I recently read that due to medical and technical advances, the first person to attain the age of a hundred and fifty has already been born.
Are you that person?
Well, I suppose that unless you are below 5 years of age, you cannot be him/her.
Since science has discovered the molecular mechanisms that regulate senescence and life span, humans might be able to extend life.
Nevertheless, surprisingly, over 100 times more money is spent on R&D for the cure of baldness than for the cure of ageing. Do we have our priorities right?
In any case, we have to—and should—contemplate the possibility that we might be able to alter the lifetime of life itself. Ok, not everyone needs to contemplate this right now. So, for younger readers (below 22 or so), spare yourself this and read something else instead. For example, this post My-10-golden-rules-if-I-were-22-I’d-wish-that-someone-would-have-taught-me/
To everyone else WARNING: LONG POST TILL THE END
To assist in contemplation, it might be helpful to have a rational view on the listed Pros and Cons of Death.
1) Knowing that our life is so short makes every moment and every interaction more precious. The happiness and love we find and make in life is all that we get. With endless time, nothing would be special. With no loss or sacrifice, we wouldn’t appreciate what we have.
2) Death is what makes this cyclical renewal and steady advance in organisms possible. Ageing and death permits a species to grow and flourish. And four billion years of death have served the human species well. The best genes, the best art, and the best ideas have been passed on.
3) Natural selection generally ensures that the child-who-survives-to-reproduce is an improvement on the parent (albeit infinitesimally so, for that is how evolution works). It’s better for the parent to step out of the way and allow its (superior) child to succeed in its place. Put more simply, death stops a parent from competing with its children and grandchildren for the same limited resources. We die so that our youth—those better versions of ourselves—can flourish. We have our time on Earth, and now it’s time to get out of the way.
4) Have you ever asked a hundred-year-old if he/she wants to reach a hundred and one? The answer is usually yes. Now ask the hundred-year-old’s children and relatives. They might give a different answer but in a graying world, the notion of natural limits and a fair share of life becomes taboo. Why is that?
5) In the olden days, people broke their hips and died, which was great; now they fix them. The world was a lot simpler when people just died when they were supposed to. Younger people are here, and they need to take our place. And they’ll need money for something other than their parents’ practical nurses; they’ll need the jobs that older people won’t retire from; they’ll need the bandwidth that old people fill with talk of tummy tucks and Viagra. And they’ll need to have some decades out of the shadow of their parents.
6) The whole profession of economics is based on the very idea that there is population growth and inflation. What would happen if birth rates further decline? Population growth rates will peak very soon. With declining populations and people living longer, could there be nonstop deflation? Many economists predict years of global deflation based on this premise. We’re going to learn a lot of really interesting things about money velocity in the coming years. Older people simply don’t spend so much on consumption (new houses, new cars, new gadgets, new clothing), though, yes, they do spend more on healthcare. Still, can an economy strive based on higher health care spending alone?
7) The single greatest predictable problem facing us in the 21st century is ageing. And though each of us confronts the problem individually, our society is still existentially threatened by the impacts of a population that is increasingly afflicted by age-related diseases. By the way, there’s a huge investment idea hidden in that problem.
8) Death is a natural part of life.
Which brings me to some of the reasons for not dying that soon—the Cons:
1) It’s at least as natural fighting death.
2) In the last few years, the community of scientists that researched ageing has become convinced that we can significantly increase healthspans (not just lifespans). The consensus among the top scientists is that we have the ability to delay the processes that culminate in the diseases of ageing. So if we can age healthily, then those additional years would really add value to our lives.
3) Anti-ageing biotechnologies have two major benefits. Not only are anti-ageing therapies far less costly than disease treatments, they also keep people healthier longer, so that they are able to move out of the recipient column into the contributor column. So the economic balance sheet is improved from both sides.
4) The concept of anti-ageing medicine that actually works could become the biggest industry that ever existed by some huge margins. And investing in it could provide the resources for enjoyment of an extended healthy lifespan without money concerns for the early movers.
5) Older people consume less power and fewer products per capita. In 2010, climate scientist Brian O’Neill and his colleagues analyzed that effect. They concluded that global graying might supply as much as 29% of the reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions needed to avert a climate catastrophe this century.
6) If life is fun at the moment, because one is healthy and youthful both mentally and physically, then one is not likely to want to die in the next year or two. And if in the year or two down the road, life is still fun, because one is still youthful and so on, then the same would apply, and I can’t see a time when death would become desirable.
Still, for the time being, there is an end to life for all of us.
A reasonable approach to that end would be to plan for it, and then to prepare for it (make a will, complete an Advance Medical Directive, appoint a proxy, ‘use things’ deemed valueless by the next of kin, set personal matters straight, plan where to live = senior community, etc).
Because we should accept and adapt, but we should never give up. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.
As I’m fond of saying, everything in life is a matter of choice, though there are two things in which we have no choice in.
The first is that we have to die, because death is an absolute certainty; the second is that we have to live until we die.
Nonetheless, do understand that everything else in your life that you think you have to do, or are forced to do, is a choice.
Now that I have philosophized about our end, a fair question of yours could be: How long would I like to ‘roam the earth’?
Truthfully, it’s a bit of a challenge to give a concrete number. 88 comes to mind, but I guess it should be exactly when regrets take the place of my dreams.
I’m aware that this post is quite different from my usual topics on biases and prospering slowly, still, ageing and health are topics that concern us all. And if there are possibilities to increase your healthspan, then the attention you pay to optimizing your health would make all the hard work invested in your investments even more important and useful.
I recognize that my list of Pros and Cons is incomplete and imbalanced, so do share with us your views in the comments box below.
What are your thoughts on dying? Are there any Cons that totally outweigh the Pros for you?
“The greatest thing in life is to die young—but delay it as long as possible.” — George Bernard Shaw
“Enjoy your life, son, ‘cause nobody gets out with a dime and nobody gets out alive.” — John Amos Sr
“You don’t get to choose how you are going to die or when. You can only decide how you are going to live.” – Joan Baez
“I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” — Woody Allen
“Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.” — Woody Allen
“I saw that show, 50 Things To Do Before You Die. I would have thought the obvious one was ‘Shout For Help’.” – Jimmy Carr
1) There has been a rapid increase in the average life span of an individual over the past hundred years. And this has occurred through a combination of lowered infant mortality and better hygiene, among other beneficial medical and public health practices. These advances have added about 0.4 years to people’s total expected life spans in each year since 1960. But this increase in life span is itself increasing; it’s accelerating. If this acceleration continues, something curious will happen at a certain point. When we begin adding more than one year to the expected life span—a simple shift from less than one to greater than one—we get what is called actuarial escape velocity. When we are add more than one year per year, we can effectively live forever. So a slight change of the underlying state of affairs in our technological and medical abilities—facts about the world around us—can allow people to be essentially immortal.