If you found the secret to immortality would you tell anyone?
Who would you share it with? The world, your friends, no one?
Would you create an elaborate puzzle and only tell the winners?
Who would you share it with? The world, your friends, no one?
Would you create an elaborate puzzle and only tell the winners?
My first instinct is to say that of course I would tell people: I would tell everyone! Knowledge is to be shared.
However, on second thought, I realise that making the whole world's population immortal would lead to immense problems. There would be a sharp increase in human misery as we struggle to adapt, with a population that's suddenly increasing at a rate far beyond what we can keep up with in terms of infrastructure and welfare and food and water and so on. There would be famines and resource shortages and war and all sorts of bad outcomes. I'm not going to be making the world a better place by telling everyone how to live forever; quite the opposite, in fact.
I would therefore not tell everyone. Not immediately.
I might find some senior scientists and politicians I trust, and let them know I have the secret (but not what the secret is) - and that I'm not going to withhold it forever. They need to start planning for a very different future, a future where most humans will not die. No more bullshitting, no more selfishness, no more "fuck you, I've got mine". We need to build a new world which can support billions more people in a very short time, at a comfortable standard of living. That "new world" will need many new different technologies and improved social structures, and it will need them now.
If I was a politician (or a scientist) I wouldn't believe someone who said that they had a secret and that I should prepare for a "very different future". How would you make they think you are credible?
Good point. But the only way to prove immortality is to wait. Make someone (me? one of the scientists?) immortal, and then wait 50 years. That's too long.
I'd probably have to find a couple of old scientists and politicians who could be trusted to keep their mouths shut, and make them immortal.
…could you start with GRRM?
Why? So then we can wait an indefinite time for him to not finish?
Can you imagine the frustration with fans as he hits 80, 90... apparently not aging, showing no signs of dying but still not completing Winds of Winter?
At least when GRRM dies we know there's a chance someone will pick it up and finish it.
Probably not, seeing as I don't know what a "GRRM" is.
Georg R. R. Martin, writer of the 'Game of Thrones' book series, he is famous for writing very slowly and people have extrapolated that he might not have the time left to write all the books he has envisioned for the series.
Oh. So it was just a joke. Got it. Thanks for that.
You could grant immortality to a 100-year-old person. It would take much less to prove they are immortal.
We don't need to support billions more. We would have to stop reproducing. In fact it should probably be required that to become immortal you need to be sterilized
Yeah, that seems a fair trade. More than fair. I'd totally be sterilized if it meant I was immortal.
That's another option I hadn't thought of.
However, that would only be a short-term measure. People will want children eventually.
Additionally, stem cell research would likely open the way for artificial creation of sperm and egg cells. I believe there has been some success in transforming ordinary skin cells into stem cells, so it's not exactly out of the realm of possibility.
I assumed that Octofox's observation that "We would have to stop reproducing." included technologically-assisted reproduction. If we can't make babies the old-fashioned way, we can't make babies in new-fangled ways either. All reproduction would have to stop.
I understand that. I'm just expanding on the discussion to point out that forced sterilization could still be worked around. A ban wouldn't necessarily do anything except create a black market for lab-grown children using the parents' own cells.
People could still reproduce, so long as you kept to a global one child policy. Each generation would be half the size of the last, and eventually you'd just taper off.
In the long run, reproductive freedom could provide the impetus for deep space colonization.
Not in the short-term, they couldn't. A one-child policy only works at reducing or maintaining population numbers if people die. When the parents don't die, producing even one child per couple is still going to lead to massive increases in population that we just wouldn't be ready for. We'd need something more like a 1/10th-child or 1/100th-child policy to reduce population growth to a manageable rate.
A global one child policy (which I'm treating as one child per couple here) could, at the absolute most, double the global population, after dozens of generations, if nobody ever died and everybody wanted to have children. There's something else to consider though, when we're talking about the short-term growth rates (that are the real issue while we're getting climate change under control), which is that without the specter of aging and death hanging over their heads, even people who wanted children could wait a very, very long time to actually have them. So even a potential doubling of population from a one child policy (which would take well over a century anyway) could take many centuries or millenia, by which point we'd be in a much better place ecologically and in terms of alternatives for habitation.
I've been avoiding the maths for this discussion, but I figured it's about time to step into some real numbers - and I got a very surprising result!
The current global population growth rate is 1% per year.
That's the nett of 55 million deaths per year and 130 million births per year, or about 75 million new people every year.
No deaths would mean the growth number changes to 130 million people per year.
That’s based on the current fertility rate of 2.5 children per woman.
If we drop that to 1 child per woman, we get ( 130 ÷ 2.5 ) x 1 = 52 million births per year.
That's lower than the current growth rate of 75 million new people every year.
That means an immediate, inclusive, and strictly enforced one-child policy would keep population growth to less than the current rate.
I'm honestly surprised. I expected a very different outcome to these calculations. But your suggestion of a one-child policy would work to buy us time if everyone become immortal.
Yup! It wouldn't just buy us time though, better yet, it's a permanent fix. A one child policy, the way it's been described here, is really a one half child policy, one per couple, resulting in each generation being half the size of its predecessor. The mathematical series this represents converges such that, under such a policy, regardless of how low your deathrate is, you can only ever get twice as many humans as you started out with. Realistically it'd be fewer, since some significant fraction of people would still not want children, and the deathrate would still be nonzero with biological immortality.
Nope. There are people alive on this earth who would get access however it was controlled who I wouldn't want to get it.
I would sit on it for a while and start up the world's first religion founded on empirically demonstrable truth, and we would start trying to guide the world population to a utopian existence before we got rid of life's grand reset button. Only once people were able to live and die in a balanced way would we get rid of the dying part (if ever).
It's something Altered Carbon explores in a minor way in the TV series but far more deeply in the books - imagine if the world power structure, which we know begets and accumulates power, suddenly became static indefinitely. Suddenly the boss never retires. The moderate son never inherits the empire from the dictator. The traditionalist voting bloc never yields to a younger progressive generation. And the group of businessmen to first gain a critical mass of capital and leverage becomes untouchable gods among men.
This is a really interesting viewpoint on it. When you mentioned you would "sit on it for a while", how do you think the world will react when you cease to die from natural causes and are now the oldest person in recorded history?
Sadly, I feel as a utopian society from all continents would be hard to achieve within 100 years, unless you go public with your claim. Then you have the whole scenario where you have to resist being imprisoned for testing from government and international agencies.
That's what the religion is for. If this were 1000 years ago I (albeit the 20th century educated me) would plan it very differently, telling nobody rather than an inner circle, spending a while travelling and learning as much as possible of how the world works and acting as a bit of a puppet master.
Now that we have identity tracking, cameras, passports etc and that sort of thing is much more difficult, I would need an insulating barrier between me and the authorities. Scientology is particularly good at that, they've disappeared several people (probably the real kind of dead), and even with multiple people trying to look into it including certain authorities, they've been blocked at every turn. I would 'die', and cease to exist as myself on paper.
There's a very interesting thought experiment which forms the core of the Dune book series - what if you removed the 'single lifetime' limits to plans, and started making plans for 1000, or 10,000 years from now? What could you accomplish? They did it through shared generational memory, this version would instead be me, the secret immortal religious leader who only a handful of people would ever find out about until the time to share immortality to a stable utopia had arrived.
I'd publish the secret straight to the web and let god sort it out. This is a non-issue.
We're going to get there within a century anyway. All of this 'population explosion' crap is just bad trope pollution from shitty scifi with no basis at all in reality. In fact, every bit of actual science I've ever seen says as soon as your population is educated and happy, they stop reproducing, and you have the opposite problem - population collapse, just like today in every developed country. Check the numbers, tell me I'm wrong. ;)
Immortality is just curing aging. We already know the seven steps necessary to do that, even though we haven't engineered the solution yet. On balance, nobody will make it past 500 without dying from being hit by a bus or falling off a cliff (there are numbers to back that up) - and once we're at mind uploading, a 'person' takes up no physical space and little in the way of resources. There's room for tens of billions in orbit once we get serious about space and stop fucking around at the bottom of gravity wells too.
Honestly I think people fighting over immortality if it were 'secret' would do far more damage than the technology itself ever could.
It's hard for a ruling class to use it to control things if everyone has it. Society will adjust. The economy will adjust. Having that kind of time to learn puts people in the place of mastering multiple disciplines over one lifetime, and that level of knowledge is currently unattainable - so that's progress in my book. Get five PhDs under your belt and see what kind of contributions that makes you capable of in a lifetime. Maybe if you expect to live to 500 you'll start thinking and planning on long-term scales and wouldn't that completely solve our most pressing societal problem? It's easy to ignore problems if you don't think you'll be alive to deal with them. It's quite another to know you'll personally still be there to reap what you sow.
Curing aging doesn't happen in a vacuum, it comes with a host of other tech advances. If you can cure aging, you can rewrite biology any damn way you like, and evolution goes from being a generational phenomenon to a more real-time personal one. If you think curing aging is a risk, ponder real-time evolution sometime. One guy tripling his IQ (and possibly his ego, with a nice dose of psychopathy as a side effect) seems like more of a risk than most people living to 500 before falling down a flight of stairs. If population really bothers you, just engineer the reproductive aspects into an at-will phenomenon, and enjoy sex without even the faintest risk of consequence. Simple solution, nobody ever talks about it - they'd rather panic about doomsday than think.
As for immortality driving you batty - yet again, more trope bullshit. You won't remember - you'll forget, and it's a good thing, too. You'd need a perfect memory over epoch time scales in order for immortality truly suck and for you to get bored of existence. You could make this a technological process as well, and be 'reborn' as another person with a fresh perspective, and come to carry a couple thousand of those around in your head as memories of past lives. This sort of tech means moving well beyond what it currently means to be a human being. Everyone assumes it'll suck - I don't think so. You'll have infinite time in simulations with godlike powers at your disposal, and an entire physical universe to explore. If that can't keep you entertained and engaged indefinitely, brother, you've got a brain disorder. We can cure that too by then. ;)
Everyone always loves to go straight to dystopia. That's their prerogative, but not me, no thanks. I like a more positive outlook. Immortality is just another boring, normal, commonplace, and inevitable step in evolution - nothing special, nothing to write home about. It's the natural result of conquering one's own biology, and any sentient species is going to do it once they have the knowledge.
I can see many ways we can continue to grow our energy and food and other forms of consumption well past 'American' levels for everyone on the planet, double the population, and still all be fat, happy, and distracted, wanting for far less than we do today. I don't buy into the 'consume less to save the planet' philosophy one bit. Ubiquitous green and molten-salt nuclear, unlimited desalination, 10x food increases thanks to indoor farming, robotic factories plus 3d manufacturing, living in megacities, all of this and more is in the cards right now. I prefer the philosophy of continuing our consumption trends and increasing them ad infinitum, until we're all tooling around in private spaceships. Giving things up is not in our nature, and it's never, ever going to happen no matter how many people pray and shout from the rooftops.
The only real problem with all of this is getting the timing right. We need the tech to be ready and battle tested before we can increase consumption. Fuck up that timetable and things can get very, very nasty, just like if climate change disrupts our current levels before we're able to develop these technologies well enough to maintain them when the environment goes sour. There's plenty of progress out there, but it seems like we could do it all so much faster if we wanted to knuckle down and chase those goals.
No, I would become the God Emperor. For the survival of the human race of course.
Seriously though, I would probably start a secret society, and let trusted members in on it. We would take over the world together.
Really dangerous thing, because if you just announce it to the world, well...the world would end. If people stop dying, the world ends up dying. Not a great thing to happen.
I'd probably share it with my friends.
After that, maybe set requirements for it to be released to the world. I'd imagine we'd be able to get lunar colonies fairly quickly if a ruler thought they'd get to live forever for it. And getting the world on 90% renewable energy shouldn't be that hard at all, either.
If you had immortality, you'd have a lot of time to solve the problems that cause "suffering" as you put it. Sure, if you stayed human the whole time, you'd feel loss occasionally, or feel boredom as the things you have available to do diminish. However with immortality you'd be able to fix those problems. You could easily remove your ability to feel loss, or your ability to feel unhappy in general. In fact, the perception that living is 'complicated' and causes 'suffering' is a uniquely human perspective that could be quickly eliminated to make immortality much more enjoyable. The thing is, death is a very final thing (as far as we know), so anything that extends our life is good, as it gives us more choice. You can always choose to die after 100 million years, but if you die at 90, you can't choose to live again. So I disagree that the best thing to do would be to 'destroy' the gateway to immortality.
Why do you want to stay human? It is my belief and hope that inevitably we will transfer our consciousness and thought processes to computer systems. With this, we would have a much larger control over ourselves, our emotions, our logic, our goals, etc. You say that this 'seems exhausting,' but imagine a life where you never felt exhausted, never felt sad, never felt irritated. In the end, what most people strive for is less unhappiness in their lives, why not take the final step? You say you want to learn to feel more, but why? You seem to avoid exhaustion and accept death as you wish not to experience suffering, and at the same time believe that suffering is essential to living. But why? Why do you force yourself into a sub-optimal life due to this belief that you cannot change yourself?
You say that my previous message sounds like fear of death, however I disagree. I do not believe I am afraid of death. What's wrong with living as long as possible to experience all that is possible in life before we decide to die? Your attitude sounds more like defeatism.
I'd share it immediately. Why not? I want to be immortal and assume others do also. I don't want people to die waiting for me to share the treatment.
The other answers in this thread aren't convincing. There would be social problems from immortality. That's for society to struggle with and solve - not for me to figure out with an elite cabal while I withhold the treatment and let others die.
What happens when otherwise immortal people start killing each other because food production and fresh water supplies aren't keeping up with the sudden super-increase in population growth?
I don't know. I'm not a food scientist, economist, planner etc. Centralized planning, I think, has been conclusively shown not to work for distributing resources. Instead, we figure out solutions to problems as they arise at the level as close to the ground as possible.
I want to take @Rez 's start
and go somewhere else with it, a bit similar to what @Emerald_Knight did.
I would keep the secret for later, and would never share it, ever.
If it was widely available, dystopia: way too many people already become soldiers or hitmen or thiefs etc. even though we don't have immortality, what would we do if they were immortal? And all the political and religious issues? Definitely, the world would become a chaos.
What would I do with it? I'd keep it to myself. I know that seems selfish, and kinda is, but justified: if I tell it to anyone, it's the same as telling it to everyone, because they'll learn about it sooner or later. What I'd do is, I'd keep the thing aside (assuming it's some sort of elixir or pill or something), and have as much fun as possible until my late 40s, when I'd consume the secret and become immortal. Then, I'd become a successful researcher in linguistics, enjoy the fame for a few years, become an activist of sorts, like Chomsky. Then, when I feel like I had enough, I'd disappear. Change my looks a bit, change my name, study hard, assume a fake past and become a world renowned author of fiction. I'd enjoy the fame and glory, for a few years, and disappear. Then the same story, but I become a famous hacker like Torvalds or RMS. In between each change of identity, I'd spend a few years having fun and hanging out at random places of earth living a hippie lifestyle. I'd pick up many different careers, and having all the time to study and fake my past and become great, I'd try and solve many major problems of the world (probably ultimately fail in practice given most humans are idiots, and a few merely differ in having a slightly lesser level of idiocy). Each time I'd appear in a different country, with a different name, different origins, different nation.
Ultimately, I would start doing politics every now and then, becoming the president in different countries, trying to fix up the world, splitting up huge countries like Russia, China, US, etc, eventually into leagues of city states, and work towards making the whole world a league of leagues of city states, with local governments and a heavily regulated worldwide common market. Eventually someone would figure out what the heck I'm up to, and start a plot for my life. If I could be aware of it, I'd start a religion of sorts or cult of personality around me to protect what I've done (I'd expect to face the opposition of the religious and the corrupt businesspeople and power-hungry politicians). Seeing it doesn't work, I'd disappear again, and watch swathes of stupid people destroy my centuries of work, and return to something similar to current state of affairs. Deluded, I'd change myself up and become a middle aged Rasta guy that lives in a run off apartment in a small-ish city and earns his living from busking on the streets with his guitar, singing reggae songs I write and playing Bob Marley ones telling people that they belonged to an old friend (nobody would remember him a few centuries from today, unfortunately). I'd change cities every couple decades or so, that'd possibly help me go undiscovered for a couple centuries, during which time people who knew me from a few cities ago would've died.
Year 3018, assuming the world does not destroy itself, I'd be a seriously bored guy in his 40s. I'd also have read millions of books and written tens of thousands of pages of various stuff. I'd have published with changing aliases since day one. I think, in such a weird scenario, whether or not I'd kill myself out of boredom, or just keep on until the planet kills us all off, and I guess I'd do the latter. I mean if I can find something to do in the bathroom to pass a few minutes, I can definitely pass millennia somehow, however boring it might be. I don't think I'd regret not sharing immortality with anyone. I'd rather be bored than dead, but the entire world becoming immortal nut-heads is worse than that.
Thinking about all this silly stuff, I entertain the question that what would happen if we discovered, say, all the great authors of the past were actually the same person? Say Marx, Edison, Socrates, Darius, Trump, Homer, Jesus, Hesse, Saramago, Aquinas, Kant, Avicenna, Moses, etc., all were the same person playing a millennia-long trollish hide-and-seek with us?
I think that you are overestimating the amount of power that you'll have just because you're immortal.
If we are talking about biological immortality, after about 200 years I don't think your brain will process and retain new knowledge, because the amount of neural connections your brain can have is limited. Sure your cells will be rejuvenating constantly, but your brain structure will remain the same. If not, then that means you'll have to lose old memories and knowledge in order to replace them with new ones.
Also I'd imagine that you'll need some serious plastic surgery if you're planning to keep showing up and becoming famous in different places throughout time. We all know how old presidents and scientists looked like, so you'll be recognized very easily even after many years.
In my opinion after living more than 200 years you'll start to recognize patterns in how humans behave, the same mistakes over and over again. You'll see the rise of materialism and consumerism as the poorer countries become rich. You'll directly witness global warming and the rise of sea level, and this will probably continue for a few hundred years until we fix, if we ever going to fix it at all. I think that you'll start resenting humans and feel alienated by them. Not a fun situation to be in.
If it was up to me I would just take the secret to my grave, sure ill stay awake some nights wondering what could have been. But that's a better alternative than living for so long that I stop being a human.
One advantage of immortality regardless of limited human memory capacity would the ability to continuously build off of previous knowledge. If you work on something for 1000 years and keep notes every step of the way you are probably still going to make progress. You might not remember anything about your life when you started working on it but you can keep moving forward. You generally only forget knowledge that isn't actively used anyway.
There was actually a plot in Doctor Who that was very similar. A human was injected with nanobots that would heal any injury and was essentially immortal because of it and wouldn't age. She would forget details of her past because of it. http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Ashildr
Not only I would not tell anyone, I wouldn't use it myself either. I strongly believe life without death would be a horrific experience. You can never settle, never form any sort of permanent bond because everyone around you would either simply die off oe notice something is wrong and cast you out. I would never subject anyone to that, so I'd take the secret to my grave.
Actually, there is this perfect short story (in "kinetic novel" form) about this topic. It's free and is called Fare Thee Well. Even if you don't play games, even if you don't like anime characters (I don't) if you are at all interested in a story about the point of view of an immortal, but otherwise normal man, I strongly recommend playing it. It's very simple, like an ebook with music and images.
One of the biggest problems we would be facing is that human nature would still be a factor. There would still be border disputes and wars over resources. Probably worse so because now that everyone would be immortal, there would be no fear of death. Wars wouldn't be fought by killing but by containing. People would be tossed into active volcanoes and imprisoned within rock--Han Solo style--until the sun consumes the Earth. Research would likely even delve into the field of canceling out immortality. There would be an arms race to do so. There would be holy wars, driven by religious fundamentalists who insist that humans are trying to play god by tossing aside their mortality, who would consider it the greatest affront to their religion to end any possibility of meeting their god in the afterlife. Human conflict would be inevitable and likely on a scale never seen before.
Give out the secret? Fuck no. Humanity as a whole would be incapable of handling the responsibility. I would gradually find a small handful of people to share it with, people who establish trust with me over a period of many years and who would likely use their immortality to do good in the world, but I would not relay the secret itself--they would be administered immortality, but never told how to do so themselves.
Humanity needs the fear and presence of death to keep them in line and to encourage compassion between one another. It's an important part of the human condition. Maybe after a sufficiently long period of time--potentially on the order of centuries--and a gradual introduction and acceptance of individuals with immortality was established, the secret could be let loose, but you can't just change a fundamental part of life in an instant and not create chaos.
I realize it's a rather cynical view of the world and humanity, but when you consider how people behave for Black Friday sales alone, it's kind of hard to trust people like that with the keys to everlasting life.
You're assuming that immortality also means invulnerability: an immortal person can not be killed by any means? I assumed it was just some Fountain of Youth thing which allowed you to suppress aging, so you wouldn't die from old age - but could still be murdered.
We've had the fear and presence of death for the entirety of our existence, and it hasn't exactly prompted us to be compassionate people.
Unfortunately I didn't see anything specifying the kind of immortality. The terms are often used interchangeably, so I went with what is generally the assumed version, which is invulnerability and lack of aging. If a fountain of youth version were instead what we wanted to consider, then my answer would fall more along the lines of "patent the method and technology and make it free to use by anybody". With aging no longer a concern, there would be a greater incentive to not completely destroy the planet or each other. Very different assumptions, very different outcomes.
My point is that compassion originates from understanding, and suffering is often an experience that brings people together because of that mutual understanding. When you lose a loved one or a natural disaster strikes, you tend to set aside your differences and help each other out. I firmly believe that empathy is possible because we can feel bad about things. If we couldn't feel bad about things, we probably wouldn't be as empathetic as we are now (however lacking that can be at times).
I would destroy the secret, to preserve the status quo. Unless immortality also includes eternal youth, it would result in an ever expanding population of resource consuming elders. Also, we'd all grow tired of life at some point, and immortality would be a curse for us then.
I would keep it to myself for a while and take great care over who I end up choosing the divulge the secret to. Honestly I would keep the actual method secret to only me but allow certain people to become immortal and not actually tell them how it's done. I think I would track potential immortals for years to get a sense of their personality and their potential contributions to society before giving them the option. This would mainly be limited to a select few scientists and philosophers that have the drive to truly make something of the gift. Each person I select would try to be as diverse as possible so it doesn't become an echo chamber and that there will be varied discussions.
It feels like keeping it to myself in this manner is like starting a religion with myself and others as a pantheon of gods. It feels kind of wrong or uncomfortable but I know it would be the best option if I wish to try and preserve humanity in its current form. I have no way of knowing what humanity would do if it the secret became public but I feel like it wouldn't be pretty. There's too many people out there only interested in amassing power and subjugating others or not interested in bettering themselves and I can't see it being a good thing for them to be immortal. The main goal that I would want to have is to contribute to scientific achievements and social progress and not become dictators or rule over anyone.
I'd tell my wife, but nobody else. Who she tells is her decision.