Radical life extension is the now somewhat dated term for the process of adding decades and then centuries to healthy life spans through near future rejuvenation therapies. The media has a quota system, I think, for turning out articles on this topic that are little better than babble. A stream of consciousness is committed to the page and sent forth into the world. In past years this typically consisted entirely of knee-jerk objections and assertions that death by aging was a wonderful thing: that we live in the best of all worlds in which we are privileged to suffer and die to a schedule not our own, and besides the whole idea of living longer is impossible, as any sensible individual should see, and now let us stop dwelling upon fantasies of a world in which medicine improves and get back to something important, such as the latest celebrity gossip.
It is hopefully not just an illusion in my eyes, but I do believe I see some drift in a positive direction in the babble of late. Babble it may be, but it is still a signal of sorts. There is more of an acceptance of radical life extension as an inevitability, and something of a balancing of views. The same old knee-jerk objections remain in force, but there are also wistful glances at the possibility of a life that is longer and better in all aspects. The times are changing, and the average media figure bends with the wind when it comes to any field in which large and very public investments are now happening. Take this piece from NPR, for example:
Even if we don't spend the day thinking about it (and who could bear it?), pretty much most of what we do is connected in one way or another with the certainty of death. To lose this certainty, to have a vast, unchallenged expanse of time ahead, would certainly change our psyche in very essential ways. The word "legacy" would need to be redefined. Immortality could be quite boring, a life without a sense of pace. An immortal being would be an aberration, opposite to everything that we see around us, a world where transformation and decay is the rule.
Thomas Nagel, [counters] by arguing that, perhaps, an immortal life could still be "composed of an endless sequence of quests, undertakings and discoveries, including successes and failures. ... I am not convinced that the essential role of mortality in shaping the meaning we find in our actual lives implies that earthly immortality would not be a good thing."
Is immortality scientifically viable? We don't know, although many researchers think of aging as an illness that can be treated. It's hard to imagine that science will not be going that way. But here is the key question: If you could extend your life by another 50 or 100 healthy years, would you? Quite possibly, we will be moving toward a "soft immortality" in the next decades. The question of how a very long life will affect our minds will then become an experiment.
Whatever the many debates the topic incites, there is one good consequence of it, as Ed Regis and George Church noted in an essay from 2012: A race of soft immortals would have plenty of motivation to preserve the planet. After all, without Earth, what's the point of pursuing a long life?