Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Will dogs live forever?

Suppose a dog lives forever. Assuming the dog stays roughly dog-sized, there is only a finite number of possible configurations of the dog’s matter (disregarding insignificant differences on the order of magnitude of a Planck length, say). Then, eventually, all of the dog’s matter configurations will be re-runs, as we will run out of possible new configurations. Whatever the dog is feeling, remembering or doing is something the dog has already felt, remembered or done. It will be literally impossible to teach the dog a new trick (without swelling the dog beyond normal dog size).

But a dog’s life is a material life, unlike perhaps the life of a person. Plausibly, a dog’s mental states are determined by the configuration of the dog’s (brain) matter. So, eventually, every one of the dog’s mental states will be a re-run, too.

And then we will run out of states re-run once, and the dog will only have states that are on their second or later re-run. And so on. There will come a day when whatever the dog is feeling, remembering or doing is something the dog has felt, remembered or done a billion times: and there is still eternity to go.

Moreover, we’re not just talking about momentary re-runs. Eventually, every day of the dog’s life will be an identical re-run of an earlier day of the dog’s life (at least insofar as the dog is concerned: things beyond the power of the dog’s sensory apparatus might change). And then eventually every year of the dog’s life will be a re-run of an earlier year. And then there will come a year when every coming year of the dog’s life will already have been done a billion times already.

This doesn’t strike me as a particularly flourishing life for a dog. Indeed, it strikes me that it would be a more flourishing life for the dog to cut out the nth re-runs, and have the dog’s life come to a peaceful end.

Granted, the dog won’t be bored by the re-runs. In fact, probably the dog won’t know that things are being re-run over and over. In any case, dogs don’t mind repetition. But there is still something grotesque about such a life of re-runs. That’s just not the temporal shape a dog’s life should have, much as a dog shouldn’t be cubical or pyramidal in spatial shape.

If this is right, then considerations of a dog’s well-being do not lead to the desirability of eternal life for the dog. As far as God’s love for dogs goes, we shouldn’t expect God to make the dogs live forever.

This is, of course, the swollen head argument, transposed to dogs, from naturalist accounts of humans.

But maybe God would make dogs live forever because of his love for their human friends, not because of his love for the dogs themselves? Here, I think there is a better case for eternal life for dogs. But I am still sceptical. For the humans would presumably know that from the dog’s point of view, everything is an endless re-run. The dog has already taken a walk that looked and felt just like this one a billion times, and there is an infinite number of walks that look and feel just like this one to the dog ahead. Maybe to the human they feel different: the human can think about new things each time, because naturalism is false of humans, and so differences in human mental states don’t require differences in neural states (or so those of us who believe in an eternal afterlife for humans should say). But to the dog it’s just as before. And know that on the dog’s side it’s just endless repetition would, I think, be disquieting and dissatisfying to us. It seems to me that it is not fitting for a human to be tied down for an eternity of a friendship with a finite being that eventually has nothing new to exhibit in its life.

So, I doubt that God would make dogs live forever because of his love for us, either. And the same goes for other brute animals. So, I don’t think brute animals live forever.

All this neglects Dougherty’s speculative suggestion that in the afterlife animals may be transformed, Narnia-like, so that they become persons. If he’s right, then the naturalistic supervenience assumption will be no more true for the animals than for us, and the repetition argument above against dogs living forever will fail. But the argument above will still show that we shouldn’t expect brute animals to live forever. And I am dubious of the transformation hypothesis, too.

At the same time, I want to note that I think it is not unlikely that there will be brute animals on the New Earth. But if so, I expect they will have finite lifespans. For while an upper temporal limit to the life of a human would be an evil, an upper temporal limit to the life of a brute animal seems perfectly fitting.


The New York Crank said...

I have read your argument several times. I don't pretend that I completely understand it. I confess that I am a bit dim when it comes to philosophical reasoning. However, your argument made one thing crystal clear to me.

You should not own a dog.

Yours very crankily,
The New York Crank

Alexander R Pruss said...

I'm scared of dogs anyway.

bruce brittain said...

If my dog, Ellen Barkin, lived forever, she would gladly chase, catch and retrieve the frisbee a billion times, stopping only for the occasional rest and drink of water. She would be happy forever. I, however, would have grown weary of this process several hundred thousand times ago.

Wesley C. said...

One possible response to the objection that a dog's life just wouldn't be a flourishing life if everything is repeated for it is that this smuggles in the implicit anthropomorphising tendency to view animal life as requiring the same as human life does.

So while a human life repeated forever without anything new and only being one large repetition might be ugly and not fitting for human beings, the same may not be true for animals. Animals are below is in the great chain of being, so what is fitting for them is not the same as what is fitting for us.

And what for us may not seem like a flourishing life to have, may be just fitting for animals to have.

Another, and much larger response to the repetition objection, is that it's just false. As you yourself said in your blog post about fictional characters and Heaven, things may have infinite subtility and infinite depth of participation in God. Nothing is actually boring, and repetition does not suck the enjoyability or wonder out of things. Everything can be enjoyed infinitely many times, and will in reality never get boring. The only reason why things get boring now is because of original sin; our mind is clouded and cannot see the glory of created goodness that is inexhaustible.

So even if a dog were to experience nothing but repetition of everything, it still wouldn't be bored; on the contrary, it would enjoy it always without getting tired of it.

What this means is that repetition is not something evil, so a dog's life isn't being restricted from flourishing properly because of repetition.

And the biggest response to the repetition objection comes from Chrisitan eschatology. All of reality, at the end of time, will be glorified by God. This is referred to as the New Earth and New Heaven. Just as Jesus' resurrected body is the same body He had before the resurrection, so too will all of material reality be resurrected and glorified as well.

What this means is that material reality will in some sense be much more than it is today. It will be more beautiful, more interesting, more diverse and more wonderful than it is today. Another important point is the very real possibility that God may always continue to glorify reality in this way. The increased goodness, beauty and wonder of material reality will not cease; it will continue happening. This means that creation will always progress more and more in being glorified and being added upon.

Obviously what this means is that nothing will be boring. But what it also means is that creation will have an inexhaustible aspect to it, since it will keep being elevated. So no activity may in fact be perfectly repeated. It will always not only continue to be interesting and enjoyable, but it will become more interesting and more beautiful as time goes on.

So dogs won't actually be having the same exact experience over and over again. Fetching sticks, for example, may become more and more pleasurable for the dog's nature, and as such it will never be perfectly repeated because it will always be more and more enjoyable because it will be more and more glorified.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Wesley: That's a nice move. So the animals would be no longer made of the same kind of matter as they are now or supervenience would no longer hold. I guess that's possible.

Wesley C. said...

Alex: Well, I don't think the matter would be different in kind. Glorification of matter is simply something being added to the matter (God's grace?), which could be categorised as accidental change.

When Jesus was resurrected, His body at that point was essentially the same as before His resurrection. The matter of the body might have been changed in the sense that it was glorified or transformed, but it's still the same matter that actually existed before the resurrection. So the identity of the matter will remain.

Which means any potential resurrected animals will have essentially the same bodies and matter they had before their resurrection, only this time glorified and transformed.

It's the same kind of matter, because otherwise it wouldn't be the same animal if it was a completely different kind of matter altogether. But it's glorified matter, meaning the matter has something added to it.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

All I know is that when Christ comes to make all things new, and that is all things, my horses, cats and dogs will be restored without their infirmities. I don't know how this will all happen, i just know that it will and that that is sufficient.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

This is why dogs are happier than us.