18. January 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: Death · Tags: , , , ,

In his book God and the Philosophers, the Austrian American atheist philosopher Paul Edwards writes:

When we die we do not return to the “bosom of Nature” or the bosom of anything. After death we will have no experiences at all for ever and ever; and this is what is so terrible about death. The fear of death is no doubt instinctive, but it is also entirely rational. The usual consolation that we also did not exist for an infinite period before birth is not really to the point. The non-existence before birth was followed by life, but our present life will not be followed by another life after we die.

Whether the fear of death is rational or not, there is also a more common sense perspective available on this issue. Fear of death seems to be hardwired in human nature, only the intensity of  this fear differs among humans. Instead of trying to overcome this fear of death with logical arguments, it would be more productive to seek meaningful rejuvenation and human enhancement therapies that would substantially reduce the probability of death by tackling aging and the fragility of human life.

It is surprising that the work of Paul Edwards has not received more attention by life extension advocates. His book Heidegger and Death and his collection of articles about Immortality indicate a serious interest in the topic of personal survival.

Bertrand Russell once said that “most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.” One does not need to look any further than the many responses to Kerry Howley’s recent article about cryonics and hostile partners in New York Times Magazine to find support for Russell’s witty remark. One commenter suggested that “an easy solution would be to just agree with him all the way to the grave. Then bury or cremate him. He’ll never know.” Such a cruel attitude may not be completely representative of what most people think about spousal disapproval of cryonics but it cannot be denied that some hostile partners and relatives have exactly responded in this way when faced with the legal death of a family member who had made cryonics arrangements. As a matter of fact, even indifference to a partner’s cryonics arrangements is a source of problems because the decreased sense of urgency, and a general unwillingness to assist with even the most basic cryonics first-aid procedures, produces substantial ischemic damage. Interfering with an individual’s cryonics wishes raises serious ethical questions because someone’s chance of survival has been reduced from a positive probability to zero.

Peggy Jackson, Robin Hanson’s wife, wonders “what’s so good about me that I’m going to live forever?” This is a strange presumption to make about life and death.  Our culture generally does not have this presumption about moral worth and non-existence. As a general rule, we do not feel that someone has to justify her reason to seek medical care and try to remain alive. The argument is even less relevant in the case of cryonics because cryonics is not publicly funded. It is also a persistent misunderstanding that the objective of cryonics is immortality. It cannot be denied that some who have chosen to make cryonics arrangements have a desire for immortality but both major cryonics organizations simply present cryonics as an experimental medical procedure to treat terminally ill patients who cannot be sustained by contemporary medical technologies. As such, there is no credible rationale to depart from the presumption in favor of life that is implied in today’s medical practice.  “What is so bad about me that I should not seek an experimental medical procedure like cryonics?” should be the obvious response when the presumption of death is made.

‘Choose life at any cost,’ ” Peggy says. “But I’ve seen people in pain. It’s not worth it.” We can agree that people should not choose life at any cost, but what is often ignored in discussions about cryonics is the rather obvious point that cryonics patients will not be resuscitated in the painful and debilitated state of a terminal patient but in a rejuvenated body without the disease the patient suffered from. Without such a condition for resuscitation, cryonics would be an exercise in futility.

One can only agree with bioethicist James Hughes that “there is a lot of ancient cultural stereotyping about the motives and moral character of people who pursue life extension”. In a number of posts on Overcoming Bias Robin Hanson himself has commented on the New York Times Magazine article. Robin draws an interesting parallel between the practice of Sati (“a funeral practice among some Hindu communities in which a recently widowed woman would either voluntarily or by use of force and coercion immolate herself on her husband’s funeral pyre) and objection to one’s partner’s cryonics arrangements.

Interestingly, Robin Hanson also seems to believe that a major source of anxiety about cryonics is fear of the future. Cryonics has “the problem of looking like you’re buying a one-way ticket to a foreign land.” Robin further thinks that a lot of the opposition to cryonics is driven by the possibility that it might actually work. After all, “If people were sure it wouldn’t work there’d be no point in talking about selfishness, immortality, etc.  If the main issue were a waste of money we’d see an entirely different reaction.” This suggests that cryonics organizations could benefit from altering their public relations strategies. Less emphasis on discussing technical feasibility and more emphasis on dealing with anxiety issues.

The libertarian economist Bryan Caplan always gives cryonics serious consideration but sometimes has the habit of starting his discussion of the topic on a wrong note by discussing the most outlandish resuscitation scenarios instead of just focusing on the most basic form of cryonics; resuscitation of the same physical person that has been cryopreserved. Caplan seems to  be quite interested in the question of what the odds of cryonics working are. Aside from the obvious rejoinder that the odds are much lower than they could be if cryonics was permitted as a pre-mortem elective medical procedure, the point needs to be reiterated that a small dedicated group of people can substantially increase these odds through scientific research and the creation of robust cryonics organizations.  Cryonics is not just an issue of determining fixed probabilities but also about supporting the idea and participation to increase the odds of meaningful resuscitation of people who have been written off by today’s medicine.

Cryonics is decision making under certainty par excellence. If you cannot stomach any kind of uncertainty, cryonics is not the best decision for you. As the mathematician, and current Alcor patient, Thomas Donaldson has said: “There is an IRREDUCIBLE UNCERTAINTY which is basic to cryonics , not merely an adventitious consequence of our ignorance about how memory is stored.” In his article Neural Archeology Donaldson recommends that “if you’re involved in cryonics, you’ve got to make your peace with the unknown, because it will always be there. You’ve simply got to make your peace with it.”

The one silver lining of the recent discussion of partner hostilitily to cryonics is that there has been an increasing recognition of the need for financial and legal strategies to prevent catastrophic interference with one’s cryonics arrangements.  Some of these strategies will be discussed in an upcoming issue of Alcor’s Cryonics Magazine.

Some contemporary atheists and secular humanists do not stop at debunking the idea of God but seem to think that making a persuasive case against religion requires them to refute all of its associated ideas as well; including the desire for immortality. Paula Kirby is not the first secular person praising our limited lifespan and glorifying death:

For atheists it is the very transience of life that helps to give it its meaning: for it prompts us to live it to the full, to try to make the most of each day, each hour, and to savour every experience along the way. It is the acceptance of the finality of death that spurs us to live our lives to the full, thereby ensuring they are as meaningful as we can possibly make them. It is also what makes it matter that for too many people life really is a vale of tears, and why it is so important to take practical steps now to alleviate their suffering wherever possible, for there is no afterlife in which all wrongs will be righted and all tears will be dried.

Kirby does not just repeat the hollow non-empirical cliché that life can only have meaning in the face of death but she also pretends to speak on behalf of all atheists. As can be expected, she cannot imagine an extremely long lifespan to be anything else than unspeakable boredom. When she writes that “Susan Ertz got it spot on with her witty remark that ‘Millions yearn for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon” one cannot help thinking that she is conveying more information about herself and Susan Ertz than about humans in general.

It is unfortunate to see an apparently reasonable person like Kirby arguing against the desire for immortality to make the case against religion. As the secular philosopher Herbert Marcuse once noted about this ideology of death, “It is remarkable to what extent the notion of death as not only biological but ontological necessity has permeated Western philosophy–remarkable because the overcoming and mastery of mere natural necessity has otherwise been regarded as the distinction of human existence and endeavor…”

When Kirby states that it is “so important to take practical steps now to alleviate …suffering wherever possible, for there is no afterlife in which all wrongs will be righted and all tears will be dried” she is exactly promoting the kind of  fanatical pursuit of “justice in our lifetime” that is a major source of ideological struggle and ill-conceived public policies. One of the major advantages of a vastly expanded lifespan is that it will reduce this desire for immediate moral gratification and stimulate a culture with more consideration for  the long-term unintended consequences of our actions. One might even go further and claim that it is exactly the prospect of being around for a long time that will foster a culture of moral responsibility and rational decision making.

HT Mark Plus

One question that is going to be of great interest is how aging baby boomers will confront aging and death. Where previous generations have found peace in religion and silent resignation, there are reasons to believe that this generation will not be so complacent. The baby boom generation, or at least those who have shaped contemporary culture and politics, have been more secular and less inclined to accept the constraints of nature (as evidenced by the obligatory contempt for views that allow some degree of biological determinism). In a review for the Financial Times, Stephen Cave reports on no fewer than four new books on the topic of death:

In universities around the world, professors are now arguing that the Dark Angel deserves more respect. Contrary to Epicurus, Death is justly to be feared, say today’s academicians – the common folk had it right all along; we should humbly hand him back his scythe and then run for our lives. Four new books insist that we are right to panic when the reaper comes – and that our very civilisation depends upon it.

There is a lot at stake here. Will the dominant opinion become that death gives “meaning” to life, or will death be seen as an outrage that can be pushed back by modern science? As is evident from this review, both perspectives are represented in these books. It almost seems obligatory for philosophers who write about death to present a-priori scholastic arguments against immortality.  Stephen Cave even talks about the “paradox of immortality,” “the fact of death imbues our life with passion and urgency, but it is that very passion for life that makes death tragic.” But what is a paradox  (even a “fact”) to some, is the lack of imagination of a rationalist philosopher to others. It is hard to imagine that (secular) academic pro-death views will persist when medical science has advanced enough to make these rationalizations less important, but it cannot hurt to be vigilant and turn the tools of logic against them.

Herbert Marcuse, one of the heroes of the protest generation that is currently ruling America, made an astute observation about the “ideology of death”:

In the history of Western thought, the interpretation of death has run the whole gamut from the notion of a mere natural fact, pertaining to man as organic matter, to the idea of death as the telos of life, the distinguishing feature of human existence. From these two opposite poles, two contrasting ethics may be derived; On the one hand, the attitude toward death is stoic or skeptic acceptance of the inevitable, or even the repression of the thought of death by life; on the other hand the idealistic glorification of death is that which gives “meaning” to life, or is the precondition for the “true” life of man.

The authoritarian economic and political ideas of Marxists like Marcuse have little to offer to those inclined to critical thinking, but it is time for baby boomers to face the prospect of radical life extension and engage in direct action to fight the grim reaper.

When I was in New Zealand in 1999, CI Member Cam Christie told me that one of his co-workers was against cryonics because she was a Jehovah’s  Witness and her church had a position against cryonics. I recently found an article about cryonics on the Jehovah’s Witnesses website:

The piece contains the statement:

“…the use of nanotechnology and cryonics is still more  science fiction than reality. Science has contributed to,  and may still contribute to, a longer and healthier life  for some, but it will never give anybody eternal life.  Why not? Simply put, it is because the root cause of aging  and death lies beyond the realm of human science.”

To my knowledge, this is the strongest statement, and possibly the only statement, from an organized religion against cryonics. As far as I know cryonics has been “off the radar screen” and has not merited comment by any other organized religion.

The so-called conflict between religion and cryonics disappears when cryonicists stop claiming that cryonics can give immortality or eternal life. In the quote above, the Jehovah’s Witnesses acknowledge that science can contribute to “a longer and healthier life.” The more that cryonicists can convincingly stress that this is  the goal of cryonics, the fewer enemies we may face who have the power of frustrating our goals. Aside from the fact that many cryonicists, including me, do not believe that cryonics can give immortality or eternal life.  Cryonics cannot prevent a nuclear holocaust, a supernova, a meteor destroying the earth, and many other events which are inevitable in the face of eternity.

It’s difficult to follow up a best-selling book about the cultural history of the penis, but David M. Friedman has a knack for engaging readers in topics that others find difficult to broach. This time he tackles the touchy subject of death by relating the intertwined biographies of Charles Lindbergh and Alexis Carrel in his new book, “The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever.”

Like most people, I had only heard of Charles Lindbergh as an aviator and in the context of his first child having been kidnapped and murdered. Imagine my surprise, then, when I happened upon a passage in Cardiopulmonary Bypass: Principles and Practice outlining Lindbergh’s contributions to Alexis Carrel’s isolated organ perfusion research in the 1930s – contributions which, for the first time, “permitted sterile, pulsatile perfusion at variable ‘pulse rates’ and variable perfusion pressures.”

Wait a moment. How did the world’s most famous aviator become involved in organ perfusion? Although much information about Lindbergh and Carrel’s work exists online, Friedman’s book provides a much more personal history of these two accomplished men.

Lindbergh’s overnight catapult into fame and adulation as the first man to fly across the Atlantic ultimately culminated in his loathing the press and greatly valuing privacy. A few years after his groundbreaking flight from New York to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh began thinking about things other than aviation. In particular, he wondered why people should have to die. Always an ambitious person, he decided to enter the realm of biology in order to seek the solution to eternal life. Once he made his quest known, it was not long before he was introduced to Alexis Carrel.

Carrel, a French scientist working at the Rockefeller Institute in New York, had already been awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1912 and was far along in his own personal quest for immortality when Lindbergh came along. Convinced that the body was little more than a machine with replaceable parts, Carrel had begun his research by culturing cells from animals and keeping them alive indefinitely after the animal had died, thus “proving” the immortality of man and inviting him to move on to the next step: culturing entire organs. So far, Carrel had been successful at keeping the organs alive outside of the body for a few hours by perfusing them with a nutrient medium, but infection invariably set in and caused the organs to fail.

Lindbergh tackled the problem of creating a better perfusion pump with gusto. Using his engineering expertise and an innate sense for biology he eventually developed a pump that kept the perfusate sterile, thus allowing organs to be kept alive for several days or even weeks. Carrel and Lindbergh published their preliminary results in Science (“The Culture of Whole Organs,” July 21, 1935) and Lindbergh described the perfusion pump in a separate article published later (“An Apparatus for the Culture of Whole Organs,” September 1935, Journal of Experimental Medicine). The entire effort was then written up for publication as a book (“The Culture of Organs”) in 1938. As a team, it was obvious that Carrel and Lindbergh were made for one another.

That was true in more ways than one. Carrel was a eugenicist through and through, and often expounded on his ideas and philosophies with Lindbergh when they weren’t in the lab. Lindbergh had long considered himself superior to the masses of people he sought to avoid (especially journalists), and Carrel’s theories provided him justification for his opinion of himself and other “great men.” Eventually, Lindbergh became so enamored with eugenics that he developed a profound respect for Nazi Germany, much to his protégé’s dismay. Eugenicist or not, Carrel (like most Frenchmen who lived through World War I) hated the Germans and cautioned Lindbergh against speaking too loudly in their favor.

But speak loudly Lindbergh did. In fact, he abandoned the laboratory altogether in order to promote his new cause: non-interventionism. Becoming the spokesman for the America First Committee, he toured the U.S. speaking against America’s involvement in World War II, arguing that we should instead allow the situation in Europe to play out on its own accord. But while he believed that America should not involve itself in foreign wars, he also said that he would be the first to defend his country if it were attacked.

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh tried to make good on his promise. However, having thoroughly irritated the Roosevelt administration with his anti-war rallies, he was prevented from serving his country as anything but a civilian. To prove his patriotism Lindbergh fought in the South Pacific, providing cover for American bombers and pilots and eventually shooting down a Japanese plane himself, with the knowledge that if he were caught he would receive no aid from the U.S. and would stand alone.

Carrel, meanwhile, returned to occupied France after retirement from the Rockefeller Institute and tried to create an organization of the brightest thinkers in France to create policies to guide and govern the common people and return his country to glory. Ultimately this project failed and Carrel died ostracized and under house arrest.

When the war was over, Lindbergh visited the concentration camps in Germany and saw the horror and devastation perpetrated in the name of supposed science. He was beside himself and couldn’t believe that the “neat” and “organized” Germans that he had admired would commit such atrocities. He returned to the U.S. to examine his life – and came to the conclusion that he, too, had allowed science to dominate his perspective. He documented his monumental change in attitude in a book called “Of Flight and Life” in 1948. Friedman documents:

“…Lindbergh was urging Americans to break free from the “grip of scientific materialism,” lest it lead them, shackled and helpless, to “the end of our civilization.” The choice facing America, Lindbergh wrote, was as simple as it was stark: “If we do not control our science by a higher moral force, it will destroy us.”

This about-face led Lindbergh to an even greater revelation: that he was no longer an immortalist. After spending time in Africa and coming to appreciate the beauty of nature, Lindbergh dedicated the remaining years of his life to environmentalism. Friedman writes that “The person who once tried to save the world by saving white civilization would now try to save the world from white civilization.” Lindbergh wrote:

“When I watch wild animals on an African plain, my civilized [method] of measuring time gives way to a timeless vision in which life embraces the necessity of death.” I see individual animals as mortal manifestations of immortal life streams; and so I begin to see myself. I am not only one, I am also many, a man and his species. In death, then, is the eternal life which men have sought so blindly for centuries, not realizing they had it as a birthright.”

When faced with a cancer diagnosis in 1974, Charles Lindbergh had already made his peace with death, believing now that it was only through death that man may become immortal. With the same determination that he had done everything in his life, he planned his funeral down to the last detail. When the time came, he flew to his home in Maui and reminisced with his wife and children about his life – one of the most accomplished lives of the 20th century. Then, the man who was the first to fly solo across the Atlantic, who made the “Model T” of perfusion pumps, and who became a great political activist turned environmentalist, finally abandoned science…or, as he told the doctors who wished to continue treating his cancer in its last stages, “no, science has abandoned me.

22. October 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: Death · Tags: , , , , ,

In 2003 George Hart published an article called “The Immortal’s Dilemma: Decontructing Eternal Life” , making a secular case against immortality.  Hart mainly uses logical arguments and provides a fair amount of room to address a number of possible objections to his position. In a nutshell, Hart considers two variants of immortality, one without the option of termination and another with this option. The former is argued to be undesirable (a position that most life extensionists would agree with) and the latter is impossible because of the (logical) inevitability of a deathwish among immortals:

“Personal immortality poses this dilemma: without the termination option, we will face infinite periods of time when we will wish we could terminate our immortality; with the termination option, we will eventually and inevitably face a period when we will exercise the termination option and thus put the lie to our supposed immortality.”

In his 2004 article “Deconstructing Deathism: Answering a Recent Critique and Other Objections to Immortality,” mathematician, cryonics activist, and author of “Forever for All,” Mike Perry, reviews a number of arguments against immortality and those of George Hart in particular. Perry does not find Hart’s position on the inevitability of an executed deathwish persuasive. Perry also takes issue with Hart’s position on personhood and the memory and information requirements of immortals.

One aspect that seems to be prevalent in philosophical arguments against immortality is the alternate use of personhood and boredom objections. When it is argued that immortality does not necessarily have to be boring, critics of immortality answer that an unending life with infinite experiences necessitates demands on  memory information storage that will undermine the requirement that immortality is only meaningful if it is experienced by the same person. Alternatively, when an unchanging personality is assumed, it is argued that boredom will inevitability occur. But the choice between loss of personhood or boredom may not be necessary if personhood is not defined in such a “dogmatic” fashion but allows for both psychological continuity and meaningful identification with the past. As Perry notes:

trying as we are to anticipate the possible future before it happens, and how we will deal with our problem of memory superabundance when many new options should have opened up. In that hopefully happy time a “science of personal continuation” should have taken shape to properly deal with the matter. Nay-sayers like Hart try to discount any such prospects once and for all, based on today’s perspectives with their inevitable limitations.”

Toward the end of the article, Hart’s personal position on immortality becomes more pronounced and his reasoning less careful. Hart speculates that it may be “that only a finite life can be meaningful because only a finite life can be a story that has a beginning, middle and end. Death is what frames our life, and only a framed life can have meaning.” But why life can only be meaningful when it is perceived as a story with an ending instead of a never ending story remains obscure. Toward the end of the article , the author becomes even more blunt when he states that “life is meaningful when it is lived; that is enough. To ask for more is almost greedy.” But this argument is proving too much and would undermine any case to prolong life by scientific means, including conventional medicine. Hart is too fine of a writer to mean this. So how long is too long?

Although arguments against immortality should be evaluated on their philosophical merits, it is often not hard to detect the person behind the argument. As discussed before, this issue is particularly present among writers who stress the issue of boredom and stagnation in relation to immortality, employing a one-dimensional and unimaginative view of life and experience in order to make the case.

When discussing the (logical) inevitability of a deathwish among immortals, Perry further notes that “the rather morbid dwelling on a putative, recurring death-wish suggests that Hart may not be so happy with his own life,” as evidenced by statements such as:

“In theory you can imagine without contradiction what it would be like to be alive for a trillion or even a trillion trillion years from now. This thought experiment creates its own horror, one that is mind-numbing and nauseating.”

Perhaps secular “pro-death” philosophers believe that the case against religion is strengthened by debunking one  of the reasons people believe in the supernatural (the promise of immortality). But this would be throwing away the baby with the bathwater. If scientific means will become available to extend the maximum human life span, there is no a-priori reason why secular thinkers should not rejoice in that development, just as we are now embracing advances in medicine to heal and prolong life.

Although speculation about how immortality may affect human psychology can be intriguing, our limited  knowledge about the universe and lack of empirical observations of actual immortals make this a highly speculative affair, leaving much room for injecting personal feelings and wishful thinking. These feeling can be negative, as evidenced by the life extension cynics, or meliorist in nature, as expressed in the writings of Mike Perry:

“Clearly there are many possibilities, but I conjecture that personality types capable of and desiring very long survival will not be so varied or inscrutable as to baffle our understanding today. Instead they should basically be profoundly benevolent, desirous of benefiting others as well as themselves, and respectful of sentient creatures in general. They will acknowledge that enlightened self-interest requires a stance with a strong element of what we would call altruism. They will be intensely moral, but also joyful in the exercise and contemplation of their profound moral virtues—for an element of joy will be essential in finding life worth living, even as it is today. These joyful, good-hearted beings, then, will be the types to endure, and will refine their good natures as time progresses, so as to increasingly approximate some of our ideas of angelic or godlike personalities, as endless wonders unfold to their growing understanding. “

Few philosophers against immortality argue that today’s lifespan is too long. Which again raises the question, how long is too long? Ultimately, such an answer can only be answered empirically by the individuals who will live a much longer lifespan than those living today.

Mike Perry – Deconstructing Deathism: Answering a Recent Critique and Other Objections to Immortality

If immortality means a zero chance of death, it is doubtful whether mankind (or any lifeform) will ever achieve this. Nevertheless, advocates for extending the maximum human life span often face arguments that address the negative features of being immortal. It is important to be aware that arguments against immortality do not necessarily apply to radical life extension. In absence of contemporary technologies to extend the maximum human life span, it is premature to make a case for immortality. But since some arguments that are raised against immortality are raised against living a lot longer as well, it can be beneficial to address them. One such argument is that immortality would lead to boredom.

This is the argument that Bernard Williams makes in his article “The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality” (reprinted in the collection “The Metaphysics of Death”). Elina Makropulos is a 342 old character in Karel Čapek’s play “The Makropulos Case,” whose unending life has become boring and cold.  Although Williams discusses a number of interesting issues about death, the article does not contain a logical argument to believe that an unending life will necessarily lead to boredom.

The argument that immortality leads to boredom can take two forms; empirical and logical. In the first case we would observe immortal people and conclude they will become (increasingly) bored. Clearly, this approach is not possible. A milder form of this approach would be to observe very old people and to extrapolate from this to immortality. But this does not seem to be very promising. Many old people are still very curious and involved with the world, even when struggling with aging-induced  medical complications. Perhaps there is a tipping point after which old people will get bored. Perhaps not.

The other argument that immortality leads to boredom is logical in nature and is derived from the properties of being immortal as such. This does not seem to be very promising either. The assumption in such arguments is that an immortal person will exhaust all there is to live for. There are at least two problems with such a line of reasoning. The first problem is whether such a state of affairs (a fixed person with finite possibilities and experiences) logically follows from immortality. Why not assume there will be infinite possibilities and experiences (even if the person stays “the same”) instead? The other problem is that such a line of reasoning reflects an impoverished view of life, emphasizing just quantity and progress. In this view, life is a one-dimensional journey in which all things are tried and left behind. Such an outlook on human  existence does not leave room for the possibility that some experiences get richer the more we experience them. It neither leaves room for the possibility that we attach intrinsic value to things, aside from their relationship with the past or the future.

Williams anticipates such arguments when he writes:

“if one is totally and perpetually absorbed in…an activity, and loses oneself in it…we come back to the problem of satisfying the conditions it should be me who lives forever, and that the eternal life should be in prospect of some interest.”

Such an argument is not persuasive because being perpetually absorbed in something is not equivalent to that person not existing. But it is not even evident why immortality would require a person to be perpetually absorbed in something or face boredom. As Max More points out, “There is no guarantee of being engaged with life, but ennui has to do with laziness rather than the availability of too much time.”

The argument that immortality will lead to boredom is not empirical, and to the extent that a logical argument is made, it is inconclusive. Perhaps arguments of this kind do not so much reflect logic but temperament, just like ontological arguments in favor of pessimism and optimism tell us more about the philosopher in question than about the nature of the universe.

Bernard Williams does believe that as long as the desire to live exists, he does not want to die. He does not know when life will reach a point after which he would be better off not living. That is all that we need right now because no one is offering scientific means to become immortal. And even if such means would become available, one is not obliged to use them or remain immortal. Perhaps one reason why immortality has such a bad reputation in fiction is that it is often portrayed as a state of being with no way out or as a curse.

See also: Max More – Meaningfulness and mortality (Cryonics #125, vol.12, no.2, February 1991)

04. August 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Death · Tags: , , ,

Now online is Mike Perry’s article “Historical Steps Toward the Scientific Conquest of Death.” This article was previously published in 2003 in Physical Immortality, a short-lived publication by the Society for Venturism.

The article is adapted from Chapter 2 of Mike Perry’s book, Forever For All: Moral Philosophy, Cryonics, and the Scientific Prospects for Immortality.

This book considers the problems of death and the hereafter and how these ages-old problems ought to be addressed in light of our continuing progress. A materialistic viewpoint of reality is assumed, denying the likelihood of supernatural or other superhuman assistance. Death, however, is not seen as inevitable or even irreversible; it is maintained that the problem can and should be addressed scientifically in all of its aspects. The book thus follows recent, immortalist thinking that places hopes in future advances in our understanding and technology. A functionalist, reductionist argument is developed for the possibility of resurrecting the dead through the eventual creation of replicas and related constructs. Meanwhile, it is urged, medical advances leading to the conquest of biological death should be pursued, along with cryonics: freezing the newly deceased for possible, eventual reanimation. A common ground thus is sought between two hitherto largely independent strands of scientific immortalism, the one based on hopes in a remote but hyperadvanced future, the other on the nearer-term prospects of presently advancing technology. The resulting philosophy, encompassing both past and future, is directed toward the long-term interests of each sentient being, and it thereby acquires a moral dimension. The immortalization of humans and other life-forms is seen as a great moral project and labor of love that will unite us in a common cause and provide a meaningful destiny.

22. June 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Death · Tags: , , , , ,

Immortality as a zero probability of information-theoretic death may not be possible or realistic. A more practical (and less controversial) objective of radical life extension would be to minimize the chance of information-theoretic death. In analogy with Aubrey de Grey’s objective to cure human aging by engineering negligible senescence (SENS), the objective of radical life extension should be to achieve a negligible chance of information-theoretic death. Although curing aging will be necessary, it will be far from sufficient to achieve greatly extended lifespans. Even if aging can be completely abolished by advanced molecular technologies, humans will still be vulnerable to major accidents and homicide. Of course, such events may not necessarily produce acute information-theoretic death, but it can be argued that when humanity becomes more robust and advanced, the nature of accidents (space travel) and murder (“information-theoretic murder”) may become more destructive as well. This raises the question of whether our ability to eliminate “traditional” risk factors can outpace the number and nature of new risks.

Perhaps the most logical proposal to achieve a negligible chance of information-theoretic death is to duplicate a person. If enough duplicates are made, the chance that all of them will die can be made very small. But this raises the issue of whether such duplicates are the same individual. Some people would argue that this strategy does not produce atomistic non-serial immortality. It is also not clear how the question of whether a copy of an individual is the same individual can ever be resolved by empirical observation or logical deduction.

Perhaps the most realistic proposal to reduce the probability of information-theoretic death would be to separate the neurological basis of the person from its body in such a fashion that the risk of complete destruction of the person would become negligible. One such proposal is briefly discussed by Robert Ettinger in his book “Man into Superman.” In Chapter 4 on “Cyborgs, Saucer Men, and Extended Bodies,” Ettinger notes that “the brain need not necessarily be mobile; in fact, it might be better protected and served if fixed at home base. The sensors and effectors–eyes, hands, etc.–could be far away, and even widely scattered, with communication by appropriate signals (not necessarily radio).” Because such an “extended body” would not rely on controversial technologies such as duplication and mind-uploading, the traditional concept of identity can be reconciled with reduced vulnerability. Clearly, this idea could benefit from detailed elaboration and specific proposals.

The prospect of such extended bodies raises an important question about resuscitation of cryonics patients. When should they be revived? Naturally, a necessary condition is the ability to reverse any damaged incurred during the cryopreservation process itself and being able to cure the patient’s terminal disease. Most people who have made cryonics arrangements will add that the general ability to rejuvenate a person should be a necessary condition as well. Because all these conditions require availability of similar technologies, it is doubtful that the choice between these scenarios has practical relevance. A more stringent condition, however, would be a request to only attempt resuscitation if the chance of information-theoretic death is smaller after resuscitation than in long term low temperature care. This option raises an uncomfortable question — are patients in low temperature care safer from information-theoretic death than a person alive today? Answering this questions involves a lot of complicated issues such as the technical feasibility of cryonics, the nature of long term care of cryonics patients, and, ultimately, how one weighs the certainty of being alive today against the probability of a (vastly) longer lifespan in the future.