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.

Stathis Papaioannou
Express yourself instantly with MSN Messenger! Download today it's FREE!
You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups 
"Everything List" group.
To post to this group, send email to
To unsubscribe from this group, send email to [EMAIL PROTECTED]
For more options, visit this group at

Reply via email to