Life Extension

Is aging just an unnecessary evolutionary technique to keep the human population balanced? With the proliferation of anti-aging studies and the prospect of space colonization I’m beginning to think we should consider the pursuit of life extension for the sake of preserving an individual’s experience of life. I personally don’t really give in to the philosophical or religious arguments against it. Some species reverse their own aging naturally and some don’t age at all, and we all share the same genetic possibilities.

To clarify, I’m not suggesting true immortality like many propose. That seems a bit too radical a notion for serious modern discussion. My view for the time-being is that we should preserve an individual’s youth throughout their life and as a result we could see moderate life extension like maybe in the range of 30-50 years, for starters. But those additional years are lived with the same vigor as someone at the peak of their physicality like a middle-aged athlete. Maintaining a body at the end of its life is wrought with high costs both medically and economically, and could be a burden on family and friends. One of my main hopes with life extension too would be to keep geniuses and innovators alive who could still contribute to society in important ways. I’m sure Steve Jobs would have a lot to say with how Apple is ran today, and I bet a debate between Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein would’ve been fascinating. One of the advantages of our current lifespans is the fact that we do have people old enough to have experienced decades worth of history that they can pass down to generations first hand.

Different species have evolved survival mechanisms unique to their niche and scale. For our ancestors it made evolutionary sense to keep the human body alive until around age 30, because that was about how long it took to raise offspring to an age where they could fend for themselves (that, and we were less equipped to deal with the dangers of the environment). In the 21st century the average life-expectancy is 70-85 depending on where you live. To the generations alive today this seems absolutely normal. This is the way it’s been for decades and we are getting by just fine. We are conditioned to the milestones of the average lifespan: birth, primary school, high school, college, marriage and family, retirement, death. That’s just how life is, right? Many say that life extension (and not to mention immortality) is unethical and that it is unnatural for humans to do this. Modern biology has taught us that all life on Earth is based on the same chemical code known as DNA. By combining the four base pairs that comprise DNA, you can build an organism with various genes and proteins that allow the organism to survive in the world. Many genes are common among different species, while some species possess traits that make them unique to the animal kingdom. One important thing that we’ve learned in biology is that many organisms possess genes in their DNA that are currently dormant (not useful to the organism in question anymore), and we have also found that it’s possible to take genes that are prominent in one organism and splice them into another organism’s genome. My favorite example is the gene for bioluminescence which is what allows deep-sea, light-deprived animals to deter or attract predators/prey. This gene has been inserted into everything from trees, toys, and neurons for various purposes. We now know that genes are interchangeable and can function properly in organisms that don’t naturally express them. Like previously stated, there are many organisms that can reverse their aging, some that age very slowly, and some that can freeze their aging in suspended animation. If it’s possible for these organisms to express anti-aging traits like this, then why can’t humans attempt to implement that into their own genome?

If humans radically increase their lifespans, then overpopulation will be an expected problem. If nobody is dying then we are not freeing up space for future generations. My simple response to this concern is space colonization. But if space colonization seems too-far off to you, then I propose expanding our idea of what we consider suitable real-estate on Earth. 70% of Earth’s surface is water, so why are we not utilizing that space. Floating cities would be an amazing engineering feat and could steal away a large fraction of the human population living on land. Energy could be produced through a combination of wave, wind, and solar energy. Storms could be handled with bio-domes or gigantic walls. Google has already proven that transatlantic cables can cross the vast ocean and connect people overseas. The possibilities with floating cities are endless and I know that if the idea were seriously brainstormed then creative humans could make it possible, safe, and sustainable. However I think the holy grail of addressing overpopulation will be outsourcing humans to space. I personally would be the first to sign up for citizenship aboard an Earth-orbiting space colony. Space has ample real-estate for massive space structures the size of whole continents. And then there are the various rocky worlds spread among the solar system. Mars colonization is already a hot topic. Next on the list would be many of the rocky satellites orbiting some of the gas giants further out in space. Even the Moon or an asteroid could be a viable option with the right combination of artificial habitats. But the threat of overpopulation is not just space. Food will be an issue as well. This is where we can implement vertical farming, lab-grown meat, and possibly even super-nutritious pills that would reduce the need for humans to eat in the first place.

I posted an article on Facebook about life-extension recently, fully expecting nobody to Like it or for some people to voice negative opinions about it. I was surprised to see that the article was one of my most Liked posts in awhile. Apparently extending human lifespans is a desire for many of my Facebook friends, even the ones who aren’t super sci-fi nerds like myself. But I have still heard plenty of rebuttals towards life-extension in general. One being: “won’t we get bored?” Human culture and our understanding of reality is an ever-changing process. Each decade presents humanity with a new political, cultural, and technological atmosphere. In such a dynamic civilization it’s hard for me to imagine ever being bored with life. New science will take us to the farthest reaches of space. Virtual Reality will provide endless entertainment in the digital realm. New artists utilizing new techniques and new history will captivate audiences like never before. Human culture will be so diverse, and there will be so many new places to travel and new art to indulge in it almost seems as though boredom could be eradicated. Questions about how life-extension and potentially immortality would affect religion leads to circular arguments caused by the fact that the afterlife and most other religious topics are not falsifiable at this point in time, and therefore I think moot when discussing life-extension in scientific terms. In fact, I don’t see how life-extension even violates religious belief systems. For one, extended life does not equal no death. Anyone can still die in a freak accident. Furthermore, perhaps the ethics behind euthanasia will be further addressed when considering the possibility of someone choosing to reverse their anti-aging biology and succumb to the process of death. If we are to give people the right to live via life-extension, then we should also give people the right to die. Death may seems like an unnecessary end to experience, but a life of needless suffering is also undesirable. The Buddhists teach us that life is inherently suffering, and that this is okay and necessary to contrast with joy. But if a person would rather cease their experience rather than endure prolonged and unavoidable suffering then perhaps there should be an option for them to go peacefully. I imagine many scenarios where someone who has lived multiple centuries chooses to die in a choreographed way, such as climbing to a mountain summit only to take a pill that painlessly ends their life, or by entering Earth orbit and ending their life with a spectacular view of Earth floating below them. The thing about not having to die unpredictably due to old age is that you can better plan the circumstances of your death in a more favorable way.

To wrap this post up I invite you to add any other points for or against life-extension that I have not covered. I’m sure there is much, a topic like this can be discussed in a book. As we venture further into a world of rapidly changing technology I think it is of utmost importance that we seriously discuss issues that have formerly  been seen as science fiction, because it is becoming more apparent that science fiction has a very predictive nature.




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