About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rationally Speaking cartoon: Immortality

(click on image to see larger view)

16 comments:

  1. This is wonderful. The reason people dream of living forever isn't curiosity but fear of responsibility. If they lived forever they wouldn't have to feel guilty about wasting their time because there would still be an infinite supply remaining.

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    1. So that'd mean those who don't waste their time don't want immortality. Doesn't sound right, does it?

      Today, I want to live tomorrow. Tomorrow, I'd want to live the day after tomorrow. This'll continue. I know this because even those who are very old still want to live and don't kill themselves unless they are in great deal of pain. That would imply that if immortality was possible, I'd want it. I suspect even those who pretend they don't want immorality would want it if it was sold for an affordable price.

      By the way, if you get bored, you have enough time to modify your brain so that you don't feel bored, you know, being immortal and all.

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    2. brainoil,

      setting aside the fact that of course the cartoon is not a full post, I think your reasoning is based on a highly questionable application of induction. Imagine the following analogy: I am fond of a particular tv series; when the series eventually ends I really wish they had done another season or two; does it follow that I would like the tv series to last forever?

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    3. Massimo, you're squeezing in a different intuition to arrive at a preferred answer. In the case of TV series, we know we eventually grow tired of them. In the case of life, we know no such thing.

      It's also the case with sex. I like having sex with women. After having sex until I'm 75, I'd still want to have sex when I'm 80. It does follow that I'd like to keep on having sex forever.

      Unless you're clinically depressed, you'd want to keep on living and keep on having sex, and I bet you'd take the immortality pill if it was available to you. In any case, wouldn't you agree that if you're immortal, you'd have time to modify your brain in a way that you'd want to live forever?

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    4. brain,

      yes, obviously my intuition is different from yours. It is at the very least an open question which one is closer to the mark. My point is that we simply cannot comprehend that the difference btw 75 and 80 years is literally nothing compared to the difference btw 75 and forever. And no, I don't believe we could change our biological makeup to fit the new environment, but more importantly, why would we want to? What sort of beings would we be?

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    5. @ Joseph Frantz

      > If they lived forever they wouldn't have to feel guilty about wasting their time because there would still be an infinite supply remaining <

      Do you believe we should feel guilty about wasting our time?

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    6. Massimo,

      I have the same intuition as yours when it comes to TV shows. But that is only because we know how TV shows play out. If we were watching our first TV show ever and loved it, we should hope it to last forever.

      Especially in the case of sex and life, I don't think we're built in a way that we'd not like them unless we are sick or clinically depressed.

      Why do you think we can't change our biological makeup to fit the new environment? It's not logically impossible and it certainly looks like there's no physical impossibility either because we already are capable of radically altering brain states.

      Seriously, wouldn't you want to live ten thousand years? Even if there's nothing for me personally, I'd really want to what future holds for human kind. I want to know whether we'd develop Africa, colonize other planets and understand consciousness. I just can't imagine you or anyone who's reading this blog not taking the immortality pill when it will give them access to all that information.

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    7. @brainoil
      I can say with relative certainty that if the choice of immortality is permanent and irreversible, I would turn it down.
      The simple fact is the idea of accepting immortality to me is the logical equivalent of dying. The fear of death stems from the fear of the unknown. From my perspective, I have always existed, I can not imagine nonexistence, nor can I imagine what any sort of afterlife would be like, whatever the case may be. That, quite frankly, scares the hell out of me. Its the same for immortality. Mortality, and having knowledge of it, is a cornerstone of what it means to be human. I have always been mortal, my mortality has been a key deciding point for quite a few of my decisions. I cannot imagine what my decisions would be if my mortality was removed. Would I still be the same consciousness? Would I still be the caring, fairly industrious person I am, or would my personality give way to megalomania? Or even worse, would I fall to meaningless pleasure or terrifying ennui?
      You even talk about changing yourself to better accept your immortality. How is this not changing 'you' on a fundamental level? What would be the point of preserving yourself if it wasn't really 'you' that you were preserving?

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    8. "You even talk about changing yourself to better accept your immortality. How is this not changing 'you' on a fundamental level? What would be the point of preserving yourself if it wasn't really 'you' that you were preserving?"

      It's interesting that you say that. I'm not the same person I was ten years ago (and its a damn good thing too), and I certainly won't be the same person ten years from now - and I don't find that worrying at all. I don't want to be the same person in ten years time, I want to be better, and I'm hoping that my decisions now will allow me to be a better person in the future.

      Yes there is a chance that I will turn into someone like Hitler (this is true even without immortality), but that's not a convincing reason for me to kill myself now, or to choose death ever if I had a choice.

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  2. I like the fact that the immortalist got pwned.

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  3. Materialistically Speaking, the question likely doesn't matter in the end since, from what physicists tell us, the universe is not going to exist anyway in some number of years.

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    1. Usually in these discussions, immortality means a really long time, and it could be something like thousand years, or ten thousands years or twenty thousand years. If we can last until the heat death of the universe, yeah, we'd take that too.

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  4. Is atheistic materialism (or Atheistic immaterialism in Massimo's case) motivated by fearful thinking (fear of immortality)?

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    1. I would say atheistic materialism (is there a theistic materialism?) is motivated by unworry: Don't be bothered about things that can't change things or be changed. I suppose if there were the possibility of a wormhole as a vehicle to continue oneself in a new universe, then would could worry about immortality.

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    2. @ Philip Thrift

      > is there a theistic materialism? <

      Actually, there is. Nancey Murphy (philosopher/theologian) subscribes to "Christian physicalism." (This isn't as contradictory as it sounds given the fact that the resurrection of the dead is a fundamental Christian doctrine.)

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