Immortal Lifestyle

Written on November 19, 2008. Written by .

Sanddunes in Egypt
“You can’t leave footprints in the sands of time if you’re sitting on your butt. And who wants to leave buttprints in the sands of time?” – Bob Moawad
Photo courtesy of waterwin

I am reading a book called Foucault’s Pendulum in which a character called the Count of Saint Germain is immortal. This character refers to an actual historical figure who lived during the 1700s, famous for claiming to be hundreds of years old. Casanova met him at a dinner party once and described him as a perfect ladies man and an unequalled conversationalist.

This got me thinking about what it would feel like to live like the Count of Saint Germain. People always say you should live as if you were going to die soon, but what if you expected to live forever without aging? Imagining this situation gave me a feeling of liberation; life felt much more simple. At first it might seem that this would encourage you to make large sacrifices of time, such as studying a topic for 20 years so that you could be the world’s expert by the time you finished. However, there is another factor to consider: you are in no rush, why not postpone it for a few years. If you aren’t in a hurry, you can just do whatever seems most appealing at the time. Another concern is that you might not ever get anything productive done because you could just procrastinate forever. But too much procrastination would lead to boredom, so you would have to do something. Eventually you would do all the small things that you wanted to do and the next best thing would be working on a big project like studying for 20 years. So perhaps it would work well to assume that you will live forever, even if your plans are eventually shattered by your mortality.

People don’t usually live this way because of the risk of feeling inferior to one’s peers and the risk of missing out on opportunities like marriage, having children, and retirement. George Bernard Shaw said “Youth is wasted on the young”, which may have referred to the frequent exacerbation of these risks, so let’s consider them one at a time. Feeling inferior stems from upward comparison, which has already been identified as an unhelpful psychological phenomenon, so ideally this can be overcome. Retirement seems important and it requires a lot of savings, but it is not an issue if you never retire. People only want to retire because they don’t like their jobs. But if you don’t make sacrifices to avoid these risks, then you will probably end up in a line of work that you actually enjoy and don’t want to retire from. At some point you may actually become too weak to work, but if it is beyond the point where medicine could heal me (I will be paying for health insurance), I would consider myself dead at that point.  As for marriage and children, I would expect that these things would work themselves out according to how much you value them. If you truly value them, then you will probably have children earlier than if you followed a risk-averse strategy.

If you act like you were immortal, you can take more risks because you have the time to correct for any mistakes that you make. Of course you wouldn’t do anything stupid that causes harm without benefit-that doesn’t make sense regardless of how long you live, but you would have more freedom to do what feels right even if it doesn’t follow the conventions laid out by society.

Of course we all are influenced by the pressures of society, which encourage us to conform to the norm. And it is hard to have the confidence to ignore these risks against the tacit advice of the world. But whether this is risky at all depends on your definition of risk. If you define risk in terms of the chance of loss compared to the conventional path, then it is risky. But if you define risk in terms of the chance of loss compared to your ideal path, then ignoring your desires could be the riskier behavior. And the longer you go on the conventional path, the harder it becomes to break out because of adaptation and the sunk cost phenomenon. Adaptation occurs when your values change as a result of long term exposure to an incentive environment that is inconsistent with your true interests. You forget your childhood dreams and can only obtain enjoyment out of things that support the new values that were imprinted upon your mind through this environment. You become further attached to your lifestyle path due to the psychological response to sunk costs, which makes you averse to changing course when you have already invested a lot in your career or lifestyle. Both adaptation and sunk cost psychology are reversible (speaking from my own experience), but it becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on.

Every once in a while, you see life as the amazing experience that it is, maybe after reading “The Alchemist” or watching “The Matrix”. But it is always hard to hold on to that mindset for more than a day. Some pressing matter demands your attention and you are forced to relinquish your philosophical perspective in order to make room in your head for the task at hand. Perhaps through continual practice you could program yourself so that your default state of mind includes the philosophical perspective that you prefer. Other options would be removing distractions or just reminding yourself after each distraction, but those seem quite difficult. In any case, maintaining a good perspective on life is the only way to reduce the risk of falling into the conventional rat-race lifestyle.

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1 Comment so far
  1. mspice November 24, 2008 6:17 am

    I think this is an interesting idea, but may be costly to implement. When I try to imagine that I would live forever, I am unsure exactly how I would react to such freedom. I know I feel happier when I am being more productive but maybe this directly stems from me knowing that my life is finite and the thought that by being productive I am cramming more “life” in. I am really not quite sure if I would just really take my time on things and get done in 100 years what a mortal could do in 10 of it the liberation alone would actually cause me to live much better than I do now.

    In the end, though, we certainly know that, at least with our current technology, our lives are finite, and we do have to take some care in making sure we do and accomplish the things we want. I think most importantly, we need to be unattached from the results of what we do. It is fun and exciting to be a busy productive person, but the real freedom is not caring what happens in the end and only enjoying the process.

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