COMFORTABLY NUMB

We’re all victims to the illusion of immortality. Oblivion of our perishability may have been a valid coping mechanism in the 10th century, when death was inevitable. Some would argue it still is, yet others would call it diabolical to even conceive of changing the world that way. Death, they say, creates balance in the world. Death gives life meaning. The limitations of time induce urgency and aspiration, endless lives would beget lethargy and meaninglessness. To you, I ask, what is meaning? Would the pie stop being delicious if you could eat it as many times as you WANTED to? Would a highly engaging television series lose its charm if it never ran out of amazing episodes? Would you want to die if nobody you’ve ever known was going to?

The culprit, among others, is the naturalistic fallacy, the argument that ‘is’ implies ‘ought’, the argument that the natural status quo is also morally correct. If mortality is the default, it must also be correct. If malaria evolved naturally, ought it thrive?

The other culprit is the false dichotomy of having to choose between 75 years of life and an eternity. No superstate would enforce immortality by resurrecting the dead who willingly departed the world content, exhausted or bored. If chemotherapy doesn’t seem worth it, you may decline. When the pie stops being tasty, you needn’t eat it. (Advances in science will be followed by advances in culinary sciences too. We don’t eat what cavemen ate.)

Death is bad not just for the deceased but for those around them too. Death is deprivation in its most quintessential form. It’s a horror of life which we’ve embraced and rationalized. It inflicts pain and misery and we’ve taught ourselves to live with it, building romantic tales of how death more than compensates for all its horrors. Does it compensate you for your death?

You don’t die in the future, you die in the present. If you’re alive today and would rather not die tomorrow, inductively, you could say, you wouldn’t want to ever die. Today, if after rational self-deliberation you don’t wish to die tomorrow, you are most likely to make the same decision tomorrow and so on. And if you don’t, none shall intervene.

But I see raised eyebrows. Surely, if I kept aging and declining physically and mentally, the quality of every life-year would diminish towards zero. Beyond a point, life would become a sentence forced to carry out in the occupation of a battered, decaying remnant of a human body. Ending aging is a more comprehensive and all-encompassing goal. Ending death, ending suffering caused by aging, etc are the subgoals. The real goal, then, is to strike at the heart of the problem and end aging.

If you still resist the idea that death is a terrible tyrant, ask yourself: Imagine a world where aging and death are demons of misery untold, inflicting immeasurable pain, paralyzing your body, giving you cancer or damaging your mind and ultimately killing you. A world where gut-wrenching terrors at the hand of disease and death were so commonplace people learned to become numb to them. What would that world look like? Wouldn’t it look like our own?

What would you do in such a world? How much of your time would you spend trying to solve these problems? How much of your time would you spend on saving your own life?

REFERENCES:

  1. The reversal test by Nick Bostrom and Toby Ord
  2. Ending Aging videos by CGP Grey and Kurzgesagt
  3. Leave a line of retreat – Lesswrong
  4. Anyone I was fortunate to read but forgot to cite

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