Greeting Your Personal Future with Indifference

Someone who didn't take note of the eagerness with which people throw money at the shams, fakes, and security blankets of the "anti-aging" marketplace might be forced to conclude that the world's inhabitants are on balance indifferent as to whether they live long or die young, whether they suffer for decades or live healthily some years down the line. There are many common sense health practices that people can undertake to maximize their remaining life expectancy and reduce the risk of age-related disease - and that's even before we start in on supporting research and development of rejuvenation biotechnology - but the majority don't do anywhere near as much as they might, and in consequence they come to suffer for it.

Are we a species whose dominant trait is actually nihilism? One wonders at times.

But the personal future of aging isn't the only thing that most people, judging by their actions, are indifferent to. We might also consider the preventable nature of well known conditions like cancer, to pick one example. Most people know that they should be exercising, they should not let themselves get fat, and they also know how to halve the risk of suffering cancer - but do they adopt the necessary changes in lifestyle? Largely no:

More than half of all cancer is preventable, and society has the knowledge to act on this information today ... What we know [is] that lifestyle choices people make and that society can influence in a number of ways - from tobacco use to diet and exercise - play a significant role in causing cancer. Specifically, the researchers cite data demonstrating that smoking alone is responsible for a third of all cancer cases in the United States. Excess body weight and obesity account for another 20 percent.

This all might be viewed as another facet of the difficulty faced by groups trying to do something about aging and age-related disease - which is to say trying to help people avoid a future that many to most seem to be largely indifferent to, judging by their actions. If a person doesn't care enough about their future trajectory to take basic, simple care of their health today, why would they care enough to donate money to medical research and development? Fortunately, it isn't necessary to persuade everyone - even a few tens of millions of casual supporters, a tiny fraction of the population of the world, could between them generate enough resources to carry the SENS research program to completion, for example. Cancer research is itself an example of what it looks like some decades after that initial group of casual supporter is amassed - once the ball starts rolling and achieves a critical mass, the research programs become accepted as a part of what is.

But we are still left wonder on the rationality of humans, and the degree to which the average person is prepared to let their future self suffer.

Comments

No, it's clear the majority of humanity is not rational.

But, frankly, this shouldn't be surprising. To begin with, the bulk of mankind is of low intelligence. Even of those of high IQ's of say, 110 and above, a majority is willfully oblivious of the actions they can take to forestall death.

All the life extension community needs is a small minority of high achievers and high net-worth individuals to join together to propel mankind beyond the limits of our evolutionary heritage and extend human lifespan. This means we must either rollback government regulation which makes this impossible or somehow escape the influence and control of governments and corporate monopolies, through seasteading or some other desperate venture.

Posted by: Ranjit Suresh at March 29th, 2012 12:31 AM

People have been raised to think that they are doomed no matter what, that whether they die at 65 or 95, it's still finite. They then rationalize that they might as well have fun, and having more fun, but dying early is possibly rational within that world view.

Once people realize that unlimited lifespan might be possible for them, the stakes may seem higher, and find the motivation to take better care of themselves in the interim.

Maybe.

Posted by: Alive at April 6th, 2012 1:15 AM

Firstly, "rationality" is coupled with goals or objectives. Having a healthy and long life might not be one of the goals.

Secondly, from the perspective of evolutionary theory, it's clear that leading a healthy long life does not imply better "fitness", especially when compared with other goals (like wealth, status, high reproduction, giving to descendants). If evolution selected for biological motivations, it probably does not select for the desire to survive after 50s or 60s years of age. It might still be actively selected against - if it takes resources from the next generation.

Thirdly, "rationality" itself is not optimal for many things. For many problems in daily life, working things out "rationally" (assuming a person knows his goals) is computationally intense, and often not practical. Instead, people resort to heuristics, and heuristics are selected (probably via evolutionary pressures) to achieve the most important goals, but not take care of edge cases like living beyond 60; at least not yet.

Furthermore, heuristics and biological mechanism can "fail", e.g. drug addicts. Both physical and social environments are important. Most who live in modern english-speaking societies must know the psychological influences of other corporate interests via ads, which can drastically alter behaviour (and alter it, overall, away from leading a long and healthy life; and often away from a healthy life as well).

Living way beyond 60 is (hopefully) a recent possibility that current society places a low priority on, and that evolutionarily wasn't a big concern. There are variations among people, so some might want to, but these are likely to be a minority today and for many years to come.

Lastly... what makes the individual future self more important than a new individual?

Posted by: Dingfeng Quek at January 8th, 2013 8:22 PM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. 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.