Category Archives: Philosophy

Why immortality would be terrible

Some people think it would be nice if humans could live forever. I’ve heard of people in Silicon Valley trying to work on ways to allow people to live indefinitely.

I think immortality is actually a real bad idea, and I think these Silicon Valley guys’ endeavor is naive and crazy. I’ll explain why, starting with total immortality (which is impossible, for reasons I’ll describe) and then turning to the idea of an indefinite lifespan (which theoretically is possible).

To me, the most glaring and obvious problem with immortality is the inevitability of something happening to you that’s both really bad and basically permanent. For example, imagine that 62,000 years into your life, you’re on a boat by yourself. The boat sinks to the bottom of the ocean and traps you. No one but you knows that this happened, so you spend the rest of eternity trapped at the bottom of the ocean. Or think about the inevitably of eventually being falsely accused of murder and spending the rest of eternity in prison. I can even imagine a war where prisoners of war are hooked up to torture machines that torture them for the rest of eternity. Those things would obviously be really bad.

I also imagine that an eternal life would mean an infinite accumulation of emotional pains and regrets. As I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed that I have a growing backlog of regrets that my brain seems to enjoy picking from at random and surfacing to me in my mind periodically. Imagine making some huge regretful error at age 19 and then having to live with that mental burden for the next 1000, 100,000, 100 billion years.

Plus there are the logistical issues. If we somehow figured out how to get people to live forever, it’s still true that every star in the universe will eventually burn out. Then what? Even the idea of uploading a person’s consciousness onto a computer for eternal habitation doesn’t answer that problem.

I think death is actually perfect. You’re guaranteed that nothing that bad can happen to because either the bad thing will kill you or you’ll eventually die some other way and be done suffering. Death is nature’s “escape hatch”. You can accumulate a lifetime of mental weight, but then the slate is wiped clean. The “reset button” gets hit when someone dies and a baby is born.

I didn’t mention an obvious thing about immortality: it’s a physical impossibility because there’s no way a body could survive complete destruction. Even if you move consciousness to computers, the physical computers themselves aren’t absolutely impervious to destruction. It seems that the “next best thing” is an indefinite lifespan. I’ll explain why I don’t think an indefinite lifespan would be better than a normal human lifespan.

I suppose that if we figure out how to make humans live indefinitely, then that will necessarily mean that people won’t ever die of disease. So the only causes of death would be accidents, murder and suicide. So from the moment you’re old enough to understand it, you’ll be aware that your life will, as an absolute certainty, end in an accident or murder or suicide, most likely an accident (or maybe most likely suicide). To me this idea seems quite uncomfortable. I personally much prefer the idea that the most likely scenario of my death is just a faint petering out, “dying of old age”.

Also, as you get older, more of your friends and family would be dead the older you got. This is of course the way it is now. It would be more pronounced if indefinite life were possible. A person who managed to live to 5,000 would probably have very few 5,000 year-old peers. If you started life with 250 people you cared about and 0.1% of them died each year, it would take, by my calculations, about 6,000 years for almost all of them to die. Then you’d just be super lonely from then on. You could always make new friends, I suppose, but they’d all be much younger, and from a different world.

So, although I often get quite uncomfortable when I think about the reality that I’ll inevitably die, I find it comforting to consider that, among the (non-supernatural) alternatives, it’s probably actually the best possible way for life to be.

The meaning of life

I read some time ago about the meaning of life. I can’t remember if it was in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey or Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl or both. Anyway, I found what I read useful and I’d like to share the idea.

“What is the meaning of life?” is not a question you should ask. It’s a question you should answer with your life. It’s up to you to decide what your life is for and then live out that purpose.

So if you’ve ever wondered what the meaning of life is, there you go.

My current chief aim in life

I recently made a poorly-worded attempt to explain how I look at life. I don’t know that a lot of my friends/family/acquaintances really actually understand how I look at life and what I value, and I for some reason feel compelled to explain what I’m all about.

Just now I came up with what I think is a concise way to describe this “season” of my life.

I’m working to unburden myself from the need to earn an income so I can instead use my time in the most worthwhile possible ways.

The obvious unanswered question here is what are those “most worthwhile” ways for a person to spend his or her time, but I doubt anyone would argue that if you had a billion dollars, the most worthwhile possible way for you to spend your time would be for you to get a regular job somewhere. So hopefully this expression makes sense.

I’d be interested to hear any thoughts anyone has on this idea.

The wisest possible life

I think it’s a good idea to try to plan my life as opposed to taking life as it comes. And I think the best way to begin planning my life is to think about my life as a whole. What do I want to do with my life, and more importantly, what kind of person do I want to be? The question of who I want to be is actually really easy for me to answer, at least at a really high level. The answer is that I want to be the wisest possible person. This is a vague declaration, so let me explain.

My definition of wisdom

When I think about wisdom, I think about life from the top down. I think about the most important parts of life first and the wisest way to approach those things. To me the most important parts of life include health, relationships, financial comfort, virtuosity and overall happiness. And to me wisdom is to take the most direct possible path to success in each of these areas.

My approach

I read a story about a guy who took a glass jar and, in front of an audience, filled the jar with rocks and asked if it was full. They said it was. Then he poured pebbles to fill the spaces between the rocks and asked if the jar was full. Then he poured sand in the spaces between the pebbles. Then he poured water into the jar. If the guy had done it in the opposite order it wouldn’t have worked. The point to the story was that you have to put the big rocks in first.

As I approach life I try to put the big rocks in first. Physical health is a pretty big rock, certainly bigger than, say, TV. So I’ve put a good amount of time over the last five years or so toward becoming healthier. I’ve put very little time into TV in the last five years.

Default priorities

Over the course of my pursuit of the wisest possible life I’ve discovered that there exist a set of “default priorities” which don’t strike me as particularly wise. The default life is to work at a job you don’t particularly like and accumulate a bunch of debt to ensure that you won’t get off the work/spend treadmill until you’re old.

To have priorities other than the default priorities requires a certain amount of going against the grain. The world seems to be built for people who share the default priorities, and so in my endeavor to free myself of the need for paid employment, I’ve encountered a fair amount of resistance.

Obvious?

I imagine the things I’m writing here would strike most people as obvious. Maybe these ideas are obvious, but it seems to me that they’re dramatically at odds with the way most people live. I’ve lived most of my life very unwisely so far, and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve tried to follow a smarter path.