25 June, 2007

the argument against immortality

i caught part of a show on the discovery channel last night, about time (in general). during the segement i watched, the host (a physicist, i think) was discussing the possibility of discovering a biological means to circumvent death. the premumption was this is a possibility, provided we figure out how to either shut off the cell aging process, or kept cell replication turned on. either way, the implication is there is no biological need to die, so let's figure out how to prevent death.

this is a very bad idea.

why? everyone supposedly wants eternal life (although, to be precise, everyone actually wants eternal youth, as swift so kindly points out to us). what's wrong with living forever? well a couple of things.

first and foremost, to the best of our knowledge matter is finite. if one does not die, one never returns to the system. on it's own, this is not particually much of a problem. where it becomes one is when one reproduces. consider this: there are currently a bit over 6 billion humans alive. imagine if suddenly, no one would ever die of old age again. now imagine birth rates don't change. how quickly would we run out of, well, everything? just because one doesn't die of old age, doesn't mean one cannot starve to death.

so, do we allow only childless persons to live forever, on the condition they be sterilized? or, even grandfather in all living persons, on the condition the human race cease reproduction? who would agree to that? what other options are there? exoplanetary colonization? still a long way to go towards achieving that.

ah, but if no one dies, then time is no longer important, right? we could hold off on reproduction untill we find a solution to potential over population, right? perhaps. but consider how one's thinking grows more conservative with age. would this be stopped by halting cell aging? or would people grow ever more stubborn with the passage of centuries? innovation is, typically, driven by youth because of the lack of experience.

often, our philosophies deal with dualism. without darkness, the can be no light. without conflict, no peace. without sorrow, no joy. is the same true of life and death? will we still be truly living, in more than a biological sense, without knowledge of our mortality? this same show, wondering about how we can excise death, also claims knowledge of death as foundation for human culture and belief systems. we believe we are the only animals on the planet attuned to our own mortality (well, the show's writers do; i don't necessarily agree). one could then argue, if one still felt the need to make humans special, that self-awarness is not sentience; knowledge of mortality is. would then, immortality remove our sentience? a semantic point, perhaps. but it would change humanity, and not necessarily for the better.

the prospect of a cessation of one's existance is certainly frightening. i'm in no hurry to experience it myself. however, it also seems necessary. we know that upsetting the balance of systems creates chaos until they can regain equilibrium. immortalizing all humans would certainly unbalance nearly every ecological system we know. what would the cost of regaining it be? i don't think it's worth it; not even for myself or my loved ones. too much else would be lost.

No comments: