Monday, August 13, 2012

Living Forever

George Dvorsky has an interesting piece at io9 in which he discusses whether living forever would be all that desirable. He writes:
Some futurists predict that we'll be able to halt the aging process by the end of this century — if not sooner. The prospect of creating an ageless society is certainly not without its critics, with concerns ranging from the environmental right through to the spiritual. One of the most common objections to radical life extension, however, is the idea that it would be profoundly boring to live forever, and that by consequence, we should not even attempt it.
Although Dvorsky's article is about prolonging physical existence indefinitely the same objection is sometimes raised to the Christian concept of eternal life. The argument is that in an infinite time people would eventually experience everything there is to experience and learn everything there is to know. At that point existence would no longer hold any fascination. It would cease to be interesting and become crushingly boring.

The discussion that ensues in Dvorsky's post is fascinating, and I commend it to you, but I'd like to share a couple of thoughts on the Christian notion of eternal life.

First, we need to keep in mind that boredom is a mental phenomenon. There's no reason to think that in an eternal existence boredom would be any more a part of life than would pain. Our mental structure in the eternal realm may be quite different than what it is in this physical life. In other words, although now each subsequent experience of, say, a beautiful piece of music may be less thrilling than the first experience, it could well be that in eternity every experience of some phenomena is equally as exciting as the first.

Second, boredom is a consequence of existing in time. We get bored because time drags by without offering anything to pique our interest, but eternity is not necessarily temporal. If eternal life is not a temporal experience, if those who experience eternal existence are outside of time (as we conceive God to be), then boredom may simply be irrelevant or non-existent.

Third, even if eternity is in some sort of time, it could be that there's an infinity of possible experience such that even in an infinity of time we would never exhaust it all. Like a man counting for an infinite time could never exhaust all possible integers, a man existing for an infinite time might never exhaust all possible experience.

At any rate, Dvorsky's column is interesting largely for some of the quotes he cites. For example, Chris Hackler, head of the Division of Medical Humanities at the University of Arkansas, states that:
Let's face it, most peoples' jobs aren't all that fascinating. They put in a 9-to-5 and they're glad to have the weekend. So you wonder if having twice as much of this is a good thing, or if you'd get totally burned out.
In other words, life's a drag as it is and most people aren't going to want to make it any longer than it needs to be. I have no doubt that this is true, at least if this life is all there is. If there's no transcendent realm in which infinite joy and richness reside and of which we can catch a glimpse now and then, then it's surely true that life is a meaningless, painful interlude of suffering between two states of nothingness.

If, on the other hand, there is such a realm then there's hope that life can be rich, fascinating, and pleasurable forever.

Anyway, check out Dvorsky's essay. It's thought-provoking.

The Ryan Pick

Mitt Romney's vice-presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan, has garnered almost universal plaudits from the right and almost universal boos from the left. Ryan is an outstanding man, an outstanding politician, and an outstanding intellect. He's serious and sharp and has a winning personality.

I think these are some of the reasons the left is deriding the choice. They fear Ryan, or at least they should. The last thing they want is a debate between Ryan and anyone on the Democratic ticket because they know it can only go badly for them. It's not customary for the presidential candidate to debate the other party's vice-presidential candidate, but one wishes that this year it'd happen.

If the economy is to be the major issue in the 2012 election the Obama/Biden ticket is no match for Romney/Ryan. Mr. Obama has had three and a half years to solve our economic woes, and the nation is worse off now than when he took office. He has managed to preside over the worst economy in forty years and has advanced no plan for what he would do to improve it other than tax the rich. This is a purely symbolic gesture which would accomplish nothing in terms of raising revenue and would probably depress it.

Moreover, none of the president's budgets have received even Democratic support in the Senate, and his party hasn't passed a budget in three years. Neither has the president kept his promise to get unemployment below 8%.

President Obama has offered no indication of how he would save entitlements from financial ruin, and in fact his greatest achievement, Obamacare, will cut $710 billion from Medicare over the next ten years. Ryan's plan would also cut Medicare, but by giving people an annual voucher so that they could purchase their own insurance. He would also raise the reimbursement rate for doctors back to previous levels so that the exodus of physicians willing to treat Medicare patients is reversed.

Ryan has worked hard on these issues. He has a vision for what needs to be done to get Americans back to work and to get our debt reduced, and he's skilled at eloquently articulating both. It'll be painful, no doubt, and it will take time, but the Obama alternative of doing nothing other than continuing to spend money we don't have, driving us deeper into debt, while blaming Bush for all our troubles, will ultimately be far worse.

The question that I ponder is whether the American electorate will ultimately prefer competence or charisma, freedom or big government, economic justice or crony capitalism. I guess we'll see on the first Tuesday in November.