Home > rant > I don’t want to live forever

I don’t want to live forever

September 1, 2011

Every now and then I meet someone who tells me they want to live forever. Whaaa? First of all, even if I were somehow forced to live forever, I simply don’t want to be around other people who have been living way too long. Haven’t they noticed that as people get older they tend to get more rigid and set in their ways? If we had to live with a bunch of 1000 year olds, how would we ever move past the weird issues they have about how women shouldn’t work or gays in the military? It’s a crucial fact that our culture is replenished by youth. Don’t want to lose that!! Eww!

Second of all, and more to the point I want to make, there really are people interested in this idea, and it always seems to me they are typically people that really should be focusing on living more now. What is actually going to be their plan if they suddenly were told, “hey, you’ll live forever starting now”? And if they have some awesome plan, why not just go for it? What is keeping them from making those decisions?

I have always had a great deal of admiration for people who do make those interesting and brave moves in their lives. Just this week an old friend of mine, who is a successful artist, told me she’s going back to school (at Columbia, so good for me!) to become a full time student in Narrative Medicine. If you don’t know what that means, then I don’t blame you, because I didn’t either, but what matters is that she is totally into it and that fucking rocks that she’s doing that.

Another good friend of mine is getting her Ph.D. in the ethics of nursing, after careers in energy and publishing. On the one hand I think she’s addicted to school, but on the other hand, how cool is that? To see so many different parts of the world? And by the way, if you think I’m disregarding things like money and kids, let me say that she is a single mom with two kids, and is still making this work. It’s just that she never decides not to do something because it’s hard – she’s all about intellectual curiosity and trying new things. Love her.

What would you study if you were to go back to school right now? How would you reinvent yourself?

Personally, I’ve always made my big decisions by asking myself, how will I feel on my death bed if I did or didn’t do this? It’s closely related to the other question I dwell on constantly, who am I and what is the story of my life? And it goes along with my advice post, where I pretty much always tell people to go for it or to do what they’d do if they weren’t insecure – good advice for oneself as well. I’ve actually gotten to the point of looking forward to my death bed, so I can swap stories with the people around me about the crazy shit I’ve tried. I know the chances of that working out are about zero, but it’s a nice thing to think about.

Going back to the idea of living forever: if I didn’t have a death bed to look forward to, how could I ever motivate myself to get my ass off the couch and try something new? It’s precisely because we have a finite amount of time to try things that it’s really exciting to be alive.

Categories: rant
  1. September 1, 2011 at 7:53 am

    I love that you use backward induction to push yourself toward big brave moves. Such a math nerd…I wish more people thought (and acted) like that. I agree that living forever would muck up society even more. As a student of cultures, I understand that change only happens across generations. As an outsider, I can see that lesson a lot in Germany and East Germany in particular. There is some famous quote that the Berlin Wall fell, but a wall remained in the minds of Germans…until those people pass away and the next generation…which has no mental walls…takes over. Only then will Germany be truly unified. Change takes time and particular people really only change so much. I see it other places too in the US. It is hard to be that patient for healthy cultural change, but that’s just life.


  2. September 1, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I strongly disagree. When I say I want to live forever, it’s with the caveat that I’m willing to perform extensive modifications to my body and mind once such technologies become available. If I find that my mind isn’t keeping up with the times, I’ll force it to. I think I’ve got a good handle of which of my opinions are sustainable points of view and which are the result of cultural drift, and I’m willing to assume the latter when in doubt. The only opinion I really have a strong allegiance to is that it’s better to be alive than dead, and if I change my mind about that, well, it would still be worth waiting 50 years to see if it changes back.

    Anyone whose awesome immortality plans could be implemented by mortals isn’t thinking big enough. Personally, I’d like to learn everything, and living forever would be a pretty good opportunity to do that. (This would probably involve learning enough so that I could invent or help invent a technology that allows me to learn considerably faster. I don’t want to do this now because I don’t see it paying off soon enough to be a good use of my time relative to what I could be doing, which is math.) There are also probably tricks I could play with financial investments on the kind of time scale we are now talking about.

    I have always thought of the sentiment expressed in the last paragraph as something people say to make themselves feel better about being mortal. As far as I can tell, what motivates most people to get up in the morning (statistically speaking) is that they’ll starve to death or something if they don’t, which is not exactly the same thing as looking forward to the death bed. I guess there are some important details to settle here: in this living forever scenario, do I still feel hunger or thirst when I don’t eat or drink?


    • human mathematics
      September 2, 2011 at 10:55 pm

      I’m not sure investments would pay off on super-long timescales. Start with $1 invested in 1 A.D. and … what could you have passively put it in in order to get an exponential payoff today?


    • human mathematics
      September 2, 2011 at 11:47 pm

      invent or help invent a technology that allows me to learn considerably faster

      “Leverage” was one of the main reasons I started studying mathematics. I think I was right inasmuch as I can absorb theoretical science much faster now, but of course maths doesn’t help you learn facts faster.


  3. Brian
    September 1, 2011 at 8:40 am
    • September 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks for posting this! I should have known this would be discussed somewhere on LW.


  4. September 1, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Living forever or more simply stopping aging would be damn cool. You could become knowledgeable in every subject area and never feel the stress of “not enough time.” I’m 24 and already feel like I’ve wasted too much time in my life and that certain things have passed me by.


    • human mathematics
      September 2, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      Like starting a rock band? Elliott Smith didn’t have a hit until he was 30.


  5. September 1, 2011 at 9:42 am

    I am going to live forever! What are you talking about!?


  6. September 1, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    According to Jewish tradition, the full formal statement of condolences to a mourner is ‘May you live a long life, until 120′, this being Moses’ alleged age at death. It makes me shudder a bit because even 120, although considerably less than forever, strikes me as too long.

    What I see around me is that things wear out. Sometime around 90 years old, if you are lucky, enough bits of your body have limitations that you simply cannot do the things that give you pleasure. Life becomes hell for you.

    If you are unlucky your brain goes first. You are not frustrated by physical frailties. You are aware that your memory isn’t what it was, and you get very confused sometimes. However you quickly forget frustrations and annoyances. Life becomes hell for those who care about you.

    About 5000 years ago, a scribe wrote a letter to his son say more or less ‘Be a scribe, that long after the Pharaohs have gone, your words may live on in the mouths of those who read them.’ Since I am repeating those words now, his prophecy has been fulfilled. He is now one of the immortals. IMO, it is the only sort of immortality worth having.


    • September 1, 2011 at 8:39 pm

      I think this position is unduly pessimistic about possible future medical advances. Odds seem good to me that I’ll be able to augment my body and mind in various ways in the next 50 or 100 years (replacement body parts, replacement organs, computer in my glasses or my eyes or my brain). Some people would argue that odds are good for mind uploading to become a reality in the next 50 or 100 years; if that’s the case, all of your objections are moot. I don’t mind waiting out a few decades in a decaying body if it means I get to be alive when mind uploading becomes accessible to the general public.


    • Jim Stankewicz
      September 2, 2011 at 8:34 am

      But there have been humans verified to live longer than that already!



  7. September 2, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Living forever must be akin to sucking monkey’s asses on a daily basis and I for one can’t understand that some people are really into it.

    Even though I’m in no rush to die, since there is still a lot of things that I want to do (and more frankly I have my moments of just having straight out fear of dying), I really want to know what it’s like and what one feels as our final moments are passing us by.


  8. human mathematics
    September 2, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Growing old doesn’t necessarily mean growing boring or stale. I’ve had conversations with my great-aunt & great-uncle, and with my grandmother, where during the discussion I thought they seemed like rigid fuddy-duddies, and then a week or two later they had considered my points and started shifting their views a bit.

    I don’t think school counts as seizing life by the throat, but one benefit of living forever would be that you could get *very* deep into mathematics. That was the principle behind some the “hypermathematicians” in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: before they actually did their research, they spent several lifetimes (time travel was involved) studying mathematics.

    You also see some depictions of vampires (or Tuck Everlasting) where, with 100’s of lifetimes under their belts, the vampires (/Tuck family) become extremely well-read.

    What you’re saying also resonates with Steve Jobs’ now-famous Stanford commencement speech. What is there to be afraid of? You’re already naked. The worst thing that could happen to you is that you could die, which is going to happen anyway!

    Besides lots of mathematics, if I were going to live forever I would:
    -go everywhere
    -watch more TV & movies
    -stay CREATIVE

    Lastly: I’m surprised with all the links shared here that no one’s put the most obvious one! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L8-FTvSVxs


  9. September 4, 2011 at 6:08 am

    If I am not mistaken, einstein once said something like: its not the about the number of years in your life, its about the number of life in your years. I would rather stop pondering over the issue of death, and try to be a useful mammal on this planet.

    (But yeah, inevitably there comes a time when we all have to go, but I pray I will die quickly with a resounding bang rather than wither away bit by bit on a hospital bed.)


    • September 6, 2011 at 11:45 am

      Einstein also said that God doesn’t play dice, and, well…. Besides, people ponder plenty of things that aren’t directly relevant to being useful all the time. It’s good mental exercise, and this particular exercise may have a clarifying effect on your priorities and worldview.


  10. karen
    September 5, 2011 at 5:44 am

    Has anyone mentioned the severe overpopulation problems that will result, even if everyone could live merely another 50 years? I suppose if our species became immortal, we could simply just stop reproducing. But that doesn’t seem like much fun…


  11. September 28, 2011 at 12:20 am

    In a vague sense I “want to live forever” — not because I put much mental energy into imagining an eternal future, but just because I don’t expect there will ever be a day when I seriously want to die, enough to act on it. I’m not suicidal today. I doubt I’ll be suicidal tomorrow. Barring horrible suffering, I don’t think I’ll be suicidal when I’m 90. So if life-extension technologies get better and I have access to them, I’ll probably take them. And if I don’t, it’ll be a sign that something’s very wrong with me, because I’m seeking to die, and you’d probably tell me to remember that life’s worth living or get professional help.


  1. December 3, 2011 at 9:16 am
  2. July 14, 2013 at 7:43 am
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