Eliminating Death is a series of longevist videos by transhumanist philosopher Gennady Stolyarov. In the 19 videos, Stolyarov argues against death, rebuts objections to life extension, and educates viewers on life extensionist ideas.
- "The Boredom Argument"
- "The Overpopulation Argument"
- "The 'Playing God' Argument"
- The "Diversity of Ideas" argument
- "Ayn Rand's 'Immortal Robot' Argument"
- "The Motivation Argument"
- "The Immoral Wealthy Elite Argument"
- The "Death and Taxes" argument
- The "Life is an Illusion" argument
Near the end of the series, Stolyarov also reviews seven identified causes of senescence, how and why he thinks indefinite life spans will be achieved, and some suggestions for how the viewer can help the cause of life extension.
|Part 1: Death as Waste|
| Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. Today, I will speak to you about the greatest enemy of all of us.
Now, you may be wondering what that enemy is, especially given that a lot of media attention has been devoted to threats such as terrorism, nuclear war, oppressive governments – all of which are, to a greater or lesser degree, threats – but none of them compare to the threat that I’m about to discuss. Not even the great genocides and slaughters of the 20th Century can come anywhere close; and, for my religious audiences, no, I’m not talking about Hell or eternal damnation or the devil – I don’t even believe in any of these. What I’m talking about is something that has been accepted as routine and commonplace in, not just our society, but in societies throughout human history, and it should never have been so accepted.
What I’m talking about kills about 100,000 people every single day in all societies. What I’m talking about it death – death through senescence, so-called “natural causes”, even though there’s nothing natural about it. Indeed, all death is due to some kind of problem with the body. Most of deaths that occur in old age occur from one of three causes. One of these is heart disease, some kind of failure of the heart; the second is a brain illness, some kind of failure of the brain; and the third is cancer, cells of the body dividing uncontrollably and, essentially, going where they shouldn’t and disrupting the functions of the organism, eventually disrupting the functionality of the entire organism and causing it to shut down.
I repeat, there is nothing natural about any of these conditions. Most of them are extremely painful. Most of them are extremely debilitating, leaving a person to lose most of his or her physical functionality or mental functionality to suffer horrific pain for months, and even the ones who allegedly have the merciful fate of dying in their sleep when they’re 90 – why do they die in their sleep when they’re 90? Well, their heart just stops beating, and that is a failure, if nothing else. It’s not as if they were perfectly healthy and lived full lives up to that point - their heart had been progressively weakening until the point where it couldn’t pump blood anymore. I wouldn’t call that “a natural cause”. I wouldn’t call that having lived a full life up until its natural end. No, as a matter of fact, what is now considered death from natural causes – well, that would have been inconceivable even a few centuries ago. The life expectancy in most advanced countries of the world is in the high 70s or the low 80s.
Now, this is unprecedented. In 1900, the US life expectancy was only around 47 years. In the Middle Ages, it was only in the 30s, in European countries. So, if you live to be 50 in the Middle Ages, or if you live to be 60 in the 19th Century, you were most of the time considered to have lived a very long, full life; and, if you died – once again – of some kind of heart failure or brain failure or cancer, you were considered to have died of natural causes, but there was nothing natural about that, and today we recognize that, if somebody dies at 60, that’s an extremely tragic outcome. We mourn that person for having passed so early.
So, why, I ask, should it be any different for somebody who dies at 90 today? Some day, when we do – and it’s going to be a “when” – cure these terrible afflictions of the heart, of the brain, cure this terrible scourge called “cancer”, we will also say of anybody who died at 90, “That person died way too young.”
And this is a perfect way to introduce my next point, which is that the death of every individual, no matter how old or how young, is a tragedy of incomparable proportions. You cannot put any kind of quantifier on that tragedy. You cannot say, for instance, the death of a million individuals is a greater tragedy than the death of one, because, even if we lose one single individual, we have lost something that is completely irreplaceable: an entire internal world of memories, of experiences, of ways of looking at the world, that will never again be replicated, even if that person has left some kind of writing, even if that person has left some memories of him or her in the minds of other people – that’s a very indirect way to access what that person was actually thinking, what that person was actually doing, that person’s true motivations, and the broad and rich range of that person’s experiences – that can never be truly replication. Now, of course, I’m grateful that so many people of the past have left behind records of their existence. I’m grateful that I’m able to read Aristotle and Voltaire and Bastiat, but I still don’t know what went on inside their minds, and, moreover, billions of people are now irreplaceably gone without a trace.
Maybe a minority of them have left behind some kinds of names, most of which people don’t remember unless they’re genealogists, but the vast majority of the people who have died have left nothing behind. Their whole lives are gone – irreplaceable gone. Such a huge waste of human potential! Imagine what we could have learned from these people if they had been alive today – what kinds of skills they would have brought to us, what kinds of memories of the past, of other eras, of things we can only know about very remotely and indirectly from reading the history books. That is a huge loss, and I do not want this loss to continue. I do not want any of the people who are alive today to be gone in this fashion – be irreplaceably gone.
Now, some people say, “Well, this is why you have children. The children will carry on your memory – your legacy – in a better way than anybody else can,” and, to some extent, that’s true. To some extent, children know their parents better than anybody else, but what happens when those children have children, and their children have children, and, eventually, somewhere down the line, the great-great-great-grandparents are forgotten, or very little is known of them, or they are only known as mythical figures – founders of this particular line of the family, perhaps; but what about that rich inner world that these great-great-great-grandparents experienced? All gone! Lost forever, irreplaceably! Intolerable!
And, of course, that’s not all. The worst is yet to come. The true scope of this enemy we have not even begun to probe.
Next time, I will show you exactly what is at stake and why we must defeat death itself.
|Part 2: Death as Ultimate Harm|
| Greetings! Now, we shall discuss what is worst about death – worse, even, than the irreplaceable loss of the contributions, the experiences, the memories of billions of individuals – namely, what death does to you.
Now, your only way of perceiving the world, of interacting with it, of reflecting upon it, is through your body – through the physical and chemical processes that occur within it – and, provided that those processes remain functional to some extent, you are alive; you are able to interact with the world. When those processes stop, when enough of them shut down, you stop being able to perceive anything. You stop even being able to reflect on how sad it is that billions of other people are no longer able to communicate with us; no longer are we able to benefit from their contributions; even the perception of that stops.
So, while it might be saddening to reflect on the deaths of others, eventually most of us go on with our lives. But this, your own death, is a blow from which you will never be able to recover. It is the worst conceivable thing that could happen to you, because – not only will you not bed sad; not only will you not be able to overcome anything – you will cease to exist as an individual. You will essentially enter a state of nothingness – oblivion.
There are really no good words to describe this state, because our language is so object-oriented; it is so geared toward addressing thing that exist (processes that exist); it cannot explain pure non-existence of the sort that an individual’s life, the coherence of his organism, assume[s] after death.
Now, we can try a little bit of an experiment. Try to close your eyes. Close your ears – shut them with your hands, perhaps. Try not thinking about anything. Try not feeling anything. Try somehow to not get the nerve-endings on your skin to sense anything. Try it. Try not smelling anything.
You’ll realize quite quickly that what I’m asking you to do is an impossible task. There’s no such state for human beings as a state of complete nothingness – complete non-sensation. It is absolutely inconceivable. Even when we sleep, even when we dream, we are marginally aware to some extent. Even when we’re in a coma, or we’re under anaesthesia, there is some very low-level of functioning of bodily processes that keeps us alive. When that’s gone – we cannot even conceive of this.
Now, the human mind is wonderful, and the human senses are wonderful, in that – at least indirectly – they can give us accurate information about any datum of existence. Now, I’m not claiming that any single human being can understand everything there possibly is to know. I don’t even believe necessarily that there is a finite amount of information to know. However, any particular question you ask – any particular datum of existence you try to figure out – some human’s mind, using some kinds of instruments – some kinds of logical devices – will be able to find out the answer. Likewise, with any problem in the world, some human’s mind – eventually, with some kinds of instruments and ideas – will be able to solve that problem. Except for one question, and that question is, “What is it like to be dead?”
Well, that question is not answerable. That question is not answerable because it is actually a falsely constructed question. It presumes that to be dead is to be. Once again, our language is so oriented toward existence that it’s very difficult for us to grasp that death is the opposite of being. It is complete non-being. It is the complete disintegration of the individual – the complete disintegration of everything we perceive, everything we think about, everything we experience – and I believe that that is the worst possible fate, because, even if you suffer greatly – even if you endure horrific pain (torture, sadness, perhaps because of the loss of loved ones) – at least your body and your mind can struggle against that. At least, perhaps, if you’re experiencing pain and torture, your desire to endure that – your desire to overcome it – shows some endurance of your individuality – some kind of resilience within you. Likewise, if you’ve suffered a tragedy, a loss in the family, and you’re determined at once to overcome it and yet to remember the people that you lost, that also shows that your individuality continues to endure – that you have not been destroyed by this, but death is synonymous to your own destruction.
Essentially, when you die, that’s it; you’ve lost; there’s nothing more for you; there’s no you, and, to add to that – as I mentioned in the first part of this presentation – others don’t remember you; at least, they don’t remember at nearly the level of detail that would be necessary for an accurate impression. So, that is, I believe, the most horrific part of death: the annihilation of the individual.
Now, of course, this great, great, horrific fact was the reason why religions were invented. Most people cannot bear the thought of the finitude of their own very existence, and, naturally, it’s a very counter-intuitive thought, because you exist now – you perceive the world now – so, “Surely,” you might say, “this existence must continue indefinitely; surely, this can’t be all that there is to life; surely, there must be another world where you continue to live after you die, and perhaps it’s a better world.” Well, it’s a comforting thought. However, I do not see any evidence for another world; I do not see any evidence that the processes that animate our minds – the physical and chemical processes that are responsible for our perceptions, our feelings, our experiences – last when our bodies disintegrate, because the physical organism is the sum of these processes; so, when the physically organism ceases to be – and these processes cease to be – how can the result of these processes – namely, human consciousness – continue?
So, death is it! Death is the end, and the sooner we face that reality, the more readily we can combat it, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is where we shall go next.
|Part 3: The Boredom Argument|
| Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. We are now prepared to launch an all-out war on death.
A large part of this war will be ideological and intellectual. I will need to convince you that the answers to two questions – a positive question and a normative question – are in the affirmative. The positive question is, “Is it possible for us to lift this death sentence that is hanging over all of us?” The normative question is, “Is it desirable for human beings to live indefinitely?” I believe the answer to both of these questions is “yes”.
I will start by addressing the normative question, though I do believe that the positive question can be answered in great detail affirmatively – and I encourage you, if you are curious at this point, to go to www.mprize.org, where a lot of knowledgeable scientists will be able to convince you that, yes, it is indeed possible to stop human senescence within our lifetimes, and at least greatly expand human lifespans by orders of magnitude by an approach called Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (or SENS for short) – but I would like to start with the normative question, because I believe that, if you are convinced that resolving this problem is not only desirable but quite necessary, then you will be motivated to look for these positive solutions and, perhaps, contribute a great deal to the knowledge that is already there.
Now, a common argument that is leveled against proponents of eternal life is that, “Well, won’t it be boring to live for a very long time?” Now, I believe that the answer to that question is “no”, and I will endeavor to convince you of this.
Think about this: how many books have you personally read, and what fraction is that number the total number of books in existence? Let me give you a little hint: in just the United States, at present, over 1100 books are being published every single day. Can you read 1100 books a day? I don’t think so.
So, you’re missing out on much of the material that is just coming out – just the new material – but think about all the material that has already accumulated – all of the information, all of the fiction, all of the non-fiction, all of the facts and experiences that you are just completely missing out on because of your miserably short life span.
Think about this: let’s say you have an adult life span of 100 years, and you are a super-avid reader; you can read one book per day without any problems. Let’s say you go to your local library, and this is all you do for 100 years – you manage to eat and perform all the other necessary functions on the side. So, for 100 years you will read approximately 36,500 books in your lifetime. How many books does your local library have? I’m pretty sure it’s more than 36,500, so, in a lifetime that is considerably longer than the average lifetime today, you will probably not be able to go through a single library of books, and somebody is going to tell me that extremely long life spans will lead people to become bored?
What about all the other experiences that human beings can have? What about all the places that they could see? What about all the art and music that they could experience? What about all the careers and hobbies and occupations that they could undertake? Surely, you can’t run out of these. Remember, there are many more books published every single day than you can read. Not only will you not run out of great new experiences to have; they will be accelerating away from you in terms of the rate of their creation. They number of things you can do increases faster than you can do them, and, with the progress of our technology this will only continue to increasingly be the case. This is like the derivative of acceleration.
This quantity of things that you can do will accelerate away from your ability to do it, and the rate at which it accelerates away will also accelerate (and, perhaps, you could think of fourth and fifth derivatives as well, in this sense). So, boredom from living a very long time is not possible for a human being that really wants to appreciate what this world has to offer.
Now, somebody alleges, “Oh, it’ll all seem the same.” Well, my elementary answer is, “Look out into reality: it’s not all the same!” New concepts, new ideas, new works of art and literature and music, are being created every single day. If you think they’re all the same, you either haven’t been looking hard enough or the problem is with your own mind and not with the world and not with your life. The problem is with your own approach toward the world. It is a great bit of common –but not too common – wisdom that says that the only people who truly get bored are boring people – people who, despite this abundance of possibilities for what you can experience and what you can do and what you can create, can’t find a way to occupy their time?
I find, personally, that I have the opposite problem: I have so many things that I want to do and so little time to do them in, and, come to think of it, if the life expectancy of human beings doesn’t increase past what it is today, I’ve already lived a quarter of my expected life! That’s frightening! That is completely frightening, because I have not done nearly a quarter of what I want to do with my life. I have not done one trillionth of what I want to do with my life.
Think about, not just taking in what the world has to offer – think about also contributing to what the world has to offer: creating your own! Try composing some music! Try writing a book or an essay! If you’re a painter, try creating a work of art! All of these activities will occupy a lot of your time, and they’re extremely worthwhile activities to pursue. Try inventing a new technology! Try developing a new political system that will not oppress people!
Don’t tell me that you will ever be bored, because that is not a problem with human life spans; that is a problem with some humans’ thinking – erroneous thinking at that. A rational individual who likes to work and who can appreciate the world around him will not be bored, no matter how long he lives. He will always have more and more to experience, and what he has to experience – that store of things that he has yet to get to – will only keep increasing and increasing at an accelerating rate.
So, this argument is defeated hands-down.
Next, we shall address some other arguments commonly leveled against proponents of indefinite longevity.
|Part 4: The Overpopulation Argument|
| Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. It is now time for us to strike another blow in the war against death by refuting yet another common argument leveled against indefinite life extension; namely, the overpopulation argument – the allegation that, if human beings are allowed to live for even a very long time (say, 1000 years), then the earth will become overcrowded, we will run out of resources, and lives will be miserable.
Now, I believe that this is a false prognosis for many reasons. First, let’s consider what has actually happened in the Western world with regard to the population explosion of the 20th Century. Why is it that the doomsday scenarios offered by Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 book The Population Bomb failed to materialize? Why is it that we’re not having global famines, increasing conflicts over resources, increasing scarcity of everything?
Well, what Paul Ehrlich didn’t take into account was the progress of technology. At about the time that Paul Ehrlich wrote, something happened called “the Green Revolution”. The Green Revolution allowed for genetically engineered crops to be inexpensively distributed to countries in the third or developing world and fed billions of people that would otherwise have starved. Now farmers can grow crops at much greater density than before and can grow crops with, uh, far superior nutritional value that before. Golden rice, a genetically modified crop that’s now being extensively distributed in the developing world – [it] is going to alleviate a lot of hunger, and the other amazing thing about the Green Revolution is, despite extensive, extensive propaganda against it with fears of Franken-foods and other scares being raised, not a single negative health consequence has been observed as a result of genetically modified foods. So, that has fed a few billion people. There have been other trends in industrializing countries such as the falling birth rate, which has dramatically slowed the rate of population increase. The fact is, the birth rate currently is falling in all countries as a result of the shift from a predominantly agricultural lifestyle to a predominantly urban manufacturing or service-based lifestyle.
In a manufacturing or service based-economy, children become not producer goods but consumer goods. On the farm, you’ll always need an extra hand; it’s nice to have eight or ten workers around whom you don’t have to pay wages who will do a lot of the farm work for you. Now, in an urban setting – or in a service-based economy, where there are a lot of advances kills that are required – most children do not have yet the skills that are necessary for them to be competent in the workplace, and, in the meantime, they need to be fed and clothed and educated for a while, and that becomes expensive.
Many people can’t afford to have a lot of children anymore, and, moreover, there’s a great opportunity cost to one’s career of having a lot of children, so birth rates throughout the world right now are declining, and, actually, in Europe, in Japan, in Russia, birth rates are right now falling below the replacement rate of the population.
So, I don’t believe that’s a doomsday scenario either. I don’t believe that we’re either headed for a population bomb or demographic winter, but I must note that, with increasing industrialization, with the advent of more technologies, birth rates go down. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t continue to be the case.
Now, the fears of those who believe that a demographic winter may be upon us will actually be alleviated by the arrival of indefinite life, because we would not see any net population decreases if the birth rate keeps falling – people keep having fewer children – but the people who are around already are going to remain around; they’re going to live indefinitely, so the overall population isn’t going to increase (very much, at least), and the people who are still around – because it’s senescence, it’s the biological aging process that we’re going to try to combat – will not be a toll on them; they will still be as productive as before. They will still be able to produce new goods and services, develop new ideas, and contribute to our economic well-being.
So, we will not face the catastrophic overpopulation whether or not we have indefinite life, but, if we have indefinite life, we will not face demographic winter.
Now, furthermore, the idea that our resources are finite is not quite true, because a resource isn’t the same as physical stuff. Yes, you could say that physical stuff the earth is made of is finite, but a resource has to be something that is perceived by human beings to be useful. There was a time when oil was not considered a resource by human beings – it was considered a pollutant: just waste. Uh, farmers would pay to have large amounts of oil removed from rivers that they had in their territory, because it would just contaminate the crops. They didn’t know what else to do with it; and then, in the 19th Century, John D. Rockefeller figured out that you could use oil for heating homes; and then, later on, automobile manufacturers figured out how to use oil to fuel cars and other vehicles; and, all of a sudden, from becoming a harmful nuisance, oil became a resource.
And let me ask you another question: at which time in the history of the world has there been more oil available to human beings than at any other time? The answer is “right now”. There is more oil right now that we know of that is available for human use than has ever been available before, because much of the oil that wasn’t a resource earlier in our history is a resource now, because we’ve developed technologies to extract that oil from, uh, various deposits that would have been inaccessible to us before. Even if we had known, for example, about shale, we would not have been able in prior decades to unlock the oil that is within it, and do you think that human ingenuity will stop all of a sudden, that humans will not invent new technologies and new ways of extracting these resources?
The earth without any human technologies could support a population of a few million people. Now we have 6.5 billion people and growing, and we have more than enough food to feed them all and many, many other resources per person that were not accessible to even the kings of old.
A very instructive book for those who fear overpopulation under any scenario is Julian Simon’s The Ultimate Resource. The ultimate resource, according to Simon, is the human mind. The human mind invents, continually, new ways to develop physical things into resources that human beings can use, and that will include in the future new sources of energy, new ways of developing food, new ways of manufacturing things quickly and effectively, new ways of conserving our resources – so that, even though we do have a finite amount of stuff to deal with, we can use that stuff in ways that can sustain an indefinite number of people.
So, not only will population probably not increase as dramatically as many predict, we will also be able to keep up technologically with it, provided that we are free to innovate and governments do not stifle individual inventors and individual entrepreneurs – desires and initiatives to improve the well-being of humans.
|Part 5: The "Playing God" Argument|
| Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. Here, I will refute another argument that is commonly leveled against proponents of indefinite human longevity; namely, the idea that, by extending human life indefinitely and lifting this terrible death sentence that hangs over all of us, we are “playing God”.
Now, it would be easy for an atheist like me to just brush this argument aside and say, “Well, I don’t believe in God anyway, so how can we be playing a nonexistent entity?” Well, that argument, then, would not be very convincing to those who do believe in God, and, if you don’t believe in God already, you obviously wouldn’t be raising the “playing God” argument. So, let me speak to those who would raise such an argument – and virtually all of these people are monotheists who believe in the Abrahamic god.
Now, the Abrahamic god is defined as being simultaneously omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Now, I believe that this definition is self-contradictory, but let’s leave that aside for a moment.
Let’s consider, then, what “playing God” would have to mean: it would have to mean that humans would need to aspire to become simultaneously omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Now, does anyone see a problem with this? I do: it’s impossible. It is completely impossible for human beings to every have the power to do absolutely anything at all. I believe that, although any particular challenge can be overcome, overcoming that challenge raises lots of new questions and lots of new challenges that are derivative from that initial challenge, which has just been overcome.
Think about what would happen, for instance, if human beings ever managed to send people to Mars. Well, the next question would be, “Can we establish a habitat for humans on Mars?” Then, once we’ve established a habitat for humans on Mars, can we terraform Mars so that we don’t have to live in enclosed spaces all the time, and, once we’ve settle Mars, the next question would be, “Well, what about those other planets and galaxies? Can we go there? What would be the resource expenditures required to do that?”
So, every problem that we solve raises new problems, and, at any point in time, we humans will never be omnipotent no matter what we do, and likewise for omniscience – every question we answer raises ten or more new questions that we can’t answer at the moment but that we may answer at some later time, and, as for omnibenevolence, well, there will always be evil people – people who intend to do harm. Hopefully, as time passes, there will be fewer of them, but, if human beings have free will, as many people of both a religious and nonreligious disposition recognize, then a person can always choose to be evil, so it’s not like human beings – all of them – will ever be completely benevolent all the time.
So, it’s impossible for human beings to become like God under the Abrahamic definition. It would happen.
If human beings achieve indefinite longevity, there will still be many, many obstacles to them becoming omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Let’s say that human beings do manage to ward off senescence so that we don’t have to die before we’re 100 or 120; well, there will still be other major problems to resolve like, “How do we prevent an asteroid from hitting the earth and wiping out all of the human species and a lot of the other life that exists here? How do we settle other planets? How do we design viable political systems that don’t oppress human beings and don’t deprive them of their freedoms?” Those will still be problems that we would need to address at that time, and, moreover, curing senescence will not mean eliminating accidental causes of death, so other problems that would arise would be, “How can we be safer? How can we fight fewer wars? How can we develop safer transportation?”
Surely, we would not be gods in any, any stretch if we lived indefinitely. All that we would be is a little bit less frail and a little bit less miserable. We wouldn’t be condemned to death within a geological instant. I say that’s not even close to playing God. That’s not even thinking about playing God. That’s not even dreaming about thinking about playing God, and, besides, human beings in the state of nature have many fewer capacities than we have today; they’re unable to communicate over long distances, they’re unable to cure many diseases that are commonly curable today, they’re unable to transport themselves very far, they’re unable – even in many cases – to fight off vicious predators that currently can be very easily eliminated.
Now, if somebody in an earlier era suggested these innovations, would it have been right to accuse that person – as many people doubtless did – of playing God simply because he attempted to broaden the range of human ability? Now, as we understand, those prior inventions that most religious people use as well were not playing God, so neither will be the many future inventions that will come about.
So, I’m not here trying to challenge anybody’s faith in God – although, in other places in this series, I might – but, for this particular argument to be rejected, you don’t have to reject your religion. To have progress is not the same as to become or try to become omnipotent and omniscient. It is possible to recognize human limitations in that sense without renouncing all of the good things we can do to improve our lives.
|Part 6: On Aging and Diversity of Ideas|
| Greetings! Here, I would like to refute two more commonly asserted claims against indefinite longevity, especially against the kind of longevity that would reverse the biological aging or senescence process and essentially keep us human young for as long as we can be.
So, one of the arguments is that getting biologically more senesced – getting older – is actually a great thing; it’s a dignified state, it’s a noble states it’s nothing t o combat. And, to that claim, I have to answer the following.
There is common, throughout human societies, a certain respect for older people. Now, we have to ask, “Why does this respect exist? Is it because of superficial characteristics like, they have gray hair, they have wrinkled skin, they’re not as physically able as younger people?” Surely not! Surely, that’s not why many, uh, people in most societies have respected their elders. The reason why many people have respected their elders is because their elders have accumulated a store of life experiences and knowledge that they could share and pass on and help the younger individuals in that society prevent, uh, themselves from making certain mistakes, or help them develop faster than they otherwise would have developed. This is why older people have historically been respected.
And, yes, it is great to have that knowledge and experience, and that’s not going to go away with indefinite longevity. Actually, there’s an excellent, excellent common thing that applies quite nicely to this. It goes like this: if youth knew, if age could. That is, the great tragedy of most human societies today is that the people who are able, because of their physical abilities – because of their levels of both physical and mental energy – to change things substantially for the better don’t know how to go about doing it; the people who do know – who have the life lessons that they need to change the state of affairs for the better – are too frail to do anything about it.
And, yes, some people might be able to snatch a few years from middle age to be able to really affect the state of the world for the better, but that’s still not many people. Most people, by the time today that they reach a point in their careers where they’re actually in control of substantial amounts of resources, have their health begin to fail and, therefore, are not able to accomplish as much as their youthful selves would have wanted to accomplish. I certainly would never want to be in that state, and I think that both my younger and my older audiences will sympathize with me when I bring forth that proverb.
So, yes, there is a reason to respect older people, but it’s not because they’re frail and decaying! It’s because of their good attributes! It’s about what they can do and what they can teach us! And that will stay with the elimination of senescence. Imagine all these older, wiser people having the bodies of 25-year-olds and still being able to teach us just as much or more because, as they get even older – as they live into their triple and their quadruple digits – they will accumulate even more life experiences: even better guides for those who are younger than they. So, this argument doesn’t hold.
My second refutation concerns a claim made by some, most notably by Steve Jobs of Apple Computers, that death is needed to essentially replenish our creativity in a way by bringing fresh minds – fresh people – into our society by essentially throwing out the old, replacing it with the new – mixing things up a bit – and having people who can look at old problems from a new perspective.
Now, I grant to Mr. Jobs and others who are like-minded that having the ability to look at problems from a new perspective can be beneficial in many times. Having a diversity of people with a diversity of ages with a diversity of backgrounds is always very good. But if this is the case – if they are correct in asserting this – then it would follow that more diversity is better. So, let’s ask this question: which situation is more diverse, when we have three or maybe four generations alive at the same time, or when we have 50 or 100 different generations alive at the same time?
You see, in order to bring in the new, we do not have to take out the old. As a matter of fact, if we let the old and the new compete simultaneously, we will be able to pick the best of all worlds. And, of course, human beings aren’t static either; they adapt to new ideas and new economic realities, so if anybody from any generation – there are 50 or 100 of them – has an idea that transforms society for the better, then most of the people from the other generations will adopt that idea as well. I’m sure, for instance, that Benjamin Franklin would have loved the Internet, as would Thomas Jefferson. They would have thought it a great way to disseminate information and ideas. And I’m sure, if Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were alive today, the would have been on YouTube delivering speeches as I’m doing right now.
So, in order to have a diversity of ideas and an abundance of new ways of looking at things, we do not need to kill or allow to die millions and billions of people. We just need to keep introducing new people, which will happen naturally; some people will always have children. And, if they don’t have children, we can genetically engineer new human beings if that’s the great concern – if we want more diversity of people from different ages and different generations. We don’t need to let anybody die off.
Once again, referring to my first presentation, it would have been invaluable for us to have some people around who would have been alive during classical antiquity, during the Middle Ages, during the Renaissance, during the Enlightenment – have them share their experiences, their views of how the world has changed, the lessons they have learned. The loss that we have experienced by not having these individuals around is incalculable. And it would be wonderful if we could minimize that loss in the future if not altogether eliminate it.