Thursday, November 13, 2008

Do You Want To Live Forever?

I was reading an article a couple of days ago that claimed "the first person to live 1000 years on Earth has probably already been born". I'm not sure how much credence i give to the science behind this claim, but it made me confront the question of whether or not i would want that. I'm not speaking about the general societal impact of having a bunch of superannuated resource drains who have long since outlived their 401k income. I mean would I, personally, want to live that long?

It seems like anyone would want to live as long as possible assuming decent health and a basic level of material comfort. But i'm not so sure. Human beings are really not designed to comprehend epic sweeps of time. We regard 100 years as a vast lifetime, and i suspect that we've evolved to feel certain ways at certain points of our development. Do we really want to live for 30 or 40 years in which we experience the intense emotions of intellectual discovery, love, sex, parenthood, marriage, etc. followed by centuries of relative sameness? As it is i have much to look forward to in terms of my kids' lives and possibly my grandchildren, but enthusiasm for one's descendants surely dims after a few generations.

The other concern i have about hyper-extended lifetimes is that the probability of ending up with the words "freak accident" in your obituary goes way up. I'd assume that to live 1000 years you'd have to be essentially immune from cancer, heart disease, and most of the other natural causes. So the only thing that can kill you is an accident. That probably makes you more cautious than you'd be given a normal lifespan if only because you don't want to be the guy who bites it only 18 years into your millenium.

The average lifespan has increased substantially over the last couple of centuries, but increasing that span by another order of magnitude would require an entirely new way of thinking about our lives. It would also depend a lot on the individual. My grandmother is 97, but she's been unhappy since roughly World War II, so she would probably not welcome another nine centuries. I have a hard time imagining what my goals in life would be if i were given a thousand years to accomplish them. Possibly, every century or so i'd have to start all over: go back to college, learn a new career, move to a new country. Sub-divide my life into several sections and take a different path each time.

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