The pursuit of technological immortality

There have been a few times when I’ve suggested that an indefinite lifespan could be possible through technological development, and moreover, that this is something worth pursuing. To be clear, this is not at all reliant upon magic, any concept of an afterlife, or the existence of supernatural phenomena. It’s fully within the realm of the natural world – it just means rearranging the structure of matter so as to create a more stable and resilient embodiment of our consciousness.

This is obviously quite an oversimplification, but that’s the basic idea behind it, and there’s no apparent reason why it shouldn’t be possible. Configurations of matter within the natural world are already known to support consciousness, and this could potentially be altered and extended in a variety of ways. But while some people believe that this either can’t be accomplished or won’t be achieved within the foreseeable future, others go even further and claim that it shouldn’t be done.

It doesn’t seem like it should be so controversial. Most people don’t look forward to dying, and they don’t usually like it when their loved ones die, either. We already make use of technology to push back death further and further – is it really that different to ensure that it’s no longer inevitable? It does mean removing something that, for all of history, has been a constant: the mandatory and involuntary end of life. Clearly, some people might be taken aback by that. But should it really be considered so objectionable?

Some have said that if nobody dies, it would lead to further problems with overpopulation. But overpopulation is already an issue, and yet we aren’t demanding that anyone should have to die. If people shouldn’t be allowed to live indefinitely, how long should they be allowed to live for? What would be the upper limit here? If effective immortality is possible, then insisting that it not be pursued for this reason means literally preferring for people to die when they otherwise wouldn’t have to, because the problem of overpopulation is just too challenging to bother solving. I don’t see how that’s an acceptable tradeoff, and the progress that accompanies the eradication of death might end up making this a non-issue.

Others have claimed that the end of life is necessary to give meaning to life, suggesting that life is only important to us because it lasts for a limited time. But that’s hardly a universal fact of life. The meaning that we find in our lives is something that we each have to establish for ourselves. Not everyone requires the inevitability of death in order to give their lives meaning. For many of us, life itself is what gives meaning to our lives. The many experiences we have in life can be so enjoyable that we pursue them for their own sake, without needing the threat of death hanging over our heads. For us, it doesn’t represent a motivation, but rather the end of everything that we find beautiful and amazing in our lives.

It seems likely that people have only tried to find good things about death because, thus far, it’s been unavoidable. Even in the most regrettable of circumstances, the unwilling destruction of a human mind, we still try to see something positive in it. But if death were something that simply never happened, would the benefits of it be so compelling that we would collectively decide for everyone’s life to be cut short of its maximum potential?

If people do need death to give their lives meaning, that option should be available to them. Nobody should be forced to live forever. But nobody should be forced to die when they don’t have to, either. Given the choice, I’m not willing to die just because it might give meaning to my life. Nor do I expect anyone else to die in order to give my life meaning. And nobody has any right to expect that from me. If it comes down to a choice between the death of everyone ever merely for the sake of finding purpose in life, or giving everyone the chance to live forever and having to find meaning on our own, I know what side I’m on. Do you?