Media Babble on Greatly Extended Human Longevity is Drifting in a Positive Direction

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?



Agreed, the ideas are now being taken more seriously. Eventually, the media does get around to covering important things...after they exhaust all other options :-D

And I think "soft immortality" is a great starting point, because it moves the discussion way from the "problem" of filling infinite time and towards the huge benefits of having somewhat more time so that, for example, getting a phd doesn't have to get in the way of having a family, or so that not learning piano as a kid doesn't mean never learning piano.

Of course, anyone who thinks it through logically will realize that "soft immortality" is the same as complete immortality, because life expectancies will be increasing by more than a year per year of scientific progress.

Posted by: Will Nelson at August 21st, 2014 11:44 AM

Oops, I realized that I misunderstood their definition of "soft immortality". The question that I think will really galvanize the debate is the other one they cite, namely "If you could extend your life by another 50 or 100 healthy years, would you?"
Everyone will choose this, and then later they'll realize it's the same as an infinite extension, and we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

Posted by: Will Nelson at August 21st, 2014 11:48 AM

Just call it what it is: life extension.
There is no magical power that will reverse entropy (read: The Last Question short story by Isaac Asimov - ), at least not yet.

I personally have no problem with the term "immortality", as long as it is used accurately, but it can be a term that denotes no choice, and brings to many people's minds horrific scenarios and dystopic futures.

The key question is choice, but in order to ease the masses into it, perhaps a more appealing question would be, if you could live one more year in good health, would you? Would you do it to spend more time with your loved ones? Would you do it to spend more time doing what you love?

Life extension should be a no-brainer as a choice everyone would prefer instead of not having at all. Of course, that brings to the fore more complicated questions like... at what point is not choosing to extend life "suicide"? Or is it ever?

One person I've discussed this with said basically he just prefers to go when he's "supposed" to, but after pointing out to him that's been a moving target for over a century, the response wound up being "to each their own".

It's not an uncommon response, and the guy I think is a good person, probably better than me in several ways. However, I think that response is a cop out and or a lazy one at best.

Who wouldn't want to extend life if they love it for every reason which death has nothing to do with? Boredom? What a lame excuse. You decide to be bored, it's not some sort of life imposition, at least not in the developed world, and probably not even in third world countries. Not today. Now now, when almost everything around us is constantly progressing at a rate several times faster than it has in the past.

What better time to be alive, and stay alive for as long as you can to experience and enjoy everything you can? If you're a depressed absolutist pessimist, have other mental problems, or perhaps have substance abuse problems, maybe I could understand the desire to not extend life. But for everyone else? Why not? What have you got to lose? Certainly not your "humanity". We haven't lost it after doubling our life spans, though some may argue otherwise.

For everyone that argues for or against life extension, fear is most likely a factor. Sure, I may be afraid of not being able to enjoy life as long as I possibly could without life extension, but I'm still enjoying life in the meantime, and I think that's a much better attitude than simply being afraid of the unknown, or being afraid to grow enough as a person in order to enjoy an extended life.

Posted by: Carl Borrowman at August 23rd, 2014 10:13 PM

@ Carl - do not want to start any long discussion/arguments, but referring to "There is no magical power that will reverse entropy" - that is not true - any closed system can be a reversible system - human body contain a lot of cells, but still it is a closed system and in theory the "state of disorder" of our body can be reduced and controlled if we know how and have the technology - it is true that in order to do this, you will increase overall entropy in the Universe, but that is "ok" - let's hope SENS/Calico/etc. will make significant progress in reducing the "entropy" and our bodies can be young again soon.

Posted by: alc at August 25th, 2014 10:37 AM

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