I don’t want to live forever

You don’t want to live forever? Then don’t.

I’m not kidding. It is as simple as that, and I’ll tell you more. If you—or even the entire world, for that matter—don’t want to live forever, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t develop rejuvenation therapies.

Why? Because rejuvenation therapies do not make you immortal. Being forever young only means you don’t get age-related diseases and disabilities, not that you can’t be shot or run over by a truck, or that you can’t kill yourself. On top of that, you don’t have to undergo rejuvenation therapies if you don’t want to. However, while rejuvenation wouldn’t make you immortal, it would give you more control over you life. If you say you know for a fact you want to die at some point, I’m cool with that, but there is no guarantee ageing will kill you just at the right moment. Ageing could easily take you away when you still had tons of things you wanted to do. On the other hand, if you didn’t have to worry about the possibility of such an untimely death, you could very well decide for yourself when and how you want to go, and be relatively sure it’d happen that way. You would have to undergo rejuvenation treatments every few decades to remain biologically young anyway, so you could even take a couple of rounds for as long as you want to be around, and then stop, age, and finally die. Whatever works for you.

There’s something I wonder, though. Why do people so stubbornly equate ‘eternal youth’ to ‘immortality’? If you take the trouble of asking people what they think of rejuvenation, you’ll see they’ll switch quite fast to the topic of immortality. It makes me think people are somewhat subsconsciously convinced of their own quasi-immortality. ‘If we cure old age—they probably think—I won’t die of anything else, because, c’mon, all those bad things, like getting HIV, accidents and stuff, just won’t happen to me. It isn’t likely.’ I would hardly be surprised if they really held this conviction. People don’t really like being mortals, and it’s nothing new. It’s part of the survival instinct that has been keeping us around for so long, and so is the defence mechanism making us accept our own mortality—the thought of which would otherwise drive us insane, probably faster than we can reproduce.

Anyway. I really don’t want to convince anyone to live ‘forever’. If it ain’t your cup of tea, it ain’t your cup of tea. However, if you side with the ‘I don’t want to live forever’ team, there are a couple of thought experiments I’d like you to try. Feel free to let me know what you think. I’m simply trying to better understand a point of view opposite to mine.

Thought experiment 1: Painless death guaranteed

I don’t know how and when you want to die, but chances are you’d prefer a painless death when you’re old and asleep in your bed. Well, let’s say dr. Rigor Mortis, an ingenious and somewhat perverted chemist, proposes you a deal. He has access to a drug capable of killing you instantly and painlessly, and he offers to inject you with it in your sleep, on a random occasion, after a certain age that you get to decide. For example, you and dr. Mortis could agree that once you’re 80 years old, he’ll sneak into your room on an entirely random night and make you die as peacefully as you wish. The agreement cannot be cancelled, and dr. Mortis’ decision when to kill you is completely random and it cannot be influenced by anything else. (Again, though, he won’t kill you before you’re 80 in this example.)
This wouldn’t be any different from dying of old age, painlessly and asleep in your bed, right? And since it’s random, it could kill you when you were perfectly fine with leaving the world behind, or when you still had things you wanted to do—just like the ‘natural’ death you wished for yourself.

Would you accept such an agreement? Why, or why not?

Thought experiment 2: The unstoppable killer

Say there’s a bloke out there—the unstoppable killer—who has the power to kill you however he wishes. He can cause you to be hit by a truck or to be struck by lightning. He can infect you with any disease. He can make a grand piano materialise ten metres above your head. Anything. Also, he cannot be stopped in any way. (I know this is not realistic. It’s just a thought experiment.)

Say he tells you he’s decided to kill you. He will use his powers to kill you at some random point in the future, in a random way. In principle, since you’re okay with dying, you shouldn’t have any problem with the threat posed by the unstoppable killer. He could kill you young, or he could kill you old. He could shoot you, or he could give you cancer. He could be ‘late’, and ageing could kill you first. Since the unstoppable killer acts entirely randomly, your odds of dying at any age, in any way, do not change one bit as a consequence of the threat. Your death, by the hand of the unstoppable killer or otherwise, is just as inevitable as always.

My question for you is, would you still be able to sleep tight at night, after knowing of this threat?

The point of both these experiments is the same. Your hypothetical killer cannot kill you any later than biological ageing would, because death by ageing happens only when your body cannot possibly function any longer. Presently, dying of old age is the only way one has to live for as long as possible. So, if your answer to the final questions of each thought experiment was ‘no’, a reason could be you’d rather live for as long as possible (which, at the moment, implies dying of old age). And, you know what? You can’t live any longer than forever.

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Objections to living ‘forever’
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