On Attitudes Towards Longevity

Some interesting material from a scientific study of attitudes to healthy life extension and enhanced longevity is posted to Cryonet:

The age of the respondent was related to life-extension attitudes [with] the older respondents tilting in the pro-longevity direction.

Pro-longevity attitudes were strongest in the separated-divorced group and weakest in the single group.

From a utilitarian, economic action viewpoint, that is much as I would expect. I think there's ample circumstantial evidence to suspect that those who claim to be fine with aging and dying will mostly change their minds when they get there. The unpleasant future is all too easily hand-waved away for another day - until that day finally comes home to roost.

The study presented subjects with a range of positive and negative viewpoints on healthy life extension. The viewpoints vary widely in validity, with those on the economic side of the house being particularly bad, but I don't think that's too important when it comes to drawing conclusions from the reactions of study participants:

I. Personal Emotional Rejection (PER) reflects a harsh rejection of life extension with endorsement of items focused on pointlessness and waste, and contrary-to-nature aspects of extending life span. Other items reflect the personal cost of life extension (e.g., delaying commitments or prolonging goals, inducing boredom).

II. Utopian Vision (UV) points to the many advantages of life extension for older people and for society at large.

III. Social Economic Burden (SEB) highlights the economic burdens on the individual and the health-care system flowing from life extension. The highest loading items stress preference for health over longer life and a fear of financial dependency for the individual, and exhaustion of resources for the society.

Age was significant for each of the factors. ... The older the adult, the more likely is he or she to reject the harsh negativity toward life extension reflected by the items loading on factor I. Correspondingly, chronological age is positively associated with endorsement of items that promise a Utopian future with life extension (Factor II). Finally, the outcome for Factor III is somewhat counterintuitive as we observe that older adults are significantly more disposed to endorse anti-longevity items. These items concern the added costs of health-care and social welfare and hence raise the possibility of exhaustion of financial resources.

That last point only reinforces my conviction that economic ignorance is one of the greatest threats to the future of healthy life extension (and indeed to all meaningful advancements in technology). It is a strange world when so many believe that more healthy people working away to produce value and trade with one another will somehow make us all poorer:

The points that found the most favor in the study might lead us to a little more optimism, however:

Of the positive survey items, these were the most stable across the studies:

Longevity improving life more time for goals
Extending life giving respect to old age
Longevity research as duty to future generations
Long Term Relationship (LTR) quality will increase with longevity
Society will benefit from greater wisdom
Increase budget for this research

Other positive items from the LEQ:

Favor longevity research even if product unaffordable
Extend life to have more leisure time
Estimate satisfaction greater at age 110 than 75
Families benefit from cross-generation interaction

I'm sure you'll recognize a number of these in past material produced by longevity advocates, myself included. Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey in particular has argued for duty to those yet to live - in his view, who are we to decide that our grandchildren's lives must be as short as our own? By failing to heed the moral imperative to longevity research, we condemn future generations to have no choice in their own longevity.


I am shocked and openly resentful of people whose immediate reaction to the idea of healthy life extension is to dismiss it out of hand as somehow being a bad thing. Of all the justifications given for this irrational, knee jerk prejudice the argument that it would be "unnatural" to extend the human lifespan by interfering with aging is the most offensive and morally reprehensible.

The natural order has no thought whatsoever for the moral imperative of saving literally every human life on the planet present and future now that we are near to having the means. It is indifferent and hostile to the human cause, and we are at our best when triumphing over this indifference. Indeed, if nature has any conscience at all, that conscience is us. We alone are naturally predisposed to think not merely in terms of 'what is', but also in terms of 'what ought to be', and to then go about making the necessary corrections to the world as we find it. It is our nature, our birthright and our responsibility to make the world a better place, and shame on the fool who stands in the way.

Down with irrationality. On with progress. And long, healthy, youthful life to all of us.

Posted by: Ben at March 25th, 2008 12:29 PM
Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.