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This is a much more specific question than my previous version.

In Williams and the Desirability of Body-Bound Immortality Revisited, Gorman says,

In one sense it seems there are an infinite number of paths each of us could take to move from project to project, pursuing categorical desires and acquiring new categorical desires. At any given time I am, it seems, perfectly free to take up learning Japanese, or playing tennis, or oil painting. Certain paths, though, naturally lead to taking interests in certain other pursuits. These pursuits only fend off boredom and make my life meaningful if I am able to take an interest in them. To be able to take an interest in a pursuit seems to require more than just being free to do it. Given what I have already pursued, at any given time there may be a finite and even small number of pursuits I could take an interest in, and this concern is ever more vivid when we imagine what one can take an interest in given hundreds or thousands of years of already pursuing interests. The worry is that certain paths will lead to a state in which I am not able to take an interest in any of the pursuits that present themselves to me as possibilities.

I'm not sure I understand this line of reasoning. Could someone shed some light on this for me?

First, I am not sure if his view of what interests us is too specific. Personally, I find it difficult to think of a field in which, if I spent adequate time in, I would not be interested in. From what I have experienced, interest develops from doing something, not the other way around. In an indefinite life, with infinite opportunities to pursue any given activity, it seems that one could become interested in anything. Indeed, almost every field has some who is truly interested in it. Why would we be unable to see it from their perspective, and develop a similar interest?

Second, in an indefinite life, why can we not develop our interests? Certainly, my interests have changed since I was five years old, yet I retained my identity. Why can the same not happen in an indefinite life, especially given that I have infinite time to become interested in different things?

Third, according to Williams, we lose interests we previously had in an indefinite life. Would this not provide fertile ground for developing new interests, given that we are actively searching for new and interesting activities?

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    You can lose interest in something also if you live a finite time. – MathematicalPhysicist Sep 7 at 6:06
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    I think you've found convincing arguments against him, though I wasn't inclined to agree with him in the first place. – Ryan_L Sep 9 at 4:04
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    Because you may regain interests. I might get bored of one career after 40 years of doing it, but in 2000 years I bet it will seem refreshing to revisit it. Especially when you consider the state of that career has likely changed in those 2000 years, so there's new things to experience in it. Just as an example, imagine if a hypothetical immortal got bored with architecture in Athens in 400BC. ~2400 years later, we've made huge changes in how we build buildings, and it'll all be new to him. – Ryan_L Sep 10 at 0:11
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    I'm not sure I understand how reflecting on what might be interesting isn't coming from "within". What's the difference between deciding to take up a new subject and returning to an old one? Our memories aren't perfect, after a long enough hiatus the old hobby may be truly brand new. It's a bit of a Ship-of-Theseus question. How many facts must we forget about a hobby until it is no longer familiar? I guess what I'm getting at is that, from the immortal's point of view, there's no hard line between old hobbies and new hobbies. – Ryan_L Sep 12 at 16:03
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    If you're immortal, both of those seem like temporary set backs. I mean, depression is a disease, not a curse. Seems like you would be cured eventually. Same with alienation. Even if it takes 10,000 years, that's a blink of the eye to an immortal. – Ryan_L Sep 15 at 20:38
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+50

A. G. Gorman's goal is to both strengthen Bernard Williams' argument against the desirability of bodily immortality given intolerable boredom and also to weaken Williams' conclusion claiming that intolerable boredom is not necessary but only possible.

In the process of strengthening Williams' argument Gorman is arguing against two positions he has named:

  1. The [Aaron] "Smuts Objection" claims that Williams argues that categorical desires cannot change over time without losing the immortal person's identity.
  2. The [John Martin] "Fischer Objection" claims that the immortal person can experience temporarily periods of boredom without that leading to intolerable boredom.

In the cited quote Gorman rejects Smuts Objection by claiming that these categorical desires can change over time and there are an infinite supply of them without losing one's identity. However, he adds to identity a further condition of a person's individuality that he claims Williams implies. Even though there are an infinite number of categorical desires to pursue can this particular immortal individual "take an interest" in them? If the individual cannot that would lead to intolerable boredom.

Here are the questions:

First, I am not sure if his view of what interests us is too specific. Personally, I find it difficult to think of a field in which, if I spent adequate time in, I would not be interested in. From what I have experienced, interest develops from doing something, not the other way around. In an indefinite life, with infinite opportunities to pursue any given activity, it seems that one could become interested in anything. Indeed, almost every field has some who is truly interested in it. Why would we be unable to see it from their perspective, and develop a similar interest?

Gorman's position is not to claim that one will necessarily lose interest, but only that one might. This is where he differs from Williams.

Second, in an indefinite life, why can we not develop our interests? Certainly, my interests have changed since I was five years old, yet I retained my identity. Why can the same not happen in an indefinite life, especially given that I have infinite time to become interested in different things?

Gorman rejects Smuts' argument against Williams. He doesn't think that Williams claims one cannot develop new categorical desires without losing one's identity. From Gorman's position one can maintain one's identity. The question for Gorman is whether one's individuality will allow the immortal person to take an interest in those categorical desires.

Third, according to Williams, we lose interests we previously had in an indefinite life. Would this not provide fertile ground for developing new interests, given that we are actively searching for new and interesting activities?

One can develop new categorical desires and one may develop an interest in them and still maintain one's identity with at most temporary boredom. However, Gorman claims that is only a possibility. It is not necessarily the case. In this he argues against Williams who claims one will necessarily lose interest and suffer intolerable boredom.

  • So his argument is not that everyone would run out of things that interest them (for example, if one is sufficiently open minded), rather only some will? As an example, if someone's identity is entrenched in a certain pursuit, they could not, to borrow Gorman's terminology, engage in another one without becoming alienated? On my reading, he says that everyone will eventually run into a state in which one cannot find an interest in anything (one that continues indefinitely). The only way to avoid this, I think he says, is to have an interest that will not grow old. Is this correct? – APCoding Sep 16 at 22:53
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    @APCoding This is the last sentence of Gorman's article you linked to: While it may be possible for some people to have meaningful infinite existences, no one has much warrant for believing that she herself is such a person. Williams would say it is not possible. Also Gorman does not restrict categorical desires to having only one nor does he think Williams intended such an interpretation. One does need to maintain one's interest as you mentioned, but being able to do that would depend on the individual personality of the one living forever. – Frank Hubeny Sep 16 at 23:10
  • So the question hinges on whether or not one's personality is "open" enough to enjoy a variety of pursuits? If this is the case, why can we not transform our personality, especially that we have so long to do it? Or, would Gorman reject that this is the same person? – APCoding Sep 16 at 23:56
  • @APCoding I think Gorman would say that it is possible to change one's personality along with acquiring new categorical desires. Change is possible over eternity while still maintaining one's identity. That suicide is possible for mortals suggests that it should be possible for immortals to want death.as well. However, it is not necessary because of intolerable boredom. – Frank Hubeny Sep 17 at 0:13
  • I see, thank you. So what would Gorman make of the idea that one can change one's personality to best fit eternity? Wouldn't this refute his argument? Especially if we include some supernatural entity such as God, it seems that one's personality could be suitably changed without any identity problems. – APCoding Sep 17 at 0:21
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The point Gorman is trying to make is that 'taking an interest' is a particular cognitive state that involves certain emotional attributes that might be difficult to achieve or maintain over extended periods of time. For instance, part of 'taking an interest' involves an appreciation of novelty. We become interested when we have something new and fresh to experience, because that is an opportunity to learn and expand our mental horizons. But over an indefinitely long life, novelty becomes increasingly difficult. The more experience we accumulate, the more likely any current experience will fit into the category of some past experience. The human world we live in is fractal — in the sense that human behavior is self-similar on many scales — and after a while getting truly novel experiences becomes problematic. So what do we do: sink into boredom? Obsessively pursue novelty in more extreme and outrageous forms?

Of course, Gorman's argument is predicated on an egoic model of human existence that I don't necessarily agree with, but within his framework his logic seems sound enough.

  • Is a lack of novelty the only thing that could prevent us from becoming interested in different pursuits? If so, it seems that forgetfulness could play a role here, to make old things new again. Do you think this is what Gorman is saying? Gorman also says that one could perhaps only take a few things to be interesting (which I may agree with for a specific period of time, but one's interests can certainly evolve to include a much larger number). Also, when you say egoic, do you mean the idea that one defines oneself in the context of interests, or is it something deeper than that? – APCoding Sep 16 at 23:02
  • 'Egoic' is a quasi-Buddhist concept in this usage; it's impossible to be bored in non-dual awareness. As to the rest, I think you have things reversed. 'Novelty' is a cognitive state, not a property of objects. It's difficult to imagine a case in which a mind endlessly gathers experiences into memory yet never runs out of unexperienced experiences. And invoking forgetfulness is counterproductive, unless you're going to argue that advanced dementia is the highest human potential. Memory is what defines us. – Ted Wrigley Sep 17 at 7:07

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