Once upon a time, I had a blog called Rejuvenaction, or RJ for short. Its purpose was to explain and advocate for rejuvenation. That’s exactly what it sounds like, and in a way, also not what it sounds like.
“Rejuvenation” sounds like something that is able to make people young again. In this sense, it’s exactly what it sounds like.
“Rejuvenation” also sounds like snake oil supplements meant to part foolish pipe dreamers from their money. In this sense, it’s not what it sounds like.
The logo of Rejuvenaction, a hydra inside a glass orb.
The TL;DR is that, until very recently, scientists thought that ageing was inevitable and unchangeable. In the past thirty years or so, they started changing their minds about that. There’s plenty of evidence that ageing, intended as your health declining with time, can be slowed down. We’re not sure yet, but it might even be possible to reverse it.
At the very least, this means a longer life spent in better health; in a best-case scenario, it means you could be 150 years old and yet be as healthy as a 20-year-old, look like one, and have an indefinitely long remaining life expectancy. It’s early to tell exactly what scenario will eventually materialise.
Most people still don’t know about this, despite the fact that a number of research and advocacy organisations dedicated to rejuvenation therapies have been mushrooming all over the world in the last decade.
I think rejuvenation is a really cool idea. Many other people love it too. Others—and I think they might be the majority—react to it in ways that range from being extremely sceptical to ripping you a new one.
It’s understandable. Rejuvenation is not only what is sounds like and not what it sounds like at the same time; it’s also an old and new idea at the same time.
In a way, it’s as old as the world. There’s no shortage of legends about fountains of youth and stuff like that. People tried all sorts of batshit crazy things to achieve eternal youth or eternal life, and they didn’t work. An that’s when they were lucky. Some tried gun powder and eating mercury, and I doubt it worked out well for them.
On the other hand, the idea that science might be able to succeed where gun powder and mercury pills failed and finally bestow on us the gift of eternal youth (or something very close to that) is very new. It’s also a very radical idea that challenges the oldest status quo in human history, and people don’t always react well to things that threaten the status quo—even when the status quo will kill them. That’s why they often have concerns and objections, some of which are legit; others are dumb like a box of rocks.
I created RJ to try to explain what we know about ageing, how rejuvenation is supposed to work, and answer objections and concerns. If you’re reading this post, it means I took down Rejuvenaction, or that I will soon. However, RJ is not dead: it lives on in the RJ files, here on tmnthngs. I already have too many things to take care of, so I decided I didn’t want to have them scattered over too many places as well.
Below is a summary of RJ’s core content. I will talk about specific topics more in detail in later posts; this one is long enough as it is.
Ageing for dummies
We all know somebody whose grandmother was a total kick-ass outlier who went to the grave at age 110 fully healthy. Except she didn’t. Dying healthy is just not a thing: if she died, something essential in her body gave in, and that’s not very healthy. Surely she was healthier than most people her age if she made it that far, but you can bet that when she was 105 she was not as healthy as when she was 25. Most other people are even less healthy when they’re 105. That’s because they’re dead, and they probably have been dead for the past 10 years. They probably stopped being healthy about 20 years before that, when they started being “healthy for their age” instead. Eventually, they gave up being healthy or sick, and stopped being altogether. That’s a way to resolve the matter, I guess—not my personal favourite, but still.
None of this is an unfortunate accident. It’s a trend. As you get older, you become more likely to die, generally following what is called the Gompertz-Makeham law of mortality.
A male aged 36 has a 0.22% chance of dying before turning 37, and a life expectancy of about 42 years. A man aged 98 has a 32.13% chance of dying before turning 99, and a life expectancy of just over 2 years. After about age 30, your probability of death increases exponentially. (In a logarithmic chart, an exponential relationship looks like a straight line.) Data from Ssa.gov.
Same chart, but the the scale of the left axis is linear, which better highlights how your probability of death increases exponentially with age. Data from Ssa.gov.
The reason why that happens is that your body accumulates more and more damage as years go by. Some of it may be caused by external factors: horrible diet, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, stuff like that. Other damage is caused by the inner workings of the body itself, and it would happen despite the healthiest lifestyle.
People love making lists and categorising things, so scientists made a list of the types of damage the body accumulates with time. The result was a scientific paper called The Hallmarks of Aging, which was published in 2013 and has been all the rage in the field of biogerontology (the science studying the biology of ageing) for the better part of a decade. It’s a quite technical paper, but the core is that there’s tons of shit happening in your body at the cellular and molecular level, and that same shit is piling up in front of a fan spinning full blast. The pile gets taller and taller as you grow older, and by the time you’re 60 or 70, it has made it to the blades of the fan and some of the shit has already flown in your face. When you’re 80 or 90, a lot of shit has flown in your face, and once enough of it hits you, you’re dead.
Personally, I think death alone is bad enough as a prospect for the future, but this is not all. Not everybody is an outlier like our friend’s kick-ass grandmother, and most people suffer from a bunch of chronic health problems at the same time when they’re old. Death sucks, but dying after a few decades of increasingly crappy health is worse.
Until very recently scientists thought that this was an inevitable fact of life. They thought there was no way to prevent shit from piling up in front of the fan, nor to stop the fan from spinning. The good news is, they’re changing their minds about it. Even though there are different types of shit to deal with, each requiring a different cleaning approach, research suggests that this shitstorm can at least be slowed down, and if we put our minds to it, we might even be able to clean up all the shit that’s already flown in our faces. In other words, we might be able to fix the cellular and molecular damage that our bodies accumulate over the years.
If scientists got this right, the sum total of the different types of damage is what we call ageing. It’s what gives you grey hair, wrinkles, flabby muscles, fragile bones, poor eye sight, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and the list goes on and on. Researchers don’t know the whole story yet, but they do have ideas about how we might try to fix every type of damage. Some of these ideas are already being tested in humans. Others are still on the drawing board.
If we’re lucky, these ideas will turn into therapies to slow down ageing. That means that 80 might be the new 60, for example. It might push our average life expectancy from the current 70-ish to, say, 100, and we’d live in good health for most of it.
If we’re really lucky, these ideas will turn into therapies to reverse ageing. That means that we could take people in their old age and effectively rejuvenate them, like from 80 to 40. If we get really really good at it, we might get to a point when we can give people better and better therapies, so that when they’re ageing too much for their own good again, we can rejuvenate them once more. Rinse and repeat, our lifespans could skyrocket. We would not die of ageing anymore. We might die of other things, but not ageing.
That’s why rejuvenation also goes by the more popular name of life extension: because the end result is that life would get longer. In a way, a longer life would only be a “side effect”—and a great one, at that—of being always healthy, but the term “life extension” is still accurate. Besides, the whole point of medicine is to save lives; it’s not always able to do it, but it tries to. Until now, the lives of the elderly could not be saved because we didn’t know how to fix their health, but this might change relatively soon.
“Life extension” is a bit of an unfortunate choice of words because it shifts the focus from the health aspect of the whole thing to the longevity aspect. Don’t get me wrong—longevity is great, but when people think of longevity, they mostly think of living longer as a sick, old person, and they think it would suck. Which it would. But life extension is not about making you live longer as a sick old person, it’s about making you live longer as a young healthy person, possibly about making old people young again. That’s why I think the term “rejuvenation” is better, but “life extension” has caught on already. I will use it too, on occasion, and I mean the exact same thing as rejuvenation.
Going into the details of the hallmarks here would scare away the few readers who made it this far, so I’ll leave that for future posts. If you want to learn more about the hallmarks of ageing right now, check this playlist. It’s part of LifeXtenShow, or X10 for short, a YouTube show I co-created to popularise this topic.
Why should you want rejuvenation?
I have a better question—why wouldn’t you want it?
Rejuvenation is just an umbrella term for therapies that can keep your body in tiptop shape regardless of your age. I get it that being 150 years sounds strange enough as it is, let alone being 150 and not looking a single day past 25, but is there a good reason not to want that? Put it another way, is there a reason to want crappy health and decrepit looks when you’re 90? Is there a reason to want your health to go south on you until it takes you to the grave?
My arguments don’t boil down to just rhetorical questions. Here are a few concrete reasons to want rejuvenation.
1. Healthy longevity comes with perks.
There’s a bunch of things (too many of them, as this blog’s name suggests) I want to do, and when I’ll get to the bottom of my list, I can promise you I’ll have ten other lists ready. If I had more time than just 80-ish years total and I was always healthy, I wouldn’t have to pick. I could do more things and dedicate more time to each of them. You probably have a similar list.
In the best-case rejuvenation scenario, it would never be too late to make a different life choice. Maybe you picked a sucky career path, stuck to it for 30 years, and now regret the fact that you’re too old to change. You wouldn’t have that problem if rejuvenation was a thing. Even if you were 70, 80, or whatever, you would still have the time and energy to change. (It might be not very easy, but still easier to do than when you’re dead.)
Also, the future is coming and I’d like to see it. Some people think that humanity will blow itself up, global-warm itself to extinction, or kill itself in some other spectacular way, but I tend to think more positive. I think the future will be cool, and I’d hate to miss out on it. I’m not sure if you see it that way, but if you don’t, keep in mind that a pessimistic attitude is bad for your health.
2. The perks aren’t just for yourself.
People die of ageing. And when people die, generally some other people suffer because of it. I’d like a world were fewer people suffer because someone else died. Can you imagine how it must feel to be 80 and have to attend funeral after funeral, because your friends and family members keep dying on you? I’d also like a world where you are never a burden on others, regardless of your age. If you’re so sick that you’re no longer independent (which with ageing happens a lot), you’re causing trouble to others, and that’s not nice. It’s only fair if your family and/or society takes care for you if you are too unwell to do it yourself, but if we could keep you fully healthy and independent at any age, everybody would win. (Especially you.)
Also, will somebody think of the children™?! I’m not a children person myself, but many others are. Normally, you’re long dead before your children even look old, but one day they will probably die of ageing too, if we don’t do something about it. You may not be around to see it, but it will happen anyway. Maybe we won’t be lucky enough to see rejuvenation happen during our lifetime, but if we work on it now, maybe one day it could save the life of your children. Isn’t that a nice consolation prize?
3. The perks are for everybody.
Ever wondered what else your favourite scientist, activist, historical figure, or [insert great person here] could have accomplished if they hadn’t died of ageing? I do. And I tend to think that we could have benefited from another 50 years of Einstein, for example. In principle, we could benefit from any person living longer and contributing their growing experience.
Also, getting old and sick is rather costly for society in general, because of growing medical expenses, pensions, and so on. Rejuvenation could mitigate that cost, or even eliminate it. It’s not about not wanting to put in the money for those things; it’s that rejuvenation would be a better solution to put money into, because it would keep people healthy and independent for longer, maybe forever (loosely speaking), which is good in its own right and for its own sake and also happens to have financial benefits.
Last but not least, having a longer life ahead might change people’s perspective about global, long-term problems. For example, if you expect to be dead before the worst effects of global warming hit us, you have the luxury of not giving a flying rat’s arse about it. If you expect to be alive by then, you might care more. It would be better if you cared either way, but that could still be a way to get at least some people to act more sensibly.
4. Ageing is a huge problem.
Besides the obvious—ageing makes people sick and then kills them—there are larger-scale issues. The world population is ageing quickly, and that means a lot of sick and disabled people to take care of, possibly more than our healthcare systems can handle. It also means boatloads of pensions more to pay, and that can be difficult too, because as the number of elderly is going up, the number of working-age people is going down. Rejuvenation could mitigate and possibly even eliminate this problem at the root.
The chart above is from the UN’s World Population Prospects 2019 Highlights publication, linked in the previous paragraph.
If ageing is a problem, why don’t more people notice it?
There’s more than one reason.
1. Appeal to normality.
Ageing and dying of ageing are normal for us. That means they’re commonly observed. The catch is, the word “normal” is also used to mean that something is alright. So, often people conclude that if something is normal in the sense that it is commonly observed, then it’s also alright.
That’s not how it works. To decide if something is good or bad for you, you should consider its outcome, not how common that thing is. In the past, it was pretty normal for black people to be enslaved. Was it good for them? Nope. It’s pretty normal for cows to be slaughtered and eaten. Is it good for them? I doubt they’d see it that way. Being naturally immune to HIV is anything but normal. Is it good to be naturally immune to HIV? Yes. Ageing is normal alright, but is it good for you? Well, first it makes you sick and then it kills you. That doesn’t sound very good.
2. Ignoring the elephant in the room.
Ignoring inconvenient truths is a pretty normal human behaviour. (Which doesn’t mean it’s good.) When an inconvenient truth is also something you can’t do anything about, whatever reasons you had to ignore it get even stronger. Ageing is unquestionably bad: it makes you sick and then it kills you, and you can’t do anything about it by yourself. That’s a great reason to ignore it and maybe event pretend it’s not that bad either. Now that science might be able to attack ageing, though, this attitude stands in the way of it.
Ever noticed how they call old age “the golden years”? Or how they describe the process of ageing to death as a “walk into the sunset”?
Yeah, well, they’re terrible metaphors. There’s nothing golden about losing your health and dying. Sure, you retire, but that’s because you’re not really in shape to go to work every day anymore. I’d rather be in shape and go to work than be too sick to work. Also, I tend to prefer walks into the sunset that don’t make me sick in the process and don’t kill me.
These metaphors sound poetic and all, but they’re just a smokescreen to hide the fact that ageing is nothing to be happy about. People have been repeating these and similar crappy metaphors about ageing since forever, and many other people have been brainlessly parroting them. And you know what they say about lies—repeat one a million times and it will become true.
4. Mixing up two different kinds of ageing.
You’ll hear plenty of people saying that ageing has its advantages, like making you wiser. That kind of thing hinges on two hidden assumptions:
- biological ageing and chronological ageing are one and the same, and
- more time = more wisdom.
The first assumption is just wrong. Chronological ageing is the passing of time. Biological ageing is damage piling up in your body. Damage does need time to pile up in your body, but time itself is not inflicting the damage. Different species (and different people) age at different rates; some species don’t seem to age at all, even though the passing of time is the same for everybody. This shows that chronological ageing and biological ageing are not the same. They just happen together, which is probably why they both are called “ageing”.
The second assumption is true only as a rule of thumb. You don’t get automagically wiser with the passing of time; it depends a lot on what you do during that time. If you fall in a coma for 60 years and then wake up, I can promise you you’re not going to be any wiser than you were before, and that’s because you didn’t do anything the whole time. This is also true of life extension: if life extension makes you live for 1000 years but you spend them sitting on your butt, all you’re gonna get out of it is a sore butt and no wisdom. More time can give you the chance to become wiser if you use it well, and the same is true of any other quality associated with chronological ageing. One thing is sure: a failing body is not what makes you smarter/wiser/more experienced etc.
Answers to concerns and objections
If this is your first rejuvenation rodeo, you’re bound to have at least one or two concerns. Below are the most common objections, concerns, and short answers to them. In some cases, a lengthier and more detailed answer would be in order, but I’d rather keep that for separate posts. Note that some objections are linked to an X10 video response.
Ageing is natural. Rejuvenation is tampering with nature. (Video response)
Correct. Ageing is natural just as much as it is normal. And in the same way that being normal doesn’t make it good, being natural doesn’t either. Malaria, cancer, and smallpox are all natural things, and they all suck. On the other hand, mosquito nets to prevent malaria, immunotherapy to treat cancer, and the vaccine against smallpox are good things, even though they’re most definitely not natural. I hate it when people try to define what being human means, but I think that “tampering” with nature is part of our… well, nature. It’s because of our tampering that we don’t regularly die of infections in our 30s anymore and aren’t eaten by predators.
“We must continually remind ourselves that there is a difference between what is natural and what is good. Nothing is more ‘natural’ than being mauled and eaten by a bear.” (Sam Harris)
What if life extension allowed dictators live forever? (Video response)
At this point, it’s very hard to say if we’ll ever get so good at life extension that one could expect to live forever. Apart from that, there are two other minor details.
First, sitting about and waiting for a dictator to die of old age isn’t the greatest strategy. What if he leaves a heir to take over after his death? Do we wait that one out too? Or hope the son is better than the father? I’ve heard better plans.
Second, if we decided to throw life extension into the dustbin of dangerous ideas so that no dictator could possibly use it to live forever, we’d be throwing away the baby with the bathwater. For the sake of making a few dictators die, we’d let the entire fucking world age to death as well. That seems a little excessive. I am against violence, but if a choice had to be made between the entire world ageing to death and putting a bullet in the heads of a few tyrants, I know which one I’d pick.
Rejuvenation would be too expensive for normal people to afford. Who would want a world where the rich get to live for centuries and the poor rot in shoddy hospices until death? (Video response)
Not me. But I don’t want a world where people keep getting sick and dying because of ageing either. I get it that you don’t want to give the super rich yet another privilege that the poor can only dream of, but not creating therapies against ageing for that reason would be like cutting off the nose to spite the face, and it wouldn’t help anyone. Here’s why.
1. Rich people are people too.
The problem with “only the rich would have the therapies” is not that the beneficiaries happen to have a large bank account. The problem is that not everyone is a beneficiary. If for some absurd reason only poor people had rejuvenation therapies and the rich aged to death, it wouldn’t be any better. It would be the exact same problem we started with, just flipped the other way around: inequality of access. Some people like to think that all rich people are evil bastards who deserve death; I like to think that no one has the right to decide who deserves death or how long others should live.
2. Schadenfreude is not very helpful.
If we assumed for the sake of the argument that rejuvenation therapies would be always so ridiculously expensive that only the Bill Gates of the world could afford them, then whether we created them or not wouldn’t change the fact that ordinary people would not get them. This means that not creating rejuvenation therapies would not benefit ordinary people. It wouldn’t damage the super rich either: it would simply deprive them of a potential benefit. Some would gloat over that, but it’s hardly a way to reduce the rich-poor gap. Reducing the gap just by making the rich worse off isn’t useful. (Relevant.) The best way to reduce it would be to make poorer people better off, and I don’t think this is a zero-sum game where the only way to do that is to make the rich worse off.
3. Probably, rejuvenation therapies will be very expensive only at first.
Most new things are expensive at the beginning, but they generally become affordable over time, because we find more efficient and cheaper ways to produce them. Genome sequencing is a classic example: it plummeted from $100,000,000 dollars down to $1,000 in less than twenty years. So it’s possible that, initially, only rich people will get rejuvenation because they’re the only ones who can afford them, but keep in mind that early adopters get early versions. And early versions tend to be less effective and less safe than later versions. Put it another way, billionaires paying tons of money for the very first rejuvenation therapies would pay to be guinea pigs. Thanks to their money and the data that scientists got out of that, better and cheaper rejuvenation therapies could be created, benefiting a larger part of the population. Rinse and repeat. I’m not saying that billionaires who did this would do it for the greater good; I’m just saying that, regardless of their reasons, this would likely be the result.
4. Governments may have a financial reason to pay for rejuvenation.
Medical expenses for the elderly are high, and to that, you need to add the cost of pensions. The treatments we have today can’t actually cure the elderly or make them fit for work again. They can make them feel a bit better and postpone the inevitable, which is better than nothing but not by much.
If we had therapies that could significantly slow down ageing, people would be able to work for longer and pay taxes for longer, which means they would produce more wealth than they do now before retiring and getting their pension. Also, their medical expenses would be reduced, because they’d be healthier for longer. If we had therapies that could fully reverse ageing, pensions would become virtually useless because people would always be fit for work, and the only major medical expense for the elderly would be rejuvenation itself. The bottom line is, therapies against ageing would reduce public spending and increase public income, and governments love that. It might simply be more convenient for them to pay for the rejuvenation treatments of their citizens than let it be a rich-only privilege.
Where would we get the money to pay for the retirement of an army of undying old people? (Video response)
Retirement is not meant to be a holiday. Retirement exists because ageing makes people unfit for work—some more, some less—and unable to support themselves. If we had therapies to slow down ageing, people would be able to work for longer, hence contributing more money to fund future pensions, among other things. If we had therapies to reverse ageing, people would be able to work indefinitely. In this case we wouldn’t need retirement or pensions anymore, but retirement could still exist and be regulated differently so that it would actually become a temporary holiday.
Am I saying that we should keep working in our 80s and 90s?! Why, yes, I am. In my opinion, people who would rather get sick and die if it was the only way to never work again have problem with their jobs, not with life extension. (You can read a more detailed article about the issue of pensions here. )
Aren’t we too many on this planet already? Living longer would only make that worse.
This is a complex question. I’ll sum up the main points here, but for a more detailed answer, you should watch a few X10 videos that I’m currently working on. I’ll write a post or something when they’re ready. Maybe I’ll also write a lengthier article, I don’t know yet. Anyway:
Current population growth
The human population didn’t always grow very fast, and it will not always do so. It did it for a while during the 1900s, as part of the demographic transition. Our growth rate has been falling since the 1960s, and the United Nations forecast that the population will grow more and more slowly until 2100, when it will hit almost 11 billion.
Chart credit: Our World in Data
At that point, there’s about a 27% chance (page 6 of the link) that it will stabilise. So it’s not like we’re headed towards an overpopulation catastrophe at the moment, regardless of what sensational media would have you think. You can find all the data here. You might like this video by Kurzgesagt as well.
“Aren’t we too many” with respect to what? Space? Resources? Environmental impact? Other stuff? In some cases the answer may be yes (e.g., environmental impact), in others it’s definitely no (e.g., space). Either way, none of these answers is set in stone. It all depends on our degree of scientific and technological development.
Right now we have about 7.8 billion people on Earth. Feeding this many people 300 years ago was absolutely unthinkable. It’s not like the Earth could not possibly support that many people; we just didn’t know how to do it. Today we do: while poverty and hunger haven’t been fully eradicated, they have been falling for decades and they currently are at an all-time low. This is despite the fact our population ballooned in the 1900s. The way we produce most of our energy and the lifestyle of the average westerner are problematic, and if we kept them unchanged while the population grew significantly, the problem would definitely get worse. We could solve it by halving the population, but also by reducing the impact of our lifestyle and changing how we produce our energy. If we could do that thanks to science, we would be able to support more people while reducing our environmental impact. Scientists work all the time to innovative solutions to allow us to do more with less, like nuclear fusion, artificial meat, hydroponics, GMOs, etc. The question is whether scientific progress will be faster than population growth.
Impact of life extension on population growth
Nobody knows for a fact what the impact will be, because it depends on many different variables. When will life extension therapies be available? How widespread will they be? How effective will they be? How long will it take for them to become more widespread and more effective? Will rejuvenated people be able to make more babies? Will they want to? Nobody knows. What we do know is that:
- Life extension therapies will not magically appear overnight.
We’re not talking of a single youth pill that instantly makes you 40 years younger. We’re talking about several different treatments that will each take different amounts of time to be developed and become available. Until ageing will be under full medical control, you can’t expect lifespan to skyrocket: the catch with age-related diseases is that if one doesn’t kill you, another one will. Partial control of ageing will probably lead to only modest increases in lifespan. (See the middle of the linked interview.) Huge increases might follow only once we can fully control ageing, not before.
- The main driver of population growth is the fertility rate.
Of course, longevity does play a role in population growth, but nowhere near as much as the fertility rate does. The fertility rate is the number of babies that the average woman will have in her lifetime. If that number is above 2.1 (the so-called replacement rate), the population will grow exponentially; the larger the fertility rate, the faster the growth. If the fertility rate is exactly 2.1, the population will tend to stabilise, because each generation is the same size. If it’s below 2.1, the population will start to shrink. Right now, the global fertility rate is below 2.5 and falling, projected to go below replacement rate in 2060.
Chart credit: UN World Population Division
Today, there are far more births each year than there are deaths from any cause. This means that deaths are not offsetting births, and by a long shot. By 2100, deaths are projected to rise significantly, while births are projected to modestly decline after a long period of relative stability. This is what is supposed to halt the growth of human population, but only because births aren’t growing. If they kept growing like they did in the 50s and 60s, it would take a lot more death than just that caused by ageing to offset them.
You can slow down population growth by decreasing births or by increasing deaths. If push comes to shove, I think that decreasing births is a more ethical solution. I don’t think it’s fair to ask existing people to die so that others can be born. It’s not like unborn people are waiting in a line to be born and you have to send them back if existing people don’t die first. Unborn people don’t exist. They don’t lose anything if they’re not born, and they don’t suffer because they weren’t born. There is no “they”. It’s hypothetical people we’re talking about, not real ones. On the other hand, real people—living, breathing people—lose everything by dying, suffer because of it, and their deaths make others suffer too.
Besides, we’re not dealing with an either-or situation. It’s not either life extension or making babies. If your life expectancy is 300 years rather than 70, you’re in no rush to make babies now. You can wait until you’re 150, or 200. Having babies later would significantly slow down population growth and buy us more time to develop technologies to support a larger population with less environmental impact.
If old people never die and there is no turnover, how can our species progress?
I’m not so sure that generational turnover is such a crucial factor to human progress that I would ask people to die for its sake. Besides, this question relies on an implicit assumption: older people aren’t capable to bring about progress and only stand in its way, whether they’re rejuvenated or not. In part, we do lose neuroplasticity as we age, and that can make it difficult for us to learn new things or think outside of the box, but that is far from a proof that old people are useless obstacles to progress. Besides, restoration of neuroplasticity for the treatment of psychiatric disorders is an active field of research, and any discoveries made for that purpose might be useful against brain ageing as well.
With all the trouble in the world, the future looks bleak. What’s the point to extend life to live in a more troubled world?
I am no clairvoyant, so I don’t know what the future will be like, but there are reasons to think it will be good. Rather, there’s evidence that we can make it good. If you take a look at websites like Our World in Data, or Gapminder, you can see the trends of global issues over the years, decades, and even centuries.
The world is more peaceful than ever, hunger and poverty are at historical lows, education is on the rise. Is everything going wonderfully? No. We’ve got quite an issue with global warming and inequality is still a thing, for example, and there are other problems too, but there’s no reason to think we can’t fix these things. We’re a species of fixers, there’s ridiculously overwhelming evidence of that. Wearing my pessimist’s cap and saying that the world sucks beyond repair wouldn’t help.
Even if the world did suck that much, I don’t see how ageing to death would make it any better. I can see myself saying: “The world sucks, but at least I’m alive and healthy,” but I really can’t imagine myself saying: “The world sucks, but at least I have three different chronic conditions that are competing to kill me and are making my life miserable in the meantime.”
Aren’t there more urgent problems than ageing? (Video response)
I don’t think that arranging global issues in order of gravity and solving them one at a time from the most to the least grave is a great idea. That’s because
- we can solve more than one problem at a time, so there’s no reason to keep ageing (or any other issue) on a waiting list
- global issues normally cause (or will cause) somebody to suffer and/or die. I think it’s disrespectful to say that somebody’s suffering or death is a more urgent problem than someone else’s
- a problem can be less serious than another and still be a horrible tragedy
- a problem that is not so serious today can be a looming catastrophe tomorrow if you don’t pay attention to it (like population ageing)
That being said, the vast majority of deaths in the world are caused by non-communicable diseases (that is, diseases that are not infectious), and the ultra-vast majority of the people who die are at least 50 years old.
Chart credit: Our World In Data
Almost all the topmost causes of death are strongly age-related, and—surprise!—they become more dominant in older age groups. We’re talking tens of thousands of people dying of ageing everyday. Is it better than if they died in their 40s, like it was in the past? Sure, I give you that. Is it generally good? No, they’re still dying and most of the time not well. So I wouldn’t say that ageing isn’t an urgent problem, or that deaths by ageing are less important than other deaths. In my view, all deaths are equally bad.
It’s unlikely that rejuvenation therapies will become reality during our life time. Why bother?
We don’t know what kind of rejuvenation therapies will be available when. Some scientists are very optimistic that it won’t take more than a few decades, others think it will take longer. But that’s not the point. The point is, the sooner we get serious about it, the better. Even if it was true that most people alive today will die before life extension becomes a thing, working hard on it today could spare their children a future where we’re still powerless before the diseases of ageing.
Nobody really wants to live forever
I think nobody really doesn’t, but that’s just my gut feeling. Anyway, rejuvenation is not an immortality pill. As the name suggests, rejuvenation therapies would make you young again; they wouldn’t stop you from ageing. This means that, if you stopped the therapies, you’d age to death just like you will do now. If nothing else killed you first, that is. I don’t think living forever is impossible (or easy), but this is not really what we’re talking about here.
As a side note, if you don’t want to live forever, that means that you want to die at some point. Sure, knock yourself out. I have no right to tell you what you should do with your life, nor do I want to. However, regardless of when it is that you want to die, you should keep in mind that it’s a one-way trip.
So, before you go, you might want to ask yourself if you want to die because you thought about it long and hard and you determined that this is indeed your wish, or if the statement “I don’t want to live forever” isn’t just a cheap one-liner that you’re repeating because nearly everyone else does to exorcise their own fear of death and/or effortlessly pass themselves for seasoned moral philosophers.
Death and/or mortality give life meaning
Talk about cheap one-liners… Good grief, no! Death gives meaning to life in the same way that a kick in the teeth gives meaning to having teeth. My life is meaningful because of the things and people I fill it with, not because of an expiration date. I think it’s really childish to say that something is valuable, precious, or meaningful only if it’s in short supply or limited in time. If anything, death and mortality can deprive my life of meaning, because they can take away from me all the things I find meaningful. (Actually, it’s more like death and mortality can take me away from the things I find meaningful, but now I’m nitpicking.)
At any rate, meaning is not absolute. What’s meaningful to me can be meaningless to you, and vice-versa, so if anyone thinks that their life would be meaningless if they never died and wanted to die for that reason, I won’t stand in their way. I will appreciate it if they won’t stand in mine, and surely other people who don’t need death to have a meaningful life and don’t want to die would appreciate it too.
In death we’re all equal
I’d rather be alive and unequal than dead and equal, thank you. (Also, that’s another cheap one-liner.)
Living for a really long time would be boring, let alone forever
We can’t really say that because nobody lived that long to see it first-hand. Besides, bored people tend to look for new interests to dedicate themselves to more than they look for ways to die. As the name of this blog implies, I very much doubt I would personally run out of things to do as it is, let alone after another couple of centuries of human progress. During that time, you can bet that tons of new books to read, music to listen to, games to play, movies to watch, new science to learn, and things we can’t even imagine will have been created or discovered. In any case, my philosophy is that until the point where I’m so bored that I’d rather die actually comes, I’d rather live. Not creating life extension for fear that living too long might be boring would be a binding agreement to die for no good reason, and sure as hell I’m not going to sign that.
Without death, we can’t reach God
Short answer: I’m an atheist, so that’s not my problem.
Long answer: if God exists and is all-powerful, I wouldn’t worry about not reaching him. If he wants me dead, I’m sure he’ll find a way, regardless of life extension. I’m just a little iffy about meeting someone who wants me dead, though.
That’s all, folks
What you just read was the very essence of Rejuvenaction. Blog entries on this topic are bound to happen, and when they do, I’ll categorise them as RJ files. The take-home message is that rejuvenation is just advanced medicine with a cool name—rather, it will be just medicine, hopefully one day soon. Cutting-edge medicine that was thought to be impossible, able to do something as incredible as slowing down or reversing ageing, but still medicine.
If you want to learn more and need more evidence that I’m not making all of this up, I recommend these links, though there are many more.