20 Feb 2009

Bostrom, "Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up," 4 Healthspan

Don't we all want to live long enough to become posthumans?

Nick Bostrom

"Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up"

IV. Healthspan

We already seek to extend our lifespans. We use airbags. We pay higher salaries to those doing more physically dangerous work. Governments and private institutions fund medical research. We are fascinated when people sacrifice their lives in martyrdom or even drug addiction. This is because it is very unusual to not want to elongate one's life.

We find that when those who are given the hypothetical option of taking work that risks their lives, they want in return exceptionally high amounts of money, for example about 7 million dollars.

So desiring to extend one's lifespan is not exclusively posthuman. It's just human. But to have a posthuman lifespan, one needs to live far longer than normal.

When asked how long people want to live, the numbers are usually around 85 to 90 years. But this is probably because people believe that after this age, they would have to endure difficult health conditions.

Also, those who claim to want a limited lifespan might change their mind if handed a pill that would allow them to live longer. Bostrom argues that probably most people would take the pill for a prolongation of healthy life, rather than endure deterioration and death.

Bostrom even finds inconsistencies in surveys asking about desires for longer life. They seem to suggest that people answer in socially acceptable ways. But they really want to live long.

Bostrom then addresses suicide. This phenomenon would seem to suggest that the desire for a long life is not universal. But the fact that it is only a small percentage of people who choose it suggests that "our desire to live is almost always stronger than our desire to die." (8) Also, we want to live a healthy life. Those who contemplate suicide are usually mentally unhealthy.

Even those who really mean it when they say they want a limited lifespan may not be well informed. Or perhaps they did not think the option through. We find that healthy 90 year-olds usually want more years, so we should expect that it is normal for anyone to want a prolonged life so long as it is healthy.

Consider a parallel case. When we are healthy and able-bodied, many would say that life without limbs would not be worth living. But those who by chance do lose their limbs do in fact think that life is worth living. So if we better knew what a healthy life past 90 might be like, we would probably choose to have it.

One study shows that old hospitalized people would prefer to live longer in worse health then to live shorter lives in better health.

In fact, other research shows that even in the declining health of old age, people remain just as satisfied with life.

All these reasons suggest that living a longer life is worthwhile. And because living a very long life is a posthuman "mode of being," we would be wise to adopt this aspect of posthumanity.

Nick Bostrom. "Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up." Forthcoming in Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity, eds. Bert Gordijn and Ruth Chadwick (Springer), 2007.
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