July 31, 2007

Aging: Will Science Make it Optional?

Sara over at Healthbolt has a freaky but interesting post about the possibility of dramatic increases in human lifespan in the future. She includes quite a few amusing hypothetical scenarios around this possibility. But here's the wild part: it may be happening sooner than we think.

According to a scientist quoted in this article from the The Anti-Aging Library, "the first person to live to be 1,000 years old is certainly alive today; indeed, he or she may be about to turn 60." The Cambridge University geneticist predicted: "barring accidents and suicide, most people now 40 years or younger can expect to live for centuries.” (His name is Aubrey de Grey, a name that sounds like it's already been around for centuries, doesn't it? Like some character in an Anne Rice novel? So maybe this guy Knows Something We Don't).

The article contains lots of controversial ideas, but here's the interesting part: these folks are not obvious nutballs. They don't all agree on what may happen or how it may transpire or whether it's even possible. But many of them are serious researchers from prestigious universities, some of whom are getting very real funding for anti-aging research. They study things like the “grim reaper” and “fountain of youth” genes.

On the other hand, there's a whole other movement opposed to anti-aging research. An alliance of "bio-conservatives" doesn't think we should be messing around with expanding lifespans, citing moral and ethical grounds.

Here's the part of the post where Crabby is supposed to chime in and say, "Oh, but I wouldn't want to live a thousand years, even if they could halt or reverse the aging process so I felt fine. I think it's selfish to want to live so long!"

Only you know what? Um... Crabby actually thinks she might want to, as long as there were companionable people to hang out with and beautiful forests to hike through and great works of music and art and literature... and cupcakes. Hopefully there will still be cupcakes in the 2900's or all bets are off.

So what do you folks think about all this?


  1. "The Cambridge University geneticist predicted: "barring accidents and suicide, most people now 40 years or younger can expect to live for centuries.""


    Hey! I'm under 40! I'll be around to meet the Vulcans! Wooooo!

    (Although, they're scheduled to arrive in 2063, the year I turn 80, so I'll probably be around anyway. But now I'll be 80 years young!)

  2. "(His name is Aubrey de Grey, a name that sounds like it's already been around for centuries, doesn't it? Like some character in an Anne Rice novel? So maybe this guy Knows Something We Don't)."

    Possible descendant of Dorian Gray? Just changed the spelling to confuse us perhaps?

  3. I just wonder how good a life woul dbe. I mean most older people have troubles and aches and pains and their eyes don't work so well. If I could live long with reasonable health then I'd go for it.
    The idea of stopping telomeres on the end of our chromosomes from degrading suring cellular replication is interesting, but it doesn't stop the idea of decay. People seem to develop dementia and other things with old age...I don't know how you'd ge tin the way of that. If I live to be very old, but I'm frail and drooly I'm not sure I'd want that. If I live a long happy life, I'd be reaady to shuffle it all off I think. Plus if those I knew and loved were all gone and I'd done all I'd thought I could/should, I'd be alright with it all.
    I recall an interview I read years ago with the oldest woman alive (at the time). She was ~110 and still smart as a whip, but very frail and couldn't see. When asked about it she said "well I'm really old, some parts of me are bound to wear out - I'm old".

    I wouldn't mind being around for the vulcans too -I'd have to hold on til I was 90. Maybe they'd hook me up with something.

    But science fixing aging? Didn't you all watch Doctor Who last night - when you use science to stop aging it turns you into a great big druly monster that wants to eat other people. I think I'll stick with what I have...

  4. Well, there are definitely way more things I want to experience than can be accomplished in a "normal" human lifespan, especially since so much of my time is taken up with having to work. Living 1,000 years, I could really clean up on long-term investments, couldn't I?

    But I question whether the planet could support us all, if people kept being born at the current rate, while fewer and fewer people died. What kind of quality of life would we all have in a thousand years? Surely people wouldn't stop having children, so if anyone thinks the world's population is growing fast now, just wait and see what would happen with vastly increased lifespans.

    Not that I wouldn't love to live for a millenium, of course. I salivate at the idea of being an eyewitness to such a span of time.

    *wipes drool off history book*

    But there's a lot to consider here beyond the gee-whiz factor. Without a realistic plan for how we'd all eat and where we'd all live, this would be a disaster.

  5. bunnygirl --

    We'd colonize space, of course! The Vulcans would help us. ;)

  6. Would I be living those thousand years sane, mobile, and comfortable? Only until the Canid Invasion, but I'd say it's damn well worth it.

  7. I'm working on a quality response to this in my blog. Stay tuned . . .


  8. We've got too many people here already. Keeping the ones around who ought to have popped off centuries ago is a useless waste of resources. For the long-lifers it's just another form of greed.
    I'm all for improving the quality of the life span we've got, but I have no interest in cheating death. I'm interested in meeting the Vulcans, though, so I wouldn't mind hanging around long enough for that.
    I read some book in my teens (title escapes me) where a woman had been given eternal life and didn't want it. Seems to me she didn't age either. Friends and family kept dying off and she had to move around the world so no one would catch on to her plight. She kept trying to get herself killed, but Satan (IIRC) would intervene.
    Don't recall how it ended, but it put me off eternal Earth life.

  9. I would love to live for 1000 years, as long as it was quality living and not stuck in a bed somewhere. I do think the logistics suck, and the whole world would look like Tokyo pretty quick. Hmmm....theres always a downside.

  10. Yeah, I'm not sure I really want to just keep on living... I've seen a lot of older folks who don't look that happen because while they are alive, they are sick or tired or can't really enjoy life because they lived longer than their retirement was planned for... of course this is easy to say now, when I think that is so far away.

  11. It will cost too much for average people to enjoy it. Bill Gates will live forever.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Hm.

    But where would everybody live?

    I'm having a hard enough time just slogging through my regular three score and ten. BUT, I am better today and I had an epiphany this morning while reading this article in the NYTimes--Who's Minding the Mind? http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/31/health/psychology/31subl.html?ex=1186545600&en=f6d3a2c40ccbd09b&ei=5070&emc=eta1
    I hope to put my experience into a short and coherent form to share with you, but it's not there yet and I hate rambling.

    AND I did my yoga this morning. :)

  14. (Sorry, I keep accidentally posting comments twice. Thus the delete. :-P)

  15. I do want to live a long and productive life but, not centuries. Maybe to a hundred or a hundred and fifty if I am doing well. That's all I would need, I think.

  16. Count me out. The world is going straight to hell in a hand basket.

  17. Seems to me that if they've got zillions to chuck around on research, they should be looking at how to improve the lot of the people who are already here and have drawn the short end of the stick - not trying to extend the lives of the already blessed.

  18. I agree with Dawn, quality, not quantity.

    ...for the most part. There is a part of me that'd love to see my great-great-great grandkids. Ehhh, actually, maybe not...

  19. Ooops.

    Way behind again today. I can see that this is one of those posts where individual responses are probably just not going to happen.

    So sorry! (And this coming right after I go on about how much I love everyone's comments ('cause I do) and how I'll get better about not bailing... ah well.)

    But it's cool to see that all of you are so much more practical and less selfish than I am. I just want More More More! Let the scientists figure out how it's all going to work!

    You people are way more sensible.

    I also appreciate all the hints as to what's to come in the future--vulcans, colonization of other planets, invasions...

    So I'll just say Welcome to Amanda, whom I believe is new (if not; sorry!) and congrats to Melissa on getting back to yoga, and again, sorry to everyone else for going AWOL on this one!

  20. I have to say that Sara's post is good (I've already been following it for days) but what rocks are her comments. Some are totally whacked out. I'd go over if you just read Crabby's because it's way cool.

  21. I dunno crabby.
    As I sit here at the kitchen table (my son took over my office for a bit), having just had my second glass of sangria on an empty stomack and munching my way through a can of salted peanuts that I'm not supposed to eat because I can't digest nuts but there's no chips around and even though I don't like chips, it's a certain time of the month that I *want* chips... I don't know if I want to live to be 1000.
    Ask me again in a week.

  22. Good lord, who wouldn't want to live longer than we do? The world is too interesting, plus Things Take Time. The older I get, the more I realize how short life is. The best part of aging is the broader, deeper perspective we bring to every new experience and to our reflections about our past. It would be fascinating to see how those perspectives evolve over a longer lifespan. And since these predictions of living to be Methuselahs is pretty far-fetched, and even if feasible would presumably be so expensive that only a few people would be able to afford it, why not fantasize away?

    I once read a memorable science fiction story based on this very premise. Extended life spans, virtual immortality, were so expensive that only the very wealthy could afford it. They bought Florida and all lived there behind sealed borders. Ordinary mortals referred to them as Elsies -- from Living Corpses. One day the unthinkable occurred and one of the Elsies was murdered. A mortal detective was called in to investigate, since crime was unknown in the Elsies' utopia and they had no detectives. He solves the murder and an Elsie babe offers him the procedure to become one of them as a reward. Of course he takes it!

  23. Hi Jennifer,
    Yeah, definitely some great comments over there--the "nano" stuff was fascinating.

    But at the risk of showing my bias, I happen to think Cranky Fitness commenters are the best in the blogosphere!

    Marijke, you crack me up. Let's definitely check back on that in a week. (Rx: chocolate as needed until symptoms subside).

    So I would have totally put you in the "lets be natural about it and croak when it's time" camp. I'm with you, I want more years. I want a young person's good health and an older person's wisdom. (And sounds like a really cool SciFi story).

    So apologies again to all for skipping out this morning. I notice that if I only get to part of the comments, it's usually the first ones I respond to, thus discriminating against those in later time zones. So this time, it's the opposite. Ya never know! Thanks for your patience and all comments are always read and appreciated.

  24. So, I asked my youngest grandchild if she will remember me when she's a thousand years old.

    She babbled as she always does and I really didn't understand her answer. I'll try again in September when she celebrates her first birthday, and I guess she better start saving now for the candles on that final birthday cake.


  25. Terrie,
    That's so sweet!
    And yeah, I never thought about the bonfires that will be topping birthday cakes when we're 1,000 years old. (I bet she's a cutie).

  26. Well, the first thought in my head was that even I would commit suicide if I had to live THAT long. As a Christian, I'd sure like to get to heaven (but if I'm going to hell, then by all means, keep me here longer) and I believe God controls when we're born and when we die (and that humans ought not intervene in those issues).

    Still, the second thought in my head was a very joyous thought that then I could live long enough to see the changes I want to happen, happen in the Catholic Church. Between when they finally learn the difference between the words "homosexual" and "pedophile" and when they ordain woman....

    Shoot. So then could live my dream of becoming a priest and not having to leave my denomination that I love so much, and if I long enough then I can marry my female swetheart and raise cute little Catholic kids.....

    Living whole lot longer might actually help solve my problems! And then I could finally tell everyone that with my religious studies deegree (and hopefully doctorate in theology) that I really will do something with it, eventually. Just give me a thousand years for the Roman Catholic Church to change... Maybe I'll become the Pope....

    Wow, if we live for that long we can live out all of our wildest dreams... cooooooool

  27. Um, I do know how to spell stomach. I reread my post. Blame the Sangria. Yup. That's it.

  28. Being the ripe old age of 21, I guess this would be ready for me if the timetable is right. I could afford a home with a 600 year mortgage! Hahaha... But seriously, if we could all still walk/talk/function like average adults instead of like bedridden elderly at age 457, what are we going to do to fill up all of those years? Will we wait to retire when we are 950? I sure as heck know I wouldn't want to work forever, and that seems like forever.

    Though, I'll admit, nothing scares me as much as death... so I'm liking the news.

  29. Hi Meg,
    Hmmm...Interesting to see what sort of social and political changes we'd see over that amount of time. Will there even be a Catholic church in 1,000 years? Would society get steadily better or (more likely, I fear) would it swing back and forth between enlightenment and oppression? Very interesting issues you raise!

    Marijke, you can spell "stomack" any way you want! (And actually I didn't even notice!)

    Hey Jessica,
    Good point about that 'working' thing. Maybe we'll have robots to do all the yucky stuff and we can all just be artists and writers and astronauts and whatever appealed? 'Cause you're right--950 years of "can I take your order please," is not something to look forward to!

  30. Be careful what you wish for, crabby. Keanu Reeves tried to warn us about having robots do all the work once already.

  31. Well, if I'm still hear in a thousand years, there will be a Catholic Church with a lesbian Pope. ha ha. And I'll have brought back Latin and since everyone has so many spare years to learn things, people would actually know how to speak Latin...

    Okay, need to stop indulging in silly little dreams.

    But I am the sort of person who loves to learn so an extra hundred years or so to do so might be realy fun so I can learn latin and Ancient Greek and perhaps some other languages that would beusueful in communicating with people. I'd spend 50 years in college getting degrees in every little thing that interests me.

    Oh and if I do get to be the Pope I'll solve world hunger because I KNOW the Catholic Church has the sort of money that they can do that...

    Ha. But if you have any other Catholic readers I hope I don't offend them by my silliness, since truthfully I'm pretty devout Catholic myself (even if the Pope might say otherwise)

  32. Hi Jim!
    Well, as seriously as I tend to take Keanu Reeves--I still want my robots.

    Hi Meg,
    I suspect that most easily-offended devout Catholics do not tend to hang out much at Cranky Fitness, at least not long enough to make it to the bottom of the comments sections. So I think you're safe!


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