Why Do People Fear Immortality?

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I think death should be optional. Yet I always encounter resistance when introducing this idea to others. Why is that? There are many reasons. For some the idea that we should choose whether to live or die contradicts religious beliefs or seems impossible. For others death is thought to be natural or what gives life meaning. And fiction influences others by often portraying immortality as bad because:

1) You will be bored.
2) You will be unable to die.
3) You will hurt others to attain it.
4) You will lose your humanity.
5) You will turn into a monster
6) You will destroy the environment.

My guess is that negative views of the future are more exciting, selling more books and movie tickets than descriptions of utopias. But think of it this way. About ten generations ago the average life expectancy in most of the world was about thirty years. If someone told you then that they could triple that lifespan, would you voice the above concerns? I doubt it. Some people will be bad or bored or destructive because they live longer, Some are like that now. But for others with age comes more kindness and wisdom. Yes there are bored, horrific people in the world, but that is not connected with how long they live. Some people are just horrible.

Now suppose we tripled the lifespan again? Say an average healthy lifespan becomes 250 years. What would change? I can’t say for sure but I see no reason to think life would necessarily get worse. In fact knowing our lives would be longer might force us to better cooperate with others and preserve the environment. If we are going to be alive when the ecosystem is ruined, we might be more likely to care for it.

Of course if we had the option to live forever that would be different. That would create different problems some of which I’ve tried to answer previously. So let’s continue to increase our lifespans and see what happens.


John G. Messerly, Ph.D taught for many years in both the philosophy and computer science departments at the University of Texas at Austin. His most recent book is The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific, and Transhumanist Perspectives. He blogs daily on issues of futurism and the meaning of life at reasonandmeaning.com

Image of D. Jeffry Life age 74. See http://drlife.com/