The Purpose of Longevity

Many people find there to be little distance between the questions "why live longer?" and "why live at all?" It makes it hard to have conversations about the great good that might be done through the development of rejuvenation therapies without tipping over the edge into nihilistic considerations of the meaning of life. Since life has only the meaning we grant it, these tend to be circular, pointless conversations. If you wish to live, then live.

I would say that the purpose of longevity, insofar as it has one, is to make the continuation of a life worth living a choice for those who presently have no choice, tyrannized by the their own cellular biochemistry. Rejuvenation biotechnologies, like all technologies, involve expanding the human condition by adding new choices where no such choice previously existing. Indeed, the very act of choosing itself is predicated on being alive and sound to make the choice and experience the results.

"The Purposes of Longer Lives" is the theme under which the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) will convene in November 2018. Longevity and life span have been a core focus for GSA ever since the very first issue of the Journal of Gerontology in 1946 came bannered with the slogan, "To add life to years, not just years to life." Explicit here was the idea, dating deep into recorded history, that pro-longevity efforts should seek "not merely an increase in time per se but an extension of the healthy and productive period of life."

Today, academic units concerned with gerontology have been adding the term longevity to their titles - a center for longevity, a longevity institute. This provides organizations with a measureable outcome in a way that aging by itself cannot. At the same time, credit for gains in life expectancy is due to mortality reductions at all stages of the life course.

Longevity's purpose is a teleological question about goals and ends, about the value of extended survival. Ironically, evolutionary theory about aging tells us that longer lives for organisms are pointless beyond the stage of reproduction and perhaps the rearing of offspring. If we are to find meaning in outliving this biological design, it will need to come from human and cultural aspirations for more time alive. And more time can be valuable in at least three ways: as a personal good available for any sort of individual pursuit; as a public good that benefits the larger group; and as a resource for the scientific and scholarly study of life span - research on aging thrives on more aging.



It takes an unfortunate person who hasn't practiced living very well to become a nihilist capable of asking such a question. As for me and my 1 trillion progeny I plan to live to see, we will experiment with creating many forms of paradise on thousands, then millions of worlds (some planetary surfaces, most probably not) all around the galaxy. We will hone our relationship with technology and strive to perfect ourselves as our knowledge continuously expands. While seeking balance and moderation in all things, it is going to be a huge, endless, and unimaginable party!

Posted by: Tom Schaefer at November 30th, 2018 9:56 AM

All I want is a choice.

- Some have 'practiced living' extraordinarily well only to nevertheless experience the worst life has to offer.

- So long as your progeny don't become the Magog ...

Posted by: The Million Voices of the High Guard at November 30th, 2018 11:08 AM

Prolonging healthy aging: Longevity vitamins and proteins
Bruce N. Ames
Edited by Cynthia Kenyon, Calico Labs, San Francisco, CA, and approved September 13, 2018 (received for review May 30, 2018)
It is proposed that proteins/enzymes be classified into two classes according to their essentiality for immediate survival/reproduction and their function in long-term health: that is, survival proteins versus longevity proteins. As proposed by the triage theory, a modest deficiency of one of the nutrients/cofactors triggers a built-in rationing mechanism that favors the proteins needed for immediate survival and reproduction (survival proteins) while sacrificing those needed to protect against future damage (longevity proteins). Impairment of the function of longevity proteins results in an insidious acceleration of the risk of diseases associated with aging. I also propose that nutrients required for the function of longevity proteins constitute a class of vitamins that are here named "longevity vitamins." I suggest that many such nutrients play a dual role for both survival and longevity. The evidence for classifying taurine as a conditional vitamin, and the following 10 compounds as putative longevity vitamins, is reviewed: the fungal antioxidant ergo- thioneine; the bacterial metabolites pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) and queuine; and the plant antioxidant carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, α- and β-carotene, β-cryptoxanthin, and the marine carotenoid astaxanthin. Because nutrient deficiencies are highly prevalent in the United States (and elsewhere), appro- priate supplementation and/or an improved diet could reduce much of the consequent risk of chronic disease and premature aging.

Posted by: Lee at November 30th, 2018 2:29 PM


With so dim a view of those who would ponder big questions of meaning I fear the kind of god you may become, as well as your hubris at thinking you know yet what the vast future may hold for you and your 'trillion progeny'. Be careful. You may live long enough to see yourself create a literal hell.

Posted by: Ben at November 30th, 2018 2:45 PM

I always found that question quite stupid. If you need that somebody explains you why it's good to live more, then you will never understand it.

Posted by: Antonio at November 30th, 2018 3:25 PM

In two studies it has been argued that the opposite of longevity, aging ( including cancer) has a biological function. Aging would implement a - weak - selection against adverse genes by causing enhanced death of born offspring, through diminishing the parental care this offspring receives:

on cancer, see

on aging, see

Posted by: Anthonie Muller at December 2nd, 2018 1:12 PM
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