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    Death - Humanity's Number One Problem
    By Gerhard Adam | December 4th 2010 04:38 PM | 84 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    The three problems of humanity were outlined in a talk by Nick Bostrom (of Oxford University, UK) at TED in April 2009.  While I'm sure there are some that will consider these points to be quite reasonable in setting goals, I'm continuously amazed at the lack of rigor or introspection these claims aim at.  

    In a nutshell, the talk identified three (3) problems that were perceived as needing to be addressed to "fix" humanity. In this article, I will discuss the first one.

    Problem #1:  Death is a BIG problem.

    In this discussion, the point is made that it is such a big problem that most people may not see it as such, perhaps because it is so familiar.  There were some highly questionable numbers thrown around such as a daily death rate of 150,000 and an annual death rate of 56,000,000 with emphasis on the majority of people (66%) dying of old age.  They were questionable, not in regards to their accuracy, but in regards to their relevance.  For a philosopher to appeal to pity or consequences, seems a poor beginning for such a topic.

    Interestingly enough, the talk assumes a perspective that death is arbitrarily "bad" and doesn't feel the need to even make an argument as to why it is a problem (another appeal to consequences, which seems to be the main thrust of the arguments).  Even though human population is increasing to alarming levels, despite the "death rate", it never seems to enter the discussion that eliminating death may bring a different set of problems (no doubt, this will be solved by some other technical miracle).  In fairness, it seems that the next set of claims is intended to provide some rationale for what is "bad" about death, although once again, the relevance is questionable.

    At this point, Nick Bostrom begins his true flight of fancy by making the following preposterous claim, in equating each lost human life with one book (representing life experience).  In 2004, the number of deaths by "natural" causes was 52,000,000 so he immediately concludes that this is equivalent to 52,000,000 "books" being destroyed.  He then makes the quantum leap to indicating that the Library of Congress contains 18,000,000 books and consequently in 2004 we lost the equivalent of 3 Libraries of Congress.  He does emphasize that this is under estimating the true cost of lost knowledge.

    However, before we consider his conclusions, let's look at the numbers themselves.  In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) gives the death toll in 2004 as 58,800,000, so it's a bit different (about 13%).  However, what's interesting is that in the distribution of deaths, 51% occurred in individuals 60 years or older.  It gives one pause to consider what exactly is meant by "natural causes" when fully 49% of deaths are under 60 years of age, and 18% (10.4 million) are below the age of 5.  Clearly we have a problem with the initial assertion that 66% of deaths are due to aging.  More to the point, it isn't clear what death "due to aging" actually means.  Presumably the point is that as our bodies break down over time, rather than some underlying disease condition, then this would qualify.  However, without a breakdown by specific criteria, this claim is merely specious. 


    Going back to the point about the "lost" knowledge is a different matter.  Without being overly critical of the information "content" that the majority of people actually possessed, the biggest fallacy in this argument is in suggesting that this was somehow 52,000,000 million unique pieces of knowledge (in fact he even equates it to the sacking and burning of the library in Alexandria). 

    A legitimate question would be to ask, how much unique (unknown to anyone else or unrecorded) knowledge actually exists in the world, and I would suggest that it is very little.  In fact, the irony seems to be lost on Nick Bostrom that this is the point of the Library of Congress existing in the first place.  

    I also don't intend to trivialize the life experiences that individuals have, but realistically it has little or nothing to do with anyone other than themselves or their families.  It is also important to question whether humans are experiencing some sort of information "crisis" as a result of losing all this data, and the answer is obviously; no.  

    A strong argument can also be made that older generations actually represent a kind of information "bottleneck" as new ideas are being integrated into younger people so that we experience a flow of information that accommodates the corresponding changes in society over time.  While it might seem exciting to imagine having a conversation with Sir Isaac Newton, it is our fantasy or vision of him that we are considering.  We don't know if he would even be someone we like, and we certainly don't know how well he would've adapted over the centuries to all the work that has occurred since his life.  In fact, it would be a legitimate argument to consider how much work might have been stifled by his long-standing academic history (were he immortal).  Innovation has rarely been the hallmark of the establishment, which is ultimately what the transhumanist position is advocating.

    This criticism doesn't mean that we should give up all technical or medical developments to help people live, or to stop fighting diseases.  That presents a false dilemma, so if we are to take this "goal" seriously, then we should be examining what can be done today that doesen't require any additional or future technology.  We need to be honest in examining the poor track record we have to doing things that we can actually control right now.  There is no technological reason for people to die of starvation.  There is no technological reason for people to die in wars/conflicts.  There is no technological reason for people to die because of crimes.  There is no technological reason for people to die in many vehicular accidents. These are all problems that are not dependent on the future for resolution, but what have we done?  We've ignored those problems because they are here now, and we know that we cannot solve them.  So to propose some magical technical solution into a future that we can't even envision seems disingenuous.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    What about the assumption that death is a problem?  

    Well clearly it isn't in the general case, since we absolutely depend on it for food in both plants and animals.  Presumably, death isn't a problem when it comes to eradicating diseases or pests, so death, itself, can't be the problem.  So, we must separate out human death as being the issue to which we want an exception.

    Of course, many deaths aren't the result of "natural causes" or simply old age (49%), so how are they to be prevented?  Can they actually be prevented without also removing the right for people to behave in any way they choose, including foolishly?  We already restrict certain behaviors to control our society by having laws that define what we consider to be criminal activity, so is death a problem for criminals?  

    This is where the problem becomes more difficult, because if we can rationalize death for one type of human (i.e. criminals), then we have to consider what differentiates the two types and how we determine it.  After all, there have been a sufficient number of cases where individuals are on death row in error, so what would it mean to kill an "immortal" human by mistake?  Therefore, we are forced to conclude that either ALL humans must be protected from death, including those we consider undesirable, or NO humans can have preferential treatment.

    In the first instance, we have to consider that unless we can absolutely control human behavior, then some will behave criminally or, at least, unethically such that an individual may wrongfully be deprived of their life.  In addition, we have to consider that, whether being immortal, changes the argument regarding the possibility of rehabilitation.  If so, then we may be ethically and morally bound to ensure that no individuals are intentionally killed.  

    On the other hand, if we argue that some humans can't be allowed to live, then we are faced with the dilemma of determining who makes such a decision?  How do we deal with situations where other humans may behave aggressively?  Since this behavior can't be assured, it seems we are stuck with the problem that normal deaths will still occur.  Interestingly, if that's the case, then the longer the lifespan is, the greater the likelihood is that a person will die a violent death (since death would essentially be an "unnatural" cause).

    All in all, the rationale for immortality or increased lifespan is actually a somewhat childish "what if" game which is illustrated by these quotes from Nick Bostrom:
    "Imagine what might have become of a Beethoven or a Goethe if they had still been with us today. Maybe they would have developed into rigid old grumps interested exclusively in conversing about the achievements of their youth. But maybe, if they had continued to enjoy health and youthful vitality, they would have continued to grow as men and artists, to reach levels of maturity that we can barely imagine."
    http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/values.html
    What seems to be missing from this consideration is that it is precisely because of the limited works that were produced over the time period in question that they have become precious.  This seems to be a common fallacy in assuming that "if a little is good, then a lot must be great".  If we don't accept this fundamental limitation in our lives, then how are we any different than the rats pressing a "pleasure switch" 18,000 times per day.  It is the ultimate in self-indulgence.
    "To get a sense that we might be missing out on something important by our tendency to die early, we only have to bring to mind some of the worthwhile things that we could have done or attempted to do if we had had more time. For gardeners, educators, scholars, artists, city planners, and those who simply relish observing and participating in the cultural or political variety shows of life, three scores and ten is often insufficient for seeing even one major project through to completion, let alone for undertaking many such projects in sequence."
    http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/values.html
    It's a decidedly myopic view that is based on the idea that the individual that is working on a project should somehow obtain special dispensation to avoid death so that they can continue working.  Of course, it fails to consider the large number of people struggling in poverty, or war, or with diseases, that don't have the luxury of worrying about completing such a project, but then ... it isn't their dream, is it?  

    Perhaps it is time for these "visionaries" to look into the eyes of the younger generation and consider whether they think their ambition is to perpetually be considered "junior" members of whatever project or goal they have for themselves?  After all, if your “boss” is immortal, what position can you aspire to?

    Of course, I'm neglecting part two of this fantasy, which is perpetual youth.  While this has been a point of discussion for probably as long as humans have been alive, it is being revived because of the illusory sway of infinite technological achievement.  It doesn't matter that we aren't even remotely close to achieving it, but it's the lure of having youth with immortality that is so captivating.

    In a world already bulging at the seams because of population growth, one can only wonder at the effect such indefinite youth can create.  Imagine fathering hundreds of children.  I would imagine this would be significantly less appealing to women, but one can't tell when medical miracles are available.  I can't help but imagine the competition between a 600 year old man and a 30 year old man for a 1,000 year old woman's attention.  The mind boggles.

    Comments

    briantaylor
    Lack of rigor, indeed. What is with lazy philosophers who seem to have forgotten about logic?

    To be fair, I haven't watched this TedTalk yet. Perhaps I won't bother based on your fine article.

    Seems to me there is way too much already decided upon in his assertion that death is a "problem." As you ask, a problem for whom? When? Why? What does "problem" mean, anyway?
    Maybe death is the solution...

    Nick seems like the cop who has already decided "the butler did it." He's going to find out he's right, but only he's going to know it.

    I wholeheartedly agree that the idea of every single living human being a "books worth" of information is preposterous. You and I both know the reality of this claim and it breaks down first, in terms of definitions. Even if we ignore his inability to define what this is to mean, (what book, how much information, quality of information and what information,) and presume that everyone is chock full of relevant, accurate and utilitarian information, we could be talking about a planet of phone books.

    His argument that death gets in the way of progress can just as easily be true as not, again, it depends upon too many factors to fathom. A immortal Einstein may or may not have delivered more knowledge, which may or may not have proven beneficial. Perhaps we would all be dead by way of the knowledge he delivered. Perhaps we will anyway...

    Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

    What is life without death? Unlevel, disproportionate, unnatural and selfish.
    I look forward to Nicks next talk, about how if the Queen had balls, she'd be King.





    Gerhard Adam
    Unfortunately it begins to appear like a cruel joke when one considers that fully 10 million of those reported deaths occurred in children under the age of 5. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    briantaylor
    Too bad for the parents and others who loved those kids.
    Can't say a damned thing about the kids, now or ever.
    Gerhard Adam
    I know the argument would be made that with transhumanist technology and values these children would've been saved.  However, that's the irony of such a claim, because there is no technological reason for most of them to have died.  So, if this is how technical solutions are going to be applied, then one can only wonder at the future being envisioned.
    Mundus vult decipi
    briantaylor
    I think I see the irony now.
    You're saying that transhumanism can be preemptive.
    Technology could have saved (most) of these kids.
    Transhumanist values then, should already be instilled in humans, yet aren't.
    We had the opportunity to save those kids, but didn't.
    How can we look forward to what we could possibly become when we currently don't look at what we are?
    Gerhard Adam
    Exactly so.  If the point is to look for technological solutions to human problems, then isn't it incumbent on us to use the technology we currently have available to the same end?  If we don't, then why would we believe that newer technologies would be any different?
    Mundus vult decipi
    briantaylor
    Damned humans, always getting in the way of themselves...
    Steve Davis
    Nice work Gerhard. I think Socrates would have a ball destroying the pretensions of many nowadays who call themselves philosophers.
    Personally, I’ve been hearing all my life about the Serious Philosophical Issues posed by life extension, and my attitude has always been that I’m willing to grapple with those issues for as many centuries as it takes.

    — Patrick Nielsen Hayden

    socrates
    Yes, Patrick/Alexander, you have identified the hidden conflict here, in my opinion. That conflict is the conflict between what is good for society as opposed to what is good for the individual.

    Ideally, the needs of the whole would be always in harmony with the needs of all the parts. Since there is a mutual dependency, one might think that such agreement might be assured. However, in nature (and man is part of nature) things operate on a "good enough" principle. Life does not need to be great for individuals for society to succeed. Life just has to be good enough for individuals "to stay in the game".

    And so society will look out for its own needs above the needs of the individual. For society to grow and evolve, it is often advantageous to scrap outdated hardware and software (read "bodies and minds") and replace them with newer ones. However, just as in our own bodies, some cells are replaced more often that others, in society, not all lives are equally valued, despite our declarations to the contrary. I am not making a moral statement here. I am making a prediction about how society, acting as the primitive organism that it is, will find a way to prolong some lives where the benefits outweigh the costs and allow other lives to continue to be expendable and replaceable.

    So there you have it. It is not personal; it is just natural. What does this mean for the individual? Well, this individual is not counting on being saved (in any sense of the word) and so I shall try to make the best of the time allotted to me.
    Citizen Philosopher / Science Tutor
    Gerhard Adam
    It is not personal; it is just natural.
    Ah, but it is personal.  Society, politics, and economics are human inventions and are not governed by "natural" occurrences, but are controlled by others that set rules and guidelines that heavily influence outcomes.  Therefore, one cannot truly argue that anything about the process is "natural".  As a result, there is a strong motivation to ensure that society does not invest resources for a favored few, but instead that "we" determine the path that society should follow.

    There's no question that those that seek advantage will make a case as to why they should hold some privileged position, but there would be nothing more foolish than an individual that willingly sacrifices themselves so that others may accrue the benefits.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Aitch
    ......but there would be nothing more foolish than an individual that willingly sacrifices themselves so that others may accrue the benefits.
    I think I would have to say, that that depends on your level of Self-Mastery

    Humanity has had several Masters without whose 'foolishness' we could well be in a far worse state than appears to be the case

    Aitch
    Gerhard Adam
    I think I know what you mean, and I should've been more specific by indicating that I was NOT referring to people that make sacrifices to help others.  I was strictly referring to those that already do well, and those that simply "roll over" for them.
    Mundus vult decipi
    socrates
    "Ah, but it is personal"

    Yes, of course you are right, Gerhard. It is personal. It is both personal and not personal. It is personal, because the collective actions of society impact directly on the personal lives of individuals. It is personal, because individuals have to personally cope with the consequences.

    However, it is not personal in the sense that society has no personal motive in disrupting our personal lives. It does not have so much as a personal opinion of you or I. This is because society is not a person. Society is a creature - an organism of a primitive kind with as yet no capability of reflective thought. Creatures on this level instinctively seek to survive, grow, and dominate their environment. This is what I meant when I said it is natural and not personal.

    You rightly point out that society is a human invention. True. However, being human and being natural are not mutually exclusive. You also say that society is controlled by humans. I am not so sure about the "control" part. I think we all have our role to play and that some have more influence than others. On the whole, though, I think there is a kind of emergent quality to society that is not under our control.

    Nevertheless, we as individuals, we as humans, must cope. Not taking it personally, does not mean, not taking action. It means, not harboring
    animosity. There are things that can be done to protect against tyranny, just as there are things that can be done to protect against other natural disasters.

    However, here is the rub, for me. To be effective against challenges of such a scale, one must engage in collective action. A single individual cannot stop the tide from rising, but a collective effort could create dikes, dams, and levies. So also collective action is required to protect against abuse of political power. My ever-nagging,
    intractable, perennial question then is this. How can individuals organize into collective coherent action in such a way as to avoid creating the very kind of creature whose threat they are trying to defend against. That is, what form of collective self governing is there that is not subject to corruption. I am not at all convinced that democracy is the answer. To put it more cynically, is it inevitable that all organizations/institutions eventually betray their original mandate and become a self-serving, self-perpetuating organism in its own right? I don't know the answer to that.
    Citizen Philosopher / Science Tutor
    Gerhard Adam
    I agree with what you're saying and I suppose the distinction I'm looking at is that there really isn't anything we can call 'society' that hasn't been absorbed in our social systems of government and politics.  In a more primitive group, one could envision "society" as being the natural interaction of individuals that all have a stake in their own survival as well as that of the group.  The same cannot be said with our modern society.

    You bring up an excellent point regarding the need for collective actions, but this is where my cynicism hits its stride.  In my view, because we are so polarized into various social subtopics, there is little opportunity for a true collective spirit to emerge that can move things in any particular direction.  I would go so far as to say, that's precisely the point in the way modern politics and government works, in keeping the populace off balance enough to never have a unifying force around them.  Historically, it has always been difficult for such organized efforts to begin and operate anyway, so as long as enough vested interests gain some degree of satisfaction, there will always be a sense that most individuals have more to lose than to gain by upsetting the "natural order" of things.

    I think your point about an emergent property is a good one, because it describes the fact that no society can be assured of its survival if the some critical mass occurs among the people.  I couldn't help but be reminded by Frank Zappa's lyrics that always struck me as particular pertinent:

    Don't you know that this could start
    On any street in any town
    In any state if any clown
    Decides that now's the time to fight
    For some ideal he thinks is right
    And if a million more agree
    There ain't no Great Society

    "Trouble Comin' Every Day"
    Mundus vult decipi
    Aitch
    Steve
    As one who got deeply involved in Environmental Direct Action, in UK, I am only too well aware, both of the effectiveness of collective actions in preventing, or at least slowing, the environmentally damaging effects of government corruption, and also the unforeseen effects by way of impact, of 'what they did next' in changing both legislation, and propagandist media manipulation, of 'Environment Campaigners'...now seen partly under the heading 'terrorists' despite our stated peaceful aims and practices
    I have grown to the conclusion, that I cannot, even though having been successful, recommend that course of action anymore, as infiltration is now a priority to Government philosophy - see, for example, this about the wikileaks fiasco

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=22371

    ...then apply that to any form of collective action/alternate thinking grouping...
    How can individuals organize into collective coherent action in such a way as to avoid creating the very kind of creature whose threat they are trying to defend against
    This is, in the light of what I've just highlighted, increasingly difficult, not just to avoid creating that kind of creature, but to avoid getting fooled by false prophets, as infiltration is very tricky to spot, especially when the infiltrators become the anarchists leading the revolt down blind alleys, or into arrest traps, or worse

    So, my current notion, is to return to the ancient philosophy that to change oneself, and one's consciousness, is all that each of us can best do to know oneself, and thus undermine bad government/corruption,....as at least then, we will see it coming, and know best how to act, in any eventuality

    Death even comes to the very idea of needing a government, in the end  ;-)

    Aitch
    jlparkinson1
    Reminds me of a line from Seneca the Younger, the Roman philosopher/writer/historian -- I don't remember the exact words, but it ran something like this: "Life is like a play in that it's not how long it lasts but the quality of the acting that counts."
    Few things. Death by old age can be delayed but technically it is bad thing to delay. People become frail and become huge burden to society.

    There is one solution.

    Education, birth control, and incentive for poor and people with bad gene to not reproduce.

    Gerhard Adam
    The problem with that viewpoint is that it allows others to make a decision about the value of an individual's life.  What is too much of a burden?  Who decides?  What are "bad genes"?  These are all topics that have been explored during various phases of history and the conclusion is always the same; it can't be done without creating a worse environment than that which was replaced.

    Humans are not simply cogs in a machine that can be replaced at will, nor are they simple components that can be adjusted until they "fit" properly.  Humans either have the freedom to behave as they choose (including foolishly), or humans are not equipped to have individual freedom.  Take your pick, but if it is the latter, then I can only wonder at who should be in charge?

    Humans must eventually learn that they survive by cooperating and not by subverting that cooperation into autocratic rule by a few.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Humans either have the freedom to behave as they choose (including foolishly), or humans are not equipped to have individual freedom.  Take your pick, but if it is the latter, then I can only wonder at who should be in charge?
    Let's hope its not someone like Attila the Hun in charge. I watched a film about him last night, that put an interesting perspective on some of our past leaders' humanitarian ideals and viewpoints regarding the value of an individual's life. A quote in Wiki describes how :-
    The barbarian nation of the Huns, which was in Thrace, became so great that more than a hundred cities were captured and Constantinople almost came into danger and most men fled from it. ... And there were so many murders and blood-lettings that the dead could not be numbered. Ay, for they took captive the churches and monasteries and slew the monks and maidens in great numbers. (Callinicus, in his Life of Saint Hypatius)
    There are several accounts of how Attila the Hun eventually died after many years of rampaging and pillaging throughout Europe and Asia. Attila died in 453, the conventional account, from Priscus, says that 'at a feast celebrating his latest marriage to the beautiful and young Ildico he suffered a severe nosebleed and choked to death in a stupor. An alternative theory is that he succumbed to internal bleeding after heavy drinking or a condition called esophageal varices, where dilated veins in the lower part of the esophagus rupture leading to death by hemorrhage'. A third account was that he was stabbed by his new bride on their wedding night. Either way, I doubt that his latest, young bride felt that Attila's death was a BIG problem.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Sorry Gerhard, if my reference to Attila the Hun seemed slightly off subject, but the point I was trying to make was that in those days we all know that very few people had the luxury of dying of old age and the rights of the individual were often openly disregarded by ruthless leaders like Attila. But if what you said above is true, that in the distribution of current deaths :-
    51% occurred in individuals 60 years or older.  It gives one pause to consider what exactly is meant by "natural causes" when fully 49% of deaths are under 60 years of age, and 18% (10.4 million) are below the age of 5.  Clearly we have a problem with the initial assertion that 66% of deaths are due to aging.
    then there appear to be many people who are still not dying of the vagaries of old age today. I think that there are still Attila the Hun equivalents, ruthless leaders of corporations, organizations, religions and countries, who are still wreaking havoc upon innocent people today, its just that these barbarous acts are often disguised and hidden under the outwardly mild veneer of the current leaders of modern civilisation's economic exploitations and clever demographics.

    Millions of people are still dying each year from a combination of wars, environmental theft and disasters, exploitation (1$ day wages, no holidays or rights) and infectious fatal illnesses like AIDs, hepatitis, malaria etc, without access to affordable medications. Many more are being poisoned by their environments and even dying from malnutrition and lack of access to clean water. According to UNICEF over a million children die every year from the side effects of economic hardship and an additional 2 million women and newborns die each year simply because of a worldwide lack of skilled birth care. Even the lucky few in affluent, democratic countries are being poisoned by everyday contact with things like green Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs), neurotoxic pesticides and even their own prescription medication for example, usually without their knowledge of course. So I don't think we should worry too much about people living too long if the current trends keep increasing.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    So I don't think we should worry too much about people living too long if the current trends keep increasing.
    This is certainly true.  All the more reason to question the motives of those that want to commit resources to achieving longevity.  Who is to benefit, if we don't fix what's wrong today with the technology available today?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    After taking a closer look at what Nick Bostrom of Oxford University is saying about transhumanism, it has become apparent to me that the crucial concept that everything seems to mainly depend upon is the word 'sentience' and not necessarily 'longevity'. Longevity would or could result of course and I can understand Oxford University thinking that this is a good idea, if David Cameron gets his way and allows them to hike up their university fees, as some of the students might need to work well into their old age to pay them off. According to the Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged :-
    Sentience and sentiency are :-
    1. the state or quality of being sentient; awareness
    2. sense perception not involving intelligence or mental perception; feeling
    Bostrom says that
    (T)ranshumanism advocates the well-being of all sentience, whether in artificial
    intellects, humans, and non-human animals (including extraterrestrial species, if there are any). Racism, sexism, speciesism, belligerent nationalism and religious intolerance are unacceptable.

    He then lists the TABLE OF TRANSHUMANIST VALUES as :-
    Core Value
    • Having the opportunity to explore the transhuman and posthuman realms
    Basic Conditions
    • Global security
    • Technological progress
    • Wide access
    Derivative Values
    • Nothing wrong about “tampering with nature”; the idea of hubris rejected
    • Individual choice in use of enhancement technologies; morphological freedom
    • Peace, international cooperation, anti-proliferation of WMDs
    • Improving understanding (encouraging research and public debate; critical thinking; open-mindedness, scientific inquiry; open discussion of the future)
    • Getting smarter (individually; collectively; and develop machine intelligence)
    • Philosophical fallibilism; willingness to reexamine assumptions as we go along
    • Pragmatism; engineering- and entrepreneur-spirit; science
    • Diversity (species, races, religious creeds, sexual orientations, life styles, etc.)
    • Caring about the well-being of all sentience
    • Saving lives (life-extension, anti-aging research, and cryonic
    In an ideal world, many of these basic assumptions and values would surely not be out of place and maybe if they were recognised as valid and adopted now, a more Utopian world would inevitably result? However, it is difficult to see how these values could be adopted without inadvertently becoming yet another form of religion. They remind me of some of the core beliefs being advocated by the Bahai Faith for example.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    Helen, in my view it already is a religion.  It has little or no science to back it up beyond current work in those fields (that is no where close to where it is suggested it be).

    As a result, much of the transhumanist issue is an article of faith that it can be achieved, and that somehow declaring oneself in favor of it is important.  Notice that no one declares themselves in favor of physics or chemistry, but somehow transhumanist requires converts or believers.  In addition, it is also interesting that most of those that speak on the topic sound like evangelists rather than technical/scientific specialists.

    In my view, transhumanism is the religion of the 21st century.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I don't know if this TED talk has already been linked to but it is Cambridge researcher Aubrey de Grey arguing that aging is merely a disease -- and a curable one at that. Humans age in seven basic ways, he says, all of which can be averted.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Hank
    Using the word 'researcher' for de Grey is going to have a lot of researchers spitting their milk out their noses.  Yes, he has a crazy beard, but...
    Gerhard Adam
    You should be aware that if you read any of De Grey's papers, he'll admit that he doesn't actually have a clue as to how such a thing would actually be achieved.  So to say that it is "curable" is optimistic, to say the least.
    Mundus vult decipi
    SynapticNulship
    Gerhard, it's good to see some criticism (which I will interpret as constructive) of Bostrom's ideas which some transhumanists share.  Usually humans are not in as unique times as they hope they are, but perhaps we are in the awkward state of transitioning from purely fanciful notions of immortality and eternal youth into the realization that it just might be possible through technology.  We haven't gotten to the mature knowledge or plans yet.  Perhaps that is the #1 problem.

    But, of course, there isn't really a #1 problem, because it's contextual.  I, like other transhumanists, don't see why would should have to die merely because it's always been that way.  If I lived to be 200, does that mean I am a criminal stealing candy (resources) from incoming babies?  Transitions have to happen so that is not the case, and if transhumanists aren't worried about the details of those potential paths then we should be.  So then we start branching into other problems which, as you say, are not always technological.  What about the problem of people dying before old age?  Could transhumanist excitement be partially redirected to help solve the problems of children dying as one of many stepping stones to a better future?  Perhaps.
    Gerhard Adam
    I can understand the objective of studying aging and even death.  All of these are legitimate biological queries, however, most transhumanists that I've heard approach it as something magical and not technological.  However, the fundamental problem remains, since technology is intended to address this issue, then technology that is currently available is the best indication of how any future technology would be implemented.

    In other words, if we can't get it right with what we can already do, then to speculate about even more advanced technologies already suggests the huge social inequities that are a sure follow-up.

    The problem with your statement about living to 200 is that it would never be enough (perhaps for you, but not in general, I suspect).  There is never a point where someone says ... 'that's a good number of years'.  It will never be enough, and that ultimately comes down to the failure to recognize limits in the universe.  I'm somewhat disappointed with the emphasis on quantity instead of quality when it comes to life.  Given how many people suffer from the latter, it seems quite selfish (and perhaps almost criminal) to think that our biggest concern is increasing the longevity of those that can afford it (speaking philosophically since the technology doesn't exist).

    Actually I'm also planning another post on the issue of immortality in general, because it considers the question of what that actually means if we only address aging, versus all the other causes of death. 
    If I lived to be 200, does that mean I am a criminal stealing candy (resources) from incoming babies?
    That would depend on whether you lived that long naturally, or you assigned resources to yourself (at others expense) to achieve it.  Therein lies the problem.  Can we realistically argue the we should spend resources to prolong human life, when we have the technological means to prolong it for many that die too young?  Are their desires to simply live a normal lifespan not important enough to focus on?

    This isn't simply an altruistic question, but it gets to the heart of how such technology would be deployed.  As I said earlier, if we won't fix it now, why should I believe that anyone is interested in fixing it later (after they've gotten "theirs").
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Gerhard, it's good to see some criticism (which I will interpret as constructive) of Bostrom's ideas which some transhumanists share.
    I'm glad you took it as constructive criticism, although I suspect you may not be as happy with parts 2 and 3 of this piece. 

    I'm not a religious person, and I especially despise religion being dressed up as science.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    A great article - whatever the praise of a nobody may be worth to you. You are on the right track to a simple truth that naive, fearful little humans like N. Bostrom cannot grasp: A system that achieves ever greater levels of insight will commit suicide on logical grounds. A "transhuman" system of global control will try to ensure that suffering can never evolve again.
    Gerhard Adam
    Sascha, you are hardly a nobody, and I very much appreciate your comments.  Thank you
    Mundus vult decipi
    Aitch
    Interesting piece, Gerhard

    ...and this from the man, Nick Bostrum:

    A thread that runs through my work is a concern with "crucial considerations". A crucial consideration is an idea or argument that might plausibly reveal the need for not just some minor course adjustment in our practical endeavours, but a major change of direction or priority.

    If we have overlooked even just one such consideration, then all our best efforts might be for naught---or less. When headed the wrong way, the last thing needed is progress. It is therefore important to pursue such lines of inquiry as have some chance of disclosing any crucial consideration to which we might have hitherto been oblivious.

    Some of the relevant questions are about moral philosophy and values. Others have to do with rationality and reasoning under uncertainty. Still others pertain to specific issues and possibilities, such as existential risks, the simulation hypothesis, human enhancement, infinite utilities, anthropic reasoning, information hazards, the future of machine intelligence, or the singularity hypothesis.

    My working assumption: These high-leverage questions deserve to be studied with at least the same level of scholarship that academics routinely apply to all manner of arcane trivia. This assumption might be wrong. Perhaps we are so irredeemably inept at thinking about the big picture that it is good that we usually don’t. Perhaps attempting to wake up will only result in bad dreams. But how will we know unless we try
    He seems to differ with most of the commenters here, including me,  as to what are 'Crucial considerations'

    I hope I die eventually

    Aitch
    Gerhard Adam
    Oh, just wait until you hear the argument about existential risks ... :)
    Mundus vult decipi
    Aitch
    No thanks, I'm too busy experiencing it.... LOL

    It occurs to me that if death is the number one problem, then birth must be the number zero....

    and life is the growth from nothing to something....

    Aitch
    "...the longer the lifespan is, the greater the likelihood is that a person will die a violent death (since death would essentially be an (unnatural cause)."

    I did not understand where this conclusion comes from. I cannot see how this is a statistically correct statement.

    "I'm not a religious person, and I especially despise religion being dressed up as science."

    Similarly, I despise science being dressed up as the only (our) reality. I cannot see why by pretending to be the only "logical truth" science should be considered to be better than religion. Both bring limited and approximate information, at most: religion - by assigning a name and power to the unknown and inexplicable while relating it to the visible, and science - by seeking an empirical explanation of the visible while totally neglecting the unknown and inexplicable. The two may easily coexist since at any instant they might be both wrong and correct.

    As for death, I would only consider it to be a problem if the quality of my life at the time of death is no worse than it was during my best years, say, during my twenties. Otherwise, there is no incentive to live longer if aging significantly limits your physical & mental skills.

    Very well said Dimi, I couldn't agree more.

    Gerhard Adam
    I did not understand where this conclusion comes from. I cannot see how this is a statistically correct statement.
    If you don't die of old age, then you must die of either some other physical condition or violently.  If medical technology removes the physical conditions, then the only thing left is violently.  The longer you're alive, the more exposure you have to such death. 
    Similarly, I despise science being dressed up as the only (our) reality. I cannot see why by pretending to be the only "logical truth" science should be considered to be better than religion.
    You think they are equal grounds?  So there is no difference to you in having information that is tested and verified versus that which is just made up?
    ...while totally neglecting the unknown and inexplicable.
    OK, in case you haven't been paying attention ... science is about exploring the unknown and the inexplicable.  That's what science does.  Religion is based on faith, so regardless of how useful you might find it, it can never be a source of information.  It is a belief ... that's what makes it a religion.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "Death, be not proud..."
    Well, it seems rather intuitively natural that absence of death would lead to accumulation of the knowledge within the civilization.
    Then - practical aspects, like spacefaring. Should the aging be eliminated as a problem, there would've been no need for "spacetime warping" and/or other way of cheating "no-faster-than-light-speed" limitation...

    Gerhard Adam
    ...there would've been no need for "spacetime warping" and/or other way of cheating "no-faster-than-light-speed" limitation.
    Wow, I can't even imagine what you're thinking when you say that.  You think that the issue of traveling for several hundred years in space is a problem only because we age? 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Well, of course, there are other problems - but they can be solved relatively easier... Like water re-circulation, hydroponic/aerophonic gardens, producing food and oxygen in exchange for CO2 and human waste, artificial gravity, solar wind/space radiation "sails", super-durable materials - I can envision humanity being able to figure it all out... Not in our lifetime, obviously... But sufficient and well-controlled space-time warping would require levels of energy, which cannot be achieved with currently available resources, I think... I don't believe such technology would be available to humanity at all, to be fair...

    Gerhard Adam
    Once again, the problem isn't just technical, but psychological.  It isn't a question of whether there's a hydroponic garden, but rather the major change in lifestyle that is required for long-term travel.  This creates a unique psychological separation from others such that after years of such living, no one even knows what kind of problems that would produce.

    The problem would be insurmountable if we were dealing with deaths and births, but if the ability to limit or restrict aging could actually work, then there are these other issues that would present as serious problems.
    Mundus vult decipi
    If aging is limited/restricted for everybody - then the interstellar travel just won't simply be perceived as "long-term"... If as long as you avoid accidents, you can live almost eternally - another couple thousand years are sure not a big deal...
    However, I do agree, the effects might be unpredictable - will the perception of time itself change? I.e. - will a year actually become a minute in the minds of people, who live almost forever? Will they actually move, talk, think, etc. much slower (kind of like ents in LOTR - a silly, but rather sane example), for the reason, that if one expects him/her-self to live forever, sence of urgency would deteriorate to a big degree, leading to "slower" perception of time?
    P.S. I'm also assuming that a human with eternal life would be "equipped" with unlimited memory storage, not like now, when the older memories get "deleted" to make room for the new ones... Because "reusable" memory space for a non-ageing creature would be a totally different story...

    "If you don't die of old age, then you must die of either some other physical condition or violently. If medical technology removes the physical conditions, then the only thing left is violently. The longer you're alive, the more exposure you have to such death. "

    I understand this logic, but I cannot find a particular relationship between the human's age and the likelihood to die violently. If there is no particular cap on age (as you claim by ruling out natural causes), a 5-year old child and a 80-year old man will carry the same probability to die in a violent way. If you take the same case BUT add the conditional probability that both individuals will live up to exactly the same age, then obviously due to the differences in the normalization factor (being the time remaining to live) your case holds. However, at any instant any two individuals have the same likelihood to die violently because the probability is, generally speaking, independent of the past.

    Basically, I still do not understand which of these cases you favor and what point you want to make with either choice.

    "You think they are equal grounds? So there is no difference to you in having information that is tested and verified versus that which is just made up?"

    What is your point here? I said that science pretends to describe everything in a logical way and calls that "everything" that can be explained by the rules of science our reality. Obviously, following any rules will lead to something that is ... describable by those rules. However, what about if you do not have rules for anything? Things exist regardless of whether or not the current progress of science has an explanation for them. "Logical" in the world of science does not mean "real" or "the only truth".

    Einstein probably made up the general relativity theory. This was a piece of previously unknown information. It was tested and verified years after his groundbreaking theoretical work. Having a time gap with no tests and verifications did not mean at all his general theory was wrong and "made up". Can you prove to me at this instant that certain religious things are wrong in terms of actual reality - the real truth - and not in terms of the current progress of science based on only what our 5 physical senses can grasp?

    Current religion and science populate somewhat different manifolds and I cannot see any particular dependence between them that can rule out one in favor of the other. Why shouldn't they be on equal grounds?

    To your question: No. If you cannot prove that something doesn't exist, you do not have the right to claim that since you are incapable of proving its nonexistence, it actually is nonexistent. I can kill a person and tell you I did it, which means I am giving you information, but you or anybody may not be able to prove or verify that I did it. When in actuality I was the killer, would you claim that I made up the story simply because nobody was competent enough or had the knowledge to prove that I was the murderer?

    "OK, in case you haven't been paying attention ... science is about exploring the unknown and the inexplicable."

    Yes, but it neglects the unknown and the inexplicable until it becomes scientifically known and explicable. If I tell you now that it is more than obvious that the Higgs boson exists, what would you say? Is it true? It might be and being the sole truth does not depend at all on whether the scientific methods (understand these entirely dependent on our primitive experimental apparatus) proved it 100 years ago, will prove it tomorrow or will verify it in 1000 years. Reaching scientific verification does not mean at all that something immediately has to become the fundamental real truth, because our limitations to prove cannot be an indicative of nonexistence.

    "Religion is based on faith, so regardless of how useful you might find it, it can never be a source of information. It is a belief ... that's what makes it a religion."

    Why do you limit where information can come from? You are prejudiced then, or do not understand what religion actually is.
    Belief also drives science, otherwise the latter would not evolve.

    Gerhard Adam
    However, at any instant any two individuals have the same likelihood to die violently because the probability is, generally speaking, independent of the past.
    This isn't about "any instance", but rather that in the situation of where an individual is immortal and not subject to disease, then the only cause of death remaining would be a violent one (or accidental if you prefer).  As a result, the probability of a violent death increases because there are no other causes that can take that away.  In other words, the probability of death and the probability of a violent death will become synonymous.
    I said that science pretends to describe everything in a logical way and calls that "everything" that can be explained by the rules of science our reality. Obviously, following any rules will lead to something that is ... describable by those rules.
    You're wrong in thinking that science "pretends to describe everything".  Science describes what it knows and has hypothesis that need to be tested for what it doesn't know.  To suggest that science attempts to represent itself as being ALL knowledge, is disingenuous, since such a claim has never been made.
    Can you prove to me at this instant that certain religious things are wrong in terms of actual reality - the real truth - and not in terms of the current progress of science based on only what our 5 physical senses can grasp?
    You should know better than to argue about providing a negative.  The onus isn't on proving that something doesn't exist, but rather when a claim is made, the requirement is that the claimant offer proof.  Without that, you can say whatever you like, and it may even be true, but it isn't scientific.
    Reaching scientific verification does not mean at all that something immediately has to become the fundamental real truth, because our limitations to prove cannot be an indicative of nonexistence.
    Why are you trying to force science to become philosophy.  Science can only confirm what it tests.  Whatever else you want to call something, it isn't science if it can't be verified.  However, correspondingly, what does it mean to claim that something is "real" if you can't verify it?
    Why do you limit where information can come from?
    Where else is it going to come from?  Should I take your word for it?  Someone else's?  The point is that if it isn't verifiable, then you can't make any claims regarding it's "truth" or applicability.  The problem here, is that too many people want to take their own points of view and experiences and label them as "truth".  They could be, but if they can't be verified, then it isn't applicable to anyone except themselves.  Science is about finding information that is applicable to everyone.  You can't exempt yourself from gravity or physics or chemistry or biology.  As a result, this represents information that is "true" regardless of who is asking the question.  That is the difference with religions and other forms of "experience".  Without verification you're simply expecting me to accept evidence based on the authority of the individual providing it.  That's simply not relevant.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Steve Davis
    "Belief also drives science," I don't think you could call the search for knowledge a belief. Belief is involved. but it's not the driver.
    "You're wrong in thinking that science "pretends to describe everything". "

    First, what you are quoting is out of the context. Second

    "Science describes what it knows and has hypothesis that need to be tested for what it doesn't know. "

    is wrong, because science does not know a lot of things for which it doesn't have even a single hypothesis. Third

    "To suggest that science attempts to represent itself as being ALL knowledge, is disingenuous, since such a claim has never been made."

    is correct, because such a claim has never been made (including by me). "Knowledge" by definition implies understanding based on facts, and facts by definitions are related to verified information, which in turn is strongly intervened into the language & rules imposed by science. Therefore, what you are saying here is redundant and has not been a topic for me.

    "The onus isn't on proving that something doesn't exist, but rather when a claim is made, the requirement is that the claimant offer proof."

    Whose requirement is that? You claim certain religious beliefs are made up as well as do not correspond to reality - please, prove it.
    I have also never heard that claims must be only positive. You should be aware of the fact that this alone is a ridiculous statement.

    "Without that, you can say whatever you like, and it may even be true, but it isn't scientific."

    Exactly. It may not be scientific, but it may still be true. => Science may never reach & reveal the whole truth if it keeps using obsolete 4-dimensional apparatus prone to functioning only within the framework of our physical 5 senses. Why should people then rely only on science to have their lives guided and be told what's correct and what's wrong based on these questionable scientific methods? Science is not the universal judge.

    "However, correspondingly, what does it mean to claim that something is "real" if you can't verify it?"

    What does it mean to claim that something is unreal (i.e. made up) if you cannot prove your claim? Why should everything be subject to verification as defined by the rules of science? Such a materialistic conception is based on the primitive "the unproven does not exist" statement.

    "The point is that if it isn't verifiable, then you can't make any claims regarding it's "truth" or applicability."

    The same story here. I may be able to verify it by using methodology totally distant from what the current scientific progress can offer. The word "verification" is neither synonymous to "science" nor is intrinsically connected to it. Therefore, something not falling within scientific verifications may still be verifiable by other means and hence, be the truth.

    Finally, I'd like to make a note that I used the word "truth" to represent the universal truth and not my personal view. Although people tend to label the phrases "personal view" and "truth" under the same common denominator, they are not. In addition, "information being true" and "the truth" are different things as well. This is something that even science acknowledges (general relativity & observers; quantum mechanics, etc). What strikes me is that these findings are legitimate parts of science and still people cannot accept other things that are yet to be become parts of it (given science frees itself from its stubborn materialistic shell).

    "Belief is involved. but it's not the driver."

    Scientists search for knowledge because they believe they will find it. Belief is the driver, the search is the consequence. Actually, without believing I cannot see why one would be living.

    As a final note, I am a scientist. But I am tired of single-minded, prejudiced and stubborn scientists living only within the confined space of their heads. A lot of this:

    dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124

    is happening because of that.

    Cracked.com did a similar analysis, although for laughs, it's still worth a read. It has some crude language, so you've been warned.

    http://www.cracked.com/article_18708_5-reasons-immortality-would-be-wors...

    socrates
    Wow, Dimi and Gerhard, what a vigorous yet civil exchange on the virtues and failings of science and religion. You are both to be commended for not letting your passion devolve into ugly rhetoric as too often happens on public forums.

    My two cents worth is that much abuse has occurred both in the name of science and in the name of religion. It is only natural for failings to draw more attention that the successes. For me, this is particularly true of religion, to the point that I, too, have difficulty defending what is commonly called religion. I believe what Dimi is calling religion is something much deeper than what Gerhard is criticizing. I agree with Gerhard's criticism of what I would call shallow or pseudo religion. I believe Dimi's kind of religion is closer to philosophy and metaphysics. In that sense of the word, Einstein was a religious man and admitted as much himself. I believe that we can certain use more such religious scientists in our quest to understand our world.
    Citizen Philosopher / Science Tutor
    Steve Davis
    " is it inevitable that all organizations/institutions eventually betray their original mandate and become a self-serving, self-perpetuating organism in its own right?" I think history shows us that this is exactly what happens Steve. Which is why thinkers such as Kropotkin were interested in a philosophical brand of anarchism - democracy at the grass roots level.
    George Bernard Shaw said"Youth is wasted on the young".If,Gerhard,you have had children or even grandchildren you would have noticed that despite your advice taken from the book of your life,they all seem to make the same mistakes over and aver again."you may be young strong and free to be the best that you can be,whats happened to others won't happen to you but you end up going the same way too".Then theres the old grandparents that never learn from experience"you may be old wiser and worn but still as helpless as the day you were born ,being older and wiser can't take away sin if you had your time over you'd do it again".What did old bernard shaw mean except that experience of life changes our actions but by the time you get it it's too late to enjoy it'.Wouldn't it be better to go on enjoying our eternal youth with good experience that enables us to appreciate and enjoy life more and only breed to keep the population topped up,or even to have the choice would be desireable.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...by the time you get it it's too late
    That's the fallacy.  The only reason you "get it" is because its too late.  If it weren't for that time limit, then you'd never "get it".  Which is precisely why people manage to waste their entire lives before they figure it out.

    Time is not the enemy, but our ability to waste it, makes us think so.
    Mundus vult decipi
    You are being argumentative again Gerhard to say that death makes us obtain experience of life and learn our expensive lessons is stupid.I learn lessons in life from experience so i don't make the same mistakes again not cos i'm going to die.I think your just a philosopher masquarading as a scientist,egotistically engaging in debate to win an argument to no profit to anyone.But if you are determined to have your learned death no doudt you will get your wish but thats not my hope.

    Gerhard Adam
    I'm not clear on why my responding to a post to an article I wrote makes me argumentative, nor why my arguments are "egotistical".  However, it is fair to say that I don't take kindly to people that have no argument beyond their own opinions (and not well formed ones, at that).  So if you have something to debate or present, then you're certainly welcome to do so. 

    I'm also not impressed with people that think having an extended life-span is a necessity because of all the things they failed to do when they did have the time.  So, whether you consider that argumentative or egotistical, I'm not impressed nor swayed by the argument.  Up to this point, no one has shown me one thing they would do differently if they had a longer life, beyond fantasizing about all the projects they could take on (despite not having done one of them during the lifetimes they do have).  While I can certainly see that some people might actually do these things, the simple reality is that the majority of people have an exquisite talent for wasting time, and there's absolutely no reason to believe they wouldn't waste all of eternity, given the opportunity.
    Mundus vult decipi
    But this seems to create a black/white thing: either we can try for "eternal" life and then waste it all, or we can decide not to waste, but also should never pursure the technology to get _longer_ life. To me it'd seem better to do both: get longer (not eternal!) life _and_ put it all to use.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...get longer (not eternal!) life _and_ put it all to use.
    I guess my problem is with the idea of "putting it all to use".  How does one achieve that?  Does that ultimately reduce to just staying on the job longer?  later retirement age?  Perhaps instead of focusing on longevity we focused on quality.  In addition, how about focusing on helping those whose lives are cut "unnaturally" short?  The focus on increased longevity or even eternal life reeks of simply being a variation of eugenics.  Does anyone really believe that such technology would be made globally available for all humans to enjoy, or does it lead to a situation where only those with money and power gain a means of never having to relinquish it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    I'm not sure why you think this particular topic is more science than it is philosophy.  In fact, the latter aspect is overwhelmingly more important to consider than whether or not science finds a means of extending life.

    It is also useful to note that the TED talk which is being criticized, was presented by a philosopher, so I'm not sure what your complaint is.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "the only reason you get it is because it's too late".I just can't see how it being "too late" has anything to do with learning the truth from experience and understanding;we often speculate about people who's lives are "cut short",what they might have achieved had they lived a full life,but what is a full life?If a full life were say a thousand years and someone died at seventy,couldn't we say what might they achieve if they had lived a full life.One only has to imagine what Einstein or Newton or Charles Darwin may now be achieving had they not died to say nothing of Abraham who could have brought peace between jews and muslims,and think of all the savings in not having to educate each generation all over again.I of course am not talking about getting old and decrepid but a long life full of health and vigour.

    Gerhard Adam
    One only has to imagine what Einstein or Newton or Charles Darwin may now be achieving had they not died to say nothing of Abraham who could have brought peace between jews and muslims,and think of all the savings in not having to educate each generation all over again...
    You're joking, right?  Are you suggesting that everything has stopped because these individuals have died?  What makes you think they had anything further to contribute beyond what they did?  Why is it always assumed that doing a bit of name-dropping provides justification for seeking immortality to 7 billion people? 


    Mundus vult decipi
    One thing you fail to understand as a philosopher Gerhard is the science of climate change means we will soon live in the environment we deserve whether of good or evil.Yes evil people will reap an evil environment forever and good people will reap a good environment forever so i suppose for the former eternal life will be a bad thing.Maybe thats why politicians and the rich and greedy are so afraid of climate change,but it would certainly be an incentive for some people to change their ways.As for the population explosion,there are other reasons for sex than reproduction and it could be enjoyed much more without it,one wouldn't need to reproduce if the original went on forever.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...one wouldn't need to reproduce if the original went on forever.
    What's your basis for this statement?  Are you suggesting that people only have children because they're not immortal?  Does that mean that only immortality would stop population growth?  Sorry, but your reasoning is specious and seems completely teleological.
    Mundus vult decipi
    If we lived forever the world would soon be too full to live in and population would stabilise by limitation of space and resources.Why would you have children when there is no room for them and you have complete birth control available?Yes i can see how "immortality would stop population growth".During the second world war there was a "baby boom" because people felt insecure about their life expectancy and the greatest reproduction at this very time is in countries where life expectancy is lowest.Yes ,whether or not it is done conciously or not I am affirming from the evidence that people have children because they are not immortal.What evidence can you show for your reasoning?

    Gerhard Adam
    It is interesting that you keep framing your position with questions instead of supporting arguments (i.e  why would someone, no need to, etc.).  These views presume acceptance by others and don't demonstrate expected behavior, but merely desired behavior (confusing "ought" with "is").

    You are also presuming complete cultural homogeneity and that all beliefs across all domains would draw a comparable conclusion. 
    I am affirming from the evidence that people have children because they are not immortal.What evidence can you show for your reasoning?
    The flaw in this argument is that you're equating immortality with the elimination of death.  Your premise is false in equating immortality to "death-free".  Even if humans were immortal (in the sense being discussed), they are not invulnerable, so using your WW II example, just as many people would've died as actually did.  So your conclusion regarding the "baby boom" is unaffected by whether humans are immortal or not.


    Mundus vult decipi
    If though immortality were to be death free then you would presumably agree with my arguments that immortal life expectancy would eliminate the need for reproduction?I really am talking about a perfect homogenious loving society here which would be the only society to guarantee both a perfect boomerang environment and immortality..This would be where we would be heading with my current concept of the future of climate change.Science has always had a vision first and then used the evidence as a springboard to take a leap into the unknown.To bring us bang up to date this is what the world needs to know and prepare for,not run away from.Everyone needs to see that we are increasingly living in a boomerang environment and each of us must find the solution to how to become loving people and the elimination of malice.There is now no escape from this,since climate change has progressed too far.

    Surely it is fairly easy to argue that dying is bad and is thus indeed a problem to be solved: None of us want to do it.

    Yes we can rationalise that dying has its good points (for others) based on the likely negative consequences of immortality (and yes, solving these problems would be at least as difficult and unlikely as 'solving' mortality).

    But we can argue that many of the same benefits of dying accrue from dying young, or not being born at all.

    If we accept that in principle, given sufficient medical advances, that death and cognitive decline through ageing at least may one day be avoidable, then forgoing such an option would be a form of suicide. Denying such an option might be akin to murder (whatever the wider harm in permitting it). (yes we routinely deny the means to continue life to billions already - that is not my point)

    I suspect that few of us would argue that suicide is 'good', and not a problem, (except perhaps Sascha Vongehr).

    So why would the suicide or murder of a vigorous, alert centenarian not be a problem if it would be a problem for somebody younger?

    If we decide that being alive is in fact good, then I don't see any way to then conclude that dying is not a problem ... even if it is also a solution to other problems..

    .

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but you're simply assuming that dying is "bad" without any reason for making such a claim beyond the fact that there's a sense that a general attitude considers it in that fashion.  Nevertheless, such a conclusion isn't necessarily warranted, and the problem is that most people are either too young to have a valid opinion about it, or have simply never considered the ramifications of the alternatives.
    I suspect that few of us would argue that suicide is 'good', and not a problem, (except perhaps Sascha Vongehr).
    Again, I think you're missing the point between consider suicide a valid choice, versus that it is necessarily a "good" choice.  Even there, do you really think that anyone can arbitrarily decide what is "good" for someone else.
    If we decide that being alive is in fact good...
    How is this "we" that should decide such things, especially for everyone?  More to the point, your point hasn't been proven or demonstrated, it is simply assumed. 

    Bear in mind that this illusion of eliminating death will achieve nothing of the sort, since one can't possibly eliminate all the possible means by which death occurs.  It simply changes the dynamic.
    Surely it is fairly easy to argue that dying is bad and is thus indeed a problem to be solved: None of us want to do it.
    ... and you feel comfortable speaking for everyone?  Bear in mind, I'm not talking about suicide here, but rather just the notion of normal death. 

    The point is that your assessment of "good" and "bad" is simply arbitrary.  You're simply assuming it because you believe it [and probably have many other people you know that believe it].  However, it's equally true that alternative views are generally not acceptable to discuss, so there's really no way to know how universal such a view actually is.
    ...then I don't see any way to then conclude that dying is not a problem ... even if it is also a solution to other problems..
    Well, then we can apply that argument to virtually everything.  After all, is greed a problem?  According to your argument it is not, even if it is a problem in some contexts, it may be a solution in others.  Perhaps we can extend this argument to murder, theft, etc.  Well certainly we can, because it is problematic only in some situations, but may be a solution in other contexts.

    Basically I don't find your argument convincing, because it is simply based on general assumptions and the arbitrary distinctions about what's "good" or "bad" is not compelling either.  In fact, I find your last statement to be particularly disturbing because it raises the question of whether [through some arbitrary decision about what's "good"] whether society or other individuals have the right to "force" someone to live. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    My assumption that living is generally good is based on the assumption that most people prefer living over dying. And is evidenced by the fact that most take steps to maintain the condition of living.
    Goodness is ultimately about conformance with preference. We can consider the conformity of an aspect of reality with a single preference in isolation to determine the goodness of that aspect, or in the aggregate, with all our preferences trading off against multiple aspects of reality each other when considering wider outcomes.

    I am not arguing that suicide or death by other means is always bad on balance, but would observe that if those factors that sometimes make death good on balance were somehow altered, then death could not remain a good=preferred thing to a rational mind. . No force would be required to prevent the voluntary death of someone who now continues to derive more pleasure than pain through continued existence.

    I don't see any way to avoid reducing an argument over what goodness is, and whether being alive intrinsically meets that criteria, when certain conditions are met, to semantics really.. I suspect that somewhere we have to simply decide that it does to make any further progress.

    You seem to be arguing that death is not a problem to be solved because there are cases where some people want to die, or because the wider consequences of people not dying are bad.

    If we can at least agree that in principle being alive is good if certain conditions are met, then in our pursuit of goodness, is it not reasonable to attempt to solve the problem of dying, as well as the problem of achieving the conditions under which continued life would be good?

    Gerhard Adam
    I understand what you're saying, but I think it's improper to categorize death as a problem.  Death is obviously necessary and critical to the entire biosphere, so to call it a "problem" is to argue that the biosphere is essentially wrong for everyone else and that humans constitute a species that should be granted an exemption.  After all, we aren't saying that "death" itself is the problem, only human death.

    Such a position is untenable.  That would be like arguing that human food consumption for energy is a "problem" so we're going to work on genetically modifying people to be capable of photosynthesis.  Qualifications of "good" or "bad" or only human value judgments which are arbitrary and don't really have a place in discussing scientific endeavors like that.

    I could easily argue that poverty is "bad", but I don't see anyone doing anything to give money away to people to eliminate it.  Of all the real problems facing humans, "death" seems like one of the least relevant to be "solved".  As you know, from my perspective, I can see no "solutions" to death that aren't worse than the problem supposedly being "solved".
    Mundus vult decipi
    I think then by 'problem' you may mean something other than what I mean.
    I would categorize anything that in principle could be changed and that stands between me and a preference I hold, as a problem.

    On this basis I would not argue that human food consumption for energy is itself a problem (only because I prefer the idea of eating to the idea of photosynthesising) even though, all things being equal, death through lack of food is indeed a problem. Just a different problem. Obviously one that would we can already collectively solve but collectively chose not to, because doing so sets us further away from achieving other preferences (like being richer)

    I do not see that because a value judgement is involved in identifying a problem to be solved that this makes the problem improper, or even that solving a problem that would then exacerbate the urgency of solving other problems makes solving the first improper.

    I would suggest most human progress to date is the result of solving such problems - we set an objective for reasons of preference , then in following through we set in motion all sorts of consequences, requiring further problem solving.

    .

    Gerhard Adam
    I agree with your general assessment, but then anything can be perceived as a "problem" against which resources should be committed. 
    On this basis I would not argue that human food consumption for energy is itself a problem...
    I understand, but my point was to illustrate how easily something could become a "problem" and be declared as "bad" and suddenly require solving.  If there were anything remotely viable about it, how long do you think it would be before someone proposed it as a solution to starvation?
    I would suggest most human progress to date is the result of solving such problems - we set an objective for reasons of preference , then in following through we set in motion all sorts of consequences, requiring further problem solving.
    While I understand what you're saying, I disagree with the overall tone.  It makes humans sound all organized and purposeful in their objectives.  The reality is much more chaotic, and undirected.  Human progress has largely been about what individuals have determined their pet problems are, and then set about solving them or in providing general insights.  Because of our "social memory" we're able to capitalize on that and extend it to the entire species, eliminating the need to re-invent.

    In addition, we've seen many good ideas become problematic because science is fundamentally clueless about policy and society.  This is why I have difficulty when someone asserts that death is a "problem".

    I don't think we're actually disagreeing in any substantive way, but rather we may have a difference of opinion regarding what constitutes a legitimate problem to be solved.  In my view, as I've already stated, death is not a legitimate problem, because it's elimination produces greater problems than retaining it.  In addition, the definition of death as a problem and the reasons why longevity should be increased aren't very well thought out and are socially naive.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Rephrased in terms of my paradigm, yes you can argue that solving mortality (or at least substantially delaying it) as a problem should have a low priority for the reasons you have stated - though even then I would disagree,

    I do agree we are very unlikely to do more than incrementally increase lifespans for some time yet, just as we have been doing (with erratic overall success) for centuries, addressing causes of death and disability at all ages, with tangible benefits accruing for at least a subset of the global population, and knowledge accumulating to (in principle) someday benefit all of the population.

    We are already working on the 'problem of death' in other words. Inequitable and undesirable as some of the results have been so far. And we do think death is a big problem, judging by the effort most of us go to, in avoiding it for ourselves and loved ones at least. Is this in itself bad or wrong?

    Similarly, if it pleases us, it wrong in itself to seek escape from some of the harsher consequences of belonging to our ecosystem, by modifying either ourselves or the rest of the ecosystem?

    Certainly whenever we apply science to ourselves or our surroundings, that is what we do.

    Should we stop? Should we have never started with science or medicine at all?

    Is there ever a point at which intervening to extend life , or to improve material quality of life can not be said to cause some kind of harm? Saving a new born baby for example increases population, causing environmental and resource stress, facilitating increased conflict, increased crime, placing additional other burdens on society, adds to the numbers generally milling around being human and thus screwing things up for others.(along with the benefits that life may bring)

    Can we not take the line that relief from the problems of overpopulation at least can in principle be achieved by matching birth rates to death rates, and that gradually increasing longevity is indeed being matched by falling birth rates in populations rich enough to afford the extensive medical intervention required?..

    Rather than slamming on the technological brakes, does this not suggest that a world where more people are getting wealthy is also a world where more people can be living longer and be becoming less fertile? And does increased wealth and reduced population not provide increased scope for more social equity? and for reduced overall ecological degradation?

    I realise I may be drawing a long bow, but it seems likely to me that all of these issues are intertwined, and that there is some cause to be optimistic that perhaps even without altruism as the driving force we will nevertheless make stuff better for ourselves as we continue to tamper with the 'natural order of things'

    The other main argument against pursuing longevity seems to be on the basis of risks of social stagnation and frustration borne of a predicted resulting stratification based on age.

    Humans thus far seem to have a pretty consistent track record of churning things up when things get too stagnant for them. I doubt that will change any time soon. And it is not like were are facing the end of suitably diverting and transforming challenges and incentives that can keep some kind of balance between order and change.

    Biological stagnation is also a longer term possibility - but presumably if we are smart enough to modify ourselves to live longer, we can probably implement controlled adaptation to changing environments as well (or modify the environments as well).

    Yes of course all this is simplistic, and reality is breathtakingly more complex than anyone can imagine let alone articulate or forecast with any hope of certainty - but it always has been, and yet on balance we have so far done OK as we blunder from one problem to the next.

    Gerhard Adam
    I think you make good points, and quite honestly, I'm not inclined to engage in arguing against them in a half-hearted manner. 

    My main objection is simply that your view is too reasonable.  :)

    Actually, what you've stated represents elements that I don't really have a problem with, because they do signify a gradual set of changes and follow whatever evolutionary or social trajectory we [as a society] find ourselves on.  The original point of this article was to address two particular points that raised my hackles.

    In the first case, I don't believe death is not such an overwhelming problem that we should drop everything we're doing and treat is as the number one priority for humankind.   Improvements in medicine, general health, quality of life seem to be much more important rather than working on questionable [and even distracting] research to increase longevity when we still can't figure out how to keep people from starving.  That doesn't mean we don't address it, it just means that it isn't priority #1.

    In the second case, I'm also attempting to temper the exuberance of the transhumanist crowd that thinks that longevity isn't even enough until it becomes immortality.  Since many of these ideas are projected to occur within a few decades [although I wouldn't hold my breath], part of my point is that success would be an unmitigated disaster in such a short time period. 

    Specifically, I expected better arguments from a philosopher that claimed to embrace these ideas and not hear so much fantasy and fluff.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I agree that success in terms of achieving breakthroughs at a sufficient rate that life could be prolonged indefinitely from one to the next, if it occurs suddenly, could be a pretty disruptive event - though even then I think the long term pay-off would likely exceed the cost

    For a start it would likely be only the most wealthy who could afford the treatments at first, and it would take decades for confirmation of 'lift off' to even be established once it was occurring for those few - which allows us some time to adjust our horizons to accommodate new choices before treatment become more widely accessible

    It would be naive to assume that treatment would be rationed according to anything other than money for some time - and this if nothing else may provide the necessary impetus for more people without money to have fewer children (where having fewer children allows you to become richer, and the promise of longevity eases the pressure to have children young - or at all)

    If the market fails, there is always the possibility of partial control by self interested governments - legislating access - perhaps on the basis of proven and ongoing infertility (assuming repeated treatment is required to sustain life).

    Yes a lot of scope for increased social injustice in the short term - but again people have a way of overturning social orders that stymie them too much.

    Though such a succession of breakthroughs may be unlikely in the short term, I have no problem at all with promoting the attempt as a high priority if only or the spin off benefits (healthier ageing sooner), and the increased focus it brings to bear on the related social and ecological problems and threats. If those with the wealth and power to benefit from such technology knew they had a fair chance of living with the fallout from their choices for the next 500 years, they might be see self interest as aligning further way from short term strategies .

    Gerhard Adam
    The problem is that unequal application is precisely what would destroy our society.  Between the moneyed interests that would do their level best to ensure that they retain money and power, there would be a huge concerted effort to ensure that such technology didn't have general accessibility.

    In the second place, one can easily see how this would be further segregated between nations.
    ...but again people have a way of overturning social orders that stymie them too much.
    It's always been unpleasant when it's occurred, but it would be significantly worse when "immortals" are killed for social change.  As a result, it is relatively easy to imagine how such a group would maintain military control by using such technology as the necessary lever [i.e. payment]. 

    Bear in mind that this technology isn't being considered in a vacuum, but rather is generally discussed in conjunction with human mental/physical augmentation.  With those two elements, it would simply lead to the creation of a permanent underclass that would be "slaves" to those with the means of assuring their own exclusive existence.

    People with an advantage will never voluntarily relinquish it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I agree that the scenario you describe is one possibility - but it would require the cooperation of a fairly passive and uninformed majority for this to emerge and be sustained, and for a lot of other real or possible trends to not bear out .

    I don't think it is a stretch to assume that as time goes by our notions of 'underclass' will likely change - the wealthy maximise long term profits and power by having a larger middle class to trade with and who also have a stake in maintaining the status quo. As automation increasingly supplants manual labour I don't see a strong long term benefit to the wealthy (or middle class) in maintaining poverty - far more profit for everyone if the poor are used as middle class consumers.

    If ageing minds, or minds that face fewer real challenges do become less agile over time, they will be out-competed by the most vigorous amongst the younger middle class, so social mobility should still occur. If not, we would need to 'grow the pie' relative to population size in some way for the underclass to have access to a sense of social/material progression - and the ageing elite would likely recognize their best long term defence lay in facilitating this.

    In other words, while an elite based on wealth and longevity might fight a rearguard action to deflect competition , their best interests lie in not eliminating it - and should we survive all the social and ecological changes associated with the fact of technology that offers nominally unlimited longevity intact, it would only be a matter of time before the technology diffused out to the wider population, and social stratification based on age dissolved - after all to a 5000 year old, a 4950 year old would not seem so 'other'...

    Yes, if the 'singularity' occurs at around the same time, then all bets are off - either way...

    Gerhard Adam
    The primary quarrel I have with your argument is that the same situation applies today.  However we don't see it playing out in that fashion.  Everyone [especially the rich] would benefit from more consumers [in principle], but instead we see the rich hunkering down instead of advocating the idea of more wealth distribution.

    After all, if you give money to people that don't have much, then they will directly contribute right back into the economy.  The trend has never been to improve wealth distribution, despite the fact that it would benefit almost everyone over the current system.  So if your scenario were true then one would expect to see the middle class evolving to become larger instead of smaller as it currently is.

    Mundus vult decipi
    You are right - we have many of the same forces in play already - but my understanding is that indeed the middle class is growing rather than shrinking, and has been growing as a proportion for some time (China being a case in point) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_class. I understand this is underpinned by gains from trade at least as much as by active income redistribution.

    There does not seem to be any kind of coordinated conspiracy to suppress the spread of the middle class, even though the gap is widening between the incomes of middle class and the economic elite . In other words, we are adding to the ranks of those who earn middle class incomes, without significantly improving what middle class incomes can buy in real terms.
    In income growth terms, the 'gains from trade' are being predominantly shared between the wealthy elite, and the poor - much as you might expect.

    I think you are failing to see how much death affects are actions. I did not choose immortality. It was the only way to solve the problem. I would really suggest reading Denial of death. My dilemma came when I was about 14 and I destroyed my faith in god. Now how was I suppose to know what was right from wrong. I now had the choice. And there where no long term consequences like hell. When you relize that your motivation for doing good was to not go to hell. It's easy to see our laws do the same thing. But i didnt want fear as my motivation. Little did I realize how hard that was going to be. So my first step was I wanted my actions to be fair. I saw that most of our conflict with other people was not being equal. Any time I lowered or raised my self above someone else it created tension. So in my actions I would be willing to be on either side. Haha I then relized I just came up with the golden rule. Love your neighbor as yourself. That's when I saw that I was unable to do this. If things where fair I should have been able to trade spaces with anyone on the earth and not felt like I got screwed or hit the lottery. So I stared looking at what was the root cause of this. I found it was me. And here is the root of all our woes. I saw that if you put two strangers together and tell them only one can live. Someone is going to be treated unfairly. You fix that and watch the rest of our problems melt away. Yes it will take time to even things back out. This is why I want immortality. For all. So I can finally love you like myself.

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but your simply asking for a fantasy.  It makes absolutely no sense at any level.  Immortality as you're describing it cannot be possible;  ever.  There is no possible means by which the laws of physics, etc. can be modified to make humans incapable of suffering injury or harm or anything else.  The only means by which such a thing would be possible would be to imprison individuals so that you could ensure all possible physical contact is accounted for.

    In an effort to achieve your idea of "love" by striving for immortality, you would have created a life that wasn't worth living. 
    You fix that and watch the rest of our problems melt away.
    Fix what?  Are you going to eliminate the jealousies and envy because someone is taller?  more talented?  better looking?  At present you think that death is the problem, but if you eliminated death you'd find something else that would become the problem.  There's always a problem, because it is intrinsic in what it means to be human.  It can never be solved, unless you wish to eliminate the basis of being human.  Then, as I said, you can have an eternity of a worthless life, but it will be the same, and everyone will "love" everyone else, because there is literally nothing else to do. 

    NOTE:  I put "love" in quotations, because I don't believe you have a philosophical basis for claiming that love is possible, because without hate, then what is the balance?  It is simply a monotone of emotion that becomes meaningless. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Of course you could choose to end your immortality and the system would still remain balanced

    Interesting that your thinking that death is the only way to have meaning. Or a finite way of looking at things. Maybe revisit the continuum hypothesis.

    Or a children's hospital. Or watch your value put to job things status be reduced to nothing when the doctor gives you a month to live. Tell me love has no meaning then. Sorry the English language has reduced love to one word.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...when the doctor gives you a month to live.  Tell me love has no meaning then.
    You've just made my point for me.
    Mundus vult decipi