Many people have long been plagued with the fear of their eventual demise. But suppose in the future two possible solutions to the problem may be developed.

The first solution is a pill that if taken, would render one immortal.

The second solution is a pill that if taken, would cause the person to no longer worry about their eventual demise.

For those who wish to avoid death at all costs today, would they be any more rational to pick the first solution over the second?

  • 1
    "More rational" according to what criteria of rationality, or philosopher? Without that, this is just an open invitation to personal opinions, which we discourage here.
    – Conifold
    Jan 8, 2019 at 10:21
  • 1
    Take the second pill, then you'll be able to objectively decide whether you should take the first pill. Jan 8, 2019 at 19:07
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    "many consider death to be at the root of many problems faced by mankind" -> citation needed. Immortality would, in fact, multiply many of mankind's problems.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 8, 2019 at 22:14
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    The fear of death is an evolved instinct to help you survive and ensure the survival of your species. Without it, you wouldn’t have survived till today and your species would have been extinct already. Yet, it’s not the strongest drive. Religious faith, cult believe, logical reasoning, severe terminal pain, etc. can overcome it and can lead one to terminate or sacrifice one’s own life. Understanding its mechanism and its value can pacify the fear of death. And it's another solution, among many others (not just the only two above), to the problem of death.
    – user287279
    Jan 9, 2019 at 7:57
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    @ rus9384 Evolution doesn’t work in detail. It usually doesn’t turn on/of the functions it already creates to perfectly suit the needed situation. That’s why the reproductive organs don’t shrink to nothing when they’re beyond reproductive age. Similarly, fear of death remains after reproductive age. It’s still useful in other ways such as preserving the experienced/skilled individuals of that species to help perpetuate that species.
    – user287279
    Jan 9, 2019 at 17:09

3 Answers 3


It depends on what you mean by rational. Unless the nature of human consumption changes drastically, being immortal is probably not ethical. The world, even the universe, cannot support a large collection of humans that continue consuming forever, and simply allowing for absolutely no new people is not really fair, nor a good idea, as it prevents us from adapting genetically as our conditions change.

So if by rational, you mean 'economics' rational -- it is for us all to capture what we want -- then solving the actual problem at hand is more rational than compromising. But if rationality includes reasonable ethical considerations, lying to yourself about your own fears is far more reasonable.

From my own psychological perspective, rational compromise is always better than fixing the world. The prospect of death should at some point become rational enough to trump your fear. There are kinds of old that nobody wants to be, and there is a point where life must get interminably pointless. So the real solution is to get to that point. If your sanity truly requires medication, sobeit.

  • Overall a good answer, although I have a few issues still (e.g. if everyone is immortal, is genetic adaptation really important anyway)
    – Kenshin
    Jan 9, 2019 at 22:01
  • If you have just made the demand on the world effectively infinite, then don't you really need efficiencies to be gained by accommodating the environment better? I guess we could keep re-engineering ourselves, but it is probably easier to get an improved fit to a changing set of constraints with a new model. It would also be sad to be immoral and endlessly uncomfortable.
    – user9166
    Jan 9, 2019 at 22:05
  • "simply allowing for absolutely no new people is not really fair" Not fair to whom? People produced do not ask for that. So, it's only us who may need new minds. Btw, as civilization progress, more resources are available, so more immortal minds can be created. Also, some people will be bored by life and might go euthanasia. P.S. Deleting the memory produces a new mind.
    – rus9384
    Jan 9, 2019 at 22:50
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    @rus9384 You may be right about fairness if everyone stayed immortal, but it is still not a good idea. It is unlikely that deleting your memory creates a new mind. Synapses don't work like that. And even to the degree brain is not mind, learning is not recording, it is adaptation. But yeah, getting over it all is the best solution. That is the point of the last paragraph. People will opt out of forever, and there will be the occasional need for a new person. To be born into a world with virtually no other children, would then be unfair to them.
    – user9166
    Jan 9, 2019 at 23:30
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    @rus9384 There is no life form anywhere larger than a single cell that does not have immature forms. Like I said, learning is not memory, it is adaptation. Being born with the same limitations on adaptability that make for a good stable final form does not make for good formation. Childhood is not going away, it keeps getting longer as the environment becomes more demanding upon the final form, but the final form is more capable of protecting others. Right, you can throw out death altogether in favor of a different kind of termination, but the question was about death.
    – user9166
    Jan 9, 2019 at 23:52

I think one has to analyse a person's exact state of mind who fears their eventual demise. Rationality I take in the sense of instrumental rationality - taking efficient means to clearly conceived ends. I also assume that 1) is a pill which which, if taken, would be known by me - or justifiably believed - to render me immortal. Likewise, the properties of pill 2) are known or justifiably believed by me. Else their properties wouldn't be relevant to my practical reasoning. I put myself forward as the chooser.

If I am plagued with fear, is it the fear of death that I want to be free from? In that case there is no rational preference between 1) and 2) : both accomplish the removal of my fear of death.

Or is it the eventual demise that I fear ? If so, 1) is the rationally preferable choice since 2) does nothing to prevent the eventuality I fear, namely death; it simply removes my fear of it.

Take a parallel with terminal cancer. Is it the fear of terminal cancer from which I want to be free ? Or is it terminal cancer. 1) A pill that removed all possibility of cancer and was known by me to do so, and 2) a pill that just removed my fear, would be rationally equivalent. If in contrast it's the terminal cancer I fear, 1) is rationally preferable.


For those who wish to avoid death at all costs today, would they be any more rational to pick the first solution over the second?

(emphasis added)

Since the individual wants to avoid death, rather than his fear thereof, then picking the first option is the rational solution.

  • 2
    I wanted to answer this way, but you did it first. Cheers! Jan 8, 2019 at 20:10
  • @elliottsvensson But GT's answer already says that!
    – rus9384
    Jan 9, 2019 at 7:12
  • @rus9384 Not really. GT's answer needlessly seeks to "analyse a person's exact state of mind", notwithstanding the OP's unequivocal premise that the person "wish[es] to avoid death" (it does not add "or to stop fearing"). The language of "long been plagued with fear" is merely an introduction to the OP's actual inquiry. Jan 9, 2019 at 9:14
  • @elliotsvensson Haha, sometimes that happens to me too, or I am in the middle of drafting my answer and then an OP deletes the question. Greetings Jan 9, 2019 at 9:24
  • unless you want to redefine 'wish' to mean something more religiously inspired? otherwise yeah the question is trivially solved
    – user35983
    Jan 9, 2019 at 20:27

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