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'Towards a Philosophy of Immortality'


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#1 Marc_Geddes

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 07:04 AM


Towards a Philosophy of Immortality
Marc Geddes

Do you want to live forever? Why? What is the reason for your belief? What is the meaning? These are questions of philosophy, and whether you know it or not, your answer is based on your philosophy of life and death.

When some people hear the word 'philosophy', what they think of is a rather obscure branch of academia, of little relevance to the real world. But academic philosophy is only one narrow aspect of 'philosophy'. In the broadest sense of the term, everyone who can think is doing philosophy. Like all animals, human drives are in part a product of evolution. Evolutionary psychology is the branch of science that investigates the underlying biological aspects of human urges. We have physical and emotional needs: we need food, water, air, shelter and sleep, and we may have inbuilt cravings for things like sex, money, power and fame. Yet unlike all other animals, we humans are capable of abstract thought - of reasoning. And reason seems to give us the power to over-ride our other animalistic cravings. Once our biological needs are taken care of, the rest of our actions can only be fully explained by reference to our high level thoughts. In the realm of the intellect, the ideas and beliefs that we hold will govern how we behave. These ideas and beliefs in sum form our philosophy of life. We may be conscious of our philosophy or we may not. But everyone without exception has a philosophy.

If the formation of ideas and beliefs is philosophy then philosophy is all around us. We read the newspapers and come across a hard-hitting editorial - philosophy. We turn on the T.V and hear political commentary - philosophy. We see a Christian preacher on the street corner giving us the gospel of Christ - philosophy. Often we simply don't recognize many basic ideals as philosophy, because we take them so much for granted. Consider many basic principles held by those living in modern nations - democracy, science, and the idea of progress, the rule of law, religion, the very concept of a 'nation'. All of those things had their roots in philosophical ideas. 'Democracy' was a radical concept developed by philosophers in ancient Greece. Branches of modern science such as chemistry and astronomy matured from philosophical doctrines like alchemy and astrology. The modern idea of progress was a philosophical idea, which first took root during the Renaissance period of the Middle Ages. Philosophical ideas gave rise to religions like Islam, which spawned the great Persian Empire of the Middle East. In the West, the Christian philosophy of Thomas Aquinas helped shaped Europe for a millennium. It is clear from the historical record that philosophy has been a major driving force shaping human society. That is not to say it's the only force of course. Aside from biology, human behavior is also partially driven by things such as class struggle, and the physical environment. But it is clear that if we wish to understand why people behave the way they do, we must engage in philosophy.

Most people alive today do not regard physical immortality as a sensible proposition. In fact, many people would be opposed to radical life extension. An exploration of the prevalent philosophies in today's cultures helps provide an explanation. We can identity three key modes of thought that prevent the idea of immortality from being taken seriously: (1) Cartesian dualism,
(2) Fatalism, and (3) Static views of human nature

Let's examine these 3 common viewpoints. The first is the idea named after philosopher Rene Descartes. Cartesian dualism holds that there is a supernatural component to human consciousness, which has an existence independent of the human body. This idea that we have 'souls' which survive physical death is obviously a central tenant of many of the world's religions, both Eastern and Western. Those who believe that they will survive physical death may not see the point of radical life extension, and at the least, belief in souls must reduce the motivation for believers to try to extend physical life.

The second common reason why people don't take life extension seriously is fatalism. People simply don't believe that physical immortality is something that is possible. Therefore they see little point in making aggressive efforts to combat aging.

The third general reason for doubting immortality is the idea that human nature is necessarily limited. Even if people realize that they will not survive physical death, and they are prepared to admit that death might not be inevitable, they may still doubt the wisdom of life extension. They fear that radical life extension would somehow cause change to cease, so that nothing new under the sun could take place. Common worries along these lines are that long life would be boring or pointless, or that society would become ossified, or that evolution would stop, or that no one could have any children.

In order for a significant social acceptance of immortality to occur, each of these 3 common philosophic viewpoints will need to be addressed. It's important for both skeptics and immortalists to stick to specific issues when arguing their views. The specific issues are: Do we have souls that can survive physical death? Is it likely that science can one day find a way to give us physical immortality? And: would physical immortality be worthwhile or is there a good reason why human lifespan should be finite?

Mainstream thought in the worlds major religions hold that we do have supernatural souls that can survive physical death. However it is important to realize that all major religions have a variety of differing theological viewpoints, and some of these alternative viewpoints have wholly naturalistic conceptions of things like God and souls. One does not have to become an atheist in order to agree that there is nothing supernatural about human consciousness. Pantheists equate God with the natural Universe. Pantheism holds that there is no clear division between mind and matter, and that human consciousness is a natural phenomenon arising from sufficiently complex arrangements of matter. This is in keeping with the scientific world-view that human consciousness is totally dependant on the human brain, and the death of the body will result in the death of the mind. There are also scientific theologies such as the Omega Point theory, which postulates an evolutionary God equivalent to the universe at the end of time. Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, who wanted to reconcile science and Christianity, first put the idea of an Omega point forward. It's clear that science and religion need not conflict. But acceptable of the scientific world-view requires that we concede that our soul is not supernatural. An entertaining and convincing over-view of the evidence that there is nothing supernatural about consciousness can be found in the book 'Consciousness Explained', by philosopher Daniel Dennett.

Our consciousness depends on our body. If we value life, we should try to cherish and preserve it. Therefore, we should try to cherish and preserve our body for us long as we value life. Since aging and disease harm our bodies, a reverence for life requires that we fight aging and disease. And a continued reverence for life requires an on-going battle against death... or the quest for physical immortality! A reverence for life is, in fact, a central tenant of most major religions. And this expresses itself in a yearning for spiritual immortality. So we see that the scientific and the religious conceptions of immortality are both motivated by the same reverence for life. The scientific insight is that spiritual (mental) immortality requires physical immortality.

Here we run into the next major hurdle preventing people from supporting the quest for physical immortality. Fatalism. The 'common-sense' view is that physical death is inevitable and it is useless to fight it. So the skeptics will simply dismiss physical immortality as a hopeless dream. In order to realize that physical immortality, may not, in fact, be a hopeless dream, research the marvelous scientific advances in areas such as stem cell research and cloning, proving that new tissues and organs can be grown as replacements for aging ones. There are documented animal studies conclusively proving that life span can be extended through caloric restriction, and studies conclusively proving that life span can be extended through genetic manipulation. It is important to focus on proven results rather than on long-term futuristic possibilities. You may be skeptical of pipe dreams, but proven results cannot be denied, and they demonstrate that physical life extension is possible. Damien Broderick's 'The Last Mortal Generation: How Science Will Alter Our Lives in the 21st Century' is an excellent over-view of life extension research up to the year 1999.

Developing personal exercise, diet and supplementation programs, which produce immediate improvements in health, can combat fatalistic feelings that immortality is a hopeless dream. Keep yourself informed about scientific advances related to aging and try applying these advances in your own life. Seek out people and media promoting life extension and carefully sit down and examine the facts. Upon reviewing the facts, even hard-core pessimists must admit that immortality is not a hopeless dream, and that there is at the very least a small possibility of radical extensions of human span at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Given that immortality might just be possible, the skeptic will still question why we should want it. Perhaps the problems which extended life may cause make the goal unworthy? A negative view of what immortality may be like is a world where nothing ever changes, where people just run out of things to do, a nightmare of hellish boredom. The mistake here is to imagine that human nature is fixed and that the world contains limited resources and possibilities. But there is strong evidence to suggest that neither of these assumptions is true.

The Renaissance ideal was that humans could take charge of their own destiny and improve upon their basic nature through such things as good government, proper education and applied reason. Although human history is punctuated with barbarism, it is clear that life in the year 2003 for the average human is generally better than it was in the Middle ages, just as life in the Middle ages was generally better than it was in the Stone ages. It is better not just in the material sense, but in the social sense also. Democracy and universal human rights were radical ideas of the Middle Ages, but today they have been widely applied throughout the world. The 20th century saw the horrors of things such as Nazism, but it also saw the wide acceptance of rights for oppressed people such as woman, gays and blacks. Human nature can be improved, albeit slowly.

It is important to understand that the vitality of a society is not a function of the length of time that people live, but a function of the political and social structures. Things such as democracy and free markets were designed in order to weed out stagnation. Under democracy, people can prevent elites from accumulating too much power and bad leaders can get thrown out. Under free market capitalism, competition and the profit motive encourage constant innovation, because businesses selling bad products go bankrupt and businesses selling better products get rewarded. There is no reason why a society of extremely long lived people should stagnate, provided the right political and social structures are in place.

What about the concern that resources and possibilities are finite? It might seem to be 'common sense' that there is only a finite amount of living space for instance. But an understanding of economics and science suggests that common sense is wrong. Economists are increasingly coming to realize the extent to which wealth is created by human knowledge. It is human knowledge which defines what a 'resource' actually is. For instance, take oil, which might seem on the surface to be a pretty clear-cut example of a finite physical resource. But prior to an understanding of how oil could be used, oil was simply worthless black goo. It acquired a value only after humans worked out how to use it. Advances in science and technology resulted in more oil being discovered and improved extraction techniques allowed more of it to be accessed. In addition, we leant to utilize it more efficiently. Surprisingly, the world oil reserves have been increasing, in contradiction to the claims of doomsayers who warn that resources are running out. The key point is that resources are not fixed, but can be increased through greater knowledge of how of the universe works. Not even living space is fixed. For instance, space travel has the potential to open up many new worlds beyond the Earth upon which human descendants could conceivably live. Immortality does not mean that no new people can be born or that there will be will be insufficient resources to sustain them. Wharton Business School graduate Paul Pilzer has developed what he calls the theory of economic alchemy, which is explained in his book 'Unlimited Wealth'. The reason resources are not fixed is because knowledge enables people to take something that has very little value and convert it into something of significantly greater value. Since there is no known limit to the things that can discovered, there is no limit to the amount of resources that exist either. Economist Julian Simon was once asked what he thought 'the carrying capacity' of the Earth was. How many people can planet Earth sustainably support? He didn't hesitate to give an astounding answer: 'It's infinite'.

In order to understand why the possibilities of existence are not finite, a firm grasp of the potential of science and technology is required. Technologies such as Nano-technology (the ability to precisely manipulate matter on the molecular scale), Bio-technology (the ability to engage in genetic modifications), and Information technology (methods of communication and computation) may enable humans to take control of the process of evolution itself, by gaining the ability to radically improve their minds and bodies. The philosophy of Transhumanism is a philosophy celebrating and exploring the ways in which science and human creativity could be used to improve upon human nature and open new possibilities. Far from being boring, an immortal existence may be filled with a never-ending variety of new and exciting things for us to explore. An entertaining sense of the remarkable potential of science and technology may be obtained by reading Damien Broderick's book 'The Spike'.

Some will no doubt find all this talk of radically changing human nature to be outrageous or scary. It may be feared that we are doing something against the natural order, against God's will, that should we try to change human nature too much we will create monsters or lose our humanity together. But it is important to understand that the pioneering spirit is itself a key part of human nature. Indeed, it is the pioneering spirit that may define who we truly are. Attempts to alter human nature do of course hold dangers, but the solution is not to reject such attempts, but to work to find intelligent ways to manage the dangers. If it turns out that there is some design or intelligence behind the universe, such as God, why should he not want us to fulfill our potential? The Aristotelian concept of 'Eudemonia' or 'Self-fulfillmentEholds virtue to be acting to fulfill our highest potential.

In order to bring about the dream of radical life extension, scientific research is required, followed by technological developments that apply that research to create products such as anti-aging drugs. Finally, government policies need to be in place that ensures that the fruits of such research are potentially available to all. None of these things can happen in a society, without the support of a significant number of people. In order for the relevant scientific research to take place, motivated and qualified researchers are needed, along with sufficient funding. In order for breakthroughs to be converted into products that people can use, there must exist a relatively free market, which gives entrepreneurs the freedoms and incentives to develop and market these health products. In order for things like anti-aging drugs to be potentially available to everyone, government policy needs to ensure universal access to health-care, whilst at the same time keeping health-care free from restrictive regulations and excessive bureaucracy.

Those people living in Western industrialized nations are already living in societies where a significant number of people respect science, reason, progress and free markets. But few yet give credence to something as radical sounding as immortality. And many will be uneasy about attempts to radically change human nature. Religious and environmental groups, those who doubt capitalism, and those who are uneasy about technology all have concerns that will be need to addressed.

We have looked at the three main reasons as to why people may doubt the wisdom of life extension. These were: (1) Cartesian Dualism: The belief that we have souls that can survive physical death (2) Fatalism: The belief that physical death is inevitable and it is foolish to fight it and (3) Static views of human nature: The belief that human nature is fixed, the world has limits and attempting to over-step these limits would be evil. A sketch of the refutations to these ideas was given. A person who supports life extension generally believes that: (1) There is no division between mind and matter: the mind depends on the body and will not survive physical death. (2) Science can radically extend human life and may even one day allow physical immortality, and (3) neither human nature nor the universe is limited. Instead human potential is infinite, and it is good that we should reach for this potential.

In order to accurately assess the wisdom of radical life extension, there needs to be extensive debate over each of these main philosophic areas. Budding immortalists would need to embark on a philosophic crusade in order to create the social conditions for success in the quest to become immortal. People might embrace the idea of physical immortality when there is a widely understood philosophy of immortality. Poet William Blake said: ‘To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour E And Ralph Waldo Emerson said: 'To the dull mind nature is leaden. To the illuminated mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light.' If we all could learn to see the world like that, who wouldn't want to live forever?


About The Author
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'I'm a 31 year old writer from Auckland, New Zealand.
My background is in science and Info Tech. I studied
pure science (physics) at the undergraduate level at
Auckland University, and later I studied Business
Computing at the undergraduate level at Manukau Tech.


I'm a Transhumanist and I've been a full member of the
WTA for over a year. I've written several articles
for transhumanist e-zines and you can check out my
website at: http://www.prometheuscrack.com

#2 Bruce Klein

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 07:32 AM

One word for that: "Beautiful!"

Welcome Marc.

#3 Jace Tropic

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 03:21 PM

Marc,

I thoroughly enjoyed your essay. This should be required reading for all secondary students around the globe.

Budding immortalists would need to embark on a philosophic crusade in order to create the social conditions for success in the quest to become immortal.


You're right. I'm taking this one to heart.

Jace

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#4 Sophianic

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Posted 03 August 2003 - 05:29 PM

A clear, concise and comprehensive introduction to the major stumbling blocks that keep the majority from accepting (and pursuing) goals in accordance with the immortalist philosophy. I especially like the fact that it's written at a level basic enough for most people to understand. With more essays like this one filling the media of the world, the naysayers would not stand a chance.

Well done.

#5 advancedatheist

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Posted 10 August 2003 - 12:25 AM

Marc Geddes writes:

Surprisingly, the world oil reserves have been increasing, in contradiction to the claims of doomsayers who warn that resources are running out.


This doesn't reflect empirical reality. Refer to the archived newsletters of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil:

ASPO News (The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas)
http://www.asponews.org/

Your own country, New Zealand, has been experiencing an energy crisis lately because its main natural gas field is rapidly depleting. The energy-intensive businesses in NZ are considering leaving the country because they can't afford the electricity any more:

Fast-rising power prices give big businesses a jolt
http://www.nzherald....gy

I'm afraid if you stay in NZ, you'll be living in the metaphorical "miner's canary" of the rapidly approaching Post-Carbon age. NZ provides a warning of what is to come because it is developed enough to need a lot of energy, but its few resources and geographic isolation make is especially vulnerable to a disruption in the supply of fossil fuels.

#6 advancedatheist

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Posted 10 August 2003 - 01:05 AM

More on oil:

From the August 2, 2002 issue of New Scientist:

Magazine section: Energy Special Oil


Brace yourself for the end of cheap oil

New Scientist vol 179 issue 2406 - 02 August 2003, page 9


Is the rate at which we can produce oil about to peak?


A MOMENT of truth is fast approaching - perhaps sooner than we can prepare for it. "The world faces at best a global recession. At worst, war, famine and mass migration," says Richard Hardman, trustee of the London-based Oil Depletion Analysis Centre and a former president of the UK Geological Society. He is talking about the day we no longer have enough oil to meet energy needs. The result is likely to be skyrocketing fuel prices and economic chaos - far worse than the worldwide recession caused by the oil shocks of the 1970s.

But this crisis isn't centuries away. The crunch point comes not when we have run all the oil wells dry, but when demand outstrips production. And a growing number of experts are warning that this is likely to happen within the next few years. "There is a growing consensus that we are heading for an imminent peak [in oil production], if not already past it," Hardman says.

In previous crises, new reserves always seem to have been found to make up the shortfall. But the declining rate at which new fields are being discovered suggests it won't happen this time, at least not for conventional oil (see Graphic). We now find just one barrel of oil for every four we consume. And with production already declining in the US and the North Sea, the world must rely increasingly on the politically volatile Middle East and other parts of the developing world (see Graphic).

So how long have we got? To estimate when the world will run short of oil, you need to know how much oil there is overall. In principle, this should be easy to calculate: geologists know which kinds of rock are likely to hold oil and they know where these reservoirs are and how big they are. "They know all the regions where it's possible to find oil by now," says Kjell Aleklett, physicist at Uppsala University, Sweden, and president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas. "There are no new regions to be found."

Oil companies keep detailed information about individual basins secret, but most of the educated guesses made over the past few decades fall close to the same estimate: the world's oil reserves began with a total of about 2 trillion barrels (see Graphic) of which some 900 billion have now been used.

The 1.1 trillion barrels that remain represent about a 40-year supply at current consumption levels of about 25 billion barrels per year. At first glance this seems a comfortable cushion, but don't be fooled - we won't get the chance to use it all at anything like our present rate. The flow rate from any single oil well begins to decline as soon as production starts, because the pressure in the reservoir drops. Companies can maintain the flow for a while by injecting water to boost the pressure, but the flow inevitably dwindles and the last of the oil must be wrung out.

Good half of the pie

This means that the rate of production follows roughly a bell-shaped curve. The peak, whether from a single basin, a region, or the entire world, comes when about half the oil has been extracted - once most of the wells are in and before they taper off too much. After that, the rate falls inexorably. "It's not that you've eaten half the pie; you've eaten the good half of the pie," says Ali Samsam Bakhtiari, an expert with the National Iranian Oil Company. If production rates fall while demand continues to rise, oil prices are likely to spike or fluctuate wildly, raising the prospect of economic chaos, problems with transporting food and other supplies, and even war as countries fight over what little oil is available. "That's when all hell breaks loose," says James MacKenzie, an energy analyst at the World Resources Institute in Washington DC.

If the general consensus of a 2-trillion barrel reserve is correct, the world has almost finished the good half of the pie and this day of reckoning is not far off. Indeed, many prominent analysts, Aleklett included, foresee oil production peaking in the next 5 to 15 years, far too short a time to find alternative fuels, especially for transportation, and barely long enough to bring effective conservation measures into play.

Some believe the peak is already here. "I am 99 per cent confident that 2004 will be the top of the mathematically smoothed curve of oil production," says Kenneth Deffeyes, a geophysicist at Princeton University. And he believes the highest single year may already have passed. "2000 may stand as a blip above the curve and be in the Guinness Book of World Records." Other leading analysts, including Colin Campbell, founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas, have reached the same conclusion (see Graphic). These analysts use variations of a method pioneered by geophysicist Marion King Hubbert, now something of a folk hero for correctly predicting in 1956 the US production peak in the 1970s, despite widespread dismissal of the idea at the time.

Not even the optimists believe we have much more than 20 years to prepare for the peak, if demand grows at its historical norm of 2 per cent per year. In a recent analysis, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) controversially estimated the world's extractable oil at more than 3 trillion barrels. Based on that figure, the US Department of Energy calculates that oil production may not peak until 2037.

As well as predicting the discovery of new fields, USGS analysts tracked changes in estimated reserves for 33,000 known fields and found that they crept upwards over time, either because earlier estimates were too conservative or because technological improvements allowed the companies to extract more oil. Applying this reasoning worldwide, they forecast that known fields should yield 612 billion barrels beyond current expectations.

But will new technology wring enough oil out of existing fields to maintain production rates? "I don't buy it," says David Pursell, an energy analyst with Simmons & Company International, an investment banking firm in Houston, Texas, that specialises in the energy sector. "You've got to spend a ton of capital to get an extra 1 or 2 per cent out."

Others who favour later dates, such as Shell and Exxon, include less accessible, dirtier sources such as heavy oil. But using these sources would release even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than conventional oil, a price that many feel is too high (see "Can heavy oil avert an energy crisis?"). "The most important problem we face with oil is not its availability but its carbon," says MacKenzie. "We have to move away from fossil fuels if we are to deal with the climate issue."

Whatever the exact timing of the peak, we still need to find a new source of energy. "In the end there's no way to know who's right, but it doesn't matter," says Jeremy Rifkin of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington DC. "We're only arguing about 20 years. If we think oil is a problem now, just wait 20 years. It'll be a nightmare."

#7 Marc_Geddes

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 05:28 AM

I'm afraid if you stay in NZ, you'll be living in the metaphorical "miner's canary" of the rapidly approaching Post-Carbon age. NZ provides a warning of what is to come because it is developed enough to need a lot of energy, but its few resources and geographic isolation make is especially vulnerable to a disruption in the supply of fossil fuels.


Nonsense. New Zealand's coal reserves alone could provide power for 1000 years. Coal use is currently restricted by the NZ government because of environmental concerns, but new hi-tech filters can now actually ensure that coal-fired plants are clean.

NZ Herald quote:

"New Zealand's coal fields were the equivalent of 50 Maui gas fields, said Elder, and could keep energy cost at current levels for 1000 years."

From:

http://www.nzherald....ion=fossilfuels

#8 Aliza

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 09:24 AM

We have looked at the three main reasons as to why people may doubt the wisdom of life extension. These were: (1) Cartesian Dualism: The belief that we have souls that can survive physical death (2) Fatalism: The belief that physical death is inevitable and it is foolish to fight it and (3) Static views of human nature: The belief that human nature is fixed, the world has limits and attempting to over-step these limits would be evil.


[!] (I'm afraid that there is a problem with the QUOTE facility [huh] )
[yes, i'm aware, thanks- bjk]

I think that in this argument another very important reason is conceivable which has been over-sighted and that is: people don’t like to see some other people alive for ever, they feel on par they shouldn’t themselves, because they’ve got hope in a change for better in the future due to natural aging and elimination of “the bad guys” or simply their “opponents.” In short, death of some people may open new lines of opportunity for the other people. Also they may think that immortality is just for the rich or with authority, not for them; they will never be able to benefit from the technology of immortality during their lives since it would be too expensive or risky - yet another source of public repulsion.

#9 Jace Tropic

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 01:20 PM

Aliza: In short, death of some people may open new lines of opportunity for the other people. Also they may think that immortality is just for the rich or with authority, not for them; they will never be able to benefit from the technology of immortality during their lives since it would be too expensive or risky - yet another source of public repulsion.


If I was convinced that at this moment I was an utterly helpless human being (I probably am -- just not convinced yet) who needed to hamper free minds for my crutch, I'd take a half-bottle of sleeping pills, drive to the woods, pipe carbon monoxide into my Firebird, and happily welcome oblivion.

Jace

#10 Cyto

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 07:22 PM

[huh]

#11 Marc_Geddes

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 07:46 AM

I think that in this argument another very important reason is conceivable which has been over-sighted and that is: people don’t like to see some other people alive for ever, they feel on par they shouldn’t themselves, because they’ve got hope in a change for better in the future due to natural aging and elimination of “the bad guys?or simply their “opponents.?In short, death of some people may open new lines of opportunity for the other people. Also they may think that immortality is just for the rich or with authority, not for them; they will never be able to benefit from the technology of immortality during their lives since it would be too expensive or risky - yet another source of public repulsion.


That's a fair point Aliza. I did touch on that on my article. There needs to be some sort of government policy to make sure that no one misses out on anti-aging tech. There needs to be the right sort of social structures to prevent elites from accumulating too much power. But we've already got such social structures in industralized Western countries. The right mix of democracy and free markets do the job quite well. For instance there is already a rule that no one can be President of the United States for more than 2 terms. So long has there is some minimum level of democratic accountability in the system, people that grow too powerful can be constrained.

There are various ways that health-care can be made available to everyone and still have a free market. For instance compulsory private health insurance. A very good article by Ron Baily on this here:

http://www.reason.co.../rb080603.shtml

Or, you could have a voucher system, where the government provides the funding to cover everyone in the form of universal vouchers, but the health-care is still entirely privately run.

#12 advancedatheist

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 03:48 PM


I'm afraid if you stay in NZ, you'll be living in the metaphorical "miner's canary" of the rapidly approaching Post-Carbon age. NZ provides a warning of what is to come because it is developed enough to need a lot of energy, but its few resources and geographic isolation make is especially vulnerable to a disruption in the supply of fossil fuels.


Nonsense. New Zealand's coal reserves alone could provide power for 1000 years. Coal use is currently restricted by the NZ government because of environmental concerns, but new hi-tech filters can now actually ensure that coal-fired plants are clean.

NZ Herald quote:

"New Zealand's coal fields were the equivalent of 50 Maui gas fields, said Elder, and could keep energy cost at current levels for 1000 years."

From:

http://www.nzherald....ion=fossilfuels


That sounds like an innumerate statement, considering that exponential growth in electricity usage shortens the amount of time each succeeding Maui-equivalent of coal power will last. It also doesn't figure in the energy and environmental costs of getting coal out of the ground and to the power plant. Industrial societies de-emphasized coal in favor of petroleum and natural gas for very good reasons -- they are easier to extract and handle than coal, and they burn somewhat cleaner than coal. Oil also burns at a higher temperature than an energy-equivalent of coal, meaning that you can extract more work from oil than from coal (refer to the thermodynamics chapters in your physics textbook). Could you imagine having to shovel coal into an airplane's engine during flight? Returning to coal will mark a major setback in the energy resources and quality of life available to civilization, though I suppose a late-Victorian or Edwardian standard of living is preferable to starving and freezing in the dark.

#13 Marc_Geddes

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Posted 13 August 2003 - 02:40 AM

A slight clarification in answer to advancedatheists points. Specific kinds of physical stocks are finite, but 'resources' in general are infinite. Of course we need to wean ourselves from non-renewable stocks like oil eventually, but this is not the problem that doomsayers make it out to be. To back-up my claim, here are book extracts that nicely summarize why this is so.

Reference: 'Facing the Future', by Michael Allaby, Ch.16

'....In the first place, we misunderstood the meaning of the words 'stock', 'reserve' and 'resource', often using them as synonyms for one another when they are used with precise and different meanings by those engaged in the relevant industries. The 'stock' of a substance is the total amount that exists on the planet (or, perhaps, in the solar system) and in most cases no one will hazard a guess at the size of that amount. Aluminium, for example, is by far the most abundant metal on our planet. The uppermost 16 kilometers of the Earth's crust is about 8 per cent aluminium by weight, a fact that should have alerted us to the unlikelihood of its exhaustion. If the substance is of industrial or other use it is a 'resource', a term that implies no quantitative value. Mining companies extract 'resources' and measure the amounts available to them as 'reserves' and it is only to the term 'reserve' that quantities can properly be attached...'

''...Mines vary in size and in the length of time for which they can be worked, but on average they last about thirty years. For this reason, companies tend to think about thirty years ahead. No manager is much interested in commodities that will not be sold until further in the future than that. Their reserve figures reflect this, as you might expect, so, at any particular time, the industry will appear to predict the exhaustion of reserves some thirty years ahead. It does not mean the world has enough of each mineral to last no more than thirty years...'

'...Should demand increase, exploration will intensify and reserves will increase, probably at least as rapidly. Between 1950 and 1970, for example, because of increased demand, bauxite reserves (the principal source of aluminium) increased by 279 per cent, copper by 179 per cent, chromite (the main chromium ore) by 675 per cent, and tin reserves by 10 per cent.'

'...human ingenuity, the one resource that appears to be infinitely renewable and incapable of depletion. If it seems that a resource may become scarce, there will be a strong incentive to find new sources and also to discover substitutes...'

'...Depletion, then, is much less serious a problem than it may appear and this is true even for commodities for which there seems to be no immediate alternative. Oil, for example, is abundant, but no one imagines we can continue to use it indefinitely at the present rate, yet it is unlikely that its disappearance would cause serious difficulties, except to countries in which it is the only source of revenue. It is no longer required for power generation, of course, and the electrification of rail lines increases greatly the number of primary fuels that can drive trains. There are alternatives, even for road transport. Electrically powered cars and buses are in an advanced stage of development, while hydrogen can be used as a fuel that yields more energy per unit mass than petroleum, and produces only water when it burns. There are rival claims for ethanol (alcohol) and methanol as 'biomass' fuels produced from cropped plants, and a range of engine designs is available to suit these and other fuels'

#14 Bruce Klein

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Posted 14 August 2003 - 07:01 PM

Also, of importance to note, Marc has graciously granted ImmInst permission to bundle the above essay Towards a Philosophy of Immortality in with ImmInst's Introductory Package as part of the new Full Membership option to start Sept. 1.

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#15 bacopa

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Posted 24 September 2003 - 02:00 AM

no offence but I'm starting to realize that the clearly written pieces with a little less buzzwords come off more effectively. I know certain arguments are inherently complex but I wish some of you, no offence could put some of this stuff in laymen's terms




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