Why wouldn’t you want to live forever? New Scientist editors debate | Artificial intelligence
Only around 1 in 5 adults are keen to live forever, according to the 2018 New Scientist Asks the Public survey.
In the survey, carried out in August by Sapio Research on a representative sample of 2026 UK adults, 21 per cent of people said they would be very likely to accept an offer of immortality. A further 30 per cent said they would be somewhat likely to take up such an offer, but around half of people appear to be reconciled to their own demise.
New Scientist Editor Emily Wilson can’t understand why – but Features Editor Richard Webb sees their point.
Of course I would want to live forever – Emily Wilson
First off, I realise that if it was only me who got to live forever, the sadness of losing everyone I ever loved in a horribly short space of time, relative to my everlasting life, would be unbearably sad. That would make it a “no” from me, as would living forever in pain or perhaps even mild discomfort.
But should the gift of eternal life become universally available, and good health was guaranteed, and the drastic environmental impact of legions of immortal humans living alongside generations of their descendants was also somehow magically done away with, then I would be a Yes.
There are so many lives I would have liked to live, and would still like to if I had the chance. There are so many places I’d like to settle down, careers I’d like to have, hobbies I’d like to take up, people I would like to meet.
I get that all this wouldn’t be enough to counteract the deep impact immortality would have on one’s psyche, as extensively raked over by a large swathe of science fiction and vampire literature. Of course living forever would come with all kinds of ennui, loss of purpose, diminishing drive – possibly for centuries at a time.
But immortality would also bring with it room for stillness, contemplation, vast efforts and who knows what else currently unavailable to mere mortals. The great Al Swearengen of Deadwood fame summed up the human experience in five words: “No one gets out alive.” I would like to see a world where that is not the case. So count me in for the adventure – however terrifying.
For the sake of everyone else, die – Richard Webb
I’m with half the UK – you can keep your extra years of life, I don’t want them!
Let’s start with the doubtful presumption that you could live forever in rude health, rather than “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”, as Shakespeare had it. Even then, won’t somebody think of the children? I’m not just talking about how difficult it would be for deathless humans to live together on the planet sustainably – I’m concerned about the intergenerational aspects. Imagine attempting to get old disgracefully while your parents were still around to see it.
That exposes a broader truth overlooked by those who wish to swig the elixir of eternal life. Much of human exceptionalism is predicated on our knowledge and fear of death: our hedonism, yes, but also our cooperation and altruism, our creativity and inventiveness, and much more. What would a world look like, for example, where no one were motivated today to make great art or literature, or a life-changing invention, safe in the knowledge that tomorrow will do?
Dull, that’s what. Sure, I want to live a long and fulfilled life, and ideally I’d like to die with a minimum of fuss and pain – both of which are uncontroversial. But as for eternal life, I’m voting with my feet – for six feet under.