Thoughts on the Prehistory Leading to Gerontology

Today I'll point you towards a translated blog post from Alexey Moskalev, a biogerontologist in Russia. He offers some views on the history of mankind's adversarial relationship with death, and how this informs what should be our modern view of gerontology and aging research. As always, you'll have to excuse the quality of automated translation: it is improving rapidly, and is good enough for comprehension, but still, I think, stumbles on structural differences in the way in which different cultures use language to express themselves.

Unconscious fear of death occurs in a child already at birth. There he and the animals [are the same]. Fear of death plays an important biological role: along with the pain he wakes survival instinct that forces to avoid danger or flee from it. However, in humans, as a rational being, there is awareness of their own mortality. The child begins to recognize their mortality at the end of preschool age, and even earlier. Understanding of powerlessness in the face of death is inconsistent with fear of death and the unconscious desire to save his life. This contradiction [gives rise to two distinct psychological reactions] - adaptation or confrontation.

[No-one can prosper in a wasteland]. Similarly, we can formulate a rule of psychology: a rational creature can not evolve with constant thoughts of death: [one can instead] forget, not think about it or deny it. [Forms] of psychological adaptation may also include [acceptance of] the inevitability of death, resignation, faith in the [continuation of life after death], confidence in the death benefit - a "just punishment", "punishment for sins, "an evolutionary necessity, "the engine of progress." [Apologism for] death is extensive [in] religious, philosophical and artistic literature, masterpieces of cinema.

Some psychologists, such as S. Belousov, in contrast, believe that only [by overcoming] the fear of death, [does a] person starts to live a full and authentic life. Confrontation with the fact of mortality [is, or should be] a natural phenomenon for man. As can be seen from the table, the desire to overcome the causes of death, along with a desire to improve the quality of life occurred in [antiquity] and became the principal engine of progress.

PeriodCauses of deathWays to counter
PastHungerGathering, hunting, animal husbandry and [farming]
SupercoolingClothing, fire, housing
Trauma, parasites, infectionsFolk healing, classical medicine
TodayCardiovascular disease, cancerModern medicine
Aging[Biogerontology], transplantation, regenerative and nanomedicine, gene engineering
AccidentsImproving the social and productive infrastructure

I should say that Moskalev's views on gerontology as a battle against death are representative of the Russian research community, but not of US gerontologists, many of whom are still doing their level best to deny any association with efforts to extend life span. As I've noted in the past, Russian culture seems far more amenable to the concept of engineered longevity than that of we English-language Westerners - and perhaps that difference starts with an aging research community whose members understand that the whole point of the exercise is to defeat death.

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