If you’ve read some of my latest articles, you might remember that I’ve been spending some time in my hometown. My quasi-holiday is not over yet, but my stay in my hometown pretty much is; I’m leaving in a few hours.
During my stay, I’ve told my girlfriend many times that wandering around my hometown feels like having someone else’s memories implanted in my head. I’ve never considered myself too attached to the place where I grew up, but after years of absence, I’ve become even less so. It’s like the place doesn’t have an effect on me anymore; it can’t really influence me. I know my way around it and I remember where landmarks and things are, but there’s little emotional connection left. It’s almost like being a tourist. Even my own room, which used to be pretty much my realm up until I was 18, now feels just like any regular room—in no small part because it has changed quite a bit since then. Given a few more years, I might lose all feelings for the place.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Your feelings for places and people change and sometimes fade away altogether, over the years. This happens within currently normal lifetimes; what is going to happen if and when our lives last for centuries?
We might change into almost entirely different individuals. If in just over 15 years, I’ve nearly forgotten things and events that, in big or small parts, have contributed to making me who I am today, it’s at least conceivable that, in 200 years, I might forget most of what happened in the first 50 years of my life. In a sense, the individual I was when I was 50 will be dead when I’m 200; by then, I’ll be someone else.
I don’t have an issue with this. One of the reasons why I’m into life extension is because I want to see how things will change, including myself. I want to see how many different people I can be and what I can become. There is a philosophical argument that, in a way, the changing nature of life won’t allow us to cheat death despite life extension, precisely because the individuals we used to be slowly “die” and others are slowly “born” as we change. However, the gradual and continuous nature of this change allows us to always perceive ourselves as ourselves—not very different from our recent-past self, though probably very different from our ancient selves. It’s a “death” so slow that we don’t even notice it.
Looking back, though, you might find out that you don’t like your current self as much as one of your older ones, and you can’t know in advance if you will eventually change into someone whom your current self would not like and who does not like your current self. Even if this doesn’t happen, you might miss some of your previous selves, the epoch when you used to live, the people of the time with whom you’re no longer in touch, or the routines and context of the time, which are now surpassed—and in our rapidly changing times, this seems to happen more and more often.
It’s easy to get nostalgic about past times, whether they were good or bad ones, and look at them fondly with a bittersweet feeling. I can easily divide my life into distinct periods, and I always find that there’s something good to remember about them. It would be nice to have the ability to look back in time and feel again what life used to be like back then. This is why I look forward to life extension with hope and joy. If all goes well, I look forward to being 160 years old and looking back at the days when I was one of the early advocates. I look forward to telling chronologically young people what the early days of the Internet were like. (I’m already fond of talking about this today.) I know that, no matter how old I get, I’ll always have former selves to look back to and be fond of as well as future selves to discover. I’ll have an ever-growing past to get back to and, hopefully, a very, very long future to look forward to.
I’m certainly not looking forward to a time when sick and decrepit, I’ll be looking back at being young and healthy. Should such a fate ever come for me, it would mean that life extension endeavors had failed; I wouldn’t have many future selves to look forward to, and the few that might be left would be increasingly more ill and fragile, attending funeral after funeral until my own comes. Looking back at my past, healthy selves would be a cold comfort at best—a painful reminder of someone I can no longer be. Losing and gaining parts of myself isn’t a problem, but there is a problem if what I lose is health—or worse, life.
If you’re afraid that living for a very long time might make you forget important things that defined you—that is, you might lose parts of yourself that you really care about—the best thing you can do is keep mementos to remind you of them. Objects are traditional; diaries, recordings, and pictures can be stored digitally; and we might enjoy other, more effective ways of preserving our memories in the coming years. Looking back from time to time may help you find out whether you’ve lost something important along the way and be the way you like being; looking forward, you’ll catch glimpses of your hopefully many future selves.
Doesn’t this sound better than the eternal oblivion that is death, which takes away your past, present, and future selves in one fell swoop? You can’t suffer from this loss once it has occurred, but you can for as long as you are alive. If life extension can do something to prevent it, as the rest of medicine does already, why not take advantage of the opportunity? Your future selves may be grateful.