Nebulous Opposition to the Defeat of Aging

What is so terrible about the prospect of failing to suffer years of hideous pain, disfigurement, and disability that it forces people to wax lyrical and beat their breasts and say, woe is me, we might have the chance to not suffer and not be diseased and not be forced into a painful death not of our choice? I believe near everyone you can find to ask is generally in favor of cancer research. That's absolutely about preventing all of the above. But the prospect of treating the medical condition we call aging and removing its consequences? Suddenly everyone is a poet, inclined to the morbid, building nebulous castles of fancy and feeling in praise of suffering and death:

I've got some bad news: You're going to die. Well, probably; thanks to the new wave of immortality innovation, you might not. So what happens if we ditch our biological bodies for technological ones that don't face the limitations of organic DNA and death? Technological evolution has the potential to decouple us from death and other basic biological constraints, which would allow us to move forward with the group instead of waiting to become obsolete and, well, dead. This is probably a good thing, but also a potentially terrible thing too.

If you have offspring, that offspring isn't you. They have some of your DNA and some of your partner's in a new combination that adds variation to the population at large. This is how evolution works - it acts on the population, not the person. I think this is the greatest tragedy of evolution. It doesn't happen to each of us; it happens to all of us. And the only way for the whole to progress is for you, me, and everyone else to eventually be left behind.

We may be able to prevent ourselves from dying by linking ourselves to technology rather than biology, but in doing so have we inadvertently killed meaningful progress in other ways? Or are we capable of evolving ourselves mentally to not get mired in the morality and wrongheadedness of the past and let society, ideas, and ourselves progress even without the fear of death? While there are lots of advantages to multi-generational societies, at some point it's better for the gander if the older geese get gone. If everyone hung around forever, the genetics of the population would stagnate, never able to move in any new direction. And in evolution, stagnation often leads to extinction.



Its the usual deathist crap and I have commented appropriately there. Moral hand wringers who think that life extension leads to static ideals and beliefs and cannot see that you would continue to evolve mentally as everyone does now. Seriously these people are the reason we are all probably going to die.

Posted by: Steve H at April 21st, 2015 8:48 AM

Someone could actually write a long refutation of this essay. Maybe get the author to publish another one.

The biggest problem is he seems to conflate evolution with progress, as if evolution has some ultimate goal for improving things. It doesn't.

Posted by: Jim at April 21st, 2015 9:45 AM

Whats the best way to deal with this argument?

Posted by: at April 21st, 2015 12:58 PM

For the normal arguement for explaining life extension to people...Probably by explaining it's more about keeping people healthier, longer. Informing people that they wouldn't be 100 years old in a frail state, but 100 in a vigorous state. Some people feel they're entitled to retirement and a pension, so that's going to be a tough sell. I've seen people say they'd rather die than have to work until their 80s or 90s (which never made sense to me, especially if they're healthy). Never using ther term immortal. People get the wrong idea about this topic when they see the term immortal. I've ended up explaining this in some form or another in various places.

For the current article, I agree the author is conflating evolution and progress.

Posted by: H at April 21st, 2015 2:57 PM

I guess this is like any other proposed technology in some ways, with reporters and the general public dismissing it until they see proof of it (a technological demonstration). Often those dismissals will be lazy and not based on facts, but they can still damage public opinion and then public funding for the technology development project.

But I think they are lazy because they can be lazy, for two reasons. One, there are no solid technological demonstrations that can be placed in front the public (yet). And, two, aging is just one of these monolithic things in life that we are vaguely aware of, but no one could ever do anything about, so it is not worth thinking seriously about. In addition death goes with aging and people don't think about death as a coping mechanism. People will probably only stop being lazy once there is robust mouse rejuvenation. That will be a fact that they have to respond seriously too.

I don't actually know if there is a huge point having arguments on the internet with people about things like the Tithonus error. These people aren't actually thinking seriously, they are just responding to the news that Google/Peter Thiel/Larry Page seem to be spending money on eternal youth research efforts.

Of course if Peter Thiel or Aubrey de Grey are giving an interview about the future prospects for making people young again, they have to respond to those concerns. But I don't know if internet arguments will be worth getting into.

Posted by: Jim at April 21st, 2015 5:17 PM

You're generally right. Internet arguments usually aren't worth getting into. I just can't stand people spouting off wrong information about it, like perpetuating the Tithonus error, or that the world would suddenly become overpopulated. Or that life extension would be available to the .05% of the world only (it could be, anything could happen... but I doubt it). You'd be surprised how many articles and comments on reddit consistently use the term immortal. I'm not even going to get into the common religious view, because it makes me want to smash my head into my desk. I wish Peter Thiel, and the Google boys would actually give in depth interviews about their involvement and what it entails, since they all have a pretty strong following. I remember Aubrey de Grey in his AMA on reddit said a great way to spread awareness and potentially gain funding would to appear on Oprah. That would reach the masses like almost nothing else.

Posted by: H at April 21st, 2015 6:22 PM


My father-in-laws' 1st comment on anti-aging was "I don't want to live that long...who wants to be sickly in a wheelchair for 200 years" :-)

It's way easier to talk PERSONAL HEALTH. It's easily understood, important to most and has a huge existing business infrastructure. Then the term "PERSONAL PERMANENT HEALTH" is a next, evolutionary step. It"s easily understood, personal, thought provoking, desirable, positive (not Anti) and an acceptable, attainable goal to most everyone. It even encourages personal involvement.

A couple years ago an article recommended the term "Regenerative Medicine" as more acceptable to the public than "Anti-Aging" and I agree. Anti-Aging is a confusing oxymoron to many people. It's obvious that everyone & everything ages, always has, always will. Basically the term anti-aging is foolish and requires explanation... like a bad joke :-)

Posted by: gary dale at April 21st, 2015 9:01 PM

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