Transcript: Should we want to live forever?

Dr Stephen Cave

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Hello. My name is Dr Stephen Cave and this is my Garden talk. Well, I want you to cast your mind to a vast and dusty plain. You hear the rhythmic sound of thumping of thousands of men marching And then you see them on the horizon. A huge black clad army, their faces impassive, their spears glinting in the sun. This is the army of King Jeng of Chin were in ancient China about 200 BC in a time known as the Warring States Period. It was a lot like ancient Greece at almost exactly the same time, inasmuch as it was a period of constant conflict but incredible philosophical ferment and states when cities were rising and falling and at the same time, scholars, many of whom were in the thick of the action.

We're coming up with new theories of justice and ethics and the meaning of life. But Qingcheng of Chin did away with all of that. He swept it all aside with his black clad armies in the pursuit of one singular dream to live forever. I want to start this evening by telling his story. And then I want to follow a trail through time, one that will help us to explore why we want to live forever and whether we should a trail that will start in these war torn, dusty plains of ancient China. But bring us to the shining multibillion dollar laboratories, some of which are right near where I live here in Cambridge.

So back to Qing Cheng of Chin, you might not have heard his name because he's more popularly known today as the first emperor, the first emperor of China. His black clad armies swept all aside, and then he set about unifying this incredible set of kingdoms that have been at war for centuries. He unified weights and measures a unified, the language, the unified government and administration. But then he did something more radical. But about 23rd Yeah, 213 BC. He declared that all books that didn't agree with his philosophy should be burnt and possessing.

One of them was a capital offence, not only with thousands of books burnt and huge amounts of wisdom lost, but hundreds of scholars were literally buried alive for trying to cling on to these works. And then he did something even more extraordinary. He built across the northern border of his kingdom, an enormous wall 1000 kilometres long. This is, of course, the first iteration of what we know is the Great Wall of China. Now these two acts the burning of the book and the building of the wall have something in common, something that was recognised by the great Argentinean writer and thinker Jorge Luis Borges says.

He described the burning of the books and the building of the wall as barriers to halt death. The burning of the books was a barrier in time to keep away from his regime all of the philosophies that disagreed with him. And of course, the wall was a barrier in space to keep the forces of barbarism and decay out of his New Kingdom. But this wasn't enough for the first emperor who became ever more obsessed with living forever. He banned the word death from being spoken in his presence he had owed to immortality sung wherever he went.

He had huge underground labyrinths built so he could escape assassination. But as he reached his middle years in his forties, he realised he was growing older, and so he set off on a quest around his great empire in pursuit of an elixir of life. And he went calling on all of the SAGES and scholars and alchemists and wizards of his day. Now, of course, to us, this quest might seem mad, but he wasn't the first person to go on it. Throughout recorded history, we see people pursuing an elixir of life or a fountain of youth.

Indeed, the very oldest story we have. The epic of Gilgamesh, which was already 2000 years old when the first emperor lived, is about a king who set off on a quest for the elixir of life. And to these people, it would have seemed completely rational. The first emperor's achievements were monumental. He rivalled the gods in what he did, and I think to him therefore, it would have seemed completely rational that he should be able to get this little thing the elixir of life that would allow him to live forever.

And of course, we see the same attitude today among the ultra rich, the billionaires who can't or won't accept their own mortality. But we'll come back to them later. So the first emperor set off and he reached the northeast corner of his kingdom, the coast, and there he met an alchemist called Shoo Foo and Foo Foo said, Of course I know how we can get the elixir of life. It's on an island, the island of the immortals in the Yellow Sea. All you have to give me Emperor is some ships and 3000 virgins because the immortals will only give their secrets to the innocent, you understand? And then I'll go and get the Alexa for you.

Well, true Fu, astonishingly perhaps, was granted, his wish is the emperor gave him his ships and his virgins and then continued on his tour of his empire. Well, a few years later, the first emperor turned up again Jews part of the world, much tissue foods Surprise. He had nothing to show for himself, but perhaps just a few fewer virgins in his party. The emperor was, of course outraged, had killed many a man for less. And the quick witted Hsu Fu said, Ah, well, I I set sail many times I got so close but great sea beasts rose up and drove me away.

If only you would give me better ships. Maybe some more virgins and a squadron of Bowman. Then I'll be able to defeat the sea beasts and go to the island where the immortals keep their secrets. In his desperation, the first emperor granted Hsu Fu his wishes, and at that point, Xu Fu sailed away from China, never to be seen again. Well, unfortunately, the first emperor himself died just a few years later, at the young age of 49. It seems he was poisoned, although not by the assassin, as he feared he was poisoned, judging by the symptoms recorded of headaches and palpitations and organ failure by some combination of arsenic lead mercury exactly the things that his alchemists were giving him as an elixir of life.

Well, that fate is ironic, perhaps, but not surprising. The pursuit of the elixir of life might be a long one, and people have always been willing to supply the gullible with Alex ears. But we're not surrounded by immortals. The pursuit of immortality might sometimes seem noble, but just as often it's a story of fear and folly and fraud. Anyway, we're not done with you fu story, he said. Sales from China and into legend and According to legend, he discovered some islands off the Chinese coast islands that we today call Japan, and you re appears in Japanese mythology in Japanese legends.

And there he goes by the name Joe Fu Ku, and he's regarded as something of a saint because according to Japanese mythology, he brought to Japan the wonders of civilisation, silk weaving and agricultural technology, martial arts writing and so on. And his reward, of course, was immortality. According to legend, Hsu Fu went to Mount Fuji, where he was instructed in the ways of immortality by the Hermits. And there he still lives today, his austere and monkish existence. Well, this is a very interesting story because it replicates a story about China.

When Qing Sheng called himself the first Emperor, he was very consciously and explicitly modelling himself on a legendary Chinese figure, the Yellow Emperor, who, according to Chinese legend, had founded China a few 1000 years before and brought all of the wonders of civilisation like silk weaving, agricultural technology, martial arts writing and so on. And the yellow Emperor had been rewarded, of course, with immortality and the first emperor who really brought civilisation and United China thought hoped that he, too, would be rewarded with immortality because he wasn't.

But he did cause Hsu Fu to set sail and bring civilisation to Japan, where, according to legend, he was rewarded with immortality. So the model we see is one that we see across the world, where civilisation itself is associated with the promise of immortality and the bringer of civilisation is rewarded with immortality. And if that seems a little far fetched, think of Christian civilisation, which, of course, completely dominated Europe for at least 1.5 1000 years. Its founding figure, Jesus, died and rose again on Easter Sunday and the promises that his believers will be rewarded with immortality.

So we see her foundational promise of civilisation across the world that it will deliver us radically, longer, perhaps infinite lives. But even though there seems to be something of a cultural universal, there have also always been sceptics critics, those who doubt whether we could achieve immortality or should want to. And there's an interesting Japanese legend about just this that also involves Hsu Fu. But its star is a character called Vcenter. Oh, a rich young man sent Taro has everything and He very much enjoys his life of privilege and idleness.

Except for one thing. He knows that he must die. And this is what spoils his pleasure. He thinks he could live happily for at least 600 years. And so he goes off on a quest to find the elixir of life. And it takes him to Mount Fuji and the hermit say, Ah, you must go to the shrine of of course, Xu Fu. So he goes to the shrine of Shu Fu and he prays for seven days and on the Seventh Night shoot who appears to him and says you are too foolish for immortality. Yours is a selfish desire. But if you want a taste of it here and he hands entero a paper crane as in the bird crane in Origami Crane Sen Taro takes it, and immediately this crane grows to enormous size.

Sentara climbs on and they take off and the crane bring Sentara across great oceans thousands of miles until they landed an island. And they're much to send to his amazement that people are immortal Well, how wonderful he thinks. But then they beg him for the secret of death they tell him that there chemists don't sell medicines but poisons but the most powerful of them just turn one of their hairs grey and give them a tummy ache. How they want to know, Can they end it all right? Santoro thinks he's mad, People are mad and he settles down, starts a little business and lives happily for a few years.

But after 300 years or so, it's starting to get tiring. He's weary of the monotony of daily life, the arguments with the neighbours and so, having once prayed to shoe for immortality, he prays again to Hsu Fu to bring him back to the land of the mortals. And as soon as he does so this crane appears again, comes out of his pocket, grows to enormous size. Sentara climbs on and starts riding back across the oceans. But then a great storm comes and the rains destroy the paper crane and Santa Haro plummets to the ocean.

He's screaming in terror. He falls into the waves. Suddenly was a great dorsal fin coming towards him. The jaws open. Xanterra screams to Hsu Fu to save him, and then he wakes up, and the whole time he's been lying on the floor of Sufi Shrine, and Xu Fu's laughing there at Centauros Folly. He didn't want to die, but he doesn't want to live forever, either. And this for Sen Taro and Fish tissue Fu is proof that Sen. Taro is too much of a fool to earn immortality. And our question is, Is this our predicament? We are afraid of death.

We don't want to die. But living forever would be terrible to well outside of these legends. No one has lived forever, of course, and no one can tell us what it's like. But we do know that the pursuit of living forever is now a boom industry. Huge amounts of money billions of dollars are now being invested in anti ageing therapies. Some of the richest people on the planet, like Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, and Larry Page, the co founder of Google, and others are pouring huge amounts of money into research.

Now this kind of research has a very chequered history, to say the least. About 100 years ago, it was also enjoying a boom and extremely well established physicians and scientists were recommending consuming crushed dogs testicles or sewing bits of monkey testicles to yourself or having a vasectomy, all sorts of other things, in the hope that this would halt ageing and allow radically longer lives. Of course, none of those things worked. And about that time, after the failure of many attempts by, you know, prestigious scientists, the pursuit of the elixir of life in science fell into disrepute.

It was associated with Charlotte in is, um, and false promises. And really, through most of the latter half of the 20th century, serious scientists avoided even researching ageing because it was seen as being somehow a bit suspect. But in the latter part of the 20th century, that started to change. And now the tide really has turned, partly because of the huge sums of money people are investing, but also partly because of some fundamental breakthroughs in our understanding of how organisms work and how ageing works.

And there have been some extraordinary achievements and extending the lives of simpler organisms like fruit flies or nematode worms, for example doubling even increasing tenfold, the lifespans of these organisms. So, of course, many people hope that this kind of breakthrough can happen for humans too, and we should think about what that means. The longest lived person verified in history was a French woman who died at the end of the last century called Jeanne Calment, who lived 222. Many people were.

Many people nowadays are living too beyond 100 so perhaps that record will be broken. It hasn't been, of course, in the last two decades people have lived to about 119. But even though populations are ageing and we can expect to live longer, they say, there'll be more centenarians. It seems that 120 is a bit of a limit, and it's because of ageing. And many of the killer diseases that we think of, uh, still plaguing the developed countries, like heart disease and cancer, are seen by some scientists, at least as diseases of ageing.

So perhaps if we could solve the ageing problem, we could live radically longer lives. But if such a breakthrough came, should we want it now? I think it's worth exploring both the arguments for and against some people might think it's obvious why we would want longer lives. Um, if we enjoy life Why shouldn't we want to carry on? I'm very happy in my life. I have, you know, no intention of disappearing anytime soon. I can imagine many things I'd like to study, places I'd like to visit. I want to see my Children grow up and perhaps their Children, their Children's Children.

I'm curious about technological development. I'd love to see what the world looks like in the 22nd century. If we enjoy life. Surely more of it is a good thing, but perhaps there be other benefits to perhaps we become wiser. In many cultures, older people are revered as repositories of wisdom. Indeed, I think our present culture in the West isn't a normally in valuing youth. And the latest invention, perhaps if people live longer would take a much longer term view would take more seriously. Things like climate change and global warming, the rising of the oceans, the destruction of other species and so on.

So the arguments for living longer seem very compelling. But what about the arguments against, well, often people? When I think about boredom from an individual point of view and overpopulation from a societal point of view, and I want to briefly explore both of those. And I want to suggest that each of them forms a kind of dilemma. Such that if we escape one, we get into another problem and we need to take those dilemma seriously. So let me start with boredom and the dilemma. I will pose as boredom versus meaninglessness.

So this is very much about an individual. What would living forever be like for you as an individual? Would it be terrible? Would it be wonderful? Well, many people have written about this, and one very interesting one was just over 100 years ago during that boom that I mentioned in the scientific exploration of ageing and anti ageing. And it's written by Karel Capek, a Czech playwright. He wrote a play called The Metropolis Affair and the Acropolis Affair is about a woman, an opera singer who over the course of many centuries goes by many names, always with the initials E.

M. It turns out her original names Alina Acropolis, but through the centuries she had to keep changing her name and identity so as not to arouse suspicion. It turns out that around 1600 she was daughter to the court physician of Emperor Rufus, the second and her father had made an elixir for her just before he himself was imprisoned. She had taken it and, uh, and lived on. And at the time of the play, at about 1920 when we meet Alina Micropolis, she's lost. The recipe for The Elixir is fading. It's wearing off, and she's desperately looking for the recipe so she can take it again.

But at the same time, she's become cold and arrogant, indifferent to the ordinary mortals around her. She's the most famous singer of her time. And yet for her, she says, to sing or to be silent, it's all the same. She can't take anything seriously. Nothing interests her anymore. She's seeking the Alexa not through any Jawad Aviva, but only because she is afraid of death but as the play develops, spoiler alert, it turns out, but she gives up and decides she doesn't want to take it. She finds the recipe, but she offers it to the assembled cast of characters on stage.

They all say no until a young woman takes it, burns it over a candle. So the Metropolis affair is a story about the inevitable tedium, boredom of immortality. But it's boredom inevitable. I mean, I mentioned all the things that I would like to do. I can, you know, I can imagine many hundreds of happy years. It's a hugely wide range of activities that humans enjoy, from opera singing to philosophising, undersea cave exploration to flower arranging and so on. The list seems indefinite. But that, of course, doesn't mean that any particular individual will enjoy all those things.

Perhaps Alina Micropolis tried underwater cave exploration and exhausted as possibilities. But somehow it's hard to imagine it's easier to imagine when we know her character that she would have sounded absurd or, you know, terrible. Well, perhaps we can imagine, however, someone more open minded who really does want to try everything under the sun and immortality. Optimist might say the possibilities are endless. But what I want to suggest is that this way of getting out of the boredom problem of pursuing all of these endless possibilities leads us to another problem, that of meaninglessness.

And this is something that's wonderfully explored in another story that by Jorge Luis Borges, who I mentioned earlier, the Argentinian writer and thinker in his short story The Immortal. So this story claims to be a first person account of someone called Marcus Rufus, who is an officer in the army of ancient Rome. And he's heard that there is a river that cleanses men of death. So he assembles 200 soldiers and goes off in pursuit of this wonderful river. Well through disease and desertion and mutiny.

He ends up alone, almost dying of thirst in this mountainous desert, until finally he sees a stream. It seems, however, surrounded by these strange creatures, these troglodytes, grey and scraggly and thin well, just beyond their dwellings, which seemed to be nothing more than simple pits in the rock. He sees finally what he's been looking for, the city of the Immortals, but it is not what he expects. He tries to get in, but the walls are Impenetrable, eventually finds his way in through an underground labyrinth.

But inside there was a kind of subtle horror. Nothing makes sense. Staircases are upside down. Corridors lead nowhere. Huge grand doorways open into damp, shallow pits. In the end, he says, the gods who built this must have been mad, and he flees outside one of the troglodytes is waiting, and eventually, after weeks passed, he speaks and reveals that the troglodytes are the immortals. They built this city and then, after some centuries, could take no more pleasure in it. And so they built its parody, and now they live these lives in their shallow pits.

Staring at the sky is removed, as they possibly can be from the physical world, Rufus says. I remember one who I never saw stand up. A bird had nested on his chest. It turns out that the troglodyte who speaks to Rufus was Homer at some point in his life, Homer, who wrote The Odyssey and The Iliad first. Rufus is amazed. But then he realises, they quote, If we postulate an infinite period of time with infinite circumstances and changes. The impossible thing is not to compose the Odyssey at least once.

No one is anyone. One single man is all men. So the point is these immortals have done everything that is possible to do in an infinite period, writes borders. All things happen to all men. He doesn't argue that they are therefore board. He argues that they therefore can find no meaning in any possible human activity. They have all undertaken everything noble and everything ridiculous, everything brave and everything perverse. And so they've become indifferent to each other and to the world. When one of them falls into a quarry, it's 70 years before the others bother to help pull him out.

No action seems to them worth taking. For the immortals, every action is meaningless precisely and literally because it has no significance, no meaning in terms of a greater project or goal. Now compare this to our lives knowing we have about 80 years, we know we have to make choices that matter one or two careers, a handful of hobbies, a handful of deep relationships. So which ones we choose which careers which hobbies, which relationship, which goals to pursue, make enormous differences to our lives and indeed, the world.

Every choice we make is consequential, and it makes us who we are. Gives us an identity. And, of course, the immortals have nothing of that. Without the prospect of death, they have no urgency, no significance, no identity, no meaning. So that's the dilemma I want to present for the would be immortal from an individual point of view, on the one hand, is the risk of boredom. And if we try to escape boredom by pursuing every possible activity, we risk meaninglessness. Okay, let's leave aside that dilemma and turned to a different one.

Let's consider now immortality from the point of view of society and the planet. Now, as I mentioned the problem that most people immediately think of as overpopulation, and it's a very serious one, but I want to present it as a dilemma. I want to start with something else. So some of you might have seen the film in time, starring Justin Timberlake. And in this film, everyone has been genetically engineered, so they are immune to ageing. Sounds wonderful, but they have a kind of clock wired into them that starts ticking at the age of 25 it gives them, from the age of 25 exactly one year to live unless they earn more time.

So time is literally money. People earn minutes and spend minutes, and some people, like Justin Timberlake's character, live from day to day. They just managed to scrabble enough time together to make it through a night, whereas others have amassed so much time they effectively livers immortals, while, needless to say, the film is about how unjust this is, and many people consider it a very accurate portrayal of what a life what a world with life extension would be like. Now it's easy to imagine an elixir is a kind of potion that we swig once, and that's it.

We're immune to ageing and disease. But in reality, the kind of breakthroughs that might happen any time soon would be elaborate and expensive ongoing treatments. It's certainly conceivable that they would only be accessible to the super rich, and so we would have huge discrepancies in life expectancy. Of course, we already have discrepancies in life expectancy between rich and poor, different parts of the world, different parts of the country. Indeed, they're often reported in this country the U.

K. And when they are, it's always with a sense of injustice that it's wrong that people in the South live 10 years longer than people in the north. Or what have you will imagine that injustice spread over not a few years, but tens or even centuries. We would find it outrageous, and not only is it intrinsically unjust, but it could lead to other injustice. Because, of course, these super long live people could accumulate even more wealth and even more power, and so on. Well, this is assuming that only a few people have access to life extension technology.

We could solve the problem and making it available to everyone. But then, of course, we would have the problem of overpopulation. The argument is simple. If ever more people arrive on the planet and they don't leave the planet, then at some point the planet will be more than full. And even if life extension isn't forever, this will still happen. Democracies have run the numbers, and if people live twice as long, say, because of the amount of generations would be alive at one time, the population could double.

And already we're seeing, of course, that the carrying capacity of the planet is under strain. Some people, often exactly the same kind of techno optimists who say yes, we would have an elixir of life. Soon Seo will solve this problem. You know, the number of people the planet can support is dependent on our technology. You know, billions are alive today, but only because we've got technology that allows that many fewer could live in previous centuries and this might be true. But we're also seeing, of course, the downsides of our technology and climate change.

Destruction of species. No one thinks the way we live today sustainable, So overpopulation is a very real problem. Of course, some people say, then we could perhaps forgo having Children. I mean, it's worth bearing in mind. There will still be a population boom just from the people arriving alive today because of the generations that would overlap. But also the idea that we wouldn't be able to have Children is itself a terrible one. I mean, I have three daughters. It gives huge meaning to my life.

Of course, some people choose not to have Children, But for those who do choose, it's often one of the most meaningful things they do and imagine the kind of policies that society would need to enforce the idea that we can't have Children or you can't if you live forever, you know, infanticide, forced sterilisation, forced abortion and so on. It's hard to think we would consider that acceptable. So to sum up, we've seen that the pursuit of life extension. Technology is an ancient one that is motivated partly by the fear of death, but also because life is great and we want more of it, because it might bring us greater wisdom and a long term view that we desperately need.

But we've also seen that it poses to very serious dilemmas one for the individual, the problem of boredom, which we can perhaps escaped through a huge variety of activities. But then we threaten to collapse into meaninglessness and as a society, the problem of injustice if a few people live vastly longer lives and acquire ever more power and wealth. But if we solve that and give it to everyone, then the problem of overpopulation. Now, I'm not saying these problems don't have solutions. But I'm saying if we do think radical extension of our lives is just around the corner, if we really are going to have a breakthrough, then we need to think a lot more seriously about how we want to live, what this means for the shape of our lives, for the shape of society.

Thank you. Thank you, Stephen. That was fantastic. You answered so many of the questions that I had. But I can see that we've got many questions from our members. So I'm going to go to the first question, which is a very nice way to start the questioning. Given its finishes, it starts with what you were talking about at the end of your talk, which is about radically longer lives and orgies. Question is, how close are we to living radically, longer lives? It's a very good question, but no one knows the answer.

There are a few people profits, if you like of life extension, who say that the first person to live to 1000 is already alive today. But that isn't supported by the science. I think what the optimists hoped for is something that they call longevity escape velocity. That is, we don't have to solve the problem of ageing all at once. We just have to solve that problem a bit to buy us a bit more time and then in that time we solve the next problem and then in that time we solve the next problem. Until maybe if we managed to be 150 then we solve the problem of, you know, all ageing and disease.

But at the moment, although, as I say there have been real breakthroughs in much simpler organisms, the mechanisms of ageing in humans are not yet well enough. Understood. There is no. And of course, the problem of doing this kind of science is the time spans are enormous. You need to do studies that last decades, and that's and that's hard. So there isn't science at the moment to support the real extreme optimistic views. But often these breakthroughs do come from nowhere. And so you know, I'm not going to put my money on either side at the moment.

I think we need to keep an open mind, and I think we need to prepare a lot better as a society in case it happens. Well, Laura wants to know about the impact that living longer lives to over 100 or over 150 will have on cultural and socio economic systems, for example, retirement age or health care systems. Can you talk to that? Yeah, that's a great question. I think we're so used to lives of a certain shape that we forget in a sense, just how much that shape determines every aspect of society, and people say, Oh, well, you know, life.

Expect expectations have doubled over the last century or two, which is true in a sense. You know, Life spans were on average, about 40 a couple 100 years ago. Now they're 80. But still people a couple of centuries ago did hope to live to ripe old age. You know, we're here in the Bible, people talking about three score years and 10 70 years. Shakespeare talks about the shape of a life. We have an idea of what the shape of a life is that hasn't changed much. And what really brought down the numbers in terms of life expectancy a couple of years ago with infant mortality, although there were higher risks of dying throughout life.

But actually, our idea of what a life looks like has changed very little for centuries, if not millennia now, when in the 19th century people did start to live a bit longer. Then we did see some radical innovations, like the idea of pensions, which was an invention of Bismarck, the of the Emperor Germany, Just about 150 years ago, it was a relatively new idea and, of course, a very radical one. Already we think it is normal that we deserve this time, but if we live much longer, then we will have to revisit all of these systems.

It's inconceivable with the rate of technological change, that someone might have an education at the age of 18 that's going to prepare them for a world they might live in. 100 and 50 years later. It's inconceivable that we would be able to afford pensions if people retire at 70 and still alive 100 years later and so on. So we'll have to do away with this linear idea of life education and then work and then retirement and have to think of something probably more circular, with periods of education and re education and retraining, periods of productivity if you like, and periods of leisure or retirement or travel, and then starting again, Thank you.

Mike has a question about the desire for a longer life for longevity. His question is, he says, I'm middle aged and have no interest in living forever. I think it would be very boring and another 20 or 30 years would probably be enough for me is this unusual? And does the desire for immortality or a longer life vary by age? Yeah, that's a great question. I think as people get older, often they do become more accepting of mortality. And, you know, some people, you know, a bit of a cliche in a sense that, you know, all young people think they're immortal.

Being old is inconceivable to them that loan dying. And that's why why they're risk averse, they don't take the idea of death Seriously, Um, you know, many philosophers throughout the ages have thought that coming to terms with mortality over the course of one's life is what wisdom means. But of course, there are different ways of doing that. Some people say, Oh, I don't mind, You know, if I'll die in a couple of decades, but that's because they believe that they're gonna live on in some other form so they might still want to live, right? I'm not saying that you know that question, of course, but many people have accepted death in this bodily form only because they believe in living on in some other way.

But of course, you know, part of what I wanted to get out of certain sort of paradox is that we are, in a sense, afraid of death and don't want to die, but can also readily see that living forever wouldn't be all that either. But often when people say, Oh, you know, I accept death, living forever would be terrible They also say, Yeah, I'd be happy to die a couple of decades from now. They rarely say I'll be happy to die now. And so you know, if the time when they think they'll be happy to die as always a couple of decades away, then you end up living forever.

Accidentally. Well, that's a very good segue into the next question, which comes from Lorna. And her question is, Is the question really? Should we should we want to choose when we die? That's a very good question, and a lot of people who are perhaps a bit sceptical of whether living forever would be good or not say, Well, let's give it a try, and if euthanasia is legal and well established and safe and so on, then we have an exit clause, so it's fine and I think there's a lot to that argument. But The problem is that it's very hard to know when the right moment would be so.

If we're asking ourselves, you know, would it be rational to live forever? Would it be the right choice for me to take an elixir of life? And someone says, Well, yes, that's fine as long as I can get out whenever I want. Well, imagine, after 100 and 50 years, they are feeling tired of life. How could we know? No, that isn't just an interim phase. I mean, we know in this life people get depressed. But fortunately, many most get out of it, either through the passage of time or through medical psychological help.

And so, from the rational point of view, although I think it can seem like a a very wise choice to say yes to an elixir of life with an exit clause. Actually, I think when we think about how the exit clause would work, the longer we live, the more difficult it becomes to think about when we would say, Oh, yes, that person is definitely had enough now, as opposed to that person, should give it another 30 years. In that scene, we have a question from Francese, Francesco says. There's a call to stop intensive agricultural and animal farming to move back to more natural systems.

This will mean reducing production of food and ultimately reducing population. How do you reconcile that with people alive today? Living forever? Will we die of hunger rather than disease and old age? That's a great question. And I think often when the optimists you know, techno utopians, they talk about how we're going to have all these breakthroughs, the first person to live for thousands already alive today and so on. They imagine a utopia, you technologically driven utopia, and they just brushed these problems aside.

But of course, history gives us a completely different picture. History is much more Malthusian. It's one of constant disasters. It's one of civilizations collapsing through decadence and folly and often because of their over consumption of resources through unsustainable practises. And so I think it's entirely possible that we'll all embrace life extension technologies if they become available and as a society, because we tend to think in the short term and our politics work short term, we won't take the kind of measures that are necessary to deal with that expanding population, and so we really could see Malthusian collapse.

I think that's entirely entirely realistic. If this kind of technology was available, we have to think very deeply in the society about how we could transition towards it would face some very difficult choices. Now we have another question from Laura, and you mentioned that you are the film with Justin Timberlake. But do you have any other examples of popular culture per jails of immortality in popular culture today, for example, films or books that deal with this issue? Oh, well, I think it's quite a popular theme that there was.

I watched the Netflix, So I do try to keep up with sort of, um, immortality theme, popular culture. And but after one, it does tend to be sort of, you know, a bit like a sort of Alina Metropolis. Sort of, you know, just one more one damn thing after another, the same stories repeating themselves. But there was a film, um, quite recently from Netflix, I think the old guard about immortality, the Highlander, of course, you know, for those of us middle approaching Middle Asia's, uh, listeners are wonderful.

80 story with a fantastic soundtrack by queen. I mean, it is. It is an old theme. Thank you. Now Ray has a question, which is, if immortality would be truly achieved, Do you think there would be a strong motivation to keep it secret from most of the population? Yeah, That's, uh that's a great idea. And it sounds like the plot of the of the next Netflix movie. I think there was something like I remember who wrote it. So let me anyway, Yes, I That's a That's a great storyline. I like that. I can certainly see why people would make that choice, because of all the reasons we talked about that, You know, most people don't have a long term view of politics.

Doesn't work according to a long term view. And so if people had access to an Alexa, it would lead to inevitable collapse. So perhaps, but would try to keep it secret. But I think it would be extremely difficult to say the least. I think you know, perhaps there are cultures, but are sufficiently authoritarian. Um uh, strict, draconian, but also with a very long term view that can enforce that. But I think in our relatively open an extremely leaky society. I think it would be very difficult now. You mentioned earlier that if if elected for life was found, it would only be available to a wealthy elite.

But if you imagined that actually was available to everyone, if you imagine it was available to everyone when it comes to the next question, which is if people live forever. If people are living longer or are immortal, that means the population would grow forever. Alternatively, would people stop having Children? That's a very good question, because, of course that is a trend we're already seeing. So in longer live societies, more prosperous societies, uh, in the West, you know, Central, Eastern Europe, Japan, Korea people are having fewer Children, and they're they feel they have a demographic crisis that isn't overpopulation, but is rather an ageing population that isn't at replacement level.

Um, so it does seem that that is a real trend, and perhaps in this, in that sense, the problem will solve itself. It is conceivable, however, I'm not sure it's likely. Certainly, I think there will always be a significant number of people who like me, just think having Children is a fundamental life experience that you know is extremely meaningful to them. And I think for reasons I briefly mentioned the talk, it would be extremely difficult to enforce a kind of no child policy or sort of one in one out policy whereby, um, you know, if you have a child, you then have to give up your right to the Alexa.

I mean, if we just try to imagine how that would work, you know, say I live 1000 years. Then I decided I want to have a child. And so I'm told, right. And I have to, you know, make room for that child. I have to exit 2030 years from now. Of course, just as I've acquired a new reason to live. Well, you know, it does remind me of another popular culture reference as Logan's run a film from the seventies about, you know, a sort of perfect society except for everyone is euthanised at 13 people trying to escape.

And I think, you know, we can all imagine the science fiction film about people escaping this draconian regime, which is enforcing effectively mass murder, infanticide for stabilisation, and so on. So While it sounds like we might move in that direction, it sounds like it would be very hard to enforce in time to avoid a population boom moving from one horror story to another. We have a question here from Audrey, which is in films. Vampires are depicted as cold and that they've lost any feeling or empathy and a sense of humanity.

Would you say it's something to be expected in people who would live forever? Yeah, I think that's a great question. Vampirism is a nice reference point for what it might be like, and I like about vampirism, is, of course, they're parasitic upon the living. And one life extension technology that's actually literally being used today is a blood transfusion from the young. So there are some very rich people wouldn't say household names, but you know, quite well known who literally have an entourage of young people who follow them around whose blood they not exactly suck, but have transfused into them.

Um, but would it make us inevitably cold? I think that's an interesting question. And, you know, I talked about them Acropolis Fair, this wonderful player by Karel Capek, and that is a good description of aluminium Acropolis. I think she's become cold and completely indifferent. But there's no question that we would have a different perspective on the sort of, you know, the passions of life around us if we've seen it all before 1000 times you talked about the problem of boredom that would come with immortality and raises a question, which is, if we achieve immortality by changing our chemistry, Do you think we could fix the problem of boredom just like we could fix the problem of dying? That's a great question that the answer may well be yes.

So, of course we have drugs today that give us certain feelings happiness, euphoria, arousal and attention and so on. So it does seem quite possible that if we've mastered our bodies enough to stop ageing and disease, that we could also master our bodies enough to make sure that we were, you know, happy. Um, but this is an interesting sort of philosophical thought experiment. I mean, imagine we create this kind of pleasure dome. So it was a mortal lives that everyone has access to this pleasure dome.

You go there when you're there, it's inconceivable you could be bought there just so well made. And in terms of, you know, whatever you're given certain drugs or, you know, it's virtual reality. Whatever. However, it works there so good that when you're there, you're having the best time. But I can't help feeling that after a few centuries, when you leave the pleasure dome you've been thinking. Yeah, you know, that was that was alright, as usual. But you know, this cycle of getting up and going to the pleasure dome, What does it all mean? Was it for Is this really a meaningful life? So, yes, I think I suspect we will be able to always find some kind of stimulation.

But I also suspect at some point, even the idea of that will leave us cold. Well, Stephen, the questions have been absolutely brilliant today, but unfortunately, I've only got time for one more question before you finish. Is there one final question that you'd like to leave our members with? Well, I would love to hear your views on How many years do we need for a good life? What is the shape of a good life? How long should we live? Thank you. so much, Stephen, Unfortunately, that's all we've got.

Time for today. Do join us again in The Garden very soon because we love to have you back. Thank you. And thank you to you, our members, for joining us here today. To if you haven't done already. Please go and sign up for your next Garden talk. We can't wait to see you back in The Garden very soon and check out all of our Garden talks available on demand. We will see you at your next Garden gathering, but until then, stay curious.

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