Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Comment on this entry

Life is already eternal, sort of…

Rick Searle

Ethical Technology

February 01, 2013

What often strikes me when I put the claims of some traditionally religious people regarding “eternal life” and the stated goals of the much more recent, I suppose you could label it with the oxymoronic phrase “materialist spirituality”, next to one another is just how much of the language and fundamental assumptions regarding human immortality these very different philosophies share.


Complete entry


Posted by Kris Notaro  on  02/04  at  02:44 PM


“Aubrey de Grey. In a talk at TEDMED de Grey admits the obvious- that extending the lifespan of those already alive in a world of finite resources would inevitably result in people having less children.”

However, there are two factors right? The future of nano-machines to turn garbage into food, etc. And then there is evidence that the universe is expanding instead of coming to a “big crunch”?

Therefore, by the the time the sun runs out of fuel and dark matter creates a big crunch, if possible, won’t we be able to come up with technologies to fix both issues? I hope so.
What do you think?

Posted by Rick Searle  on  02/04  at  04:28 PM


Thanks for commenting on my post, I was hoping it would have more legs.

My thoughts are that if the goal of indefinite life extension is to be seriously adopted and remain ethical we should figure out the resource question first. There are all sorts of ideas out there including nano-machines and all that meet some margin of safety should be tried, but I am a little pessimistic that we will even be able to meet the goal of sustaining the global population where it will be at the close of this century - at upwards of 10 billion- in a way that does not end up destroying the biosphere upon which we depend.  Achieving what de Grey calls “longevity escape velocity” before we clearly possess the tools at our disposal to sustain the rise in population seems much more ethically responsible both to future generations and life other than ourselves than moving at the speed of panic because of our own impending deaths.

Indeed, there is a part of me that sees de Grey’s whole logic as deeply flawed. In his talk he seemed to suggest that we needed a Manhattan type project against death, but we already spend almost 20% of our economy (and rising) trying to defeat death. We call it the Health Care System. 

Lately, I’ve been looking at some graphs relating health care spending and longevity stretching back to the 1930s and it seems that heath care spending/longevity suffer from the law of increasing marginal utility.

It seems that an increasing share of GDP is yearly taken up by health care cost while the increase in longevity remains stubbornly the same. We gained about 2 years per decade when we invested 5% of our income on health care and we gain 2 years of longevity when we invest 20% of our GDP.

This is because every time we gain 2 years gaining the next 2 is a more complex problem and harder than before. When society reaches the point where too much of its income is taken up in health care spending, the whole trend of rising longevity might grind to a halt.

When we step outside of the earth and its needs and think about the Universe I think the idea of longevity of our earthly bodies becomes moot, but the question of mind-uploading raises its head. According to Lawrence Krauss of “A Universe From Nothing” fame the Universe “ends” when the energy dissipated from the Big Bang runs its course. There is nothing outside of the Universe that we know of that could add more energy so the energy of the system is finite and winding down. The debate him and Dyson have was could an eternal mind exist in a Universe of finite energy and their conclusion was no. Based on the laws of physics that we know actual eternal life is impossible, and what I wondered was if this implied that a “person” who tried to exist forever could only do so by taking a “slot” away from any new conscious entities of the same sort because there is only a finite amount of energy to go around.

Wow… that was a long answer to your question!

Posted by Florin Clapa  on  02/06  at  01:32 AM

Since the number of people that can exist at any one time in an immortal society (or a nearly immortal one) and a mortal one with a lifespan like the one we have today is the same, the amount of raw experience should also be the same, but the immortal society has advantages that the mortal one can never hope to match. First, the quality of experience in an immortal society should be much richer, because it could grow without the limit imposed by a limited lifespan. For instance, an immortal could read all of the books s/he likes while a mortal would never be able to. Second, the vast majority of subjective experience is lost with the death of each generation. 10 billion people living for an average of 78 years would only be able to accumulate a maximum of 780 billion years of experiences regardless of how many generations have lived while a society of 10 billion 1,000-year olds would have accumulated 10 trillion years of subjective experiences. So, while the amount of raw experience at any given time is the same between these two societies, the quality and subjective amount of experience in an immortal society should be vastly better.

Even if short lifespans would somehow create more diversity or whatever, the argument that this would be cosmically better seems too subjective. Of course, one can value maximizing the amount of diversity at the cost of one’s immortality. However, one can also value maximizing one’s lifespan at cost of creating new people. This is a value judgment and no objective reason was presented as to why one should choose one over the other.

Aubrey de Grey’s position is that we need to eliminate the suffering caused by aging for people that are alive today and those that will be born in the future. Yes, this will likely cause many potential people not to be born, but I think this is a good tradeoff due to the fact that potential people don’t suffer if they’re not born. Perhaps one can come up with hypothetical scenarios in which a high birth rate would offset the suffering of real people, but I haven’t come across any good ones.

Posted by Florin Clapa  on  02/06  at  01:46 AM

It seems to me that predictions of the state of the universe in the very distant future based on an inadequate understanding of physics and cosmology (e.g., no one knows what most of the universe is made out of nor what kind energy is driving it’s accelerating expansion) should be taken with at least a grain of salt.

Posted by Florin Clapa  on  02/06  at  10:36 PM

Mainstream gerontologists agree that delaying the development and progression of all age-related diseases by just a few years would save an enormous amount of money that would otherwise be spent on healthcare for the chronic diseases of the elderly. They’ve created a proposal to increase funding for aging research based on this cost savings and named it the “Longevity Dividend.” It’s not hard to image how an even larger dividend would be reaped by the healthcare system and economy as a whole if, as Aubrey de Grey advocates, all of the diseases of aging were fully prevented and cured.

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