Most people are astonished when I tell them that I would like to live forever. “Would that not get extremely boring after a long time?” many of them ask. I respond, “Being dead-sensing nothing, thinking nothing, feeling nothing-would be far more boring. Besides, one is dead forever; once one is dead, one cannot simply recognize the misfortune of one’s situation and decide that one will not be dead anymore.” An absence of everything is far more boring than a presence of anything.
Indeed, I cannot even readily conceive a life that is necessarily uninteresting. Consider this: there is a vast number of fascinating books in the world. Let us hypothesize an individual who spends all his time reading them; he is a swift reader and can read one book per day. If he is extremely fortunate by today’s standards and lives long enough to read one book per day for 100 years, he will have read 36,525 books in all. But how many books are in an ordinary public library? 100,000? 200,000? In what is more than a contemporary lifetime, this extraordinary reader would not be able to even purvey a third of a single library! How can anyone claim that such a paltry span of time can ever exhaust life’s possibilities?
Let us now hypothesize our reader becoming immortal and continuing to read one book per day. Will he ever run out of books to read? By no means. Wikipedia states that in 2005, 378,000 new titles were published in the United States and the United Kingdom combined-an average of about 1036 per day. Assuming that our reader only cares about books published in the U. S. and the U. K., for every day that the list of books he has read increases by one, the list of books he has not read increases by 1035. Given that the progress of science, education, and culture continues to greatly accelerate the publication of new titles, this gap can only increase at ever-increasing rates in the future. Thus, our reader will not only never run out of things to read; he will never experience even a tiny fraction of all the wonderful literature humans produce. How can life ever be boring when there are so many excellent books at one’s fingertips?
Of course, the joy of reading does not even nearly approach the total joy of living; it is but a small component thereof. If we add to the list of interesting and desirable occupations the visitation of every remarkable place in the world, success in every productive profession, the cultivation and maintenance of bodily health through exercise, the enjoyment of the company of one’s family and friends, and the undertaking of profound contemplation about a myriad of topics, then every day life will offer us millions of hours’ worth of opportunities, of which we, alas, can only exercise twenty-four. This requires prioritizing so as to maximize the values gained, but it also assures us that we can never run out of interesting things to do and to experience.
Let us hope, then, that medical technology advances sufficiently in our lifetimes to keep us alive indefinitely. No matter how long a time we have, it is possible to spend it in a sublime manner. There is no contest between this vast world and its bounties for the human mind on the one hand and absolute nothingness, the void of death on the other. Life wins, hands down.