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Is Immortality In Our Future?
Dick Pelletier   Mar 28, 2013   Ethical Technology  

Is immortality in our future? Positive futurists say it is. Infectious disease, accidents, starvation, and violence have kept average life expectancy at 20-to-30 years throughout most of human history. However, the quest to live longer and enjoy good health is one of the most ancient and deep-rooted hopes ingrained in our species.

It underlies religious teachings of dreams of an afterlife and up to now, people have had no alternative but to accept death as an inevitable part of existence. Even Humanists view death as not such a bad thing, and ultra-conservatives maintain that death is necessary to give life meaning.

That people should make excuses for death is understandable. Until recently, nothing could be done about it and it made sense to create comforting philosophies that dying of old age is a positive thing.

Now, stem cell, genetic engineering, and nanomedicine technologies promise to one day eliminate most diseases and even abolish human aging. It is becoming increasingly evident that research scientists are getting ever closer to making indefinite lifespan become reality.

Today many of us future watchers have accepted the challenge of keeping our bodies in shape to maneuver through the next two decades when many experts believe that science could eliminate most unwanted deaths, allowing nearly everyone to live a technology-rich life filled with plentiful resources.

The things I value most – freedom, joy, friendship and fun of discovery are all limited by my lifespan. I want more. More time to think and do all the wonderful things I can imagine. A “magical future” that could arrive in as early as 20 years promises to help me obtain these things.

I do not want these things for myself alone, which would be an empty existence. No, I want this additional time for friends, relatives, every human on Earth who might also enjoy a longer lifespan. I want more time to learn, grow, and follow a path without death constantly looming its ugly head.

This driving force encourages me to write weekly articles depicting a positive and optimistic future. Let us enrich ourselves by believing that an extended lifespan without fears of unwanted death will soon be ours to enjoy.

 

Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.



COMMENTS

This will probably end up on this site anyway but there is a really compelling interview about who we would respond to immortality (http://io9.com/how-will-humans-respond-to-immortality-461636061) (http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-immortality) .  The second link is the full interview.  The person being interviewed is philosopher John Fischer and here’s a snip-it of the interview that relates to your topic:

  I wrote a story recently which showed that neurons—like the hydra —may live indefinitely when unattached to the mortal confines of their host bodies, a discovery that seems to bring that brain-in-a-jar scenario a bit closer. Futurists like Ray Kurzweil believe we will have achieved immortality—or at least super-long term longevity— in about 40 years. What do you think?

  I’m very interested in this and it’s definitely within the scope of the grant. We have proposals on jellyfish, hydra and related biological creatures. There are also interesting studies of certain worms that reproduce asexually. And so biologists are looking at these creatures with the possibility of making discoveries that could help us cure aging. Kurzweil isn’t really a biologist; he’s a futurist and an entrepreneur. But, yes, he’s a big proponent of supplementation and enhancements of various kinds…

  Yes, cybernetics—couldn’t that be part of this picture?

  Yes, eventually. Kurzweil and others believe that at some point we will have achieved a biological status where we could still be run over by a truck or hit by a meteorite or die in a fire but we would be medically immortal. We wouldn’t age or die of natural causes. And, once we get to that point, we’ll be able to live long enough that eventually we’ll be able to upload the contents of our minds into computers or cybernetic devices.

  I, myself, am skeptical that this will be achieved in the near future. I think 40 years is probably optimistic. I’m also humble enough about these things to know that we’ve been wrong before about the possibility of scientific progress. But I am struck by the fact that you can go in for a simple operation and it can go wrong. So I’m a bit more skeptical.

Man i was hoping for a response or something.  I guess the topic isn’t of much interest to people here.

Christian, I think the topic is of great interest to us here (not to mention a few other billion probably). Perhaps it’s, pardon the pun, been done to death on transhumanist circles already?

If we discuss many other topics here, and they don’t happen within our lifetimes we can shrug on our deathbeds. We don’t have so much of a dog in the fight over say, asteroid mining or the Internet of things.

However, if Dick’s projections are anywhere in the realm of possibility then we have a chance not to end up as worm food and the possibility of an eternal amazing future (assuming of course we don’t end up as the Borg or find we have no mouth and we must scream ... Sorry, my partypooping personality again).

There’s an emotional component to the possibility of immortality and I imagine I may speak for many when I say that because of the possibility of great and terminal disappointment in this area, we don’t like to discuss it much.

In my case, I’m happy to read Dick’s optimistic offerings and then let Aubrey de Gray and the like get on with their research and hope that indeed within possibly the next 20 years death may be effectively abolished.

I’m nearly 56 and when I was born scientific advances were relatively slow, the 70s had advances but they were not too different from the sixties as regards technological progress, at least not n everyday wake-up, read-the-paper, walk-the-dog life.

Then in the 80s I had my first encounter, in health terms, with something like the concept of the singularity as outlined on this and other (increasing numerous) sites. The childhood asthma that had disappeared came back with a vengeance.

I struggled with it for about six years to the extent that I would go abroad to teach English for a year, suffer multiple debilitating attacks, and come back to Belfast to rest on unemployment for a year then go out again. Towards the end of the 80s some of my concerned relatives suggested it was time to give up the struggle with half-suffocation and just apply for disability from the government.

I wasn’t happy with the idea but I didn’t know how much longer I could stand the increasingly debilitating condition. It was then around that time that the new steroid inhalers came out and I was put on one. The first one gave some relief and then another one much more effective, literally gave me a near-normal life.

A couple of years later I then developed a condition called GERD where the acid in the stomach decides to boldly go where no acid should go, up into my oesophagus. Again medicine developed a treatment and gave me relief.

For about 20 years I was in reasonable condition and then both conditions worsened again a couple of years ago, probably because of my age. However, in those 20 years more new treatments have come on stream and after some months of discomfort (but nothing as bad as in the 80s) I have essentially recovered again.

So when De Gray and others talk about maybe you can get an extra number of years of life and within that time new medical developments will occur until you become immortal it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to me because I’ve already experienced similar medical progress where the pace of change is now so rapid I have in a sense, outpaced my issues.

The 64,000 century question of course is whether longevity prolongation can occur within the the next twenty years or so. It’s impossible to say but if you had asked me twenty years ago if I would see the birth of something like the Internet within two or three years I would have said it required at least another 10-15 years but in fact it was 1994 when it started for us regular Joes. So because of the increasing speed of developments I would not rule out that we may get some remarkable breakthroughs even in the next 5 years now. And that might still be conservative.

On the other hand, maybe there’s some roadblock with aging that will hold things up that I will be saying hello to the invertebrates before the developments occur. Aubrey does seem pretty confident however.

So really, all we can do is hope and pray (if you’re the spiritual type) and that might why there’s so little response.

I enjoyed reading your posts Christain and Taiwanlignt.  I also support and enjoy learning from Dick, Kurzweil and De Gray.  The only issue I might inject is that life is eternal, like a ring, no beginning and no end.  We have lived millions and millions of lifetimes.  And when we die we go into a state of “ku” meaning nothingness until we have the fortune to be reborn.  With that being said, life extension, however,  would give us more time to reach enlightenment.

Personally, I think that we would achieve longer lifespans (say 150 years) by mid century and the functional immortality transhumanists desire by centuries end.  I also think that most of the advanced technology that Dick is hoping for may be around about 150 years from now though I’m pretty sure we’ll enjoy a good bit of that tech by mid century.  At age 56 for you and age 21 for me, I’d say our chances our pretty good.  I just don’t expect humanity as a species to be any happier than we are now.

@ Christian

So what’s our best hope of getting there mid-century?
What do you see as priority for change and for success?

Simply the fact that we have better medicine and people are generally living longer.  I only stated that we would probably achieve life expectancy by mid-century but the methods that would enable that, I would assume, are going to be gradual.  Say that the first approved rejuvenating gene therapies become widely available in 10 years and nona-bots are approved for use five years later.  Both of those would significantly improve the odds of living past 100 and I’m confident that the later would lead to the cure and elimination of several diseases such as cancer and prions.  By mid century both of those processes would have greatly improved to the point that a 150 year life expectancy would be inevitable.  If that does become the case, all you need to do to achieve functional immortality at centuries end (give or take a decade) is to not get into any fatal accidents.  Though I would like people to check out the links I posted above to see what they think.  However, they may end up on this site anyway like I said earlier.

“I just don’t expect humanity as a species to be any happier than we are now.”

You may be right on this, Chris. But perhaps happiness is illusory? There’s a Motown song:

“...happiness is just an illusion,
filled with sadness and confusion”

Possibly moderate pleasure would be a more realistic ‘goal’. As I was taught in school, the etymology of the word happiness is happening; in other words happiness is based on living, say, a well-balanced life so that one is fairly consistently ‘happy’ with what is happening. What do you think, Chris?

 


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I wouldn’t call happiness an illusion, it can be achieved.  Its just that with every thing new thing that improves life, there always something that counteracts it.  There was an article on this site with a video that talked about this and how the tv show Futurama best illustrates this concept.  I’ll post a link once I find it.

“I just don’t expect humanity as a species to be any happier than we are now.”


Come to think of it, you did write you “don’t expect humanity as” a species “to be any happier than we are now”—
albeit the inference is happiness can be achieved by individuals. The Nietzschian Superman, the Elect, for instance, can rise above the herd to be happy- thus happiness is not today and shall not in the future be illusory. Good news.

Here’s the link to the article I mentioned (http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/pbsideas20130208) .

Yes, immortality and happiness are two different things as I pointed to in my Harlan Ellison reference. I do not recommend you read the (in)famous short story if already in a blue mood.

And I believe it was Richard Dawkins who after hearing about the grim possibilities of quantum immortality (likewise do not look up if feeling depressed) posited that every time we search for immortality we end up with a nightmare.

Not to mention though I’m about to, the many traditional tales of the disastrous search for immortality from the Greeks on.

Nevertheless, there is the persistent feeling, is there not, that if you have an eternity to sort out problems, things might result in a great deal of happiness that you just don’t get with the old three score and 10 (now 20 for many).

Don’t forget, there is now the academic discipline of positive psychology whose practitioners have already gained insight into the human condition vis-a-vis happiness or lack thereof. After a million years or even a hundred, who knows?

Teresa if you haven’t heard about it already Startpage (like Google but much less nosey for those who like their privacy) ‘Omega Point’ ‘Teilard de Chardin’ ‘Frank Tipler’ and ‘quantum archaeology’ (the antidote to quantum immortality blues. There’s a song there somewhere). This will lead you to a more technological concept of life after death but somewhat reminiscent of your I presume, supernaturally-based ideas.

The problem for those of us desiring afterlife (the happy upstairs kind) is that it now seems unlikely that mind is independent from the body. Tipler and others attempt in a sense, to give us the supernatural goodies without postulating dualism. Most philosophers I believe if they’ve heard of them. think their ideas rather outlandish but I say, if God, the afterlife, etc. are not possible in a supernatural sense (and the very word is philosophically debatable) we might as well have a bash at creating them technologically. As I’ve mentioned before sometimes we’ve surprised ourselves in the past.

Just as long as we don’t invent the guy with the horns and a cloven hoof stamping on a human face forever.

Immortality is certainly in reach, the ones who fear it and believe in death can die, the ones who want to live for a few more years or centuries can chose to live. but it would be stupid to die before experience it!

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