No, I don’t want to die right now. For all its problems, I genuinely love my life. Even if I live to be a hundred, I will probably want to live a hundred years more. But I do not want to live forever.
Some argue that death is not bad since we didn’t care about not being alive before we were born and we won’t be around to care after we die. This argument has been around for at least a couple thousand years, since Epicurus stated in his Letter to Menoeceus that “Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.”
However, I think Epicurus got it wrong. There are things we value very deeply that death would take away from us, whether it’s the ability to fall in love and get married, to be there when your child takes her first steps, to write that book you’ve always wanted to write, or simply to have one more day with the one you love. Death takes away things of great value, even if we won’t be there to mourn their loss.
We want to go on living because there are things we want to do, whether those goals are long term goals like becoming a nuclear physicist, or short term goals like going to see our son’s play. We have far more things we want to do then we have years to do them. Even if we live for one thousand years, there will still be things left that we want to do.
While I love life, I would not want eternal life, either on earth, or in heaven. I don’t think most people have really thought about what it would mean to live forever. It would mean that you would have time to accomplish every single goal that you’re capable of accomplishing. You could be a conductor, a teacher, and a marine biologist. You could hike every mountain and sing every conceivable song. But you might also lose motivation to accomplish your long term goals. Why put in the hard work to become a brain surgeon if you could always put it off until tomorrow? But regardless of how motivated you are to accomplish your goals, there will come a point at which you will have accomplished every goal you really wanted to accomplish. You will have nothing left that will make life worth living.
Even if we were in a realm where we could do anything, from walking through walls to talking to George Washington, there are only a finite number of possible things a finite mind can experience in one minute. There is only so much sensory data we can take in, and only so many ways that our neurons can fire. Since there are only a finite number of one minute experiences, there would only be a finite number of billion minute experiences too (just like how there are finite digits and also finite billion-digit numbers). We could even do every possible googolplex year experience a googolplex times.
However there are some things we want to do again and again. Just because I achieve my goal of eating a delicious pizza doesn’t mean I would never want to eat an identical pizza in the future. Even if I do everything I could possibly do, I would still want to redo some of it. But eventually, the pleasure would diminish. I don’t think sex with Brad Pitt would be as much fun if you’ve already done it a googolplex times.
At some point, there would be nothing new to accomplish or experience, and all I could do is relive past experiences. It may be fun for a while, but I think eventually I would find it unfulfilling.
But maybe we’re not in a heavenly realm where we can do anything, and there are barriers preventing us from achieving all our goals right away. Let’s say that I was only able to achieve one new goal every billion years. Since there are finite goals, there would still come a point where I achieved all my goals, and then a point where I had achieved all my goals a googolplex times.
One way to avoid the problem of getting tired of things would be if I kept forgetting what I did in the past. I could then do exactly the same series of things over and over again without ever getting bored. However, I don't see why living an identical life over and over again is necessarily more valuable than living that life once. Either way I end up achieving and enjoying exactly the same things. I also think that my memories are such an important part of what makes ‘me’ ‘me’, that if you took them all away, it may no longer be ‘me’ that is living forever.
Another way around the problem would be if my brain was changed so that I behaved differently. Maybe the brains of pigs (or some other animal) are set up so they would enjoy eternal life. If so, my brain could be gradually changed until it was identical to that of a pig. "I" would then enjoy eternal life.
I’ve thought a lot about it, and I can’t think of any type of immortality worth wanting. Not only would eternal life be endlessly repetitive, it would deprive life of its value. It is because life is finite that every moment of my life is precious. I will do some amazing things in my life, but there will be other things that I will never get to do. What I get to do will be based on the choices I make and the work I do. I will not have infinite time to try again, and that makes my life’s successes so much sweeter. My choices matter. Every minute matters. That is why I love life, and why I want to die.