On Immortality

May 17, 2011 by Lawrence Terlizzese

The goal of human enhancement is immortality. Maxwell Mehlman noted in his keynote address on the first night of the Human Enhancement Symposium that immortality represents the Holy Grail of Transhumanism and human enhancement. This goal aims to extend human life expectancy indefinitely. Carl Sagan used to argue that we could probably lengthen the life-span to 500 years. Life expectancy has already increased dramatically in the past 500 years from about 38 years to about 67 years. At first glance this appears a great boon to human existence; more of us live longer lives. But the attainment of longer life does not come without a price. Longer life-span means more elderly to care for, more resources used for the older generation rather than the younger generation; less retirees also means less jobs for the upcoming generation; less distribution of wealth since there will be less inheritance money available to share when one dies, if one dies, and a greater stress on the Social Security system. If we extrapolate life expectancy to 100 or 120 years  in the course of this century without an adequate systemic change to accommodate these problems they will be further compounded and may result in greater social stagnation.

We can imagine the end of social progress! Without the slow process of change as one generation succeeds the other society will solidify under the deadlock of an entrenched generation that refuses to retire or give up the ghost. Congress people could conceivable hold office for 100 years. Only old age got rid of Strom Thurmond Senator for 47 years and Robert Byrd Senator for 51 years. But even outside of politics, social values change when older people pass away and younger people take their places as leaders, teachers, administrators, clergymen and movers and shakers of all kinds. Even the popular opinion of the common person will remain static indefinitely without new and vibrant leadership to act as a catalyst for change. Youth will be denied their one advantage as representatives of the future since the future as a category of thought will be realized in a perpetual present.

It is not enough to have one goal such as the Holy Grail of Immortality without also addressing all of the potential problems accomplishing this goal will create. Human enhancement must allow for social adjustment or it must wait for it. Society moves forward as a whole or not at all, a single minded pursuit of immortality simply hopes for the best!