One of the most widely used yet most baseless objections to life extension is the idea that if people had longer lifespans, they would somehow be bored, or, that they would not be motivated, since the finite amount of time each person has is what is supposed to make them more motivated. Indeed, when this objection is uttered, images of people watching hours of television every day while drinking soda, eating junk food, and being unproductive, come to mind. However, as I will demonstrate below, boredom and motivation are not related to the length of life, but rather, are based on other factors.
The reality is that there are already plenty of people who claim to be bored, or who struggle with motivation. Therefore, shortening their lives or preventing them from living longer and healthier is not likely to make them less bored or improve their motivation. In fact, it is likely to do the opposite – to result in the person becoming demoralized, and, more than likely, very depressed, knowing that their life expectancy has been decreased, that there is no hope for rejuvenation, and that the end is closer still.
Being bored or unmotivated isn’t related to the length of one’s life; it is related to a person’s mindset, thoughts, beliefs, actions, life situation, and other factors that are not related to lifespan.
I can speak for myself and say that I would do plenty of things if I had a longer lifespan, including, but not limited to, starting new hobbies, enjoying the additional time with friends, family and loved ones, performing charity work, delivering even more value to others, and more. Wouldn’t you like to have a few extra years of a healthy life so that you could spend it with the people you love, doing things you enjoy?
Life being short isn’t a good thing, just like failure isn’t a good thing, and just like going bankrupt isn’t a good thing. The difference here, though, is that if you fail, you can probably try again, just like if your business goes under, you can probably try again at some point. In those scenarios too, one could make the argument that you might learn something from the failure or bankruptcy. However, if you die, you can’t try again, and there’s nothing to learn from it. It’s all over.
Just because some people believe that a longer lifespan would result in lethargic, lackadaisical behavior in certain people, doesn’t mean we have to damn all of humanity to a short, brutish lifespan full of disease and suffering, especially in the last few years or decades of life. Therefore, even if some people waste the time that they have, this does not mean the rest of us who do cherish the time we have should have less of it available to us.
Indeed, there are more hobbies, activities, educational tools, opportunities for personal development, and forms of entertainment available to us, than ever before. Therefore, if someone is truly bored, the boredom is more than likely not related to the length of their life, but rather, the quality of their life. It seems difficult to argue that an enthusiastic, passionate, and motivated person would all of a sudden become demotivated if they had more years of a healthy life ahead of them. On the other hand, it may very well be true that an unmotivated or depressed person would not be helped by having a longer life. However, this does not mean that the longer life is the reason for their boredom. There has been much research conducted on motivation, and the research seems to suggest that motivation is driven by intrinsic factors, such as purpose and the opportunity for self-improvement, and not necessarily by the length of life. Given these factors, it would be difficult to argue that adding a few years of healthy life would suddenly make someone demotivated.
Someone who feels bored or unmotivated with the valuable gift of life is calling out for help. We should help them come to a better understanding of what it means to be alive, what it means to be human, and, if possible, help them develop a purpose and goals in life so that they feel more motivated on a daily basis. Shortening the length of their life is unlikely to help them feel less bored, or more motivated. In my view, instead of attempting to prevent progress, opponents of life extension would be better served by spending their time helping others find meaning or purpose in life.
Furthermore, imagine not conducting valuable research into longevity just because of the objection that people would be bored with a longer life. While there is really no way to quantify just how damaging this objection could be to performing research into life extension, I imagine it has prevented some progress in treating aging-related diseases. Could you imagine the ensuing outrage if our teachers, business leaders, medical professionals, and parents came out publicly and said that we should stop treating or trying to cure illnesses? Similarly, we should be outraged by simplistic arguments against life extension, especially if they are not backed up by solid evidence. And, of course, we should certainly be glad that the men and women who have dedicated their lives to improving the human condition and curing devastating illnesses did not succumb to boredom or a lack of motivation.
Let’s be clear – death does not give life meaning any more than tearing down a house gives meaning to the house. Therefore, when we hear the objection that life extension would lead to boredom and demotivation, we should call it for what it is: an insult to the sanctity of life and something to be banished for eternity, just like the plague of aging and disease.
Arin Vahanian is the Vice-Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party.