Immortality - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Immortality
Thursday, 30 March 2006 at 09:49 am
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It occurred to me the other day that I don't really care about immortality. This may be a common theme to quite a few of my quirks.

Woody Allen is supposed to have said I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. It's meaningless to ask the question whether I would choose to live forever if I had the option; a world where literally not dying was a possibility would be so different from this world that it's impossible to guess who I'd be or predict what decisions I would make. But the point is that none of the usual consolations proposed impress me very much.

I'm not interested in an afterlife. I find it unlikely that personness, the soul if you don't mind religious language, could persist after the death of the body. I'm prepared to be surprised, but it's not a big factor in how I think or in my religious approach. I suppose this fits in with the cliched view of Judaism that Judaism focuses on this life (in contrast to Christianity which is perceived as being obsessed with reward and punishment after death). That's an over-simplification of both religions, but the bit about focusing on this life is definitely true of my own religious approach.

I'm not too interested in the metaphorical kinds of immortality either. I'm not expecting that anything I have done or created will continue to have much impact after my death. I would hope that my friends will cherish good memories of me, but that's only going to last for a short while after I die. As for my work, well, I've chosen a very fast-moving field where any contribution is likely to be ephemeral. OK, it's part of the mythology of science that everything builds on what has gone before, but I suspect the extent that my experiments will matter in a hundred years will be so small that it might as well be random chance. It won't measurably matter whether I existed or not. And that doesn't bother me.

This possibly also explains why I'm not a creative person. I am quite resigned to the fact that my life will be irrelevant to the world within, at best, a few decades of my death. So I'm not attempting to make any art that might "live on" after I'm gone.

And I'm childfree, very. I have no interest in passing on my genes. I feel I'll still be just as dead with descendents as without, so I might as well devote my life to my own interests, rather than nurturing random people who share some of my genes.

I'm not of course arguing that all creative people, or all parents, are trying to cheat death. But I wonder if I might take a different path through life if some shot at immortality were a motivation.

Unrelatedly, pir_anha has some inspiration for people who are bogged down by paperwork, which is a fair proportion of us.

I will resist the temptation to go through my entire journal adding location data. I will. I have far more important things to do. But ee, location data!


Whereaboooots: Shelford, Cambridge, UK
Moooood: pensivepensive
Tuuuuune: Air: Sexy boy (on radio)
Discussion: 55 contributions | Contribute something
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hairyears: default
From:hairyears
Date:March 30th, 2006 10:43 am (UTC)
48 minutes after journal entry, 10:43 am (hairyears's time)

No, I'll let someone else turn the lights out and put up the chairs

(Link)


I have no belief whatsoever in an afterlife and no hangups about my life and work being forgotten and irrelevant a decade or a day after I die. But immortality... That's another issue.

And no, it isn't a fantasy. Keep fit, lay off the booze and fags, keep mentally active, and there's a good chance we'll be fully compos mentis fifty years from now. Anyone want to predict what medical and informational technologies will be available in 2056? I want to be as fit and active and intelligent and creative as I am now, a century from now: I reject the long slow decline from 30 onwards and I mean to defeat it. Or defer it for a very, very long time.

Should we all be 'slowing down a bit' in twenty or thirty years? Today I see a select few people in their seventies breaking the athletics and cycling records of my youth: I've watched a man of 78 take the third Dan and stand calmly under the concerted attack of eight Dan-Grade Aikidokai and he's still practicing, two years later. Ask shevek what it's like fencing with the 'seniors'...

These individuals are unusual, but not abnormal: anyone can put a bit of work in and, at the age of seventy, be fitter and faster than the vast majority of British twentysomethings. Right now we know that exercising the body slows the physical decline: does anyone care to predict how far this can go with in thirty, forty or fifty years of medical progress to assist your own efforts?

Mental decline is less well studied: we know that keeping the brain exercised defers senility - learning foreign languages being a particularly effective exercise - and the chemical mechanisms are being studied now. I give it twenty years before the 'secret' is available as a course of injections: twenty years being an estimate, not a polite way of saying that, like fusion, it's in some never-never land that we'll only ever see in science fiction.

There remains the question: what will you do with those years?

A hint: if you seek new experiences and devote a part of your life to enriching the lives of the people around you in general - and one or two close friends in particular - you won't want to stop. Not this century, anyway, and probably not the next.


PS: you know, I bet you are creative.

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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:March 30th, 2006 11:11 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 11:11 am (lethargic_man's time)

Re: No, I'll let someone else turn the lights out and put up the chairs

(Link)
(livredor's heard me say all this before...)

But immortality... That's another issue.

And no, it isn't a fantasy. Keep fit, lay off the booze and fags, keep mentally active, and there's a good chance we'll be fully compos mentis fifty years from now. Anyone want to predict what medical and informational technologies will be available in 2056?


Hear hear! One thing reading Ken MacLeod's The Stone Canal did for me is gave me belief we, of our generation, might actually make it to the deep life-extension tech. In chapter 2 we see the protagonists as students in a bar in 1970, discussing making it to such tech, and I thought "they'll never make it; they were born too soon"—and yet they do. Now, that may not be achievable in that timescale, but we've got another twenty years plus on them, and it's not impossible we might reach it ourselves. Well, either that or have to spend some time dead first (but even so, I reckon by the time we die (assuming we reach old age) cryogenics will be sufficiently further advanced that it will be possible to have faith corpsicles, at least recent ones, will be revivable in the future).

As for immortality, well, that's a long time. Even when I was at my most determined to bust human limits, I never talked about living longer than five hundred years. It's possible I may have found things to keep me interested in living longer beyond even that, and ways to transcend my limits, but for the time being five hundred years seems a reasonable time.

Since my late twenties, though, I've become more resigned to my own limits, and the slow ossification of personality that comes with increasing age (on which read Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire for some thoughts on to what extent breaking beyond this would leave you the same person), and am no longer certain I would want to live even that long.

There's also a moral issue of population explosion: This planet's already bursting at the seams with 6e9 people on it. Take away the population capping imposed by death, and things would get completely out of control. As I see it, there's only three ways around this: start working now towards viable technologies for self-sustainable offworld colonisation (whether in orbit, on the Moon, other planets or wherever), start working now towards viable technologies for mind uploading (you can accommodate a million uploads with a hell of a lot less bodies than a million flesh bodies), or start working now towards viable cryopreservation, so that people can spend time dead until one of the first two possibilities has been achieved.

These individuals are unusual, but not abnormal: anyone can put a bit of work in and, at the age of seventy, be fitter and faster than the vast majority of British twentysomethings.

That said, a seventy year old is not, and cannot be mistaken for, a thirty year old. There is cumulative damage in all kinds of spheres, right down at the molecular level across the whole body. I'm a bit pessimistic about this; I reckon we'll come up with preventative measures for this a long time before we come up with a cure: i.e. in fifty years twenty-somethings might have the prospect of living for five hundred years, but seventy-somethings will still only have a decade or two to look forward to.

Mental decline is less well studied: we know that keeping the brain exercised defers senility - learning foreign languages being a particularly effective exercise - and the chemical mechanisms are being studied now. I give it twenty years before the 'secret' is available as a course of injections: twenty years being an estimate, not a polite way of saying that, like fusion, it's in some never-never land that we'll only ever see in science fiction.

There's a paragraph in the mumbleth chapter of autopope's Accelerando listing all the wonderful advances in technology that have been made by n decades in the future—being, in this Singularitarian future, more than the SF writers of a few decades ago would have imagined being possible for hundreds of years—but ending "Viable power from nuclear fusion is still, of course, fifty years away." I found this hilarious.
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Beauty is only skin deep, with a little postural training - hairyears (3/30/06 11:59 am)
(no subject) - livredor (3/30/06 02:49 pm)
Re: No, I'll let someone else turn the lights out and put up the chairs - wryelle (3/30/06 12:04 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (3/30/06 02:53 pm)
Re: No, I'll let someone else turn the lights out and put up the chairs - neonchameleon (3/30/06 04:00 pm)
Re: No, I'll let someone else turn the lights out and put up the chairs - (Anonymous) (3/30/06 04:31 pm)
Re: No, I'll let someone else turn the lights out and put up the chairs - wryelle (3/30/06 04:33 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (3/30/06 05:19 pm)
(no subject) - angeyja (3/31/06 01:01 am)
(no subject) - livredor (3/30/06 02:47 pm)
(no subject) - lethargic_man (3/30/06 06:58 pm)
(no subject) - neonchameleon (3/31/06 09:40 am)
(no subject) - livredor (3/31/06 04:45 pm)
Re: No, I'll let someone else turn the lights out and put up the chairs - ewtikins (3/30/06 01:59 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (3/30/06 02:57 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (3/30/06 02:35 pm)
(no subject) - compilerbitch (3/30/06 09:36 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (3/31/06 04:45 pm)
Re: No, I'll let someone else turn the lights out and put up the chairs - leora (3/31/06 09:34 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (4/1/06 08:01 am)
lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:March 30th, 2006 11:16 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 11:16 am (lethargic_man's time)
(Link)
a world where literally not dying was a possibility would be so different from this world that it's impossible to guess who I'd be or predict what decisions I would make.

But it'd be interesting to speculate about. :o) (ObSF: Daniel Keys Moran's The Armageddon Blues, where one character really wants to die, but is incapable of it.)

As for my work, well, I've chosen a very fast-moving field where any contribution is likely to be ephemeral. OK, it's part of the mythology of science that everything builds on what has gone before, but I suspect the extent that my experiments will matter in a hundred years will be so small that it might as well be random chance. It won't measurably matter whether I existed or not. And that doesn't bother me.

I don't think that's true. A drop in the ocean might only be a drop in the ocean, but you need the myriads of drops otherwise you won't have an ocean. In that sense, a lifetime of work will be important, even though it be a drop in the ocean (though a handful of years in a field (such as my own Ph.D., before I dropped out of academia) will be extremely unlikely to count).
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livredor: p53
From:livredor
Date:March 30th, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry, 03:06 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
It's limitedly interesting to speculate about the effects of immortality; that's something I enjoyed about Down and out in the Magic Kingdom, for example. But I still argue that it's too fundamental a change in what it means to be human, possibly even in physical laws, for any such speculation to be productive in the way that a lot of good hard SF can be.

And don't get me wrong, I do think my scientific work is important, otherwise I wouldn't do it. I just don't think it will "live on" after I die, because I in fact doubt that what I'm doing now will be relevant even in ten years' time. I completely agree about the myriads of drops model; that's why לוא אלך is so meaningful to me as a motto [It's not up to you finish the task, but neither are you free to abstain from it].
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(no subject) - lyssiae (3/30/06 05:32 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (3/30/06 05:49 pm)
(no subject) - lethargic_man (3/30/06 07:09 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (3/30/06 07:12 pm)
(no subject) - lethargic_man (4/6/06 07:44 am)
(no subject) - lethargic_man (3/30/06 07:14 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (3/31/06 04:52 pm)
ixwin: default
From:ixwin
Date:March 30th, 2006 11:30 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 11:30 am (ixwin's time)
(Link)
Hmmm. I also don't have any real desire for immortality - either for myself or for my memory, but I am both creative and want children. However, in both cases it's because I (want to) enjoy the actual process and immediate rewards, rather than because either will 'live on' after I die. I don't expect any of my creative work to outlast me significantly, and although I obviously wouldn't want my children to die, I wouldn't expect them to reproduce just to 'continue the family line' or whatever.
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livredor: letters
From:livredor
Date:March 30th, 2006 03:12 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry, 03:12 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
That makes sense to me. It's definitely possible to enjoy things for their benefits in the here and now, even if they happen to have the side effect of extending your influence beyond your death as far as that is possible. It does annoy me a bit when parents expect their adult kids to get married and reproduce so that they can have descendents, but it's very embedded in the culture, and I can't tell how I would feel in the unlikely event of finding myself in that situation.
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From:lyssiae
Date:March 30th, 2006 12:26 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry
(Link)
I'm in with the immortal afterlife crowd, Roman Catholic Version *snigger* I find there's not really a lot of point in me putting my own words in these discussions because invariably there's been some Church Father who says it much better, with longer words (a favourite of mine!) and yet conciser.

I'm under no illusion that something I might write will be lauded after my death, but I don't preclude the possibility either. God works through and in me, and uses me to touch other people: who's to say that in 400 years' time or something someone will stumble upon an old diary of mine and folks will come closer to God through my paltry scribblings? If so, then I rejoice that they have done so; if not, then that's how it is.

Utlitmately it's not about whether or not I exist for ever in the afterlife, nor even if my work should do so: I'm just a small (but important, yay!) part of the Body of Christ, and my part in the life of that Body will make sense only at The End, outside time, when The Big Picture can be seen. Until then I'm happy to chug on, aches and pains and all, in the faith and hope of a happy death and an even better Eternity.

On a totally different point...location whatsit? This some kind of new field we can fill in when making a post? Woah, the wonders of modern technology. This is why having up to speed people like you on my flist is an excellent thing - I don't keep up with the latest LJ devs so I learn them from others :D
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:March 30th, 2006 03:26 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry, 03:26 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Do you think that your belief in a religious afterlife changes your attitude to these more temporal forms of immortality?

And yes, you can add your current location when you're updating posts, and it's a field like mood, music and tags. But watch out because whatever you type will automatically turn into a link to Google maps, which means that you need to choose quite carefully what text you put into that field.
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(no subject) - lyssiae (3/30/06 03:43 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (3/30/06 05:28 pm)
redbird: default
From:redbird
Date:March 30th, 2006 01:20 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 08:20 am (redbird's time)
(Link)
Thank you. There are times when it feels like I'm the only one out here who feels this way--life is, we will live it and should live it well (for values of "well" that vary from one person to another), and that's almost certainly all.

I do feel that living it well includes leaving the world (physical and social) in good shape for those who will come after us--I will die, but Earth has a long time ahead of it.
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:March 30th, 2006 03:39 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry, 03:39 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Mm. I like the way you phrase it. And yes, the fact I am resigned to my own future non-existence doesn't excuse me from trying to preserve the Earth for the people who will be around then. Perhaps I should plant a tree or several, not because the tree will outlive me but simply because, as Honi the circle-drawer learnt, My ancestors planted trees long before I was born so that I would enjoy them.
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(no subject) - angeyja (3/31/06 01:20 am)
excuse me - angeyja (3/31/06 01:25 am)
angeyja: play
From:angeyja
Date:March 30th, 2006 01:45 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry
(Link)
And relating what redbird said to raising children, that is closer to my philosophy than anything, and leaving abit of myself to go on as a form of immortality? Not in there at all, except maybe as a negative.

There's a lot more to the child bit of course. Most of mine was arrived at on the way, not planned; no birthcontrol being perfect, even for someone like me, who was considered close to unable to have children.
Once that did happen and the choice was made to go forward, so many things changed, that I look back on the other self, and well, very different, like you say about imagining.

It isn't the shot at immortality, and I disagree with you on your impact on others which I believe will go forward in some way, but having children did inspire a fair amount of change for me. I think that was change by choice btw. I've seen enough different ways of parenthood to know the child bit involves that. As is influence of others, maybe not entirely; but there is choice in knowing people and engaging and what we take from that. For myself, there has been change, and I know that Ben has changed because of that also.

This is posted in haste. I am into work early and went to look at a friend's pictures of the eclipse, and got distracted by your post.
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livredor: portrait
From:livredor
Date:March 30th, 2006 03:45 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry, 03:45 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
This is a really interesting perspective, thank you. I'm still young enough that most of my peers don't have children (yet), and it's very different to plan whether you intend to have children, from actually being a parent. Of course it's true that children influence their parents as well as the other way round.

As for my impact on the other people I interact with, well. I do agree that that influence will extend somewhat beyond my death. But after a while the effect becomes so dissipated that it gets lost in stochastic noise. Which isn't immortality, it's doubling the time when you matter at best.
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(no subject) - angeyja (3/30/06 04:02 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (3/30/06 05:45 pm)
hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:March 30th, 2006 02:00 pm (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Hee...do you remember the time you said something along those lines at CCJ, and JK was utterly gobsmacked?
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:March 30th, 2006 03:47 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry, 03:47 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Ooh, yes, I do remember that discussion. I suppose the thing is, if you really believe in eternity, how can it be other than extremely important? But if you don't believe in it, or only believe in it as a philosophical abstract, then it doesn't really have much impact. (That's why I think there is a huge flaw in Pascal's silly old wager.)

When my ex gave up being Christian, his sister said to him, But it's eternal life, how can you? Which is the same kind of thing; obviously he didn't believe that it would make an eternal difference whether he was Christian or not, otherwise he would in fact have continued being Christian.
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cakmpls: default
From:cakmpls
Date:March 30th, 2006 05:29 pm (UTC)
7 hours after journal entry, 11:29 am (cakmpls's time)
(Link)
I have much the same outlook as you do. I have no belief in an afterlife, and think we should do the best we can with this one. I have no interest in immortality, and frankly, I'm horrified by people who believe that if they just do everything right--foods, exercise, etc.--they won't die.

I do have children, but didn't pass on my genes, by choice. I have children because I wanted to be a parent and because I thought my spouse and I could be good parents, not because I want to live on in them.
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:March 30th, 2006 07:20 pm (UTC)
9 hours after journal entry, 07:20 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
All this makes a lot of sense. People have been trying to attain immortality for all of human history, so an excessive faith in medical progress is probably no more surprising than an excessive faith in magic or religion or whatever.

I really like your comments about children and parenting. It strikes me that I can just about imagine myself changing my mind about adopting, in the way that I absolutely can't imagine ever wanting to have biological children.
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leora: self
From:leora
Date:March 31st, 2006 01:24 am (UTC)
15 hours after journal entry, March 30th, 2006 05:24 pm (leora's time)
(Link)
I have already made a difference by living. So, I feel I have left my mark. It doesn't matter if that mark gets forgotten; I still left it. It still happened. And it still exists. It exists in specific places and times. Nothing exists in all places and times, and I don't give the future more weight than the present except for it being longer. But a 50 chunk period of the future is equally valuable as a 50 chunk period of my life.
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livredor: portrait
From:livredor
Date:March 31st, 2006 04:54 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 04:54 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
I really like that way of thinking. Nothing exists in all places and times, of course not. Because that would be the definition of immortality. And I think you're right; it doesn't matter if my impact lasts only my lifetime, or even only part of my lifetime, or if it lasts a few hundred years; a few hundred years still isn't forever. I hadn't thought of the issue this way, but I think this does help to make sense of what I was saying in my post, thank you.
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(no subject) - leora (3/31/06 09:21 pm)
leora: ouroboros
From:leora
Date:March 31st, 2006 09:56 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 01:56 pm (leora's time)
(Link)
Okay, looks like I'm going to be the first massively selfish, egotistic, vain person to say it - I want kids that are genetically mine.

I think something weird happened in my genetics. I've been unusual at least since I was 2, and not all of that really makes sense as culture. I have fairly good evidence that it's not just my own opinion that I am unusual, since pretty much everyone comments on it.

And I think it is good. I don't think everyone should be like me, but I want a chance at whatever happened to make me becoming a part of the human race. I want it to have a chance of surviving and populating and mingling and affecting humanity.

And I want to reproduce with people I admire, so that their genes too become a part of the available gene pool. Sure, those genes are probably out there. I'm more likely to be an unusual combination of genes than a mutation. But by reproducing directly, I increase the odds of combinations like that coming up.

I don't want exact copies of me. I want some of my most valuable traits to live on. And I really do think I have some very valuable traits to offer humanity. Ones I don't see very much of. And ones I've had all of my life.

Yes, my genes have problems - migraines, predisposition to auto-immune disorders, bad vision, etc. But I'll be mating only with people genetically fairly far from me, and my health problems are significantly easier to prevent from being massively bad things if you are aware of the predispositions. The worst of my problems had to be triggered. I think if I had it to do all over again, I probably could have prevented the worst of my problems. So, I want to pass on my genes. Because I'm an elitist and think mine are better than average. And I think some of them suck. But that's what mixing genes is for, to help the better ones spread and the worse ones die out. But first you need a good concentration of the better genes, and I want to create that.

And no, I won't pressure any children of mine to have children. It's their choice. Although if enough of my genes do pass through; they'll have to. We have a strong internal pressure to reproduce in my family. It must be hormonal. So, they'll likely want to.
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livredor: p53
From:livredor
Date:April 1st, 2006 08:14 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 08:14 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
Eek, I didn't mean to imply that anyone who wants biological children is a massively selfish, egotistic, vain person! I know there are quite a few people on my flist who do want to engender [that's not quite the word, but I mean, have children who carry their genes] children or already have chosen to do so, just none of them have commented here. I'm childfree, but I'm not a child hater or one of those awful people who make their identity about despising "breeders". Ick.

And I really like your reasoning. You're weird, so you want to see some of that weirdness passed on and in new combinations. (It helps that you're arguing from a position of understanding how genetics works, which sadly isn't something that is common knowledge.) Also a lot of chronically ill people say they don't want to inflict their horrible genes on offspring, so I'm glad to see you don't feel that way.
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(no subject) - leora (4/1/06 08:37 am)



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