Why Live Longer?

April Smith, fundraiser for the Methuselah Foundation, recently posted an analysis of the attitudes and backgrounds of early donors to the M Prize for anti-aging research.

When I first began the process of surveying our donors, one of my blog readers asked, "Are they mostly wealthy people who want to live forever?" I said I'd get back to you after doing more survey calls, but that so far, it seemed that M Prize donors were on average middle class people who are unusually engaged with the world around them and want to enjoy living in good health for as long as possible.


Several are somewhere in the software industry. I solicited guesses as to why that is. Some absolutely brilliant responses came back. For instance: "One thing which may attract computer geeks is the similarity of the genetic code to program code. Hacking the human genome seems to be attractive to many of these individuals."


Another large group of donors is entrepreneurs. The M Prize seems to attract successful business people. Their fields are very diverse, but several of them have taken tremendous risks, both personally and financially, to try something that had not been done before. Donors like this tend to answer, "Why did you decided to support the M Prize?" with phrases like, "most cost effective way to motivate research" or "successful business model."


Overall, my calls were extremely positive. I've done a lot of "cold calling" in my life time, and I was amazed at how friendly, positive, and willing to help M Prize donors were. Even donors with no connection whatsoever to any kind of community around extending healthy lifespans were willing to talk with me at length about their perspectives on the prize, life, health, and how supporting the M Prize fits into their life philosophy.

Mary, another calorie restriction blogger, posted some related thoughts on the desire to live a longer life:

I think of a new project I would like to work on every week. I have lists and lists. I could keep an army of graduate students busy working on all my ideas. I could live a 1000 years and still entertain myself easily. Today, my son and I discussed one of these many ideas. I would like to take some classes in science education and then work with my husband in putting together a curriculum in science and engineering related critical thinking skills. Teach kids how to analyze and make decisions. I use all these techniques all the time in my job - there are lots of methods that are basic enough that even 8th graders could learn them. It would improve the world. But then, this is just idea number 1,231 (I am joking - I do not actually keep a list or number them). This is why I never managed to get a PhD. It takes too much energy concentrated on a single thing. I couldn't do it.

So, I would like to live longer so I can do at least some of these projects. And I would like time to learn all the many things I don't know that interest me. I just don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to live longer. But then, few people are as curious as I am, or as obsessively analytical, or as restless mentally.

I can identify with this attitude - I can't see myself running out of major projects I would like to accomplish any time soon. There's a few lifetimes of work sitting on the backburner, and I think most motivated folk are just the same. Ben Best captures this well in his article "Why Life Extension?", or as he asks next, "why live at all?" All the good reasons for living at all are reasons to live a longer, healthier life.

What would I do with a thousand-year lifespan? I'd probably spend some of it trying to find a way to live longer. But I would not otherwise lack for things to do. It would take me at least 200 years to read my way through my book collection. I would like to gain mastery of mathematics, physics and chemistry. I would like to learn and practice medicine. I want to understand jurisprudence and practice law. I would like to master carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills -- and build houses. I would like to master industrial design & fabrication, computers and biotechnology so as to start & operate productive businesses. I want to build financial empires. I want to learn to play musical instruments and explore the many worlds of music. I want to join and organize communities for social experimentation. I want to write great books. I want to do experimental scientific research. I want to explore the planet Earth with a deep enough knowledge of flora & fauna & geology that I can appreciate what I am seeing, hearing, smelling and touching. I want to learn foreign languages, live & work in many different countries and gain a direct sense of the lives, histories & cultures of others. And I want to explore to the fullest my own loves, hates, fears and joys. I want to fathom love, my capacities for love and the limitless mystery of love & sexuality.

But telling people what I would do with my extended life will not satisfy those who don't know what to do with themselves. Enthusiasm for living is the driving force behind the desire to live. To someone who equates extended life with extended boredom, a list of possible activities will only seem like a list of chores.

I don't expect the world to stand still. Many exciting changes are possible in a world of accelerating technological development. Benjamin Franklin wrote that he dearly wished he could be chemically preserved so that he could see the future. But I am not a person enduring a "veil of tears" in my present life only on the basis of hope for some future technological paradise. I am enthusiastic about life right now. The present world is such a rich treasure-store of marvelous opportunities that my most abiding interest in the possibilities of the future is the possibility of extending life.


When I saw Ben Best's site not too long ago, I got some great readings, I also enjoyed several of his links, and would personally recommend other readers too spend some time there.

As for me, personally, while I believe massive and sudden disassembly of this body will not stop me from continuing(after all it does that at small scales constantly), I do believe it will very well do away with my memories, my personality, and overall detach me from everyone and everything I've been with. That is something that I would prefer to postpone as long as possible. The loss of all of one's experience, of all of one's loved ones, of all of one's characteristics, is a very great one.

What I'd prefer is to increase my capabilities, to continue to improve, and to accumulate more knowledge and a deeper understanding of this world.

I believe that the meaning you may find in your life now is independent of the passage of time, unless you find everything in life meaningless(which can probably be fixed too), there's no reason to want more of it. A kiss, a sunset, the special moments in life, they're each special and meaningful in their own way no matter how many you experience.

Posted by: Apocalypse at March 4th, 2005 11:24 AM

Please keep me updated on this great discovery!

Posted by: Dr.Kurt Minges at March 13th, 2005 7:35 PM
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