Paranoia in the year 2200

The year is 2200. There is no longer death due to natural causes, including heart disease, infection, parasites, cancer, stroke, old age, etc. With the exception of death due to accidents, the death penalty, and malicious intent, we are effectively immortal. Nobody remembers anyone dying due to natural causes. Death is national news.

Our immortal status has made us much more cautious about the way we live life. The question is, how cautious? And is this presumed abundance of caution relevant to policy in the year 2012?

Some examples should help bring this issue to light.

[ul]
[li] I hate waiting in lines at spaceports, but I’d hate it even more if a terrorist blew a hole in my spaceship on my way to my vacation in Mars, especially if I was otherwise immortal. [/li][li] I hate wearing an airtight suit and breathing all my air through a portable HEPA filter, but the risk of death due to unknown biological or other particulate matter is not really acceptable, given that it’s completely avoidable.[/li][li] This airtight suit is really inconvenient, but shedding my DNA all over the place is giving my potential enemies all the ammunition they need to create a me-specific death vector. [/li][/ul]

I have the distinct feeling that our great-* grandchildren will look back on us as fools that do not sufficiently value our lives, as indicated by our lackadaisical attitude towards mortality. In a world where nobody dies, dying is not normal, not accepted, and is avoided at all costs.

True, we aren’t immortal yet. For reasons we do not yet understand the lowest energy configuration of the overall template for human beings discovered by natural evolution resulted in a pretty pathetically short lifespan. And, as far as evolution is concerned, we only exist to ensure the propagation of our genes. But this does not have to be the end of the story. There is more to life than death, and there is more to life than 75 years of life. Our brains are impressive pieces of equipment that are, as far as we can tell, capable of real understanding of both meaning that we create, and meaning that is already embedded in the universe (i.e., how it works). Our mind is so sophisticated that we don’t even have a philosophical basis for understanding it, i.e., understanding the consciousness that makes up our everyday experience. But it’s pretty clear that this experience, when it’s good, is really awesome and worth putting some effort into sustaining.

And so, I have a hard time accepting the carefree attitude we take with regards to our own mortality. How does barreling down the highway mere feet from oncoming traffic with no barrier make sense? Obviously I know the answer to this: we are all struggling to accept the fact that we are probably going to die, and it sucks so much that we really don’t even want to think about it, let alone try to do anything about it. We showed up here accidentally and we have accepted leaving this place accidentally. Most of us have rationalized the whole experience by positing that it’s a simulation set into play by a mad scientist who wants to test us, and we just can’t wait to get back to him and give him a giant hug. This is such crap. If we focus our efforts we might be able to severely curb death in the near term and maybe even within our lifetimes increase our lifespan one year for every year that passes.

If you’re looking for something specific to latch onto you could consider the following questions: 1) what are the best policies for preventing death in the near term and 2) how do we get people interested in pushing humanity towards immortality? Do we seriously do nothing and just wait for it to happen? If that’s what we do, will it ever happen, or will religion continue as the dominant mode of eliminating cognitive dissonance due to knowledge of our own impending deaths?

The extent to which this is a debate is up in the air. I considered MPSIMS, however, I’m not a fan of that forum name due to the contradiction in the forum title and description: deep thoughts are neither mundane nor pointless, IMHO. I considered IMHO, but there is no reason that my humble opinion should be restricted to less than cosmic topics - this one is quite cosmic. So, GD it is:)

I’ve thought about this issue in a certain way. Just the idea if- outside of the factors you mentioned- we would live forever. What a HUGE deal it would be to kill someone. And, yes, the enormous precautions you would then take. I was just thinking- assuming you could maintain someone at a certain age- how many children and, grand children, and great-great grandchildren, etc. you could rack up over time. I guess, at some point, it will come down to understanding the aging process and how to stop it. Especially the brain, which is the center of our universe.

I figure that a lot of people will go the route of making themselves tougher rather than living ultracautiously. By then we’ll have the technology to do so, and it’ll impact quality of life less. For example, your brain (which may not even be organic anymore) could be housed in a special purpose armored vehicle, while you experience the world though teleoperated full-sensory waldo bodies. If your real body is tough enough that it would take anti-armor weapons to kill it, and is usually kept in a safe place anyway, you’ll be a lot less likely to die to mere accidents like a squishy natural human.

Not dying is not the same thing as living. People would probably accept a certain degree of risk to maximize their enjoyment of life.

So what you’re saying is that in the year 2200, the computer is your friend?

Seconded.

In discussions of this kind it’s always assumed that mortality completely frames who we are and any change to that would change our behaviour beyond recognition.

I dispute this. I’m 33 right now and I still pretty much behave like I’ll never die. A (probably) far away but ever-present threat doesn’t really focus the attention.
However, ageing enters my consciousness much more because I can actually see that and it already prevents me doing some things.

So in a hypothetical where we live indefinitely, I think it’s the lack of ageing that will cause the real difference, and not so much the indefinite end. Because we won’t age we won’t feel that there are “stages” to our lives and as though any particular behaviour or way of living is behind us.

Probabilities get all out of whack as time stretches out. For example, if we lived to be 100,000 years old, nobody would cross the street, because in that period of time it is effectively certain that you would be hit by a car. But it isn’t like humans are particularly good at judging probabilities, so I don’t know how that would actually affect our behavior.

My guess is it would be an engineering problem. Robot cars, building walkways over the road, etc. In fact, given engineers with >100 years experience, technology might keep pace with lifespan gains in lowering the probability of accidents. I hope useless, expensive, feel-good measures like the TSA would be the first against the wall in the search for effective security.

On the other hand, when you have orders of magnitude more time than we do today, maybe a long wait for security wouldn’t bother anybody. But large herds of people and long lines would still be great targets for terrorists, and I imagine people spreading out more. If everyone lived in the country or the woods and telecommuted, “transportation security” might not be an issue anymore.

But no matter what, there will always be the ever present threat of deadly meteors.

I’d expect the number of descendants would be kept very, very low- in a world of practical immortality any society with any sense would start restricting procreation extremely tightly, or population growth would be impossible to deal with. Probably, there would either wind up being just a very very few ‘replacement rate’ child licenses available, and everyone would be on compulsory contraception except the few with a permit, or everyone would have to choose between sterile immortality or having kids and aging.

Really, I can’t see how else it would work without resources being used up in just a few generations, at least short of some space conquest sci-fi scenario where new planets could be somehow easily terraformed.

Have all these been eliminated, or do we just not die from them anymore? Both of these have some nasty consequences.

One fictional immortal race:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunnen-G

How crowed is the planet – is the population under control?
How clean is the planet – do people need filtered air?
Does every stay biologically at age 20? 40? 60?

Maybe it’s all novel enough in the year 2200 for people to be paranoid and cautious. But perhaps the same people will be casually offing themselves in the year 2500 or 2600 out of sheer boredom.

Not wanting to live forever has a lot to do with the point at which I stop aging. Do I get to pick that age? Is it predetermined? Do we age in the same manner, so that we are ( essentially ) a toddler for a thousand years? Are we aware that we are awaiting puberty for a millennia ? If so, who would opt for this?

If I got to pick the speed of my immortality, I’d surely skew it so that I was between 14 and 26 for a very very very looooong time.

While this is pure fiction, I might refer to Anne Rice’s first vampire book, Interview With The Vanpire. In it she has her characters discussing the inherent problems of being aware that they are immortal.

Forever is a very long time. I cannot imagine forever, and while some may protest this, I suspect none of us can.