Who wants to live forever?

In this post, I talked about whether death is bad or not. My claim was that death usually strikes us as tragic because it comes at very inopportune times. Almost always, we leave people we love behind and their grief could be one of the reasons that death is untimely. Other times though, death is the amplification of the importance of a life by giving it unity and coherence.

Some philosophers like Bernard Williams think that immortality would be a curse, and sometimes their argument is that we would become bored with life. I don’t think this is the reason to be against immortality. Think of how much our lives have extended since the early days of civilization. Boredom does not seem to be one of our problems. Remember, we have to abstract away from the slow withering of our faculties. Immortality with progressively less functionality would indeed be a type of hell, but I think immortality with our full functionality would still be bad even though its badness would have nothing to do with boredom. At least, not any more boring then our current lives are, and we seem to deal with that ok.

No, I think the problem with immortality is that it robs us of certain chances for excellence. The possibility of ultimate sacrifice would be taken from us. No one could rescue his comrades by confronting a mortal danger for their benefit. But less dramatically, many of our day to day choices take on meaning because of what constrains them. An analogy is helpful. Pretend I’m omnipotent. What would there be left to do? Climb Mt. Everest? Done. Swim with the sharks? Yawn.

The same is true for time. If I have infinite time, none of my choices have any significance. Go to medical school or bicycle to various environmentally endangered childrens playgrounds? Party with an assortment of nubile women or join the military? I can do everything. There will always be tomorrow.

On a related note: the song “who wants to live forever” by Queen. (sadly, this is one of the few Queen songs that I don’t like very much)

for a better queen song / video, check out this newly married couple lip synching to “don’t stop me now”


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