Greetings, Mr. Gores.
Your thoughts are interesting – as far as I can see, original among the responses I have received to this book. I will address them in turn.
If evil or non-good is the absence of good, then the absence of good is not required for good to exist. Likewise, the absence of life (or the termination of existing life) is not required for life to exist or develop. A living organism exhibits growth and dynamism not because of the threat or eventuality of its annihilation, but because of its physical characteristics and interactions with the external world. Death is the dissolution of something intricately complex, orderly, and functional – the living organism – into components that are much simpler and less functional, which do not exhibit the self-sustaining and self-generating properties of life. It is not just changing into something new; it is degeneration and decay – by definition.
The amount of good or value in the world does not diminish by there being more good or value (indeed, just the opposite occurs!) – so the longer one lives, the more one can pursue and achieve in any realm that one considers worthwhile. Whether or not one’s primary aim is to live longer, it is undoubtedly the case that, once one is no longer alive, one ceases to have the ability to achieve anything or to experience or even remember the fruits of one’s achievement. Ayn Rand correctly noted that the fact of being alive is the precondition to the pursuit of any other values; it may not be sufficient for a good life (i.e., flourishing consists of pursuits beyond mere survival), but it is necessary.
Having children is entirely compatible with pursuing indefinite longevity for oneself (I do not have any – but not because I see any kind of conflict here); indeed, children could help with that pursuit. My decision to write and publish a children’s book on indefinite life extension was made to inspire the next generation of scientists and philosophers, whose efforts may benefit those of us who are adults today, so that they might pursue the acquisition of the necessary skills while they still have ample energy and leisure time. However, having children is not a substitute for one’s self-perpetuation. One cannot experience the world through the vantage point of one’s children, and it is direct experience and direct awareness of reality that I find the most fundamental, irreplaceable condition of an individual’s life.
There are memories and legacies, to be sure, but even those are forgotten or diluted sooner than most would like to think. Children remember their parents, but how many people remember (or are even aware of the identities of) their great-great-great grandparents? One can influence the future, but, if one is dead, one does not really know how one’s influence turned out; one can only speculate, and is likely to be very wrong in one’s speculations. One has to live the future to really know what will happen.
Why do most people not pursue indefinite longevity? I think the answer is not that they simply prefer other values; it is that they genuinely do not see the attainment of indefinite longevity as feasible – and they have been culturally conditioned over millennia to put the idea out of their minds, acknowledge the finitude of their lifespans, and spend their time pursuing other goals. Historically, during eras when technologies were indeed insufficient for radical life extension, this was an understandable attitude to take in order to render everyday life psychologically tolerable and to enable smaller-scale but worthwhile pursuits that eventually raised our civilization to its current level of prosperity and advancement. However, now, these same attitudes are counterproductive in that they could retard technically feasible developments to lengthen human lifespans (for lack of public support and funding, as well as the ability of traditional attitudes to motivate restrictive legislation and regulation that could stifle medical progress).
On seeking to avert threats to freedom, I think that the longer a person expects to live, the longer-term a perspective that person would take. The incentive to go out and steal a neighbor’s property or kill him diminishes greatly if one has more to lose thereby. (Hence the growth of commerce has been one of the greatest enablers of peace and toleration throughout history.) If one personally expects to be alive for a very long time, one would be more invested in making sure that existence is hospitable to human values and virtues during the long term. Incentives to “game the system” for short-term gains (be it through expropriation, laws restricting competition, war, pollution, etc.) would dwindle if one had to live with the long-term consequences. Yes, people speak about seeking a better world for their children and grandchildren – but I suspect that, for most, this is partly rhetorical only, and their efforts are in fact much more intense when they see the better situation as attainable for themselves directly. Will the incentive to fight diminish for longer-lived people? Most likely. But it will diminish among those who would threaten liberty also, and I strongly suspect that incentives for aggression for decline to a far greater extent than incentives for defensive action against any aggression that remains.
Mr. Erickson: With regard to your comment, I acknowledge that some degree of risk is inescapable in today’s state of the world, and this qualitative statement will hold for the foreseeable future. However, there are degrees of risk, and there is already much one can do to avoid unnecessary risk while accepting unavoidable or calculated risk. I do think that far too many people thoughtlessly undertake far too much risk, which they would have rejected if they conducted a genuine rational examination.
It is true that radically longer lifespans would dramatically affect the proportions of risk seeking and risk aversion among humans. For more of my thoughts on this issue, I invite you to read my article “Life Extension and Risk Aversion”. But it is both feasible and desirable for the amount of everyday risk to which we are exposed to asymptotically approach zero (even if it never gets there), while increasing technological possibilities enable us to continue to create works of great value without exposing ourselves to physical danger. (Think of possibilities for autonomous vehicles, videoconferencing, and increased telecommuting to reduce mortality from the ubiquitous act of driving to work or going on a business trip.)
G. Stolyarov II