Desperately Seeking Eternity

Circle of lifeMe on BBC3 talking about eternity, the universe, life extension and growing up as a species.

Online text of the essay.

Overall, I am pretty happy with it (hard to get everything I want into a short essay and without using my academic caveats, footnotes and digressions). Except maybe for the title, since “desperate” literally means “without hope”. You do not seek eternity if you do not hope for anything.

2 thoughts on “Desperately Seeking Eternity

  1. When you advocate spreading life and ecosystems throughout the universe, do you envision any kind of quality control? A filter against frequent and intense suffering? What mechanisms do you have in mind to ensure the resulting life has positive quality?

    1. It is a good question, and I do not know the proper answer. Basically it is about weighing the inherent value of complex, living systems against the value of positive experiences. Population ethics struggles with how to combine the good of individuals to compare different populations (and epochs) without getting problematic extreme cases, and this adds at least two kinds of value to the mix.

      If one thinks good experiences are the only thing that matters, then one might still want to spread experiencers across the universe if the goodness of their experience is additive enough (i.e. one is closer to a total than an average utilitarian). If one thinks diversity/life/complexity/whatever it is that gives intrinsic value is additive, then the same conclusion follows. If one somewhow equates these kinds of value to a joint value (say “30% existence plus 70% experience”) again one gets an expansive view if one is a totalist. But this runs into the repugnant conclusion as usual.

      Saying we should only bring beings into the world above some threshold of good experience might work, except that (1) implementing it practically is hard, and (2) what if advanced beings discover new forms of good that are not experience? We can imagine monkey philosophers considering the good life as being entirely defined by food and sex, and then getting confused when a human philosopher complains about existential despair and the need for spiritual stuff.

      I think the actual answer is that we should try to create as much good experiencing life as possible, but recognize that the process will necessarily be imperfect and require tweaking over time. Including perhaps drastic revisions as we get a better hang of what truly matters.

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