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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Interminable Terminological Hanky Panky about Termination

I am now being told that all the really sensible happening with-it techno-immortalists these days prefer to describe their desired outcome in this case not as "immortality" per se, but as "indefinite lifespan."

Please, they cluck superciliously, make a note of it.

One wonders if the Immortality Institute, that includes among its members many who presently are offering me this necessary "correction," have noted the change in question themselves? How about the Society for Universal Immortalism?

To say the least, this appears to me to be a rather transparent terminological dodge. Human beings don't know exactly how long they will live in any case and so we already live "indefinitely long" lives.

What you techno-immortalists clearly want is for science to enable you to live forever, or at any rate live so much longer than we presently do that you can comfortably set aside the problem of your mortality altogether.

This is a completely familiar religious attitude, and I suspect it is precisely because so many techno-utopians are deeply invested in an hysterically reductionist fantasy of hyper-scientificity and anti-religiosity that they get particularly queasy when the obvious residue of transcendentality and faith in their formulations gets too close for comfort, and so they start trying to smother it in the terminological equivalent of mounds of styrofoam packing peanuts.

I think the dodge is even in evidence in the preference of the SENS folks for the phrase "negligible senescence" over "delayed senescence," or in the slick techno-immortalist PR chestnut that we should cure the "disease of ageing itself" rather than devoting ourselves only to curing the diseases associated with ageing.

It isn't a coincidence that popular media discussions with advocates of "indefinite healthy lifespan NOT immortality, damn it!" always end up with titles like "Who Wants to Live Forever?" "Can Technology Make Us Immortal?" "Eternity Is Within Reach" and so on.

Everybody knows what moonshine is really getting peddled here.

4 comments:

Mildred said...

Dale, you know what the weirdest thing is? People who claim to want indefinitely long lives but fail to make use, in any substantive way, of the lives they do have. A life spent reading sci-fi, sitting around on the computer, and fantasizing about uploading doesn't need to be prolonged infinitely; its emptiness already makes it feel infinite.

Dale Carrico said...

I quite agree. One needs -- at a minimum -- to add watching hours of Food Network programming to the mix to make life truly full, whatever its span.

jimf said...

> It isn't a coincidence that popular media discussions with
> advocates of "indefinite healthy lifespan NOT immortality, damn it!"
> always end up with titles like "Who Wants to Live Forever?"
> "Can Technology Make Us Immortal?" "Eternity Is Within Reach" and so on.

To say nothing of our own Ray Kurzweil's (and Terry Grossman's)
_Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever_

http://www.amazon.com/Fantastic-Voyage-Live-Enough-Forever/dp/0452286670

AnneC said...

Ugh, those popular media articles and their silly titles drive me nuts. Also, as someone who is just plain interested in biogerontology, it's a tough thing indeed to sort out the marginal-and-kooky from the reasonable.

Some of it is obvious -- there's a lot of outright "anti-aging" quackery (HGH supplements, wrinkle creams, etc.), but that's the easy stuff to see.

What's harder to see at first glance, and even harder to delineate when one actually wants to learn about aging biology and such, is that right now the marginal and the legitimate are kind of...entangled. In such a way that you almost can't NOT run up against something wacky just by engaging with the subject.

And the semantics can be totally confusing. I don't think you can always tell how kooky someone's actual thinking is by the words they use, but when kooky vocabulary is being used by some fairly reasonable folks who just haven't encountered the less marginal vocabularies yet (and this does happen on occasion), and PR "dodges" are being used by some more kooky folks, discourse can end up really muddled.

Come to think of it, maybe that's part of the whole superlativity problem...