When I was in undergrad, a professor asked our whole class a strange question. The question was strange because it seemed totally out of context, but I think he had a point, so I present it here as a worthy thought experiment.
“Lets say that I have in my hand, right now, a pill,” he said, holding up an invisible tablet between his thumb and index finger.
“This pill, if you take it, will make you ageless. You will not age or suffer the diseases of aging if you take this pill. You can still die, commit suicide, etc, but you will not age. There is, however, a catch. The catch is that you don’t get to think about this decision. You have to choose right now, will you take this pill. Alright, if you would take this pill, raise your hand.”
My hand, tentatively went up. This all occurred before I was interested, heck, had ever heard of transhumanism, mind you. The professor was notoriously difficult (by that I mean stubborn and odd, not smart and challenging) and I had little reason to want to incur one of his rants, but my hand went up all the same. I was the only one in the room, and whether he noticed me or not is irrelevant. His point was not that people want to age and die but that we naturally distrust such offers. It simply sounds too good to be true.
Our brains are trained, over time, to understand what a reasonably possible benefit can exist for a given price. A free pill that has no side-effects and no Twilight Zone caveats (you have to be alive, can’t die so are tortured, etc) seems more impossible than the idea of anti-aging itself. The problem is that this protective aspect of our mind can become over excited, so we stop believing certain solutions are ever possible. To cure, or even significantly reduce the damages caused by aging, are such an epic benefit that it seems our minds will actively manufacture problems, because the benefit must have some sort of epic cost associated.
So we tell ourselves curing aging will cause too many problems and that aging has a lot of natural beauty to it and creates a lot of meaning and that all of that is good. But I think there is one other reason. Imagine we suddenly discover we can cure aging. It’s simple, cheap, universal, and we manage to quickly adapt society to deal with an undying population. All of the impacts described by bioconservatives don’t exist, anti-aging is a glorious and beautiful time and everyone lives for centuries.
The cost is the realization that every death was preventable. That billions of people have been, in effect, tortured for decades by nature and because we could not change it we described it as beautiful and honorable. The crisis in our collective psyche would be something of unparalleled magnitude. Our species is a master at making virtue of necessity, but what becomes of our virtue when that necessity ceases to be? Does it cease as well?
Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
Nicole Sallak Anderson is a Computer Science graduate from Purdue University. She developed encryption and network security software, which inspired the eHuman Trilogy—both eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception are available at Amazon, the third installment is expected in early 2016. She is a member of the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.
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