This columnist sees the signs of progress, thinks that extended longevity is plausible, but rejects radical life extension on the flimsy grounds that only death gives life meaning and removes the possibility of stasis. This seems particularly silly given that, I'm sure, this isn't someone who would advocate moving life expectancy back to where it was a century or two ago. So would he argue that life is less meaningful now, more of a "featureless expanse" as he puts it?
Death doesn't give life meaning - it strips meaning, and everything else, from us. Being alive is what allows us to inject meaning into life, and for so long as you are alive you can be a font of meaning if that's what drives you. We can draw lines and calculate totals and change careers and directions wherever we want, and then start over to work on something new and interesting. This already happens constantly throughout life, just the same as it did a century or two ago, and just the same as it will when people live far longer in good health.
The buzz around radical life extension is such that the dot-com gurus who brought us the likes of Google and PayPal now find themselves laser-focused on an Age of Longevity, as if transforming our lives was not enough whereas doubling them through moonshot thinking would be an incontrovertible contribution to human progress. Connectivity was O.K., but conjuring super-centenarians will be better. Larry Page, the chief executive of Google, and Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire, early investor in Facebook and co-founder of PayPal, are among those who, in separate ventures, have aging in their cross hairs.
"If people think they are going to die, it is demotivating," Thiel told me. "The idea of immortality is motivational." He described his ideas as "180 degrees the opposite" of Steve Jobs's, who once said: "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart." It is probably wise to take Thiel's idea of an end to aging (or at least its radical postponement) seriously. Any extrapolation from technological progress over the past quarter-century makes the notion plausible. At least seriously enough to ask the question: Do we want this Shangri-La?
This year, the Pew Research Center found that in the United States, where current life expectancy is 78.7 years, 56 percent of American adults said they would not choose to undergo medical treatments to live to 120 or more. This resistance to the super-centenarian dream demonstrates good sense. Immortality - how tempting, how appalling! What a suffocating trick on the young! Death is feared, but it is death that makes time a living thing. Without it life becomes a featureless expanse. I fear death, up to a point, but would fear life without end far more: All those people to see over and over again, worse than Twitter with limitless characters.