How long would you want to live?

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Sort-of inspired by this Wait But Why Dinner Table post I read several months ago and couldn’t stop thinking about since.

In the original post, there is actually a risk to entering too many years in the calculator. You literally can’t die until the number you entered is reached. This means that in the event of global annihilation, whether man-made or because our sun grew too much and ate our planet, then you might have to deal with incredible suffering for thousands of years.

That makes for a very interesting philosophical question, but it’s simply not realistic. If we have the technology to make one person completely immortal today, I assume that within a few hundred years we’d figure out how to reverse the process somehow. So you need a supernatural explanation for that situation, which means it will stay hypothetical.

Let’s go with a more realistic yet still interesting alternative. For some resource-related reason, you get the chance to extend your lifetime for as many years as you want, including infinity should you choose that. You have no idea if anyone else is being offered the same deal. The deal includes eternal youth (or, more realistically, eternal current age) for as long as you decide to live, and a complete immunity from any old-age related disease (like Alzheimer), but are still vulnerable to other diseases, including those that could eventually kill you (like HIV), and obviously are still vulnerable to frequent causes of death, like falling off a cliff or drinking more than 6 liters of water in less than 10 minutes. You cannot expect to ever get offered the deal again in the future, no matter what you choose today.

 

As for me, that choice is very easy. I’d go with infinity. As I’ve mentioned, the only thing keeping me away from infinity in the other dilemma was the total inability to die forever. Now that this is gone, there’s no problem. Obviously, I already have notable odds of dying within my normal lifetime from accidents. Then, this risk stays for the years after that, so I’d most likely be dead within a millenia or two, even if I’m lucky. I guess if I stayed in the 20-25 body age range, my chances of dying from anything are a lot lower than little kids and old people, because of decent reflexes, stronger muscles and healthier body overall, but the risk still exists.

There are many things in life right now that I love to do, and expect to die before exploring entirely. Of course, visiting the world is cool, and visiting mars probably even cooler, but that has a hard limit. If you invest a lot of your time and money, you can probably see everything interesting within a lifetime (if you were born if a first world country. Otherwise, sorry). But the real good stuff is in perpetually created content. Humans are writing books faster than I can read them. Movies and TV series are being released faster than I can watch them. Video Games are being launched faster than I can play them. Of course, writing a book that will take me an hour to read might require hundreds of hours of effort, but so many people are doing it that I can’t keep up the pace. Some things, like chess games or sports tournaments, have a terrifying number of possibilities, and might take centuries to get boring if you like them. But in the end, they will get repetitive to an immortal. Those other things I mention obviously also have a limited number of possibilities, but it is several magnitudes higher, so I’d say I have 99.99% chance of dying before growing bored of it.

But that’s just the great part. The even better part is that I can die. Of course, the truly terrifying situations to be stuck in as an immortal (hanging in the middle of the sun, burning forever) are already out of the picture, because that would kill me with simple age-immortality. But even the tamer “Bored out of your mind” scenarios aren’t that scary. If you truly can’t find any joy anymore in life after 5000 years or so, you can always kill yourself.

Suicide is usually seen as a bad thing in our society. Debates about assisted suicides are still going strong, because our lifespan and ability to keep people alive has reached a point where it is too good for some people, who would rather die. As for younger suicides, we usually try to stop them and encourage people to live because we disagree with them dying as a solution to whatever problem they are currently dealing with. For example, a bullied teen might think his only escape is death, but most adults around will say it gets better so he should stay alive.

But if we ever reach a society where eternal life is a thing, I’m pretty sure suicide, at least past a certain age, will become “normal”, or “expected”, simply because you have to do it when you’re done. If it’s the only way to leave this world, I really don’t see how society could keep thinking it’s objectively bad.

But either way, I’m confident in my own ability to kill myself with enough secrecy to avoid anyone saving me against my will.

So I can either live a normal life, that will probably be fun most of the time, but with a clear ceiling that I can never breach and I have to do everything I want to before I reach it, so lots of prioritising, and the ability to leave before that ceiling if I want to. Or I can live a higher quality life (healthy young body is very useful!), that will probably be fun most of the time, with the ability to do every single thing that I think is interesting, because I’m not leaving before the day I don’t think there is anything left to experience worth the hassle.

I really don’t see the downside.

Yet, I’ve discussed this with someone at some point, and they said that they would probably choose 150-200 years, but not more than that, because by then they’d have done everything that is worth the time, so they’d rather not live a boring life after.

I proceeded to repeat the “you can kill yourself to end it earlier if needed, but you can’t force yourself to life to live for longer if needed” part. It seems that they had a good understanding of it. But they didn’t want to kill themselves, and would rather die “naturally”. That part, I admit I really don’t get.

I tried to mention the fact that inputting any number of years (non-infinite) in the calculator is basically a timed suicide, since you choose when you will die (provided nothing kills you before). Just like hanging yourself is basically choosing to die within the next 5 minutes, this is choosing to die within the next 200 years. But I couldn’t get them to see my point. I also couldn’t get them to give any good reason for their opinion, so I suspect emotional or cognitive shenanigans, but I guess, as always, those could be from my side instead.

So what would you choose, and if not infinity, then what is your counter-argument for my choice?

 

I don’t expect, but I do hope, that we will get some sort of no-more-aging technology within my lifetime. Whether it comes in the form of surgery, chemicals, cybernetics implants of even uploading my mind in a computer, I don’t really mind. I just know for sure that there is more interesting content in the world than what I can experience within a century, so I sure hope we get something similar to this hypothetical question someday.

  • Kingfisher

    I think both the original post, and this one, are fun things to think about, but I think it’s a matter that would be a little too complicated to give a short answer.

    I’ve got a train of train of thought that helps me think about how long I would live and ‘infinitely’ isn’t quite the right answer. It would be closer to ‘indefinitely’. One has explicitly no ending, while the other has no explicit end.

    If I ask myself ‘why do I want to wake up tomorrow morning?’ I have some good answers. There are things I want to accomplish, there are experiences I want to have, there are people I want to be with. But if every day I felt that I accomplished nothing, experienced nothing new, and was overwhelmingly lonely, perhaps I’d like to just go to sleep forever. The difference between living and not living would blur out of distinction.

    So I would want to live forever, but only if I could live forever. This means I would not want to stay as I am, since as a finite being, I could only have finite accomplishments, experiences, and relationships. Living forever would require me to expand to do more, perceive more, and interact more with others than I can currently imagine.

    I think I could stand to live as a human for maybe a few thousand years. After a certain point my collected experiences would have made me too insane to function. I could extend that time much longer if I started to ‘Brigadoon’ my life – only waking up for a day every 100 years.