03 April 2007

On the "argument from boredom"

One argument sometimes made by people who object to research into radical life extension is that living for centuries or millennia would be a bad thing because people would get bored. This seems like a very odd position to take in a society where most people, so far from being unable to think of things to do to fill their time, find themselves constantly lacking enough time to fit in all the things they want to do. Still, let's examine the idea a little more closely.

If you think that you might be bored if you are still alive 100 years from now, consider this: How bored would a person who was a young adult in the year 1907 be, if he were still alive (and young and healthy) today? He would have seen countless technological and cultural developments he could not possibly have imagined in 1907 -- antibiotics, jet airliners, movies, recorded music, space travel, the sexual revolution, the internet, and far more. Will the cascade of innovation stop for the next 100 years, leaving us in a world identical to today's except for our own extended life-spans? Of course not. It will not stop, it will continue to accelerate dramatically. You will not get bored.

If anything, my own expectation is that there will always be more interesting things going on than one person could possibly keep up with, no matter how long he lived. According to Ray Kurzweil's projections, by around 2045 we should have achieved the full Technological Singularity, with complete merging of human and machine intelligence, freeing humans from the limitations of biology (and from any limits on the increase of individual human intelligence, even to trillions of times its natural level), allowing us to lead lives so rich, deep, and free of external constraints over the individual as to be literally beyond the imagination of humans today. We in 2007 can no more foresee the cultural achievements and character of post-Singularity civilization than a bacterium could comprehend the pleasures offered by Shakespeare, the internet, or a simple lunch out with a friend. You will not get bored.

If you want a vision of a stupefyingly-boring eternity, consider the Christian view of Heaven. Since Heaven is supposed to be perfect, it couldn't progress or change. Most enjoyable activities, being considered "sinful" to some degree or at least hardly godly, would presumably be unavailable there. The traditional vision of Heaven would have me impatiently checking my watch after half an hour, never mind all eternity. Worst of all, the place would presumably be swarming with the kind of insufferable Bible-besotted prigs whose smug holiness makes everyone avoid them in real life, with the genuinely broad-minded, imaginative, skeptical, intelligent individuals having been deemed unfit for admission.

No thanks. I'm staying here -- hopefully forever.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Chell said...

Well, Infidel, I'd certainly be "condemned" to an eternity filled with a "nice" toasty fire, rather than admitted to a pearly gated, angel inhabited cloud. Perfect. Pull up a chair, grab a good read and a hot cup of coffee, wave at the swarm of smugness before settling in... ;)

04 April, 2007 12:55  
Blogger son of gaia said...

Greetings, Infidel, from the frozen prairie wasteland of Edmonton, Alberta!

For me, boredom doesn't seem as big an issue for life extension as traumatic memories - especially memories of abuse and other trauma from childhood. We know, from the great work being done thru the Adverse Childhood Experiences study:
http://www.acestudy.org/

that there is an overwhelming correlation between childhood stress & trauma and "unhealthy", "self-destructive" behaviour of all varieties later in life - from over-eating to drug abuse and beyond. Childhood trauma seems to leave many people with a kind of PTSD or tendency toward anhedonia that drives them to pursue short-term pleasure over long-term health.

More people that I have known have taken their own lives than have succumbed to chronic illnesses. I have to wonder how long it is possible for anyone to cope with and endure the memories of the bad things that happened in their lives not to mention the mistakes they may have made themselves. A thousand years worth of trauma to process? I'd have to say "no thanks", to that. Maybe, if the puritanical prohibitionists could be overcome and manipulation of one's own Dopamine levels was legalized - maybe then...

07 April, 2007 02:36  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Edmonton, eh? The gang just held a big pow-wow up that way -- did you drop in?

Look at it this way: an indefinite lifespan means more time for more treatments for psychological trauma to be developed, broadening your range of options for dealing with the problem. If any of those new options can help you, it also means more time to recover, and more time to live on in psychological health after recovery is complete.

Certainly if you look at the population in general, far more people die from aging than from suicide.

In any case, even with radical life extension, if a person ever decides that further life is not desirable (due to stress, boredom, or whatever), he will always have the option of "checking out". Right now we can't possibly know how, for example, a 500-year-old person would feel about life and death -- since nobody has ever lived that long yet.

07 April, 2007 08:58  

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