Paul Sagar. Edited by Nigel Warburton. But from a table laid out with many false grails, he foolishly picks the most glittering cup of all. Donovan drinks his fill, but rather than receiving the gift of eternal life, he rapidly starts to age: his skin peels off, his hair falls out, and he turns into a skeleton that collapses into dust. Grasping for the prize of immortality, she attempts to reach the Grail before it falls into the bowels of the earth. Immortality: a prize so great that some would die in attempting to secure it.
Immortality by Humans ‘very close’ to everlasting life
But are they wise to do so? The Last Crusade suggests not. After all, not only are the two people who throw their lives away villains, but the knight who guards the Grail explicitly warns that the cost of living forever is having to stay in that very same temple, forever. And what sort of life would that be? Immortality — the film is suggesting — might be a curse, rather than a blessing. Such a conclusion will not come as a surprise to philosophers who have considered the issue.
This was because after a certain amount of living, human life would become unspeakably boring.
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We need new experiences in order to have reasons to keep on going. But after enough time has passed, we will have experienced everything that we, as individuals, find stimulating. The former is a contingent, the latter a categorical, desire. A life devoid of categorical desires, Williams claimed, would devolve into a mush of undifferentiated banality, containing no reason to keep on going.
Born in , Elina drinks an elixir that keeps her biologically speaking at age 42 forever. However, by the time she is over years old, Elina has experienced everything she wants, and as a result her life is cold, empty, boring and withdrawn.
There is nothing left to live for. Accordingly, she decides to stop drinking the elixir, and releases herself from the tedium of immortality. Imagine that the natural biological lifespan of a human being was 1, years. In that case, in her s, Elina would have died comparatively young. Scheffler points out that human life is intimately structured by the fact that it has a fixed even if usually unknown time limit.
We all start with a birth, then pass through many stages of life, before definitely ending in death. In turn, Scheffler argues, everything that we value — and thus can coherently desire in an essentially human life — must take as given the fact that we are temporally bounded beings. Sure, we can imagine what it would be like to be immortal, if we find that an amusing way to pass the time. A desire for immortality is thus a paradox: it would frustrate itself were it ever to be achieved.
You might think you want to live forever, but reflection should convince you otherwise. But is it quite so clear?
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What is interesting in this regard is that, when we return to wider popular culture, instances abound of immortality being presented not as a blessing, but a curse. Initially thinking that these must be the happiest of all beings, Gulliver revises his view when he learns that Struldbrugs never stop ageing, leading them to sink into decrepitude and insanity, roaming the kingdom as disgusting brutes shunned by normal humans.
What are the ethical consequences of immortality technology?
You could share one with someone else, or have one yourself, or own dozens of them. You might be able to buy premium offerings on a private subscription, or you might get a basic presence on a network and be allowed to use an android body. Once the economics allows everyone to have 10 bodies each, there would be million people living here. Sydney Festival Picture: Sarah Walker Source:Supplied.
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But if our minds are online, do we even need robot bodies? We could all just live in a computer simulation quite happily, according to Dr Pearson. It would be all virtual, so you could have anything you want. You might still want to come into the real world. So anyone 90 or under by This is distressing to serious biogerontologists, who worry that funding of their careful work on age-related disease and infirmity will seem boring in comparison to supporting folks who promise to let us live for ever.
They are right to be concerned but sadly theirs will ever be the fate of scientists working in a field that touches on fabled and legendary themes, where both calculating opportunists and well-meaning fantasists can thrive.
And as is the case with, for example, human cloning, nutrition and the surprising properties of water, there is no convenient partitioning here into respectable and cranky science. Age-related conditions such as heart failure, dementia and cancer typically stem from an interplay between genes and environment: we can inherit predispositions but environmental factors such as diet and pollution affect whether they manifest.
It is surprising, perhaps alarming, that we know so little about ageing. We get old in many ways. For instance, some of our cells just stop dividing — they senesce. While this shutdown stops them becoming cancerous, the senescent cells are a waste of space and may create problems for the immune system. Cell senescence may be related to a process called telomere shortening: repeated cell division wears away the end caps, called telomeres, on the chromosomes that contain our genes. It is partly because cancer cells are good at regenerating their telomeres that they can divide and proliferate out of control.
Cells also suffer general wear and tear because of so-called oxidative damage, in which reactive forms of oxygen — an inevitable by-product of respiration — attack and disrupt the molecules that sustain life.
These factors and others can interact with each other in complex ways. Extreme ideas always fare best in areas where less is known. Which brings us to the star of The Immortalists and the self-styled poster-boy of the scientific-immortality movement: Aubrey de Grey.
It is easy to see why the media like him. With his ponytail and Rasputin beard, his piercing eyes and dishevelled appearance, his delight in real ale and naked sunbathing and his mesmerising articulacy, the year-old de Grey is every inch the prophet, a John the Baptist offering technological salvation. The archetypal magazine article presents him as a colourful maverick, a self-taught biologist with a Cambridge degree in computer science, up against the scepticism of stodgy biogerontologists. De Grey knows how to wield this narrative to advantage, insisting that all he wants is to debate with a closed-minded community.
As a group of leading authorities in the field wrote in the biology journal EMBO Reports in , in response to an article published there by de Grey: Journalists with papers to sell or airtime to fill too often fall for the idea of a Cambridge scientist who knows how to help us live for ever with telomerase, allotopic mitochondrial-coded proteins and marker-tagged toxins. For all the artful self-promotion, he genuinely seems to believe not only that he is on to something but that his ideas are of humanitarian importance.
He regards old age as a disease like any other: it is scandalous, he says, that it kills 90 per cent of all human beings and yet we are doing so little about it. To many, the ethics face quite the other way. Such optimism can be alluring.