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The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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Would You Choose to Live to 120?

Posted November 19, 2015 2:56 PM by Hannes
Pathfinder Tags: life extension

Some time ago I read a mind-shattering, kinda-fictional book called Einstein's Dreams, a series of short stories speculating about Einstein's dreaming activity while working on his theory of relativity. Most of these dreams were about radical conceptions of time, and one particularly poignant story imagined that people lived forever, an idea that's often heralded as desirable, a la the Fountain of Youth or the Holy Grail.

In the story, though, things play out in a less utopian way, and all of society splits into two factions: people who embrace living forever, and those who find it unbearable and ritually kill themselves at a preordained age. The latter group chooses this path because, bluntly, their ancestors refuse to die off. So instead of only their mothers hounding them about getting married or quitting smoking or the like, they're also pestered by their immortal grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, ad nauseum. Hence the ritual suicide.

Fast forwarding to 2015, life extension science is a legitimate thing, at least according to futurists. A 2013 issue of National Geographic ran a feature story on the genes behind longevity behind a cover displaying a baby and the caption "This Baby Will Live to 120," a statement many are beginning to believe. Beyond the technoscientific question of "how," the question of "why" and the ramifications of a longer lifespan might not be answerable, at least at this point.

Proponents of life extension--sometimes called experimental gerontology or anti-aging medicine--have presented a number of possible strategies for extending one's life. Most currently discussed methods focus on herbs and antioxidant supplements, but some of the more far-fetched options include caloric restriction (identified by research as a front-runner), cloning of failing body parts, cryonics (ahem, Ted Williams), and, on the sci-fi side, "mind uploading" into a new, fresher body.

Extending human longevity is historically viewed as an improvement; the fact that global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900 makes me want to get up and scream "Yay, science!" And numerous literary and religious works, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Bible, promote the idea that a long, possibly eternal life is desirable. Many scientists since Francis Bacon have viewed their work, at least in part, as involving the abolishment or delay of death.

The possibility of longer human lives raises a host of problems, however. Similar to Einstein's dream, the world would be packed with ever-increasing numbers of advanced-age individuals, likely requiring additional care and loads of medication to stay healthy. And interestingly, a 2013 Pew study found that over half of survey respondents answered the question, "Would you choose to undergo medical treatments to slow the aging process and live to 120 or more" with a resounding "no." A similarly sized group figured that life extension was a bad idea because longer life spans would put an increased strain on America's natural resources, and that life extension procedures would probably be exclusive to wealthy individuals anyway. Two-thirds of respondents said they'd like to live between 79 and 100, curiously just above the current US life expectancy of 78.8 years.

Shaky public opinion as to whether this topic is "good" hasn't deterred passionate life extension activists. There are grassroots communities like the catchily titled Death is Obsolete blog. On the political side there have been Longevity parties--groups advocating life extension research and transhumanism in general--in Russia, the US, and other countries since 2012.

Practical life extension is still a pipe dream, of course, and any idea seems weird to the populace when it's first introduced. Personally, I'd prefer to exit the world on my body's terms and be replaced by a "newer model"--hopefully in the form of my kids.

Image credit: Boston Public Library / CC BY 2.0

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#1

Re: Would You Choose to Live to 120?

11/19/2015 4:13 PM

"the fact that global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900 makes me want to get up and scream "Yay, science!""

That fact is misleading.

It's not that we have extended the lifespan of humans. It is because we have reduced the early mortality death rate due to better medical care.

Basically, less people are dying during childhood and young adulthood and moving the average lifespan closer to the what it would be if humans were not culled out early due to decease, famine, and accidents.

At this point we are extrapolating that medicine will be able delay normal dying by organ replacement, cell rejuvenation, or whatever longevity of the month theorem you want to subscribe to. It may be possible that it comes to pass, but there are no real promising breakthrough that are known to be imminent, so take what you hear and read with a grain of salt.

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Re: Would You Choose to Live to 120?

11/19/2015 4:35 PM

That's an important distinction. I'm always shocked to read the shockingly low life expectancy for people living four or five hundred years ago, only to realize that those who made it to 21 had much better prognoses; so juvenile deaths were pulling the overall number much lower.

And yeah, when the transhumanists talk about extending life, it's just as easy to say they're delaying death...

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Re: Would You Choose to Live to 120?

11/19/2015 4:40 PM

The secret is organ donation, specifically donating your brain.

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Re: Would You Choose to Live to 120?

11/19/2015 4:56 PM

Well there are a few people who I would like to outlive purely for spite so yea I'll take the 120+!

Personally family genetics and history pretty much say I will only get to 85 - 95 at best.

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Re: Would You Choose to Live to 120?

11/20/2015 1:50 AM

I would like to live to just before my money runs out.....as long as quality of life is still good that is, no sense in prolonging life if you are miserable....If you haven't lived enough by the time you get old, you have only yourself to blame...thinking things are going to get better as you get old, is not a good bet....If I could stay like I was at 20, then yes sign me up.....but it's more likely that my mind could be downloaded into an android body, just not the same.....

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Re: Would You Choose to Live to 120?

11/20/2015 10:18 AM

"but it's more likely that my mind could be downloaded into an android body, just not the same....."

But what if we could program your downloaded mind to not notice the difference between your old body and your android one?

Or as the mice said to Arthur Dent:

Mouse #1: "We can fit you with a robot brain, if you'd like."

Arthur: "I- I don't understand..."

Mouse #2: "Yes ... a simple one should suffice."

Arthur: "A SIMPLE one!?"

Zaphod: "Yeah, you'd just have to program it to say 'what,' 'I don't understand,' and 'where's the tea,' and nobody would be able to tell the difference."

Arthur: "WHAT!?!?!"

Ford Prefect: "See, just like that."

Arthur: "I'D know the difference!"

Zaphod: "No, no. See, that's the beauty of it, you'd be programmed not to."

Personally, I think I'll see if I can hitch a ride off this rock with the dolphins.

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Re: Would You Choose to Live to 120?

11/20/2015 12:53 PM

I'll wait until the bugs are worked out....

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