A lot of comments have been made, and I intend to respond to all of them. This has been quite an interesting—and atypical—discussion thus far, both of which are extremely desirable in my estimation.
Mr. Lamont: As much as I am loath to detract from the spirit of this article and engage in this rationalistic, sci-fi fantasy, what we are talking about here is an indestructible human. Not merely a human with a long (or even infinite) lifespan. The nature of life is the basis for the entirety of the Objectivist morality. If you radically change the nature of life, it follows that you radically change the required morality.
Mr. Stolyarov: Whatever you may think, I will contend that this discussion is crucial to this article, since this article hinges on defeating itself by claiming to “affirm life,” yet loath the unhindered, dynamically perfect manifestation of life, toward which man and technology should strive.
I contend that any peril can be technologically remedied eventually. This means that, sometime in the future, given the requisite economic and political freedoms, man will develop solutions to every known problem plaguing our time. This means that every disease and potential cause of accident known to us today will someday be cured. If new diseases or causes of accident should arise, they will someday be cured as well. Then I ask: is there an infinite possibility of diseases or causes of accident? If the nature of existence does not permit simultaneous infinities, I do not see how this is the case. (This topic will deserve a more extensive discussion of infinities, which ones can exist and which ones cannot, and the mistakes that can be made concerning them.) If my premise is granted, there is only a finite amount of perils that can ever afflict man. Given that man’s conscious faculty is capable of perceiving and interacting with all of reality, there is no reason why it inherently cannot someday devise cures to the entirety of possible perils.
Thus, it is possible that man may someday be indestructible, literally, as a result of employing his own reason. The individuals that devise cures to these perils may make permanent contracts with customers like George, whose invincibility will thus be guaranteed him, without him having to do anything but allow advertisements to be played in his head for a few hours.
How does this alter the nature of morality if reason was required to devise all these protections? Please note that it is impossible to consistently embrace a state of being while rejecting those attributes that brought it about. It is, for example, impossible to reject capitalism while embracing economic prosperity, or to reject individual liberty while embracing moral actions. Once you take away the prerequisites, the consequences collapse like a skyscraper without a frame or foundation. This was the mistake made by the socialists (who sought to redistribute wealth that free commerce created) and by “progressive” moralists (who sought to impose certain moral actions on people while abolishing the chosen nature of such actions, which renders them moral).
Thus, the indestructible man will find it impossible to consistently reject reason or the Objectivist morality!
Mr. Lamont: Linz also mentioned that this hypothetical creature is denied the barometers of pleasure and pain. (So if “George” feels pleasure, he’s somewhat of a strawman as a challenge to Linz’s argument.)
Mr. Stolyarov: Now, why would George be a strawman, if he is closer to a human being than this imagined creature you put forth, yet he possesses the very qualities that Mr. Perigo condemns (i.e. immortality, which is as far as Mr. Perigo goes to describe it)? George is human, looks human, experiences the human mode of thinking, and is capable of feeling anything that a human today would feel, except that he can technologically condition himself to feel in a manner appropriate to his objective well-being. (That is, were George to try a drug, he would feel pain, instead of pleasure. However, George is a rational man who loves his life, and would never take drugs or anything else that would hinder his objective well-being.)
Mr. Lamont: What am I saying? It doesn’t need to “live” anywhere!
Mr. Stolyarov: Mr. Lamont, tell me, how would having a Leonardo painting on the wall of your house protect you against death? It would not. But it is a value, nevertheless. If George were immune from death or harm, he would still have no reason to view Leonardo’s art as being of less value to him than had he been mortal. And, in order to display Leonardo’s art, he would need a building to put in it! The same goes for any other esthetic element of his existence.
I ask you this, closer to the present age: why do some people wear collared shirts? It seems that an ordinary T-shirt protects one from the elements just as well. Wearing T-shirts and wearing collared shirts has the same effect on one’s survival, which, in temperate climates, is almost nil. It is not an arbitrary decision, I will add. If anyone forced me to wear a T-shirt when I am not exercising, I would consider that person a tyrant. I can explain this fenomenon: all things esthetic are a representation of an individual’s character. I enjoy the firmness and geometric intricacy of collared shirts, and would pay the extra money to buy them, just as I would pay the extra money to purchase my vast classical music library, or invest the hours needed to create Mr. Stolyarov’s Gallery of Rational Art, though, if the world had nothing but Pollock blobs in it, I would not be fysically harmed by such a fact. I value these things, and expend some of my present resources to obtain them. Yet, they are just about fysically neutral.
Yes, there is no mind-body dichotomy in the sense that the values of the spirit should not counteract those of the body. (Also, these values have fysical manifestations!) But, having values of the spirit does not make one’s body a bit healthier. Why does one pursue them, then? Because there is more to life than merely escaping death! And if that escape from death were guaranteed, the more part would be emfasized in an individual’s value pursuits. This changes nothing about his fundamental morality!
As for having top hats and canes, there may be a symbolic dimension to this as well, demonstrating one’s essential agreement with and appreciation of the great 19th century industrialists and gentlemen who sported such attire. George, an immortal man, realizes that, without those industrialists, his immortality would not be possible. Thus, he honors their legacy symbolically, just as we honor capitalism through the symbol of the dollar, or the United States through its flag.
What I have written here covers a lot of the later comments as well.
Mr. Firehammer: 1. if one could experience no pain or pleasure at all, there would be no essential difference between eating garbage and eating a steak, between cutting off one's arm or lifting weights.
Mr. Stolyarov: Ah, but you still make that same mistake! You attribute intrinsic value to sensations rather than states of being! I claim that running for fourteen miles is objectively good, no matter how it makes you feel, while taking drugs is objectively bad, no matter how it makes you feel. If so, then feelings in themselves cannot be legitimate objects of value, but rather states of being. I feel nothing when I finish a book or a worthwhile article, yet intellectually I experience immense pride and contentment. No external stimulus has altered the balance of chemicals in my brain, but, rather, my volitional faculty itself, tells me, “You have done a good job.” That is reward in itself. If it is accompanied by feelings of pleasure, this is absolutely fine. But those feelings should not be pursued for their own sake!
Eating garbage is objectively bad, so is cutting off one’s arm. Even if I were to be immune from pain while doing these things, I would still not do them. What these perils do to my organism does not equal my response to them. My feeling of pain does not cause what they do. My pain is not in itself what they do. Rather, it is consequent upon what they do. It is an active response of my organism, i.e., my agency. If my agency were absent, the nature of the perils would remain, they would still exist and would still inflict harms of an identical magnitude. What technology could accomplish is condition the responses to properly meet the perils. Then, the pleasure-pain barometer could indeed become a useful indicator of states of being, and a good tool, but nothing more.
Mr. Firehammer: 2. if one did experience pain and pleasure, if those experiences were not connected to what is true, if one felt pleasure for what is bad and pain for what is good, pleasure and pain would be disconnected from reality and have no value whatsoever….
Mr. Stolyarov: True. This is why the pleasure-pain barometer in the status quo must be treated with great scrutiny, skepticism, and caution. It cannot be unconditionally embraced or elevated to the level of a filosofical truth, in the manner most modern Objectivists do.
The next part of your statement, I disagree with, however.
Mr. Firehammer: …which for someone who could not die, for whom nothing is at stake, is exactly the kind of meaningless pain and pleasure they would experience.
Mr. Stolyarov: Very well. Consider this: eating one piece of chocolate a day is perfectly healthy. It does not ruin one’s teeth or increase one’s weight, if one brushes and maintains a proper diet. Yet, let us presume that eating this chocolate also does not fortify one’s chances of survival. Why do rational people still eat chocolate? I answer: there is an esthetic value to chocolate, conveyed, not only in its form, but in the taste that it conveys. (Perhaps you have tasted Belgian chocolates or the “Mozart” chocolates from Austria—you might then agree that there are certain life-affirming values contained in them, and that their purpose is more than the attainment of a mere sensation.) Similarly, there is an esthetic value to the drinking of tea, which has been elevated in Britain, Russia, and the Orient, for example, to the level of an elaborate art. Tea has zero calories and all of its nutritional benefits can still be consumed by drinking water. Yet, it has spiritual values, symbolizing gentlemanliness, hospitality, and good taste.
I have hitherto argued that feelings and sensations are not ends in themselves, and I will extrapolate this onto such leisurely values as tea and chocolate. These are worthwhile not for the feelings they induce per se, but for the esthetic states of being that they induce. The chocolate’s taste is an organism’s response to it. What chocolate does to bring about the taste, is the esthetic state of being that it creates. If a technology were devised to simulate the exact same chemical effects on your taste buds as chocolate would do, this would be no substitute for a genuine Belgian chocolate!
Mr. Firehammer: If you were never going to die, Gennady, why would you run, since you do not do it for glory or pleasure, and if you were never going to die, you would not need to do it for your health?
Mr. Stolyarov: The question here would become: is there an esthetic value to running? Are the movements that running requires, and the act of motion by their nature contributive to man’s spiritual fulfillment? Suppose you saw the portrait of a Greek Olympic runner. Then suppose you saw the portrait of a couch bum. Which portrait would appeal to you more? Neither of them adds to your health, nor subtracts from it. If you were immortal, the exact same case would be true! Anticipating your preference, I will confidently claim that there is an esthetic value to running, to be pursued for purposes beyond mere survival. (Though survival is, too, always a worthy aim for us mortals.)
Mr. Firehammer: But, even in your case, suppose running meant ultimately your last years would be years of suffering, years you could not enjoy because the pain was so great it even blotted out your interest in things intellectual, and the drugs that might mitigate that pain made you uninterested in doing anything. Even if the running made you life ten years longer, would you still do it?
Mr. Stolyarov: Yes. I reason as follows: running would not turn healthy years of my life into painful ones. The painful years I get are in addition to the healthy years I had before. Thus, I can obtain X amount of values from the healthy years plus a far smaller Y amount of values from the ill years. X+Y > X, thus, it is more desirable, if the pursuit of values is what I am after. No matter how small Y is, it is greater than nothing, which is what would exist in death, since any state of existence means some sort of perception and integration, which in themselves constitute very slight but still unique values.
Thus, living longer under any circumstances is desirable. I am contemplating a fictional story in which a man gives away the entirety of his gargantuan fortune to prolong his formal existence under life support. This will be a story with a nice twist at the end!
Mr. Firehammer: The emotions, our reactions to the content of consciousness, are either the reward for our right choices or the punishment for our wrong choices experienced viscerally in our very beings. Mr. Stolyarov, if you hate the conscious awareness of life that is only possible through the perception of our pains and pleasures, at every level, you hate life, in the human sense, itself.
Mr. Stolyarov: I must protest. Our conscious awareness is not only possible through the pain/pleasure mechanism. I refer you once again to that intellectual mechanism, the volition of the mind, that tells an individual, “You did a good job.” This has no actual bearing on the individual’s fysical experiences of pain or pleasure, or the lack thereof, but it follows from far more monumental endeavors than those that would cause pain or pleasure. Writing a book is an accomplishment of a greater scope than getting a good night’s sleep, though both are important. After you sleep well, however, you often feel, in sheer fysical terms, better than after having written a book. Nevertheless, your mental state, after having written a book, is far higher than after merely sleeping well. You are an author yourself; would you not agree?
Mr. Firehammer: The difference is, animals' passions automatically produce the right behavior to fulfill the desires of each creature.
Mr. Stolyarov: It is not necessarily the right behavior. An animal placed outside a very limited set of environmental conditions, toward which it had evolved, will perish. Only conscious interaction with the environment, as man is capable of, can guarantee the right behavior in the event of full rationality.
Mr. Firehammer: The passions do not even tell us what they are passions for. We have to discover that feeling in our stomach is hunger and the thing we must do to satisfy the desire is eat, but we must discover what to eat, what is food and what is poison. But if we never had the hunger at all, who would bother finding out any of those things.
Mr. Stolyarov: If parents spoon-fed a baby without a sense of taste until it was able to furnish its own food, and then told the child which types of food were safe and which were not, what would stop it from finding out these things? There is, again, no inherent barrier. In the wilderness, feelings of hunger are quite useful, especially the impulse to eat as much as one sees, since one can never be sure of the spoils of the next hunting or foraging expedition. In our era, however, when food is in abundance, the original stimuli of hunger may be misleading and cause men to eat beyond their due, since food is always available in technological societies. This creates health problems because of an unconditional adherence to sensations.
I recommend that you read my poem, “Who Says Man’s Body’s Perfect?” for additional examples as to why we cannot elevate present bodily functions to the level of filosofical ideals. (http://solohq.com/Articles/Stolyarov/Who_Says_Mans_Bodys_Perfect.shtml) By the way, I am an evolutionist, and thus see no inherent guarantee of perfect function to any species of organisms under a dynamic system of natural selection. What man had evolved prior to obtaining a technological capacity is better than anything that came before, but it is far from ideal. (And what I describe in the poem are only some of the “cleaner” examples of this; I am acquainted with biology at about the level of a college undergraduate, and know far more than anyone would be comfortable with about the grievous errors plaguing the human organism.) Only by supplanting the law of the jungle and becoming the prime mover of further technological evolution can man condition his organism into the state of perfection I had described earlier.
Mr. Firehammer: And what possible drawbacks could there be to eating pastry with gazillions of calories?
Mr. Stolyarov: Perhaps it would expand a bit more energy from the robots maintaining George’s system to render all these calories inconsequential. George wants this energy better spent, even though he is guaranteed survival in either case.
Mr. Firehammer: "Enhanced," implies some standard. What is that standard. What is the objective by which the values of "enhancement" are determined, when life itself is not an issue? Enhanced for what? What's the purpose?
Mr. Stolyarov: Esthetic value, symbolism, the “gentler” pursuits in life that do not take the matter of survival into question. I have given myriad examples of these existing in the status quo, and claim that these gentler values will come to dominate the life of the immortal man.
Mr. Firehammer: So what is the point of living? I mean, now, before these technical breakthroughs straighten our passions and emotional consciousness. Since the experiences of happiness and joy, the feelings of confidence and competence, the thrill of accomplishment and ecstasy of beauty are far form being objective indicators of one's well-being, even apparently for one whose emotional experiences are the result of objective values, how does one determine the state of their being?
Mr. Stolyarov: One must use the entire context of the knowledge available to him in order to objectively determine his state of being. This means looking outside emotions to the insights rendered available by science and filosofy, as far as they have developed. If one still comes to an erroneous decision, it would be because of a lack of knowledge, not a moral flaw, as there is no guarantee against a particular ignorance. There is, however, a way to reduce the possibility of making mistakes by doing one’s best, as the situation permits.
As technology progresses, the caliber, frequency, and manner of one’s mistakes will, too, be progressively reduced.
Mr. Rawlings: Even if science were able to stave off all foreseeable causes of death, what about the unforeseeable ones? New diseases? A meteorite? Irrationality and evasion? Low self-esteem? Honest error? Forgetting to look both ways when crossing the street because one got distracted at exactly the wrong moment?
Mr. Stolyarov: You seem to have taken up my challenge by presenting cases which you think refute the very possibility of immortality. Now, I respond:
1) New diseases: New diseases are known to evolve. They do not originate ex nihilo. By further studies of evolution and existing microorganisms, scientists can eventually pinpoint the very mechanism by which new diseases evolve from old ones or from harmless microorganisms, and use gene-altering technology to preemptively monitor existing organisms against such change. If by chance some alien microbe from another planet is brought in contact with man, cures to it can be eventually devised as well. Because the entire amount of perils in existence (including alien germs, if any) is finite, there will someday be a means to cure all existing ones while preventing the emergence of new ones.
2) Meteorites: Honestly! If we ever have the technology to maintain an individual organism in perpetuity against every existent microorganism or process of decay, would you not think that we would, by that time, have the means to vaporize or deflect or redirect a far larger and more conspicuous body?
3) Irrationality and evasion: Each man can choose to be rational and not evade for himself. A free market in ideas and goods will encourage such choices to be made, but no coercion will be used to bring them about. The immortal man must choose to be rational, still, if he wishes to keep the foundation on which his present capacities rest! This is my point exactly! The man who chooses to be rational will remain immortal; the man who does not will die. How this contradicts the Objectivist morality is beyond me.
4) Low self-esteem: People with low self-esteem will not want to be immortal. Let them have their wish, I say. This does not deny the possibility of immortality.
5) Honest error: As I have stated, as technology and science progress, the scope, caliber, and frequency of one’s errors will be continually reduced. Thus, there will eventually come a point (given unlimited possibilities of progress) where no honest mistake will ever lead to loss of life (presuming that a mistake of a certain magnitude is required to bring about such a loss).
6) Forgetting to look when crossing the road: Who says people will not just teleport from one place to another in that remote future? J
My challenge still stands. So far, I have been able to explain how immortality could exist given each of the perils Mr. Rawlings mentioned.
Mr. Humphreys: Wouldn't it also be more enjoyable to fly to another country if there was no risk of death in a plane crash? Or go for a drive if you knew there was no possibility of a car crash? Or cross the road if there was no risk of being run over?
Mr. Stolyarov: Of course!
Mr. Humphreys: It seems to me that you are making a similar mistake as my Christian friend, in that you are denying yourself something that you admit may be worthwhile, because of a small risk of death.
Mr. Stolyarov: What is small? The risk of death by skydiving is far greater than the risk of death by walking along a city street and having a loose brick fall on your head. We mortals have to weigh benefits against risks, to see whether it is worthwhile to undertake a given activity. We need to have a internal hierarchical understanding of risks, not necessarily with any precise quantities or measurements, but rather a relative hierarchy, which will help us decide what risks we are willing to take. There is still the possibility of great error here, but it is the best system we have so far! I hope technology will be able to render benefit-risk calculation more objective and less prone to error. Yet, in every case, the burden remains an individual one.
Mr. Humphreys: In general I would have no hesitation in preferring a well-lived and thoroughly enjoyed life to a longer but less fulfilled existence.
Mr. Stolyarov: Here is where we differ greatly! If X+Y>X, then longer à more fulfilled.
G. Stolyarov II
The Prologue: http://www.geocities.com/rationalargumentator/eac_prologue.html
Chapter I: Protector's Summons: http://www.geocities.com/rational_argumentator/eac_chapter1.html
Order Eden against the Colossus at http://www.lulu.com/content/63699.