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A True Clash of Fundamental Values - The Debate Over Radical Life Extension Technology:

I have often argued that many political disagreements that seem like differences in fundamental values are really disagreements over the right means to achieve common ends. That is certainly true of many of the issues that divide libertarians from liberals on the one hand and social conservatives on the other. However, there are some exceptions to this generalization. Cato Unbound's recent debate over the desirability of radical life extension technology (which could potentially extend human lifespans for decades or centuries) highlights an especially stark divergence of this type - one that definitely does separate libertarians from at least some social conservatives in a fundamental way. To me, and to most libertarians, it seems pretty obvious that life extension is an extraordinarily good thing in and of itself. Perhaps some negative second-order effects of this technology could outweigh its vast benefits. But those negative effects would have to be truly enormous to outweigh the massive benefits of decades or centuries of extra lifespan. This is especially true, given the fact that life extension research seeks to extend not merely lifespan, but "healthspan" - the length of time during which we will remain reasonably vigorous and healthy (see Aubrey de Grey's lead essay in the Cato debate).

In his contribution to the Cato debate, conservative bioethicist Daniel Callahan clearly takes a different view:

I had a child who died a few months after birth, and I considered that tragic as did everyone else, but when my mother died at 86 of cancer, no one considered it a tragedy or even a great evil. Those who knew her said at her funeral that "we loved your mother and will miss her, but she had a good and full life." I have never heard anyone say it is a tragedy that Socrates, Shakespeare, George Washington, and Albert Einstein died and are no longer with us. And while I hope in my more self-regarding moments that my friends and families will wail and gnash their teeth at my funeral, I doubt at my age they will do so; and I can, so to speak, live with that.

I couldn't possibly disagree more. To me it seems extremely obvious that it is a tragedy that Socrates, Shakespeare and the rest are no longer with us. Apart from the benefits of longer life to these individuals themselves, the rest of us would gain from the additional great works they might have produced in the extra time. Who knows what masterpieces Shakespeare might have given us had he lived to be 552 rather than 52? As far as personal anecdotes go, my grandfather died a few years ago at the age of 95. Despite his advanced age, his death definitely was "a great evil" and his relatives and friends still miss him. Perhaps death was a lesser evil compared to going on living in the near-vegetative condition he had fallen into near the end. But if de Grey and other experts are correct, the result of radical life-extension technology will not be additional years of a vegetative existence but decades or centuries of added healthspan. It's hard to say whether my family's reaction to death is more typical than Callahan's (though I tend to think it is). But the difference between them is striking.

There are some pragmatic consequentialist arguments against anti-aging technology that don't implicate fundamental values. For example, critics worry that without relatively short lifespans, there will be no generational succession in powerful leadership positions, and therefore important institutions might stagnate under leaders who have become moribund. I think that most such arguments are weak. The generational succession problem is easily addressed by instituting term limits for leadership positions - policies which already exist for many key offices in both the public and private sector, including the presidency. But at least these concerns are based on values that I can understand and sympathize with.

By contrast, Callahan's argument really does represent a deep moral chasm between us. If taken seriously, it implies that little or no good was achieved by extending life expectancy from the "natural" average of 35 or 40 that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution to today's 75-80. Indeed, Callahan himself at one point suggests that life expectancy was "long enough" (quoting the philosopher Seneca) back in the days of the Roman Empire, when "the average life expectancy was 30 and one was considered old at 40." It's hard to tell whether he really means to say that a life expectancy of 30 to 40 is acceptable. But if he does, it further underscores the difference in moral values between his brand of social conservatism and my own views.

OrinKerr:
Is the key issue here the meaning of "tragedy"? The word tragedy suggests something not getting its due. Given that, of course no one suggests it's a "tragedy" that Socrates isn't still alive; it's beyond the realm of our experience to have someone live for a few thousand years. On the other hand, there are lots of things that are bad that are not tragic.
12.30.2007 10:16pm
another anonVCfan:
I don't know Callahan's religious background, but I'd be curious to know if he believes in an afterlife. I'm both a libertarian and an atheist. While my support for the right of others to develop and use radically life-extending therapies is rooted in my libertarianism, my desire to use these therapies myself is rooted in my atheism.
12.30.2007 10:20pm
Will Conway (mail) (www):
I agree with you for the most part, with one exception:


The generational succession problem is easily addressed by instituting term limits for leadership positions - policies which already exist for many key offices in both the public and private sector, including the presidency.


I think what they mean is for countries not like the U.S. For example, Castro has pretty much given up in Cuba, and death can't be far off. He was only in power for 30 years, and, frankly, we couldn't wait for him to kick the bucket.

Now, imagine having, I don't know, fifty more years of that.

You see, natural succession just won't be the same.

Other than that, I completely agree here.

-Will Conway,
Regarding Liberty
12.30.2007 10:23pm
A.:
Where will you put them, what will you feed them, and what on Earth will they be doing with their time once they've aged out of their chosen professions under your term limits?

I don't want to die, and I don't want those I care about to die, but I can see no functional world without death. Indeed, most of the hysteria that plays out in our culture as agressive self-righteousness is an unexplored fear of death.
12.30.2007 10:30pm
Ari (www):
As an interesting bit of trivia, the Bible itself has people living for hundreds of years, many of whom nearly reach 1000. People obviously didn't live for that long back then, but it's interesting that (presumably biblically religious) conservatives would see anything unnatural about this. If anything, such incredible technology would bring humanity back to a more godly state.
12.30.2007 10:38pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Sign me up for another 200 years.

I'm having fun.

And, although I'm a theist and all, I agree with my Dad: "I think there's a heaven, but lacking verifiable reports, I'm not that eager to test the matter."
12.30.2007 10:43pm
PersonFromPorlock:
On the main point you raise, I think you've given us a new illustration of "moot". Once life-extension becomes real, then we can have a discussion where half the arguments aren't 'sour grapes'.

Slightly OT, I'm inclined to look a little askance at the assertion that medicine has increased our lifespans. In the King James Bible (published in 1611), in Psalms 90:10, we read that "The years of our days are three score years and ten, or if by reason of strength they are four score years..."; in other words, that long before modern medicine, people died of old age at around 75.

Presumably the KJV's editors knew how long people lived and were comfortable with this assertion. And assuming they weren't making the whole thing up, the text they were translating is dated to sometime before 130 BC, which pushes the 'modern' lifespan even farther back.
12.30.2007 10:44pm
Eli Rabett (www):
I gather there was a rather dour Greek myth on the subject
12.30.2007 10:59pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Callahan seems very concened with the fate of the bored. I suggest thay can take their fate into their own hands with a handful of pills if they feel burdened by too many healthy years.

And worries about generational succession? How many times has the species adapted governing structures to changing demographics, technology, environment, and economies? This idea appears to say that since we don't know how future folks will solve some problem, we must assume they can't. We can only be thankful past generations had more faith in us.

Maybe Callahan yearns for those thrilling days of yesteryear when women died in childbirth, and getting to age 18 was the exception rather than the rule. We seem have to overcome the hardships involved in leaving that long and comfortable era, and there is no reason to think we won't prosper as we shed the 80-year-old lifespan.

And, what is a bioethicist? How does one become one? Self-appointed positions? Sounds like fun.
12.30.2007 11:00pm
Mark Bahner (www):

I have never heard anyone say it is a tragedy that Socrates, Shakespeare, George Washington, and Albert Einstein died and are no longer with us.


Over Christmas, I was reading David McCullough's "John Adams."

That got me to thinking about an idea for a movie wherein George and Martha Washington (or possibly Thomas Jefferson) get transported forward to the present time shortly after his first inauguration.

How would they react to the present social, technological, and political situations? It led me to thinking about the plot line of what Washington could do in 2008? And it led me to realize he'd be a helluva president even today. (I wonder if he'd be interested?)

P.S. If anyone from Hollywood is reading this, feel free to run with it. As Michelangelo said (to Shakespeare, in Monty Python's Beethoven skit), "Don't worry, I won't sue."
12.30.2007 11:03pm
BladeDoc (mail):
PersonFromPorlock:

Callahan is arguing against research directed against life-extending technologies. His opinion is regularly solicited by the government in decisions making such as in the stem cell debate. And so he is attempting by using his pulpit as a world-famous bioethicist (OK in those circles at least) at making SURE the question remains moot. That's why talking about the issue before he can help sink it is a good idea.

Also, you're pretty much right about life span in the "old days", kinda. If you could avoid traumatic death, death in childbirth, death from infection, -- essentially the four horseman the "natural lifespan" is about 75-80 years. Modern medicine (and really more importantly modern sanitation and food production) has allowed many more people to reach the age at which they just "die of old age". And that's why the AVERAGE life span has gone up so much but any one individual's life expectancy is essentially the same as it was eons ago.

Hope that wasn't too pedantic.
12.30.2007 11:09pm
Ilya Somin:
I think what they mean is for countries not like the U.S. For example, Castro has pretty much given up in Cuba, and death can't be far off. He was only in power for 30 years, and, frankly, we couldn't wait for him to kick the bucket.

I agree that this would be more of a problem in totalitarian states. However, some conservatives argue that it would be a problem even in the US and other democracies. See Diana Schaub's contribution to this same symposium. As for Castro and other dictators, I would hope that we can deal with them in other ways - without foregoing life extension for all the rest of us.
12.30.2007 11:10pm
Ilya Somin:
Is the key issue here the meaning of "tragedy"? The word tragedy suggests something not getting its due. Given that, of course no one suggests it's a "tragedy" that Socrates isn't still alive; it's beyond the realm of our experience to have someone live for a few thousand years. On the other hand, there are lots of things that are bad that are not tragic.

I don't think that's what Callahan meant, though it's hard to be absolutely certain. He also said that the death of his elderly mother was not "a great evil" and suggested that an average lifespan of 30 to 40 years might well be "enough." So he seems to think that aging and death are not bad things, not merely that they aren't "Tragic" in the sense that you suggest.
12.30.2007 11:12pm
Ilya Somin:
Where will you put them, what will you feed them, and what on Earth will they be doing with their time once they've aged out of their chosen professions under your term limits?

The term limits I suggested are for powerful leadership positions, not for all jobs. Leaders who are term-limited out of their current positions will have lots of other career options, just as ex-presidents, ex-governors, ex-university presidents and law school deans, and others currently subject to term limits do today. Moreover, if a complete career switch were necessary, a person who could live for hundreds of years would find it much easier to do it than one with today's lifespan. If you expect to live another several centuries, getting a second or third graduate degree would be a worthwhile investment. Not so for most people who live to be 70 or 80.
12.30.2007 11:15pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Social Security is already in serious, possibly unfixable trouble. Imagine how ingrained it will become when the elderly are a majority.

BTW, no amount of life extending technology would have helped Socrates. Depending on your interpretation of the Crito, he was either executed or committed suicide (I tend to prefer the latter interpretation).
12.30.2007 11:17pm
Daniel San:
About a century ago, influenza was sometimes called the old man's friend. Of course, the old men in question would have been debilitated to some extent. I have not idea whether it reflected a common notion or an aberrant outlook or something in between.

As for ancient life spans, barring trauma and disease, there was no reason a person could not live to seventy years in the first century of this era. But disease and trauma ended most lives well before they reached that age. We have not greatly increased health-span so much as we have greatly reduced that factors that have ended life prematurely.
12.30.2007 11:17pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
One other thing. In many ways, I think I'm getting dumber as I get older. Imagine Albert Einstein, who did almost all of his great work before he was 30, plugging away at the unified field theory for another 500 years, with no further results. Same for Newton. Of course, Einstein would never get his tenured position because the universities would be stuffed with Newton and Huygens and Boyle, etc...
12.30.2007 11:22pm
Ilya Somin:
Social Security is already in serious, possibly unfixable trouble. Imagine how ingrained it will become when the elderly are a majority.

If healthspan could be increased, those "elderly" people would be more than capable of continuing to work and supporting themselves. Even if they could not, the result might well be beneficial, since it would put pressure on the federal govt to cut Social Security benefits (at least for the nonpoor) and give people more of an incentive to save for their own retirements.
12.30.2007 11:25pm
llya Somin:
One other thing. In many ways, I think I'm getting dumber as I get older. Imagine Albert Einstein, who did almost all of his great work before he was 30, plugging away at the unified field theory for another 500 years, with no further results. Same for Newton. Of course, Einstein would never get his tenured position because the universities would be stuffed with Newton and Huygens and Boyle, etc...

Many great thinkers did a lot of their work late middle age or old age. Moreover, it would be easier to do this if the aging process were slowed and healthspan increased.

As for tenure, you're presuming that that institution would survive in a society with far longer lifespans. I think it probably wouldn't and university positions would be open to far wider competition than today. If Einstein could prove that he could do better than the incumbents in such a society, it is likely that some physics dept would hire him.
12.30.2007 11:28pm
DangerMouse:
This is the Akallabêth all over again. You people need to read more Tolkien:

But the King said: 'And does not Eärendil, my forefather, live? Or is he not in the land of Aman?'

To which they answered: 'You know that he has a fate apart, and was adjudged to the Firstborn who die not; yet this also is his doom that he can never return again to mortal lands. Whereas you and your people are not of the Firstborn, but are mortal Men as Ilúvatar made you. Yet it seems that you desire now to have the good of both kindreds, to sail to Valinor when you will, and to return when you please to your homes. That cannot be. Nor can the Valar take away the gifts of Ilúvatar. The Eldar, you say, are unpunished, and even those who rebelled do not die. Yet that is to them neither reward nor punishment, but the fulfilment of their being. They cannot escape, and are bound to this world, never to leave it so long as it lasts, for its life is theirs. And you are punished for the rebellion of Men, you say, in which you had small part, and so it is that you die. But that was not at first appointed for a punishment. Thus you escape, and leave the world, and are not bound to it, in hope or in weariness. Which of us therefore should envy the others?"

And the Númenóreans answered: 'Why should we not envy the Valar, or even the least of the Deathless? For of us is required a blind trust, and a hope without assurance, knowing not what lies before us in a little while. And yet we also love the Earth and would not lose it.'

Then the Messengers said: 'Indeed the mind of Ilúvatar concerning you is not known to the Valar, and he has not revealed all things that are to come. But this we hold to be true, that your home is not here, neither in the Land of Aman nor anywhere within the Circles of the World. And
the Doom of Men, that they should depart, was at first a gift of Ilúvatar. It became a grief to them only because coming under the shadow of Morgoth it seemed to them that they were surrounded by a great darkness, of which they were afraid; and some grew wilful and proud and would not yield,
until life was reft from them. We who bear the ever-mounting burden of the years do not clearly understand this; but if that grief has returned to trouble you, as you say, then we fear that the Shadow arises once more and grows again in your hearts. Therefore, though you be the Dúnedain, fairest of Men, who escaped from the Shadow of old and fought valiantly against it, we say to you: Beware! The will of Eru may not be gainsaid; and the Valar bid you earnestly not to withhold the trust to which you are called, lest soon it become again a bond by which you are constrained. Hope rather that in the end even the least of your desires shall have fruit. The love of Arda was set in your hearts by Ilúvatar, and he does not plant to no purpose. Nonetheless, many ages of Men unborn may pass ere that purpose is made known; and to you it will be revealed and not to the Valar.'
12.30.2007 11:29pm
Porkchop:
Daniel San wrote:


About a century ago, influenza was sometimes called the old man's friend. Of course, the old men in question would have been debilitated to some extent. I have not idea whether it reflected a common notion or an aberrant outlook or something in between.


As I recall, it was pneumonia that had that distinction, because it caused a relatively painless death.
12.30.2007 11:30pm
Ilya Somin:
"The years of our days are three score years and ten, or if by reason of strength they are four score years..."; in other words, that long before modern medicine, people died of old age at around 75.

Presumably the KJV's editors knew how long people lived and were comfortable with this assertion.


Yes, if you were VERY lucky and everything went right (you didn't die of famine, infectious disease, etc.), you could live to be 75 back in the ancient world. If you're similarly lucky in the modern world, you can live to be 100. However, the vast majority of people were not so lucky, and so it was considered perfectly natural for most people to be dead by the time they were 35 or 40, as most in fact were until the 19th century.
12.30.2007 11:31pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
A -

Indeed, most of the hysteria that plays out in our culture as agressive self-righteousness is an unexplored fear of death.

What do you mean here?
12.30.2007 11:49pm
Elliot123 (mail):
I recently read of work by a biologist on the number of heartbeats in a lifetime. He said that most mammals live for 1.5 billion heartbeats. Small animals with very rapid heartbeats expire after 1.5 billion in a few years. Slower beating hearts last for more years. Humans, however, are getting about 2 billion.
12.30.2007 11:57pm
Jiffy:
Extention of normal human lifespans to hundreds of years strikes me as morally grotesque. Our children and grandchildren need us to die and get out of the way so that they can take their turn. If Socrates was still around spouting his ideas today, would philosophical thought have progressed? If Shakespeare (and every playwright since) was still churning out material at the age of 500 would there be any room for Samuel Becket, Eugene O'Neil, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Tony Kushner? (And, if so, would they have to write in Elizabethan English?) And, of course, if life expectancy was increased, we wouldn't still have only the "good" or "useful" people, like Shakespeare and Socrates--we'd also get Atilla and Stalin. What would our society be like if the U.S. was burdened with a senior cadre of citizens with 17th, 18th and 19th Century attitudes about race, gender, religion, etc? "Term limits for leadership positions" wouldn't scratch the surface of generational succession problems, which would extend, not just to political office, but to every field of human activity.

I'm not sure what, for society (or, perhaps, for the next generation), the "optimum" life expectancy is, but my feeling is we may already be pushing past it. I expect that the baby boomers will make this problem obvious in the next couple of decades.
12.31.2007 12:05am
Nate F (www):
I can't be the only one here who's read Vonnegut's "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow", can I?
12.31.2007 12:15am
Mark Bahner (www):

Extention of normal human lifespans to hundreds of years strikes me as morally grotesque. Our children and grandchildren need us to die and get out of the way so that they can take their turn.


Assuming this is true (it is a debatable assertion), there would be a workable way around this problem:

1) People without children would be allowed to live forever,

2) When a man and woman have one child, they enter a legally binding contract for one of them (chosen by a coin toss) to agree to die at age 200, and

3) If a man and woman have two children, they both agree to die at age 200.
12.31.2007 12:21am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Three score and ten was probably not bad guess for folks who had then lived to full adulthood and evaded the 50% chance of dying while young (whooping cough, diptheria, etc.), or of dying in early adulthood from warfare or complications of bearing children, etc. A person who made 40 in the pre antibiotic days had a decent chance of hitting 70, nevermind the majority who never made it that far.

I for one would give a lot to have had my father around, who grew up on the Arizona frontier and knew things that we moderns will never see (ranching, seeing the Hindenberg fly over the open frontier while sleeping outside an adobe shack, being in WWII, fighting racism), or my father in law (WWII, depression, and he was such a scholar in languages) or my former wife (mediieval studies, did dissertation based on studies in the Secret Archives of the Vatican). Their experiences make my own seem quite minor. Compare theirs to the experiences of so many that hardly seem to have earned the right to have been toddlers.
12.31.2007 1:11am
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):

BTW, no amount of life extending technology would have helped Socrates. Depending on your interpretation of the Crito, he was either executed or committed suicide (I tend to prefer the latter interpretation).

Socrates is a particularly bad example, since his martyrdom to socialism is his main claim to fame, and counts as a tragedy in the standard sense of a fatal flaw leading inexorably to one's doom.
It is important that people like Callahan be allowed to die off of natural causes when that is their choice, and be prevented from forcing the rest of us to go along with him.
It is not a terrible thing that his child died, if of natural causes, but it would be different if he had thrown the kid out the window or withheld food or medicine. It is tragic that people die in the this country because congress has outlawed markets in blood and organs, although medical tourism offers a solution to those problems.
It will be a tragedy if I, currently 47, am in the last generation to have to die. I think my chances of making it to the singularity are pretty good, but far from certain.
12.31.2007 1:14am
Mark Bahner (www):

It is important that people like Callahan be allowed to die off of natural causes when that is their choice, and be prevented from forcing the rest of us to go along with him.


If people like Daniel Callahan think that their opinions will stop or even significantly slow down progress toward significantly longer lifespans, I think they're mistaken.

People like Aubrey de Grey and others will determine the rate of progress. This is just one more example of social conservatives trying to stop inexorable trends.
12.31.2007 1:26am
DangerMouse:
People like Aubrey de Grey and others will determine the rate of progress. This is just one more example of social conservatives trying to stop inexorable trends.

Ah yes, the argument that "this is inevitable so quit your griping." Nice use of the word "progress" there too, to describe a dehumanizing mechanization of nature.

My prediction: if the technology ever arises that allows man to extend his lifespan to hundreds of years, it will NEVER see fruition. The people who don't have it will murder or declare war on the people who do. If the technology is granted to everyone on the planet, then suicides will radically increase as people find their lives to be without meaning. Go ahead and say I'm wrong, but even if you can extend human life, you can't change human nature.

As for the rest: contracts to say how long a person would live? Did any of you learn ANYTHING in law school? Or if not that, kindergarden? Lawyers can be so stupid sometimes. If anyone of you egomaniacs actually gets the technology to extend their life, would YOU adhere to such a contract? Oh, I'm sure when your contractually appointed time arises, extenuating circumstances will arise...

Modern eugenics brings out all the freaks, I guess.
12.31.2007 1:35am
Jay Myers:
It is demonstrably false that life extension is good in and of itself. If I ask you for reasons to support your assertion of inherent goodness you will respond with other things that you consider good which are dependent upon being alive. Additionally, it is possible, even likely, that for some people living longer could be a burden. The only inherent good in extending life is forestalling death but in The Apology Socrates himself tells why we should not fear death.

There's also the potential Malthusian problem which would result from our birth rate continuing unabated while our death rate takes a dramatic downturn. It is Pollyannaish to aver that advancing technology would save us from ourselves.

Also, who is going to get these life extension treatments? Even if it is cheap enough that most Americans can afford it, over a billion people live on less than $1 a day and nearly three billion live on less than $2 a day. Most of the world's population will be denied life extension and you can bet that would become a huge source of resentment.

You wonder what great works would have been produced if people like Shakespeare and Einstein had lived longer but true creativity is a young person's game. Most scientists and mathematicians have all their original ideas by the time they are 30 and spend the rest of their careers either refining those ideas or resting on their laurels. Authors too frequently decline as they age. That has nothing to do with the decline of aging but is a result of the end of the development phase of the brain. Could we extend the development phase longer? Perhaps, but our longer brain development is thought to be associated with higher incidents of certain mental illnesses.

Very few people actually want to die but we should be wary that our understandable desire to live doesn't become greed and hubris.
12.31.2007 1:45am
K Parker (mail):
BladeDoc,

You say "Four Horsemen", but only mention 3--I think I've got you beat in the pedantry department! ;-) It can't be War that you're missing, since that would be covered under "traumatic death", so perhaps Famine is your missing equestrian.

Jiffy,
would there be any room for ... Arthur Miller
Yes, yes, go on--what of the downside?
12.31.2007 2:06am
Jiffy:
K Parker


would there be any room for ... Arthur Miller
Yes, yes, go on--what of the downside?


The hazard of using examples, I guess.
12.31.2007 2:37am
Gregory Conen (mail):
Let me first jump on the "pro" bandwagon, if only because I personally want to live forever. Clearly, though, we need a major change in medical treatment norms, to allow people to voluntarily end their lives, if this is going to work.

But, a few things:
1) It's probably not possible to get much past a couple hundred years, because accidents inevitably take their toll. I read somewhere that automobile accidents are the largest single source of life-years lost (in the US). People will keep dieing.

This makes the change rather less radical. It reduces the magnitude of the problems that arise, but also crushes any dreams of living thousands of years (well, it would be possible, but improbable).

2) People don't seem to adapt well to changing technology; only one of my grandparents ever learned to use a computer, and with only with great difficulty. While this might be reduced if people know they must continue to work, I suspect that younger people will still adapt to technology better.

This is both good and bad. It helps give each subsequent generation a way into the established social order. However, it may slow the acceptance of new technology, even when that technology is more efficient.
12.31.2007 2:40am
Ken Arromdee:
For example, critics worry that without relatively short lifespans, there will be no generational succession in powerful leadership positions, and therefore important institutions might stagnate under leaders who have become moribund. I think that most such arguments are weak. The generational succession problem is easily addressed by instituting term limits for leadership positions - policies which already exist for many key offices in both the public and private sector, including the presidency.

Actually, there's a much simpler reply to this argument: Fine, if everyone lives ten times as long, then the same guys will be heading institutions for ten times as long. But my lifetime's longer. It balances out--if the leaders live ten times as long but I live ten times as long too, I'll be seeing as much change in leadership during a lifetime as I would without life extension.
12.31.2007 3:53am
donaldk2 (mail):
There is not room for that many people.
12.31.2007 4:32am
Owen Hutchins (mail):

By contrast, Callahan's argument really does represent a deep moral chasm between us. If taken seriously, it implies that little or no good was achieved by extending life expectancy from the "natural" average of 35 or 40 that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution to today's 75-80.



On the contrary, that does not follow from his argument, as the vast majority of that increase in average life expectancy was the dramatic decrease in infant and child mortality.

Rather than the problem of long-lived elders not making way for the next generation (a problem, true, but probably minor), I think the bigger issue would be the dramatic population explosion that would occur if people stopped dying but we still had as many children as we do now.
12.31.2007 7:38am
c.j. ammenheuser:
People heal themselves of diseases, right up to death of old age; others I submit, have through deep instinctive memory recalled disease and allow themselves to die from it rather than kick in their own self producing cure. If this conjecture is not true, than what is the explanation for all of us not dieing from any of numerable diseases? For many of us, the body is not that frail, nor the mind, but we do however carry around with us like luggage the preconceived notion of aging. We use aging as an acceptable excuse for when we forget something, don't understand a concept, or are too physically out of shape for a physical activity. This is done consciously, triggered by instinct, to pass the torch to the younger and stronger generation.
12.31.2007 8:30am
another anonVCfan:
So, what you're saying is . . . the only reason we die . . . is because we accept it as an inevitability *waaaaahhhhhhhhh*
12.31.2007 8:47am
A.C.:
Forget Tolkien and Vonnegut -- doesn't anyone else read 19th century novels? And can't you just see the old geezers sitting around controlling all the resources, while seven or eight generations of their own offspring languish as poor relations and wait for the old guard to kick the bucket?

Something odd seems to happen to people who approach the current retirement age with their parents still alive. It's as if they never get the chance to be the adults. Generational turnover seems to be important for more than landed estates and political office.

Now, if we could get the generations to last longer in proportion to the lifespans, so that people continue to have their kids around the 1/3 mark and lose their parents around 2/3, then we might be on to something.
12.31.2007 9:25am
A non:
In a different direction: perhaps the "conservative" side here is sufficiently religious to believe in a rewarding afterlife. I don't know if I'm making a fair portrayal of Christian beliefs here, but if the important part of "life" is an everlasting existence in Heaven rather than its first part here on Earth, then indeed death after a reasonably good life is not such a great loss.
12.31.2007 9:42am
wm13:
When I was a boy, people used to talk about what would happen when computers could think: 2001 has come and gone and this remains an entirely hypothetical problem. Likewise, I think the problem of radically extended lifespans is likely to remain entirely hypothetical during the lifetimes of everyone reading this blog.

If you plot average lifespan over time, at least in the U.S. you'll find a steady linear rise starting about 1800. My guess is that one of two things will happen. The linear trend will continue, and people will adjust their lifestyles (as they have already to some extent, by extending average years of schooling, postponing the average age at first marriage etc.). This sort of gradual change seems unlikely to produce major social dislocation. Alternatively, lifespan may level off. For example, that is what happened to the speed of commercial transport, which rose steadily through the eras of stagecoaches, canals, railroads, propeller planes and jets, but which hasn't increased in 50 years now.
12.31.2007 10:34am
PersonFromPorlock:
Nate F:

I can't be the only one here who's read Vonnegut's "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow", can I?

Very possibly you are. But since all of Vonnegut's novels can be summed up as "Oh, crap," we can pretty much guess how it goes.
12.31.2007 10:47am
Rand Simberg (mail) (www):
...who is going to get these life extension treatments? Even if it is cheap enough that most Americans can afford it, over a billion people live on less than $1 a day and nearly three billion live on less than $2 a day. Most of the world's population will be denied life extension and you can bet that would become a huge source of resentment.

That's already happening today, without any obvious resentment, or at least any effective means of expressing it. Better diets and health care in the industrialized west are already providing "life extension" in both life span and health span, relative to the third world.
12.31.2007 10:59am
DCP:
I think there is something more to the aging process than just mere physical deterioration. There seems to be a psychological curve whereby people tend to get "set in their ways" so to speak.

My father, once an intelligent, savy man with an engineering degree, recently asked me how to rewind a dvd - as in, I just finished watching this movie and now I need to rewind it before I take it back to Blockbuster.
12.31.2007 11:24am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Jay Myers-

There's also the potential Malthusian problem which would result from our birth rate continuing unabated while our death rate takes a dramatic downturn. It is Pollyannaish to aver that advancing technology would save us from ourselves.

According to Malthus we should have starved ourselves out several times over by now. There were even some Malthusian books that came out in the 70s, I believe, that predicted starvation by now. They bear a striking resemblence to the wave of "global warming" books now. And the other doomsday scenarios like "global cooling/ice age" books. I'm sure they all advocate totalitarian socialist and collectivist schemes as solutions - with adherents to the theories in charge, of course. Now socialism and collectivism - THOSE are proven ways to exterminate people by starvation.
12.31.2007 11:35am
Thoughtful (mail):
I'm amazed on this libertarian/conservative blog the large number of posters who have trouble conceiving of invisible hands, changing prices, and shifting market equilibriums as ways of dealing with most of the gradual changes that would accompany radical life extension.
12.31.2007 11:41am
Thomass (mail):
I'm not seeing any problem as long as health is maintained (so those living a long time can still work).

People are somewhat flexible. As life span has increased, many have put off having children.

I didn't have my first child until I was 31. I wanted my life in order, to have a house, et cetera, first.

If we live longer, people may choose to wait until 100 or 200 to have their children... who, in turn, do the same... preventing population issues.

As to ideology... it’s an interesting issue to separate the libertarians and libertarian leaning conservatives from just plain conservatives (and of course, lefty busy bodies who start from the assumption they need to regulate it). As a libertarian, I don't acknowledge the majority's right to regulate this. They can have an opinion, but that’s it. It’s a personal issue.
12.31.2007 11:53am
occidental tourist (mail):
So it seems that Ilya and most commentors concede a fundamental, if semantic ( I tend to think Rush Limbaugh's words matter maxim understates the obvious and I live by my own more redundant truism: semantics matter), difference between deGrey's effort and improved sanitation and prenatal nutrition. Thus I think it wrong to declare Callahan as opposed to those developments in the context of arguing about radical life extension, even if he quotes Seneca in the earlier context of the world at the dawn of the christian era.

This is only to say that while the same ethical questions arise, the answers might not be identical or metaphorically derived from the obvious demonstration the Malthus (and Lester Brown) were wrong about the dilemma's posed by increased population. But I largely tend to think the question also divides into one not raised by any commentors( at least in my skim of all the responses )- the extent to which government or coerced common effort might be enlisted in such an undertaking. This question supports a 'cui bono' inquiry. It is, of course, possible that private action might still beget envy, but that is true of many existing cultural institutions that have proven lasting and worthwhile despite breeding envy (property comes to mind).

I think it amply reasonable to argue that public funds or commitment to such a goal are questionable on many levels. As far as urging a public bar on private efforts in this vein, the arguments are weaker, verging on non-existant. But we have been lead through the stem cell debate and the whole man on the moon paradigm to believe that only government can do this kind of stuff - thus buying into the idea that a public ethical debate is controlling rather than informing of these efforts. DeGrey's purpose in this vision (and I haven't studied deGrey enough to know if this is personally true, I mean this as an actor in the paradigm I lay out) is simply to mainstream the concept of life extension research until government picks it up.

In the sphere of philosopohical discussion that might guide private action through prevailing in intellectual argument it is useful to have ethical concerns growing out of our nature as historically - that is to say conservatively understood. That Callahan seems to hold to an absolutist conviction in this arena does not illuminate the full range of conservative response to the question.

Malthus (and Lester Brown) would certainly have foresworn even the advances to date based on their understanding of science and the ethical dilemma they imagined in consequence of their predictions. But 'progress' - reasonably and somewhat universally recognized as such - has largely mooted their arguments. While the improvements of which we speak ubiquitously in the west have not disseminated to the entire world, the development of these technologies largely offer the prospect of their manifestation in virtually any society willing to abandon feudal envy.

My own ethical view is that the developed world that has benefited from these technologies does not owe their implementation to the developing world, but rather that it necessarily offers the less developed world a short cut to higher standards of living. The import of these technologies cannot be hidden. Just because it isn't up to the western world to erect cellphone towers and buy every earthly inhabitant a cellphone doesn't take away the two hundred year struggle from the invention of electrical telegraphy to the present day. Across the range of materials technology and invention these advances represent a beacon of the possible and attempts to reconcile a global regime of intellectual property, while subject to reasonable criticism -- Tom Palmer being a notable font, e.g. "Are Patents and Copyrights Morally Justified?: The Philosophy of Property Rights and Ideal Objects," with who I nonetheless disagree on the ultimate conclusion of intellectual property -- are far from some kind of blight on the third world's taking up these innovations. Even if forced to pay 'western' prices, these prices are set in present markets with understanding of marginal costs for current technologies that largely supplant rather than pass on the costs of previous technolgies.

To the extent that this process has been ethically or otherwise transformative of the human experience, it has taken place under Burke's organic maxim of conservatism that suggests that the status quo is not the absolute of Callahan but still should be regarded as a literal inheritance not to be lightly disregarded or frivolously spent:


Thus by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the state, in what we improve we are never wholly new; in what we retain we are never wholly obsolete.



This is a far cry from the hidebound ethos attributed to Callahan. Interestly, although Blade Doc suggests Callahan's opinion is regularly solicited by the "government" (don't know if this is a reference solely to the Bush administration or not) Callahan appears no where in this recent account of the central figures in the Bush Stem Cell decision.

It is certainly worth a read as, whether sanitized or not, it suggests a decision making process far more in line with Burke than Callahan.

Finally, I am slightly perplexed by another anonVCfan's suggestion that aethism motivates his desire to use these life extending technologies. While the simplistic level scan might suggest theists wanting to get to heaven earlier, e.g. suicide bombers and the numerous promised virgins, it is not clear why signficantly longer lifespans, per se, incompatible with a vision of afterlife or immaterial purpose. Indeed, suicide bombers deliberately check out early in some objection to current material conditions arguably mixed with the belief that significantly shortcutting the currently conceived reasonable lifespan will lead to immaterial gains, but they do so to -- in their minds -- improve the circumstance of the mortal coil for their compatriots who will continue to inhabit it to the fullness of thier days.

Don't know why the same logic wouldn't apply just because lifespans were longer. Infinite lifespan might pose a different challenge as Tolkien and Vonnegut reasonably reflect, but that seems an outlier to the current discussion.

And for those interested in continuing the discussion on the role of aethism, I want to retract my concurrence with the logic of the proposition that: "atheism is a religion the same way not collecting stamps is a hobby".

That is only so if aethism is conceived as believing there is no evidence of a god, but the concept is largely defined as believing there is no god. The former conception of atheism is compatible with the aforementioned aphorism but not the latter. It depends a bit upon one's definition of religion at that point but the call is much closer.

Brian
12.31.2007 11:53am
Dougf Collins (mail):
I'm surprised no one has mentioned the fact that many populations are decreasing and even crashing right now. And that many others -currently increasing- are likely to turn around and start dropping soon. All that Malthus stuff is out of date. You need to catch up folks.

As far as social security is concerned - I have a modest proposal: Let anyone who wants to keep working past retirement age do so. In exchange he gives up social security that year and gets an equal income tax credit instead.

I'll leave the outcome as an exercise for anyone who isn't an economic ignoramus.
12.31.2007 12:20pm
Latinist:
Socrates is a particularly bad example, since his martyrdom to socialism is his main claim to fame

Now that's just silly. Socrates was famous enough during his lifetime to be satirized by Aristophanes in the Clouds. But the point that life-extension technology wouldn't have helped him still stands.

Sophocles, for a better example, not only lived to ninety, but was still writing great plays when he died: according to one story, when his son tried to have him declared incompetent to manage his own property, he defended himself by reciting bits of the not-yet-finished Oedipus at Colonus (which was only performed posthumously).
12.31.2007 12:20pm
cacimbo (mail):
While I would not mind hanging around another hundred years. I can see all the lawsuits now. Just as food, housing, education and health care now stand... just because you can't afford it. Doesn't mean your not entitled to it. So being homeless, mentally insane, drug addicted, severly disabled or just not inclined to work- should not deprive you of your right to an extended life span!! Because who knows, the lazy bum might suddenly become bored with panhandling after two-three hundred years and decide to get a job. Right around the same time the irreversable coma patient suddenly makes a full recovery after three hundred years on life support..
12.31.2007 12:21pm
Latinist:
Oh, and the Greek myth someone referred to is that of Tithonus: but his problem was being given eternal life without eternal youth -- without increased healthspan, so to speak. So he just kept becoming older and more decrepit eternally, until, if I remember right, he became a grasshopper.
12.31.2007 12:25pm
One Man's View:
Question for Ilya: Do you assume an expansion of resources to accomodate the substantially increased population or a significant reduction (elimination) of the birth rate?

I ask only because the former is a pretty large assumption that, if not achieved, may significantly increase the costs of life extension and change the evaluation.

As for the later: If the condition of extended life were a reduction or elimination of new births, such that there were never again a first love or a new baby, I know what I would choose.
12.31.2007 12:27pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
People are notoriously bad at predicting the effects a new technology will have.

When Bell was demonstrating the telephone, there was much skepticism about the need for the contraption. One person however, seemed to get it. He was very impressed and said that he could imagine the day when every town would have a phone.

When Whitney invented the cotton gin, did anyone predict what it would lead to?

How about the tranistor? Or the turing machine? There's alot of science fiction and distopian fiction that includes a centralized supercomputer (ala the mainframe). No-one anticipated the effect that wide networking would have.

Ilya may be right about what would happen to social security and tenure. More likely, he is wrong. With a technology that goes so deeply into the heart of the way that people live, the only thing that I'm sure of is that no-one can accurately predict the effects that it might have on societies.
12.31.2007 12:33pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
One Man's View:

In keeping with what I just posted: you don't know what will happen if this technology advances. One possibility is the rise of forced sterilization. It's also possible that there will be massive overcrowding. Or perhaps there will be two classes of people: those worthy of age extension, and those not qualified (a drone class). Or perhaps other advances will make population issues moot. Who knows????

A good story that is sort of related to this topic is The Organ Leggers, I think by Larry Niven.
12.31.2007 12:40pm
Daniel San:
Porkchop: As I recall, it was pneumonia that had that distinction, because it caused a relatively painless death.

Since I was quite certain in my memory that "old man's friend" described influenza, I Googled it. First ten references were to pneumonia. Porkchop gets the point.
12.31.2007 12:41pm
Herb Sorensen (mail):
Notice this data on Roman society:

Life Table Approximating Roman Population (simplified from Coale-Demeny 2, Model South, Level 3, Female as cited in Parkin, Demography and Roman Society)

x e(x) x+e(x) C(x)
0 25 25 3.3
1 33 34 9.3
5 43 48 9.8
10 41 51 9.3
15 37 52 8.9
20 34 54 8.3
25 32 57 7.8
30 29 59 7.2
35 26 61 6.6
40 23 63 6.1
45 20 65 5.6
50 17 67 5.0
55 14 69 4.4
60 10 70 3.5
65 8 73 2.5
70 6 76 2.2

http://www.utexas.edu/depts/classics/documents/Life.html

This data shows that the life expectancy for a 10 year old was better than 50 years, and for those who made it to 30, the expectation was 50 years. To me, citing the birth expectancy of 25 years as the expectancy of Romans is more than a little misleading. The very high infant mortality no doubt contributed to a high birth rate, with even a five year old having nearly a 50 year life expectancy.

The point here is that someone trying to show a tremendous increase in life expectancy, as a long term trend, can conveniently (and in my opinion, misleadingly,) cite the 25 year birth expectancy. In reality, adult Romans had life expectancies very comparable to that of my grandparents, and probably didn't live lives radically different from those of my grandparents' generation.
12.31.2007 12:50pm
Conservative Activist Judge:
Something that people favoring life extension need to deal with is that the quest for eternal life on Earth has been a source of evil in countless stories, fables and in reality. Callahan's arguments are mute in a way, if we suddenly had a 200 year life-span, the world would adapt. But what is considered evil is making life-extension the primary goal.

I suggest renting the movie Groundhog Day. It deals with the topic of the meaning of life.

Finally, what could render the whole argument mute is space colonization. I don't see how we get one without the other, actually, what depends is the order. If life-extension came first, there would eventually be overpopulation leading to a violent confrontation between those who wish to procreate and those who wish to stop them. Will men be willing to die for eternal life?

I favor deGray's research by the way, in case the above questioning leads you to beleive otherwise.
12.31.2007 1:01pm
Briney Eye (mail):
So many comments, and only one mentions the brain, which does not have infinite storage capacity. With an extended lifespan you would find out where the limit is (and you wouldn't like it). How would the limit be expressed? Memory loss? Short of long term (or both)? Loss of intellectual capacity? Would senility become inevitable? Would you be re-trainable for a third, fourth, fifth etc. career? Would the solution be cybernetic enhancement (which raises a whole host of other questions)?

Recently I saw an article claiming that human evolution is occurring faster than had been thought. What happens if people stop dying? What if all the problems are solved and you live long enough to see more highly evolved younger generations? How would the younger generations feel about the ancient Neanderthals they had to support? Would the artificial enhancements be enough to make up for the difference? What if the young ones still thought you looked like a cave man? Would you get plastic surgery to look more evolved? What if they wore size 12 hats and were all a foot taller than you?

Ah, speculation is fun! It's also moot, since I really don't think any of US will be around to live with the consequences if someone does eventually find the Fountain of Youth.
12.31.2007 1:23pm
David C (mail):
I'd love to live longer, and I think the effects of life-extension technology will be on balance good. But I think "term limits" are a weak answer to the fear that hidebound elders will hoard leadership positions. As I've sometimes heard it expressed, the worry is not just about well-defined institutional positions, but also in general strong concentrations of power and influence which may give their holders gatekeeper abilities in one or more spheres of society. Regardless of how it's constituted, the "old-boy network" may be that much harder to break into when its members have been in it an order of magnitude longer; etc.

And, accumulating such a concentration of power and influence may be correspondingly more attractive (and hence deliberately sought-after) when you can expect to live much longer. Spending a few decades installing yourself as dictator-for-life in a banana republic has an iffy payoff now, when you can only expect to enjoy the position for a few decades afterwards. But with 10 times more life?

And retrofitting term limits on existing institutional positions, once it becomes clear (to whom?) that lifetime positions are a problem, may be no trivial task. The benefits of a longer lifespan in the same position are highly concentrated, the costs to society quite diffuse.

Excercise for the reader: outline the effects of the first notably successful advances to be widely referred to as "healthspan-extension" technogies on next supreme court confirmation debate after their introduction.
12.31.2007 1:27pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
But then again:

no more looking for your car keys...
no more Britney/Paris/Olson twins news...
no more solicitations for money from your alma mater...

let's not be too hasty...

happy new year
12.31.2007 1:29pm
lurker-999 (mail):
Two questions:

1.) When I'm 499 years old, am I still going to be able make it occasionally with a gorgeous 19 year old redhead in the back of my Chevy Van (or anywhere else)? And if not, then what the Hell is the point of being alive?

2.) Isn't the 'tragedy' [sic] of not having Washington, Einstein, etc. around more than offset by the benefit of not having Stalin, Mao, etc.?
12.31.2007 1:32pm
john w. (mail):
3) If a man and woman have two children, they both agree to die at age 200.

And if they have 4 or 6 or 8 children, then what? ... Or will that be outlawed in your Brave New World?
12.31.2007 1:39pm
ilya187 (mail):
1.) When I'm 499 years old, am I still going to be able make it occasionally with a gorgeous 19 year old redhead in the back of my Chevy Van (or anywhere else)? And if not, then what the Hell is the point of being alive?

The only realistic way for people to live to 499 years is by remaining reasonably young and healthy for 499 years. Since it is organ failure which brings "death of old age", living for centuries in a failing body is an oxymoron. So the answer is: yes, you will still be able to make out occasionally with a gorgeous 19 year old -- or more often, with a healthy 219 year old who could pass for today's 39 year old.

2.) Isn't the 'tragedy' [sic] of not having Washington, Einstein, etc. around more than offset by the benefit of not having Stalin, Mao, etc.?

Stalin and Mao could do what they did because people believed in them. People living indefinitely will have much less need "to be part of something bigger than themselves", which is what makes Stalins and Maos possible in the first place.
12.31.2007 2:04pm
Thomass (mail):
"Daniel San:
Porkchop: As I recall, it was pneumonia that had that distinction, because it caused a relatively painless death.

Since I was quite certain in my memory that "old man's friend" described influenza, I Googled it. First ten references were to pneumonia. Porkchop gets the point."

Take it back. :)

Pneumonia is a totally open ended term that simply means 'an infection and/or inflammatory illness located in the lung/s'. Re: it’s about where the problem is, not the agent causing it... such as influenza.
12.31.2007 2:17pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Isaac Asimov contemplated what would happen when people have several-century life spans. In his stories, the people gradually stopped taking risks, became extreme germ-phobic, and their societies stagnated.
12.31.2007 2:20pm
David Drake:
Jiffy-

As an amateur philosopher, I believe that philosophical thought has not advanced much, if any, beyond Socrates and Plato.
12.31.2007 2:22pm
Latinist:
David Drake:
Really? Not even Aristotle?
12.31.2007 2:42pm
ilya187 (mail):
Isaac Asimov contemplated what would happen when people have several-century life spans. In his stories, the people gradually stopped taking risks, became extreme germ-phobic, and their societies stagnated.

Yes. And in stories of Alastair Reynolds centuries-old people continue to invent things, write symphonies, travel between stars and re-make their own bodies at whim; and their longevity depends in part on defeating nastiest infections rather than avoiding them fastidiously. What makes you think Asimov is right and Reynolds is wrong? Or other way around?

That's why it is called FICTION. It is a reflection of how the author feels about the matter, not a prediciton in a crystal ball.
12.31.2007 2:48pm
Elmer:
If people lived to 200, many would not move out of their parents' home until their 40s or 50s. The resulting increase in the murder rate would eliminate any worries of a population explosion.
12.31.2007 2:50pm
PersonFromPorlock:
To go back to my original point: all this havering back and forth is meaningless until the question can be phrased as "Here it is; you can have it if you want it; do you want it?" I suspect even today's 'antis' will discover that there's plenty of time to die... later.

Incidentally, since I'm not as thoroughly wedded to the idea of linear causation as I could be, let me suggest that today's decrease in the birth rate in the developed nations may be in 'response' to a future increase in longevity there. Weirder things happen in quantum physics.
12.31.2007 3:13pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Duh, it's fiction. But the premise is plausible. Once life gets REALLY long, will people be willing to take the same risks they do now when young?
12.31.2007 3:22pm
BladeDoc (mail):
occidental tourist: just to clarify, I used the stem cell debate as an example of medical ethics decisions that face the federal government (or more specifically that the FG inserts itself into). While I don't know if he got involved in that specifically his CV www.thehastingscenter.org/pdf/cv/cv_daniel_callahan.pdf notes a number of congressional panels on which he sat or to whom he gave testimony including overpopulation and vaccination.
12.31.2007 3:22pm
Bandit (mail):
This is great in the abstract but think of millions of senior citizens clogging busy highways while the poor wage slaves who are going to have every last penny sucked out of their paycheck are trying to get back and forth to their snetences - I mean jobs - I'm with Lisa Simpson on this one - when Homer becomes Death and she has him in for career day - 'He performs a valuable service in the community'
12.31.2007 3:48pm
occidental tourist (mail):
Blade Doc,

Thanks for your clarification. BTW, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Callahan has not had a lot to say about the ethics of stem cell research. It was simply your example that made me think to link Lefkowitz's account of the stem cell decision as I think it offers a significantly alternative narrative to the anti-science Bush White House totem and suggests that people of the ilk of Callahan, while having had input, had no controlling inside track in the stem cell debate.

In the 'pro-science' community which has a bit of a libertarian flair, the most striking thing about the stem cell debate is the extent to which everyone made it seem that government funding was the sine qua non of this research. So overblown and imprecise was the debate that many people I spoke with thought the president was considering a "ban" on stem cell research, not whether to fund it. No-one seemed to have much notion of how to undertake this work privately.

There just seems to be a virtual complete lack of applied libertarian thinking in the basic research realm and I think that this, rather than some fundamentalist bent of the Bush Adminstration, is what was ebarrassingly on display in the stem cell debate.

Likewise, I'll have to go back and actually read or watch the CATO debate, but everyone on this thread seems to be speaking of the advisability of pursuing radical life extension and not of who should fund such an adventure.

I certainly recognize the derivative entitlement arguments, i.e., if the technology exists doesn't the egalitarian instinct require that we pass it out to everybody. If we can't divorce such simplistic understandings of freedom from American politics, I don't think it makes too much difference whether we're debating handing out eternal life or just free medical care as we now know it.

Brian
12.31.2007 4:33pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Our children and grandchildren need us to die and get out of the way so that they can take their turn."

This presumes a zero sum game where there are a fixed number of opportunities, and people have to wait their turn. History doesn't agree. Look at the number of opportunitis availble in the US in 1900. Compare that to the number available in 2000. There was a vast increase. Why should the number become static? At what point would it stop growing?
12.31.2007 4:39pm
kurt9 (mail):
Immortality will make for a more dynamic society. Institutions that do not innovate and change will be out-competed and pushed out of the way of those that do. Bill Gates did not join IBM and wait to rise to the top. He started Microsoft. This is the reason why immortality will not lead to the ossification of human institutions and a concentration of power. If anything, it will lead to the opposite, because it will allow people more time and freedom to create. It is the aging process itself that makes people more risk averse as they get older. Eliminate the aging process and you eliminate the risk aversion.

Of course, social security and pension schemes will have to go away. Perpetual youth will make such old-age entitlement schemes archaic anyways. There will be no need for them.

Work and play will change. People will not work in the same job or career for "life". Rather, people will have a series of "mini" careers lasting 5-20 years, then take years off to party and travel the world, then move on to the next mini-career.

Some people claim that the advent of post-mortality will create a disruptive change in our society. I say that we have already gone through this transition (what do you think the 80's and 90's were about) and society is already a post-mortal one with regards to work and careers. This is certainly the case for those of us who work for small business or are self-employed. We are told that we must continually learn new skills and do new things in our lives. That we must alway prepare for new careers. Certainly sounds to me that we have already made the social transition and have become an immortalist society. We are simply waiting for the biomedical technology to catch up with our dreams and life-style choices that already exist.

I think there will be more problems and social disruption if we don't cure aging in the next 20-30 years than if we do. This is certainly true for myself and most of my friends. Most of us are self-employed or work for small companies. Most of us rely on our own economic productivity and self-reliance to create the lives we currently enjoy. Curing aging allows us to carry on, remain free and independent, and what we want with our lives. Aging is the monkey wrench that f**ks this up for us. Not curing aging is far more disruptive than curing aging.
12.31.2007 4:42pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
David Drake:

When philosophy makes advances, it stops being philosophy and becomes something else. Remember, Newton et. al. were natural philosophers. Anyone thinking about the brain and mind pre-Freud was a philosopher, but not anymore (although whether the psychologists are scientists may be debatable). Same goes for logic and math.

What's left for philosophy are the riddles. And yes, there isn't much advancement on riddles.
12.31.2007 5:17pm
Nate F (www):
I can't even believe there are this many people in favor of radical life extension. And I don't mean that to be condescending, I am just baffled. Even ignoring the resource issues (which, by the way, many of you Cornucopians seem to vastly underestimate), you really want to live that long? I don't.
12.31.2007 6:22pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
At best, any of us reading this can be of last generation that knew people who died. As a non-Atheist (actually the only belief that matters here is that there is something beyond this world) there are already quite a few people (two of whom I last saw in 2007) that I'm looking forward to seeing again after I die.
12.31.2007 6:32pm
Guest101:

I can't even believe there are this many people in favor of radical life extension. And I don't mean that to be condescending, I am just baffled. Even ignoring the resource issues (which, by the way, many of you Cornucopians seem to vastly underestimate), you really want to live that long? I don't.

Sounds to me like you're suffering from a lack of imagination. If I could plan my life in terms of centuries rather than decades, I'd put off having children for another 30 or 40 years and go back to college for another decade or two to learn about all of the things that interest me but that I've never had time to study formally, interspliced with quite a bit of travel and living abroad. There's more than enough in the world to keep one occupied for several conventional lifetimes.

As to the resource issue, I suspect we'd be well advised to drastically reduce the birth rate to a degree proportionate to our own radically extended lifetimes, but so what? I don't feel any particular moral obligation to unborn generations to bring them into existence when I plan to be around long enough to enjoy life for many more decades.
12.31.2007 6:36pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
To avoid the problem of a declining death rate, I propose we execute all those who want to prevent me from obtaining life-extending technology. I know this probably won't fix the "problem" as they see it, but it would raise this question:

If I live to 200 and nary a bioethicist is alive to complain, have I still commited an ethical violation?


Also, who is going to get these life extension treatments? Even if it is cheap enough that most Americans can afford it, over a billion people live on less than $1 a day and nearly three billion live on less than $2 a day. Most of the world's population will be denied life extension and you can bet that would become a huge source of resentment.


Isn't there already a huge disparity in life expectancy and quality of life? I guess I don't understand how this changes the dynamic much.
12.31.2007 7:06pm
Nate F (www):

As to the resource issue, I suspect we'd be well advised to drastically reduce the birth rate to a degree proportionate to our own radically extended lifetimes, but so what?


Some people won't even do this now. What's going to change?
12.31.2007 7:13pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
Extending life expectancy would greatly decrease my aversion to economic risk and greatly increase my aversion to risk of bodily harm.

If I knew I could live to 500 barring accidental death or disease, I'd almost never travel in a car above 35 mph, or require greatly increased safety equipment.
12.31.2007 7:19pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
People are the resource. Everything else is useless without us. More people = more "resources."
12.31.2007 7:23pm
Mark Jones (mail):
I've seen this attitude often enough over the years that it no longer surprises me, but it still shocks me. Who _wouldn't_ want to live for centuries or millennia? I want to see the future, dammit. And there's only one way to do that. The Malthusian arguments leave me cold; we've seen them punctured by reality too many times (cities waist deep in horse ****, worldwide starvation, etc).

Sure there will be problems. It's not like today's world runs smoothly, and the past sure had problems. But why is it that so many people seem to get so scared by the idea of living indefinitely? Because that's what we're talking about. Everyone will still die eventually, from accidents or illness or homicide--but barring those things, you will no longer be burdened with a "use by" date.
12.31.2007 7:29pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"I can't even believe there are this many people in favor of radical life extension. And I don't mean that to be condescending, I am just baffled. Even ignoring the resource issues (which, by the way, many of you Cornucopians seem to vastly underestimate), you really want to live that long? I don't."

Resources don't become an issue until consumption is added to the analysis. Neither has any meaning without the other. However, those who choose to give up extended life are free to do so.
12.31.2007 8:16pm
kurt9 (mail):
The biotechnology advances that cure aging will also allow for robust regeneration (regrowth of limbs, etc) from accidents and what not. So, there will be no reason for increase physical risk aversion any more than financial risk aversion.

The people who question the personal desire to live an idefinitely long youthful lifespan simply lack the imagination to live "outside the box" (e.g. I lived as expat in Asia for 10 years, I do not live the conventional life-cycle life).

As for resources, this is a joke. There is nothing here than technologicla innovation and free markets cannot solve. Its a matter of imagination. Besides, creative minds are the only real resource and the only way this can be wasted is by not using them.
12.31.2007 8:21pm
Daniel Dover (mail):
A few comments, (if they've been made, mark me as in agreement)

Resources: We make more food than most of the world needs already. The problem with starvation is one of infrastructure and trasnport, not resources or technology. And in our industrial countries, we're producing less children, and seem to be gambling on quality over quantity. Extended lifespan would certainly hedge that bet. If we can gengineer away aging, we can certainly gengineer food (and then we get into space and other futurist elements that will likely go hand-in-hand with anti-aging advancements).

When you get down to it, legislating away anti-aging amounts to picking an age and saying "Then, everyone dies then." It's Logan's Run all over again. Does 30 seem a daft and bizzarre age to be killing people? Why? Our Cro-magnon ancestors died all the time at that age. Is it because most thirty-year-olds are hale, healthy, and have plenty to offer? If medicine continues to advance, 60 will be hale and healthy (practically already is). Then 90. Then 120. So, are we going to kill off bright-eyed, flush-skinned 90 year olds? Demand they stop treatment?

Never going to happen. I just can't imagine it. Government mandated lifespans. It's barbarity.
12.31.2007 9:07pm
Mark Bahner (www):
I wrote:


People like Aubrey de Grey and others will determine the rate of progress. This is just one more example of social conservatives trying to stop inexorable trends.


"Dangermouse" responds:


Ah yes, the argument that "this is inevitable so quit your griping."


I don't mind if people like Daniel Callahan "gripe." I don't think he's good for much else. Again, this is in contrast to people like Aubrey de Grey who are actually working to solve problems.


Nice use of the word "progress" there too, to describe a dehumanizing mechanization of nature.


Heh, heh, heh! Yeah, it's "dehumanizing" to work, as Aubrey de Grey is doing, to allow humans to live healthy lives for many more decades than they currently do. To preserve healthy human life is "dehumanizing." The Ministry of Truth has spoken.


If the technology is granted to everyone on the planet, then suicides will radically increase as people find their lives to be without meaning. Go ahead and say I'm wrong, but even if you can extend human life, you can't change human nature.


Not only will I say you're wrong, I'll say you don't have a clue about human nature. (But I'll bet you've got elves, dwarfs, and orcs down pat!) Tell me, what percentage of people over 70, 80, 90, or 100, who are in good health, commit suicide because they "find their lives to be without meaning?" Perhaps if you read less fiction and more non-fiction, you'd know a little bit more about how the world actually works.


As for the rest: contracts to say how long a person would live? Did any of you learn ANYTHING in law school?


No, I didn't learn ANYTHING in law school, because I didn't go to law school. I'm an engineer. I'm not a lawyer. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. ;-))


Lawyers can be so stupid sometimes.


Yes, everyone can be so stupid sometimes. Even "dangermice."


If anyone of you egomaniacs actually gets the technology to extend their life, would YOU adhere to such a contract? Oh, I'm sure when your contractually appointed time arises, extenuating circumstances will arise...


Yes, it's true that people who reached 200 would probably want to live even longer. (It appears even you don't believe your own nonsense about old people killing themselves because they see their lives to be without meaning.)

I raise the scenario of a binding contract to commit suicide at age 200 if one has 2 children simply to show how trivial the "overpopulation problem" is. I'll bet most people would be willing to give their right arm (literally) to live to be 200 today. So all this fuss about the "overpopulation problem" could be solved simply by limiting people to 2 children and 200 years old...if the "problem" even is found to exist in the future.


Modern eugenics brings out all the freaks, I guess.


An interesting comment from a man who posts under the name "DangerMouse," and quotes ad nauseum from Lord of the Rings.

Welcome to 2008, "DangerMouse." Try reading some non-fiction this year. ;-) (I recommend Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near.")
1.1.2008 1:13am
Mark Bahner (www):

I think there is something more to the aging process than just mere physical deterioration. There seems to be a psychological curve whereby people tend to get "set in their ways" so to speak.

My father, once an intelligent, savy man with an engineering degree, recently asked me how to rewind a dvd - as in, I just finished watching this movie and now I need to rewind it before I take it back to Blockbuster.


I'm dating myself (why, this was 15 years ago!), but remember the days when software came on multiple 3.5-inch diskettes? It would say, "Insert Disk 1," "Insert Disk 2," and so on?

Well, one poor guy crammed 3 diskettes into his floppy drive before it broke...because he didn't understand that he was supposed to remove disk 1 before inserting disk 2! :-)
1.1.2008 1:32am
Virginia Postrel (www):
Callahan isn't a conservative, at least as that term is usually used in American politics. He's a liberal Democrat. That's how Leon Kass got away with bringing him to the White House when Bush asked to hear a different political perspective on stem cells. Of course, in this case, the conservative Republican (Kass) and the liberal Democrat (Callahan) think the same way. Left and right aren't very useful categories.
1.1.2008 2:02am
Daniel San:
There has been discussion of death by accident, but what about disability. If we have radical life-expanding technology, disability due to trauma is far more likely than death. In the world as we know it, a good many people become disabled (to the point of being unable to work) by age 30. I would assume a good many more in the next 70 years. What do we do for them for the next 400 years of their lives?

To be clear, I do not think this is necessarily a strong argument against the technology. It is one more way in which the world will change and we may have some difficult decisions to make. (As I sit here with a broken foot that would not have broken if I were 20 years younger.)
1.1.2008 11:12am
occidental tourist (mail):
OK, so now i've read the CATO debate in its entirety and I was right to expect that the 'libertarians' as such are somewhat euphemistic about who would pay for all this. Ironically one of the 'pro-mortalists' (who believes in the grandeur of such government projects as NASA) is the only one to address the issue and the very final comment so there was, unfortunately, no response from Bailey or de Grey.

excerpts are in order from the debate and despite de Grey's putative appeal for mutliple $25,000 charitable contrib utions to his effort, there seems to be little question that he is trying to create a statist appeal for his project and see it taken on by government.

Aubrey DeGrey:

... they point to the clear consensus of public statements of biogerontologists, which indeed centers on the feasibility of modest life extension but the infeasibility of defeating aging. When reminded that biogerontologists would say that, wouldn’t they (since they are funded mainly by taxpayers, who suffer from the pro-aging trance that conservative bioethicists work so hard to perpetuate), they reply that the existence of bad reasons to say something doesn’t imply the non-existence of valid reasons.

When thoroughly cornered on the question of whether the defeat of aging would be a good thing, geronto-apologists generally turn as a last resort to the cry “Okay, but first things first!” The fact that efforts to postpone human aging will definitely not bear much fruit for at least a few decades is held as a reason to deprioritize such efforts in favor of combating already preventable problems.


In his opening essay, de Grey suggests derisively that biogerontologists who throw cold water on his ideas are all largely in the employ of government. It seems to me then that he should be seeking to dissociate medical advances from the state if he thinks the state brings a jaundiced eye to the problem, Instead he makes euphemistic appeal to alter collectivist priorities. But no one is forcing de Grey to alter his own priorities, he simply is not being afforded a state funded Manhattan Project to accomplish them.


Diana Schaub:


I must admit that I don’t find persuasive de Grey’s attempt to silence potential doubters and dissenters by brandishing the specter of age-discrimination and insisting on “our duty.” If the powerful desire for self-preservation, coupled with the fear of death, is not enough to fill the anti-aging ranks, I don’t think calls to duty will do it.



I think Schaub is correct to deride claims of duty and discrimination as some kind of argumentation in favor of life extension as a statist prerogative.

Ron Bailey:


Frankly, I am not persuaded by the implied argument that everyone must continue to die before age 100 in order to avoid the possibility of millennial tyrants. Must we really surrender to the tyranny of aging and death in order to prevent human despotism? Wouldn’t a better strategy be to focus on preventing the emergence of tyrants, either of the short- or long-lived variety?



I'm not sure, given our general lack of success in 'free nation' building that longer lifespans would augur better results. I think a stronger argument is the specter of longer subjugation could be thought to breed a stonger will to resist tyrrany but I do think it is a reasonable fear that the enormous power gulf in tyrranical circumstances would be difficult to overcome even with increase motivations - although it is largely unlikely that the loosers in life's tyrrany lottery would be able to avail themselves of medical treatments to prolong age anyway.

Dan Callahan


Healthy, affluent people even now usually want to retire from work, not continue indefinitely, and poor people whose work is drudgery want it even more. But they would be forced to continue working unless society and their children were prepared to support them for hundreds of years.


I think this is useful criticism and subtlely different from the point that current social security is not up to the task of our own lifetimes never mind radically extended ones. Many commentors on this thread have been quite pollyannish about their economic, educational and leisure prospects under radically extended lifetimes but seem somewhat vague on how they expect the new economy to pay for all the leisure preoccupations they imagine, e.g. Guest 101:


If I could plan my life in terms of centuries rather than decades, I'd put off having children for another 30 or 40 years and go back to college for another decade or two to learn about all of the things that interest me but that I've never had time to study formally, interspliced with quite a bit of travel and living abroad.


While the upper middle class has done a pretty good job of epitomizing the very lifestyle described in this quote, I don't think the evidence holds that all those working in service industries can afford the same approach. I'm not suggesting that is right or wrong, but it is pretty easy to imagine what a wonderful thing radically extended life would be for those who create and retain a measure of wealth, but for those with lesser prospects, I think Callahan's cautions - especially about the ubiquitous or universal appeal - of life more or less without end is a worthy point. It might be that life extending would be a function of economic success and so this would be a non-issue. That in turn creates a wider class gulf. This is possibly not insurmountable. We have class divisions already and plenty of sellf-haters who are quite happy to be of the upper economic strata while complaining about it. I don't see the class argument as any kind of bar to life extension but simply almost a necessary outgrowth of a belief that such technology would not be universal (albeit marginal costs of some innovations could make them available across a wider economic spectrum) and that even should prolongation cut across class divisions more than I imagine, the economy will not produce equal results in terms of living standard and leisure for beneficiaries of these technologies. I just don't think you can argue away general questions of the psychological impacts of perceiving somewhat eternal drudgery as the rewards of 21st century medicine by suggesting it will be cured by tourism.

Aubrey Degrey:


It is trivial to outline any number of ways in which the structure of the economy could be adjusted to maintain turnover of personnel within a given industry by sufficiently incentivizing retraining and adult education.



So, in answer to these concerns de Grey proposes statist mucking about with the economy-- alright not explicitly -- but if he doesn't propose explicitly that the invisible hand will take care of it, it is difficult to read "restructuring" as some emergent or self actualizing expectation on his part. Rather this is an appeal to government recalibration. Perhaps one can make the case that the necessary recalibrations would more likely be market friendly than not, although I don't see that on the surface. As it is now, government seems to think it is their responsibility to send every neer do well to college. IF we need periodic retraining, is it somehow imagined that reference to restructuring to acheive that is envisaged not to dwell upon the perceived statist place in education and "incentivizing retraining". It is not logically inconceivable that industries looking for new blood could provide the incentives, but language like incentivizing in our present discourse means government almost by definition.

Ron Bailey:


The fact of near-ubiquitous human yearning for longer healthier lives should serve as a preliminary warrant for pursuing age-retardation as a moral good.


But to whom is it a warrant. Again, a warrant implies a duty to act in accord with it usually by a government actor. Without defining this, Ron is placing himself, willy, nilly, amongst those who want to shift the priorities of the National Institute of Health towards publicly funded research in this area. If this is really whay Ron means he ought to say so, e.g., 'if we're going to have the government funding all our basic medical research, it is a potentially inefficient or ethical fault in reverse to fail to seriously include de Grey's approach amongst the major batttles funded. If his concern is really for as yet untendered legislation to bar such research, I would certainly be interested to know, but I am left in the dark.

Diana Schaub:


Ronald Bailey closes his reaction essay by accusing a group of “well-meaning and intelligent people” (thank you, Ron) of wanting “to stop biomedical research.” So far as I know, no one has called for a ban or moratorium on anti-aging research. I know I did not. There are types of biomedical research that I regard as morally wrong (for instance, research that exploits vulnerable classes of human beings for the benefit of other, usually more privileged, human beings); however, I would not put anti-aging research in that category. If folks want to respond to the Methusaleh Foundation’s passing of the plate and become one of The 300 (whose $25,000 commitment will “beat back not just an army, but the Grim Reaper himself”) that is their business. For my charitable dollars, I would prefer to remedy the malnutrition and childhood diseases that deprive so many of their full “three score and ten.” These are scourges that we have some hope of beating back. For my health-care tax dollars as well, my vote would go to the urgent and the doable. (This is not to say that there is no place for noble and daring government-funded undertakings such as the space program.) Refusing to put my money in the pocket of messianic immortality-seekers does not constitute an attempt “to stop biomedical research.”


This seems to be the most libertarianly cogent argument in the whole piece and it is delivered by the pro-mortalist Schaub -- albeit I'm not saying I think the pro-mortalist position falls on the libertarian or alibertarian side of the ledger -- but de Grey strikes me as no libertarian. Further there are statist consequences to the general approach that might not be fatal but should be acknowledged, e.g. James Huges, executive director of the Institue for Ethics in Emerging Technologies uses de Grey's work to argue for universal health care of the government voucher or single payer model in his socialist utopian take Cover Everyone and Cure Aging: Counterintuitive answers to healthcare inflation


Universal healthcare systems and antiaging medicine are precisely the means by which we can control healthcare spending in the coming decades, ensure top quality health care, and keep our parents and ourselves alive.


I would love to live a hell of a long time and don't worry much about the prospect of filling a millenial existence but I would be damn careful in promoting my interest to dissociate myself from an attempt to get 'society' to take up the cause. Hughes embrace of de Grey makes me think about a slight change to the old aphorism along the lines of


"The friend of me enemy is ....."
1.1.2008 12:00pm
another anonVCfan:
Someone has probably said this by now, and this late in the debate I suppose it's unlikely to be read, but here's how I'll know that the pro-mortality people are serious: when radically extended lifespans become an option, they'll say no thanks and content themselves with their three score and ten.
1.1.2008 12:39pm
occidental tourist (mail):
another anonVCfan:

read and acknowledged, but I think it is actually not correct to say that they are promortalist simply because they offer arguments for consideration in opposition to societal/government commitment to de Grey's ideas. Rather I think they are saying to pro-infinites, go ahead and do it and we'll consider the consequences as the emerge and see if we'll jump on the bandwagon. One supposes that if there were then serious consequences in the eyes of some they might actually proposed to ban certain aspects of the approach, but they don't appear to be proposing any prior restraint.


Brian
1.1.2008 1:26pm
jdh (mail) (www):
A society populated by 300 year-olds may be stagnant, but I would rather live in a stagnant society at 300 than be dead.

Nevertheless, as a 29 year-old, I won't live to see these days. My children and I will probably age and die, and my grandchildren probably will not.
1.1.2008 4:20pm
Kevin Dewalt (mail) (www):
Curing human aging will save 100,000 people a day from dying at the end of a period of prolonged suffering. Will saving this many people create other problems? Maybe, maybe not.

But the onus is squarely and firmly on those opposed to saving the lives of old people to give me a rock-solid argument why we should not pursue these therapies as fast as possible. I have yet to see it.

These 'ethical' debates are important to raise awareness of Aubrey's work and the goals of the Methuselah Foundation, but the reality is that these technologies WILL ultimately happen. The relevant discussion is WHEN.

Will the therapies to reverse and end human aging be here for us, our parents, our children, or our children's children? The answer largely depends on the resources and will we apply towards developing them. Every day we debate and delay we lose another 100K lives to the diseases of aging.

Well I for one am not going to debate the inevitable but will instead do what I can to bring the future here as soon as possible. I urge those of you in agreement to join me in supporting Aubrey and the Methuselah Foundation. If you don't want to donate your money, consider taking my YouTube challenge and donating some of mine.
1.1.2008 9:56pm
Mark Bahner (www):
A society populated by 300 year-olds may be stagnant, but I would rather live in a stagnant society at 300 than be dead.

Nevertheless, as a 29 year-old, I won't live to see these days. My children and I will probably age and die, and my grandchildren probably will not.


I think you underestimate the pace of change in health care...particularly with regard to your children (who presumably are under 10).

If you live another 50 years, and your children another 70-80, that brings us to ~2060 and 2080-2090. By my calculations, U.S. per-capita income in those years (in year 2000 dollars) will be well over $1 million a year. That buys a lot of healthcare, even at today's technology.

It's not unreasonable to think that by the middle to end of the century, artificial hearts (or hearts repaired by stem cells) will be common. And it's not unreasonable to think that cancer will have reduced to merely a chronic illness.

So...I'd say if you live to 80+, you have a 50/50 chance of living to 200 (barring life-ending catastrophic accident...e.g., falling off a cliff while rock climbing). And if your children live to 80+, I'd say their odds are close to 90% of living to 200+.
1.1.2008 10:34pm
Cleanthes (mail) (www):
I do not want to live forever, nor for an extended period. I will cheerfully die soon if I can die for a worthwhile cause.

One possible worthwhile cause is killing those greedy egomaniacs who wish to live and smugly lord it over the earth for extended periods.

I am willing to die for MY belief, but those who want to live forever obviously cannot be expected to die for THEIR belief.

I do not see anything but failure for the cowards wanting to die a thousand deaths for a thousand years while the brave taste of death but once.
1.1.2008 11:15pm
occidental tourist (mail):
Kevin DeWalt


But the onus is squarely and firmly on those opposed to saving the lives of old people to give me a rock-solid argument why we should not pursue these therapies as fast as possible.


That is nonsensical. Nobody has said they are opposed to saving lives. They have raised ethical, prudential and cost benefit considerations as possible objections to this as a nonvoluntary effort. ( I respect your willingness to contribute voluntarily and don't necessarily believe that if we are stuck with statist medicine that de Grey's paradigm should be pre-empted by some more short term realizable medical goal of the day. But this entire discussion has taken place with no discussion of the extent to which -- at least de Grey -- imagines this as a statist undertaking.

Admittedly he sees it as supplanting current chronic and acute care, but lots of folks thought that we were going to save a lot of money by giving all the old folks free prescriptions which would accomplish the same thing on a shorter term scale, right and I've got this extra bridge...

I say proof of belief in these savings is a necessary incident to adopting this as some kind of public policy. Fine, if you're going to pretend aubrey de grey is werner von braun or edward teller and send him off to do his thing,take all the money from current governmental health care spending.

Brian





I'm not saying that, if pressed, you wouldn't find that they have intellectual sentiments more in accord with Cleanthes post immediately before this, however they have not said so nor proposed any ban on this work.

To suggest that they oppose savings lives is simply incorrect.

Brian
1.2.2008 12:48pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"I am willing to die for MY belief, but those who want to live forever obviously cannot be expected to die for THEIR belief."

Sounds like a win-win istuation.
1.2.2008 4:57pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Another AnonVCFan:
here's how I'll know that the pro-mortality people are serious: when radically extended lifespans become an option, they'll say no thanks and content themselves with their three score and ten.

There are people now, including folks who have maintained relatively good health, who say no thanks to the moderately extended lifespans we've got now. Granted they are looking forward to declining health in the coming years, but it's often expressed as "I've seen enough, so many people that I loved are gone, and I'm ready".

Generally, existing human features either have a genetic advantage, or are side effects of something else that has that advantage. We already mature more slowly than similar species, because we use a big brain strategy. Being born less mature means a smaller head and an easier birth; staying juvenile longer (and maintaining juvenile traits like playfulness into adulthood) allows more brain development. That would also explain why we live longer, the 2 billion heartbeats that Elliot123 said.

Why do we age at all? Tortoises don't. There's little advantage to your genes in keeping your copies alive once the copies you've passed on are safe. That begs the question, why do we lose the ability to procreate? Coming to mind is that procreation takes such a toll on mothers that it's not cost-effective to have a sturdier model.
1.3.2008 10:58am
Chris Burd (mail):
Ilya Somin:

"Yes, if you were VERY lucky and everything went right (you didn't die of famine, infectious disease, etc.), you could live to be 75 back in the ancient world. If you're similarly lucky in the modern world, you can live to be 100. However, the vast majority of people were not so lucky, and so it was considered perfectly natural for most people to be dead by the time they were 35 or 40, as most in fact were until the 19th century."

To supplement Herb Sorenson's comment about Roman mortality, life expectancy in 18c England at birth was 30-40 years, but a 15-year-old had a 50 percent chance of living into their 60s and a 25 percent chance of living into their 70s. So statements like "it was considered perfectly natural for most people to be dead by the time they were 35 or 40" are highly misleading.

The most significant change in mortality has been the virtual disappearance of childhood mortality after age 1. Once it was common for children to be swept away by epidemics; today, if everyone had the mortality rate of an 11-year-old, life expectancy would be several thousand years.

Changes to adult life expectancy have been marked but not revolutionary. Then, you might well reach 70, but probably not; now, you probably will, but it's hardly a certainty. Then, it was rare to be healthy and active in your 80s; now, it's merely uncommon.
1.3.2008 1:39pm