Denying Death: Is Radically Longer Life Good for Society?

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It’s no longer a radical question.

The aging literature is replete with treatments that could prolong lifespan by 20-40%, at least in lab animals. Interventions such as caloric restriction, rapamycin and metformin have been studied for decades for their anti-aging capacity. Although there is still some discrepancy in their effectiveness in primates, the biomedical community agrees that they’re promising.

What’s more, new interventions keep coming out. In the past two years, multiple scientific teams demonstrated the rejuvenating powers of young blood. Just last week, a study published in the esteemed journal Nature found that eliminating senescent cells in aged mice boosted their lifespan by a hefty 30%.

With the FDA now recognizing aging as a disease and greenlighting the first anti-aging clinical trial, humans seem to be on the fast track towards a Methuselah-like existence.

denying-death-radically-longer-life-society-61But maybe it’s time to pause and think. Are extended lifespans good for society and humankind as a whole? Or is the pursuit of immortality merely a narcissistic fantasy that’s sucking away scientific resources from other pressing issues?

Should we embrace our end, or should we cure aging? Are human lifespans long enough as is?

This was the central motion of a provocative debate recently hosted by Intelligence Squared. Pitting a philosopher and a sociologist against two scientists, the well-rounded debate delved into the ethical and social consequences of radically increasing human lifespan.

Arguing against the idea that lifespans are long enough is the all-star team of Dr. Aubrey de Grey, chief science officer of SENS Research Foundation and famed biomedical gerontologist, and Dr. Brian Kennedy, the president of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

The team faced off against Dr. Ian Ground, a philosopher at the University of Newcastle, and Dr. Paul Root Wolpe, the director of the Emory Center for Ethics and former bioethicist for NASA.

The debate, just short of two hours, is well worth a listen in full.

Unlike most scientific discussions of life extension, this debate encompasses but also surpasses purely biomedical arguments, heading straight into the question of what makes our lives a “human experience.”

Limited Lifespan Makes Us Human

Arguing against the motion, Ground and Wolpe went for a hard-hitting sociological and philosophical approach. The question is not whether life extension is possible, but whether it’s desirable as an intentional scientific goal, said Wolpe.

According to Wolpe, the quest for immortality is nothing but “a kind of narcissistic fantasy,” a part of a larger misguided view of a science-technological utopia. We have an idealized view of how technology is going to change the basics of human nature and our society for the better, but there’s no evidence of that, said Wolpe.

Everyone wants to live longer, but is it good for our society? “Do longer lives make the world a better, kinder place?” asked Wolpe rhetorically. “I think not.”

denying-death-radically-longer-life-society-7Let’s break it down.

As people get older, they often become more conservative. Imagine if the Civil War generation were still around, said Wolpe. Would civil rights have advanced as much as they did?

Young people are the ones who come in with new ideas, and there’s an evolutionary wisdom of letting the older generation disappear. If we dramatically extend human lifespan, we would in essence be obliterating the generational shift that occurs over time, he said.

Then there are socioeconomic consequences. Not everyone will be able to afford life-extending treatments; those who can are likely to be the rich and powerful elderly 1%.

“Living longer may help people accrue wealth and contribute to inequality,” said Wolpe.

Ground agrees with Wolpe, but laid out an even more provocative argument.

We’re essentially talking about the value of life, said Ground. A human life is, in essence, a limited life, he argued, and eternal life amounts to a rejection of what is human.

Death organizes our lives, Ground explained. Because we have a finite end, we have a timeline for ourselves: when to settle down, when to have kids, when to let go. As humans, we make choices based on opportunity costs, which are priced in the currency of time — our most precious resource.

Choosing how to spend that resource is what makes you a particular person, he said. Imagine if you could live forever. Wouldn’t you be tempted to try other occupations, to hunt around for “the one,” to put off important life decisions indefinitely?

By not settling down into a life, humans essentially lose themselves.

Ground compared the story arc of a human life to that of a movie.

“Movies that have no endings also lose their middles and beginnings. They will no longer be movies,” he said. The human life is analogous, and living longer disrupts the story of what’s necessarily human.

Increasing Lifespan Is Our Social and Moral Obligation

De Grey and Kennedy, both of whom argued that life extension is worth pursuing as a goal, countered the opposing team with a practical argument: that increased lifespan often leads to increased health span, which in turn lowers the socioeconomic cost of caring for our elders.

Research with lab animals suggests that if we achieve lifespan extension in humans, we’ll not only live longer, but likely also spend most of our twilight years disease-free.

Last year the FDA finally recognized aging as a disorder that the medical community could target and potentially treat, said Kennedy. It’s a paradigm shift, and a welcome one.

denying-death-radically-longer-life-society-8We know that lifespan has essentially been going up roughly 1 year in every 4, said Kennedy. But healthspan is not going up at anywhere near the same rate. The United States spends 19% GDP on healthcare, most of which is used in the last 6 months of a person’s life, explained Kennedy.

Thus far, medical care is focused on treating age-related diseases — diabetes, cancer, dementia — one by one, with little success. It’s a game of whack-a-mole and one that we’re losing.

Yet when we look at the broader health landscape, age is the single greatest risk factor for these chronic illnesses. By targeting aging, the medical community hopes to delay the onset of most — if not all — of these killers.

Life extension, if it happens, would benefit society as well.

We are in the “age age,” said Kennedy. With more elderly people on the planet than ever before, some sociologists are calling our current state the “silver tsunami.”

People generally retire before 70 due to health, family obligations or a desire to quit work and enjoy life. But if we increased healthspan and lifespan, these people could potentially work longer and contribute more to society, said Kennedy.

The team also believes that delaying mortality wouldn’t exacerbate global overpopulation.

“Birth is geometric but dying is linear,” said Kennedy. Data clearly show that more developed countries have fewer children, and longer lifespan does not go hand in hand with a higher population number, he explained.

Although most of de Grey and Kennedy’s arguments were biomedical, de Grey capped off his team’s thoughts with a philosophical question: Isn’t it our obligation to our descendants to pursue life extension?

Today, we are facing a choice, whether to wage a war on aging or not, he said.

There’s no doubt that if we try hard to tackle the problem, we’ll get to a solution sooner. And since we’re on the precipice of a scientific breakthrough, I believe we have a moral obligation to figure out ways to extend the human life, and give our descendants the choice whether or not to use it, argues de Grey.

“Do we really want to condemn an entire cohort of humanity to an unnecessary short life just because we thought society might not like it much?” he asked.

Life extension is like any other previous scitech breakthrough, with the potential to benefit or harm. Humans fear what’s new, said de Grey. But that’s not a logical reason to shy away from pursuing the science.

“Yes, there is certainly much more to life than more life. The question is, is it an either-or?” said de Grey in his closing statement.

“The implicit premise…of the other side is that, in fact, there is an either-or, that life will actually be, in some profound senses, a lot worse if it's a lot longer,” he said. “I think that’s extremely uncertain.”

Again, there are plenty of interesting morsels in the debate, and I encourage you to give it a listen. In the end (spoiler!), the debate audience sided with de Grey and Kennedy—that our lifespans are not long enough, and that life extension is a worthy goal.

Do you agree?

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Shelly Fan

Shelly Xuelai Fan is a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, where she studies ways to make old brains young again. In addition to research, she's also an avid science writer with an insatiable obsession with biotech, AI and all things neuro. She spends her spare time kayaking, bike camping and getting lost in the woods.

Discussion — 47 Responses

  • bt0pping February 14, 2016 on 10:09 am

    A quick (failed) search for the word “selfish” lets me know a big dimension was left out of this otherwise interesting article.

    • Quantium bt0pping February 14, 2016 on 10:23 am

      You are selfish if you do what you want and not what I want you to do. it seems a nonsense word and rightly has no place in this debate. Sure, thanatophiles want to die themselves and others to die, and life extenders want to live indefinitely. Notice I wrote “indefinitely” and not “for ever”.

      Humans have evolved and multiplied by means of intense pleasure being added to the act of conception. Interestingly this has not been added to bearing a child, giving birth, or looking after it, although some may get some enjoyment from the latter.

      Being sick, on the other hand, is an “orgasm of disgust”, and illness and death are accompanied by a general sense of despair. Maybe evolution couldn’t have created anything different.

      However people have also evolved a strong sense of self preservation, and that should enable them to develop whatever is possible to live as long as possible.

      If you are in the back of a room and see a nice view out of the window, you may want to draw nearer to the window to see more of the view, or indeed want to make the window wider. Life extension is looking out into the universe through a wider view of the window of time that is your lifespan.

    • richardrichard bt0pping February 15, 2016 on 2:32 am

      You seem to be pretty happy on your picture. I guess it would be selfish to not allow others to live the same happy life (to which health is necessary and that comes for some only with longer life).

      Longer life is nothing exclusionary, so don’t be selfish by prohibiting people that are less fortunate than you to have to go your path through life that may work for you.

  • Mark Plus February 14, 2016 on 11:10 am

    When “denial of death” can actually keep people from dying, we call it “effective health care.”

  • Mark Plus February 14, 2016 on 11:18 am

    Wolpe: “Living longer may help people accrue wealth and contribute to inequality,”

    No, it doesn’t work that way. “Inequality” really means that some of us have more futuristic living standards than others, according the metric of wealth. Today’s “billionaires” are the early adopters of the material standard of living ordinary people could enjoy in a few more centuries. You find this idea in science fiction, for example in Isaac Asimov’s depiction of the Solarians in his novel “The Naked Sun.”

    • richardrichard Mark Plus February 15, 2016 on 2:24 am

      Inequality is a real problem. That’s why confusing it with progress is unfortunate.
      Living a more futuristic life does not mean you are allowed to amass wealth/money and say. Fieldtesting and scientific advance does not need super wealthy individuals.

  • DSM February 14, 2016 on 1:34 pm

    The day somebody tries to dictate the length of my life is the day I am morally justified in ending their life immediately. “So you think the planet is crowded and I should die do you? BLAM! Not any more….”

    • richardrichard DSM February 15, 2016 on 2:27 am

      I understand your sentiment, but killing first isn’t any more justified.

      The fears need to be addressed and realistic solutions must be found. Everyone has a right to live and live well.

      Procreation is indeed something that comes *after* the life of already existing life forms.

      • DSM richardrichard February 15, 2016 on 2:39 am

        Ah, no you probably don’t, for one it isn’t a sentiment. If a person says that people cannot continue to live as long as possible they are suggesting that chronological time is the only relevant thing, but one cannot measure a life’s value that way. So they are really saying my life is worth more than yours therefore you must die while I live. If somebody does that to you, and means it while being in a position to carry it out, you are entirely justified in taking them out with a pre-emptive strike as you are not only saving yourself but everyone else their policy could be used against. Their minority “pro death” stance is less important that the majority’s right to as long, healthy and fruitful a life as possible.

        • richardrichard DSM February 15, 2016 on 3:34 am

          “If a person says that people cannot continue to live as long as possible they are suggesting that chronological time is the only relevant thing, but one cannot measure a life’s value that way. So they are really saying my life is worth more than yours therefore you must die while I live.”
          I fully agree to this. The sentiment I was referring to was aggression/killing as a means of self-defense.

          “you are entirely justified in taking them out with a pre-emptive strike as you are not only saving yourself but everyone else their policy could be used against.”
          This is what I am against. There is a difference between ultimate unavoidable immediate self-defense and a more long-term approach that can lead to better results.

          The issue with killing (besides ethics) is that you will cause hate and revenge. Also I am strongly opposing the “minority” argument, right or wrong is not defined by the amount of people who agree.

          I would still be convinced that living long is a right, no matter if I am the only one to agree, or not. And I refuse to let anybody dominate me, no matter what amount of power they have or use.

          • richardrichard richardrichard February 15, 2016 on 3:43 am

            “I fully agree to this. The sentiment I was referring to was aggression/killing as a means of self-defense.”
            It’s probably obvious, but I meant to say that I fully agree with your analysis of the pro-death-reasoning, not the reasoning itself, which I am strongly against.

            This pro-death argument is also negatively affecting life in general, even if we would not extend our life spans. It’s one reason why people are so age obsessed and stressed all their life. They think the fun and good part is over in their early youth, which they have to spend in a way that seems appropriate to that time and show off that they had fun and were young.
            Later on the next role to fulfill strangles life and dictates what is appropriate and what you should want or not.

            Too much of society keeps harassing with the death-argument and trying to force a chronology upon us, alone for that reason it would be beneficial to remove that threat.

          • DSM richardrichard February 15, 2016 on 12:17 pm

            “aggression/killing as a means of self-defense.” you are confused, that may be your sentiment but it has nothing to do with me or the point I made. Destroying pathological entities in order to protect the host is an autoimmune function, and cutting out cancer or using radiation or drugs to kill the cells is not aggression it is medicine.

            Anything that promotes “less life” is a disease and once identified should be subject to “treatment” and that treatment should be as timely and vigorous as is necessary to eliminate the pathological entity.

            An argument along the lines of “you should wait…” causes suffering and reduces your ability to ensure that the disease is eliminated quickly and efficiently. Waiting is unethical and inefficient when there is no uncertainty as to the nature of the threat.

            Good luck “resisting” when your life will be terminated by withholding treatments through the use of economic barriers, you can’t resist that, all you can do is eliminate the entities that caused that to become policy in the first place.

    • Claus Appel DSM February 15, 2016 on 3:41 am

      Here is an analogy: A bunch of people are in a desert, including you, me and my wife. You and my wife are both bitten by a venomous snake. I have one portion of antidote, but only one. Both of you will die without the antidote.

      You say: “Give me the antidote, or I will die.”
      I say: “No. I will give it my wife, because otherwise she dies.”

      Now I am effectively dictating the length of your life. Are you morally justified in killing me and taking the antidote?

      • richardrichard Claus Appel February 15, 2016 on 3:55 am

        This argument is a weak one, because it artificially constraints the options and forces a wanted outcome for no good reason, besides trying to win an argument in an unrealistic scenario.

        It’s well possible that the antidote could be divided in two so that both have long enough to live until you can find help.

        If you are in the desert anyway, you need help, assuming that help will come early enough for the full antidote but not the half one is just an opportunistic argument.

        Btw, most conflicts are not that intricate, they just show laziness in the search for a solution that requires work and experimentation to find.

        Artificially creating limits is bad will and a testament of a bad environment or watching too many action/apocalypse movies (that never leave a choice because action is more fun).

  • Damianocon February 14, 2016 on 2:32 pm

    We are already living a lot longer than we were – it doesn’t seem to have resulted in age related much tyranny so far.
    I have a question though, if anyone is good at history: what happens to despots as they reach advanced age? Do they get worse, or do they end up handing over to democracy in the end, if they live long enough? The assumption above seems to be that they just dig in.

  • bobdc10 February 14, 2016 on 2:35 pm

    HA! Why waste scientific time on complex life extension schemes when humans won’t even do simple things, eating in moderation, not smoking, and exercise, to extend their lives and minimize disease? Until they are wiling to do these easy things, forget it, a waste of time and money.

    • Quantium bobdc10 February 14, 2016 on 2:57 pm

      A successful scheme to extend lifespan substantially will be extremely complex to devise, but if it is to be successful it will be simple to administer. Something that requires expensive procedures in hub hospitals is only going to be for an elite few, and is likely to attract violent opposition through the politics of envy and therefore will not be effective.

      Also, consider how complex the circuit boards are for PCs. If they were devised purely for use by billionaires, that would fail — only trillionaires could even afford one. Only as a mass market product can the research and development money be drawn in.

      The simple things like avoiding smoking or avoiding eating to excess can’t make the sort of radical differences that could be coming. Smoking is plain insanity, and thankfully is declining fast.

      Also, exercise consumes lots of time and energy to put atoms and molecules in the right place in people’s bodies, and can also consume money if people need to do it collectively. There could be more efficient ways of doing putting atoms and molecules in the right place, so time and energy can be spent much more creatively.

      Of course the vested financial interests in gyms and sports may not be too delighted by this change. But less than 100 years ago, sports were largely un-monetised and done purely for those who find them enjoyable, so a return to these days is quite possible. Without monetary influence many of the bad things about sports will go away again, which should please genuine lovers of the activity.

  • ocolorp February 14, 2016 on 3:39 pm

    > Again, there are plenty of interesting morsels in the debate, and I encourage you to give it a listen. In the end (spoiler!), the debate audience sided with de Grey and Kennedy—that our lifespans are not long enough, and that life extension is a worthy goal.

    > Do you agree?

    Yes! I agree very much and I feel de Grey’s and Kennedy’s well thought out arguments and responses to the standard objections to increasing healthy lifespan are compelling. Coupled with the advances in exponential technologies coming in the next decades, I hope to live a healthy and long, long life. I just hope I can survive long enough to reach longevity escape velocity.

    Also, if readers would like to watch the debate on Youtube, here is the link:

  • divmax February 14, 2016 on 4:07 pm

    So if the supposition is that longer lifespans will be bad for society, for all the reasons given, does that mean it will be worthwhile investing in research and technology to shorten our lifespans? Or were they really just arguing against immortality specifically, which seems to be a different debate actually.

  • flatlander February 14, 2016 on 5:16 pm

    So 1% of the people can afford life extension, they will get that because they have money anyway so why deny it to the rest of th population?
    I think the price of life extension will come down as we learn how to do it.
    Some of us spend our lifetime learning, not always formally. We loose valuable knowledge when people die, why not take advantage of retaining that knowledge.
    What’s wrong with having different careers? In my experience I have taken experience from one job and brought it to another and shown people a different way of thinking or doing something.
    As we age we grow more conservative? Really? People evolve over time, if they are growing that is. I know that over 60 years of living that my attitudes and perceptions have changed, f I could go back in time I would change some of the decisions I made because now I have a different view of life.
    Some people would not live longer no matter what medical advances we made.
    Only the motivated would live longer. I think a lot of people would not take advantage of longer lifespans.
    Imagine if you had more time to learn and what you could contribute!
    How about space travel and the length of time to get to distant places? Maybe if it took 100 years to get somewhere we could do it.
    I think some of these “philosophers” are, well not thinking critically.
    Either way these advances are going to happen no matter what people think is right or wrong.

  • Liz Day February 15, 2016 on 12:36 am

    “Death organizes our lives, Ground explained. Because we have a finite end, we have a timeline for ourselves: when to settle down, when to have kids, when to let go. As humans, we make choices based on opportunity costs, which are priced in the currency of time — our most precious resource.

    Choosing how to spend that resource is what makes you a particular person, he said. Imagine if you could live forever. Wouldn’t you be tempted to try other occupations, to hunt around for “the one,” to put off important life decisions indefinitely?”

    Now who’s entertaining narcissistic fantasies? The idea that it is somehow a benefit to force people to settle into unhappy lives out of fear of the grave is lunacy.

    The main reason people become more more conservative as they age is because the older we get the more doors close to us. To follow one’s passion into different careers and pursuits, to love, fall out of love and love again, to know you can dare most anything because there will be time later to try something else, that will not rob us of our humanity. It will make us happier, more openminded and fundamentally more human than is remotely possible today.

    And really, is there anything more conservative than the suggestion that everyone must follow the same outdated life path that doesn’t even hold true for many people today?

    I’m twenty-five and already I feel constrained by the many limits placed on my life. It is my deepest hope that I will survive long enough to see a cure for aging and will then have all the time I need to live up to my true potential.

  • almostvoid February 15, 2016 on 12:59 am

    another amerikan obsession. two in two days. for a hindu-buddhist this of course is a big non event as reincarnation of you work it right-way-up gets you updated next life span via bardo states of being. so being stuck in one sentient body is actually regressing.

    • Quantium almostvoid February 15, 2016 on 1:30 am

      The problem with reincarnation (if it happens at all) is the memory wipe. It is a bit like taking your computer to the repair shop, and it comes back all working with the latest edition of Windows installed but you have lost all your programs and data.

    • richardrichard almostvoid February 15, 2016 on 2:14 am

      Or it may just be a good way to preserve the caste system in India and pressurize people into compliance because of “karma”.

      • DSM richardrichard February 15, 2016 on 2:19 am

        Don’t even bother arguing with them, they are either a troll or a fool because they are using an illogical framework of beliefs to prop up a logical argument that falls down even within it’s own frame of reference because one could argue that not living as long as possible would reduce the amount of help you could give to other people and therefore letting yourself die early is a selfish act that would not be rewarded by a more pleasant reincarnation.

  • richardrichard February 15, 2016 on 2:06 am

    “Young people are the ones who come in with new ideas, and there’s an evolutionary wisdom of letting the older generation disappear. ”
    This sounds more like a statement made by an old person, that is tired of living or fighting. Youthful people breathe the will to live and change the world, and some pick up this leverage/argument while hitting road blocks. But they never believe that should apply to themselves.

    It is ironically very narcissist to suggest that people who age (or have diseases/disabilities) are incapable of evolving or learning. Apparently it is based on believed/real limits of pro death proponents that they project on everyone. But this ignores the fundamental fact that some people age and mature faster, some need time to mature and age slower. This is no news if you look at research in education and cognition. Ideally if we have more time we can mature better, *if* the will and interest to mature is there.

    But if we argue pro age death based on willingness and capability to mature, we would also have to agree to euthanasia for people we feel are unfit or unwilling to evolve, and that is unfortunately also the case for many young people (and those who are older but not close to age death). I suggest to look at dynamics in school, college, companies and politics.

    New alone has never been enough. This is biblical cleaning thinking akin to Noah’s Flood. Maybe it would make sense to understand creativity to refute this argument and to see that conservatism is based on fear and limitations (lack of power and influence — which is a real problem), but also abuse of power. Conservatism of the old or open aggression of the young are two sides of a coin, both strategies to deal with fear and limits.

    Assuming that young people are not corrupted or evil (which is naive, look at kindergarten), can lead to ideas of evolution being important, self healing and solving everything magically. This is a bit like the religious belief in the “invisible hand” in economy.

    The real problem here is that every individual wants to shape and change the world, no matter the age, and that people use whatever leverage is available to them in case of conflicts that cannot be solved otherwise.

    But evolution happens very slowly and is not directed and not necessarily even going towards a better/different future long term. It can as well get stuck or stagnate. There are still some ancient species that have not evolved much but survived.

    Instead of relying on very crude evolutionary pressure, we should think intelligently on how to solve problems. Because pressure either causes death or a solution, but the quality of the solution is highly dependent on the right circumstances. This is gambling.

    To conclude this overly long comment:
    Death as solution to conflicts seems to me to be a very immature solution to a problem. It’s another way of saying that when somebody is a roadblock you should be able to kill them, just that “natural” death does it in a more “ethical” way for you so that you don’t need to dirty your hands.

    In the same vein of thought, ending stories to avoid ruining the moment is at best a temporary solution. People want to hear new stories or tell them, with pauses, changes, but continuously. That is the foundation of life. People who are tired of life and would prefer others to take on the lead should recognize that wish and not confuse it with a rational argument that should hold for everyone.

    Life is learning and development. Youth is changing and revolutionizing things (sometimes in a good way, sometimes to just establish another conservatism). It is unnatural for youth to believe or want death.

    Death is an anachronism and a way to exert power over a group of people. Each group uses their way to exert power, and if that only leverage is gone, fear rises.

    This is understandable and must be addressed. Life is breathing and changing. Death to allow life is simplistic unethical solution.

  • Quantium February 15, 2016 on 6:58 am

    The argument in the video that novels have to have a start and end is weak. Successful film and TV franchises are never ending, such as James Bond, Neighbours, Coronation Street, Dr Who to name but few, and The Archers on BBC radio. In literature, Sherlock Holmes continued far longer than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle really wanted him to, and follow ups are still being written today long after the original author is no more..

  • psikeyhackr February 16, 2016 on 8:14 am

    Is “good for society” the basis for judging anything? When did we discuss whether “Planned Obsolescence” is good for society?

    • Quantium psikeyhackr February 16, 2016 on 8:28 am

      Quite so. Is inflation good for society? It causes successive economic crises, yet markets seem to have a feel good factor when the prices of houses or stocks goes on up unsustainably. The oil price hike of the 1970s was described as “evil” but now there is a collapse in the oil price the markets are falling and there are irrational worries about them not supporting the cost of oil extraction.

      I think whatever anyone wants to do there will be others who get off by saying that it will bring about a miserable to civilisation as we know it. Television, pocket calculators, the Internet – all have received this treatment.

  • shnfy February 16, 2016 on 9:08 pm

    I am continually alarmed by the lack of appreciation people who are inspired by Science Fiction have for it.
    Who watches The Terminator and think its a good idea to create AI?
    Who reads Brave New World and thinks its a good idea to eliminate human discomfort?
    Who watches Gattaca and thinks its a good idea to genetically modify human embryos?
    Who watches or reads any number of works about immortality and superhumans and thinks that’s a good idea?
    Every important work of SciFi has been a warning against technological ambition and arrogance, but it seems as if we are fixated on the spectacle of these imagined futures and so most of us miss the moral lessons entirely.

    Today we are awash in dreams of Robots, Virtual Reality and medical immortality. Each of these technologies began as a fictional idea. The first story about robots concludes with them exterminating humanity.
    The first stories about VR are about humanity becoming locked in “a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch”.
    The oldest known written fiction in the world is the epic of Gilgamesh. It is about the quest for immortality, and it doesn’t end well.

    • DSM shnfy February 16, 2016 on 9:16 pm

      And I am continually amused by the paranoia of people who think that pot doesn’t harm their mind.

      Here is a reality check for you, the entire universe doesn’t end well*, have fun while you can and stop letting fear of the unknown motivate you.

      * see the concept of “Heat Death”.

      • shnfy DSM February 16, 2016 on 9:46 pm

        as usual, ad hominem… how medicore.

        • DSM shnfy February 16, 2016 on 9:50 pm

          It is a reference to the damage Philip K. Dick did to himself and the obvious bias of the literary work that resulted. If you were not paranoid you probably would have worked that our… sheesh.

          https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/85/PhilipDick.jpg

          Or is the dope reference an understatement, because Phil was doing a lot more than that.

  • shnfy February 16, 2016 on 9:44 pm

    Death is a fundamental aspect of all biology: BIO 101. All organisms have evolved to grow, reproduce and then expire. Every ecosystem depends upon this cycle, and there is no reason for us to assume that we are some how an exception. In fact there are millions of ruined ecologies that we know are the consequence of our various exceptional-isms.

    It is unfortunate that no one on the intelligence^2 panel hit this point – No person can possibly predict the net negative biological outcomes resulting from the sudden indefinite, or even doubled, expansion of human life. It seems obvious however that there would be rather abrupt major negative consequences. This quest to end aging is yet another example of our technological abilities outpacing our ethics.

    • DSM shnfy February 16, 2016 on 11:56 pm

      Uh, no that is technically incorrect. There are jellyfish that are immortal. You are part of an immortal cell line that expands and contracts but has a continuity back to the very first cell. Life is immortal, if you allow it to be.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_immortality

      • shnfy DSM February 18, 2016 on 6:36 pm

        All of the organisms in that wiki article die at some point of old age. Their long lifespans have been determined by millions or more years of evolution, they are in balance with the organisms they live with and off of.

        We are not talking here about a gradual evolution of human longevity, we are talking about potentially dramatic strides in a small number of generations, or even sooner.

        I know you come here to snipe people, but do you seriously not understand how that could have a dramatic impact on ecology, on our own survival as a species?

        • DSM shnfy February 18, 2016 on 6:50 pm

          I come here to read, and write the truth that is all. If you believe differently then you are, in my eyes, just an obnoxious fool, and your “snipe” claim is a case of double-standards on your part. I am not interested in “you”, I respond to text on my screen and respond according to it’s conventional meaning. It isn’t about “you” so stop inflicting your paranoia on me.

          Turritopsis dohrnii is effectively immortal, the difference between what it does and a human is that we have a mind that would need to be re-implanted. But that was not the topic, the point was your false claim the death is an essential part of life, when it isn’t as organisms capable of transdifferentiation demonstrate.

    • Quantium shnfy February 17, 2016 on 3:58 am

      If someone’s idea of ethics is to kill people who exceed an age limit, then this statement is indeed correct. Otherwise killing by neglect is just as unethical as killing by beating someone to death with a heavy object.

      But ethics are strange. There are some who believe that it is ethical to kill someone in a “fair fight” whatever that is, whereas it isn’t ethical to use you brain to win, for example by stalking like a cat and pouncing.

      Someone mentioned dystopian science fiction. It is possible to look back to the 1930s and even later and see Boris Karloff horror movies about heart bypass operations, but I don’t think anyone today would regard these now commonplace procedures as unethical. (People once thought that the heart was the organ responsible for love, morals, faith etc. Recall the expression “Oh have a heart” if someone suggested something morally dubious.)

      • shnfy Quantium February 18, 2016 on 6:21 pm

        Consider the ethical implications beyond the individual level please. What are the consequences to ecosystems of masses of humans living much longer? What could be some of the consequences to our own species, genetically, socially, psychologically?

        Some of the potentially negative consequences were brought up in the intelligence^2 debate, but unfortunately Aubrey acted like a zealot and refused to address any of them. Instead he continually reassured us that there is not “the faintest possibility of problems being created that are any where near as cataclysmically horrifying as the problem we have today”. This is a profoundly arrogant and unscientific statement to make.

        It is also unfortunate that he is not the first scientist to talk this away about the possible negatives of new groundbreaking research. Members of the Manhattan Project spoke this way about atom bombs ending war. Alfred Nobel spoke this way about high explosives ending war before them. I think we can all agree that war is a cataclysmic and horrifying problem, and high explosives and nuclear weapons have made that problem orders of magnitude worse. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

        • DSM shnfy February 19, 2016 on 1:37 am

          Your questions are pretty meaningless if you don’t put them in context and address the fact that your age says very little about you, the life you have lived and what you will do with the rest of your life. Your age just says that you have survived that many orbits around the Sun, hardly a measure of much that matters. What are the consequences of a long life well lived because it was a well educated life, vs a short and brutal one lived in ignorance? Can’t you see that asking your questions about age alone is pointless? If people were twice as wise wouldn’t a life that was twice as long actually cause less harm and benefit humanity more? We are moving into an era where robotics will allow us to be creators more than labourers and we will be life long learners too, so not only will we live longer but those lives will be of a far higher quality.

          Why do you continue to just talk of your fear of the unknown rather than list probable concrete risks to counter the obvious benefits to having minds exist for longer and contribute more to society. In a debate we are not obliged to address points that we consider to be unfounded distractions therefore the obligation lies with the person making the point to illustrate clearly why they matter.

          There is also a fallacy in your a-bomb comment, because they did end wars, the type those people were thinking about, unfortunately the nature of war has changed significantly in over half a century, because the nature of humans has not. Interestingly if you look at the demographics of waring regions you will find an interesting pattern that actually suggests that a larger proportion of the population being older is a peace promoting factor.

        • Quantium shnfy February 19, 2016 on 1:55 am

          I find this article disturbing as it puts the collective above the individual, and the lessons of history (National Socialism and Communism as recent examples) have shown that this does not work. Why go on trying the same old thing? Is it the thought that it may work this time?

          People seem to think that these collective philosophies and government systems are worship of the individual leader, but this perspective is only gained once they have failed. The collectives act because of faith in the idea that whatever terrible things the people who consider themselves part of them are doing are all to the benefit of the group, not the leader.

          If the collective is really that important, then the logical conclusion is to execute every individual once they are incapable of work. Again this has been tried by sub-sets of these failed regimes. Never mind ethics, morals or whatever, simple experience shows that this does not work for a sustainable system.

          Maybe indefinite lifespan for the individual isn’t going to work either. But at least try it. It can’t be any worse than that which has gone before.

  • Khannea Suntzu February 21, 2016 on 10:38 am
  • Klaus Æ Mogensen February 25, 2016 on 5:17 am

    One thing to consider is the economic aspect of extended lifespans.

    Let’s consider people who today live to 90 (to use a nice, round number). They have probably been unproductive for roughly a third of their lives (age 0-15 and age 75 to 90).

    If we extend their lifespan to 120 and they remain unproductive from age 75, they will be unproductive for half their lives and hence be a far grater economic burden on society. If, on the other hand, they remain productive until 15 years before they die (at age 105), they will only be unproductive a quarter of their lives and hence be a far smaller economic burden on society.

    Hence, it all comes down to how much of the extended lifespan will be useful years. If more than two thirds of the added years are productive, longer lives will be a net economic benefit to society; if less, they will be an burden.

    • Khannea Suntzu Klaus Æ Mogensen February 25, 2016 on 6:46 am

      “Burden” here is largely subjective and based on monkey ethics. They conducted tests in monkeys to test for perceived fairness, and the results are relevant for the above. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KSryJXDpZo

      The problem is division scarce goods.- we are all wired to dismiss claims made by the perceived useless, and the power of the powerful to dismiss the perceived useless is exponentially larger. That is why I conclude that technological unemployment has the potential, when combined with monkey politics, to be lethal to the majority of human beings alive, especially in an era of radical life extension.

      • Grim Khannea Suntzu February 27, 2016 on 2:55 am

        Indeed Population can only be overcome with good management as to allow all to interact within the social network in a comfortable manner.

  • Grim February 27, 2016 on 2:52 am

    I find the whole context of any form of argument about life extension funny as anyone that doesn’t want anyone to live longer are basically saying lets join that crazy minority that believes all medicine is bad and if you cant naturally survive whats afflicting you you should die…
    So basically there saying ban all medicine.

    • DSM Grim February 27, 2016 on 12:28 pm

      And if you ban medicine that would be genetic discrimination because some bloodlines live a lot longer than others.

      For example if your female ancestors had their first child at the age of 12 they were not putting the same selective pressures on mitochondrial DNA as if they had their first child at 24. This is important as it is linked with many age related disorders that involve cell metabolism.