Elon Musk has said a lot of stupid stuff about aging and longevity. From saying that people shouldn’t live very long because society would ossify, to advocating that we judge people based on their chronological age. Most recently, he’s taken to Twitter, or X, to say, “may you live forever” is the worst possible curse once you understand deep time. In this case, though, he’s not wrong.
Musk: I mean, I don’t, I don’t know that we should really try to live for a super long time. Um, I think there is some, it is important for us to die because, you know, most of the times people don’t change their mind, they just die. And so if they, if they, if we live forever, then we might become a very ossified society where new ideas cannot succeed. I mean, I’m not actually a huge fan. proponent of longevity. I mean, I do think that, um, having a good life for longer is better. Like, you’d want to, uh, address, uh, the, you know, the things that, that happen to you when, when you’re older, Um, like dementia and so forth. Those are pretty important. But, um, I’m not, I’m not sure it’s sort of actually, you know, want to do that, but want to get into the genetics thing. But it is something that’s going to fundamentally change, uh, humanity and, um, uh, along with AI.
Interviewer: So you don’t want to live forever so that you can get to Mars.
Musk: I definitely don’t want to live forever. Interviewer: How many years do you want to live?
Musk: I don’t know, a hundred good ones.Liz Parrish, Lincoln Cannon, Anders Sandberg, and Brent Nally, to name a few, jumping into the online fray.
But here’s the thing: when Musk says that having to live forever would be a curse, I agree. The line “May you live forever” is, of course, from 300, the 2007 historical action film about the Battle of Thermopylae. It is said by the Spartan king Leonidas and directed at Ephialtes, who had betrayed the Spartans by sharing information with the Persian King Xerxes. Here’s what his delivery sounded like:
You there, Ephialtes, may you live forever.
Obviously, Leonidas is not wishing Ephialtes well. This eternal life would be one lived in shame and dishonor, but that’s not what Musk is talking about here. In this case, Musk is bringing up the concept of deep time, geologic timescales of millions and billions of years that are difficult for the human mind to even comprehend.
To have to live forever would mean that your body could end up aimlessly drifting in space for eternity. I’ll do it for a day or two, but it’s going to get old quick. So yes, having to live forever is a curse in the same way that dying before you’re ready to is. Both of them violate bodily autonomy and mean you don’t have control of your life.
And that’s really what we want. What I strive for is not necessarily to live forever, but to live until I no longer want to. I am a huge advocate of a future of regenerative biotechnology, in which diseases and maladies are overcome, and in which biological aging can be reversed and stopped, but only if individuals have complete control over when, how, and if they want to make use of that technology.
In a previous video discussing when humans should die, I made it clear that I was totally in favor of people being able to choose to end their own lives. That might sound weird for someone who is in favor of overcoming death, and who doesn’t want to die, but it’s an option that we need to keep open. And if we ever want society more broadly to get on board with longevity and life extension, we need to have the frameworks in place so that people know that they, or their loved ones, won’t be forced into perpetual, miserable, boring lives that they have no say in.
In a perfect world, I see this playing out similar to how it does in, spoiler alert, the NBC television show The Good Place. In this show, some of the main characters, after living the equivalent of many thousands of human lifetimes, much of it in a utopia in which anything is possible, decide that they have experienced enough, are at peace, and want to end their existence.
Chidi: I used to come to this cafe every day when I lived here. I tried to sit in a different seat each time so I could eventually say that I definitely sat in the exact same place as Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Richard Wright, Brecht, James Baldwin. Eleanor: Well, we got all the time in the world now, baby. Put that booty in a seat warmed by history. Chidi: Eleanor, I know what you’re doing. Eleanor: Being the best eternal girlfriend ever? Guilty. Chidi: Let’s take a walk. Chidi: So, Eleanor, here it is. I love you completely and utterly. Eleanor: Oh, crap. Chidi: But I have to go. Eleanor: But you don’t, though. You don’t have to go. You don’t have to leave me. I don’t want to leave you. I’m just ready to leave. I have the same feeling that the others described. A kind of quietude in my soul. Eleanor: But you just had it. What if those other dummies didn’t wait long enough, and the feeling fades, and you get to spend another billion Baramies in fake afterlife Europe with your kick ass girlfriend? Chidi: I didn’t just have it. I’ve had it a long time. Eleanor: I proposed a rule, that Chidis shouldn’t be allowed to leave because it would make Eleanors sad. And I could do this forever, zip you around the universe showing you cool stuff, And I’d still never find the justification for getting you to stay, because it’s a selfish rule. I owe it to you to let you go.
Janet: You can sit on that bench as long as you’d like. And whenever you’re ready, you just walk through. Chidi: I’m ready.
Now, this show does have some of those typical themes that you might expect. Touching on the idea that it’s life’s finitude that gives it meaning and purpose and that life would eventually become boring if it didn’t have an end and I don’t buy into any of that. I can’t imagine myself ever being content with what I know and have discovered and experienced.
And there’s so much more I want to do, there’s so much more to explore. Will I feel differently in 500 years, 10,000 years, a million years? Maybe. And that’s why ending our existence should always be an option. As I’ve said before, in the future, all deaths should be suicides, and that’s not a bad thing.
Overall, the conversation around longevity and life extension is multifaceted, blending science, ethics, and philosophy. Elon Musk’s statements have sparked critical discourse within the longevity community, forcing us to reflect on the implications of endless life and the concept of deep time. And as far as I’m concerned, anything that triggers long-term thinking is a good thing.
While advancements in regenerative biotechnology promise unprecedented possibilities, they also raise big questions about life, meaning, and autonomy. This is uncharted territory, and talking about these things is going to be difficult, and contentious, and controversial. In fact, even when putting this video together, some of the tools that we use have flagged this as possibly policy violating content.
Which is absolutely ridiculous. These conversations are very important, and need to occur. We can’t kick the can of responsibility down the road. The future holds the promise of overcoming the constraints of biological aging, but it is imperative that we, as a society, engage in thoughtful discussion about what this means for us, as a collective, and as individuals.
We must ensure the preservation of autonomy and in trying to overcome death, we shouldn’t lose control of our lives. Now this is going to sound extremely cheesy, but I think it’s true and important to remember the exploration of longevity and life extension is not just about adding years to life, but adding life to years, ensuring a future in which every individual has the opportunity to live a fulfilling, meaningful, and self-determined life for as long as they desire.
And I’m not going to shy away from these conversations whether they occur on Lifespan News or elsewhere. So if you’re interested, please subscribe and follow along. Let’s engage in these important conversations together. And you can start now by letting us know your thoughts in the comments. I’m your host, Ryan O’Shea, and we’ll see you next time on Lifespan News.