How Does a Belief in Immortality Affect the Way We Live Now?

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I was asked to address the question,” “How does a belief in immortality affect the way we live now?”  I am going to break this into two separate questions that are related to (if not identical to) it.  The first question is, “How would the recognition of extreme longevity or even living forever change the way we would behave (or should behave)?”  Then I’ll turn to how a belief in an afterlife would (or should) affect our behavior.

First: imagine that you knew that you would live for a very, very long time.  We can simplify and imagine that you know that you will live forever.  How would or should this hypothetical supposition affect your behavior?  Well, it depends!  It depends at least on certain background assumptions about the conditions of your envisaged life.  Let’s make the “rosy” assumptions that you are in good health, that your body is not deteriorating, that you are comfortable financially, that you have friends and loved ones who are also immortal (in the sense of living forever).  These are, of course, big assumptions; but to ask a really big question, sometimes we have to make big assumptions.

Some would say that, even under these very optimistic assumptions, our lives would be totally different—and unpleasant or even unrecognizable as choiceworthy human lives.  Various reasons for this curmudgeonly conclusion have been offered, and we’ll consider just a few.  First, some have argued that life under such circumstances would be intolerably and relentlessly boring.  The idea is that what keeps us from being bored are our “projects”, and eventually we would run out of projects in an indefinitely long (or even just a very long) life.

I just don’t think this is true.  That is, I don’t accept the conclusion that we would run out of projects in a very long (even an infinitely long life).  Just consider, for starters, all of the scientific problems that remain to be solved.  Focus, as a concrete starting point, on all of the diseases that plague human beings.  The project of curing all the currently existing diseases would take a very, very long time.  And, even assuming we can (given enough time), cure all existing diseases, by that time many new diseases will have popped up, offering new challenges.  I just don’t think that it is obvious that we will ever get to the point where we will have cured all diseases (and palliated all human pain, suffering, and distress—both physical and mental).  Simply having lots of time—even infinite time—doesn’t seem to imply that all of these challenges will successfully be met.

And we have just focused on a relatively tiny portion of all of the human challenges—the health challenges.  How about all of the other scientific and technological challenges?  How long will it take to answer certain fundamental questions of physics and cosmology?  Even when they have been answered, if they ever are, there would remain the problems of connecting the abstract theories with all manner of practical problems.

Think, just for another set of concrete examples, of all of the challenges we face in preserving our planet from further environmental degradation.  These are multifaceted and daunting.  They will keep us busy for a long, long time (if we have that long).  They could keep us going for a very long time in an infinitely long life.

So far we have considered just a few (admittedly central and important) scientific challenges that would generate projects in an immortal life.  There are more where they came from.  And think of all of the other kinds of projects: athletic, artistic, social.  Consider the projects of writing poetry or novels or creating lovely paintings or sculptures.  Or reading and appreciating novels.  Why suppose that these projects would run out?  Even if you had an infinite amount of time, why suppose that you would exhaust all of the novels worth reading?  Suppose you were to read all of the novels currently worth reading.  That would take a very, very long time.  But (as with the diseases above) by the time you were finished, there would certainly be a new set of novels worth reading (novels that had been written during your very long process of reading).  And why suppose that you could not find challenge and engagement in writing novels, even after a million or a billion years?  (Of course, all of one’s projects would have to be distributed appropriately—reading or writing or anything can be boring if pursued without a break!).

The challenges and associated projects discussed above might be called “other-directed” projects.  But there are also “self-directed” projects, such as eating delicious food, drinking fine wines, listening to music, enjoying art and natural beauty, sex, prayer, and meditation.  These are “self-directed” projects in the sense that they aim at or crucially involve pleasant or agreeable mental states of the individual whose project it is.  Again, you would have to distribute these projects properly in a very long or even infinitely long life.  But why would a life that contained at least some of these projects necessarily be boring?  Why couldn’t these activities be part of an overall life that is engaging and worthwhile?

Assuming that we would still have projects—other-directed and/or self-directed—in a very long or infinitely long life, would we have any motivation to pursue the projects?  Some have thought that, given an infinite amount of time, all our activities and projects would lack “urgency”.  They have even suggested that we would not have any motivation to do anything insofar as “there would always be time”.  This is kind of a procrastinator’s nightmare (or perhaps dream!).

But I don’t have much sympathy for the contention that we would have no motivation in an immortal life.  Consider, for example, the motivation to avoid pain—that would still exist in an immortal life.  Similarly for the motivation to address  other forms of limitation or impairment.  We care about how we feel now; if we are now in pain or impaired, we will want to address those issues in a timely way.  If I am in significant pain now, it is hardly comforting to know that I have forever to live and so eventually my pain will subside.

Similarly with loneliness.  If am separated from someone I love or care about, or if I am just lonely now, I have reason to seek to reunite with the person or to find friendship, love, and companionship.  The mere fact that I know that I have forever does not alleviate the suffering of loneliness now.

The curmudgeons about projects in an immortal life are too pessimistic.  They are spoil-sports.  They greatly underestimate the prospects for human engagement and fulfillment.  They look at our projects as like books in a library; with infinite time, we can read all of the books.  They forget that there will always be new books to read and even new perspectives to bring to the old books.

What about the second way of understanding our basic question?  That is, what if we were to come to believe in immortality in an afterlife?  How would (or should) this affect our behavior?  Well, again, it depends.  First, it depends on what conception of immortality we work with—a Buddhist or Hindu view of reincarnation?  A Judeo-Christian conception of the afterlife in heaven or hell?

But let’s abstract away from details.  In all plausible religious views, what matters crucially for your prospects after you die—your next life in the wheel of reincarnation or your place in heaven, hell, or perhaps purgatory—is the moral quality of your life here and now.  That is, your prospects are enhanced by right action for the right reasons in this life.  You need actually to care not just about yourself, but about others—you need to love others and to care about justice.  If your actions manifest love of others and a dominant concern for justice, then you will be rewarded in the afterlife.  It is key that you must act for the right reasons.  And here it is important that the reason for your behavior must not be that it will enhance your prospects in the afterlife.  You may of course understand and anticipate this fact.  But it cannot be your reason for action.  If it were, then your action would be motivated by self-interest and not morality.  You would not be doing the right thing for the right reason.  So there is a sense in which your behavior now should be focused on this world and the needs and interests of others here and now, even if one were to believe in an afterlife.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you agree that you would not necessarily run out of other-directed projects in a very long life?  An infinitely long life?

2. Do you agree that you could still have self-directed projects in a very long or infinitely long life? Or would such a life necessarily be boring?

3. Do you agree that, even if you believe in an afterlife, you should be concerned about your behavior and motivations here and now.  Or do you thank that you should focus more on the life to come?

Discussion Summary


One of the helpful points to come out of the discussion is that it would not simply be the case that one’s relationship to one’s projects would be different in an immortal life: rather, the contents of the projects themselves would in many cases need to be adjusted to reflect immortality.  This raised the interesting question about marriage, in particular.  Is it reasonable to aim for a marriage that literally lasts forever?  If not, would this change the essential nature of marriage?  Or could it still survive, even if reconfigured, in an immortal life?  So, to be a bit more concrete, how would we think of marriage if we went into it knowing that it is almost certainly not going to last “forever”—literally, forever?  (Or is this assumption too pessimistic?) What about other deep personal relationships?  The question here is a special case of a more general point: whereas in some important ways, immortal life (as embodied individuals on earth) would be different from our finite existence as we know it, in other ways it would be the same or similar.  It is important to reflect on whether the similarities are sufficient to render immortal life recognizably human and perhaps also choiceworthy.  Or would it be so different that it would not be recognizable?  Or, if recognizable, not desirable?

Another important point that emerged is that it is helpful to distinguish different challenges to the “urgency” of our projects in an immortal life.  We would clearly still feel an urgency to alleviating pain and significant suffering, and, on the more positive side of things, seeking certain kinds of sensual pleasures and significant rewards.  Human beings are wired so as to find it urgent that our pain go away and our pleasures not be deferred too much.  But how about “identity-conferring” projects and activities?  We might find it harder, in an immortal life, to tap into the energy to engage in these activities, about which we tend to procrastinate even in our finite lives.

In this article and discussion I necessarily had to simplify and focus on certain sub-parts of the larger set of issues.  Here I’d like briefly to emphasize what I’ve left out—or some of what I’ve left out.  First, as I wrote in my essay, I was making “rosy” assumptions about the circumstances of one’s life.  I was doing this in part because I was addressing the Immortality Curmudgeons, such as Bernard Williams, who argue that immortality would be necessarily unattractive, if recognizably human at all.  That is, they argue that we just can’t even imagine any circumstances in which such a life would be choiceworthy for creatures like us.  Thus, to address such a Curmudgeon, all that’s required is some set of circumstances that would render immortal life choiceworthy, even if those circumstances are characterized in wildly optimistic ways.  And I do frankly think that it is wildly and implausibly optimistic to suppose that we will be able successfully to address the increasingly pressing environmental problems of global climate change and scarce resources, and the attendant economic and political challenges, in such a way as to make immortal life for large numbers of people possible (and attractive).

As one of the contributors to the discussion asked, will we have a small group of immortals, or will everyone (or nearly everyone) be immortal?  And will the immortals have children?  Will those children also be immortal?  On some ways of answering these questions, it is not clear that immortal life would indeed be choiceworthy.  (Would it really be desirable to live forever when one is losing everyone one cares about—especially one’s best friends, spouse, and/or children?)  But if a significant cohort is allowed to be immortal, and they are allowed immortal children, then we quickly face in extreme form problems of over-population, scarce resources, and exacerbations of environmental degradation.

Now various Immortality Optimists have supposed that we will be able to solve these “practical” problems.  They have suggested various means.  A recurrent theme of the optimists is that humans will get smarter and smarter (or more and more “rational”) eventually achieving “escape velocity” and ushering in The Singularity, in which super-rational creatures are able to solve all the problems of scarce resources, and so forth.  But, although I remain hopeful, I am less optimistic about human prospects, given our history.

New Big Questions:

1. Could marriage survive in an immortal existence?

2. Could human beings plausibly solve the environmental problems that would become even more pressing, given greater longevity and even immortality?  How?

39 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    I have to take issue with the assertion that it makes any difference at all what my motivations are for “doing the right thing” in relation to my neighbor.

    Who really cares whether I love my neighbor I, or whether my neighbor loves me, just so long as we ACT in such a way as to demonstrate justice toward each other; in other words, just so long as we “DO (not FEEL) unto others as we would have them DO unto us”? 

    In any case, Jesus taught the Doctrine of “eternal life”–this is quite clear in the Thanksgiving Hymns of the Dead Sea Scrolls (which he authored)–through  numberless ‘raisings from the dead’ in accordance with the Doctrine of “the resurrection” as a Doctrine of ‘Rebirth’. And it is specifically because of the CENSORSHIP of the Truth about the Doctrine of “the resurrection” by the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious ‘authorities’ that there is the present genocidal conflict in the Middle East in the first place.

    Were the Truth to be known–“My people *perish* for lack of Knowledge”–these people would realize that they will be punished in THIS world (if not in THIS life, then in their FUTURE lives) for acts of violence, injustice and immorality against their neighbors.


    • John Martin Fischer says:

      I disagree.  It manifestly *does* matter what one’s motivations are, if one is to be acting morally and deserve reward for this behavior.  Indeed, Kant placed decisive weight on one’s motivations.  It does not seem attractive to suppose that God would reward one for acting with selfish motivations, even in doing apparently altruistic things.  And the Buddha emphasized doing the right things FOR THE RIGHT REASONS.

      • Michael says:

        @John Martin Fishcer

        I am not saying that motivations are absolutely irrelevant. (Of course it it best to do the right things for the right reasons.) What I am saying is that it is not really possible for me, for example, ever to really establish with certainty what another’s motivations really are.

        But it is really much worse than that.

        Just the attempt to  assess what a person’s motivations are shifts attention away from the fact that what he is doing is either good or evil. What happens, for example, if I am a rabid racist or bigot, but I never act in such a way that anyone would even suspect that? I would agree that that is not a good thing to be in terms of some standard of moral perfection. But, from a societal perspectve, what difference does it make? In fact, I really don’t care if anyone from a different race is racist toward my race; just so long as we have amicable relationships. And going too far down the road of attempting to assess motivations carries with it the danger of totalitarianism; toward the forcible suppression of what people THINK rather than focusing exclusively on their actions.


        • John Martin Fischer says:

          It is hard for me to think of actions that are really “good” or “evil”, apart from their motivations.

          Both Kant and Buddha Gautama emphasized that we have to do not just “right actions”, but right actions for the right reasons.  (Indeed, Kant defined right actions in terms of right reasons or motivations–what he called “maxims”.)  And, as you know, Jesus certainly defended an ethics of love; it is hard to understand love apart from the motivations of the lover!  I would say, along with pretty much everyone who has discussed the nature of love, that motivations are crucial.

          Now of course you are right that “going too far down the roard of attempting to assess motivations” carries with it dangers; but this is true of anything.  One can always take a good idea “too far” or apply it inappropriately  and produce unfortunate results.

          • John Martin Fischer says:

            Right: we can never really be certain about others’ motivations.  Perhaps the same is true of our own motivations.  But we can have evidence that bears strongly on these matters.  Practically speaking, the criminal law certainly takes into account “mens rea”.  And it is important to distinguish the moral issues from the epistemic issues.  One’s otherwise felicitous actions are not morally right if done for the wrong reasons.  But how exactly one knows what the reasons are for which one acts is a different matter–it is an epistemic question.  Of course, we do not want ethical theories that make it impossible to know whether people act rightly.  An approach that takes seriously the importance of motivations need not require certainty about motivations, and thus it does not make it impossible to know whether people act rightly.

  2. taylorwcyr says:

    Great post, John!

    You emphasize some of the positive ways that belief in an afterlife can affect the way we live now, but I wonder whether or not you think there are (or could be) some negative ways too. One might think, for example, that belief in an afterlife in heaven or hell (where these realms are not located in our Solar System, say) would have a negative impact on one’s concern for environmental degradation. Presumably there could be other ways that belief in an afterlife might have a negative impact on the way one lives now.

    If there are such negative ways, I wonder how we should think about belief in an afterlife. Should we count out both the positive and the negative effects and see if there are more of one than the other? Should it count against a set of beliefs that it contains a belief in the afterlife with negative effects on the way one lives now? Or might there be ways of explaining away the alleged negative effects of belief in an afterlife?

    • Michael says:

      I fully agree.

      The doctrine of a metaphysical ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ is, in any case, an escape from the planet earth and the space-time reality;  the ultimate consequence of which belief is the utter disregard for the care of this planet. People  who believe in metaphysical rewards and punishments end up caring almost as much about planet earth as someone who rents a house.

      Who cares if the roof is falling apart, or the windows are leaking ,or the pipes are dripping?

      When the lease is up [when you die] you will be OUT of there; NEVER to return.

      If, on the other hand, this planet were looked upon as a more or less permanent residence–from life to life to life–there would be MUCH more concern about the environment.


    • John Martin Fischer says:

      This is a very nice point and question, Taylor–thanks.

      I agree that there can be bad effects of a belief in an afterlife.  Right about environmental degradation.  Also, it can lead to a kind of compacency about seeking to rectify injustice, insofar as one believes that this is just a blip in a much larger existence.  So such a belief CAN be detrimental.  But I don’t think it NEED be.  Perhaps God will not reward with a position in Heaven those who despoil and exploit the environment.  And presumably God will not reward those who are complacent or even active in the perpetuation of injustice.  If one recognizes these facts, then this will constrain one in this world, encouraging good behavior in general and careful stewardship of the environment.

      • Michael says:

        @John Martin Fischer

        Perhaps I did not make myself clear. There IS no metaphysical “Heaven” in the Teaching of Jesus ‘where’ people go to be ‘rewarded’. That is ‘god of the dead’, metaphysical philosphy; all of which depends upon a lack of Knowledge about the structure of reality.

        When Jesus spoke of the “angels in heaven”, it was a figurative description of the revelation of the memories of previous lives.

        Now, if you want to step *outside* of the Teaching of Jesus and adopt the metaphysical doctrines of Paul, fine . But, when you are talking about all of these theoretical, theological distinctions about “rewards” and “constraints”, you are essentially NOT talking about the God of the living that Jesus believed in–the God of the Torah and the Prophets.


  3. Eddy Nahmias says:

    Hi John, really interesting essay.  I am hoping you can clarify a potential conflict in your description of what we are supposed to imagine.  You ask us to imagine that we (and our loved ones) are immortal and then ask us to imagine that we’ll have lots of projects to eradicate diseases and save the planet.  So, are we supposed to imagine that some of us are immortal but most humans are not, so we can heroically try to help them live longer (and save the planet for them–if the planet dies, how do we immortals survive?)?

    The tension illustrates a more pervasive worry about how we are to imagine such scenarios.  If everyone is immortal and we don’t have to worry about saving the planet and such, it does seem like we live in a sort of heaven that might seem hellish after a very long time (will music-making, art, even sex really interest me for eternity? avoiding pain may be nice but not particularly fulfilling. And most interesting novels and films seem to rely in some way on the finitude of human life, no?).  If we are to imagine everything just the same except that a select few of us are immortal, that seems to raise some other weird concerns (will we be seen as gods? devils? will we continue to care about these fragile mortals?)

    • John Martin Fischer says:

      Great question(s), Eddy.

      One can imagine the scenarios in various different ways.  Right, one way would be that I and a suitable subgroup of the human population are immortal, but others not.  So there would still be all the projects I mentioned.

      Another way would imply that all are immortal. Whereas the health challenges involving death would not be present under this scenario, still there would be disabilities, impairments, discomforts, of all sorts to deal with.  Death is not the only health challenge!  How about depression, pain syndromes, arthritis, paralysis, and, well, a panoply or miseries?  And there would still be the artistic projects and self-focussed projects.  Great novels can explore many human characteristics that would still be of deep interest in a world in which we are all immortal.

  4. Meyer1953 says:


    The question, “Do you agree that you would not necessarily run out of other-directed projects in a very long life? An infinitely long life?” has a very simple, though not necessarily obvious, answer. The answer is, moreover, conclusive and unshakable: though, it is as far beyond today’s philosophy as are the heavens higher than the earth.

    Life, whether ours or any other, is DRAWN forth by the potential that the life drawn represents to its surrounding activities. If any thing exists for and only for itself, that thing is already dead. So to say, a very long life or an eternal life, says that a life does yield forth meaning and potential to the surround of that life. Mostly, as people, our surround is other people. We are as well (necessarily, if not for any other reason) stewards of our natural surround. Basically, life serves other life and that is the definition of life that lives.

    For a life to serve only itself, that self service is penultimately terminal. We see this in microcosm when a fool serves vanity – take for instance, the account of David and Nabal (his name means “fool”) in 1 Samuel 25. We also see it when a modern such as Bernie Madoff scams fifty-plus billion dollars out of honest trusts and selfless philanthropies for a decade or more. The conclusion of just such a life is that, it becomes locked up within itself and none have any meaning from nor use for it. Such a life, should it continue even with no natural support, would indeed be considered a hell to any outside of it.

    Life is that life about is glorified by the us that we are. This is explicitly seen imperishably with parents rearing their children, whose very generation becomes gladly joyously and wholly the very life that the parents would and do live. These parents, indeed, can think (at that time, though it once seemed a long ways off) of no other definition of life than that they live and love their children. Even the exceptions to this joy, of parents at their children’s placement into whole lives, which we see indicated in crime reports and on psychiatric couches, are exceptions by that the parents involved have become terminal and thus foul.

    Two organic molecules, bouncing about in a primordial soup, are each dramatically wanting in potential. But a nearly-infinitely descendant generation of those molecules, by the strengthening of their surround into ever greater potential, are known as Homo Sapiens and we have a choice today. We can live, which is to be of and for one another. Or, of course, we can be of and for our own selves. I choose to not be the hell others look at.

    • John Martin Fischer says:

      You say that the answer to the question is “simple”, but not obvious.  I didn’t find your explanation of it pellucid, so I’m still not sure what the answer is (according to you).  You seem to suggest that life is “drawn forth” by the possibility of interacting with others?  Is that it in a nutshell?  If so, the worry that Bernard Williams and other philosophers have pressed is that this only holds within a background framework of finitude; once one shifts to immortal or infinitely long life, the power of our projects pertaining to others to propel us into the future diminishes and indeed is extinguished.  How does one respond to such worries?  That’s the difficult question, with respect to which I sought to make a little progress.  Does this make sense? Do you think there is just a basic, unanalyzable “draw” toward future life, no matter what?

  5. Meyer1953 says:

    I do assert that life is drawn forth by its surround, usually the life of others about one. This assertion, I say, is the basic entirety of life as we know it and the very basis of all life that is to be. For an example, Jesus prayed “Father, not my will but thine be done” when he was at the definitive crossroads of all time. So he was being drawn forth into what is our future as well. Further, he says for us to pick up his same cross in our own lives and follow him – into forever, beginning now in this life.

    But more to a daily point, since not all people follow him, we see that a form of life such as an early eucaryote has a modicum of potential. By the life about that beastie, the potential is drawn forth to become vastly enhanced and the beastie becomes, perhaps, an ocelot or a person in its long-following generations. For a contrast, an anthrax bacteria serves only itself, and is considered disgusting by people.

    The power of being drawn forth is, that potential that is purely life develops, and that this potential finds expression as life that is inconceivable to any present form of life. Consider, for a moment, the thousands of near-death experience accounts known today. They speak of, and from, a reality that is ineffable and sublime beyond imagination. So finitude goes straight out the window, with eternity opening instead. Eternity, that is, beggars finitude.

    • John Martin Fischer says:

      I still don’t see that it is true that all living things that have the potential for positive or constructive interaction with others are “drawn forth” into the future *indefiniely*.  Your example of a simple biological entity really doesn’t address the problems raised by philosophers such as Bernard Williams, to the effect that we would run out of other-directed projects and thus become bored.  Boredom is not an issue for a eucaryote; it is for a person.  How do you address the problem of boredom?  You are just not entitled to say that every social creatre is “drawn” to the future–that’s what is in question. 


      About near-death experiences.  These are indeed fascinating, and they are a big part of our Immortality Project research.  I do not however see the connection with the question of the desirability (or not) of living forever.  How do you connect your analysis of NDEs to the question of whether living forever would be choiceworthy for creatures like us.

      NDEs are totally fascinating.  Please allow me to point out that there are naturalistic analyses of them; I do not think they point decisively to the existence of an Afterlife!  They are not, if I may put it this way,  a “proof of heaven”!!  This is not to say that they aren’t real in an important sense.

  6. bmy says:

    Hi John,

    Great post! I wanted to ask about the way in which immortality might change the way we conceive of our projects. You mention various other-directed and self-directed projects that could plausibly still grip one who knows that she is immortal. And I agree with what you say about these. But you also suggest that living forever might have certain effects on the character of our projects. For example, the project of reading good books may be altered in character for an immortal person because she would have (infinite) time to revisit books she read in the past in light of the insights and perspective afforded her by the ones she has read since then. This seems to me to suggest that an immortal person may not conceive of the project of reading all of the good books there are in the same way as we mortals do. I tend to think of this project in terms of getting through a (very long and growing) list of books. But for the immortal, the character of the project may be fundamentally different. She may conceive of it as working her way through this (long and growing) list in a manner that includes loops (where she revisits certain books after others) or some pattern that involves repetition or in terms of some aim that goes well beyond completing the list. Given how much more time she has than I do, she may approach this project very differently than I would.

    Basically, my thought is that knowing that one will live forever may not just change one’s relationship to various projects as we conceive of them. It may also change the way one conceives of one’s projects. There may be projects, such as reading all good books, that look very different from the perspective of one with infinite time. If this is right, then the curmudgeon’s argument against the desirability of immortality is importantly incomplete. Even if he has shown that the projects we know and love could not sustain a meaningful immortal existence (and I agree with you that he has not shown this), it seems to me that this might not establish the conclusion that there are no projects that could sustain a meaningful immortal existence. This is because the character of an immortal’s projects might be very different from the character of our projects. So discussion of the desirabilty of immortality may have to countenance more than just the longevity of the kinds of projects that sustain the meaning of our (mortal) lives.

    What do you think?

    • John Martin Fischer says:

      Wow–this is a nice point, Ben.  I like it a lot.

      Yes, I think that our projects would have to be reconfigured in an immortal life.  Maybe deep frienships, and even marriage, would have to be reconfigured. So instead of aiming at a deeply loving and permanent marriage, in an infinite life perhaps one would have to re-think this goal; I’m not sure.  It makes me sad to think about it, but maybe one would have the goal of having a series or set of deeply rewardking, longlasting, but not permanent marriages.  Maybe it would not be reasonable to think that a marriage could last, literally, forever.  Diamonds may be forever, but, well, maybe not marriages. 

      Would this be a disaster?  Well, it would be different in certain ways.  But then again most marriages in our finite lives as we lead them now don’t last forever (at least in the good old USA, and, well, California!), and people do then often remarry (sometimes more than once).  Now this might not be ideal, and it might not be their antecedent goals, but it is recognizably a human life, and not obviously so unattractive as to make death preferable.

      Ditto with other kinds of projects.  You make a deep point.  I hope we can discuss this more.

      Is it really unreasonable to aim for an infinitely long marriage??  At least to AIM for this?

      • Michael says:

        @John Martin Fishcer

        Believe it or not, the Truth is even more magnificent than can be imagined by any “beast of the earth” consciousness of the ‘thinker’.

        Some people actually have memories of being married to the same “person” over two or three lifetimes; in different cultures; under differing circumstances.

        They meet again in this life; are instantly drawn to each other; and pick up in their relationship, with new lessons to learn, from when they were last together. And sometimes they have memories of not being married, but just being very close friends, brothers or sisters, moms or dads in those previous lives.

        Better than anything that can be imagined.



        • John Martin Fischer says:

          Cool.  I agree that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and sometimes more wonderful.  I’d like to believe what you report!  Of course, whereas people certainly do say things like this, it is a different question as to whether they are literally true.

          • Michael says:

            @John Martin Fischer

            Trying to be not confrontational here.

            But Truth is more than “cool”. And, yes, it is something I am *reporting * as a first person experience rather than imagining or repeating through hearsay or readwrite.

            The larger issue here is that, when you turn away from the Truth that has been Revealed, that becomes the basis for the imaginations of the “beast of the earth” consciousness of the ‘thinker’. In other words, the same ‘thinker’ that imagines eternal life in a metaphysical existence or in one particular marriage with the same preson is the same ‘thinker’ that imagines metaphysical doctrines which motivate–and then ‘justify’–bloodshed and genocide between the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religionists.

            I do not say anything “lightly”. If you read the Thanksgiving Hymns of the Dead Sea Scrolls (these are easily available in most religious bookstores), you will be able to read the words of Jesus himself about his understanding of Eternal Life….just within the first few pages. All you have to do is realize that the Hymns are not merely poetry, but are an expression of the *Knowledge* Revealed through both the Memory of Creation, the memories of previous lives, and the Vision of the “Son of man” (referred to in one of the much later hymns as the “Vision of Knowledge”).

            That is what the Teaching of Jesus was all about; and the Teaching for which he was murdered; because those Truths contradicted the thoughts of the Jewish religious establishment.

            It is specifcially the imaginations of the ‘thinker’ which are the enemy of Revealed Truth…

            As well as the source of suffering and violence.


  7. H H says:

    Hi John,

    Nice essay!  Regarding “other-directed” projects, I don’t think that we would necessarily run out of “other-directed” projects if we lived longer lives.  However,  I do think that it’d be very difficult, more difficult than we might expect, to take on new “other-directed” projects during a longer life span.  My reason for thinking this is a phenomenon that I call the “hardening” of personality.  I say that it is a fact about human beings that most people’s personalities do not radically change once they reach a certain age.  That is to say, people’s personalities “harden”:  at some point, we become who we are and we stay who we are throughout our natural lives.  Of course, we can and do make changes in our lives along the way.  We can break bad habits and take up new interests, among many other things.  But many people find, quite often, I think, find that doing even these things requires a great deal of effort, struggle, and sometimes pain, mainly because their personality has so “hardened”.  Who one is, what one believes, what one likes, what habits one has — fundamentally, these things become settled.  And people rely heavily on these things being settled just to get through a single day.

    Now, supposing I’m correct about this and that all I’ve said is true about the way human beings are now, I should think this “hardening” would be also true of human beings who lived much longer lives.  And perhaps it is also plausible to think that their personalities would become harder because they’re living longer.   My intuition is, the harder one’s personality becomes, the harder it will be for one to take on new projects.  Imagine a person, Bob, who has been alive for 250 years, during which time he has, with immense enjoyment, been reading novels.  There are countless other projects that he could take on, things he’s never tried — farming, small motor repair, surfing, etc., etc.  So he hasn’t run out of projects.  But are these other projects even real possibilities for Bob?    Sure, he has a longer life span and more time to try different things, but I should think that only a limited number of projects are going to appeal to him because Bob is who he is by now: he’s a bookworm.  I doubt that a 250-year-old bookworm would have any interest whatsoever in raising a farm, repairing a motor, or catching a wave.  If Bob were to take up any of those things, I suspect he would do what many people do when they try undertake new projects:  they don’t stick with ’em because it’s so damn hard to incorporate new things into our lives given our “hardened” personalities.  Hence so many fallen New Year’s resolutions, alas.

    All this is not to say that a longer, more “hardened” life would therefore be boring.  Bob might be perfectly content to spend the next 250 years reading more novels.  But some people might get bored, depending on which projects are real possibilities for them given their personalities.

    • John Martin Fischer says:

      Thanks, HH–nice point, and it is underappreciated in my own thinking about these matters.  Right: a bookworm who has been avidly reading for 250 years might not find it easy to take up repairing his car or gardening or…  This is a good point.

      One possibility: people would be less “hardened” in the relevant way in an immortal life, knowing that they have infinnite time.  It might be that part of the “hardening” comes from the explicit or implicit recognition of finitude.  When this is relaxed, perhaps there would be more energy to consider and engage with very different sorts of projects.  My guess is that an effective “bridge” to new projects would be to build on the old ones.  So the bookworm might start focussing on books on gardening and then slowly start applying some of the fascinating knowledge he has acquired.  The new passion might then develop, building on existing passions. 

      Your question does give me an opportunity to highlight something that I should have made clearer perhaps in my essay.  I am only arguing that immortality *need not* be boring.  Of course, it might well be for some people–or even many or most people.  And it could be excrutiatingly horrible for many people.  I’m not denying this.  I’m arguing against Immortality Curmudgeons, such as Bernard Williams, who contend that immortlaity would be *necessarily* boring (if not undesirable in other ways).  Your point, which I grant, is that it might be harder than one initially supposes to tap into the energy required for projects that are admittedly “out there”.

  8. Dave Beglin says:

    Hey John,

    Great post!  Lots of interesting stuff here.

    I enjoyed your exchange with Ben, and I wanted to comment on that.  Ben makes a really marvelous point:  being immortal, it seems, would change the way we conceive of our projects.    You build on this by suggesting, as an example, that if we were to become immortal, we might have to change the way we conceive of marriage; we might have to “re-think this goal.”  All of this seems right to me.  It makes me wonder, though, about how we might relate to our projects differently if we were immortal and whether changing how we relate to our projects is a good thing.  Take your marriage case.  Viewing one’s beloved as one in a long line of beloveds is a radically different way of conceiving of romantic love than our current paradigm, and I can’t help but think it would bleed into the way one relates to and practically engages with one’s beloved.  And something similar might be said for other projects.  If I conceive of my projects as one in a long line of other projects, I wonder if this would change the way I relate to any one of my projects.  Perhaps less obscurely, I wonder if the significance of my projects would be negatively affected if I were to become immortal and change the way I conceive of them.  What do you think? And might such change be bad insofar as it might mean living longer but perhaps less meaningful lives?

    • John Martin Fischer says:

      Thanks, Dave.  Yes, I think Ben’s point is marvelous–and so is your extension of it.  Nice!

      Right, love is supposed to be forever.  Maybe if I assume from the beginning that it won’t be (the assumption need not be explicit), this would inevitably change the nature of my relationship–my feelings and passion might be diluted.  Of course, we already assume this, given our finite lives–we know that even if a marriage works, both partners will eventually die.  So it won’t really be FOREVER (Hallmark Cards to the contrary notwithstanding).  But somehow it might be thought to be diffferent to acknowledge the inevitability of death curring off the relationship/marriage; that is, there *does* seem to be a difference between this (admittedly melancholy) reflection and an assumption, right from the get-go, that although both of you will continue living, the relationship will “die”.   Would this entail that you are not “all-in”, as it were?  It is, one might say, the Problem of Unforced Termination. (PUT)

      Does PUT wreck everything.  Maybe it would indeed *change* everything, even one’s attitude toward one’s career.  (Would PUT apply to one’s career and hobbies as well as one’s marriage?)  I would commend the thought that, although PUT would imply changes, there would still be enough similarities to make life worthwhile.  Even if we are not “all-in”, we could still have significant passions, couldn’t we?  After all, we already know that over 50% of marriages fail in our world as we know it, so we know that that is a significant possibility.  Of course we can still be “all-in” in the sense that we throw everyting into the marriage hoping that it will succeed.  But in the back of our minds we know that many fail, and this seems compatible with having significant passion and energy.

      I return to Michael’s more optimistic views above.  We can hope that PUT will not apply, even in an immortal life.  Just as with unforced errors generally, we can hope to avoid unforced terminations.

  9. Meyer1953 says:

    I say that all life is drawn forth, as its life. I am saying in this that life is typically out of its own skin at any given moment. The example of this would be a Navy ship, where the captain is the primary actor, but (especially at crunch time) all hands focus their own will on supporting the captain. Another example would be Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, and those who decades later brilliantly pioneered its potentials to the saving of untold thousands of lives. No one particular is the star in this being drawn forth.

    It is literally an emergent phenomenon, so there are no solos.

    But once pioneered, the distances crossed by the masses of supporting ones are beyond fantastic. Hence, the example of beasties that eventually become our own biology. Those beasties were nothing special in their own times, just eucaryotes like many others. But being drawn forth by life about them, life that in total is emergent in character, those beasties fostered an heritage that literally included us.

    Just so as beasties became what no beastie could ever ever in any way shape or form dream up, do people in our OWN generations become in NDEs that which is actually ineffably sublime. A profoundly common comment is that the others seen in those experiences are serving and supporting the experiencers. So, the stuff of life is increased beyond measure, beyond expectation, beyond description and beyond the farthest imagination by that life flows through us. Not to us – through us.

    Just look at Google. In 1995 a couple of grad students took hold of an idea, and then played with it for several years. Their business model was simply to provide. They made no money off providing. But the market share was vast, even legendary. When they went into real business their profits also became legendary. But first, they did for others. Then that doing for others positioned Google into history as one of the fastest growing companies of the computer age.

    • John Martin Fischer says:

      If you are saying that human beings are essentially social creatures in important ways, I’m with you.  Also, if you are emphasizing that being attentive to the needs of others will often also lead to happiness and reards for oneself, I agree.

      Yes, NDEs often (although not invariably) involve religious figures or deceased relatives who comfort one and guide one along one’s further “journey”.  This is a feature of the way these experience seem to the NDErs, and it is no doubt that they really are a feature of the experiences.  Whether the experiences depict some external reality as it is, that is, whether this feature maps onto an external reality, is a different and more difficult quesiton.

  10. bmy says:

    Hi John,

    I think that your example of marriage is a perfect one for illustrating the point I was trying to suggest. Marriage can be thought of both as an interpersonal relationship and as a contract. Indeed, it functions in both ways in our current way of life. So thinking about marriage allows us to think about various kinds of projects all at once.

    One thing that is immediately clear is that certain aspects of the practice of marriage would seem out of place given immortality. In my own marriage ceremony, my wife and I pledged “’til death do us part.” That language would no longer apply. But that is a small point in relation to the issues you raise.

    In particular, the question of whether it would be reasonable to aim at an everlasting marriage is an interesting one. I am inclined to think that something like your response to Heinrik’s interesting comment is relevant here: the aim of an everlasting marriage may be more reasonable for some than for others. But this does not seem to be very different from how things actually stand with respect to us mortals and our marriages. It is more reasonable for some people to aim at spending their entire (finite) lives together than for others to aim at this. Perhaps the ratios would be different given immortality, but it is not clear that ther would be no one for whom it would be reasonable to aim at being together forever. This also goes some way toards responding to Dave’s nice comment. It isn’t clear that we would need to think of marriage serially given an immortal existence. So it’s not clear that, even if this would be a change for the worse, that it would be a change that follows just given an immortal existnece. More generally, I am inclined to be a bit skeptical about our ability to think through concrete cases in the context of an immortal existence. In part, this is because I think that our thining about things is very much conditioned by our background acceptance of our own mortality. So I am inclined to think that our judgments about cases given the assumption of immortality may not be so reliable. (I believe that this is a point Sam Scheffler has recently made.) And this makes me skeptical about any argument that purports to show that something would necessarily be the case given an immortal existence. I suppose that this is further reason to think that the curmudgeon’s argument is less convincing than many have thought.

    (As an aside, there are some interesting questions about the social institution of marriage that none of this touches on. But I take it that when we are thinking about the desirability of immortality, we are more concerned with the interpersonal relaitonship aspect of marriage. So I won’t pursue them here. But they are interesting. Here’s another interesting social insitution to think about: mortgages. What would a reasonable payment schedule be given an infinite life? What about interest rates and accrued interest? Would it be reasonable for me to take out a mortgage and expect to pay it back over 300 years? At what interest? Funny things happen when we get into infinity.)

    Thanks again for a great discussion!

  11. H H says:

    Hi all,

    I agree that Ben’s point is an important one.  The curmudgeon has to explain why an infinite life would be necessarily bored if living forever would radically change how human beings conceive of their projects; otherwise, the curmudgeon’s argument is incomplete.  However, it may be too much to ask a curmudgeon to provide such an explanation.  For the curmudgeon himself, presumably, cannot say what one’s perspective would look like in that scenario; he is, like we are, stuck with the perspective that we, as mortals with shorter average life spans, currently.  Consequently, all the curmudgeon has is a certain perspective on projects and then projects it onto these hypothetical worlds in which human beings live longer.  The immortality optimists (and pessimists) are stuck in the same boat.

    I am therefore not sure that Ben’s point, deep and important as it is, threatens the curmudgeon’s position.  The curmudgeon could grant Ben’s point and say that we are bound by, and thus can only explore it from, our current standpoint.  But notice that this response, though it might get him out of trouble in respect to Ben’s point, amplifes the other incomplete aspect of his argument.    For as John has pointed out, the curmudgeon has not shown that the projects we currently know and love could sustain a meaningful existence.  Thus it would be imperative that a curmudgeon who responded to Ben’s in the way that I just sketched to show this.  If we really are bound by our current standpoint, why couldn’t the projects that we know and currently love sustain a meaningful existence?  Not an easy question to answer!

    • John Martin Fischer says:

      Yes, the thought experiment of imagining immortal life is like certain other philosophical thought-experiments in inviting us to think about things very differently.  It is a general worry, emphasized by Wittgenstein and his followers (although one does not have to be a Wittgensteinean to be concerned about such issues), that our own perspective cannot be expanded to include the departures from reality involved in the thought-experiments.  And asking about immortality seems to be a partiuclarly extreme or challenging version of this kind of problem.

      I agree that we need to be extremely careful in evaluating all philosophical thought-experiments.  And I agree that immortality is a thought-experiment that would call for very significant changes that we would not perhaps immediately think of.  There is an interesting paper by Mikhel Burley of Leeds (UK) in which he presses these sorts of concerns, and Samuel Scheffler also does. 

      This is a situaiton in which I’m inclined not to give up, but rather, to be extremely careful in evaluating the thought-experiment.  Also, it seems appropriate to keep in mind Sir John Templeton’s emphasis on intellectual humility; here, as elsewhere, it is sensible (as well as appealing) to be humble.

  12. PT Ryan says:

    Thanks for the intereting post!  I wonder if qualified version of the urgency objection would have more bite.  I agree that believing that I will live forever wouldn’t make relieving pain any less urgent.  However, maybe urgency plays another role in our lives.  I can think of cases in my own life when I haven’t apologized for having wronged someone else today, because I knew that it wasn’t a matter of life and death – the relationship wouldn’t end if I didn’t act right that second.  Now, should I have made amends right away? Probably, but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t because I thought that I had more time, or I wasn’t thinking of time at all.  Another case of what I think is the same phenomena has to do with the pursuit of a goal that one is still struggling to fully make one’s own.  For example, I might think that I need to become the best philosopher, artist or scientist that I can be.  But, I constantly allow myself to get distracted from this goal.  As I’m imagining it my old habits die hard – I give into that hankering to relax and watch TV instead of pushing onward with some work, or I decide that it would be better to go out for the night instead of working on a project that has a looming deadline.  Of course it’s not healthy to work all the time, and sometimes it is good to relax and watch TV, but what I’m trying to bring out in the example is that I haven’t yet been able to make my sense of the kind of person that I am trying to be organize my habits and dispositions, and beat back those habits that would stand in the way of me becoming that person.  We might reasonably say that my conviction that I must become this person is lacking in urgency.  If I would just see that I am running out of time, and that if I don’t start acting then I won’t become the best philosopher or scientist that I can be, then perhaps those inclinations to watch TV would feel less benign and more like imminent threats to my most deep seated values.

    A few observations about cases like these: perhaps (and I think that some philosophers hold this view) being faced with death lights a fire under us, and gives the task of becoming the kind of person that we think it is best for us to be the kind of urgency that is lacking in the above examples.  So, belief in immortality might not threaten all the roles that urgency plays in our lives, only the kind of existential urgency that I’ve tried to bring out in what I’ve said here.  An interesting implication is that the belief in immortality is not the only thing that can diminish this sense of urgency.  In fact, we might normally lack this sense of urgency: for the most part we just go with the flow, and it is only when we have genuine encounters with our own mortality that the relevant sense of urgency kicks in and helps the person in the example above get their priorities straight and start actively working towards the kind of life that they’ve imagined for themselves.  We might even imagine that, for the most part, we don’t have genuine ideals for how we should lead our lives and it is only when faced with our own mortality that we get down to asking how we ought to live.  So, perhaps believing that one was immortal would be a lot like living without any genuine awareness of the fact that one will die.  I think it at least worth entertaining the idea that if we believed that we were immortal our lives might look a lot like the way that we live for the most part as we go about our day to day affairs.

    Perhaps there are other kinds of experiences that prompt this kind of urgency, and if there are, and if those experience persist for the immortals, then we need not worry about losing it.  However, I think that this kind of urgency is more plausibly threatend than the kind of urgency associated with a pain or with remorse.  Whether or not I have correctly characterized it, the general idea is that there is a kind of urgency that it we care about and that plays a certain role in our lives, and we ought to try to say what that kind of urgency is and consider whether belief in immortality would affect it.

    • John Martin Fischer says:

      Thanks for this great comment.  It is a nice point to distinguish different kinds of threats to urgency.  And I agree that the threat from pain would present itself in a very different way from the existential threat you describe–the threat to identity, as it were.  Still, I do think we would need to face the threat to identity, even in an immortal life.  One way this would manifest itself is in relationships.  If I want someone I care about to care about me, I’ll need it to be the case that there’s a “me” there for the other person to care about.  I’ll need to “be someone”, in order to attact the people I want to be my friends.  Also, over time I’ll have my own aspirations; I won’t be comfortable just floating around, passively reacting to my circumstances; I’ll want to have a determinate character and an identiy.

      But I concede that these pressures are more abstract and perhaps less pressing than (say) pain, and I also would think that different persons would have different tendencies here.  Some will be more inclined to seek a definite “practical identity’ early on, whereas others will be ok “trying on” different identities and even maintaining a detachment from any particular identity.  This is similar to what happens in our ordinary, finite lives–but writ large.

      I am reminded of a statement by Lily Tomlin, the Canadian comedienne, in her one-woman play, “In Search of Intelligent Life in this Universe”: “When I was young, I just wanted to grow up to be someone.  Now I realize I should have been more specific.”

  13. Mxpxlcp55 says:

    Thank you for the thought provoking article Professor. Being a student of philosophy and theology, I definitely concur to the idea that having more time would be exceedingly worthwhile; trying to exhaust all of the amazing texts in the history of philosophy and theology is a task that will consume the rest of my life, and that would be barely scratching the surface. To further contemplate how many amazing things I have yet to experience, how much more quality time I could spend with my family, people I could meet, people who could be helped by me, or just the foods I have yet to try, etc, all of this adds to the idea that a longer life would be great. However I do think it becomes problematic if we insert the term infinite next to “life”, mainly because I think we could easily reach an apex where we say “is this all there is?” I do firmly believe that we all desire truth, beauty, and goodness; these things having their actuality in a transcendent God. I don’t think that these can be fully attained in any sort of temporality, even if it is infinite time. Hence Christians believe in the notion of the “Beatific vision”–a participation in the very life of God that is eternal (outside of time). Now whatever this means, it is beyond comprehension; and if it is the ultimate end of mankind, then I think no matter what we achieve, it will be nothing in comparison to truth, beauty, and goodness itself (participation in the life of God). In relation to how we should act now, I would argue that we should continue to act as we currently are; for this life in time is precious because it has an eternal end. In focusing on the here and now, we are simultaneously focusing on what comes after; the two go hand and hand. There are a variety of outlooks in regards this matter, so I thank you for allowing me to share my view. 

  14. Meyer1953 says:

    Regarding the accounts of near-death experiences, the observation was raised “Whether the experiences depict some external reality as it is, that is, whether this feature maps onto an external reality, is a different and more difficult question.” I very much agree, that what is “out there” is not the actual question. Rather, to me, the question is about us: about how it is that we engage life itself. Then questions about what is out there become, how is it that we people have such profoundly life-determining experiences from within our own days.

    Just as Marie Antoinette is quoted as saying “Let them eat cake,” do some researchers dismiss out of hand the reports of NDEs. They say that it is death terror or oxygen deprivation, and so on. Then they dump the whole question into a black box saying, “survival fitness made these things happen” but leave the black box untouched. What I am excited by, is to open that black box and one by one find vast the discoveries of life to which we are privileged, a privilege we may engage as we actually live this reality.

    Again, an analogy would be to the function of sight. We do not need to know the Standard Model of physics to discover that the eyes receive, and report, light to the brain. We just need to know of nerves, retinas, and lenses. But knowing of them does more for us societally than to know photons without knowing eyes. Just so, the NDEs give some of us an imperishable (within nearly any so affected lifespan, they do remain fresh as though yesterday until actual death) experience from which to vet, in some cases, and to form, in other cases, our discoveries about what makes us as people tick.

    To put it another way, how is it that some ridiculous thing like 180 pounds of organic chemistry could carry such a mystery as this life: more to the point, how could such a life behold such wonder beyond it as the NDEs. For if, indeed, the reports are accurate, we as people have work to do here and that work must be carried somehow in this carbon-based unit we (each) maneuver about. So the question again returns to us people, how can what we see about life through perspectives of immortality inform us of the life we do certainly carry. This is exciting work, to me, especially as I describe a foundational approach to such resolution in a website,

    What I am saying here is, that since we as people live the principal wonder of the universe daily, we are explicitly and ever so personally privileged beyond measure to find out what about us, what about life. So I think that this all makes for a very good day, even should that day stretch for a billion years.

    Ken Meyer

    • Michael says:

      @Ken Meyer

      It would seem to be appropriate here to bring into the discussion something in a similar area to what are referred to by Western science as Near Death Experiences.

      In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, there is mention of the “vision of the peaceful deities” and the “vision of the wrathful deities”, which occur after death and before the person is ‘raised from the dead’ (‘rebirthed’) to live another life. They are recognized as delusions, even though real experiences.

      These accounts are not theories of what happen. They are first person descriptions of the experiences that occur after death. But, once again, these experiences demonstrate that there should be no worries about either living for an eternal life in the same body, or living in an eternal metaphysical existence; such experiences, however, calling into question the *complete* structures and contents of human consciousness itself.


  15. nick.hale.980 says:

    Simply put, if we are talking about immortality in the physical world, it is true that one would never run out of things to do, but whether one accepts the immortality or not is a different question. If we are talking about an after-life, then yes, why worry about debts and everything, as long as its not passed on to your children of course, if you are going to go to Heaven.

    Nick Hale

    Mind and Machine

  16. Jillian says:

    I do agree that we wouldn’t run out of any projects in a very long life or in an infinitely long life. Everyone always talks about how they wish they had time, or to make sure that you live every day like it’s your last because life is short. If life was infinitely long we would be able to complete any project we want. I believe that this would make people challenge themselves more and pursue bigger dreams because they would have the time and wouldn’t feel like it was a waste of time to do it (time would be all they have.) I believe that if we were to live such long lives people wouldn’t rush and choice would be more elaborated on and give people longer to choose what they want to do in life. Instead of ending up doing something they hate everyday because they chose the less time consuming route in life. People may get bored from time to time because time is all we would have, but people get bored now and we don’t live forever. Being bored is inevitable.

    3. Do you agree that, even if you believe in an afterlife, you should be concerned about your behavior and motivations here and now.  Or do you thank that you should focus more on the life to come?

    It depends on how you view the afterlife, if it is religiously, then of course you should be concerned about your life here and now because it may determine whether you go to heave or hell (Christian Religion.) 

    • John Martin Fischer says:

      Good point: boredom exists in this life (although NOT in any of my classes!!), and we still think our lives are eminently worth living.  So why should it be any different in an immortal life?  Bernard Williams thinks that we would have to have some activity that would “make boredom unthinkable” in an infinitely long life; but why?  Why apply a double standard to finite and infinite lives?  That’s dialectically unfair!

  17. ashnita04 says:

    I do not agree that we would run out of other-directed projects in a very long life. Things will always come up and there will always be something for someone to do. Things will break down and like you said, there are still tons of cures we need to find for diseases. As we find some cure, more diseases will pop up and we will have to find cures for those as well. 

    I agree and disagree that we could still have self-directed projects in a very long or infinitely long life. This is because there will be things you want to do for your own pleasure, but then there will also be times where you think “I can always do this some other day. Afterall, I have all the time in the world.” 

    I believe that you should be concerned about your behavior and motivations here and now because whatever you choose to do, eventually it will pass by in the afterlife. Your afterlife should depend on what kind of person you were and on your actions. You shouldn’t live your life in falsity because of a good reward you’ll get in the after life. If you behaved as a bad person then you should be punished and if you were genuinely a good person then you should be rewarded. 

    • John Martin Fischer says:

      But suppose your romantic partner wants to kiss you *right now*.  And suppose further that it is an appropriate context–you are in private, and so forth.  If you were immortal, would it really be appropriate to say, “No thanks, I have all the time in the world.”  I think that there would be similar reasons to take action on our self-focussed projects in immortal lives–similar, that is, to those that obtain in our finite lives.