable fact of biological death are light years apart. Nobody thinks that accidental death is immutable but if you take away the certainty of death from natural causes that changes humanity in numerous ways.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 11:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Shawn - 28 September 2008 11:21 AM

You may have misunderstood what I wrote. I am saying that I have embraced and accepted the fact that I will die. I have not ‘filed that awareness away’. I use it to help me understand and appreciate the world in which I live, as opposed to some who ‘live’ in fear of death.

When I say “tuck it away” I mean not let it get to you, which you’ve obviously accomplished.

How would your outlook on life change if you knew you weren’t going to die of natural causes?

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Posted: 28 September 2008 11:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Grayscale - 28 September 2008 11:42 AM

... if you take away the certainty of death from natural causes that changes humanity in numerous ways.

The most relevant change that I can think of is that it would make having children highly problematic. I don’t think we’re ready for those sorts of forced decisions ...

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Posted: 28 September 2008 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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dougsmith - 28 September 2008 11:48 AM
Grayscale - 28 September 2008 11:42 AM

... if you take away the certainty of death from natural causes that changes humanity in numerous ways.

The most relevant change that I can think of is that it would make having children highly problematic. I don’t think we’re ready for those sorts of forced decisions ...

So you’re of the opinion that nothing positive can come from curing natural death and in fact the overpopulation would just lead too war and famine? Also you don’t agree with any of my scenarios?

Obviously I don’t see it that way but of course I’m assuming that developments like molecular manufacturing, clean energy and new nutritional sources will allow this planet to support future populations. I see no reason to assume that no progress will be made in these areas.

If we manage to extend life a few hundred years then we will not be working from what we can do now but what we can do a few hundred years from now, the science will stay ahead, that’s de Gray’s point. Also regardless of if we cure death or not populations are still growing and if the science doesn’t stay ahead we’re in trouble.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 12:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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There are several decent sci-fi novels written about “post-mortality” human life, and it’s fun to speculate on, but I agree that it’s so improbable as to be a pretty pointless exercise beyond the entertainment value.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 12:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Grayscale - 28 September 2008 12:33 PM

So you’re of the opinion that nothing positive can come from curing natural death and in fact the overpopulation would just lead too war and famine? Also you don’t agree with any of my scenarios?

Obviously I don’t see it that way but of course I’m assuming that developments like molecular manufacturing, clean energy and new nutritional sources will allow this planet to support future populations. I see no reason to assume that no progress will be made in these areas.

If we manage to extend life a few hundred years then we will not be working from what we can do now but what we can do a few hundred years from now, the science will stay ahead, that’s de Gray’s point. Also regardless of if we cure death or not populations are still growing and if the science doesn’t stay ahead we’re in trouble.

Well, it’s certainly true that lengthening human lifespans is a good thing generally. But I would be very concerned about the societal and ecological effects of a discontinuous jump in lifespans, as de Grey seems to believe will happen.

As far as new technologies to allow higher population densities: that’s not the point. The point is that if people suddenly are able to live to be 1000, and each couple only has two children every 20 years, the population of the world would go on doubling each 20 years for 1000 years. If we start at 6 billion now, by the year 3000 we will have roughly—

6 billion x 2^50 people

Just for illustrative purposes, 2^50 is a number with fifteen zeroes.

Something has to give.

[ Edited: 28 September 2008 12:54 PM by dougsmith ]
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