Again on the excuse of procrastination

In a recent talk, Keith Comito explained the need for the life extension movement to make friends, not enemies. He’s right, and I am a tad guilty. I get extremely annoyed and snappy at people when they raise silly objections to rejuvenation, and sarcasm isn’t really the best way to get people to listen to, understand, and eventually support your arguments. However silly certain objections can be, it’s to be expected they’ll be made. They’re a product of gut reactions, the same kind of reaction that makes you answer “ten cents” to the question: “A bat and a baseball cost 1.10$ together. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. What’s the price of the ball?”, when the correct answer is in fact 5 cents. The gut-reaction-driven answer (or objection) seems perfectly sensible, to the point one assumes no thinking is required. However, it does take some thinking to see why 10 cents is the wrong answer, and so it does to see why objections to rejuvenation are equally wrong.

I’m not the only one who gets annoyed at this problem, though. In fact, I’m in excellent company, since Aubrey de Grey himself complains about it in his talks every now and again. More specifically, he often points out how people can make two contradicting objections within the same sentence, for example ‘rejuvenation would cause overpopulation’ and ‘rejuvenation would be only for the rich.’ Given that there are very few people in the set of rich people, if you assume rejuvenation would be only for the rich you can expect it to have an extremely minor effect on the population; conversely, if rejuvenation caused significant overpopulation, it would follow that very many people must have used it, certainly not only ‘the rich’.

The above is one example of contradicting objections people bring up in a single breath, but it is not the only one. Another similar pair is “Living indefinitely would be boring” – “If people lived indefinitely, they would procrastinate a lot”. The first objection relies on the assumption that you’d run out of things to do, while the second objection assumes that, since you’d have eons at your disposal, you would postpone everything and consequently get nothing done—which, for all intents and purposes, equals never running out of things to do. Of course, one may argue, the two apparently contradicting objections may in fact marry well together: People might end up having an awful lot of things to do, but never doing any of them!

I have already addressed the two objections above before they even started dating (here and here), but let me address them now that they’ve been pronounced husband and wife. Whether you live indefinitely long or for just a ‘normal’ length of time, stuff to do has this unfortunate tendency to pile up if you don’t take care of it. Yep, that’s right. Stuff doesn’t get done by itself. And what’s more, there comes a point beyond which the length of your backlog doesn’t matter any more: If you have 100.000 or 100.000.000 things to do on your list, the situation is pretty much equally hopeless. If you were completely stuck in a room with a temperature of 300°C, would it matter if it were raised to 800°C? Exactly. The bottom line is, if you suck at time management, it’s your fault; the lenght of your lifespan is irrelevant. Regardless of how long you’ll live, procrastinating is a terrible habit which you should never pick up.

It’s quite far-fetched to assume that indefinite lifespans would turn everyone into a professional procrastinator. (Quite possibily, those who make the assumption already are professionals of this field.) Even disregarding this fact, using the spectre of procrastination as an argument against rejuvenation would be ridiculous. That’d be like saying, ‘If I lived indefinitely, I’d end up postponing everything and I wouldn’t do anything any more! Better to leave around some age-related diseases, so that I’ll die at some point and I won’t run into this thorny problem. Yep. That’s so much better than having to learn not to procrastinate.’

So much for not being sarcastic, I suppose. Sorry about that.

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