Is ennui an inevitable consequence of eternal life?

I’ve often heard it said that granted true immortality, humans would eventually run out of new things to do and would become desperately bored, but does that really make sense?

Doesn’t it assume that the pleasure in any experience is chiefly in its novelty? And is that really true? I don’t think it is. Granted, a human lifespan is perhaps too short a period from which to extrapolate, but it seems to me that there are certain things, for certain people, that don’t lose their shine, no matter how many times they are repeated - indeed in some cases, the comfy familiarity of repetition is part of the enjoyment.

Assume, for the sake of this discussion, we’re talking about humans that are rendered immune to death, disease and injury, but are otherwise quite similar to the way they exist now. They are not endowed with a perfect memory - or rather - the perfect memory turns out to be one in which stored events are capable of fading over time.

Hell, ennui seems to be an inevitable consequence of regular old mortal life. Assuming that eternal life comes with the same responsibilities and stretches of monotony, I’m guessing it will also come with the same occasional bouts of ennui.

I think this is important; we have no reason to believe that the human memory has infinite capacity, or that such capacity is even possible. Eventually, anything you have done should fade enough from your memory that it’s interesting again.

And as you said, since when has constant novelty been necessary to enjoy life ? People do things over and over all the time without getting bored of them. Sure, novelty tends to make an experience better, but a lack of novelty doesn’t equate to ennui; sometimes it just means a downgrade from “ecstatic” to “really fun”, which is hardly the end of happiness.

As for what would happen if we actually discovered immortality, I’d expect a form of evolution. Over time, the people who are overly prone to boredom for an immortal would weed themselves out; suicide, death from seeking ever more extreme experiences, or just tweaking themselves to be less prone to boredom.

Yep. And I’m really not convinced that an immortal couldn’t find new things to amuse themselves with as the centuries passed. I mean, living in the twentieth century was an entirely different experience than the 19th. And you’d concievably have enough time to accumulate the resources to completely reinvent yourself every few decades.

It has been suggested that we would not be able to function properly, or at all, if we had complete and perfect recall - we would be paralysed by overanalysis of every choice, based on every similar scenario we had ever encountered.

And the flexibility and the energy, I suspect. One of the implications of being immortal is having a brain that stays young along with the rest of you.

But what if you’re immortal and well, simple? Someone who is ‘easily entertained’.

One problem with conceptions of immortal life is that everyone (perhaps rightly) assumes that the immortals will become wealthy lords of the earth (compound interest, accumulated wisdom, all that). But, looking at my fellow mortals, I see a large number of them that would never become financially self-sufficient. How many people work their whole lives and never accumulate a big nest egg? Why should that change for them if their lives were 100 years long or 200 years or indefinite?

Without that, the sort of endless novelty that we envision being available to them might not be possible. They might be spending eternity just trying to make ends meet, which might not allow them to build up to a serious level of ennui.

In any event, I think an immortal could avoid ennui by a number of means:

  • setting yourself an impossible/monumental task that will take many lifetimes to complete (world peace, world hunger, world domination, cure for cancer, grand unified theory of everything, FTL travel, fusion power, etc.)
  • immersion in a cyclical, renewing, meditative task (such as farming); achieving a sort of satisfied buddha-hood might be key to surviving

I think there is a possibility that life after death is somewhat different than life as we know it. In fact we, and the way we know things could be somewhat different. Applying human psychological norms to the question might well be similar to the question “Since before birth, we are entirely dependant upon the umbilicus, isn’t it inevitable that after being born, we would almost immediately die?”

The nature of life beyond the world we know is not necessarily reasonably evaluated in terms that apply to our lives, and ourselves now.


“Having an idea is easier than making something happen because of an idea.” Me

If it’s indefinite, and they can’t be injured, then they’d have to strike it lucky sooner or later, also, if you’ve got a long time to wait around, compound interest is great.

I don’t think endless novelty (or at least, endless worthwhile novelty) is logically possible, but what I’m talking about here is the sorts of activities that people do their whole lives and never experience diminished enjoyment - flying a plane, paddling a canoe, eating a delicious steak pie with gravy - If people don’t get bored of doing this after repeating it regularly for 60 years, why would they get bored of it after 600, 6000 or 6 million?

Depends. If most people are mortal and only a few are immortal, probably not.

If say, everybody were immortal, I think ennui would be inevitable. As people get older they get more formed in their ways, form routines and become opinionated and stuck doing things their way. Nothing would change.

Technology would fade away with all the old codgers that don’t like cell phones or don’t bother with the internet. it is the new generation coming in that makes all these wonderful and interesting changes possible. Opinionated, Luddite prone old people would still be there, they just would be chasing you off their lawn in the body of a 20 year old.

Exactly, there’s whole libraries worth of books I want to read and will never get around to it and the more books you read the more you’d find you wanted to read, and then when you found yourself at a point where you thought you had read all you wanted to read you could go back and read the first book again. :slight_smile:
Similar thing with movies, videogames, pieces of music etc.
Also, couple immortality with viable interstellar travel and we’d be sorted.

I agree. Personally, there are plenty of activities that I enjoy just as much today as I did in my youth.

I think that boredom is an evolutionary device to push us away from activities that are unproductive from an evolutionary point of view. From an evolutionary point of view, it makes sense that people get a little bored of their spouses because it may be more productive to find somebody else. From this same logic, it follows that there should be activities that people don’t get bored of.

I think this is consistent with experience. For example, in my experience most guys like to look at girls, and enjoy it without any diminishment in pleasure. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that guys would not get tired of girl-watching.

I think you’re right in general and wrong in the specific. I do sometimes get tired of girl-watching. It depends on my current mood, interest, whom I’m with, etc. If things aren’t right, it’s just be dull. But at the same time, an immortal could simply go off and do things. If he wants to spend 8 million years playing with legos, why not. When he’s done he can do something else. But why shoudl he get bored? He has no alternative needs, no requirement to do other things. The body does not need, so why should the mind?

Likewise, I don’t think people really get bored of their spouses. I think they sometimes crave excitement, and this manifests in different ways. Some people buy a Jag, some visit the amusement park, some sleep around. But there’s no reason that this must be a novel experience. It might be a new, nice-looking Jag, but you mioght have had other nice cars before (but now they’re a luittle rustuy and dented).

I’d be happy to start over a few times. But eternity is a bit much. After about 5 different life stories I expect I’d settle into a rut as a hermit.

There is a documentary on this topic called Zardoz.

But how much of that is due to the aging of the brain ? We don’t know, of course, but it seems likely to me that much of that - perhaps most - is due to the age of the brain, not the age of mind that it’s running. We can’t really tell until we can make a brain stay physically young longer, of course.

I have a bad enough memory that I can reread or rewatch movies only a couple of years later and find that I still derive enjoyment them. You never recapture the initial experience, of course, but you can still enjoy yourself nonetheless. So, I think that I could survive on my current collection of a few hundred books and movies and other assorted toys for many years, (assuming they didn’t degrade into unusability over time), and if there were still people bothering to produce new content, I could carry on pretty much indefinitely.

That is true. I sure hope it is the case.

There are also experiences where the moment you’re finished doing them, you’re looking forward to the next time - and I don’t mean drugs - for me, a good example would be a good steak and kidney pie - i could eat one of these every day, indefinitely - in fact I’ve almost kept that pattern up for months on end, a number of times (it’s weight gain, not boredom, that makes me stop).