Some thoughts on the idea of longevity, which has come up in the recent
"Smullyan Shmullyan" thread:
Firstly, although at present I think I would like to live forever, I don't
actually need to live forever to be happy with my lifespan. Rather, I only need
to live until such time as I no longer mind dying. I could refine this last
statement further if I want: I only need to live until such time as (a) I no
longer mind dying; (b) I either don't expect that or don't care if in future I
will mind dying; (c) I have reached this conclusion in the absence of
depression or despair; and (d) whatever other state of mind I care to name that
has a non-zero probability of occurring. I figure the requisite state of mind
for a happy death might occur in as little as a few hundred years, and almost
certainly within a few hundred thousand years of continuous cognition.
Secondly, although a wish to die or indifference to one's survival is usually
seen as evidence of mental illness, it need not logically occur in the setting
of other symptoms of mental illness, such as depression, delusions and
hallucinations (even though in practice it usually does). A person who wishes
to die might be going against the "prime directive" of every naturally evolved
organism, but he is not as a result of his death wish committing an error of
logic or of empirical fact, in the way a person who is paranoid is. Evolution
throws up organisms which want to live and reproduce, organisms which want to
live and reproduce but whose metabolism is dependent on some very rare element,
and organisms which don't want to live and reproduce. The first of these
thrives, while the other two die out. If we are interested in who is being
rational, the suicide has more in common with the platinum-eaters than with
people who think they have been abducted by aliens.
Finally, the very notion of continuity of personal identity, which is necessary
if "survival" is to have any meaning, is just as much a product of evolutionary
expedience. That is, it is no more logically necessary that an organism is the
"same" individual from one moment to the next than it is logically necessary
that an organism will strive to survive from one moment to the next. Those
organisms which run away when a predator approaches because they believe they
will be the same individual in the next moment will thrive, while those which
believe that the organism with their approximate shape, memories, position etc.
in the next moment is a completely different individual, and don't care if that
other individual gets eaten, will die out. Such considerations do not apply to
most of the devices that humans produce, which "replicate" on the basis of
usefulness rather than a desire to survive and have progeny. A car does not
care if it is wrecked for spare parts for use in another car, or a modern
sculpture, or whatever, while even a non-sentient organism such as a bacterium
is essentially a machine with no purpose other than maintaining its structural
integrity from moment to moment and producing exact copies of itself.
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