Living forever is a scary idea. In many forms have people considered this notion, but for the most part, these are speculative artistic pieces which have not any grounds in reality. But let us consider the very real possibility that humans will develop some sort of technology to artificially enhance the human lifespan within the next century, and even if this doesn’t necessarily mean eternal life, it is possible that we will find a way to live much longer than we currently do.
There are some who think they would happily embrace such technology, but to many, this idea of enduring almost indefinitely is terrifying. It is interesting, however, to consider the role of such an instinctual reaction, as fear is arguably one of the most important and fundamental aspects of humanity. A fear of rash experimentation is responsible for our preservation in nature. While it may be true that fear can be a hindrance when people are too afraid to take reasonable risks to positively progress, it is undeniable that a protective instinct is essential for survival.
Another thing about humanity- we tend to make mistakes (and frequently harmful ones at that) when we get curious. We experiment, and we end up wreacking massive destruction on the natural world with our various technologies. We need lots of resources, chief among them trees – and there go the forests. Nuclear power could be the future, and so we fund research projects; destruction follows in the form of nuclear meltdown. Whether these sacrifices will end up proving worthwhile in the future still remains to be seen, however it is also undeniable that while we’ve made some sacrifices, our research has merited much progress and led to much innovation. We now know a lot more about nuclear technologies, for example, and are getting closer to refining nuclear power solutions which could save humanity in the long run. Even so, further progress requires more sacrifice- almost by nature- and we as intelligent beings are responsible for weighing the potential benefits and drawbacks of any such risk we take.
With such a significant responsibility in our hands, the development of technology leads, almost inevitably, to the rise of conflict. Stubborn conservatives battle it out persistently with the stubborn harborers of innovation about moral correctness, but these days, innovative research is becoming much more popular and prominent in society as opposed to tradition anyway. It’s almost human nature to dream of and try to create a better world, and newer generations tend to be the most passionate about innovating and improving while older generations, who tend to be comfortable in their traditional lives, hold us back and prevent our overstepping implicit societal boundaries. Thus, society progresses, but it progresses slowly. Quickly enough for us to feel excited about the future, but at just a steady enough rate that we are able to build bridges between traditional knowledge and ideals of morality, with the new technologies that require consideration of similar matters. Moderation seems to be working for now, then, but does this mean we must keep technological development limited to a certain rate, and not allow it to progress any faster?
This issue has become very prominent in these last few years, as the rate of innovating and releasing new technologies to the public is at an all-time high, yet our knowledge about the side effects and moral implications of the technology is still quite low. For example, smartphones are a huge part of society today, but we haven’t yet discovered many of the potential side effects of smartphone usage. Sure, there have been some studies, but there is a lot we cannot know about new technologies and so we have to gamble that the outcome of our using them now will not be drastically negative in the future. For phones this feels like a reasonable gamble, but what about technologies with more significant implications? Technologies always have impacts beyond what we initially imagined, and as we can already speculate that longevity will have a dramatic impact on our society, one can only imagine just how significantly it will actually impact the world, and just how badly we could mess up with such a huge power.
Introducing the possibility of pseudo eternal life would also result in a far more passionate conflict, for the implications of such technology are much more significant than what we’ve faced thus far and the gap between our current way of life and this proposed idea makes it extremely difficult to decide on general moralities society ought to follow. For example, if this technology is developed, who gets to decide who has access? In a perfect world, we could suggest everyone be given equal opportunity, but in our already disparate society it is very clear that access to such technology could only be given to those who are able to afford it. But is this reasonable? For the rich to not only have access to more resources and have a greater say in the world, but for them to be physically stronger and capable of outlasting by far the poor, whose lives will be much shorter and crueler in comparison? (One could suggest this last idea is exactly how the world is currently modeled, but for now I want to consider the extremes a society with some who live forever would lead us to debates regarding the world as it is are perhaps best left for another day).
Thus we evoke an image of the sort of dystopia humans love exploring in arts and films, and already we feel less comfortable with the idea of allowing some to elongate their lives.
And this is just one problem- naturally, there are many other issues we would have to consider with such a technology, overpopulation and psychology (yes it is a real subject XD) being just a few. As one ponders such possibilities, it is natural we will become more and more certain that we want to avoid any of these terrifying futures for humanity.
People who remain consumed in fear of this possibly terrible world, those who are overwhelmed by the potentially negative outcomes of this new technology – these are the passionate opposition, those who believe it is their moral obligation to humanity to stop at all costs the development of the technologies that could bring about such a cruel world. Nor does their stance seem unreasonable; indeed, it appears to be the morally correct thing to do. Equal opportunity isn’t always possible and life isn’t fair, but what is possible (considering the first scenario) is that we minimize the disadvantages of the poor and common folk, which is exactly what we would be doing if we left human lifespans untampered with.
Perhaps it’s better for us to spare ourselves the choice of using this technology. If we have it, it’s almost certain we will use it eventually, but perhaps being intelligent humans means we ought to foreshadow this matter and never allow ourselves this choice.
And by extension, this should mean we prevent ourselves ever gaining the knowledge that would place us in such a morally difficult position. This in turn would suggest an end to any related research, to anything that could possibly enhance our ability to develop human longevity technologies – all for the sake of avoiding disparity and the potential for a dystopian reality.
However, does fear justify putting an end to research?
Sure, the possibility exists that we will make a huge mistake somewhere, but there is also the undeniable fact that research has led to the positive progress of humanity in many regards. Not only are human lives longer than they were before the emergence of proper medical procedures, but we are more aware and capable of keeping ourselves healthy and thus, the quality of our lives is greater. How did we reach such a state of medical knowledge, or knowledge about anything for that matter? Research. We experimented with odd procedures, we observed different outcomes, we continued to learn what we could and took some risks – and here we are, a few hundred years later, physically and mentally stronger than ever before. There were more sacrifices than just lab rats, and in the process of medical innovation, many did die before we learned to prevent it. But our ultimate success in learning how to treat previously untreatable illnesses has made this research worth it. We’ve gotten better and better at preserving ourselves, and as we continue to move forward, it makes sense that we want to think up ways to continue improving upon this. Researching methods to keep humans alive doesn’t sound immoral at all- quite to the contrary, everyone loves doctors who save lives. If there is one thing humanity can agree upon, it is that there are too many people whose lives are cruelly cut short. Finding a way to extend their lives and giving them the opportunity to see the future feels moral and completely righteous. And as we research ways to improve upon human life expectancy, it makes sense that we would want to incorporate this technology into our bright vision of the future.
At the end of the day, there is something that feels completely wrong about limiting people’s ability to investigate, on the feeble basis that what we learn may lead to a morally difficult position and humanity may choose the morally incorrect thing to do. As it currently is, abandoning medical research related to the longevity of humans would be morally incorrect in itself, as we would lose out on many opportunities to learn more about potential processes for aiding people with different illnesses. Medical research as a general is largely interconnected, and limiting one idea or exploration within it would result in suffrage for all the fields. Thus, it appears it actually is unreasonable to try and limit any sort of medical research, even if it has the potential to accumulate into technologies which would possibly enhance longevity.
At this point, we are left with two conflicting arguments about whether research on longevity ought to end. The debate is far greater than what this one exploration could cover, but even with this limited information it appears humanity is stuck between two extremes, and yet it is content with the current trend of ‘moderation.’ That is, the conflict between the opposition and the pro-researchers has resulted in a world where we do progress, but we must stay in check and justify our causes to those who disagree in order to be allowed to continue our work. Perhaps this is just how it is for now, but perhaps this idea of staying in check will continue on into the future. At the end of the day, we must simply remain open to arguments on all sides of the matter, and be logical and reasonable in our decision making process. As long as we continue to be thoughtful and reflective about what we do, there is no reason humanity should be unable to survive changing technologies. We have endured change thus far, after all, and we can definitely continue on into the future.