Living forever

One of the topics that came up in conversation last night with Wes’s crowd was whether people wanted to live forever. Opinions varied; some people felt that without the pressure of death, we would never get around to doing anything at all – procrastination would always win out. Others felt strongly that life was too short, and it would be wonderful to actually get to do everything one wanted to do.

It’s an interesting question. I’m kind of torn. I’m definitely a champion procrastinator, and often waste time unless I have a deadline looming for me. So until recently, I would have probably agreed with those who say that we need the prospect of death to motivate us to do anything at all.

However, I’m starting to come to grips with the idea that life is short, as I mused about in my post about life’s irreversibility. It sucks that I don’t feel like I have the time to invest in becoming expert in any given field because it would mean never exploring any other field. Part of my generalist stance is that I’d rather know a little bit about lots of things, than a lot about one thing, and the finite length of life forces me to make choices because of that preference.

But the rules would all change if I were going to live forever. I could invest the time to become an expert in a subject without feeling like I was shutting all of the other possible doors. Instead of my peripatetic career path, where I’ve hopped from one career to the next soon after I become minorly competent, I could spend the time to really master something before moving on. I don’t know if I would; I might still get bored and not want to put in the time and effort necessary to become an expert. But the time pressure of knowing that I’m shutting off other possibilities in my life would be removed.

Now that I think about it more, the original worry about becoming complacent probably would not apply to me either. As soon as I’ve gotten good at something, it starts to bore me. Which is kind of a character flaw on my part; I don’t have the compulsion, the drive, to continually improve myself. Which gets us back to the question of passion.

Anyway. It’s an interesting question. How would you live your life differently if you knew you were going to live forever? Would you continually try new things? Would you stay in one field and become the ultimate master of it? Or would you grow disgruntled like Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged and decide to insult everybody in the universe in alphabetical order?

P.S. I had to write this post because all afternoon I’ve had the songs “Who wants to live forever?” by Queen and “Living forever” by Genesis stuck in my head.

4 thoughts on “Living forever

  1. I’ve often enjoyed the fantasy of infinite time to learn and to do, but if it weren’t combined with infinite memory, it would become depressing knowing that everything you were learning and doing would eventually vanish from your mind as completely as if you’d never done it. A mental version of Tithonus.

    I do expect to live forever, of course. Or, at least, to live external to time-as-we-know-it. Christ is risen ‘n all that, you know. This, obviously, boggles the imagination, and the more I think that I understand the concept, the more certain it is that I do not.

    Damn you for that earbug, btw. You just had to spread it. Oh well, at least it’s not a bad song.

  2. I’m not sure I want to live forever. I’m pretty sure I’d like to live many lifetimes, assuming decent physical health for the period. Neither of these has anything to do with some sense that if I didn’t think I was going to die, I’d never do anything. I’m only barely aware that I am going to die someday right now. I don’t think it would be less pressing if it were expected to be centuries longer.

    Maybe if I had a consuming long term goal that I was afraid of not completing?

  3. I wonder whether we are going to see a smaller-scale version of this (not immortality, but substantially extended lifetimes) during our times. In particular, I was wondering what effect it would have on employment and knowledge. There are the old guys in my field who have this incredibly wealth of information; all of us younger practitioners savor our time with them, learning from their body of knowledge, knowing that it will be lost sooner or later. Also, they can often walk into a new case and figure it out in a fraction of time of somebody less experienced–a case where that knowledge has a major economic benefit. But if those bodies of knowledge are kept around, and the elder sages are in good enough condition to keep practicing, it would simultaneously be an advantage (to have knowledge around) and a problem (making room for the younger practitioners).

    Also, I think about the old saying about scientific progress–it’s not that the new theories win people over, it’s that the old curmudgeons who can’t wrap their brain around the new paradigm eventually die off. I wonder if that would change with extended lifespans.

    But back on the main part of your post: although it seems like a symmetric/clean explanation, I’m not sure that knowledge of death is really motivating most people–it seems like we are a generally death-denying culture. I know that if I sat and digested the implications of my mortality, I would probably be living my life a bit differently than I am now. But I could be entirely wrong though.

    Speaking of living every day like your last, see this episode of Dinosaur Comics.

    So would I want to live forever, or would I get bored? Not sure.. extended for sure, but forever is another thing. Wasn’t there some speculative fiction about a society with a long-lived upper class, who ended up being incredibly risk-averse, due to the risk of losing their long lives? Had to do with some class war thing too.

    Oh yeah: useless trivia that I read on the IMDB web page for Highlander:

    Queen were invited to see a rough cut of the film so they could get ideas for the soundtrack. Brian May wrote “Who Wants To Live Forever” during the cab ride home after seeing the film.

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