Friday, August 20, 2010

Living forever

I read today that in a 'Three Wishes' poll (What would you wish for if you were given three wishes) that 'Living Forever' was one of the most popular wishes.

I would hate to live forever for a million different reasons.

There are a few obvious ones, my main one being that in a few million years when the sun burns out and consumes the entire solar system, if I couldn't die, I would then be forced spend eternity just drifting in space…then, when the final heat death of the universe kicks in and there's absolutely nothing left, there wouldn't even be stars to look at… and floating for eternity on complete and utter silence and darkness sounds like my own personal hell

But to be completely honest, the main reason I wouldn't want to live forever is because of something I've termed 'Doctor Who Syndrome'.

If you were immortal, or even if you were just exceptionally long-lived, it would be absolutely impossible to form any kind of relationship with anyone.

Say you get married to someone and have a fifty year marriage before one of you dies. You could reasonably say you spent your lives together. If the average lifespan is around 80 years, you've easily spent more than half of your lives together.

But what if you were going to live for 2000 years? Suddenly, that 50 year marriage is only about 2% of your life, a year and a half to someone with a normal lifespan

But why is that a big deal? Fifty years is fifty years. That's a long time no matter how you look at it.

Except…it isn't. Time appears to speed up the older you get, because we judge the passage of time based on how long we've been alive. Remember when you were a kid and Summer break lasted forever or Christmas took an age to come around again? Notice how, as an adult, it feels like Christmas comes around every couple of months? To a five year old, a year is a really long time…to a forty year old, not so much.

In simplest terms, if you're 20,000 years old, waiting for something for a decade would be like waiting a couple of hours to someone with a normal lifespan. To a four year old, waiting for Christmas is being forced to wait a quarter of your life to date. Of course it's going to seem like a long time. To a fifty year old, it doesn't seem nearly as long because they're waiting a fiftieth of their life. To someone who's tens of thousands of year old, it'd feel like minutes.

To put this into perspective, think of it this way. Imagine you're the only person with a 'normal' lifespan on the planet, and everyone else is only going to live for around two years. Given that they'd be around 8 months old by the time they'd actually be ready to date…how long before you decide that making friends or falling in love is more trouble than it's worth because you know it's not going to last?

And that's if you're only going to live to be 2000 years. If you were going to live forever, it wouldn't be long before a fifty year relationship would feel like it lasted for minutes.

Basically, think how you'd feel if everyone you know and care about was going to die in the next six months… Now imagine you went through that every other year. How long before you stopped seeking out relationships with anyone to avoid the pain of losing them?

But it gets worse. How long before you stopped thinking about people as people at all? It'd be like trying to form a bond with a goldfish. The older you'd get the faster time would seem to pass.

Sure, your first partner would die and it'd feel like the end of the world, but after a few thousand years, that first marriage would be like remembering the guy or gal you 'dated' for two weeks when you were eleven years old.

It'd be like trying to fall in love or forming a bond with someone who lives their entire lives in less than a week. At first you'd avoid forming a relationships because of the pain you'd feel when you lost them…but eventually you'd get to the point where forming a relationship would be downright impossible.

Let's imagine I'm 20,000 years old. A Normal 80 year lifespan would be 0.4% of my lifespan…which means it would be the equivalent of a normal person trying to form a relationship with someone who lives their entire lives in just under four months…and the first three weeks they wouldn't even have gone through puberty yet. What kind of meaningful relationship could you form?

Plus, it would be impossible for the other person to relate to you. They might fall head over heels for you, but what happened when they worked out that they were your hundredth or thousandth partner? Or that, even though they were devoting their entire life to you, that eventually, they'd just be a dim memory who's name you couldn't quite remember? That, from your perspective, their long and happy life with you was the equivalent of you dating someone for a week or so?

It's not just love and friendship…living forever would turn you into either an emotionless zombie or a monster. Would you really bother getting mad at someone if you knew they'd be dead in a week anyway? Or on the other side of that coin, killing someone would become the emotional equivalent of stepping on ants or swatting a bug. If you're truly immortal, a prison sentence wouldn't phase you, going to jail for fifty years would be like spending an hour there.

Why have I called this Doctor Who syndrome?

From "School Reunion"

Rose: "How many of us have there been traveling with you?"

The Doctor :"Does it matter?"

"Yeah it does, if I'm just the latest in a long line!"

"As opposed to what?"

"I've been to the year five billion, but this, no, this is really seeing the future. You just leave us behind! Is that what you're going to do to me?"

"No! Not to you."

"But Sarah Jane, you were that close to her once, but you never even mentioned her!"

"I don't age, I regenerate....But humans decay. You wither and you die! Imagine that happening to someone you-"

"What, Doctor?"

(Long Pause)

"You can spend the rest of your life with me"..but I can't spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on, alone. That's the Curse of the Time Lords."


MC Etcher said...

All that said, more life is always better than less life. I would accept immortality if I had the option.

I would find solace in the people and things around me, while it lasted.

If it became too unbearable, there's always a way to destroy the body utterly.

Evan 08 said...

Your description of why time accelerates as you age is very similar to something I wrote a few years back...

Great minds DO think alike!

Paulius said...

@MC Etcher:

But if you were truly immortal, there'd be now way to kill yourself, you could stand at ground zero of a nuclear detonation and not suffer a scratch.

Even if you could find a way to just enjoy things while they lasted, you'd eventually end up as the last person alive...afer spending millenia as a person out of touch with the human race.

I'd like to live for a few hundred years, but an eternity? Never.

@Evan 08

You sir, are a plagarist. I don't know how you travelled back in ime and ripped off my post five years before I wrote it...but that doesn't mean you're not worse than Hitler.