How Long Do You Want to Live?

Here is an example to show that the urge to conform is somewhat stronger than the urge to live, and never mind the urge to think critically. People will tend to say that they want to be in the majority position now, no matter what that might be, and depending on how you phrase the question, the vast majority will tell you that they want to age to death and have a life that is no longer than that of their parents. Yet if longer lives were already common, those very same people would answer that they wanted to live those longer lives. It is frustrating, to say the least, the degree to which people live in the moment and blind themselves to what might be created: "How many years might be added to a life? A few longevity enthusiasts suggest a possible increase of decades. Most others believe in more modest gains. And when will they come? Are we a decade away? Twenty years? Fifty years? Even without a new high-tech 'fix' for aging, the United Nations estimates that life expectancy over the next century will approach 100 years for women in the developed world and over 90 years for women in the developing world. (Men lag behind by three or four years.) Whatever actually happens, this seems like a good time to ask a very basic question: How long do you want to live? Over the past three years I have posed this query to nearly 30,000 people at the start of talks and lectures on future trends in bioscience, taking an informal poll as a show of hands. To make it easier to tabulate responses I provided four possible answers: 80 years, currently the average life span in the West; 120 years, close to the maximum anyone has lived; 150 years, which would require a biotech breakthrough; and forever, which rejects the idea that life span has to have any limit at all. I made it clear that participants should not assume that science will come up with dramatic new anti-aging technologies, though people were free to imagine that breakthroughs might occur - or not. The results: some 60 percent opted for a life span of 80 years. Another 30 percent chose 120 years, and almost 10 percent chose 150 years. Less than 1 percent embraced the idea that people might avoid death altogether. These percentages have held up as I've spoken to people from many walks of life in libraries and bookstores; teenagers in high schools; physicians in medical centers; and investors and entrepreneurs at business conferences. I've popped the question at meetings of futurists and techno-optimists and gotten perhaps a doubling of people who want to live to 150 - less than I would have thought for these groups. Rarely, however, does anyone want to live forever, although abolishing disease and death from biological causes is a fervent hope for a small scattering of would-be immortals."



It would be great if you would use paragraphs.

Posted by: Joe at August 27th, 2012 6:14 AM

The New York Times has been engaged, for quite some time, in a crusade against the extension of human longevity.

Every month or so, the Times will run an editorial informing us that the elderly need to have fewer costly surgical procedures, that the aged should instead be sent to hospices, and that we should just accept death.

To the extent that the New York Times speaks for elite opinion, it can be seen that the upper crust of American society is resolutely opposed to the hoi polloi living longer. They want us to die and shutup about it.

Posted by: Ranjit Suresh at August 27th, 2012 7:19 AM

I ran into a lot of people saying they would like to die at 80 as well, their reasoning being that they would be old and tired by then. Even when asked to assume good health, or ideal health, they would hold that position.

Then I asked them to decide when their PARENTS would die, and that seemed to jolt them into a more realistic assessment of what they'd really like.

Posted by: MDK at August 27th, 2012 7:24 AM

This is an interesting piece, but I think it paints opinion towards life extension too negatively. I've written a blog post on this:

Basically, if you look at historical polling data, Americans are actually pretty open to the idea of radically extended lifespans.

Posted by: Nick at August 27th, 2012 4:33 PM

The survey cited in the NY Times article did not make any statement about the biotechnological cure of aging. It simply asked people how long they want to live without any qualifier at all. Of course none of us wants to live a long time if we have to be physiologically aged. The way the survey was worded, I would probably have chosen 80 years, even though I'm a fervent advocate of radical life extension. The results of this survey are worthless.

Come up with an actual cure for aging(e.g. eternal youth) and most people, especially women, really will beat a path to your door.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at August 30th, 2012 12:04 PM

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