If you could live forever, would you? Why or why not?
There are two answers to this question for me. One I can give you know, and one I'll have to let you know in about 50 years.
Right now I would have say: maybe. It's a very broad question. Can we narrow it down a little?
At what point do I stop aging? If at all?
1) If I just think about the first thing that occurs to me regarding immortality then I would say that from a human perspective, immortality would most likely involve a cessation of the aging process at the point it was gained. That is to say, if you are offering me the choice to live forever today, and I say yes, my body will stop aging today. But is that what immortality is?
2) It could be that this immortality will be virtual, referring to a renewed life after death - perhaps a virtual reality you will be given once you're on life support in an 'immortality clinic.' But if so, what would happen if your brain was the first part of you to fail? Your conscious continuity could not be maintained if you were hit in the head by a bus, there would be no mind into which to project the virtual reality. So that's out.
3) Perhaps it's an inability to die, but without limiting other factors like aging, disease, or injury. If this is a Faustian deal with Lucifer then you could be granted eternal life with some very nasty side effects: you could age forever, long past the point where your heart ought to give up, shrivelling away to an immobile, ineffectual, but nonetheless intelligent wreck; you could be hit in the head by a bus and spend eternity with your lights on but nobody home; or you could develop cancer and have your entire body die while your mind stays alive, feeling it all. If this is the immortality you're offering, I am going to say no. Not now, not ever.
There's more. What is life anyway?
At least, what is required for life to continue? Bodily continuity? Mental continuity? Spiritual continuity?
I read a book several months ago that while not attempting to answer this question did discuss it. I don't remember it exactly but it was along these lines:
First you are transported to Mars to help start a new colony. As part of the transport your thought patterns and memories are downloaded into a computer to be stored. Your body is then placed into stasis that completely stops your mental activity, allowing the weeks of travel to pass instantly. Upon arrival your body is revived and your mind is uploaded, and you begin your life on Mars as if you'd stepped onto the spaceship minutes ago.
Years later you are diagnosed as suffering from a disease that results in the decay of your brain. Fortunately, the technology used when you first travelled to Mars has progressed to the point where your mind can be downloaded and installed on an implantable circuit board which acts as an electronic brain. You are only under anaesthesia for a few hours and you wake up with no impairment to your mental ability whatsoever. If you had never been told, you would never know.
While working in the mine you've been assigned to you are involved in an industrial accident which leads to a complete loss of sensation and movement from your neck down. You are offered a new body which is created from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms bonded and assembled based on a complete molecular scan of your body. Your electronic brain is inserted and your new, 100% organic heart is started. You wake up a bit stiff but otherwise feeling completely normal.
Now I'm sure it's changed a lot since I read it. It was at least a year ago and I don't even remember what I had for dinner last night. Actually I do, it was lamb cutlets with pesto, but the point is, I generally have a poor memory. The idea behind the story is that at three points your life could be considered to end. Do you die when your brain stops processing information, even though it starts again a week later? Do you die when your brain is replace by a computer, even though your stream of consciousness is uninterrupted? Do you die when your body is replaced by a replica, even though you have the same brain you did before?
OK, assuming you are being given the opportunity to maintain your body and your health at the level you're currently experiencing, would you take it?
I like my life right now. Even if I didn't like the life I had right now, I know that given time I could improve it to the level where I did like it, a lot. And immortality would definitely give me that time. So yes, that sounds good. I could stay healthy, work out and get my fitness level where I'd like it (unless fixing my health where it is means I also can't get healthier, and if so, I'm still quite happy with my body) and work on the other things. Professional success, material possessions, honing my hobbies to fantastic new levels...
But is that what I want? I do want to do well at my job. But if it takes me 100 years to get that success then is it really going to be fulfilling? Or is it just going to make me think that compared to everybody else, I'm still a failure? I would like to fill my house with nice things. And I'd like a nice house to fill with things. But I don't want to sacrifice other, more important things for that.. And that's the biggie:
Immortality has serious drawbacks. If I was granted eternal life, then presumably it's going to be a special deal just for me. And if so, that means Laura is just going to get older and then die. And so are all my friends. And it's going to be hard to make new friends because they'll all be freaked out by a) my incredible wealth b) my incredibly out-of-date dress sense and c) the fact that I don't seem to be getting any older since they met me. And also that they watched me get hit in the head with a bus and it didn't seem to bother me. So yeah.. after 70 years I'm going to be a lonely, rich, virtuoso multi-instrumentalist. And if you think that being a rich multi-instrumentalist will help avoid the loneliness then.. maybe. Maybe for the next 70 years I'll enjoy buying friends and more specifically girlfriends, and wowing crowds at concerts and reaping the groupie rewards. And then even that will get boring, as will playing the ukelele with my feet, and I'll be a lonely, rich, hermit. That doesn't sound all that great to me.
Let me extend the offer of immortality to a select group of friends though, and I might just take you up on that. I'm sure some of my other friends would be a bit annoyed when I didn't let them live forever but good friends don't require immortality to maintain friendship.
What was that about 50 years' time?
Well, I don't know what life holds for me. Maybe in 50 years time I'll be a lonely, rich, OLD multi-instrumentalist and I'll wish I'd taken that deal, if only so I still had some teeth left.