05 April 2010

Quote for the day

"I support anti-aging research and the search for longevity, even though many people tell me that this is 'against nature.' Human lifespan was less than 30 years before the Industrial Revolution, and not just due to 'high infant mortality.' Death was common, not only between birth and 10 years, but between 10 years and 20, and between 20 and 30; if the pox didn't get you, the plague gene-rally would. For the working class, lifespan was still only around 37 years when Engels wrote The Condition of the Working Class in England. It was 50 for all classes in the Western democracies by 1900. It now* hovers around 73 years, and is increasing.....Each of these quantum leaps in lifespan, since modern technological medicine began, could be denounced as 'against nature' just as plausibly as modern longevity research can be so denounced.....I would find it most amusing and entertaining to live 300 or 400 years, or longer. (In that time, I might get smart enough to figure out what the hell is right or wrong for me most of the time, but I think it would take millenniums at least to figure out what the Ideologists all claim to know already, namely what is right and wrong for everybody.) Those who find this appalling to their religious prejudices will forever retain the option of 'suicide'
(refusal of life-supporting technology) at whatever age seems 'natural' to them -- at 30 if they think we have only become 'unnatural' since the French Revolution, at 50 if they think we only became 'unnatural' in this century, etc."

Robert Anton Wilson

*1987

9 Comments:

Blogger mendip said...

Excellent quote - thanks for posting. I always enjoyed RAW's works and perspectives on things. Although dated, I still find his various "Illuminati" books to be entertaining reads.

05 April, 2010 07:43  
Blogger godlizard (aka dotlizard) said...

Well, even back in the days when the average life expectancy was low due to illness and environmental factors, those who survived these perils would still live to a similar upper limit as we see today, correct? Removing many of these factors has given us much higher *averages*, but when you get into the upper limits of human longevity, there seems to be a genetically predetermined 'expiration date' built in, beyond which the organs just seem to fail, and the only way to get beyond that is to manipulate the aging process itself. So, would that fall under the same medical category as other elective procedures such as breast implants and face lifts? Or would it be considered in the same category as antibiotics and cancer treatments, as if aging were just another disease we can cure? If these therapies were routinely made available, would the patient also incur an obligation to postpone their retirement age, so as not to place too large a burden on society?

I know I'd love to have another midlife crisis at around age 100, but that can really only happen if (a) we solve almost all of the other fatal or chronic diseases first (cancer, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, alzheimer's), (b) we solve the problems of inequity in health care access, and (c) we solve or at least make great inroads into the terrible health crises which make life expectancy in most third world countries so short and brutish.

Otherwise, it wouldn't seem fair (at least to me) to be extending the lives of only a privileged few, while others still lacked the basics.

05 April, 2010 12:53  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mendip: Thanks. I need to read some of his other books.

GL: the only way to get beyond that is to manipulate the aging process itself.

Correct. See here. Likely feasible in 15-30 years, though some treatments will arrive before others.

if (a) we solve almost all of the other fatal or chronic diseases first (cancer, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, alzheimer's),

Likely in significantly less than a 15-30 year time frame, given rapid advances in stem-cell technology, computer modeling, and other areas. Remember this, for example.

(b) we solve the problems of inequity in health care access,

Already mostly solved; most people in developed countries have access to most technologically-feasible therapies. The new health bill will improve the situation further in the US.

(c) we solve or at least make great inroads into the terrible health crises which make life expectancy in most third world countries so short and brutish.

The Third World is following on a somewhat-delayed curve, but pretty much all Third World countries now have much longer life expectancy than the richest countries did less than a century ago.

It wouldn't have been helpful to the Third World if we had refrained from developing things like vaccines and antibiotics until they had caught up economically or in other ways (which they still haven't really). Progress anywhere ultimately benefits everyone.

Otherwise, it wouldn't seem fair (at least to me) to be extending the lives of only a privileged few, while others still lacked the basics.

The "only the rich will benefit" shibboleth is a common objection where life extension is concerned, which always baffles me. Experience shows that that's not how medical innovations turn out. Every new medical technology starts off being expensive and not working very well, and becomes cheaper and more effective over time. Anti-aging treatments will follow the same pattern.

FAQ on other common objections here.

05 April, 2010 13:44  
Blogger godlizard (aka dotlizard) said...

It's not just the "only the rich will benefit" thing -- it's also "what would it take to make this economically feasible for everyone?"

I think it all hinges on whether we approach aging as a disease which should be cured, or whether it's considered in the same category with cosmetic surgery. The ethical considerations, by nature, need to include economic factors -- if life extension meant, for instance, that a person would spend 50 years on Social Security instead of 10 or 15, that would be a problem under the current system. I hate to sound callous about this, but if we cure all those deadly ailments and find a way to slow the aging process significantly, we'd really need to re-think what a person's working lifespan is, and consider the attitude shift necessary to accommodate this much, much older workforce.

Hopefully this would all occur naturally as we adjust to the new paradigm of what a lifespan means. But right now, there are a lot of retirees who are bagging groceries part-time, in spite of being overqualified for those jobs -- they end up taking what they can get, out of desperation, because they're outliving their savings.

05 April, 2010 21:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Well, yes, obviously there would have to be economic adjustments as life expectancy increased, probably including a rise in the retirement age, just as has always been the case in the past. It's a trivial issue compared with the magnitude of the achievement we're talking about, though.

It's amazing and disappointing, some of the comments I get when I post anything about medical technology. Faced with the prospect of an imminent cure for cancer or for the aging process itself, people really struggle to find something negative to say about it. There's some kind of psychology at work there I don't get at all.

As de Grey says: Aging now kills about 40 million people every year. That's the situation we have now. Would a cure for aging cause problems? Obviously it would. Would it cause any problems as bad as the deaths of 40 million people a year? No, not even close.

06 April, 2010 01:09  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I didnt know about lifespan being so short just prior to the industrial revolution. I really never thought it to be un-natural I reckon to not want to die though .... I mean .... I figure most animal's wouldnt want to die either, even if they were ot as intelligent as human's .... heh? I never wanted to die .... after an incident where I was in the hospital bleeding internally year's ago.... and doctor's kind of "gave me the bad news" so to speak .... all I could think of is wanting to live... even though I knew my chance of living was so-so.

Thank You Sir .....

06 April, 2010 12:43  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RC: You'd be surprised.....Of course, what a lot of these people mean by "unnatural" has more to do with religious taboos than with anything actually seen in nature anywhere. (Oddly enough, the people Wilson was talking about who think life extension is "unnatural" were neo-pagans, not Christians.)

06 April, 2010 14:05  
Blogger Tim said...

No please don't extend the life of these old bastards I would say. Unless their ideas and views could also be changed. These people need to Die off so that a new group with their own beliefs can emerge. Besides that their to many old farts still driving now. I taught my kids beware of old men with hats driving. Reminds me of Mr.Magoo.by cranky.
BTW I'm an old Man with a hat now!

07 April, 2010 01:06  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Tim: See FAQ, first item (on stagnation). Mental ossification is an effect of the aging process on the brain, which anti-aging therapies would reverse (they'd have to, or else they wouldn't work).

07 April, 2010 02:40  

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