Imagine watching nuclear fusion come to be standard as energy on the earth. You stand by as you witness one of the greatest advancements in humankind-the transition to sustainability. Imagine, with the discovery of better methods of space travel, abandoning our terrestrial life to become space-faring, trans-galactic beings. Imagine interacting with beings from another planet, learning their language, their culture, their technology. Imagine studying their biology, making friends on another planet, learning their planet’s history, and having access to information about the universe that we have not yet acquired. Imagine watching our planet develop, new species forming, continents shifting. What if I were to tell you that all of this could potentially happen within your lifetime? It sounds absurd, I know. But access to biological immortality is not too far in the future. Aubrey de Grey is a renowned theoretician in the field of gerontology who wants millennium-long lives to become reality. At fifty years old, his righteous pursuit would not benefit himself, and he knows that. But he loves the thought of ending aging and allowing someone else to witness all that I described above. I attempted several weeks ago to imagine how I see the world changing over the next few centuries and I found myself incapable of completing such an exercise. But when I imagined the potential for me to witness such change, the change I believe will occur immediately rose to the surface.
First I imagine that climate change won’t cause as much destruction as people think it will. I know this is a bold statement and I won’t pretend to speak with the same knowledge as a climatologist. Instead, I’ll speak as someone who has witnessed consistency and our ability to distort it. Socrates declared in 400 B.C. that “the children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” It sounds all too familiar to the words of an uptight parent today. I imagine not much really changes within basic human behavior. Adults will express jealousy and disgust while children will be silly and rude. I know this is not an an applicable example for the dynamics of the earth, but it is simply to address that people’s perceptions of change are often exaggerated from reality.
I imagine the earth will change, and many people will die. But I cannot imagine an apocalyptic scenario. Instead I see us exuding the gaseous byproducts of fossil fuels into the atmosphere until we run out. I don’t think there is any feasible way to prevent that. When we run out, I imagine the world will be hot, some species will have died, but humans will still be here, with knowledge that will not disappear. In the future, we will have better technology for sequestering that carbon, or we will simply adapt or develop new technologies to deal with the heat. I don’t think there will be global wars or a mass extinction of humanity. To me, this place is but a temporary abode, with no divine meaning. It sucks that people and other species have to suffer because of our quest for knowledge, but this is a decision that no one made or could prevent. This is a beautiful place, and after this difficult transition, I imagine this resilient planet will flourish once again, with humans and most other species still plugging along.
I imagine belief in things without evidence will end fairly soon. Among the developed world, we will recognize the potential harm of faith. Believing in things with no need for evidence provides violence, quackery, and greedy robbers a gateway. I see no difference in the potential for destruction of the preaching of a pastor and the words of a corrupt politician or dictator. To me it is all sensationalist rhetoric, to convince us of something that is untrue, because the truth does not require such speech. Humans are very good at deceiving themselves, no doubt. And to protect against our own self-deceit, we need a shield of skepticism and evidence. I remember last year overhearing a conversation about reincarnation. A researcher with her Ph.D. in biology proposed that her daughter could be a reincarnation of her late cat, describing the similarities in their personalities and the coinciding of the cat’s death with the daughter’s birth. It is insane that this conversation occurred in twenty-first century America. But it truly is no different from postulates on the existence of ghosts, miracle weight loss drugs, the salvation of herbal remedies, and nearly every religious belief. But soon I imagine it will be unattractive to condemn oneself to a life of lies and instead a life of skepticism and scientific reasoning will be overwhelmingly favored. The world’s religions will necessarily die for us to attain the progress and knowledge that we want. If this step does not happen, we will be relegated to mediocrity for eternity.
I also think violence necessarily must end before we advance. This is not a statement that we may or may not advance. I believe we will advance and violence will end. Violence, in a world with adequate resources, can only be justified to someone who has deceived themselves or is incapable of adequate mental processing. Where there is no scarcity, it is difficult to justify war and violence. We have worried many times in the past that a space-faring species would likely invade earth, exterminate the locals, and abuse our resources, just as we did with colonialism from the 1500s through the 1900s. However, I imagine that a species needs to attain peace before it can become so excessively productive. To complete such extensive journeys, I think the race would have attained an awareness of their cosmological insignificance, and as a result, would be capable of seeing that causing unnecessary suffering to another race is an unjustifiable action.
I imagine we will discover forms of space travel that currently are deemed impossible. However, I do believe that we will discover how to create vessels to travel through the vastness of space in mere moments, rather than lifetimes. We are already well aware of the dynamic nature of space-that it is a flexible fabric rather than some static area. I think humanity will attain the ability to travel faster than light and we will achieve an even greater awareness of this home. We will travel to distant galaxies and interact with beings we could never have imagined.
All of these developments are possible within my lifetime. Granted we aren’t going to attain some incredible knowledge in the next century, the only way to achieve this is through extending lifespans. A lot of people are resistant to this idea. They say they wouldn’t want to live that long, that aging is a healthy process, that we are meant to die. However, as de Grey addressed, these are simply comforting justifications we have made for the grim reality that in the past, we have all died. In the future, aging will not be inevitable, and the only restriction on these discoveries will be our own resistance. Instead of imagining all the negatives, imagine all the amazing things that could result from biological immortality. Imagine the extraordinary knowledge we each could attain. The benefits of biological immortality are endless and amazing to contemplate. I have no doubt that I want the opportunity to live to be 1000 years old. Unfortunately, like de Grey, I may be a little too old. But from all this, I may have discovered an exciting career path.
6 thoughts on “Biological immortality”
The problem with technologies that let people live to 1000 years old is that only a small minority will likely be able to afford them or have access to them. In my mind, this will lead to an unprecedented level of tyranny. Everyone has always been equal before Death: rich or poor, powerful or not. Take that away, and the ultra-rich, who are already “different than the rest of us”, will attain power of immense proportions. Where that will lead is anybody’s guess, but mine is that the most repressive, corrupt and depraved worldwide regime will be the result, one with which the modern one pales in comparison.
The medicine to allow for such longevity would increase slowly however. People would initially have lifespans increased to 200 years for example which would open up the door for exponential increase in gerontology research. The poor would likely be only just behind the rich as they acquire the outdated techniques. The rich say would be 300 while the poor are 200. This is no greater a ratio than the first world to the third world today. The oppression seems to be fading day by day wrt the third world. I think your proposition is a valid concern but I don’t see the ratios of age between the rich and the poor being that exaggerated.
Lets not forget that with globalization and information technology the means of capital concentration in as few hands as possible are greater than they ever had been. Even small advantages in this system can allow for winner-takes-all outcome. The desire to live longer, in my opinion, is deeply egoistic concept, and if available, will likely bring up the worst in people, not the best.
Hmmm. Always thoughtful comments! I just don’t see tyranny and vast equality differences lasting. They never have in the past and I can’t see anything being different in the future. Also, even with these capital divides, the world is still rapidly advancing. I wonder if the despite the enormous gap, poverty still becomes less impoverished. Also, not many people seek death and nearly everyone wants to avoid it and prolong life. I can’t understand why this relative change is any different.
I think immortality (or at least much longer life) is different from simply better healthcare – it is a huge strategic, competitive advantage. Even if we assume that all of us have access to it, that will necessarily mean that we are robbing the future generations, and prolonging their access to what we currently occupy. If I get to occupy my house indefinitely, I will pay of my mortgage, and then buy another house in the neighborhood, etc, eventually I will own disproportionate amount of land, and will have much more power than the people that were born after and did not have the same opportunities. You see where this going. This process has always been going on with wealthy trying to preserve wealth through their children, but at some point it all breaks down, and the resources are released in some form. These days though we have the corporations, which can surely be immortal, and it would be interesting 100 or 500 years from now – would there be one giant corporation that owns everything?
Ha sounds like wall-e. you seen that movie? A corporation called buy n large literally owns everything. I can’t see that happening though. You just said people would build their estates for their children but very apparently people wouldn’t care so much about the next generation if there was no such thing. People would care about themselves, about building and maintaining a secure future, which I also imagine would promote increased awareness of environmental implications of unabated population growth. I addressed the flaws of large corporations in several of my last posts. I recognize that they have inefficiencies just like any other company. And usually those holes can be filled with smaller companies. I also wonder what someone would do with such enormous wealth. These people, even today, who are absurdly wealthy are not simply retaining their wealth. They spend it which provides money for the rest of the population. And I imagine without any concerns for the future generations, people would be less concerned with their reserves. I see that society and legislation would have to adapt to this but I don’t think it would be impossible. So cool to think about though! Honestly, I think it’s inevitable.