Rudy Rucker explains why the quest for immortality is a waste of your limited time

Illustration for article titled Rudy Rucker explains why the quest for immortality is a waste of your limited time

Over at Boing Boing, there's a must-read interview with rebel author Rudy Rucker, in which he reflects on weird physics and his various storytelling inspirations. And he delivers this gem, about the widespread obsession with living forever:

When I was younger I was more attracted to immortality than I am now. I think I was worried there were various things I might not live to do — travel, fatherhood, publishing. But now I'm more accepting of death. Nothing lasts. The petals whirl, the leaves fall, the river flows. Why fight it? You get the one lifetime and it's enough. At some point you have to let go. I think people who obsess about becoming immortal are on an ego trip. They don't want to accept that the world will go on just the same without them. Certainly, as technology advances, we'll see people living longer. And, at the more SF end of things, you might look for injectable nanobots to repair your body, or the use of fresh tank-grown clone bodies, or the ability to upload your mind into an artificial android body. I wrote about the last of these in my novel Software, thirty years ago. But in reality I don't see any of these things happening very soon. Recently there's been a lot of hype about the singularity. The word means different things to different people. In a way, we're already well past a singularity, which was the coming of the computers. But some people have a feeling that a really big change is coming very soon. And there's a hope that if you can just hang on for, say, another thirty years, then the nanobot or clone-body or digital-upload version of immortality will be available. Note that many of those spreading this promise are also offering to sell you expensive vitamins to help you hang on. They're selling snake oil. It's a con.


Image: Rudy Rucker, via



Extropian concerns about immortality are mostly about eternal youth and the fear of getting older, as opposed to the fear of death, which most egotists can't accept, period. Which may account for the quasi-religious or mystical aspects of fringe science longevity; even if the whole frozen head/uploading thing doesn't work, you still get to go to Heaven or get reincarnated as a consolation prize. (Kind of like how Bruce Sterling once said that the only people who would ever be interested in full-body non-therapeutic cloning would be flying saucer cults.) It's a fantasy about living without any costs or consequences (the least of which being boredom), sort of like the better-than-the-real thing virtual reality sex we were promised by cybertopians in the '90s.

I'm not a luddite or a bioconservative by a long shot, and the prospect of living a long time (in a society of equally long-lived people, as opposed to some sort of Lazarus Long/Highlander scenario) fascinates me, as do the genuine benefits of longevity research (reduced sensescence, greater mobility, stronger resistance to disease, injury over time). The problem is that outside of SF, there hasn't been much of a serious exploration of what practical immortality really means, beyond snake oil salesmen and the panicky bioethicists.