Some Thoughts on Common Assumptions about Radical Longevity

Whenever I talk about the notion of radical longevity–essentially, finding ways to stop the aging process and with it the inevitability of death–I’m always surprised at the amount of resistance that idea encounters.

Some of the resistance comes from a fear of overpopulation, which I don’t think is supported by historical observation. One of the things we tend to see whenever a society becomes more prosperous and more long-lived is declining birthrate. Worldwide, longer lifespan is coupled very tightly to lower birthrate; many industrialized countries, in fact, actually have negative population growth, offset only by immigration. As the world advances in standard of living and in longevity, there’s no reason to believe birthrates won’t continue to decline.

Some of it is based on the notion that many people don’t seem to want to live forever. That’s fine; I’m quite fond of the notion that people should be able to choose, if they like. If a person doesn’t want to live for two hundred or five hundred or a thousand years, that seems perfectly reasonable to me, even if I don’t share that choice. I don’t advocate that anyone be forced to live forever; and on the flip side of the same coin, I’d appreciate if folks not advocate that I be forced to have a lifespan that’s only 70 or 80 years or whatever.

But some of it, I’m convinced, is due to the influence of some religious ideas that I think are both self-contradictory and toxic; and they’re ideas which have so subtly engrained themselves in American society that they’re held even by people who don’t consider themselves religious at all.


An objection I sometimes hear when I talk about increasing human lifespan is “What makes you think you deserve to live longer?” And that argument floors me every time I hear it.

It is interesting to me how common the notion that longer life is something that must be “earned” is. It’s an idea with deep roots in Christianity, of course; the promise of heaven for the righteous and hell for the wicked directly couples a person’s good behavior to the offer of eternal life. And there’s no doubt that Christian Protestant traditions have planted very deep roots indeed into the soil of American society. Libertarianism, for example, could be argued to be the little more than the Puritan work ethic dressed in modern language.

But curiously, this argument seems to be very limited in its scope. We rarely hear that people need to earn the right to live for 70 years, in spite of the fact that this is a good 30 years longer than the average life expectancy at the turn of the 20th century; apparently, sufficiently small and incremental extensions to lifespan escape the “you have to justify your life in order to earn this privilege” clause.

And effectively, that’s what the argument is: a presumption that an effectively unbounded lifespan is a privilege, not a right, and therefore something to be revoked upon insufficient demonstration of worth.

Taken to its (il)logical conclusion, one might postulate that if we start from the premise that long life is something that only the sufficiently righteous have earned, we might propose a system whereby people at the age of 20 or so–the nominal lifespan of early humans in nomadic hunter/gatherer societies–are tested on their worth, with those being deemed insufficiently worthy being taken out behind the chemical shed and shot. They might, I don’t know, even be seen as a resource, with their remains being liquified and fed to the living or something.

Yet I’ve never heard anyone, even those who say “What makes you think you deserve to live forever?”, propose such a thing. It seems that long life must be earned, but only up to a point; before that point, it’s a right, not a privilege.

And that’s where the whole philosophy falls apart.


It seems to me that many religions, particularly Christian religions, hold on the one hand that eternal life is something that must be earned, but cling on the other to the idea that life itself is sacred and that all living people (with some limitations and exclusions that vary from denomination to denomination, and may include gays, lesbians, heretics, atheists, convicted criminals, and/or brown people) have an intrinsic right to life.

This right to life is promoted most directly and actively when it comes to children and infants, with some folks believing so strongly in this essential right that they feel called upon to defend it by planting pipe bombs and shooting doctors.

And all of this strikes me as being a bit contradictory.

You see, from my perspective it looks a bit odd to say that life is something sacred, which is the most basic and most sacrosanct of all human rights–but only in limited quantities, to be determined by the average longevity of the folks around you plus perhaps a decade or two; anything more than that is a privilege to be earned. So presumably a Medieval artisan who declared his desire to live to be a hundred years old might be met with “What makes you think you deserve to live that long?” whereas a modern American might only be asked the same question if his desire were to be to reach, say, two or three hundred.

But what really gets me is the number of folks of no particular religious leanings, and occasionally even folks who identify as entirely atheistic, have bought into this notion. Life is precious, sure, but only if as it doesn’t last past a certain sell-by date, which is never clearly enumerated but definitely seems to be greater than 100 years or so. A person wanting to live for a hundred and sixty years might get a few raised eyebrows; a person wanting to live for a thousand will almost certainly be asked “how have you earned it?”

It seems to me that if life has intrinsic value, then the pursuit of that which frees us from the ravages of old age, the indignity of encroaching enfeeblement, and the ultimate insult of death must necessarily be a virtue; whereas if life is something which must be earned in order to be justified, then it seems entirely consistent and logical to make it an ongoing thing, perhaps with regular tests, and give an exemption only to those too young to have yet begun to work toward earning it.

But what you can’t do is have it both ways.

If you believe as I do that every death is a travesty, the permanent loss of a unique perspective on the universe, then even asking a question like “What have you done to earn it?” becomes an appalling insult. But then, I would say that I fall firmly in the “life is sacred” camp, perhaps even more than the folks who proclaim this principle on the part of some god or gods. And unlike those folks, I don’t attach an expiration date to the preciousness of life.

74 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Common Assumptions about Radical Longevity

  1. I’d be more concerned that radical longevity would reduce change.
    Overall, the older someone is, the more likely they are to resist change.
    I won’t address the idea that a few wealthy folk will hold all the power over who gets to live longer – new health tech will always flow first to those who can afford to play guinea pig.
    However, even with open access to R.L. across the playing field, those who do choose to live longer will have more time to rise to positions of influence and will eventually control more wealth, for far longer than the brief spans you mention as past changes in human longevity.
    After all, the ‘average’ of 40 years you mention includes a very high mortality rate for those under 5, and while 70 was not typical then, it was not unheard of – and we can now foresee R.L easily doubling if not tripling that.
    That’s a fairly radical change, and while blazing new trails is very much a human trait, our tendency to reject change as we age is fairly common.
    So – a society that intends to reduce a birth rate being not all bad, the same society being run by folks far older than we’ve previously experienced for far longer per ‘person in power’ indicates a potential stagnation that does NOT hold much appeal.

    • My girlfriend read a book that solved this problem quite nicely. In this world, where lifespans are so long that you’re not considered to be a master of something until you’ve been at it for 200 years, you were not allowed to be a politician past your… 150th year, I want to say?

      Certainly, that would result in slower change than we currently see, but it avoids the whole “It worked fine a millennium ago” argument.

    • Some of the wealthiest people on the planet got there while young – 40 or younger. The age controls wealth argument is invalid. Intelligence has more to do with it than any other single factor.

      If you can remain healthy into your second or third or twelfth century, you will progress through many careers. Stagnation will be, relatively, momentary. This fear of life getting boring is a reflection of your internal fears, not referenced in research into those who do live longer than the average. Also, those who are “terminally” bored are free to do themselves in. I should think boredom is a self-correcting problem.

    • Overall, the older someone is, the more likely they are to resist change.

      Some of that is inertia, but some of that is physiological. As we age, our brains become less plastic, and create new connections less easily. This is something that biologists are closing in on rapidly. It appears this lack of plasticity is at least in part related to the processes that are responsible for aging; it is likely that should we stop or reverse aging, one of the side effects might very well be increased brain plasticity and increased ability to learn.

      So – a society that intends to reduce a birth rate being not all bad, the same society being run by folks far older than we’ve previously experienced for far longer per ‘person in power’ indicates a potential stagnation that does NOT hold much appeal.

      *Shrug* Beats being dead…

  2. I’d be more concerned that radical longevity would reduce change.
    Overall, the older someone is, the more likely they are to resist change.
    I won’t address the idea that a few wealthy folk will hold all the power over who gets to live longer – new health tech will always flow first to those who can afford to play guinea pig.
    However, even with open access to R.L. across the playing field, those who do choose to live longer will have more time to rise to positions of influence and will eventually control more wealth, for far longer than the brief spans you mention as past changes in human longevity.
    After all, the ‘average’ of 40 years you mention includes a very high mortality rate for those under 5, and while 70 was not typical then, it was not unheard of – and we can now foresee R.L easily doubling if not tripling that.
    That’s a fairly radical change, and while blazing new trails is very much a human trait, our tendency to reject change as we age is fairly common.
    So – a society that intends to reduce a birth rate being not all bad, the same society being run by folks far older than we’ve previously experienced for far longer per ‘person in power’ indicates a potential stagnation that does NOT hold much appeal.

  3. It is interesting to me how common the notion that longer life is something that must be “earned” is. It’s an idea with deep roots in Christianity, of course; the promise of heaven for the righteous and hell for the wicked directly couples a person’s good behavior to the offer of eternal life.

    Of course, in both of those instances (heaven and hell) people are actually getting eternal life. It’s just that one eternal life is wonderful and the other is, well, hell.

    Perhaps religious folks object to radical longevity because they see it as a way to avoid being judged. If you don’t die you never have to face your maker and either be rewarded in heaven or punished in hell. Evil people can live forever without fearing hell’s damnation.

    Just a hypothesis–I have no idea what deeply religious people think.

    • My understanding of soteriology (as a not exactly religious person) is that the idea is weirder than that – that salvation, being so awesome, is *so* awesome that it cannot even be earned. Hence, God’s grace in saving people who cannot do anything good enough to deserve it. You can, however, screw it up and prove yourself deserving of damnation by not doing what the religion in question says.

      When you get into Calvinism, it gets weirder.

  4. It is interesting to me how common the notion that longer life is something that must be “earned” is. It’s an idea with deep roots in Christianity, of course; the promise of heaven for the righteous and hell for the wicked directly couples a person’s good behavior to the offer of eternal life.

    Of course, in both of those instances (heaven and hell) people are actually getting eternal life. It’s just that one eternal life is wonderful and the other is, well, hell.

    Perhaps religious folks object to radical longevity because they see it as a way to avoid being judged. If you don’t die you never have to face your maker and either be rewarded in heaven or punished in hell. Evil people can live forever without fearing hell’s damnation.

    Just a hypothesis–I have no idea what deeply religious people think.

  5. My understanding of soteriology (as a not exactly religious person) is that the idea is weirder than that – that salvation, being so awesome, is *so* awesome that it cannot even be earned. Hence, God’s grace in saving people who cannot do anything good enough to deserve it. You can, however, screw it up and prove yourself deserving of damnation by not doing what the religion in question says.

    When you get into Calvinism, it gets weirder.

  6. My girlfriend read a book that solved this problem quite nicely. In this world, where lifespans are so long that you’re not considered to be a master of something until you’ve been at it for 200 years, you were not allowed to be a politician past your… 150th year, I want to say?

    Certainly, that would result in slower change than we currently see, but it avoids the whole “It worked fine a millennium ago” argument.

  7. Wow, fascinating topic. To me it was poignant, your remark about death as a loss of a unique perspective on the universe. Especially as another person on my flist just posted about her mother’s death and all the things that woman had left undone that were uniquely hers to do, that no one else could finish.

    I’ve never heard the deserving and earning arguments you address here. When this topic has come up in my hearing, the objections I’ve heard have had to do with

    1)elitism/the notion that R.L. would just make the rich and powerful richer and more powerful and

    2)skepticism. I don’t think many people believe the human lifespan *can* be expanded that much. Maybe out to 120 or so. I wonder if those who are skeptical are annoyed with what they see as crackpot science or claims to Sooper Sekrit Knowledge, and that in turn is where the accusations of elitism come from.

    Personally I think life is precious and sacred, AND I think that is not incompatible with its having a beginning, middle, and end. It seems to me that death is a natural part of life — pretty much all living things die, so I don’t think I identify with seeing each death as a travesty (though each is a loss). That said, I do of course empathize with the longing to make life as satisfying, happy, healthy and long as (ethically) possible.

    Thank you for the thought provoking topic! There’s a lot to chew on here.

    • Longevity would ultimately, I suspect, make EVERYONE more rich and more powerful, as we are also pursuing things like molecular level nanotechnology which, if they are realized, would make many of the assumptions of a scarcity economy somewhat obsolete.

      That’s a whole ‘nother issue, though.

      It seems to me that death is a natural part of life…

      Sure it is. So are typhoid, hookworm, smallpox, botulism, starvation, and being eaten by leopards. But folks rarely argue in favor of these things on the grounds that they’re a natural part of life… 🙂

  8. Wow, fascinating topic. To me it was poignant, your remark about death as a loss of a unique perspective on the universe. Especially as another person on my flist just posted about her mother’s death and all the things that woman had left undone that were uniquely hers to do, that no one else could finish.

    I’ve never heard the deserving and earning arguments you address here. When this topic has come up in my hearing, the objections I’ve heard have had to do with

    1)elitism/the notion that R.L. would just make the rich and powerful richer and more powerful and

    2)skepticism. I don’t think many people believe the human lifespan *can* be expanded that much. Maybe out to 120 or so. I wonder if those who are skeptical are annoyed with what they see as crackpot science or claims to Sooper Sekrit Knowledge, and that in turn is where the accusations of elitism come from.

    Personally I think life is precious and sacred, AND I think that is not incompatible with its having a beginning, middle, and end. It seems to me that death is a natural part of life — pretty much all living things die, so I don’t think I identify with seeing each death as a travesty (though each is a loss). That said, I do of course empathize with the longing to make life as satisfying, happy, healthy and long as (ethically) possible.

    Thank you for the thought provoking topic! There’s a lot to chew on here.

  9. Hell yeah, Logan’s Run!

    The objection that first comes to my mind would be that if you don’t expect to die one day you won’t appreciate everything that happens in your life, but, then again, that would also depend on the individual person. Even if it was universally true that wouldn’t answer the question of what that time limit should be, who should decide it, and what right they have on subjecting others to it. Also, even if you did want to die after a certain time period, I’m sure that you would appreciate the medical advances that would keep you in tip-top health until (s)he decided to pull the plug.

    As for the age leads to stagnation thing, my grandmother is in her late 80’s and has learned (limitedly) to use email and surf the internet. I say limitedly because she only learned enough to suit her needs, as a retiree with a full and busy life she doesn’t have time to spend hours per day online, and it has nothing to do with her capacity to absorb it. In fact, she volunteers in the winter/spring to do taxes for people who can’t afford to pay to have them done, and that requires her to learn complicated new laws and rules yearly, which she wouldn’t be able to do if she wasn’t still able to think clearly and adapt. If your fairly typical immigrant (people who are arguably, according to anthropologists, the most resistant to change because they want to hold onto the culture of their past homes) who has English as her 5th language and has been in the country for 50+ years can appreciate technology and change I don’t see why anyone else couldn’t; people just need to be taught to appreciate it and why.

    • The objection that first comes to my mind would be that if you don’t expect to die one day you won’t appreciate everything that happens in your life, but, then again, that would also depend on the individual person.

      Indeed. Most joyful folks I know personally aren’t joyful because they think they’re going to die; and contrawise, the inevitability of death, for many people, snot only doesn’t make them appreciate life, it actually makes them reject life. Think of how many religious traditions tell their followers to turn away from “the World” and to see life as an unfortunate burden to be got through because the REAL reward is in some supernatural heaven that we can only get to after we die.

  10. Hell yeah, Logan’s Run!

    The objection that first comes to my mind would be that if you don’t expect to die one day you won’t appreciate everything that happens in your life, but, then again, that would also depend on the individual person. Even if it was universally true that wouldn’t answer the question of what that time limit should be, who should decide it, and what right they have on subjecting others to it. Also, even if you did want to die after a certain time period, I’m sure that you would appreciate the medical advances that would keep you in tip-top health until (s)he decided to pull the plug.

    As for the age leads to stagnation thing, my grandmother is in her late 80’s and has learned (limitedly) to use email and surf the internet. I say limitedly because she only learned enough to suit her needs, as a retiree with a full and busy life she doesn’t have time to spend hours per day online, and it has nothing to do with her capacity to absorb it. In fact, she volunteers in the winter/spring to do taxes for people who can’t afford to pay to have them done, and that requires her to learn complicated new laws and rules yearly, which she wouldn’t be able to do if she wasn’t still able to think clearly and adapt. If your fairly typical immigrant (people who are arguably, according to anthropologists, the most resistant to change because they want to hold onto the culture of their past homes) who has English as her 5th language and has been in the country for 50+ years can appreciate technology and change I don’t see why anyone else couldn’t; people just need to be taught to appreciate it and why.

    • Re: Wrap music.

      With HTML. You add more code to the HTML IMG tag, like so:

      <img src=”the URL of the image” align=”left” style=”margin-left: 0px; margin-right: 10px;”>

      align=”left” tells the browser to put the image to the left of the block of text that follows. The style tells the browser to put a 10-pixel margin between the image and the text.

  11. I’m confused; doesn’t your position require you to have as many children as possible, because life is previous, and to increase the number unique perspectives on the universe? (Fortunately you allow people “choice” so this would prevent you being a rabid anti-abortionist :-))

    In my case I think I was infected with “long life good!” at an early age because of James Blish’s “Cities In Flight” series, which had universal anti-agathics which could stop the aging process indefinitely (as long as the drugs were taken). Not sure if they could reverse some of the symptoms (been so long since I read the books). And then there’s Heinlein’s breeding program leading to extended life through genetics.

    My concern with reality, though, is how we get there from here. Current life prolonging techniques are not anti-agathics. The result of a declining birth rate is an aging population. Do we want a society where people live to 120, confined to chairs hooked up to machines keeping them alive? Could we afford it (even now social security may not be able to match population trends; what happens when more people are taking out than putting in)? Is the person thus confined having a good “quality of life”?

    Sure, some people are active for longer (my parents are 72 and 68. They’re both in good health; they just repainted their vacation home in last week; Dad’s back, knees, ankles ached a lot afterwards, but he can still do it). But there’s already a lot of things he can’t do and is dependent on others. Mentally they both seem mostly OK.

    An indefinitely long life where people are in their prime… yes, good. But that’s just science fiction. It seems to me that we’re getting an increased active period and an even more increased dependent period. And that concerns me.

    • There are people who manage to make it to their 100s while still being just as active and healthy as someone in their 30s or 40s. Aside from a bit of luck, this also requires a lifetime of being engaged in a general lifestyle which is strongly at odds with the modern corporate financial system – one that is “designed” to burn people out for the sake of short term profits for the wealthiest and then throw them away.

      • “…the modern corporate financial system – one that is “designed” to burn people out for the sake of short term profits for the wealthiest and then throw them away.”

        THIS.

      • Aside from a bit of luck, this also requires a lifetime of being engaged in a general lifestyle which is strongly at odds with the modern corporate financial system – one that is “designed” to burn people out for the sake of short term profits for the wealthiest and then throw them away.

        The “modern corporate system” isn’t NECESSARILY designed for such a thing. In fact, there’s an interesting article over at The Register which makes the argument that Apple passing Microsoft in terms of market capitalization in spite of the fact that Microsoft earns greater profits and has more financial resources shows that many investors do, in fact, make investment decisions based on long-term potential.

        In any event, financial institutions change as societies change. The modern corporate system isn’t the inevitable an unchangeable Way Things Have To Be. It’s a bit like someone in Medieval Europe arguing that this newfangled renaissance is doomed because the modern feudal system is designed to exploit the labor of serfs. It was–but changes in society eventually made it impossible for feudalism to continue.

    • I’m confused; doesn’t your position require you to have as many children as possible, because life is previous, and to increase the number unique perspectives on the universe?

      I can see where some folks who hold the notion that life is precious might reach that conclusion. For me, life is precious, but life that could potentially exist but doesn’t yet isn’t precious; things that exist are worth more than things that don’t. For the same reason, I don’t buy the argument that some folks make, “if life is precious then it is your duty to die in order to make room for the people who will come after you.”

      My concern with reality, though, is how we get there from here. Current life prolonging techniques are not anti-agathics. The result of a declining birth rate is an aging population. Do we want a society where people live to 120, confined to chairs hooked up to machines keeping them alive? Could we afford it (even now social security may not be able to match population trends; what happens when more people are taking out than putting in)? Is the person thus confined having a good “quality of life”?

      The premise of radical longevity is predicated on finding a way to stop aging. Without a way to stop aging, there is an upper limit to lifespan no matter how skilled we become at preserving the body; brain cells die at a greater than replenishment rate past a certain point, and a single brain cell can’t live longer than perhaps 125 years or so even under ideal circumstances. Without a way to stop aging, this imposes a maximum possible lifespan.

      An indefinitely long life where people are in their prime… yes, good. But that’s just science fiction.

      For now. But it’s a lot closer to science fact than I reckon a lot of folks think it is. 🙂

  12. I’m confused; doesn’t your position require you to have as many children as possible, because life is previous, and to increase the number unique perspectives on the universe? (Fortunately you allow people “choice” so this would prevent you being a rabid anti-abortionist :-))

    In my case I think I was infected with “long life good!” at an early age because of James Blish’s “Cities In Flight” series, which had universal anti-agathics which could stop the aging process indefinitely (as long as the drugs were taken). Not sure if they could reverse some of the symptoms (been so long since I read the books). And then there’s Heinlein’s breeding program leading to extended life through genetics.

    My concern with reality, though, is how we get there from here. Current life prolonging techniques are not anti-agathics. The result of a declining birth rate is an aging population. Do we want a society where people live to 120, confined to chairs hooked up to machines keeping them alive? Could we afford it (even now social security may not be able to match population trends; what happens when more people are taking out than putting in)? Is the person thus confined having a good “quality of life”?

    Sure, some people are active for longer (my parents are 72 and 68. They’re both in good health; they just repainted their vacation home in last week; Dad’s back, knees, ankles ached a lot afterwards, but he can still do it). But there’s already a lot of things he can’t do and is dependent on others. Mentally they both seem mostly OK.

    An indefinitely long life where people are in their prime… yes, good. But that’s just science fiction. It seems to me that we’re getting an increased active period and an even more increased dependent period. And that concerns me.

  13. Some of the wealthiest people on the planet got there while young – 40 or younger. The age controls wealth argument is invalid. Intelligence has more to do with it than any other single factor.

    If you can remain healthy into your second or third or twelfth century, you will progress through many careers. Stagnation will be, relatively, momentary. This fear of life getting boring is a reflection of your internal fears, not referenced in research into those who do live longer than the average. Also, those who are “terminally” bored are free to do themselves in. I should think boredom is a self-correcting problem.

  14. I think extended life would best go hand in hand with space exploration/colonization.

    This would handle alot of the objections that certain people have: overpopulation, stultification, bordom… tho maybe not elitism.
    It would be damn hard to be bored with strange new worlds to explore. This sort of thing, I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t find exciting to think about

    I don’t think I would ever get bored of long life, as I am too curious and always have that desire to ‘see what happens next’. The only thing that gives me pause is the thought that certain douchbags in the world, Limbaugh to name a one, would be around forever, spouting their particular brand of asshattery.

    • I’m not sure how overpopulation could be an objection that only certain people have… I think it’s the primary dilemma that would have to be addressed, either by colonizing other planets or finding a way to reduce the rapid consumption of Earth’s resources. If you believe that Earth has a finite amount of natural resources that we are consuming faster than can be replenished, then it does indeed become a matter of who “deserves” to live and consume those resources– a superhuman for 1,000 years, or 10 people (10 unique perspectives…) living 100 years each over that 1,000 years?

      • Agree that overpopulation would be a real concern. Though I do agree with Tacit’s point that longevity and low birth-death rate makes people tend to have less kids.
        People used to have tons of kids because most of them wouldn’t make it through baby-hood or early childhood, so they just kept pumping them out. Now most families with kids are one to three kids, I would say (dunno the figures)…
        If we kept living longer and longer, but had kids at the same rate as today, we would very quickly all be starving.

      • There are two issues that have to be kept in mind when thinking about this kind of scenario.

        The first is that longer life is VEY strongly correlated to lower birth rate, to the extent that we already have negative population growth throughout the First World. Add to this the fact that even if she lives forever, a woman does not have infinite capacity to bear children; unlike men, who continue to produce sperm throughout their lives, women do not keep producing eggs.

        The second is that as technology improves the carrying capacity of the planet changes. A person standing at the vantage point of a nomadic pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer tribe might well say “But if the population of the planet gets above 200,000 or so, there won’t be enough resources for everyone!” And he’d be right.

        There are a couple of key technologies that are becoming very close which can radically, radically alter the way we use and view natural resources. The first is fusion power, and the second is molecular-level assembly. Either or both of these technologies has the potential to totally change the resource availability/consumption equation.

        When you project forward into societies that have things like radical longevity or advanced biomedical nanotechnology, you can’t just take conditions as they are now and multiply them, any more than you can talk about modern society in terms of resource consumption by Neolithic hunter-gatherers.

  15. I think extended life would best go hand in hand with space exploration/colonization.

    This would handle alot of the objections that certain people have: overpopulation, stultification, bordom… tho maybe not elitism.
    It would be damn hard to be bored with strange new worlds to explore. This sort of thing, I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t find exciting to think about

    I don’t think I would ever get bored of long life, as I am too curious and always have that desire to ‘see what happens next’. The only thing that gives me pause is the thought that certain douchbags in the world, Limbaugh to name a one, would be around forever, spouting their particular brand of asshattery.

  16. Two perspectives from literature should be considered.

    The first, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver along his meanderings met with a society who occasionally had immortal members, identified with a birth mark on their foreheads. Instead of spending their immortal lives living, though, they were cursed to spend a normal life of a normal span, then spend the rest in dotage, a permanent drain on the resources of the society. Picture nursing home residents that will never leave.

    The second, Bruce Sterling’s Distraction. In this, only those who could afford the treatments got them. As another commenter mentioned, this meant they amassed a fortune and managed it at a different level than people who have only spent thirty or so years working and saving. This elevated the treated elderly to a very different societal level than the naturally aging, and caused enormous discontent with those who could not only not afford the treatments, but who saw their own inheritances spent on their parents’ treatments, sticking them in permanent poverty.

    We’ve already seen something like the social disruption of these two scenarios, though in microcosm. Think about the pension systems of the states and of the larger corporations, with a retirement eligibility from a bygone era before medical science could reliably prevent heart attacks and strokes. People used to retire at 60 or so and die a few years later; now they’re dying 20 or 30 years later. Those still working are getting their own future benefits reduced (me included) to pay for the currently retired. The Baby Boom Bulge ain’t helping.

    With that said, I say anyone who gets a radical treatment had better demonstrate complete economic self-sufficiency, and the ability to continue contributing to their society’s economic production long before their dotage. Otherwise, expect such increases in life to destabilize societies around the world, and for these newly long-lived to die horrible deaths from unnatural causes fueled by impotent rage.

  17. Two perspectives from literature should be considered.

    The first, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver along his meanderings met with a society who occasionally had immortal members, identified with a birth mark on their foreheads. Instead of spending their immortal lives living, though, they were cursed to spend a normal life of a normal span, then spend the rest in dotage, a permanent drain on the resources of the society. Picture nursing home residents that will never leave.

    The second, Bruce Sterling’s Distraction. In this, only those who could afford the treatments got them. As another commenter mentioned, this meant they amassed a fortune and managed it at a different level than people who have only spent thirty or so years working and saving. This elevated the treated elderly to a very different societal level than the naturally aging, and caused enormous discontent with those who could not only not afford the treatments, but who saw their own inheritances spent on their parents’ treatments, sticking them in permanent poverty.

    We’ve already seen something like the social disruption of these two scenarios, though in microcosm. Think about the pension systems of the states and of the larger corporations, with a retirement eligibility from a bygone era before medical science could reliably prevent heart attacks and strokes. People used to retire at 60 or so and die a few years later; now they’re dying 20 or 30 years later. Those still working are getting their own future benefits reduced (me included) to pay for the currently retired. The Baby Boom Bulge ain’t helping.

    With that said, I say anyone who gets a radical treatment had better demonstrate complete economic self-sufficiency, and the ability to continue contributing to their society’s economic production long before their dotage. Otherwise, expect such increases in life to destabilize societies around the world, and for these newly long-lived to die horrible deaths from unnatural causes fueled by impotent rage.

  18. There are people who manage to make it to their 100s while still being just as active and healthy as someone in their 30s or 40s. Aside from a bit of luck, this also requires a lifetime of being engaged in a general lifestyle which is strongly at odds with the modern corporate financial system – one that is “designed” to burn people out for the sake of short term profits for the wealthiest and then throw them away.

  19. Throughout history most societies have banned compound interest. It is a stupid, stupid idea. Aside from perpetuating injustice, in the long run it also crashes the financial system.

    The only reason why we’ve been able to get away with it for so long in modern times is because the use of oil has exponentially expanded the global economy, which mostly negated the drawbacks of compound interest. Now that we’ve hit the practical limit as to how much oil we can extract at one time, the economy can’t expand anymore. So it’s crashy time, whee!

  20. Throughout history most societies have banned compound interest. It is a stupid, stupid idea. Aside from perpetuating injustice, in the long run it also crashes the financial system.

    The only reason why we’ve been able to get away with it for so long in modern times is because the use of oil has exponentially expanded the global economy, which mostly negated the drawbacks of compound interest. Now that we’ve hit the practical limit as to how much oil we can extract at one time, the economy can’t expand anymore. So it’s crashy time, whee!

  21. I’ve never heard “What makes you think you deserve to live longer?”. If I had, my response would be that I don’t believe anyone really “deserves” anything. So while I don’t deserve to live longer, I also don’t *not* deserve to.

    The one I hear most often is “only death gives life meaning”. To that I say… I… Um… Er… WTF?!

  22. I’ve never heard “What makes you think you deserve to live longer?”. If I had, my response would be that I don’t believe anyone really “deserves” anything. So while I don’t deserve to live longer, I also don’t *not* deserve to.

    The one I hear most often is “only death gives life meaning”. To that I say… I… Um… Er… WTF?!

  23. “…the modern corporate financial system – one that is “designed” to burn people out for the sake of short term profits for the wealthiest and then throw them away.”

    THIS.

  24. Overall, the older someone is, the more likely they are to resist change.

    Some of that is inertia, but some of that is physiological. As we age, our brains become less plastic, and create new connections less easily. This is something that biologists are closing in on rapidly. It appears this lack of plasticity is at least in part related to the processes that are responsible for aging; it is likely that should we stop or reverse aging, one of the side effects might very well be increased brain plasticity and increased ability to learn.

    So – a society that intends to reduce a birth rate being not all bad, the same society being run by folks far older than we’ve previously experienced for far longer per ‘person in power’ indicates a potential stagnation that does NOT hold much appeal.

    *Shrug* Beats being dead…

  25. Longevity would ultimately, I suspect, make EVERYONE more rich and more powerful, as we are also pursuing things like molecular level nanotechnology which, if they are realized, would make many of the assumptions of a scarcity economy somewhat obsolete.

    That’s a whole ‘nother issue, though.

    It seems to me that death is a natural part of life…

    Sure it is. So are typhoid, hookworm, smallpox, botulism, starvation, and being eaten by leopards. But folks rarely argue in favor of these things on the grounds that they’re a natural part of life… 🙂

  26. The objection that first comes to my mind would be that if you don’t expect to die one day you won’t appreciate everything that happens in your life, but, then again, that would also depend on the individual person.

    Indeed. Most joyful folks I know personally aren’t joyful because they think they’re going to die; and contrawise, the inevitability of death, for many people, snot only doesn’t make them appreciate life, it actually makes them reject life. Think of how many religious traditions tell their followers to turn away from “the World” and to see life as an unfortunate burden to be got through because the REAL reward is in some supernatural heaven that we can only get to after we die.

  27. Re: Wrap music.

    With HTML. You add more code to the HTML IMG tag, like so:

    <img src=”the URL of the image” align=”left” style=”margin-left: 0px; margin-right: 10px;”>

    align=”left” tells the browser to put the image to the left of the block of text that follows. The style tells the browser to put a 10-pixel margin between the image and the text.

  28. I’m confused; doesn’t your position require you to have as many children as possible, because life is previous, and to increase the number unique perspectives on the universe?

    I can see where some folks who hold the notion that life is precious might reach that conclusion. For me, life is precious, but life that could potentially exist but doesn’t yet isn’t precious; things that exist are worth more than things that don’t. For the same reason, I don’t buy the argument that some folks make, “if life is precious then it is your duty to die in order to make room for the people who will come after you.”

    My concern with reality, though, is how we get there from here. Current life prolonging techniques are not anti-agathics. The result of a declining birth rate is an aging population. Do we want a society where people live to 120, confined to chairs hooked up to machines keeping them alive? Could we afford it (even now social security may not be able to match population trends; what happens when more people are taking out than putting in)? Is the person thus confined having a good “quality of life”?

    The premise of radical longevity is predicated on finding a way to stop aging. Without a way to stop aging, there is an upper limit to lifespan no matter how skilled we become at preserving the body; brain cells die at a greater than replenishment rate past a certain point, and a single brain cell can’t live longer than perhaps 125 years or so even under ideal circumstances. Without a way to stop aging, this imposes a maximum possible lifespan.

    An indefinitely long life where people are in their prime… yes, good. But that’s just science fiction.

    For now. But it’s a lot closer to science fact than I reckon a lot of folks think it is. 🙂

  29. Aside from a bit of luck, this also requires a lifetime of being engaged in a general lifestyle which is strongly at odds with the modern corporate financial system – one that is “designed” to burn people out for the sake of short term profits for the wealthiest and then throw them away.

    The “modern corporate system” isn’t NECESSARILY designed for such a thing. In fact, there’s an interesting article over at The Register which makes the argument that Apple passing Microsoft in terms of market capitalization in spite of the fact that Microsoft earns greater profits and has more financial resources shows that many investors do, in fact, make investment decisions based on long-term potential.

    In any event, financial institutions change as societies change. The modern corporate system isn’t the inevitable an unchangeable Way Things Have To Be. It’s a bit like someone in Medieval Europe arguing that this newfangled renaissance is doomed because the modern feudal system is designed to exploit the labor of serfs. It was–but changes in society eventually made it impossible for feudalism to continue.

  30. My main objection to real-world immortality is that only the top fraction of a percentage of people would ever get the opportunity to extend their lives in this way, thus perpetuating class injustices in ways that make today’s class divisions seem minuscule.

    Actually, I think that’s very unlikely. It’s a presumption that’s plausible given the state of medical care right now, but advances in anti-aging technology likely won’t look like medical care does now.

    In fact, medical care right now is in many ways like computer science was in, say, 1959 or 1960. Only a handful of computers, each the size of a basketball stadium and costing hundreds of millions of dollars, existed; but a single invention, the transistor, paved the way for a world in which computers became incredibly cheap, incredibly powerful, and incredibly ubiquitous.

    The next frontier in medicine, and the one that gets us to the end of aging, is likely to be biomedical nanotechnology. It’s as primitive right now as computer science was in the 50s, but the parallels are pretty direct–especially when you consider that fabrication techniques for nanotech are likely to be very similar to fabrication techniques for microchips.

    It’s all in the design. When Intel designs a new processor, it costs so much money that thinking about it is apt to give you a nosebleed; the going rate to set up a fab for a new processor design is right around a billion dollars. In a very real sense, the first chip off the line costs you five hundred million dollars, the second chip off the line costs you five hundred million dollars, and all the ones after that cost you 7 cents.

    The result of this kind of economy of scale is that you can walk down to the local store and spend $200 on a netbook that contains more processing power than all the world’s supercomputers COMBINED had just ten years ago.

    Cutting-edge medicine today is hand-crafted in the way that computers used to be, something that is only available to the rich. Biomedical nanotech, if and when it comes, will very likely do to medicine what the transistor and later the integrated circuit did for computers.

    If you were to go back in time to 1959 and say that almost all business and commerce would rely on computers in a few decades, people would probably think that would mean only governments and perhaps one or two superrich corporations would control all of business. They would never imagine that everyone could own a computer, or that people working from their homes could use their computers to set up little businesses selling handmade whatsits or podcasting or making videos or any of those things.

    • you can walk down to the local store and spend $200 on a netbook that contains more processing power than all the world’s supercomputers COMBINED had just ten years ago.
      Maybe 25 years ago. A high-end (maybe $2500) desktop from ten years ago would give you processing power in the same ballpark as a low-end netbook today.

      • I don’t know that that’s true. Remember Deep Blue, the $9,000,000 IBM chess-playing supercomputer? Ten years after Deep Blue astonished everyone by beating Garry Kasparov in a chess tournament, they don’t do man-machine tournaments any more because a garden-variety PC can wipe the floor with any human grandmaster.

        • If you trust The Wiki, it sounds like the improvements were mainly software.

          Deep Blue, with its capability of evaluating 200 million positions per second, was the fastest computer that ever faced a world chess champion. Today, in computer chess research and matches of world class players against computers, the focus of play has often shifted to software chess programs, rather than using dedicated chess hardware. Modern chess programs like Rybka, Deep Fritz or Deep Junior are more efficient than the programs during Deep Blue’s era. In a recent match, Deep Fritz vs. world chess champion Vladimir Kramnik in November 2006, the program ran on a personal computer containing two Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs, capable of evaluating only 8 million positions per second, but searching to an average depth of 17 to 18 plies in the middlegame thanks to heuristics.

          A typical low-end netbook will have an Intel Atom processor running at 1ghz or a little more. The PC I built in 2001 (I was thinking January, but WinXP came out in August) had a 1.3ghz AMD Athlon that I paid about $75 for. The whole computer was about $1000, and was still perfectly usable for anything but new games (after adding RAM) when it mysteriously stopped booting last summer.

          On the other hand, CPU advances have slowed down a lot in the last five years. Your ten year comparison might have been true for 1980-1990, with the Berkeley RISC and Stanford MIPS projects.

  31. My main objection to real-world immortality is that only the top fraction of a percentage of people would ever get the opportunity to extend their lives in this way, thus perpetuating class injustices in ways that make today’s class divisions seem minuscule.

    Actually, I think that’s very unlikely. It’s a presumption that’s plausible given the state of medical care right now, but advances in anti-aging technology likely won’t look like medical care does now.

    In fact, medical care right now is in many ways like computer science was in, say, 1959 or 1960. Only a handful of computers, each the size of a basketball stadium and costing hundreds of millions of dollars, existed; but a single invention, the transistor, paved the way for a world in which computers became incredibly cheap, incredibly powerful, and incredibly ubiquitous.

    The next frontier in medicine, and the one that gets us to the end of aging, is likely to be biomedical nanotechnology. It’s as primitive right now as computer science was in the 50s, but the parallels are pretty direct–especially when you consider that fabrication techniques for nanotech are likely to be very similar to fabrication techniques for microchips.

    It’s all in the design. When Intel designs a new processor, it costs so much money that thinking about it is apt to give you a nosebleed; the going rate to set up a fab for a new processor design is right around a billion dollars. In a very real sense, the first chip off the line costs you five hundred million dollars, the second chip off the line costs you five hundred million dollars, and all the ones after that cost you 7 cents.

    The result of this kind of economy of scale is that you can walk down to the local store and spend $200 on a netbook that contains more processing power than all the world’s supercomputers COMBINED had just ten years ago.

    Cutting-edge medicine today is hand-crafted in the way that computers used to be, something that is only available to the rich. Biomedical nanotech, if and when it comes, will very likely do to medicine what the transistor and later the integrated circuit did for computers.

    If you were to go back in time to 1959 and say that almost all business and commerce would rely on computers in a few decades, people would probably think that would mean only governments and perhaps one or two superrich corporations would control all of business. They would never imagine that everyone could own a computer, or that people working from their homes could use their computers to set up little businesses selling handmade whatsits or podcasting or making videos or any of those things.

  32. If you believe as I do that every death is a travesty, the permanent loss of a unique perspective on the universe, then even asking a question like “What have you done to earn it?” becomes an appalling insult.

    Actually, that was my first reaction. The first thing I thought was that the argument makes the status-quo fallacy and also is extremely offensive. I always thought of myself deserving to live as a given. I’m not sure I’d want to talk at all with someone who does not share that view…

  33. If you believe as I do that every death is a travesty, the permanent loss of a unique perspective on the universe, then even asking a question like “What have you done to earn it?” becomes an appalling insult.

    Actually, that was my first reaction. The first thing I thought was that the argument makes the status-quo fallacy and also is extremely offensive. I always thought of myself deserving to live as a given. I’m not sure I’d want to talk at all with someone who does not share that view…

  34. I’m not sure how overpopulation could be an objection that only certain people have… I think it’s the primary dilemma that would have to be addressed, either by colonizing other planets or finding a way to reduce the rapid consumption of Earth’s resources. If you believe that Earth has a finite amount of natural resources that we are consuming faster than can be replenished, then it does indeed become a matter of who “deserves” to live and consume those resources– a superhuman for 1,000 years, or 10 people (10 unique perspectives…) living 100 years each over that 1,000 years?

  35. you can walk down to the local store and spend $200 on a netbook that contains more processing power than all the world’s supercomputers COMBINED had just ten years ago.
    Maybe 25 years ago. A high-end (maybe $2500) desktop from ten years ago would give you processing power in the same ballpark as a low-end netbook today.

  36. Agree that overpopulation would be a real concern. Though I do agree with Tacit’s point that longevity and low birth-death rate makes people tend to have less kids.
    People used to have tons of kids because most of them wouldn’t make it through baby-hood or early childhood, so they just kept pumping them out. Now most families with kids are one to three kids, I would say (dunno the figures)…
    If we kept living longer and longer, but had kids at the same rate as today, we would very quickly all be starving.

  37. There are two issues that have to be kept in mind when thinking about this kind of scenario.

    The first is that longer life is VEY strongly correlated to lower birth rate, to the extent that we already have negative population growth throughout the First World. Add to this the fact that even if she lives forever, a woman does not have infinite capacity to bear children; unlike men, who continue to produce sperm throughout their lives, women do not keep producing eggs.

    The second is that as technology improves the carrying capacity of the planet changes. A person standing at the vantage point of a nomadic pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer tribe might well say “But if the population of the planet gets above 200,000 or so, there won’t be enough resources for everyone!” And he’d be right.

    There are a couple of key technologies that are becoming very close which can radically, radically alter the way we use and view natural resources. The first is fusion power, and the second is molecular-level assembly. Either or both of these technologies has the potential to totally change the resource availability/consumption equation.

    When you project forward into societies that have things like radical longevity or advanced biomedical nanotechnology, you can’t just take conditions as they are now and multiply them, any more than you can talk about modern society in terms of resource consumption by Neolithic hunter-gatherers.

  38. I don’t know that that’s true. Remember Deep Blue, the $9,000,000 IBM chess-playing supercomputer? Ten years after Deep Blue astonished everyone by beating Garry Kasparov in a chess tournament, they don’t do man-machine tournaments any more because a garden-variety PC can wipe the floor with any human grandmaster.

  39. If you trust The Wiki, it sounds like the improvements were mainly software.

    Deep Blue, with its capability of evaluating 200 million positions per second, was the fastest computer that ever faced a world chess champion. Today, in computer chess research and matches of world class players against computers, the focus of play has often shifted to software chess programs, rather than using dedicated chess hardware. Modern chess programs like Rybka, Deep Fritz or Deep Junior are more efficient than the programs during Deep Blue’s era. In a recent match, Deep Fritz vs. world chess champion Vladimir Kramnik in November 2006, the program ran on a personal computer containing two Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs, capable of evaluating only 8 million positions per second, but searching to an average depth of 17 to 18 plies in the middlegame thanks to heuristics.

    A typical low-end netbook will have an Intel Atom processor running at 1ghz or a little more. The PC I built in 2001 (I was thinking January, but WinXP came out in August) had a 1.3ghz AMD Athlon that I paid about $75 for. The whole computer was about $1000, and was still perfectly usable for anything but new games (after adding RAM) when it mysteriously stopped booting last summer.

    On the other hand, CPU advances have slowed down a lot in the last five years. Your ten year comparison might have been true for 1980-1990, with the Berkeley RISC and Stanford MIPS projects.

  40. Heh, interesting – I came via Twitter, where you posted the precis as the “What have you done to earn it?” question, so the first thought that came to me was that this was an article about HOW people can achieve radical longevity for themselves. That is, ‘what action are you taking to lengthen your own life?’

    Clearly my assumption that everyone deserves long/infinite life is so ingrained it didn’t occur to me there was another meaning until I read the actual post!

    So I shall respond to what I thought the post was about, instead of the actual essay , which needs only a nod of agreement.

    A rather fabulous edition of Readers Digest that I wish I’d kept focused on the ‘super young’ a set of unusually long-lived & young-for-their-age folks, many in their nineties and 100-pluses. The study came to one conclusion only: The one thing that all these people shared was a positive attitude. Several of them also advocated physical activity (gardening, housework, walking, sports etc.), but not all.

    Being well aware correlation does not = causation, it’s still enough for me to conclude that a positive attitude may well be my best chance to stick around (or as my grandad likes to put it “I’m going to live forever, or die in the attempt!”). Cheerfulness, it’s good for you! 😀

    BTW Have you ever read Terry Pratchett’s Strata? It’s a more sci-fi precursor to the Discworld series, the relevant bit being that The Company (who employ most of the human race in the opening scenario) pays its staff in Days – or in other words, longevity treatments. Well worth a read if you haven’t come across it, even if just for the opening chapters.

  41. Heh, interesting – I came via Twitter, where you posted the precis as the “What have you done to earn it?” question, so the first thought that came to me was that this was an article about HOW people can achieve radical longevity for themselves. That is, ‘what action are you taking to lengthen your own life?’

    Clearly my assumption that everyone deserves long/infinite life is so ingrained it didn’t occur to me there was another meaning until I read the actual post!

    So I shall respond to what I thought the post was about, instead of the actual essay , which needs only a nod of agreement.

    A rather fabulous edition of Readers Digest that I wish I’d kept focused on the ‘super young’ a set of unusually long-lived & young-for-their-age folks, many in their nineties and 100-pluses. The study came to one conclusion only: The one thing that all these people shared was a positive attitude. Several of them also advocated physical activity (gardening, housework, walking, sports etc.), but not all.

    Being well aware correlation does not = causation, it’s still enough for me to conclude that a positive attitude may well be my best chance to stick around (or as my grandad likes to put it “I’m going to live forever, or die in the attempt!”). Cheerfulness, it’s good for you! 😀

    BTW Have you ever read Terry Pratchett’s Strata? It’s a more sci-fi precursor to the Discworld series, the relevant bit being that The Company (who employ most of the human race in the opening scenario) pays its staff in Days – or in other words, longevity treatments. Well worth a read if you haven’t come across it, even if just for the opening chapters.

  42. Wow!

    directed me here as part of a Poetry Fishbowl prompt, for a project I’m doing today. Having discovered that your LJ is full of fascinating ideas, I have friended you.

    That ripping sound you hear is me dragging my attention away from the fuzzy velcro of your writing, so that I can get back to work.

  43. Wow!

    directed me here as part of a Poetry Fishbowl prompt, for a project I’m doing today. Having discovered that your LJ is full of fascinating ideas, I have friended you.

    That ripping sound you hear is me dragging my attention away from the fuzzy velcro of your writing, so that I can get back to work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *