If tomorrow, scientists discovered humans could all begin to live forever, what new stages of behavior (like mid-life crisis, the terrible twos, three year itch, etc.) would evolve? Already mice have been genetically modified to have their aging process reverse: Reversal of Aging in Mice

I imagine there would be:

  • An immediate classifying of the technology as Top Secret, and then withholding it from the public until certain issues were clarified, like:

    • Birth rates/population densities.
    • Political stability/dipomacy.
    • Ethical debates about worthiness/unworthy or wanted/unwanted genetic/personality traits could be dealt with, i.e. mass murders or people with incurable debilitating diseases might not want to be made immortal.
    • Ethics around voluntary euthanasia would begin to evolve.
  • In the mean time, the government(s) in possession of the technology would begin drafting scenarios about likely outcomes of the technology on human evolution. Some crux issues might be:

    • How many people would actually WANT to live forever? Perhaps they would be an extreme minority and thus releasing immortality therapy to the general public would be a non-issue.
    • New maturity standards: the age of consent, drinking age, voting ages might be different after people begin living for millions of years.

    • New stages of psychology would be constantly being discovered as humans began to live through them

    • Retirement age and social security would change.

    • People would become more socially homogenized the longer they lived due to the increasing number of experiences they lived long enough to experience, meaning on Earth today, there are only a certain number of experiences to be had and yet so many people have not experienced the full range of these experiences. As a result, they cannot relate to each other and fail to communicate and cooperate effectively. However, if people begin to spread out across different planets, their experiences might begin to be more disparate, resulting in greater isolation and hence less likely to be able to relate to each other in a friendly way.
    • The brilliant minds on earth today would not be lost to death and would continue to drive earth's intellectual development to ever new heights.
    • People without certain qualities might live long enough to be given better genetic traits through genetic editing.
    • Other planets or space stations would be investigated for allowing population expansion and political/philosophical differences.
    • Should dead people be cloned and allowed to grow up again? People like Einstein might be brilliant again if exposed to schooling/training already in accordance with their known predispositions.
    • Research into human tolerance for different experiences for longer time periods must begin. How long can people stand nothing new happening? What forms of release/recreation should be instituted/made legal?

closed as primarily opinion-based by AndreiROM, Hohmannfan, Frostfyre, ckersch, Thucydides Jul 15 '16 at 20:53

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ I think this question is very opinion based (which is out of scope), and much too vague. You need to describe your society, and tell us what you envision happening once a human has lived for 200 plus years, then maybe we can offer suggestions for improvement, not simply make it all up for you. Please read up on WB SE Risk Factors. I'd also like to point you to Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth series, which features rejuvenation and its impacts on society. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jul 15 '16 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ What effect on disease and accident? Better healing or the same, immune/cure to disease, or have to "live forever" with ALS or similar? What about cancer? Lots more details would have strong effect on answer. $\endgroup$ – Seeds Jul 15 '16 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ You appear to have put a lot of thought into this question, but I fail to see what 95% of this has to two with the question in your first sentence. Further, I believe these "stages" to be generic societal concepts, rather than universal behavioral truths. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jul 15 '16 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Well, how do you recommend I go about asking this question? Is this not the appropriate forum, or would you recommend rewording the question? $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Jul 15 '16 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ As AndreiROM said, this is highly opinion-based, so it isn't a good fit for the SE. There really isn't an objective way to decide which answer is "best." If you could define criteria for what makes one answer "better" or more applicable than another, I believe the community would be more accepting of it. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jul 15 '16 at 19:00

"Who wants to live forever?" - Queen

Forever is a very long time. Most people can throw the word "forever" around without really having to come to terms with just how long of a time it is.

The first few stages would be reflections of our current way of living. That's because we have no experience dealing with the curious situation of someone living 200 or 500 years, and its pretty clear that this is something that's too important to leave to mere experimentation. Historically speaking, the solution societies tend to choose for dealing with this is that they reflect their existing society in the new one.

Some societies would treat childhood (i.e. to the drinking age) as one region, and adulthood as another. So you would see either a stretching of the retirement age or an oscillatory cycle of working and retirement. Others would see this as a chance to stretch childhood out, ensuring each individual is more prepared before crossing the essential milestone into adulthood.

The Chinese have traditionally divided life into three regions based on the Chi (lifeforce) and the Xue (blood). In the young stages, the two are not in balance so one guards against passions which could make them more imbalanced. In the adult phase, they are balanced and not easily subdued, so they guard against combativeness which could break things without warning. In the old age phase, they are more depleted, so one guards against other who might try to "acquire" your power without permission. What does this mean? Hard to say, actually. When your people start living forever, how they live forever will affect which phase gets stretched out. If they remain balanced and strong, the Chinese would extend the adult phase. If they merely weaken at a much slower rate, they may extend the old age. It would be up to you to decide how your particular approach work with Chinese Philosophy.

However, we've been talking about 200-500 years. How about 1000? 2000? If a human was 2000 years old right now, they could tell us whether Jesus walked the earth or not, fundamentally changing entire religions just by his presence. How about 10000 and getting to experience the creation of writing? Forever is a very long time.

Let's look at what they have to look forward to. Many are from Timeline of the far future, a predictive model of things to come:

  • After 10,000 years you might get to see the Wilkes Subglacial Basin "ice plug" break down. This catastrophic event would raise sea levels by 3-4 meters.
  • After 100,000 years, the movement of our solar system through the milky way will shift the apparent locations of the stars such that the constellations are no longer recognizable.
  • After about 1,000,000, there's a substantial chance that the Earth will have been hit by a 1km wide meteor or larger. This is just one step shy of the kind of event that ended the reign of the dinosaurs.
  • After about 100,000,000 years, we're pretty much certain that an extiction-level impact will occur by this point. Also, Saturn's rings will have degraded, collapsing into the planet.
  • After 1,000,000,000 years, strange things happen at the plate tectonic level. Due to the changing temperature of the sun, the surface water will boil away slowing plate techtonics enough that voclanos are no longer cycling enough CO2 into the atmosphere to sustain life as we know it. Everything we know about how life sustains itself will have to change to survive. Of course, on the timescales we care about...
  • After 4,000,000,000 years the fuel in the sun runs out. Those who live forever actually have to consider the eventual depletion of their own sun.
  • 1,000,000,000,000 years We become very reliant on memory for cosmology because the expansion of spacetime and the effect of dark matter will completely obscure all evidence of the big bang. Beyond this point, we literally will not know where we came from.
  • 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) years from now, star formation is over. The last of the stars have died out
  • 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years from now, all remnants of stars which have not been permanently ejected from their galaxy have fallen into a black hole
  • 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Matter ceases to exist. This is the scale where current theories predict protons will decay.

Note that we haven't gotten near forever yet. In fact, we're really no closer than we started. Forever is an infinite amount of time away, and infinity is really big.

To handle "stages of psychology" on an infinite scale, we have to shift our ways of thinking. If we want a finite number of stages, each stage needs to last, well, forever (or at least the ones worth mentioning do). Thus, it might be better to assume that everything from now to proton-death-of-the-universe all fits into one stage of our new existence.

Alternatively, we can have an infinite number of stages, and describe them geometrically. For example, we might extrapolate the phases of life for humans. There's the first 3 months, then the first 13 years, then puberty hits and we get another 8ish or so before adulthood. Then there's 40 years until retirement, and roughly 30 years until death. If we try to fit these to an exponential curve, we may be able to build a new set of ever increasingly long stages of life to try to pass the time. We might pick up a binary existence, where life is divided up into potions: 1/4, 1/2, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and so forth.

Of course, the meaningful portion of this which comes from modern human psychology today becomes vanishingly small. What good is the experience of a few billion creatures that have never had to deal with their thousandth birthday party to a creature which has walked the planet a million years. Certainly we will learn something in that time.

"Who waits forever anyway."

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! I had never considered the cosmological ramifications in this way. I had simply thought scientists would continue to make even more discoveries at an increasing rate. Now I wonder if they would figure out how to move into different universes or dimensions of space/time foam or something else to avoid the demise of our universe. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Jul 15 '16 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @ThomBlairIII You're welcome. If you want to explore that sort of strange stuff, Stephen Baxter's Manifold Time is quite the trip. He explores such concepts way more relatably than I can! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 15 '16 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ What you now need to know is, can entropy be reversed? $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jul 15 '16 at 16:56

An immortality treatment would be an unprecedented historical event, but predicting the events would depend on the actual details, specifically:

Actual Details

  • Does the treatment reverse aging, halt aging, or allow indefinite aging?
    • In the first case, we can assume a world of mostly young adults. (If the treatment reversed it all the way to childhood... then it would either not be used or the planet would quickly be depopulated as people aged into infancy and starved.) Either the treatment is administered on a rolling basis, or administered to deliver an optimal age point, in which case in the long run the effects will be roughly equivalent to the halting case.
    • In the halting case, does it halt all biological development? This is hard to imagine, but vampire-genre novels give us a lot of thought-fodder for this. At the least, we can assume that young adults would go a very long distance to take the treatment in their prime. (Think college costs a lot today? Same situation only MUCH more expensive: potentially a new form of slavery.)
    • In the indefinite case, what happens as your body breaks down but refuses to die? Does the majority of the population become indefinitely living but otherwise disabled elderly?
  • Who discovers the treatment?
    • Private Industry: Depending on how they understand it and roll it out, this could either become a black-market situation (avoiding government control), an elite-class only situation (where the cost of or access to the treatment is only affordable by few), or a new-slavery situation (where the societal constraints placed on those who receive the drug are staggering to the degree of entirely controlling the recipients life through one mechanism or another).
    • Government: An attempt to keep it secret is likely, as it provides a substantial advantage over other nations. (Note: 'Top Secret' is not actually that high a classification in many places.) However, without administering it, the treatment does no good. So it can't stay secret forever, or even very long. It is also a mistake to assume that revealing it would be the result of 'clarifying issues' so much as 'seizing an advantage'. What would be guaranteed is that whatever ruling class in power existed would attempt to legislate it such that they kept the power for themselves: potentially divisive in a democratic country.
    • Research Institute: In the modern environment, it's hard to see how this wouldn't quickly become a 'private industry' scenario, but one might see how an MIT-like lab would release the information broadly and you'd have a wide range of competitors in an unregulated state trying to recreate and administer the treatment. This would cause a lot of political chaos, but also probably the most egalitarian and wide uptake of the treatment by those currently living.
  • Complementary technologies:
    • Would birth control become mandatory? Population spikes are absolutely expected in any other scenario, and food and energy production would be immediately strained.
    • Financial instrument reinvention: if people live forever and are not productive forever, the industrial support for those people would have to be radically re-imagined. If those people are productive (hold jobs), the system would still have to be re-invented but along different lines: a lot of insurance would become untenable, for instance. Life insurance notions would have to change. Retirement funding becomes an entirely different beast.
    • Regardless of a population halt, energy usage could be expected to continue to expand as people accrue more and more things that demand it.

Projected Psychology Shifts

  • Voluntary Suicide: It's possible that you'd see an increase in this, but there is no particular reason to think that the ennui of life would actually increase in absence of another driver (such as being enslaved for thousands of years just to afford immortality, or being driven to lower and lower standards of living because the wealth gap continues to increase).
  • Maturity Standards: Unless there is a 'higher' level of maturity (and is there really any evidence there is?) to reach, it's unlikely that notions around what age it's ok to start voting/drinking/etc. at. Most human brains are fully formed at 25, so unless that development continues, '25' is certainly old enough and there is no reason to delay longer. In this scenario, given that the difference between 18 and 0 is meaningless to someone a million years old, there is no reason to bar voting on that count: such a small slice of the population even falls into that bucket that prohibiting it becomes really an exercise in wasting energy. (If that bucket exists at all: is the population still growing? That is the much bigger issue.)
  • Most people would want to live forever. There is no reason to think they wouldn't: the bigger question is if they would forget what death is, and if that would have a bigger impact on society. How is empathy affected if the most major painful thing never (or rarely) happens? If your brother of a million years suddenly dies, how are you adversely affected? Does risk-taking increase or decrease as people become pathological about it? Does the belief in higher spirituality wither because no afterlife is likely to be in the cards?
  • There isn't a clear notion on whether humans would mix more or less. The excuse to 'travel now lest you never get the chance' disappears, but the need to 'stick around lest you miss something' also disappears. Chances are this works out even on balance: those who mix with other humans will continue to do so, those who don't, don't. More difficult is generational gaps: unless the population is stable, those who grew up in a world with death will be very different from those who grew up when death was conquered a millennia earlier.
  • Educational changes would be pronounced: there is no reason not to become an expert in dozens and dozens of fields before you even hit the workforce. A more pronounced problem would be the aging of knowledge you learned early before you are in a position to help yourself. Without compensating learning and educational technology and technique, humans would be both pushed to know many things (they have the time to learn, after all), and be constantly falling behind. The limit to how much one human can know at a given time would likely be quickly found and optimized for. (Well, 'quickly', in that it would be a small percentage of a lifetime.)
  • Presumably technology will progress, and humans will be encouraged to use more and more of it. Gene therapy. Cybernetics. How long until a human is unrecognizable given all the augmentations they've had? Evolving in this manner becomes almost necessary, lest you are left behind by those who do.
  • Lacking a young-brain learning curve and hormones, will creative thought be stifled over time as people learn what they like and get stuck in a stasis with just that?
  • At the rate of one scar every five years, how long until humans look like they've been mauled by a bobcat sent in an Amazon box?
  • Less than needing to be conditioned to deal with 'nothing new', humans would have to be conditioned to deal with everything being 'constantly new'. The world a human grew up in will be a dusty, distant memory for the vast majority of their lives - assuming they even remember. How many years can the human brain go and still hold on to even one memory of childhood?
  • What does the death rate actually become? Even if you will 'live forever', that doesn't mean you can't die: some rate of accident, homicide, disease, planetary impact, and heat death of the universe will still occur. Is the expected human lifetime actually 'forever', or is it only a couple of centuries? In the US the rate of accidental death is 41.3 per 100,000 according to the CDC. Assuming a similar rate, only one human out of every hundred would survive even ten thousand years.
  • Diversity would increase, not decrease. This especially includes psychological diversity as people have more opportunity to experience more paradigms and be shaped by them. Some part of the populace will never get beyond a certain point, getting mired. Some will see new vistas as they are given time to work through various traumas. Because the number of 'rolls of the dice' will happen, simply as a matter of having more time, more people will be weirder and weirder and have more and more unique paths - simply because their histories are longer. Someone who started out as a government worker could a thousand years later be an entrepreneur. While convergence around a given set of widely experienced paradigms would occur, the standard deviation would be much larger. People are weird when you can bound them in a hundred years worth of history, development and life. When they are unbounded they will only be much, much weirder.

Well it hard to predict the literal infinity of live stages that could take place in forever, I think that humanity would have to deal with some form of "immortality depression" The long you live the hard it will be to adjust to the changes take place in the world and the more likely that you life is going to take a bad enough turn that you would consider suicide. Especially if your love one weren't immortal like you. I can predict that most of your immortal people would go thorough at least one stage of depression.


Grumpy old bastard

Seen everything, been there, done that, nothing new in the world and it was all so much better when I was young but it was uphill both ways to school you kids have it so easy these days and don't you dare change anything, it's not broken so don't fix it...

This of course leads into the immortality depression and eventual probable suicide by increasing risk taking. There's a lot of work to be done on the brain before mere physical immortality will be psychologically viable.


Check out Michael Moorcocks The Dancers at the End of Time Books. The immortal society who inhabit the Earth only a few tens of millions of years into the future, possess technology capable of easily converting matter into energy and back again with a really user friendly interface (thought). There is nothing they cant do. But there arent many of them left, no one has come into existence through birth for a long time, and there have been a few internal conflicts as well as an interstellar invasion (aliens trying to stop humans from converting all the matter that matters). The few survivors are ravaged by what we would call mental illness and they are inclined towards suicide. Dystopia caused by immortality and virtually limitless energy and technology.


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