Is a life worth starting? Some personal views

For life—the life of any sentient creature—to be worth living, there must, as Robert Ettinger has often said, be a preponderance of satisfaction over dissatisfaction. If this overall slant toward good rather than bad is maintained, it seems reasonable that one stands to gain by continued existence. I am not sure what fraction of the human (or other sentient) population achieves this positive balance and will not speculate except to note that by appearances there are many humans who do achieve it, along with other creatures, pets in particular, so at least for them, life is worth continuing. To say that life once started is worth continuing does not, as David Benatar points out, imply that it was worth starting in the first place, or should have been started. But I think that, barring certain problematic cases,  it is fair to conclude that a human life at least is worth starting, if there are responsible prospective parents who would like to start it. Here I think it is reasonable to expect that the resulting person will feel that life is overall a benefit, and additionally, that others, the parents in particular, will stand to gain from the new life that has entered their lives. I don’t accept Benatar’s arguments that by and large life is pretty terrible and people delude themselves who think otherwise.

Also I reject his “asymmetry” argument, that it is “good” if a life that would be bad does not come into existence, but merely “not good” rather than “bad” if a life that would be good does not come into existence. (It is easy to see how this asymmetry supports the argument that life should not start in the first place and Benatar refers to it often.) Benatar’s main rationale for this argument seems to be that, while we would consider someone morally at fault for deliberately bringing into existence someone who would be miserable and just want to die, we would not similarly hold someone culpable who elected not to bring into existence someone who would be happy and want to remain alive. This I think should not be the only consideration, for it is based only on the idea of when we should regard an action as bad, and not at all on when we should regard it as good and commendable. (Why this particular asymmetry?) Instead, weighing both sides of the issue as I think is justified, I would opt for the fully symmetric position that it is “not bad” if a life that would be bad does not come into existence, and similarly, “not good” if a life that would be good does not come into existence. On the other hand, I question and doubt whether a life that comes into existence would be bad in the long run, given the prospect of immortality, which I think is a possibility through science (see below).

Life does, of course, have its problems, death in particular, that might call in question whether it is worthwhile after all and thus, whether the life of any sentient being is worth starting.  For this one problem there are a number of possible answers that will be satisfying to different people, and thus can serve as ground for a feeling that life is worthwhile and was worth starting despite one’s own mortality. There is the famous Epicurean argument that death is not really a problem because before it happens it causes no harm, and after it happens there is no victim. There is the Buddhist argument that, more fundamentally, the self is an illusion anyway, so that in fact no persons exist and death never really happens, though bliss can still occur through states of enlightenment which thus are worth seeking. There are various religious traditions that promise an afterlife and a happy immortality for those who prove worthy, or, in some versions, all who are born. Then there is scientific immortalism, which holds that at least substantial life extension through science and technology is possible, so that, irrespective of any supernatural or mystical process, persons of today have more to hope for as they get older than the usual biological ruin and oblivion.

The scientific possibilities for overcoming death come in different varieties that each have their own advocates. Some of these hopefuls, particularly younger ones, focus on the prospect that aging and now-terminal illnesses will be remedied in their natural lifetime, so that they will escape clinical death and need not specially prepare for it. Others who are not so confident have made arrangements for cryopreservation after clinical death, in hopes of resuscitation and cure of aging and diseases when the requisite technology becomes available. Still others hold out for advances on a more cosmic scale that will eventually make it possible to raise the dead comprehensively. (Some possible scenarios for this using multiple, parallel time streams rather than revisiting or recovering a hidden past are considered in my book, Forever for All, and the article at The three possibilities are not mutually exclusive, so that, for example, persons who have chosen cryonics may also place varying hopes in the other two. In fact, my personal viewpoint as a scientific immortalist grants some validity to all three possibilities, but I think it is imperative now to be engaged in cryonics, which is almost unique and the clear favorite as a proactive, interventive strategy against death. Passive acceptance of the dying process simply does not feel right, whatever the prospects for near-term medical progress, or on the other hand, resurrections in a more distant, technologically superior future. It goes without saying that I also think future life will be worth living—it should be possible to make it so, if future developments can provide the opportunity.

Review of 'Better Never to Have Been'

Review of  Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence by David Benatar. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006

“Would that I had never been born” is a lament sometimes voiced in the depth of misfortune, a cry of despair we hope may be soon be stilled by something more positive, when the bad things, whatever they are, have run their course. Enter David Benatar, a respected professor of philosophy at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. In the volume here reviewed he offers the extreme view that in fact it would have been better, all things considered, if not one of us had ever existed, or even any sentient life whatever. Life is that bad, he says, and he bases this judgment on certain logical principles along with empirical evidence of the allegedly poor quality of life that most of us are forced to endure in this world. Among the consequences is that no more humans should be born, and the human race (and other sentient creatures) ought to become extinct.

Antinatalism—the viewpoint that birth of sentient life, human in particular, is bad and ought not to happen, is a recurring one theme history, a noted proponent being the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). It can also be founded, as Benatar proposes, on certain assumptions considered reasonable by many people today, particularly those of a scientific, materialist outlook who are not inclined to over-optimism. Among the assumptions are that anyone’s life, overall, is an exercise in futility. Death—eternal oblivion—is the eventual fate of each person, and will happen through the normal aging process if not sooner. (Thus there is no serious prospect of a religious afterlife. Though not stated in the book, it is clear also that radical life extension, whether by imminent medical breakthroughs or through an initial “holding action” such as cryonics, is discounted.) Moreover, the human species will eventually die out, as is the fate of all biological species, so the extinction advocated by Benatar must happen in the end regardless. Another important presumption, in this case justified at length, is that in most people’s lives sorrow and misery predominate heavily over joy and happiness, so that their lives are not worth living.

Benatar denies that any good is done in any act of procreation, even if the life of the offspring is predominantly happy and if that person expresses gratitude for having been given life. The very best that could happen, Benatar says, is that no harm would be done, but only if the offspring never experienced anything bad in his/her entire life, an unlikely prospect. Even then, no good would be done or moral credit accrue in bringing that person into existence—good is done only in not bringing into existence any person who, in the course of his/her life, would at least experience some amount of bad. Harm is done, and in any likely circumstance, unacceptably serious harm, in bringing anyone into the world.

Such arguments seem unpersuasive for any of a number of reasons, and many will also find them offensive. In the matter of family planning, the prospective parents will be motivated by thoughts such as a child would bring them joy even as they in turn strive to provide the child with a happy home life and a good upbringing. Overall the child can be expected to be grateful both during the period of childhood and later in life, something that seems borne out in practice, even if hardship also occurs. As tough as the going may be at times, most people do not feel their parents were morally at fault for having had them, and are not ready to end their lives over any perceived shortcomings in their present situation or future prospects.

Benatar devotes a chapter of his book to arguing, nonetheless, that actually life as most people live it is very bad, suggesting that those who disagree don’t realize just how bad it is and are suffering some kind of delusion. But this begs the question of who is to judge. Turning the argument around, is it not possible that Benatar himself is suffering from depression that clouds his judgment? Natural selection of course favors a brighter outlook: Benatar’s thinking is not conducive to reproductive fitness. Beyond that, it is hard to see that his point of view is more “logical” than a more life-affirming one, both being based, when the rhetoric has run its course, on basic gut feelings about what is pleasant or worthwhile or isn’t, in what relative amounts, and how the mix that occurs in life should be assessed.

Despite life’s alleged wretchedness, Benatar himself is not ready to commit suicide but insists that life once started, his in particular, may be worth continuing even if it should not have been started in the first place. (Sometimes this sort of argument is reasonable. A woman should not be raped, but a child born as a consequence should not be killed.) More generally Benatar’s stance is passive rather than proactive: having children should be legal, even though no one should have them, much as we might favor allowing smoking even though it is medically and socially inadvisable.

Benatar is aware that, despite these limited concessions, his stance will be unpopular and devotes much attention to defending it against various possible lines of attack. Still it is doubtful his arguments will persuade many who are not already strongly leaning his way. The rest of us, surely a robust majority of humanity, will find our varied reasons to demur. Religious people will argue that life is a gift of God, children are a blessing, hardships and sorrows happen but can and will be remedied, all will be well in the end. Secular humanists and others of scientific bent may believe with Benatar that their lives must permanently end, and even accept the eventual extinction of all earthly life, yet still remain optimistic, one of their arguments being that “since life is finite, even sometimes very short, each moment of life, handled rightly, is precious.” Scientific immortalists who are hoping for radical life extension will also discount Benatar’s pessimism, though possibly in an odd way supporting the end of the present human species—in this case, however, by replacing it with something better that includes themselves in an enhanced form.

Meanwhile, an antinatalist movement has grown up that has simple, passive annihilation of the human species as its goal, endeavoring as far as possible to discourage everyone from having more children. In addition to a claimed humanitarian purpose—eliminating suffering as Benatar proposes—there is an environmental motive some endorse, arguing that the earth’s biosphere would greatly benefit if there were no humans to befoul it, as they generally do. Potentially a conflict could erupt between antinatalists and immortalists, who hope to be in the world for a very long time. My feeling, though, is that the antinatalist movement is both unpopular and self-limiting—on both counts, natural selection so wills it. Immortalists in any case are not so much trying to populate the planet as trying to endure as individuals. So probably we should not worry too much. Instead let’s talk to these people. Some of them (Benatar included?) may be willing to rethink their position.


About the author: David Benatar is professor of philosophy and head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa. Though best known for his advocacy of antinatalism in his book Better Never to Have Been, he is also the author of a series of widely cited papers in medical ethics. His work has appeared in such journals as Ethics, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Social Theory and Practice, American Philosophical Quarterly, QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, Journal of Law and Religion and the British Medical Journal.

Fourth Asset Preservation Group meeting

On the weekend of April 23-25 I attended a meeting of the cryonics Asset Preservation Group held at the estate of Ken Weiss near Gloucester, Massachusetts

I will try to give a few brief summaries without going into detail about every presentation.

Lori Rhodes, who is Terasem’s Legal Researcher, is working to create legally recognized category of autopsy specific for cryonics projects. I am admittedly somewhat cynical about the prospects of getting the rights of a tiny and ill respected minority such as cryonicists recognized by the legal system, but perhaps I am wrong. Marvin Minsky, who attended this meeting with his wife, has influential friends in high places who might be of help.

Lori mentioned that because of better diagnosis and imaging tools, the autopsy rate has been dropping.

Mike Perry distributed his paper “Options for Brain-Threatening Disorders” and discussed its contents. He mentioned Terasem’s CyBeRev project for storing “mindfiles” from which it is hoped that individuals could be reconstructed. The Society for Universal Immortalism — of which Mike is President — has a similar project, but UI will also store resin-embedded genomic samples at room temperature.

Mike discussed Voluntary Stopping of Eating and Drinking (VSED) as an option from cryonics patients with a brain-threatening disease. He discussed the book A HASTENED DEATH BY SELF-DENIAL OF FOOD AND DRINK by Boudewijn Cabot

In June 1990 Linda Chamberlain’s mother was able to use VSED for cryonics purposes with sympathetic assistance in a hospital because lung cancer had metastasized to the brain and she was legally “terminal”. This might not be so easy for an Alzheimer’s Disease patient who still had enough wits to know what to do, but was not far advanced enough to be classified as terminal. Mike mentioned Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, and citizenship in the country is not required. Dignitas is a Swiss organization with medical staff that will even provide assisted suicide for persons with incurable mental illness. Mike hopes for Dignitas or a similar organization to assist with cryonics cases.

Steve Valentine discussed the Timeship project. I have heard him speak of this many times before, but this time I took a special note of his earthquake risk map. I noticed that Alcor and CI are in the second-safest seismic risk category. It may not mean anything, but Alcor is close to the highest seismic risk areas and CI is close to the lowest risk areas.

Bruce Waugh addressed the issue of how to invest for the next hundred years. He gave 2006 inflation-adjusted 205-year return on
$1 invested in 1801 as:

Stocks: $755,163
Bonds: $1,083
Treasuries: $301
Gold: $2
Cash: 6 cents

Bruce said that the historic risk premium on equities is 5%. From the return on treasuries he gave, I calculate a risk-free premium of 1.42%.

For the last ten years he gave the following returns:

Managed futures: 87%
Bonds: 68%
Real Estate: 55%
Bank interest: 34%
Commodities: 33%
World stocks: -6%
US stocks: -12%

Bruce is an independent futures systems trader whose trading falls into the managed futures category.

For the next hundred years nanotechnology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence could have significant impact, especially on equity and commodity values. Bruce suggested making investments into companies that will improve the chances of revival, such as those doing research into nanotechnology and cryobiology.

Political, financial, and social changes are very hard to predict. Bruce would allocate about a third of a 100 year portfolio into the broad stock market, with a switch to cash during downturns (defined as when the S&P 500 falls below its 200 day average). He would put portions of the rest into managed futures, art, commodities and real estate with nothing into bonds or treasuries.
(Bruce Waugh giving his presentation.)

Peggy Hoyt is a Florida lawyer who is working with Rudi Hoffman to write a book about legal and financial issues of concern to cryonicists. She distributed a paper concerning cryonics advanced directives, although she has the unfortunate habit of using the word “cryogenic” for “cryonic”, which is one of my pet peeves. Which reminds me that she has her own law firm and has a special interest in writing trusts that provide for pets.

Of special interest to me was Peggy’s comment that no-contest (in terrorem) clauses in wills are completely unenforceable in Florida. Cryonicists often speak of writing provisions in their wills to disinherit any relative who interferes or tries to interfere with their cryonics arrangements, but apparently this is not possible in Florida. According to Wikipedia, however, such clauses are fully enforceable in California.

I cannot find any website that gives state-by-state information on which states allow such clauses and which ones do not, so a local attorney is advised for someone planning to include such provisions in a will.

Peggy showed me a recent book she has written entitled THANK EVERYBODY FOR EVERYTHING.

Looking at Amazon, it appears that she has written many books, mostly with co-authors.

John Dedon and Ralph Merkle spoke about the wealth preservation trust that they are developing for Alcor Members — the Alcor Model Trust. It is still under review whether the Alcor Model Trust is compatible with Alcor’s 501(c)3 status, although they don’t expect a problem.

Alcor will be given the responsibility for identifying the reanimated cryonicist as being the ultimate beneficiary of a trust. In exchange for a modest payment to Alcor ($500 to $1,000), Alcor will review the individual trust and will appoint Trust Advisors. The Trust Advisors, in turn, will appoint trustees. The Trust Advisors will be empowered to change trustees, if necessary.

Alcor would be the immediate beneficiary of the Alcor Model Trust, which might be 1% of the principle annually, or perhaps a share of the income. Distributions to Alcor from trusts will provide Alcor with financial incentives to be particularly diligent, and will also give Alcor legal standing to go to court if a trust is being mishandled. Of course, persons cryopreserved at Alcor would want to contribute to Alcor’s strength (ability to survive). Furthermore, research money donated to Alcor might hasten the day when the patient is revived. Insofar as Alcor is a charitable 501(c)3 organization, distributions to Alcor are tax deductable.

The Alcor Model Trust would be a revocable trust used in conjunction with a will. This trust is for cryonics revival only, and does not include the kind of tax planning that would be required for those having many millions of dollars in assets. The amount of future estate tax exemptions in the United States is currently highly uncertain. John Dedon advised those having a large taxable estate to get a life insurance policy in an irrevocable trust. The proceeds of a life insurance policy in an irrevocable trust can be outside of the taxable estate.

Ralph Merkle described the trust that he and his wife Carol are developing. Ralph says they are “guinea pigs” for the Alcor Model Trust. Trusts are legal instruments that separate the benefits of property (equitable title) from control of property (legal title), which means that the beneficiary cannot be the trustee, but the settlor can be the trustee. For a revocable trust, the settlor is trustee until the death of the settlor after which time a successor trustee becomes the trustee. Because of their long history of investing with Vanguard they have gotten Vanguard to agree to be successor trustee for their assets. The assets can only be stocks (including private stocks), not real estate or business assets. The trust is in Delaware, Vanguard is in Pennsylvania, and neither state has a rule against perpetuities. It may be that only the situs of the Trust matters, but Ralph feels better that neither state has a rule against perpetuities.

Overwhelmingly, in my opinion, the best presentation at this meeting of the Asset Preservation Group was the one on “Personal Revival Trusts” by Igor Levenberg. I have been working with the thorny problems associated with cryonics reanimation trusts for years and I have never seen such careful and persuasive legal analyses. And I have seem a fair bit of work by some very highly paid trust lawyers.

Igor Levenberg is not himself a cryonicist. He is a law student scheduled to get his J.D. in June 2010. He read THE FIRST IMMORTAL, became interested in the idea of cryonics revival trusts, and would like to work on such trusts as part of his legal practice. The presentation he made at the meeting was a summary of his paper that is being published in the Spring 2010 issue of the journal ST. JOHN’S LAW REVIEW. What follows is my summary of the ideas in Igor’s paper.

A central problem for cryonicists wanting revival trusts is that Cryopreserved Persons (CPs) are legally dead and are not ascertainable beneficiaries under trust law. My solution to this problem has been to have cryonics organizations (rather than the legal system) recognize the reanimated CP as the beneficiary. But finding the right cryonics organization to do this is not always easy.

The courts have recognized cryopreserved embryos as being “intermediate beings”. Igor raised the possibility of persuading courts to recognize CPs as also being “intermediate beings”, but he concedes that courts are unlikely to do this. Even if they did, an “intermediate being” cannot be a beneficiary without a court-appointed guardian.

Another option would be to have CPs treated in the same legal category as unborn, unconceived children. A potential parent could create trusts for his or her children, but if he or she never has children, the trusts become invalid. Such trusts are based on a contingency: the event of the settlor having children. A contingent beneficiary cannot be the sole beneficiary of a trust based on contingency. For example, the settlor could name his or her brother as the other beneficiary. The court would appoint a guardian of the unborn children to protect the interests of the contingent beneficiaries should the brother try to challenge the trust. If the settlor dies childless, the brother could challenge the trust on the grounds that the contingency is impossible.

Analogous to the unborn children, a cryonicist could create a trust that names his or her reanimated self as the contingent beneficiary. A cryonics service organization could be named as the other beneficiary, and another cryonics organization such as the Venturists could act as guardian. Igor told me later that if the trust document requested a specific guardian, a court would likely honor the request. An advantage over treating the CP as a contingent beneficiary rather than an “intermediate being” is that anyone challenging the trust would have to prove that the contingency is impossible — whereas the “intermediate being” trust is dependent upon proving that reanimation is possible. Proving that reanimation of a CP is impossible could be very difficult if expert witnesses could be called who attested to the possibility.

Both the “intermediate being” and the contingent beneficiary approach rely on establishing the CP as an ascertainable beneficiary. But trusts can be created that do not have this requirement. “Trusts for purposes” and trusts based on “conditions subsequent” do not require the CP as an ascertainable beneficiary.

A trust with a “condition subsequent” is a trust that has a beneficiary, but which specifies terms under which the trust is terminated. Those terms could provide for the interests of the reanimated CP. For example, a trust could be established which pays income to a cryonics organization as the beneficiary, and has the “condition subsequent” that the trust terminates and pays the principle to the CP settlor when and if the CP is revived. Such a trust would have to be in a state that has no rule against perpetuities.

“Trusts for purposes” include both charitable and non-charitable trusts. Such trusts have no beneficiary to enforce them. A non-charitable trust for the care of a pet relies on the trustee, and is therefore technically not a trust. Non-charitable trusts are subject to the rule against perpetuities even in states where the rule against perpetuities has been repealed. An exception to this, however, is a non-charitable trust for the care of graves, which are exempt from the law against perpetuities. Insofar as the Cryonics Institute is a licensed cemetery in the state of Michigan, a CI patient could conceivably establish a non-charitable trust to provide for liquid nitrogen, cryostat maintenance, and share of facility upkeep costs with the “condition subsequent” that upon reanimation of the CP the trust would terminate and the trust funds would be dispersed to the revived CP. A trust of this nature could not be for millions of dollars insofar as it is unreasonable to think that maintenance would be so expensive. Nonetheless, accounting for inflation and for maintenance for hundreds of years (or in perpetuity) could allow for a sizable trust.

Charitable trusts are enforced by the Attorney General of the state in which they are established (rather than by a beneficiary), and are never subject to the rule against perpetuities, even in states that do not otherwise allow for perpetuities. For example, a charitable trust could be established which uses income from the trust to finance cryonics research (or cancer research) to which is added the “condition subsequent” that the trust will terminate and the principle go to the revived CP when and if the CP is revived. Although such “piggybacking” of a non-charitable purpose onto a charitable trust is generally not allowed, Igor believes it would survive judicial scrutiny because a challenge could not be brought to court until the condition subsequent arose. The world would be a very different place when that happened.

I gave a demonstration of Nick Pavlica’s RescuTel bed alarm system. I badly wanted the demonstration to go perfectly, but it did not. I needed to connect to a telephone jack, but the connection in the meeting room was being used for those attending by teleconference. There was another jack in Ken’s office, but my 100 foot extension cord would not reach. By the time I got a female-female adapter to have a line that was long enough, I did not have time for adequate testing. At least the EMFIT bed pad worked well — setting off the alarm on the pad’s console when I removed myself to stimulate the stopping of my heart.

After the meeting there was a boat cruise off the Gloucester coast that gave participants a chance to see whales and other sea life. I missed the boat cruise because I had to catch a plane to an astrobiology conference in Texas where I was making a presentation:

The secular case against immortality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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