An Unconvincing Desire for Mortality

As progress towards actual, real, working rejuvenation therapies becomes ever harder to ignore, even for those without any great familiarity with the sciences, the positions espoused by those opposed to longevity is shifting. It is apparently easy to be opposed to, outraged with, up in arms about the prospect of longer human lives when longer human lives are not an option for the near future. Just as soon as rejuvenation becomes something that isn't just for the distant future elite, the tone changes. There are still all of the old inconsistencies and virtue signals, but the firm opposition becomes a good deal less firm.

Take a look at this short opinion piece, for example - the way in which it opens, tired lines about the terrible burden of living well for a long time that we've all seen before, and then the way it is steered to a new and more thoughtful close. That close is a claim to desire mortality, but not yet. "Not yet" is the first step on the road to agelessness. If "not yet" today, and tomorrow one is just as healthy and entertained, then will it be "not yet" tomorrow? If "not yet" then why not undergo the treatments that will make tomorrow just as healthy as today? And when will it ever stop? Based on the fact that most people choose not to suicide on any given day, it is my belief that the near future, in which rejuvenation therapies are highly effective, cheap, and widespread, will be populated by well-adjusted, exceptionally long-lived individuals of many varieties.

Many of those future ageless individuals will emerge from a past in which they thought themselves mortalists when mortality was the only option on the table. They aimed themselves at diminishment and death in the same way as their grandparents did. Then technology advanced, and they followed the crowd, followed the advice of their doctors, and turned out to live indefinitely in good health despite having nothing of the sort in mind at the outset. Our community works to promote progress towards rejuvenation therapies for these people just as much as those who presently desire a longer life. A death is just as tragic in either case, and there are no half measures here. Either we all win together, or we all lose together.

Memo to those seeking to live for ever: eternal life would be deathly dull

How long would you like to live? One hundred no longer seems too greedy. In 1983, the Queen sent 3,000 congratulatory telegrams to centenarians. By 2016 she was sending 14,500 cards. One in three children born that year are expected to make it to three figures. For many, that's not good enough. Maverick scientists such as Aubrey de Grey are trying to find a "cure" for senescence, while transhumanists are looking to avoid the problem of your body packing up by packing you up and sending it to something more durable, like a virtual reality.

It's long been fashionable to dismiss these longings as naive and foolish. Human beings are mortal animals. The wise embrace that, and with it the inevitability of their demise. For these sage souls, extreme longevity is a curse disguised as a gift. These realists understand that the nature of human experience is essentially one of transience and impermanence. Being aware of this does not diminish the experience but intensifies it. When we desire indefinite life we seem to be in denial of the essentially transient, impermanent nature of everything, especially of ourselves. To even imagine eternal life we have to assume that we are the kinds of creatures who could persist indefinitely. But contemporary philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists, and the early Buddhists all agree that the self is in constant flux, lacking a permanent, unchanging essence. Put simply, there is no thing that could survive indefinitely.

Sensible and correct as the arguments against immortality are, I do wonder whether some of us are too keen to be reassured by these seemingly wise thoughts. Just as belief in an afterlife can help to remove the sting of death, so can convincing ourselves that it is not such a sting after all. On this, Aristotle was characteristically sensible, rejecting the arguments of both Plato and the Stoics that death was nothing to be regretted. The more we live life well, the more we "will be distressed at the thought of death". When you appreciate that "life is supremely worth living" you know what a grievous loss it is when that life comes to an end. Living for ever may be a terrible fate but living a lot longer in good health sounds like a wonderful one.

It is one thing to accept our mortality as a necessary part of being embodied beings who live in time. But it is quite another to romanticise death or consider it to be no bad thing at all. Immortality might be a foolish goal but a longer mortality certainly isn't. My attitude to death is therefore similar to Augustine's attitude towards chastity. Yes, I want to be mortal, but please - not yet.


On the bright side, he doesn't seem to be opposed to an extended lifespan? Seems like he just wants to ultimately be mortal, for whatever arbitrary reason.

Posted by: Ham at July 13th, 2018 5:18 PM

After all, isn't everyone chasing a longer mortality? Anything else is borderline impossible, Especially if you're talking about real 'immortality'.

Posted by: Ham at July 13th, 2018 5:34 PM

The fact is that the life extending you could get in the near future is so tiny that a rational person wouldn't bother thinking about it all. On the other hand, a rationalizing person would try to ... Well... rationalize the death and confabulate reasons why it is useful, good, or is a blessing in disguise. For the individual, for the supervisor and, of course , for Gaia.

The first treatment that can meaningfully work will shift the perception landscape. There is huge money to made, there is a huge desire among the cultural elite and the people with power and money. The moment they réalise that it is not only a dream and we here are not delusional hippies there will be a cultural storm. And a venture capital gold rush. The money invested in anti-aging and rejuvenation will amount to literately trillions. Of course this will not happen before there is a rejuvenation treatment.

Posted by: Cuberat at July 13th, 2018 6:40 PM

There is nothing I can learn from a "deathist".

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at July 13th, 2018 7:48 PM

I think it really is just virtue signalling. It's like all the celebrity Hillary Clinton supporters who said before the US presidential election "If trump wins, I'll move to Canada" and none of them did it. These people just want to pat themselves on the back and shower themselves with praise for being unafraid of oblivion and not like those selfish "Immortalists who don't have the maturity to embrace the gift that is old age and death, the way I do". Once the first treatments start rolling out they'll gorge themselves on crow.

Posted by: Link at July 14th, 2018 1:50 AM

Sorry, this is off topic,

I just read an article titled, "Two Cancer Drugs Found to Boost Aging Immune Systems". The 2 chemo drugs are dactolisib and everolimus. Does anyone have any thoughts or knowledge about these two drugs. I don't know how to attach a link to this article, sorry.

Posted by: Robert at July 14th, 2018 1:59 AM

Ham wrote: "After all, isn't everyone chasing a longer mortality? Anything else is borderline impossible, Especially if you're talking about real 'immortality'."

Nobody really knows that, the biggest unknown being cosmology (heck, we even don't know what makes 95% of the universe!).

Posted by: Antonio at July 14th, 2018 2:45 AM

I am always fascinated by those who seem to care so much about what other people think, feel, or do, especially when they otherwise have no personal relationship with them. As with: such and such percentage of people support the idea of extended life span, etc., as if having people's general support or being aligned with their daily whimsical values somehow motivates heavily-monied venture capitalists, nascent gerontologists looking for a field of study, or government officials with funds to burn to suddenly push forward into a Manhattan-style project mind-set. I do not doubt that it has happened, though it is probably rarer than many imagine. I further imagine that there was a certain rare alignment of many factors - a certain body of knowledgeable do-ers (i.e. lab scientists) with a certain combination of drive, goal focus, and collaborative-herd instinct; to follow a monied, influential, pseudo-charismatic, and pseudo-scientist-leader; who provides an environment of great motivation (likely long-term notoriety and riches), semi-secrecy (excitement about the idea but not details), and appropriate resources. This is rare and nothing disables such a coming together of factors as politicizing, demanding transparency of all current players, and insisting that the government compete with/ initiate/ promote such an effort by sanctioning research and funding specifically for it.
I get it. One wants to live forever and desperate people will promote whatever avenue seems available to achieve that goal, no matter how disingenuous they are willing to be - advocating values as primary, such as: saving the world; reducing suffering in large numbers of people; blaming government bureaucracy; blaming the public's lack of vision, intelligence, and self-discipline; etc., when truly- and let's be honest with ourselves - one would be willing to run off and hide with the ageing antidote - if there was only one dose and it was either give it to science for far future development (and thus sacrifice their own immortality) or take it then and there. Which is fine. It is just as noble or ignoble a value system as what currently runs our economies, technology, and progress. We are hyper-consumerist, selfish (not just self-interested), and techno-cratic people (at least in the G7) who tentatively and (let's be honest) grudgingly collaborate with others in such a consumerist, technocracy to further one's own personal goals of comfortable existence and the perception of success, however one defines it.
When it comes down to it: I suppose that I fundamentally mistrust, disbelieve, and semi-privately disapprove of activism in the promotion of scientific endeavours into the quick development of consumer products/ services. I believe that it is somewhat to mostly counter-productive to the large-scale development of such items because it shines light on those crucial people who would otherwise not want light shone upon them - that is: doers (knowledge workers) because it creates general drama and competition from semi-skilled career-success-seekers who would otherwise get in the way, leaders because it creates general drama and competition from semi-skilled business-notoriety-seekers who would otherwise divide interest (and funding), and the investors because they are in it for substantial returns that would otherwise be compromised and diluted by a herd of profit-seekers clamouring for their values to be heard in pursuit of whatever they value. The quickest route to product development is to leave it to the selfish profit-crazed to privately establish the industries to bring the product/ service to market. As an example, I believe that if public and activist members pushed publicly for a cheap, safe, and widespread personal communication device for vulnerable people and a system that safeguarded privacy (all noble goals), combined with a government requirement to prevent interference, ensure quality and availability at the start, and restrict the spectrum available back in the 90s, we would not have smart-phones today. We would have nasty 80s style large-network walkie-talkie things without any of the rampant consumerist and privacy-ravaging features that we all love-hate (and has provided a huge portion of the private and public wealth we have today). Private capitalist, for-profit, techno-consumerism is an animal that works best in the dark, with low-regulation, and minimal activist promotion (despite how well-intentioned). That being all said, it appears to be a shame how tightly regulated therapeutic research is.

Posted by: Jer at July 14th, 2018 7:33 AM

@Robert: I only know that everolimus is used in kidney transplantation. It suppress the immune system. Maybe it also suppress cancer? I were shocked to read it boost agin immune system.

Posted by: thoma at July 14th, 2018 8:44 AM

I look at it this way: immortality is downright scary. But physically aging is more scary. So I'll take rejuvenation, and if immortality is a side effect, I'll cross that bring when I get there.

Posted by: NY2LA at July 14th, 2018 5:20 PM


Posted by: NY2LA at July 14th, 2018 5:21 PM

Huh? What is scary about immortality?

Posted by: Antonio at July 14th, 2018 6:17 PM

>Huh? What is scary about immortality?

Ask me again in 500 years

Posted by: Cuberat at July 14th, 2018 6:44 PM

That's not an answer.

Posted by: Antonio at July 14th, 2018 11:00 PM

Not sure how to answer the question. There's lots of unknowns about what it would feel like.

Posted by: NY2LA at July 14th, 2018 11:54 PM


God, some people are wretchedly boring.

Posted by: TL at July 15th, 2018 1:42 AM

If you don't know anything about how it is, how can you say that it is "downright scary"?

Posted by: Antonio at July 15th, 2018 2:36 AM

I don't have to work for a living now. But if I live too long, I will run out of money. Am I going to have to figure out how to earn a living when I am, say, 100 years old?

There may be too many memories to consolidate over time. The Greenland shark (for example) live longer than 500 years. What kind of memories do they have of their lives? Or do they live only "in the present" all the time, with no sense of personal history? Are our brains capable of accumulating so many memories on top of memories on top of memories, and maintaining a sense of a personal biography?

The physical universe and our physical existence may be an illusion anyway. I'd never find out what happens after death. I'm not religious, but believe I could be missing out on something.

Okay, I'm as boring as the author of the article the original post is about.

Posted by: NY2LA at July 15th, 2018 3:31 AM

"Am I going to have to figure out how to earn a living"

Welcome to the club.

"Are our brains capable of accumulating so many memories on top of memories on top of memories, and maintaining a sense of a personal biography?"

Do you remember everyday of your chilhood?

"The physical universe and our physical existence may be an illusion anyway. I'd never find out what happens after death. I'm not religious, but believe I could be missing out on something."

Yeah, you will be missing out on life.

Posted by: Antonio at July 15th, 2018 3:40 AM

NY2LA have a point. What if the brain get empty of space as a HDD and it can't delete it to sufficiently?

@Antonio: It might be discovered that this is a new damage. 8th?

Posted by: Quaker at July 15th, 2018 11:46 AM

100 is an achievable goal for many right now with existing life extension methods and health practices. Unfortunately many are not willing to put in the time or effort to achieve it, and many others are unable to afford it.

Posted by: Biotechy Marcks at July 15th, 2018 2:17 PM

@Quaker: I already addressed that point.

Posted by: Antonio at July 15th, 2018 2:32 PM

There is absolutely nothing 'scary' about immortality (or an indefinite lifespan more accurately). There's a million things scary about an eternity of nothingness that death brings.

Posted by: Steven B at July 15th, 2018 3:06 PM

Living eternally cannot be scary. Even for those who think it is, think about it, you live for 100 years, erase ~99% of your memories and repeat. You can go through this process gazillion times and it will always be a unique bliss that you never before experienced.

Posted by: DarwiN at July 15th, 2018 3:14 PM

@Antonio "Do you remember everyday of your chilhood?"

Of course not. But I have a biographical history of myself consisting of key milestones in my life. Don't know what it will be like to squish 1,000 years (for example) into that history. Well, I suppose we can do what Hollywood does when making a movie of a real person's life - squeeze and distort it into two hours or so.

Posted by: NY2LA at July 15th, 2018 3:43 PM

@Antonio: You write: "Do you remember everyday of your childhood?"

My thinking is that there never are memories that are complete deleted. They only get stored in subconsciousness. They still take up. "space". I can't say tat for sure because I'm not a neuroscientist. But if thats the case we might have a problem.

@Steve Hill: You wrote: "There's a million things scary about an eternity of nothingness that death brings."

Im not sure. Are there millions (many) or only one thing that are scary? If nothing is a single reason what are the many other reasons?

Posted by: Quaker at July 15th, 2018 3:46 PM

Steve B:

Yeah, I can understand that death is scary and I also feel like that, but how can being alive be scary? 99.99999% of people are like that, they are afraid when something threatens their life and feel relieved when they survive. So deathtists are hypocritical or they didn't really thought what they say.

Posted by: Antonio at July 15th, 2018 4:46 PM


Hi Quaker! Just a 2 cents. Neurons are non-mitotic post-somatic life-long cells that we carry since birth, that does not mean there is no neurogenesis; BDNF is needed for neuron generation or restoration, and brain plasticizing. It was demonstrated that moderate intensive exercise acttivates brain IGF receptors via endocrine axis, this in turn activates BDNF production. When this pathway is abolished via miRNA silencing of these receptors - exercise is not benefitial anymore on brain health.
It was also demonstrated that intensive moderate exercise activated BDNF more strongly than cognitive therapy (like learning something from a book or playing advanced level chess)). This is explainable by our ancient past: ancient cavemen hunter-gatherers were, Hunting, ..not doing maths or computer bureau work. They needed muscular fitness over cognitive fitness, to hunt was bodily physical and you needed sharp-enough wits to outwit the hunted prey: but, certainly, not Einstein wits either - that is just superfluous. Evolution, then, chose physical fitness as specie survival strategy via their physical hunts. It rewarded them with BDNF - by physical exercise/hunting. This is still present today, but we don't hunt anymore - we study/learn in books/internet and buy food at groceries - physical exercise aspect is gone. Nomadism is rarer.
We thus suffer, this sedentary life of inactivity means brain degeneration lethargy like weak unused muscles despite learning stuff while seated on our chair - physically inactive. This is why moderate intensive exercise has benefits today, muscles activate endocrine axis in brain which cognitive therapy does not or not in the same benefitial way. Cognitive therapy is great at preserving memories and improving spatial capability but exercise has stronger effect by endocrine pathway/fitness pathway. Body fitness = more chances of brain fitness.

As for this ultra long lifespan, new neurons will be formed, Greenland Sharks carry 500 year old memories and a conserved brain for this long; likewise in 175+ year old giant sea tortoise - they remember at this late age and can remember people or things decades ago, I wager centuries ago. Likewise, for Jeanne Calment, she remembered childhood memories when she was 120+. The brain is so vast in its limited space(trillions of brain cells), and can tough for centuries - fully loaded and Still learning new stuff centuries later.

I think we greatly understate the organs regenerative capabilities, they may be limited but there are some.
Also, understate their resilience and capability for oxidative damage (is repaired, etc). Animals that live centuries show that, they are not necessarily stronger or more resilient, but rather slow down damage accrual and maintenance of genomic integrity over such long time.

Just a 2 cents.

Posted by: CANanonymity at July 15th, 2018 5:21 PM

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