Infinite longevity may deprive us of childhood — and that’s a problem


The cycle of life.

Nobody likes to die. Nobody likes to get old and crippled.

(But especially, no one likes to die.) (No, actually, debilitating aging is worse than dying.) (Well, on reflection, I really can’t say which is worse.)

And so we’re fighting aging and death. That’s a noble pursuit. But there’s one danger here that I don’t see discussed often: in a society where everyone can live all they want, there’s likely to be a deficit of children.

I.

Some children will likely still be born even after death is fully conquered (especially, I think, if the human race expands into space). However, biologically speaking, having children is little more than an adaptation to dying. Adaptations that outlive their usefulness tend to wither and disappear. To an extent, this is already happening: in developed countries population is getting older, and the rate of births is below reproduction levels.

Why is this important? Because what makes us ourselves is not our bodies; it’s our culture — our languages, science, art, everything we do and enjoy. And culture has itself evolved as something that gets passed from generation to generation — something that is constantly relearned from scratch. It needs a constant inflow of innocence, of ignorance, of fresh eyes and fresh voices that come to learn and to doubt.

Without this, culture stops evolving and becomes an empty ritual. Old people are cultural fossils of the age when they were young and learning; some of them remain productive — but just compare how often someone’s first book becomes a sensation, as opposed to fifth or tenth.

II.

It may be even worse than that. On top of stopping to evolve, culture in a no-death world may simply stop, period. After all, what is it that entices us to keep creating new books, new music, new ideas, new blog posts? Isn’t it that we learn new stuff and are eager to show off what we’ve learned?

Older people slump in creativity not because they lack the energy of youth. What they miss is the newness of the world, the sense that you have something exciting to share that you have just understood or discovered.

(Someone asked about psychedelics. They can precipitate discoveries and motivate creativity, but your potential discoverables remain finite — which means artificial stimulants can only accelerate the process of getting psychologically older.  What we need, however, is to reverse it. We have plenty of things that open new experiences, but if we want to live forever, we must learn to become inexperienced again.)

A world with 100% of fully developed adults at the height of their bloom is good in theory, but  it may turn out a dangerous dead end. Can we get rid of aging and death without turning into a society of curmudgeons?

III.

Perhaps we can — if we focus not just on stopping aging but on reversing it: on rejuvenation. To remain sane and productive, we need those who must be taught everything we know, from smiling upwards, again and again; and if we’re not birthing them, we must become such blank slates ourselves. We must learn to rejuvenate ourselves (if only the brain) drastically enough to become — repeatedly, life after life — children again.

Call it a compromise with death, if you will. We will have to make it.

This is one of the central ideas in Everday, a futurological treatise in the form of an encyclopedia of a distant future world. (I welcome everyone to read it, comment, and eventually join for collaborative development. It’s on a wiki site for a reason.) In Everday, the process of rewinding yourself back into childhood is called deep sleep.

That is, of course, an intuition, and there’s little that we can base it upon at this time. But one might imagine that a person who “goes back” and voluntarily invelops into a child will lose much of her memories and of (what we perceive as) her individuality — though probably not all. In any case, such a person will be much closer to pre-rejuvenation herself than, say, a two-parent biological child of hers. It’s the same DNA but given another chance — hopefully a better chance, because it’s now known from experience what this specific DNA is especially good at and how to make it happy.

Or it may not be quite the same DNA because, conceivably, humans will know enough about themselves to constantly tweak and edit their own genomes. Just like applying major patches to an operating system requires a reboot, deep sleep may be used for making the especially big and intrusive genome edits.

In Everday, I look at these and many other aspects of deep sleep: how it affects family, early childhood, education, even language; how it may work for bodiless AIs; and even, how we may have to apply the same principle to entities much larger than a single sentient mind.

Outlandish, maybe. But the time to start thinking about all this is now.

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3 thoughts on “Infinite longevity may deprive us of childhood — and that’s a problem

  1. no need to poison ones body vessel ( aging caused by unremoved toxins trough various stresses … overeating, overdosing of material as well as virtual informations, frustrations, dissatisfactions … ) in order to give it back to mother earth for recycling with the hope to get a new bodyship to continue the sensual journey … no need for changing of clothes if the indivual could learn how to constantly remodel the one most basic set of flesh hair bone clothes, refashion, actualize, instantly change all variables of size, form, colour, properties allowing ever new kinds of new sensations in new combinations

    there might be a possibility that human beings learn to tap into the gene pool of all animal and plant beings who have and are visiting this planet … and the play to combine them in any moment for any chosen lenght of time …. body sizes, forms, colours, densities, viscosities, fluidities … all the fantastic things one can imagine inside or doodle on paper eventually soon to be voluntarily applied experienced via experimental gene editing ( not necessary scientific / machine assisted but possibly in a mix with inner psychic (?) light guidings and outer photonic computing (?) … ) … to become that form and size and colors one desires …. to be just that what one hungers for in just that moment … might allow an individual to infuse ones own cells with the rejuvenating joy and pleasure similar to the energies/awes/being amazed ( of oneself witnessing the new ) … a baby/child/newly arrived visitor infuses itself with when participating in the inter activities of the web of life

    another aspect beside this selfcentered one … wether or not one might choose to change the clothes with help of mother earth and the human species as a community or remodel them on the fly oneself with help of either all internal tech ( spiritual ? ) and or a mix of internal and external fine tuned gene editing/modification/influencing …

    a most important aspect here ( for me as an individualisticly oriented anarchist ) might be the one of …. what happens when one ( soul / person / individuum ) gives oneself completely into the hands of a pair or group of individuals whose behaviour / quality of care / motiviation to support one can possibly not predict before giving oneself over to them respectivly trusting them with ones own life … a baby born into a family and or community ….

    eventually there is a great power energy ( magic ? ) in submitting oneself towards another persons care / judgment / advocacy what itself allows the newly arrived baby to heal the parent and all the beings it comes into contact with and the child presents itself towards them as … mild … soft … vulnarable ….

    so i ask myself … as an individual who both knows of this gentle power … one gives oneself into a situation without defense and takes it all in … takes it all onboard without judging or defending but one transforms the situation by being weak and open and invites the strong and dominant to devellop the caring and charitable aspect ….

    and the other aspect … of the individual not wanting to be possibly disrespected in ones own souvereignity, not wanting to be ordered around or being bossed by anyone ….. what comes with longetivity …. one would as longer as the life would last become less and less subjected to possibly dominant disrespectfull / underdevelloped individuals trying to dominate in ressource wasting imperialistic fashion counting on the patience / nonviolence / non-resistance of the soft and gentle researching type of person

    again a choice here … or whole set of axis … degrees of …. wanting to heal / allowing others to grow in carefull character with being open/vulnerable/depending … physicly immature in a child body what depends on the goodwill of the surrounding to grow its body towards a point in time where it can quit the depending situation…. and the other end of the spectrum where one does not risk the vulnerability and being open to become badly dominated … with amassing enough material securities ( ones own land with ones own 3d printing microalgae feeded production facilites, bioreactors, funghi mushroom grow chambers, indoor gardening … ) and rejuvenating oneself constantly so one can freely decide to whom one would like to be open in what degree of vulnerabilty

    i remember having read a scifi story where people mostly communicated via very rare visor / telecommunication screen meetings and were completly autonomous / economicly self sufficient thanks to automatization and robotic assistance and everyone having ones own undisputed territory
    ( i do not believe that one can posess land … but i do fancy a society what gives everyone the security of having a big enough space on firma terra where one can stay as long as one wants … )

    even in such a very reserved set of meeting the possibility of oneself being dominated by another or otherwise being influenced in a not desired way by the fellow tele-neighbour …. trough ones own face being on video/foto/data memory … ones soul / individuality being partly captured on the other ones harddisk both machine style and brainwise … still exists

    but then … with the constant remodeling of ones clothes … remixing the dna of ones human family heritage and the newly accessed animal and plant gene repertoires … one could minimise that vulnaribilty of being unwantedly influenced over the remembering of face characteristic …. mental projections, emotional transmission when looking at a photo and or seeing it before the inner eye

    and then again here comes the question of … belonging …. is oneself sovereign enough, is oneself truly whollisticly autonomous on all levels … material, physical, psychical, emotional … to trust the cosmic community accepting oneself everchanging evermorphing and never allowing a single inch of space to be projected upon …. never ever offering anyone an other cheek anymore …. and with that retreat of being projectable also missing the chance to allow the fellow traveller in counciousness to grow and evolve … for the benefit of the greater good

    • I don’t think all of senescence can be explained by toxins, or wear, or accumulated defects – so not all of it can be eliminated if we cure these. I’m pretty sure part of becoming old is becoming _too_ wise, seeing everything too clear, knowing too well how to deal with things – in a word, _exhausting_ too much of what can be learned and discovered. Yes, knowledge may be infinite, but sooner or later all new things start to look like the old things you already know. Age makes you less prone to surprise, even if you’re still physiologically capable of being surprised. After we eliminate the physical aging, I believe that will be the problem we’ll face, and that’s what I’m trying to intuit solutions for in my writing.

      • too much wisdom … i do myself have sometimes this dilemma, where my mental body is filled with all this insights and the other bodies, the emotional and the physical, are not ready to follow … so i do know in my mind that to trust that every living being is unique and has its very special purpose for being just like it/he/she is, my emotions do react to other people s uniqueness in critique and rejecting judgment… and on the physical level i do go away from persons who are different to me in a manner that i do have difficulties to physicly integrate the visual, audio, smell… inputs when near … so i can very well understand this scenario of an individual wanting to get away of the too much of insight state … but then i do frequently experience times when i am not so wise, when big chunks of what i have believed to firmly integrated into my personality are missing or most probably are hidden, cloaked … stored somewhere remote and the adress for this memory packet encripted away … perhaps this is a selfprotecting mechanism, what comes into play when a certain inbalance between mind, emotions and body fitness levels are detected
        while i believe that nothing is ever truly forgotten, human beings sure have the possibility to focus their attention away from knowledge, experiences, situations what are of great value but at this moment better to be stowed away … to allow a quasi new start

        eventually this ability to zip up aquired knowledge, stow it away in a secure location and hide the key from ourselves temporarily …. might be most helpfull when we eventually will start to reengineer our bodies, like … learning to grow gilles so that we can live underwater and be fascinated by all that experiences a fish, a dolphin, a merman/mermaid … can have
        eventually we will learn to modify our bodies toward a state where we can levitate, where we can fly not only in the atmosphere but beyond, this requiring a mind, emotion, physical body harmony where our body will need no more external oxygen input but sunlight and other cosmic radiations might be the main input and we will reorganise our internal body chemistry …
        just this two vast spaces, the oceans on this planet and the near earth “outer” space orbit … are playing fields, challenges of an enormous scale where the excitement and fascination of the new and the selfgiven task to master travelling in these spaces without being dependent on external machinery

        eventually the … too much insight … gathered in a hundred years of a human experience … might become recalibrated, revaluated and reassessed in an instant once the human family sees the possible merging with all the other billions of species and their physical, mental, emotional … capabilites

        tired of being a external machinery dependent human only … excited to become an all integrating selfsufficient multispecies symbiontic cosmic traveller

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