The following seems like a bit of a paradox, so without assuming that immortality would end up a curse due to personal suffering, how could someone respond to the following?

  • Suppose you have the chance of personal immortality, with some very small (say a 1/100) chance of success, and failure results in your own death.

Surely, I'm thinking, the infinite or near infinite series of goods that you would have in that time (writing that novel, seeing your loved ones again, climbing everest. listening to whatever however many times) suggests that the risk is a very very good bet.

But it seems incorrect to say that the risk is clearly worth it (aside from the risk of wanting to die)

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    How much would you spend on a lottery that promised a 1 out of a million chance to win a billion times your investment? – Dan Brumleve Jan 21 '16 at 7:53
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    yeah good comment... my life is everything i have – user6917 Jan 21 '16 at 7:57
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    I can't think of much worse things that could happen to me than to become immortal, so I think the paradox lies in thinking it's worth it at all, not the odds. – iain Jan 21 '16 at 20:11
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    how is this "opinion based"? it offers a clear question, which may not be active in the literature but why could a philosopher not answer it ? – user6917 Jan 22 '16 at 0:29

Your argument is basically Pascal's wager. You've simply replaced heaven/hell with immortality/death.

Accordingly, any argument for or against Pascal's wager will be valid in this scenario. For example, your scenario ignores the possibility that there may be a different wager available for immortality with better odds, if you'd just wait a little while longer. In fact, given that the mathematics regarding infinities have been substantially improved since Pascal's time, there are a multitude of arguments which stem from the ability to properly apply value theory with infinities and infinitesimals.

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  • this squarely answers the question, thanks. tho i welcome any further ones, e.g. whether an offer of immortality in general, rather than in the particular, is always worth the risk – user6917 Jan 22 '16 at 0:21
  • @MATHEMETICIAN I think there are many answers to this question. Some of Nietzche's work comes to mind. However, I think Nicola's answer brings up a very important point. If you're trying to come up with immortality related questions, it can be worth the time to consider that there are many many variations on the concept of immortality. Some of them result in different answers than others. For example, Daoist philosophy treats immortality differently. A Daoist might say they are already part of the immortal Dao, but they also strove after their particular flavor of immortality. – Cort Ammon Jan 22 '16 at 0:34
  • fair enough point, but Nicola claimed that immortality was well defined. – user6917 Jan 22 '16 at 0:35
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    @MATHEMETICIAN You're right. I managed to scan across Nicola's answer, read what I wanted to read, and manage to get totally the opposite of what was written! Not entirely sure how I managed to do that – Cort Ammon Jan 22 '16 at 0:40

I think that “immortality” in itself is a well defined concept (no death, under any condition) but “immortality that will not end up in endless suffering” is not …

Life is in itself made also of suffering hence being immortal implies feeling this suffering forever (even if maybe not every single moment).

This under the assumption to preserve our present “human nature” which makes us feel suffering for mind related reasons.

I think that the Occidental Man is typically more concerned about death while the Asian Man is more concerned about suffering, indeed in Buddhism the goal is to escape the Samsara (cycle of death and rebirth).

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  • Welcome to Philosophy.SE! Some of these claims could use citations: "Life is in itself made also of suffering" - according to who (not everyone would agree)? "I think that the Occidental Man is typically more concerned about death" - based on what? – James Kingsbery Jan 21 '16 at 13:56
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    @JamesKingsbery I wrote “Life is in itself made also of suffering” not citing anyone, just stating something I considered commonly agreed. If someone disagrees with this I have to conclude he/she thinks life is made of no suffering at all hence for him/her “Heaven is a place on Earth” (Belinda Carlisle) … lucky person … – Nicola Bernini Jan 21 '16 at 14:07
  • Regarding “I think that the Occidental Man is typically more concerned about death” at the moment I can’t remember references (I’ll look for them and edit answer asap) however please consider the religious point of view: a Buddhist (majority of which are asian) can not be concerned of death as he/she thinks this moment is not related to anything really important about Soul lifecycle. On the contrary a Christian (a lot in Western countries) thinks death is related to the end of his/her terrain life (the only he/she has) and Final Judgment hence I guess he/she would be concerned about it. – Nicola Bernini Jan 21 '16 at 14:07
  • @NicolaBernini i think the claim that buddhists don't consider death a harm is incorrect. the so called "1st noble truth of suffering" includes death in its expression, as well as sickness and old age – user6917 Jan 22 '16 at 0:23
  • i also see no need to define "a curse due to personal suffering", the idea of immortality being a curse, it actually fairly ingrained in (philosophica) discussion of immortality – user6917 Jan 22 '16 at 0:26

While Cort Ammon's answer is correct, the wager must begin by assigning values. If we take a Bayesian approach we can begin blind, and must only remain coherent through the advent of new evidence, washing out the priors, as they say.

This could be the basis of a very interesting, even fascinating study of the history human thought, wonderfully absurd as it attempts to determine what counts as "new evidence" for immortality or mortality. It is far above my own capacities to even begin. But it could be done, setting up some silly standard and dumping all those notions into the Bayesian grinder.

But to the point.

In the scenario you describe, it seems you have drastically undervalued mortality in the starting wager. The nearly universal "curse of immortality" begins with Tithonus and continues through Walking Dead or Singularity myths. For the "immortal" to hold onto all features of "life" would make them "lifeless." It is a contradiction. One cannot have both immortality, like Tithonus, and eternal youth, like Dorian Grey. Or, for that matter, desires, locomotion, and will, but lack of recognition, like the Walking Dead.

Why not? To live is to change. Within parameters, one of which is finitude. Given all the probabilities within the infinite, in which all that could happen will, which aspect of "life" or "me" does the wager insist cannot change? What is to constitute and define the "identity" of this eternal unchanging "me"? Once "defined" (rendered finite) the "me" would already seem to be lifeless. Monarch of the mineral kingdom, god of worms.

This is why many thinkers from the Greeks to Heidegger point to the definitional (finite) value of mortality. The Gods, it was said, were silly, trivial, moving aimlessly through physical forms. They could not die. Thus they cannot be heroes, they cannot be meaningful. Meaning in our sense requires finitude.

Still, it is interesting to speculate about "being immortal." I am not sure if "being immortal" is actually a logical contradiction. But I don't think your wager scenario gets deeply enough into the problem.

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  • interesting answer, thanks. silly questions can be informative ! – user6917 Jan 22 '16 at 2:37
  • btw, even if answering with a kind of review of past literature, it would be helpful to provide references. your answer does meet the requirements of the question tho, by clarifying one of its assumptions as (potentially) mistaken – user6917 Jan 22 '16 at 2:41
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    Sorry, I've been accused of not citing before. Lifestyle problem. I don't do any references here I can't pull up from memory while spending 8-9 minutes max on an "answer." This site is good exercise, but the web can be quicksand. – Nelson Alexander Jan 22 '16 at 2:52
  • there's absolutely no reason at all to apologise, you're not exactly cluttering up the site – user6917 Jan 22 '16 at 2:57