Dr. John Martin Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of California Riverside, presented “The ‘Forever Wars’: Should You Choose to Live Forever?” on Monday, April 15, 2024, at Niagara University. The presentation was the fourth in a series of discussions hosted by the university’s Ostapenko Center for Ethics in Medicine and Healthcare this spring.

In his talk, Dr. Fischer presented the views of several philosophers who do not think individuals should choose to live forever and explained why, under certain specific circumstances, he disagrees with these “Immortality Curmudgeons.”

Starting with the concept of radical life extension as opposed to true immortality, Dr. Fischer proposed a thought experiment imagining that there was an elixir available that would allow you to live for thousands of years. While you could still die, you would not be susceptible to death by natural causes. Further, he suggested, you would not deteriorate physically or cognitively, and you would be living under favorable conditions—adequate food and shelter, a clean environment, and enough economic resources to live a decent life. Under these parameters, would you take the elixir?

Approximately 30% of those in attendance would, and Dr. Fischer provided arguments to support that choice.

Contrasting the “curmudgeons” who suggest that living forever would eventually become boring and repetitive, that you might lose sense of your personal identity, or that it would prevent the endings that we inherently seek to our life’s narratives, Dr. Fischer suggested that living a radically extended life would actually enable us to discover new rewarding experiences and that we would have different perspectives as we repeated them over the course of the centuries, making them continuously appealing for us. Because we have likely already experienced the loss of some childhood memories, he argued that a long life would not impact our sense of self. And the fact that we were only radically extending our lives rather than living forever negates the argument that we would not have the ending we seek, he said.

While he acknowledged that other reasons one might not choose to take the elixir, such as not wanting to  experience the deaths of loved ones, or a belief that the “best of all possible existences is a union with God in heaven,” were valid, he argued that, ultimately, because a long life would give us a chance to have more of what we value and enjoy, we should choose to live forever.

“My view is to continue to live under favorable circumstances is better than nothing,” he said, noting that he doesn’t believe in an afterlife. “Even if my continued life would be in the context of a very imperfect world, or even a tragic world, it's better than that.”

Dr. Fischer is coauthor of “Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife” and coeditor of “Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings.” He was project leader of The John Templeton Foundation’s Immortality Project.

Made possible by the generous gift of Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko, the Ostapenko Center for Ethics in Medicine and Healthcare is dedicated to investigating the various ethical issues related to healthcare and medicine facing our local and global communities.