Should we want to live forever?

Dr Stephen Cave

Many people believe that science is on the verge of fulfilling an ancient dream: stopping ageing and granting us all radically longer lives. But what will this mean for ourselves, society and the planet?

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Death is everyone’s final destination, an experience that unites the human race and all animal species. But does it have to be that way?  Scientific advances over the past century have doubled human life expectancy in developed countries, meaning many people alive today can expect to live to 100. Some scientists believe it can be doubled again – and more. Some of the richest people on the planet are willing to bet on it, investing huge sums in anti-ageing research. .  

But should we want to live forever?  In this Garden Talk, Stephen Cave, a celebrated philosopher and leading thinker, examines the arguments for and against radically longer lives.  He shows that the supporters of immortality must resolve two dilemmas: boredom versus meaninglessness, and overpopulation versus injustice.  He then suggests some practical ways for ensuring longer lives are also happy ones.

Member Questions answered by Stephen:

  • If people live longer or are immortal, that means that the population would grow forever. Or will people have to stop having children?

  • What cultural and socio economic factors do you think would be most impacted by people living longer?

  • Do you think that the further development of anti-aging technologies should be stopped? Are they ethical?

  • How close are we to living radically longer lives?

  • Do you have any favourite portrayals of immortality in pop culture today? For example films or books that focus on the theme?

  • I'm middle aged and have no interest in living forever. I think it would be very boring, and another 20 or 30 years will probably be enough for me. Is this usual? Does the desire for longevity vary by age?

  • Is the question really, should we want to choose when we die?

  • If immortality is achieved, do you think there would be a strong motivation to keep it secret from most population?

  • If we achieve immortality by changing our chemistry, do you think we could also fix the boredom that comes with it by the same principle?

  • In films, vampires are depicted as cold and have lost their empathy and sense of humanity. Would you say it’s something to be expected in people who would live forever?

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Talk outline


50 minutes

About the Fellow

Dr Stephen Cave

Stephen Cave is a philosopher, diplomat, academic and writer.

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