We live in an age of rapidly advancing biotechnology, and research communities are on the verge of developing actual, real, working rejuvenation treatments. Given the funding there are lines of research under way today that might take the ills of aging and turn them back. Yet most people really don't care all that much, and are even troubled by the idea that they might be able to live for decades longer in good health. Those who do spend time thinking on it are largely bedeviled by a profound lack of ambition, and spend their time talking about dietary modifications, lifestyle choices, and supplements mined from the natural world that cannot possibly achieve any meaningful difference in human life span.
A few years here and there, sure. Anyone can do that - just eat less. But adding decades to life can only come from future advances in medicine that are a radical departure from the present methods of treating age-related conditions. Rejuvenation will arise from repair of the root causes of aging, removing wastes and broken molecules within and around cells. This needs new gene therapies, new classes of drug that can interact with metabolic wastes that have gone largely neglected to date, and much more.
For those of us aware of what might be possible were much greater effort focused on repair of the cellular and molecular damage of aging, infographics such as the one linked below are somewhat depressing. Researchers could be figuring out how to revert the molecular damage in cells that causes age-related frailty and disease, with the goal of entirely eliminating these causes of pain and suffering from the human condition, but the public at large are hesitant to step beyond recommendations on whether or not to drink coffee or exercise a little more. Their boundaries of the possible are so narrow as to exclude any meaningful change through medical science. It is almost as though they don't want success:
The grail of longevity research remains that elusive drug, food, personality trait or lifestyle change that will prolong robust, healthy life. It's not here yet.
You'll see analogous sentiments in the economic arena, a fear of change and an underlying echo of the belief that financial traditions and edifices are in some way more important than human life. Longevity is cast as bad news for no reason other than things must change, and bad decisions and bad entitlements will have to be unwound:
For the first time, both boys and girls born today can expect to see at least 90 years of age, according to revised mortality tables published on Monday by the Society of Actuaries. Middle age and old age have also stretched out. Half a century ago reaching age 65 meant automatic retirement and imminent infirmity. Today, millions of 65-year-olds aren't just in the workforce - they are reinventing themselves and looking for new pursuits, knowing they have many good years ahead. What is good news for humanity, though, sends tremors through the pension world. Every few extra years of life expectancy come with a price tag. Already, many private and public pension funds are woefully underfunded - and the new tables essentially mean they are even further behind.
All this noted, a great deal of progress in advocacy has in fact occurred in the past decade. Nonsense and low expectations are not universal, and discussion of rejuvenation and radical life extension is more commonplace than it was. The research community is in the early stages of a great tectonic shift in research strategy, moving from treating only the manifestations of aging to treating the underlying processes - and accepting that the goal is extension of healthy life spans, not just treating diseases. So some people are willing to look for more and call out those who are short-sighted, trapped in parochial visions of what is possible and plausible:
The best thing about Ezekiel Emanuel's "Why I Hope To Die at 75" is that it calls attention to the most consequential development of our time, the aging of the American and global population. His argument is colorful and contrarian, but also based on 20th century assumptions. And, it is as misguided as it is unimaginative. For Emanuel's thesis to make sense, we must accept that "the miracle of longevity," which has been brought about by innovation, invention and human imagination, has run out of gas. In other words, his argument presupposes that what has enabled longevity has run its course and we're done making progress.
Let's recognize Dr. Emanuel's piece for what it is - a sweeping declaration of 21st century impossibility framed by what was achieved in the 20th century. It's a static view of the human condition, which is his basic mistake. Rather, human imagination that will fuel invention and innovation can continue to propel us to a healthier and more active life as we live to be 100 as a matter of course.