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The Problem with "Immortality"


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#1 Bruce Klein

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Posted 02 October 2004 - 05:46 AM


THE PROBLEM WITH IMMORTALITY
FROM: LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
September 20 2004


Posted Image
by Reason

The problem with immortality is really a problem with people, and it extends to
any discussion of the topic. As soon as you mention immortality outside of a
religious context you are in danger of being lumped in with the vocal wingnut
and oddball fringe. Sadly, these are the people who tend to make the most noise
outside of theological circles - vendors of magnetic rings, self-proclaimed
mystics and the like.

>From where I stand, the problem is the same as that suffered by anti-aging
science and medicine - a confusion of alternate meanings, many of which are
colloquial or specific to certain groups or professions. I have previously
outlined the way in which something as simple as diverging definitions for
similar words and phrases can cause deep, costly and long-lasting problems:

http://www.longevity..._anti-aging.cfm

Merriam-Webster defines the state of immortality as being "exempt from death,"
or "exempt from oblivion." This definition is not used in many modern day
discussions of immortality, however - neither by the wingnuts nor more sensible
folk. We can look at J.R.R. Tolkien and derived formulaic modern fantasy for a
good example of colloquial immortality: The ageless elves of Tolkien and his
imitators are referred to as immortal but are not exempt from death or oblivion.
I will not attempt to pinpoint the origins of this alternative meaning of
vulnerable agelessness - I suspect that it goes back a lot further than fifty
years - but it is in common use.

In scientific, rational circles - such as the cryonics community or Immortality
Institute forums - the term "physical immortality" is often used to denote
"vulnerable agelessness," or freedom from the degenerative effects of aging. For
many people, this accurately describes the ultimate goal of medical science:
prevent or cure all disease, disability and degeneration, thus allowing people
to live in perfect health for as long as they desire. This sounds like an
admirable goal to me! A physical immortal, enabled by future medical
technologies, could still die through accident or violence - physical
immortality has no bearing on spiritual or religious matters, and it is quite
different from the dictionary definition of "immortality."

So what can we do - what should we do - when the wingnuts, frauds and a
collision of definitions have rendered it hard to discuss a sensible topic in
public? It's a tough problem, and not one that has an easy solution. History
teaches us that until science and the market can provide a desired product,
there will be any number of borderline or outright fraudulent imitations sold to
the credulous - but the noisy marketplace for those imitations damages the
chances of real progress. Who funds physical immortality research in medical
science or publishes on the topic when everyone knows that only wingnuts use the
word "immortality?" While any talk of "physical immortality research" is far in
advance of reality, it's certainly worth discussion as a serious long-term goal
in front of a wider public audience.

You can see this same wingnut- and definition-driven dynamic in action in the
tension between serious anti-aging science and the anti-aging marketplace - and
my own two-cent answer to the question "what can we do" is "activism."

http://www.longevity...cs/activism.cfm

If there are enough people talking sense - about anti-aging science, healthy
life extension or physical immortality - then topics can be rehabilitated in the
eyes of the public and media ... and that ultimately leads to support, funding,
research and progress.

DISCUSSION

That is all for this issue of the newsletter. The highlights and headlines from
the past two weeks follow below. If you have comments for us, please do send
e-mail to newsletter@longevitymeme.org.

===

LONGEVITY MEME NEWSLETTER
September 20 2004

The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a weekly e-mail containing news, opinions and
happenings for people interested in healthy life extension: making use of diet,
lifestyle choices, technology and proven medical advances to live healthy,
longer lives. To subscribe or unsubscribe from the Longevity Meme Newsletter,
please visit http://www.longevity...org/newsletter/

#2 John Doe

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Posted 02 October 2004 - 09:01 PM

Personally, I admire Bruce and Imminst for making the bold ethical claim that one ought to live for eternity. But I also think it is important to distinguish this claim from the claim that we should solve the aging problem--whether or not we will use that solution to live for eternity. The terms "rejuvenation research", SENS, and "life extension" help describe this latter goal.

BTW, Reason does fantastic work, and the Longevity Meme is one of the best, and most important, blogs on the web.

#3 ag24

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 10:13 PM

I think it is important to be aware that there is a bigger problem than
this with the use of "immortality" to mean anything other than what the
Wikinfo page Bruce links to:

http://www.internet-...tle=Immortality

calls "spiritual immortality". The most damaging thing it does is to
alienate religious people, who:

- are very influential in society, especially in the US

- should by other standards be on the side of extreme life extension,
because it is simply the avoidance of actions that hasten death, and
all major religions deprecate hastening of death

- should not only approve of life extension but actually act on that
approval, since religions tend to deprecate apathy too.

There may be a tendency to dismiss such people and focus on the job in
hand, but if that leads to opposition (or even lack of support) from a
constituency as influential as this, it may delay all the technologies
we know are needed for progress in extending lifespans and thereby cost
lives. We have a duty to be live to the political practicalities here.

John Doe quite rightly says that the goal of ImmInst is more than just
curing aging. Specifically, ImmInst is interested in minimising the
chance of death from all causes, age-related or otherwise. But that
too is entirely in accordance with religious teaching. What gets the
life-extension movement in trouble with believers is that "immortality"
is a word that they have used -- for something that by definition can
only be conferred by a supernatural power -- for a lot longer than
anyone has used it for anything else. Appropriating a well-established
word for new purposes is an uphill struggle at the best of times, and
especially when its original use is bound up in emotive issues.

Perhaps an amusing recent incident will help to clarify what I mean.
For the past decade, the evolutionary gerontologist Michael Rose has
been in the habit of using the word "immortality" for something a great
deal WEAKER than simply curing aging, namely the levelling off of the
mortality rate (in flies) seen at extreme ages. First off, as I have
set out in print a few times recently, he is incorrect in his belief
that this levelling-off means that each individual fly which reaches
the extreme age at which the levellig-off is seen has ceased to age,
i.e. has thereafter a non-increasing risk of death per unit time. But
worse, he is positively asking to be misunderstood. A magazine called
"The Humanist" recently published the following:

In 1980 Rose managed to breed "immortal" fruitflies ... While an
average fruitfly lives several weeks, Rose possesses flies (albeit
only a few survivors) that are still alive from his original
experiment twenty-four years ago.

Anyone who knows any biology will find this misinterpretation amusing,
but the point is that the difference between Imminst's use of the word
"immortality" and believers' use of it is every bit as stark as the
difference between Rose's and ImmInst's. We can just laugh at the
confusion caused by Rose, but believers will react altogether more
negatively towards the confusion that ImmInst's current image is
fostering.

I would therefore like to make a specific proposal to ImmInst. The
problem of the multiple uses of "immortality" can be mitigated by a
suitable subtitle, but currently it's being actively exacerbated by
the use of the word "infinite" in "for infinite lifespans". I wonder
if it would be better to change that to "for unlimited lifespans",
with the word "unlimited" always hyperlinked to a page that stresses
ImmInst's goal of physical rather than spiritual immortality.

What do members think of this sort of approach?

Aubrey de Grey

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#4 reason

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Posted 07 October 2004 - 03:29 AM

I had hoped that my writings on the anti-aging industry have illustrated that the side effects of definition collisions are anything but negligible...

http://www.longevity..._anti-aging.cfm

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#5 John Doe

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Posted 07 October 2004 - 04:34 AM

I would therefore like to make a specific proposal to ImmInst.  The
problem of the multiple uses of "immortality" can be mitigated by a
suitable subtitle, but currently it's being actively exacerbated by
the use of the word "infinite" in "for infinite lifespans".  I wonder
if it would be better to change that to "for unlimited lifespans",
with the word "unlimited" always hyperlinked to a page that stresses
ImmInst's goal of physical rather than spiritual immortality.

What do members think of this sort of approach?

Aubrey de Grey


The following might be too harsh, but the above strikes me as a compromise position which lacks the advantages of either extreme. It's not as bold as "immortality" and it's not as humble as "life extension"; instead it is awkward mix. Aubrey's concerns seem to be motivated by the physical/spiritual distinction, but "unlimited" can apply to spiritual as well as physical immortality. The advantage of the word "unlimited", I think, is that it implies a lack of exterior constraints, and is therefore less extreme than immortality. Those with unlimited lifespans retain the power to limit them themselves.

#6 kevin

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Posted 07 October 2004 - 06:38 AM

I've come to the conclusion that while even though everyone would like to live forever in some form or another, saying that you pursue 'physical immortality' and thinking that you're going to get support for that effort from the majority of the most powerful nation in the world is like a gay person telling the pope they want a piece of the 'marriage scene'.

From personal encounters with people who actually care about me and strangers who don't, I'm beginning to feel that there are some hard times and delays ahead if we must insist on reusing existing memes and 'mutating' them as is seen in the eyes of those who hold them near and dear. It is this reality which is beginning to wear me down in terms of holding a hardline. Being seen as threatening the status quo is bad enough, but coopting widely and dearly held memes and claiming some higher preogative to their meaning will not endear the transhumanist movement to those who would like to keep what is perceived as theirs, theirs. The word 'immortality' is a case in point. It has almost exclusively meant 'spiritual' immortality for humans unless referring to vampires or the selfish and such. I can't remember (although I'm sure there is one), a story or example where physical immortality is regarded in a positive light and not as some object lesson of the hubris of man.

I am finding I am not much of a purist when it comes to efforts in accelerating the day when technologies for extending life span and defeating death arrives. This is truly a life and death struggle, for thousands of individuals dying as I write this, for my parents whose time is all too near, for all the rest of my friends and loved ones, and finally for myself and the millions of future generations yet to die.

Its not worth it to insist that a collection of letters symbolizes properly my wish to rise above my biological demise if it means I am likely ensuring it by doing so. Neither does it seem sensible to risk even a moment's delay in the application of a technology in saving a life for the sake of semantics.

If what we are truly trying to do here is beat death, and I believe that it is, surely we can recognize a situation that is detrimental to that goal and avoid it. The realities of what were are dealing with are not subtle and it should not be difficult to recognize that when dealing with gut level emotional responses, reasoning has little effect. I am beginning to see the need for some 'guerilla memetic warfare', where maximum effectiveness in transforming spiritual immortality to physical immortality must be accomplished from the inside out. While people (the majority) see little hope of extending their lives biologically through true anti-aging interventions, they will NEVER make the next step to physical immortality by any means. They will hold out spiritual immortality as their 'ace in the hole', something they absolutely must have to fall back on. Offering hope of an extended healthy lifespan will naturally progress to questions of just how long, and in what form, this healthy life span may be lived.

In summary, I think the transhuman movement would be well advised to use some pretty basic psychology in gathering support and appearing non-threatening while being attractive.

This next may sound a little puffed up and self-important, but I assure it it is not meant to be. We are some of the first stewards of a new phase of human existence, and though we may not live to see the fruition of our efforts, we are the first generations to have the possibility of unbounded lifespans. The responsibilities that go along with this awareness I'm sure I have not fully grasped but I *am* sure of one thing; After becoming aware of the possibility of eliminating death, before I die, and I must accept that possibility, I want to know that every moment I spent alive was in the attempt to remain that way and help others do the same.

#7 kevin

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Posted 07 October 2004 - 06:51 AM

Give the world physical immortality tomorrow and not better minds, the shock value and excitement will level off in several weeks, expectations will continue to rise, everyone learns to become jaded so as to not deal with the heartache of impossible expectations, and we’re back to the same old problems of balancing between getting people to care and not cultivating the competition in a reality where finding increasingly worthless niches are a prerequisite for living.


.. but what happens after a few centuries..

and competition for worthless niches is what its all about or so it seems, but I don't think its the value of the niche that's important .. although I really haven't a clue what is..

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Posted 07 October 2004 - 12:22 PM

With all respect to BJ, I must admit I have always felt a tad uncomfortable with the metaphysically sounding "For Infinite Lifespans" caption. It is of course a question of what sort of audience one wishes to engage. "Achieving anti-senescence" is probably more technically accurate but lacks the power of "Infinite". Unfortunately, the average person is not always aware of the meaning of the word senescence. As Reason has pointed out and others after him, words such as 'immortal' and 'infinite' can compromise the appearance of scientific credibility and even worse - act as a beacon for the snake oil peddlers.

In my view the answer is simple in that there is a single solution but it requires a certain amount of work. A particular type of work - education. Sufficient material must be compiled, produced and made available that is suitably engaging and understandable by the mainstream and that explains in clear fashion what is meant by immortality and how close science is to extending human lifespan substantially.

Unlike the vast majority of Imminst denizens, most people do not daydream about what it would be like to live for hundreds of years. It is such a fantastical concept that the majority dismiss it either as fiction or as so remotely far in the future as to have no possible impact in their lifetime or the lifetime of their children or grandchildren. In fact, most people would find it easier to believe in interstellar travel rather than the prospect of dramatic lifespan extension.

So it becomes all the more important to not only explain the science and the proximity of a solution but also to discuss the wonders that such a change in human destiny would bring. All too often we come across the boring negative conclusions of the impact to society such as overpopulation or apathy. Surely this is not the only point of view. What about the enormous contributions in arts and sciences that individuals could make with such extended time available? It is not enough to ruminate about this goal, we must envisage and promulgate the positive consequences to our society and way of life that extended lifespan would bring.

#9 Mind

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Posted 07 October 2004 - 02:16 PM

The word "infinite" does appear with the website and logo (see top of the page), and it is on the flyers and bumper stickers. Other than that it does not get a lot of billing in official statements or in the forums. If a first time visitor comes to the website and clicks on "about Imminst" they get this:

# ImmInst is a 501©(3) nonprofit organization.
# "ImmInst" is a contraction of two words, "Immortality" and "Institute". 

From the ImmInst Constitution:
# Section 1 -- Main Mission
The mission of ImmInst is to conquer the blight of involuntary death.
# Section 2 -- Umbrella Organization
ImmInst shall function as an umbrella organization to help its members succeed in working towards the possibility of human physical immortality. This Institute shall serve as a platform for the exhibition, exchange, debate, and creation of concepts and methods toward that end as well as to disseminate any and all relevant information for the purpose of human physical immortality


That is not too bad of an explanation, and seems to avoid discussion of any spiritual/mystical immortality.

We are also #1 on Google (for the word immortality)...and thus are grabbing publicity from the snake oil peddlers.

We could easily change "for infinite lifespans" on future flyers or tidy up the mission statement to make sure we drill home "physical immortality" as the top meme. All we need to do is discuss it and have the directors vote. Done.

Overall, I do not have a bad feeling about the word "immortality". I think the physical immortality meme is gaining significant ground on the spiritual. Just the other day when I was getting my hair cut, I picked up a copy of some men's outdoor sports/adventure magazine. One of the featured articles was about longevity. It was a story about how in Sardinia there are more 100 year old people per capita than anywhere else in the world. The focus of the story was finding out their secret to healthy longevity. Turns out what was common among the old men there was, eating less (CR), getting a lot of exercise, and having a skeptical attitude. The magazine I pick up at vitamin world routinely has articles about healthy longevity. We also have a forum here detailing immortality in the news/print. Didn't Scientific American devote a whole issue to longevity science? Aubrey was just in Fortune. The meme is not only spreading, by my view it is accelerating...and did I mention when people type "immortality" into google, we are the top listing. I think we are a respectable face on the physical immortality meme. We talk about the philisophical issues as well as the science. The only thing that people might be turned off by is talk of transhumanism.

All the confusion that exists with the word "immortality" will be worked with continued effort on our part, also by Aubrey & MMP, Longevitymeme, , etc... If we coordinate and spread a concise and consistent message (that physical immortality is possible and desirable) then things will end up alright.

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#10 Bruce Klein

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 04:18 AM

will post a reply here soon, but wanted to post this from wiki now:

Life in a mortal Universe

Some well-known physicists have speculated that an advanced civilization could use a finite amount of energy to survive for an effectively infinite amount of time. The strategy is to have brief periods of activity, alternated by longer and longer periods of hibernation (see Dyson's eternal intelligence for more information).

The reverse is true for a civilization finding itself in the middle of the Big Crunch. Here, an effectively infinite amount of subjective time can be extracted from the finite remaining time, using the enormous energy of the Crunch to "speed up" life faster than the limit is approaching. (see Frank J. Tipler's Omega point)

Even if possible in theory, it is not clear if a practical way to use those possibilities can be developed by any civilization, as advanced as it may be.

Recent work in fields such as inflationary cosmology, string theory, and quantum mechanics has pushed the debate into an entirely distinct realm from the scenarios discussed in Dyson's and Tipler's hypotheses. Physicists such as Eric Chaisson and David Layzer have noted that an increasing "entropy gap" arises in an expanding spacetime, casting doubt on the heat death hypothesis. In conjunction with work by Ilya Prigogine on far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics, their analysis suggests that the gap itself may contribute to information and the formation of structure.

Meanwhile, physicists such as Andrei Linde, Alan Guth, Edward Harrison, and Ernest Sternglass have demonstrated that inflationary cosmology strongly suggests the presence of a multiverse, and that it would be practical even with today's knowledge for intelligent beings to de novo generate and transmit information into a distinct universe. Moreover, recent theoretical work on the unresolved quantum gravity problem and the Holographic Principle has indicated that traditional physical quantities may possibly themselves be describable in terms of exchanges of information, which in turn raises questions about the applicability of older cosmic models.

http://en.wikipedia....mortal_Universe



#11 lovesjoyajm

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 06:51 AM

For many people, this accurately describes the ultimate goal of medical science:
prevent or cure all disease, disability and degeneration, thus allowing people
to live in perfect health for as long as they desire. This sounds like an
admirable goal to me!


I certainly agree with this statement. The only question I would have you ask is, what about the already-present problem of over-population? Without offending any religious or social groups (specifically, pro-life or pro-abortion), how would you not increase to the problem by achieving this goal?

#12 Bruce Klein

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 09:25 PM

It may help to rephrase 'overpopulation' into 'having more people alive'.

Having more people alive is a good because there will be more minds working to solve challenges associated with resource acquirement, increased efficiency, and land and space apportionment.

Having more people alive will lead to more solutions on how to preserve natural spaces and creatively live in new locations like the sea and space.

#13 reason

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 10:26 PM

There is no overpopulation problem, nor will there be. What we do have are political problems of war, enforced poverty, enforced underinvestment in infrastructure, and corruption. See:

http://www.reason.co.../rb072804.shtml
http://www.reason.co.../rb072303.shtml

also:

http://www.reason.co.../rb091802.shtml
http://www.reason.co.../rb091103.shtml

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#14 olaf.larsson

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Posted 12 October 2004 - 08:07 PM

"In 1980 Rose managed to breed "immortal" fruitflies ... While an
average fruitfly lives several weeks, Rose possesses flies (albeit
only a few survivors) that are still alive from his original
experiment twenty-four years ago."

If the above was true it would be an sensation compaired to the landing on the Mars.
I consider it pure b'llsh't that there are 24 year old flies living today untill I have seen some evidence for it.

#15 Bruce Klein

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 12:05 AM

Sorry for delay in my reply, but I've now had time to allow this idea to percolate.

I've come to the conclusion that keeping 'infinite' in our slogan (for infinite lifespans) and in the book title (essays on infinite lifespans) would be more advantageous than trying to change things in midstream.

I'm not, however, against us having a vote to get a feel from membership.

#16 Bruce Klein

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 06:42 AM

It may please some to know that Ben Best also addresses this topic:

Some Problems with Immortalism - by Ben Best

Ben says that wanting to live forever is "unrealistic" and "self-defeating." He says that life has "diminishing returns" when applied to life now verses the value of life in the future. He says that wanting immortality is like wearing a "kill me" sign as an affront to religion.

In reply to Ben's argument, I agree that thinking about "forever" may not be easy now, but only because we're using limited thinking machines, the biological brain. Upgrades in our thinking ability, with brain-computer interface technology, will give us the ability to understand complex concepts. Are not computer programs great at infinite loops?

When possible, I think its advantageous for people to focus on physical immortality because it gives an answer the question of death=oblivion. Religion has a majority hold on this problem now with afterlife scenarios - heaven. Physical immortality, on the other hand, gives a more concrete alternative.

We're alive now. We know it works. Let's make heaven on earth because all indications point the fact that when people die, there's nothing.

#17 ag24

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 11:09 AM

> I'm not, however, against us having a vote to get a feel from membership.

Sounds good Bruce - but I think people would find it very useful if you could expand
on your reasons for your conclusion, e.g. what constitutes "midstream" in your mind.

Cheers, Aubrey

#18 Lazarus Long

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 12:38 PM

This is an old topic of discussion here and goes back to when Bruce founded the Institute as a legal entity and then later again when we ratified the Constitution. I think Reason's arguments are valid and strong and I suggest this is a worthy ongoing discussion which effects how our *meme* is perceived, and how successfully it replicates itself.

I too shy away from using *Immortality* in most of my discussions and when in doubt refer to *Practical Immortality* but have always preferred *longevity* as the basis of personal communication because it possesses less shock factor and far less cognitive dissonance with ideas such as *Spiritual Immortality* that like assholes, *everyone has* an opinion on.

However I do commend Bruce for his forthright courage at risking ridicule and alienation by sticking to his core values and promoting the actual concept in its *pure* theoretical form. It allows a more consistent discussion of the essential elements once you are having it with someone that can go beyond stereotypes.

Nevertheless we are risking being typecast as not merely a fringe group but a cult and we need to step very carefully in this respect IMO if we are to attract and keep people of reputable credentials in the scientific community that see their survival in their professions at risk for association with us.

By putting the concept of Immortality into *Practical* terms perhaps we have made it pedestrian enough to discuss without too much confusion but it is still seems a very difficult idea for most people to wrap their minds around I have found. I also concur with Reason that the idea of "vulnerable agelessness is a variation on the theme that is not fully *fleshed* out.
(excuse the pun please sometimes I just can't resist)

I will not attempt to pinpoint the origins of this alternative meaning of
vulnerable agelessness - I suspect that it goes back a lot further than fifty
years - but it is in common use.

In scientific, rational circles - such as the cryonics community or Immortality
Institute forums - the term "physical immortality" is often used to denote
"vulnerable agelessness," or freedom from the degenerative effects of aging. For
many people, this accurately describes the ultimate goal of medical science:
prevent or cure all disease, disability and degeneration, thus allowing people
to live in perfect health for as long as they desire. This sounds like an
admirable goal to me! A physical immortal, enabled by future medical
technologies, could still die through accident or violence - physical
immortality has no bearing on spiritual or religious matters, and it is quite
different from the dictionary definition of "immortality."


The problem here is that we can mean what ever we want but we will not be understood if the word means something else in the average person's mind we are trying to educate to our way of thinking. If this becomes a serious obstacle to communication then it needs to be addressed and I think we have all experienced it as such in our personal attempts to converse with mainstream folks on this topic.

I suggest we need a new lexicon that not only more accurately and formally redefines how we mean Immortality, (not just by the very German method of attaching modifier nouns IMO) and also a better strategy of introduction that prepares those we are communicating with for the ideas we present with a little less shock factor. Longevity provides less shock but also less of a hook for average folks, immortality carries the *hook* that appeals to their selfish genes but also too much baggage as it overlaps their *spiritual* ideas of self definition.

Any suggestion for a middle path?

Or at least a more effective strategy for introducing these ideas to a more general public?

Remember for our approach to work it must become mainstreamed and toward this goal we need a more pedestrian vernacular for some pretty sublime ideas.

We also need to create a very positive archetype IMO and use the image against the all too numerous ones that fiction and history are full of in terms of how the quest for longevity is associated with egomania, self indulgence and selfish gratification. The counter examples are those like various cultures' *martyrs* and these are not what we are proposing and are in fact antithetical. We need to be very wary of this confusion and prepared for it when it arises in discussion, as it inevitably seems to.

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 02:25 PM

The resurgance of the religious right in the US is a large stumbling block in your path for mainstreak acceptance of physical immortality (or whatever term you would use for public consumption). Not to generalize for all religious people, some carry very progressive views, but this particular group, the religious right (evangelicals, etc.) is very conservative socially, technologically, ethically, etc..

Not to demonize the group but they tend to project their fears upon scientific and technological progress. Their ethical concerns are centered in their religious beliefs (which they believe are universal ethics), and their imposition of those beliefs is the reason the US has limited government funded embryonic stem cell research. This period of increased "religious right" influence in the government and on the people, will make it that much harder for mainstream acceptance of the scientific endevour for physical immortality (loosely defined).

Ultimately does it matter if the "religious right" group comes to accept this scientific/technological/medical endevour? I would say it does not. However the problem I alluded about ESC research could be a precursor to further government limitations on life-extending research if this aforementioned group develops a growing distaste with the possibility that people will artificially extend their lives.

#20 Bruce Klein

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 08:32 PM

Thanks, Aubrey.

'Midstream' refers to what Laz talked about. To change slogans would draw into question all that we've built upon thus far. ImmInst was founded on the concept of giving people a choice in how long they choose to live. The word 'infinite' leaves no ambiguity.

Note: Aug 2002 ImmInst Poll: Can We Live Forever?
- Yes, we can live forever. [ 25 ] [65.79%]
- No, we can't [ 1 ] [2.63%]
- Maybe [ 12 ] [31.58%]
http://www.imminst.o...=ST&f=1&t=45&s=

#21 Da55id

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 11:44 PM

Here is a chilling and fascinating story on how the original nanotech visionary
lost control of his vision child, and much of his reputation...and how the future has been bent by fear, semantics, opinion and politics - NOT facts necessarily. I have no opinion nor knowledge regarding who's right or who's wrong - if
anybody. But, nothing is worse yet more common than that those who start a movement become marginalized and have their ideas hijacked and bent into subperforming directions. I sense that excessive purism may have led to the outcomes mentioned in the article. Let's make history - not repeat it.

http://www.wired.com...tw=wn_tophead_4

#22 ag24

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Posted 16 October 2004 - 12:39 PM

Hm..... On browsing that poll/discussion I think that there may be a
problem of not enough maths having been brought to bear on the issue.

First let me say that I agree with both Ben and Bruce on the purism
thing -- in other words, I think purism is dangerous (risking serious
alienation and political weakness and thus costing lives) but is also
necessary as a foundation of why we think even modest life extension
is important, and thus saves lives by making us work harder. Which of
these competing effects is bigger I don't know, but they're both big.
Hence, we have a major incentive to seek a "best of both worlds" that
gives us the purism without the cultism.

Let's also dispose of the extreme limits that physics may impose, i.e.
heat death of the Universe or alternatively the "big crunch". This is
an area in which we simply don't know either (a) whether on the basis
of current physics we can live forever, nor (b) whether current physics
is correct in these respects. So it is entirely legitimate for us to
work on the *presumption* that there are no "limits at whole-Universe
level", as we might call them: analysis of such limits is epistemology,
not science.

So to the maths. The question polled was "Can we live forever?". The
risk Bruce highlights is that any change of slogans would "call into
question" the splendid work that ImmInst has done, by (if I understand)
introducing an acknowledgement that we cannot, in fact, live forever.
That does not, however, follow.

Normally when we discuss defeating aging we think in terms of removing
the correlation between age and risk of death, i.e. making the chance
of surviving to a given age a simple exponential decay function. This
graph of course asymptotically approaches zero, i.e. you may live a very
long time indeed but your chances of doing so are very low, and your
chance of never dying is zero. ImmInst folks see this as a restriction
on their choice of how long they will live. Whether it is indeed such
a restriction is philosophically debatable, but for present purposes I
am going to accept that it is indeed a restriction.

Those who care about living as long as they want are therefore focused
not only on curing aging but also on lowering the age-independent risk
of death as much as possible. This is usually perceived as increasing
the "half-life" of the exponential decay function I just mentioned, so
that we will live to (say) 5000 years on average instead of only 1000.
But from the "choice" point of view, this changes nothing, because the
probability distribution of survival still asymptotically approaches
zero, i.e. there is still exactly zero chance of never dying.

But wait. In recent centuries we have progressively reduced the risk
of death from age-independent causes. Indubitably we will continue to
do this. Consider now what this means for the shape of that graph I'm
talking about, the probability distribution of survival. First let's
take aging out of the equation and presume we have an age-independent
risk of death, i.e. the chance of dying this year is the same however
old you are. But now, suppose that *next* year that risk will be less
-- and less still the following year, and so on. What does the graph
of survival probability look like then?

The answer is: very different indeed. Rather than do algebra on this
(which I will get wrong, as it's been too long since I studied this) I
will just use a worked example. Suppose that this year your chance of
death (however old you are) is 50%, next year it's 25%, and it carries
on halving each year thereafter. Then, your chance of surviving:

1 year = 0.5
2 years = 0.375
3 years = 0.328125
4 years = 0.3076172
5 years = 0.2980042
6 years = 0.2933478
7 years = 0.2910561

The asymptote of this is apparently 0.288788095086602421278899721... (I
have not found a name for this number). That's to say, if your survival
chances in the future follow the trajectory just described you have a
better than one-in-four chance of a *genuinely* infinite lifespan, i.e.
of not *ever* dying, *despite* the fact that you always have a non-zero
probability of dying in the coming year. One in four doesn't sound much
good, of course, but obviously that can be raised arbitrarily close to 1
by speeding up the rate of improvement of risk of death.

I think this could be useful. What it means is that the Imminst ideal
of giving people complete choice of how long they live, including never
dying, can be divorced from the "spiritual immortality" concept of a
state in which one's probability of dying (in the next year, whatever)
is zero. Indeed, this can be further highlighted by noting that someone
who possesses spiritual immortality has *no* choice in the matter --
they can't die even if they want to. That is the key point, really, as
of course this abstruse mathematics will be of no interest to those who
would attack ImmInst for playing God. The maths is for our internal
use, as a way to have a clearer picture of what we are aiming for (with
no problem of backsliding on the "choice" aspect, but with no confusion
with spiritual immortality either).

Views?

Aubrey de Grey

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#23 Mind

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Posted 16 October 2004 - 01:29 PM

The resurgance of the religious right in the US is a large stumbling block in your path for mainstreak acceptance of physical immortality


Cosmos, I know about the fears of religious people dominating the memesphere, however, I am quite certain that they are diminishing as a proportion of the population. There was a recent survey about church attendance in western countries and it was very low in Europe. In the U.S. (if I remember correctly) it was only 46%, and falling. Progress is brutal on inflexible social structures. If Bush wins the election, there is little he can do other than put up a couple speed bumps on the road to immortality. Annoying, yes....the end of longevity research, no way.

Of course, for people close to death a speed bump could be fatal, which makes our memetic engineering activities here at Imminst ever more important.

#24 Bruce Klein

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Posted 16 October 2004 - 03:25 PM

Aubrey, you have a strong mathematical argument for changing the slogan. However, does your argument hold up when considered in light of the memestream, as Mind suggests?

Basically, should we change 'infinite' to 'unlimited' ?

You say yes because using 'unlimited' would devoice ImmInst from confusion with 'spiritual immortality'. You say this would be good because people couldn't "attack ImmInst for playing God."

Would they really not attack us? Perhaps they would attack more if they see we change slogans so easily. Perhaps they would still attack as they see even life extension (along with physical immortality) as a threat to religion.

Counterintuitively, is being attacked so bad?

Perhaps a little controversy is a good thing. While, being objectionable to religion may not win us friends there, it will win us friends on the side of life.

I think staying strong on our 'infinite' message is more important than trying to fulfill some arbitrary standard. ImmInst needs to stand shoulder to shoulder with scientist like Mike West, author The Immortal Cell.

ImmInst needs to stay strong in our mission to end the blight of involuntary death.

#25 Bruce Klein

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Posted 16 October 2004 - 03:31 PM

Aubrey, have you seen this event?

Extended Life - Eternal Life
http://www.extended-eternallife.org/

John Templeton Foundation - March 5, 2000

Extended Life, Eternal Life is a unique event focusing on the meaning and significance of the biotechnological quest for immortality.

Never has there been a more exciting, more promising time in the history of biology and medicine than today. This symposium focuses on a rapidly expanding biomedical revolution that advances the possibility of treating the process of aging as if it were a curable disease.

If successful, this will generate one of the most profound influences on human life that this new century will bring forth.

Immortality:

As medical science begins to visualize the impact of what is becoming an astonishingly powerful genetics revolution, it is not at all too soon to consider questions of the meaning of death and the quest for immortality or eternal life. Over the last century, the average human lifespan has roughly doubled because of scientific progress. In coming decades, biotechnological "miracles" likely will accelerate the extension of the human lifespan even more. The biomedical revolution is a potent force and should not be underestimated; it probably will transform life in the 21st century in ways that may be as hard to imagine as landing on the moon was to the Wright brothers at the turn of the 20th century. Those who attend this symposium (or access its Web site archive) will be prepared to engage with the issue of biotechnological "immortalization" in a well-informed and nuanced way.

For the first time, two groups of outstanding thinkers are being brought together to address vital issues of which the public is only beginning to become aware. This dialog can help create the "leading edge" of a nascent interdisciplinary conversation on the ultimate significance of life in the face of radical and rapidly emerging scientific possibilities for extending it. The first group includes scientists involved at the forefront of research focused on understanding the aging process and developing biotechnologies intended to "defeat" or reverse it. The second group consists of theologians and religious scholars who will be considering how this rapidly approaching revolution can be understood, interpreted, and responded to, against a backdrop of many rich traditions of social, ethical, and theological thinking about the ultimate meanings of life and death. The aim of the symposium is to consider the "big picture." Through this event, we can begin to map out main themes that could become a rich polyphony of future efforts to inform and enrich public discourse worldwide in both the scientific and spiritual dimensions of this issue. This symposium is a place to get started, to initiate a deep discussion of (1) where science and technology are headed, (2) what the deepest "ultimate" issues are that will inform and guide this adventure, and (3) what actions might be recommended so that, as much as possible, the new power of life-extending biotechnology will be channeled toward wholesome and humane ends.



I post this is because it seems that in some cases Religion and Physical Immortality have been able to talk with each other.

#26 Bruce Klein

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Posted 16 October 2004 - 04:33 PM

Cryonet Message #24824
Date: Fri, 15 Oct 2004 23:04:00 -0700
From: Mike Perry mike@alcor.org
Subject: Immortality versus long but finite life

Bruce Klein (#24820) comments on an article by Ben Best that raises some
difficulties with the idea of living forever and wanting to do so. Bruce
suggests that, despite any difficulties, we need to strive for true
immortality because "when people die, there's nothing." Perhaps he means
simply that there is no afterlife, but I would just say that *if* permanent
oblivion ever comes, then there's nothing (tautologous, yes, but true) so
my hopes rest on this *not* occurring. To me it seems meaningful and
exciting to be hoping for immortality and acting accordingly, rather than
accepting a substitute goal such as a very long life followed by eventual
but unending unconsciousness. I think this attitude inspires my efforts in
cryonics in a way that could not happen otherwise--I do better work. In the
forthcoming issue of *Physical Immortality* I have an article on
"deconstructing deathism" where I address some of the issues others have
raised in attempts to show that immortality either would be physically
impossible or undesirable.

Mike Perry

#27 Bruce Klein

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Posted 16 October 2004 - 04:35 PM

From: benbest@interlog.com
Subject: Re: Some Problems with Immortalism - by Ben Best
Date: Sat, 16 Oct 2004 03:59:56 US/Eastern

I am replying to Bruce J. Klein's critique of my views
in CryoMsg 24820.

Bruce J. Klein wrote:


>> <>Some Problems with Immortalism - by Ben Best
>> http://www.benbest.c...t/immortal.html <>
>>
>> Ben says that wanting to live forever is "unrealistic" and
>> "self-defeating."


More precisely, I want to live as long as possible and I don't
believe it is possible to live forever. I believe that it is self-defeating
to attempt to live forever by presenting one's position as an
alternative to religion. I also think that one can never know that
one can live forever and that the belief that one has acheived
immortality is likely to reduce vigilance and hasten death.


>> He says that life has "diminishing returns" when
>> applied to life now verses the value of life in the future.


How impactful would it be to be told that you could only live
a million years rather than a trillion years? Although a trillion
years is a million times longer than a million years, the
psychology of "diminishing returns" makes the two figures
close to indistinguishable, at least from my perspective. It
seems ludicrous to me that there are people who get upset
over the thought of not being able to live a googolplex number
of years -- or eternity -- when living to age 200 would currently
be such a monumental breakthrough unprecedented in the
history of mankind.


>> He says that wanting immortality is like wearing a "kill me"
>> sign as an affront to religion.


I want to live as long as possible, which would not preclude
"wanting immortality" if immortality were possible.

Assume a person wants to live as long as possible and can
choose between two strategies: (1) take up arms against the
religions of the world and declare that the Death of God will be
the Life of Man or (2) make every attempt to advance the science
and technologies of cryonics and anti-aging medicine. I would
call approach (1) the "Salman Rushdie approach" to associate it
with the man who wrote a novel which resulted in the Ayatollah
Khomeini issuing a religious edict condemning Rushdie to death.
(The last I heard of Rushdie he was working on a newer novel
entitled "All Mafia Kingpins are Homos".)


>> <>In reply to Ben's argument, I agree that thinking about "forever" may
>> not be easy now, but only because we're using limited thinking machines,
>> the biological brain. Upgrades in our thinking ability, with
>> brain-computer interface technology, will give us the ability to
>> understand complex concepts. Are not computer programs great at infinite
>> loops?


No, my problems with immortalism have nothing to do with my being
too mentally weak to be "thinking about 'forever'" . People who spend
their time trying to understand "forever" are far less likely to live 200
years than people who spend their time trying to solve the practical
problems of cryonics and anti-aging medicine. A computer that cannot
survive 200 years can hardly be said to be executing "infinite loops"
-- except from the point of view of computer jargon.


>> When possible, I think its advantageous for people to focus on physical
>> immortality because it gives an answer the question of death=oblivion.
>> Religion has a majority hold on this problem now with afterlife
>> scenarios - heaven. Physical immortality, on the other hand, gives a
>> more concrete alternative.
>>
>> We're alive now. We know it works. Let's make heaven on earth because
>> all indications point the fact that when people die, there's nothing.


On the other hand, life extensionists and cryonicists need not present
themselves as alternatives to religion. Emphasizing the medical approach
is likely to be more productive than declaring war on religion. Many
cryonicists and life-extensionists are, in fact, religious. I greatly appreciate
their help. We will need all the hope we can get if we are to achieve the
massive breakthroughs required to allow us to live hundreds or thousands
of years.

None of the above should be taken to imply that I do not recognize and
appreciate the real and substantial contributions made to cryonics and
life-extension by Bruce Klein, Mike Perry, David Pizer and numerous
other "immortalists".

-- Ben Best, speaking for himself

#28 Bruce Klein

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Posted 16 October 2004 - 05:20 PM

In reply to Ben Best's #24825

Thanks for your kind words, Ben. You are a great mind.

> I believe that it is self-defeating to attempt to live forever by presenting one's position as an alternative to religion.



I see your "attempting to live forever" and "presenting one's position" as separate. One can focus on living forever as a personal goal, and then work to build friendly relations with religion - at the same time.

> I also think that one can never know that one can live forever and that the belief that one has acheived immortality is likely to reduce vigilance and hasten death.




Agree. Immortality is not a state, it's a process - immortality is a way of life. We could be immortal now, unless we succumb to unwanted forces(aging) or kill ourselves. However, saying that one wants to be immortal doesn't mean there is reduced vigilance. On the contrary, with more life, there is more reason to live, more experiences on how to avoid death and more incentive to preserve knowledge gained.

> How impactful would it be to be told that you could only live a million years rather than a trillion years?



Limited lifespan, living 10 more years, or 10 million more years, is irrelevant if death=oblivion. The pursuit of infinite lifespan is the best way to overcome this problem.


> No, my problems with immortalism have nothing to do with my being
> too mentally weak to be "thinking about 'forever'" . People who spend
> their time trying to understand "forever" are far less likely to live 200
> years than people who spend their time trying to solve the practical
> problems of cryonics and anti-aging medicine. A computer that cannot
> survive 200 years can hardly be said to be executing "infinite loops"
> -- except from the point of view of computer jargon.



Everyone can't be a philosopher. Practical work needs to be done, and is being done. However, without a clear reason to live forever, there is left to much wiggle room for us to copout on life. Rather than water things down or leave the unanswered questions about afterlife to religion, physical immortality needs be the main goal.

Bruce

#29 ag24

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Posted 16 October 2004 - 07:07 PM

Many thanks Bruce (also for copying the Cryonet threads here).

First, let me clarify that my suggestion of "unlimited" was by no means
intended to be a thought-out proposal, ready for (e.g.) voting on, but
merely a starting-point for discussion. I don't think it's really good
enough, not least because of the points you make.

Second, I want to caution against complacency concerning the influence
of religious groups. Diminishing or not, that influence is too great
to inflame unnecessarily -- and will remain so for some time. Thus, we
must determine as a matter of urgency whether such confrontation is in
fact necessary.

All in all, these mathematical issues that I've been rehearsing make me
feel that there may not, after all, be much of a case for "toning down"
the subtitle (let alone the title) of ImmInst. On a scale of 1 to 10
of how I feel about using the word "immortality" to describe something,
with Rose's demographic meaning at 1 and spiritual immortality at 10,
I would put a trajectory of survival of the sort I described earlier at
about 9.5, whereas any simple exponential decay with an asymptote of 0
comes in around 7 in my mind, however long the half-life is. (Cellular
immortality of the West type comes in at about -10!) Specifically, I'm
no longer of the view that one can make a case for abandoning the word
"infinite", when in the scenario I described there is a finite (indeed,
maybe high) chance of someone's lifespan genuinely *being* infinite.

So, is there any other way to defuse any antipathy among believers that
does not compromise the "purism"? Well, maybe. I think that simply a
document about all this, linked prominently from a number of places on
the websie (especially the home page) would be quite effective. It'd
have to be worded pretty clearly, in order to ram home the message that
there is still clear blue water between physical and spiritual meanings
of the term (viz., with physical immortality there is definitely always
still a non-zero chance of involuntary death). This ongoing, non-zero
risk is the life-line (!) that those of us with friends/supporters/etc
in the religious community need in order to maintain good relations and
thereby hasten our goals. Such a document might, in particular, be
linked under the "Mission" hyperlink in the sidebar, which at present
just links to the middle of the constitution at the sentence about the
blight of involuntary death. I would like to propose something a lot
more explicit in addition, though, such as a link called "Secularity"
or similar.

Ah. Might there be a problem with the word "conquering" in "conquering
the blight of involuntary death"? If we accept that there will always
be an inexorably non-zero chance of involuntary death, and if we also
agree that this is really the only thing that distinguishes physical
from spiritual immortality (except, perhaps, that spiritual immortals
don't have the choice of voluntary death), then might the objective of
clarification be achieved by changing "conquering" to "minimising"?

Or is there a feeling that even this is too weakened?

Aubrey de Grey

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#30 bacopa

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Posted 16 October 2004 - 07:12 PM

We will need all the hope we can get if we are to achieve the
massive breakthroughs required to allow us to live hundreds or thousands
of years.


Yes and there is already too much tension between religious groups alone. Atheists scare people on a gut level even more! To declare war against religion which I have done at times is literally estranging one'self from any help from religous people all together. I throughly agree with Ben's argument that we need 'all the hope we can get' certainly we can tell the 'facts' and if the religous people of the world want to still fancy themselves as right than so be it...just as long as they see what we are saying.

But the prospect of true immortality, as has been mentioned before, will scare people if the 'default state' of living the way it is presently is not radically changed. Already there are too many people IMO that have trouble getting through their days living as we do presently surrounded by all kinds of fears, dissapointments, and insecurities. I would imagine most people could not fathom waking up and going about their day forever living the way we do. Perhaps we should focus more on explaining why they should want to live forever other than the prospect that death=oblivion which is a fear tactic if overdone.

By scaring people into holding onto life dearly for this reason alone seams to go against the whole point of wanting to live in the first place. Life should be more than fear of absense of living. So that's why I think getting people to want to live should be the motivating force here. So perhaps the question should be how can we get people to see the immense importance of life such that they value life more than they presently do?

Nick Bostrom's paper on why we should want to live longer was a start in this general direction. And most people will be scared to think beyond what he even said, which were really very basic pleasantries that many people already strive really hard to get from life as is. Factoring in negative states of mind, stress, irrational emotions such as jealosy, anger, rage, and depression just being able to enjoy the moment is a struggle for many people if not most. It seems that the goal than should really be to get people to see beyond the present, default state of life as is and get them to see the promise of states of 'hedonic bliss' and the prospect of true happiness; that will be the real challenge to a world that seldom experiences any real happiness.

How do you get a population in which the majority, at least in this country, of people seem to get their enjoyment from drinking at bars, watching sports, and working out at the gym to see beyond those mind numbing experiences to the prospect of true joyful states of being, and the pleasures of becoming far smarter than they are presently? I think David Pearce was closest to this idea with his Hedonist Imperative paper. Also already most people really don't seem to value intellect, intelligence, even the fun of having one's own opinions and freedom of choice. Most people really are scared IMO to learn to think well and feel good about doing so. Some monumental changes to the human condition will have to happen if we are to ever attract even a small minority of the people in the world to the prospect of living forever.




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