Brian Answers: Would You Live Forever?

Today, on our final Ask Brian Anything post, Shaila Mudambi wonders:

Do you want to be immortal and why?

If by “immortal” you mean that I would literally never die, ever, this would be pretty terrible. Fast forward a trillion trillion years: every other person or being everywhere is long dead, the stars have gone out, the universe is nothing but infinite frozen darkness – and there you still are, floating, powerless, alone, conscious for all of time. That kind of immortality is basically hell.

Generally, though, “immortal” means something a little more limited: you don’t die of old age or sickness, but you can be killed, by murder or suicide or just falling into a giant pit of molten sulfur. (Uh…for example.) This kind of immortality is much better, and if that’s what you mean, then my answer is an emphatic yes.

Imagine what you could do with a hundred thousand years!

You’d be master of anything you cared to study, just because you’d have so much time. A hundred years for calligraphy, a hundred years for computer programming, a hundred years to just read, and read. Think how much you could learn. Think how much money you’d have, with interest accumulating over the centuries.

Think how much good you could do in the world, with that much money and knowledge.

And think of getting to see what we mortals can only dream about: the future of the human race, the story unfolding as we write it. Will there really be a technological Singularity? Will we colonize other solar systems, and will we find life there? Will we ever have anything like world peace? In ten million years, what will we have evolved into? What is the ultimate potential of our species?

Yes, I would like to be immortal.

You hear a lot about the downsides of living forever – or at least, for millennia. Over and over and over, you watch your loved ones die. You get tired of life, weary of existing. You’ve seen too much. Et cetera.

On this, I call shenanigans.

Yes, those drawbacks exist, but I think the sheer potential of what you could learn and do and achieve vastly outweighs them all. What’s more, I think that the longer you live, the more strategies you could acquire for dealing with this accumulated sorrow, or existential weariness. You might, for instance, achieve Zen enlightenment, rendering the whole thing moot. The possibilities are so much vaster than our capacity to imagine them.

Now, through all of this, I’ve made the typical assumption that (semi) eternal life means (semi) eternal youth. But what if that wasn’t the case?

My good friend Adam asks:

Just to over simplify the situation a bit… assume for a second the singularity happens and you can become immortal… how will your answer to Shaila’s change if aging can not be reversed? Will you accept immortality at age 80 vs. 50?

Yes.

The fact is, I’m an old man already, in spirit if not in body. I’ve never been athletic. I go for walks, not runs. I sit at home reading and writing. I love to travel, but when I do, I mostly walk around looking at things and trying new foods. I could do all of that just as well at 80 (and I fully intend to). Centuries more of that would still be a priceless gift.

That’s assuming I’m a reasonably healthy 80. I’d still be okay with having a fair number of health problems, too – but at some point, if things are so bad that you’re doing more suffering than living, immortality really would just be a burden. So in that case I’d say no.

But it would have to be pretty bad. Because immortality sounds friggin’ amazing.

Well, that concludes Ask Brian Anything Week. Thanks to everyone for asking, and for reading! What did you think? Is this something I should do again in, say, six months or a year?

And would you want to be immortal?

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6 responses to “Brian Answers: Would You Live Forever?

  1. Yes, I would like to be. Like you mentioned, I would read. Books, so many books… And I would write. Being able to create and share centuries’ worth of experiences? Awesome.

    Although if the government kidnaps me in order to figure out the cause of my immortality I wouldn’t be so happy. And after a hundred years or so that seems a distinct possibility.

  2. Thank You.

    Every time there is an “immortality debate” someone always brings up the “you’ll be lonely/sad” argument. I always disagreed with them on this and I’m glad to see you do as well. Sure, it would be very sad to lose friends and loved ones. However, you have eternity to deal and come to terms with their death and like you said the possibilities and knowledge gained by immortality would be amazing.

  3. I think there is a God and we are with Him after we die. We are then in an eternal state as spirits. We might get our bodies back according to some religions. I do believe in the concept of universal salvation (no one goes to hell). Hope all this is true.

    Charlie

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