Who Wants to Live Forever?

A while back, I was visited by a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At one
point, they resorted to argumentum ad wishful thinking: “Well,
don’t you want to live forever?”

They were very surprised when I said no.

Back in 2006, at the Montreal Comedy Festival, John Cleese
some of the thoughts that went into my answer (starts about 15:52 in):

I’ll tell you something sad, and it is this: as you get
older, I don’t think you laugh quite so much. The trouble is, there’s
only eight million jokes in the world. And when you’ve been doing it,
as I have, for forty-three years — I now know 7,980,000 of those
jokes. And even the ones I don’t know, I can kind of guess. I can
guess what the shape is.

I don’t laugh as much. Occasionally, when you’re young, at twenty,
you discover Buster Keaton, or in my case Peter Cook, or Woody Allen
and Steve Martin. These are great moments. But as you get older, it’s
not so frequent to be really excited by a new

(Note: this is heavily edited for flow.)

And this is a problem with immortality: as you learn more and more,
especially in a given field, there’s less and less that’s really new,
and even that falls falls into known patterns..

I’m far from jaded, and I certainly don’t want to die just yet. But I
can see how, after two hundred years, or a thousand, or a million,
life would become dull. I don’t want to sound gloomy and pessimistic,
because there’s no cause to be. I’m sure that I’ll die regretting that
I lacked time to sample anything but the tiniest fraction of what life
has to offer. But at the same time, I can see where thing are going.

(Of course, since we’re talking about either magic or highly-advanced
technology, we can consider things like selective memory editing,
e.g., deliberately forgetting everything about Woody Allen so you can
discover him anew again. But I won’t go into that here.)

So if I were offered a shot at immortality, I’d demand an escape
clause. Better oblivion than eternal boredom.

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3 Responses to Who Wants to Live Forever?

  1. Yeah, totally agree with this. I’d like to live for, say, a thousand years, but definitely not forever.


  2. Troublesome Frog says:

    I could probably keep myself amused for much longer than a thousand years, but I have pretty broad interests. Mankind has come up with a lot of interesting stuff to study. I mean, I could probably occupy several hundred years mastering musical instruments alone. Then there’s mathematics.

    I can agree that I wouldn’t want to end up like this guy, though.


  3. arensb says:

    Troublesome Frog:

    I could probably keep myself amused for much longer than a thousand years

    Sure. Feel free to plug in the duration of your choice; whatever it is, it’s not infinite.

    I wouldn’t want to end up like this guy

    If you enjoy that sort of thing, you’ll probably like Greg Egan’s fiction. In his novel Permutation City, for instance, the characters are actually simulations, running on generic off-the-shelf processors, which are actually emulated by Turing machines that are assembled by a cellular automaton in infinite space.


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