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July 30, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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They Just Won’t Die

The future is coming. We are fast approaching the day when we will be able to tweet directly from our minds and all of our wallpaper is one giant iPad screen. But alas, for many of us nurtured on a diet of caffeine, late night BK and cigarettes, it is just too far away. We shall probably pass before we can enjoy the bounty of the future. This inevitability of human mortality is often seen as just a certainty of life. But the British eccentric Aubrey de Grey wants to challenge these preconceptions.

He thinks that we are approaching the point where we can live forever. Like, literally forever. His key contention is that our medical technology is now good enough that we can fix the damage that accumulates in our bodies faster than it is able to build up and harm us. He thinks we should all want to live like Methuselah to the age of several hundreds of years.

But is this rational? Say we assume his outlandish predictions and agree that it is possible to live that long. Now imagine you’ve lived to the age of 500. Philosophers interested in personal identity question whether you’d even be the same person.

Consider that our memories constantly degrade, such that you aren’t likely to be able to vividly imagine the thoughts and experiences you had several decades ago, let alone 100s of years in the past. It is reasonable to suggest that actually having this kind of access to a continuous life narrative is integral to a coherent human identity.

So while de Grey’s radical techniques might be medically possible, it is a resoundingly open question whether we personally could live on indefinitely, or whether it would just be our bodies acquiring new identities. The future may be exciting, but it is harder to escape the spectre of the reaper than you may think.

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