Saturday, December 11, 2010

Longevity & Life Extension

I was interviewed about the likelihood that human lifespan can be extended indefinitely, any time soon. “When Will Life Expectancy Reach 200 Years? Aubrey de Grey and David Brin Disagree in Inteview”:

I do not expect this any time soon. There are way too many obstacles. First, there is no low-hanging fruit. Simple switches, like the ones that are flipped in many animals, by caloric restriction or celibacy, are there to give creatures a delayed chance at reproduction, if it cannot happen earlier. These switches have already been thrown in humans. All of them! Because we had genuine darwinistic reasons to evolve the longest possible lifespans. When the lore held by grandparents helped grandchildren to survive, we evolved a pattern where the tribe would always have a few grandparents around, who remembered stuff.

201817627023095301_lizWYYX1_cThat allegory is simple. Across the last 6,000 years, there have been countless religious monasteries and hermitages. Most practiced some form of ascetism, as a way to discipline their holiness. Many different dietary regimes ranged from merely frugal/spare all the way to near-starvation, and every variation in between. If any of these monks stumbled onto a path to capering around for 200 years, wouldn't we have noticed?

This is a topic I’ve covered in my article, Do We Really Want Immortality?   Funny thing about these immortalist fellows.  Their calculations always seem to portray it happening in time to save them!  But in fact, the news from science seems to keep getting worse for them, not better... e.g. in recent insights into the vastly complex inner computation abilities of human neurons.  It is a case where I’ll be pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong.  But I feel grownups should focus on the guaranteed right bet... investing in our posterity. 

   
To see how far back the fantasy goes, read about Gilgamesh and the Chinese First Emperor, who drank mercury in order to live forever... and died in his forties.  
AfterMany
Or read the creepily familiar reasonings of very similar fanatics in Huxley’s brilliant (if slow) After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, a book that you find out on the very last page was actually a sci fi novel, all along!

This quasi-debate provoked a firestorm of controversy over on my Facebook page. One of my responses: I appreciate the enthusiasm of those urging me to BELIEVE(!) that tech-delivered eternal life is just around the bend. Indeed, I am told that BELIEVING(!) is essential to get there and that NOT believing might prevent it from happening. One fellow wrote:

            "The power of your expectations is crucial. "

   
Um right. I get the same pitch from SETI zealots, who proclaim that detection of advanced alien civilizations will result in scientific leaps that may solve all our problems.
   
Now bear in mind that I am a scientist and sci fi author and I have explored concepts of both future and alien with far more eagerness, breadth and relentlessness that any hundred others you will ever meet. I want us funding ten times as much scientific research as now. I support SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and have served on some of the commissions, and my name is on the first contact rolladexes. I know all the singularity guys and have listened to them for hours.
 
So why do I -- and Vernor Vinge, the coiner of the term "tech singularity" react with sighs and eye-rolls to all this fervent "hossanah" shouting over salvation from above or an imminent Day of Transcendence, when Death shalt be no more and ye true believers will all be rewarded...
 
 ...because we've heard it all before. The terminology may be different, but the PSYCHOLOGY is still the same as in every tent show revival meeting across 6,000 years. It's not just the substitution of anecdotes for actual capabilities. (Lots of stem cell papers, but not one regrown nervous system, yet.) Nor the coincidence that Salvation Day always calculates out to be just in time for YOU!
 
singularityNone of that offends me. Heckfire, I hope you guys turn out to be right. It might happen. I think simplistic notions are stymied by recent results showing how vastly complicated the internal processes of a neuron are -- that the intracellular automata interactions and computations going on in there are FAR more complex than just unrolling an charting the incredibly simple and easy human genome......but sure. Let's all hope. In fact, lots of stuff discovered along the way might be Earth-saving. Like cheap tissue culture meat. That'd be great
 
But no, I'll tell you what bugs me. It's the psychology. The incredibly self-centered, solipsistic, self-serving, "I-am Soooooo-darned-important!" narcissism of the fantasy is what bugs me. The hand-rubbing, chortling I-am-So-gonna-live-forever! zealotry that seems never to entail ANY of the virtues that we've long associated with adulthood.
 
Dig it, find me the extropian who understands how we stand on the shoulders of every generation of parents who tried to raise better kids than themselves, or who ever speaks about the beauty of that chain of pay-forward generosity, the most tragic-poetic tale ever told. Or the noble honor we'll all have, even if we die, if we can only be one of the most important of the pay-forward generations. ALL I hear is paeans to how grand it will be to receive the end result. Never anything about the OBLIGATION that falls upon us, from that great chain.
 
I see the quest for individual immortality as kinda cool, tempting... and fundamentally *irrelevant* to the Great Project that I have inherited -- that WE have inherited. To build and improve the Enlightenment Civilization of Ben Franklin and the others. To ensure we never slump back into darkness. To build something like Star Trek that deserves to move outward. To make kids who are better than us...

 ...so much better that THEY will have ideas about what's wise and good and proper -- wisdom that's far beyond ours. (BTW, this is happening.) Building that posterity is a far greater challenge, yet one our ancestors were up to. It is a project that is far more noble, precedented and plausible than some grand leap to transcendent immortal supersmart godhood. It is the project that should have YOUR loyalty. And if we happen to get some of the goodies while doing all that, well then fine.
 
  === Would Extended Life Bring Cowardice? ===
 
In a related article, Seth Shostak, of the SETI Institute (and my frequent nemesis on the issue of METI), speculates that living forever may be a bad idea: "Here's the problem in a nutshell: if we extend human lifetimes a lot -- to millennia, rather than centuries -- all the small risks you heedlessly take every day will have a devastating cumulative impact. Most jobs will become unattractive, because just about any occupation becomes, eventually, a deadly occupation. We'll automate nearly everything we can, and stay at home immersed in a virtual world."  
 

ShoutingCosmosSigh.  Seth is a smart fellow who often has interesting insights. Alas, he also keeps making broadly absurd declarations about what will automatically happen... Advanced aliens WILL do this&such!  They can only beam messages THIS way! If discussions about METI (sending messages to space) are opened up to a broad spectrum of sages and the public, the result will be a clamp of silence on Earth that will last... Forever!!!  Whatever just-so story enters his head -- that is the way the universe operates, without exception.
 
In this case, the counter-examples are blatant.  Rich, healthy, long-lived folk are the principal source of participants in extreme sports, in thrill seeking hobbies and attempts to break world records. Will dynamic immortals, plagued by ennui, really sit and twiddle their thumbs, just because Seth Shostak decides “logically” that they ought to?  Feh.
 
  === and Related Science Matters ===
 
A team from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow has developed a 'pioneering' lighting system that can kill hospital superbugs such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile. The technology decontaminates the air and exposes surfaces by bathing them in a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths, known as HINS-light. It works by exciting molecules within the bacteria, which in turn produces 'highly reactive' chemical species that are lethal to it.  (Hey, didn’t I predict something like this in my novel EARTH?)

Forty years after federal laws criminalized the use of psychedelics for non-medical purposes in FDA-regulated psychological and drug research, the study of these drugs is picking up again, and their use in treating certain patients shows promise. Researchers are finding that the drugs may help improve functioning and lift the spirits of those with cancer and other terminal diseases, as well help treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration have eased regulations and also given approval to researchers at Johns Hopkins University and New York University's Langone Medical Center to study the use of psilocybin to treat death anxiety among cancer patients.  

 
In the first comprehensive global survey of temperature trends in major lakes, NASA researchers determined Earth's largest lakes have warmed during the past 25 years in response to climate change.  ALSO… The past 12 months have been the warmest ever recorded by NASA. Until now, the hottest year on record has been 1998, when temperatures were pushed up by a strong El Nino - a warming event in the Pacific. This year saw a weaker El Nino, and that fizzled out to be replaced by a La Nina cooling event. So scientists might have expected this year's temperatures to be substantially lower than 1998 - but they are not. Within the bounds of statistical error, the two years are likely to be the same.
 
On April 8, the networking hardware that routes traffic on the Internet got new marching orders: Requests for data from 15% of Internet addresses-including Dell.com, Yahoo.com, Microsoft.com, and U.S. government sites-were directed to go through China.
 
Recently NASA quietly moved its two long-grounded X-34 space planes from open storage at the space agency's Dryden center - located on Edwards Air Force Base in California - to a test pilot school in the Mojave Desert. At the desert facility, the mid-'90s-vintage, robotic X-34s would be inspected to determine if they were capable of flying again. Provided they're in flyable shape, it's far more likely the space agency will make the X-34s available to private industry. 

82 comments:

Ian said...

?In a related article, Seth Shostak, of the SETI Institute (and my frequent nemesis on the issue of METI), speculates that living forever may be a bad idea: "Here's the problem in a nutshell: if we extend human lifetimes a lot -- to millennia, rather than centuries -- all the small risks you heedlessly take every day will have a devastating cumulative impact. Most jobs will become unattractive, because just about any occupation becomes, eventually, a deadly occupation. We'll automate nearly everything we can, and stay at home immersed in a virtual world." ?

Even if only a minority of people choose to go down that route, over the course of centuries or millennia, the risk takers will die out and they'll be the only ones left.

corinne said...

I'd really appreciate if they could also develop time travel, and then go back about a year and give that c. diff killing light to GW's hospital... =/

rushmc said...

I have a very different perspective on the longevity issue. It seems clear to me that society currently gets a very truncated and unsatisfactory return on its investment in people. People can spend 16, 18, or more years getting a structured education, another 20 or 30 years getting experience in their field, and then, just when they should be peaking--boom, they are done and ready to retire. Or they get cancer or some other disease even earlier. How much more further along in the Enlightenment project would we be if our best and brightest had had 70, 150, or 300 years to do their best work, rather than a mere 30-40? I'm not sure we can even begin to imagine, much less measure, the change this would have made or could make in the future from our current experience.

(I realize there are other factors that would come into play as well--like the fact that dictators, luddites, and hoarders would also live longer and have a greater impact--but I don't think that alters the strength of my fundamental point: Having to *start over* training a new generation every 20 years is highly inefficient, and the results of increasing that gap would be substantial.)

I also had to chuckle at "most jobs will become unattractive." Most jobs ARE unattractive, and always have been!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Vinge... does anyone know if he has a blog?

Lorraine said...

Shostak's speculation as you explain it has the look and feel of those pundits whose project is to explain every phenonemon and every aspect of the human condition in terms of economics. The assumption seems to be that a human being spends 24/7 on utility maximizing, with death of course rating a -∞ in utility. Points to probably the main reasons nonlibertarians like myself are turned off by the whole panoply extroprian, singularitarian and h+ tendencies. Ampari!

Tim H. said...

Which impetus drives them, a desire for more energetic couplings, or to widen the gulf between haves and have nots?

David Brin said...

Ian said "ven if only a minority of people choose to go down that route, over the course of centuries or millennia, the risk takers will die out and they'll be the only ones left."

Nah. RIsk takers would wait till they've had their licensed two offspring, before taking big chances. Also, those licenses will be for more kids, if you pioneer a new planet or moon. the rewards will be opposite to what you say.

Vernor is too smart to blog. He writes books!

Anonymous said...

"On April 8, the networking hardware . . "??

Anonymous said...

"On April 8, the networking hardware . . "??

Stefan Jones said...

Of course, there have been plenty of SFish takes on the effects of immortality.

In one Jack Vance novel, immortality is only granted to exceptional individuals; the struggle to achieve distinction might have been a parody of academic politics.

In Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, a far-future human race has individuals who can live for tens of thousands of years . . . but when they sense that their outlook is holding back new generations they gracefully pass on.

More recently, Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire (sadly, the last novel of his I found at all memorable) shows the adventures of a 90 year old who goes through a rejuvenation process that leaves her looking twenty . . . and resets her personality as well. She no longer fits into her peers' conservative, respectable society, and sees the world from the point of view of the young, whose ambitions are quashed in the name of stability.

Patricia Mathews said...

And Lois Bujold's "Cryoburn" shows the downside of a culture gone cryonics-mad. Among the memorable characters - a down-and-out Olde Phart who doesn't find the future any better than the past - because nobody's been building it. Like him, they all opted out of the building process and decided to fast-forward to a time when others had done the job for him.

LarryHart said...

On the other hand, what would be the affect on certain long-term policymaking (say, concern over global warming or environmentalism in general) if the powerful and influential actually thought they'd BE here in 100 or 150 years?

rushmc said...

The problem with science fiction treatments of longevity is that they are written by sf writers who also only expect a lifespan of < 100 years. I'm not convinced that they have truly captured the vast psychological difference of a lifespan several times that long--or even twice that long--as they tend to merely extrapolate more of the same.

On the other hand, there is no evidence to suggest that the human brain can handle continued and extended development, even after the effects of aging have been mitigated. Memory stores alone may be tapped out in a century without technological upgrades.

I do dispute, however, the idea that unborn generations somehow have the right to be born. Something that is only hypothetical cannot have rights, and if we can structure ourselves and society in such a way that the creation of replacements is unnecessary, I see no moral restriction on doing so (there may well be practical issues, like an increasing conservative trend and resistance to change, but those are psychological issues which can be addressed separately and don't affect the moral question).

David Brin said...

sci fio author Kim Stanley Robinson has extensively imagined the effects on human memory of extended span

Jonathan S. said...

"Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon."
- Susan Ertz

rushmc said...

Maybe if they had more time, they could figure it out.

Tony Fisk said...

"If we had words enough, and time;
this coyness, lady, be no crime"


That's not a line that would work with an immortal, which offs one option for a rainy saturday afternoon.

rushmc said...

Sadly, it doesn't really work very well NOW.

Tony Fisk said...

"Nuthin' works!"

- Catweazle

Robert said...

While a number of people derided Star Trek: Insurrection, one thing I rather enjoyed about it was that it had a culture which went from a limited lifespan to one of near-immortality (in terms of years lived). One of the immortals fell into a lake (where one of the plot coupons was located) and started to thrash about because she couldn't swim.

When Picard asked her why in all her years alive she'd not learned to swim, she simply said "I'd not gotten around to it yet." Another interesting aspect to it was that it showed the culture having slowed itself. Apprenticeships took decades. There was no real impetus to expand unduly. (Of course, there'd also been a civil war where the more... ambitious and active members of their society ended up exiled, so that may also have been a matter of culture-change brought about by conflict instead of culture-change brought about by immortality.)

Another interesting glimpse of the effects immortality has on beings happened in the scifi webcomic Schlock Mercenary where a group of aliens went insane after they crafted themselves bodies that were immune to aging without considering the effects on their mental status - those aliens that survived did so by living in a state of enforced senility - they forgot things rather than let their brains overfill.

I actually had a similar concept in my story Stalking the Wolf; the protagonist at the start of the novel is 3,000 years old and had time-traveled back to the year 2011. I realized that she will play a part in future stories... and also that she would not be a significant risk at altering the past for two reasons: first, while she may remember general things that happened in her past and a few specific events that stand out, precise memory tends to fade in time. Thus things will get "fuzzy" and she'll get details wrong. And it's not like she brought a history book with her. ;) Second, I realized that part of the reason she went back in time was because her future self had a part to play in the current timeline; there was no errors in causality because literally there were two of her (present and future selves) going through time and mostly avoiding each other (partly because the future protagonist didn't want to be bothered with explaining things to her past self).

I suspect that if we do expand our lifespans well past the one century mark it won't be nearly as detrimental as some people think, because we'll forget details and have memories fade in time. When you consider that our thinking selves are more than just our brains, but include our spine and nervous system (ever hear of someone "thinking with their finger-tips?" Pianists and the like often mention how their fingers will remember something their heads don't), you start to realize that memory is not centralized in one area, but instead can be diffuse. This may even be part of the explanation behind phantom limb pains and sensations.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Nicholas M said...

"Let's be plain. I am the first on this planet who made the "monastery allegory." (I know this pretty sure.) That allegory is simple. Across the last 6,000 years, there have been countless religious monasteries and hermitages. Most practiced some form of ascetism, as a way to discipline their holiness. Many different dietary regimes ranged from merely frugal/spare all the way to near-starvation, and every variation in between. If any of these monks stumbled onto a path to capering around for 200 years, wouldn't we have noticed?"

This is an interesting topic. Ascetics have long been reputed to have longer than normal lifespans; from recorded history, St. Anthony, who lived to 107, and Sri Ramanuja, who lived to 118, come to mind. Up into the 19th and 20th centuries, some yogis were reliably reputed to live to their 120's and 130's. While there have been no verifiable cases of such superlongevity since the introduction of birth certificates, there are other possible explanations- such as the added radiation and chemicals in our environment.

I sometimes wonder if for many of use, despite medical advances, our lives will be shorter than our grandparents- due to pollution. My grandfather died this winter at the age of 94; while I seem to have inherited his body chemistry, I wonder if environmental factors might not put a kibosh on life span. He lived in a rural neighborhood in the upper midwest; I live deep within one of the world's most polluted megacities.

rewinn said...

In anticipation of, not immortality, but of outliving perfect memory, I've been taking lots of pictures and labelling them electronically. Already it's helped me recall minor things; I'm normally healthy but prior to electronic storage of photos, that included a lot of forgetting ... a lot of loss!

In whatever form immortality, or extended lifespan, may take, the development of artificially enhanced memory storage and retreival regimes may be helpful. Every other body system might work ok if we could just keep it patching it; for example, knees, nerves and digestion may work more-or-less the same if we can replace wornout parts. Even the parts of the brain that are not mostly about long-term memory may work fine if replaced, when worn out, with duplicates (...passing over the great difficulty of doing so....)

But memory is inherently cumulative, and eventually may bump up against some limit inherent to the lack-of-design of the original. That's not necessarily a terrible problem. So long as one retains enough memory to be able to access "extended memory", future immortals may be happy with their condition even though the result may be mental processes radically different from those we enjoy today. I'm sure plenty of SF authors have exploited this concept (I'm thinking of a short story decades ago about a future cop entitled something like "Jorge Changes His Mind") but it amuses me to see my photo collection taking the first primitive steps down that road.

rushmc said...

When it comes to technologically-extended memory, I always think of Effinger's moddies and daddies. And long for them.

Tony Fisk said...

Swift's Struldbugs also aged and went senile (his point being 'careful what you wish for').

More recently 'FreakAngels' (Vol. 5) has taken the diffusion idea to extremes: Luke puts a new take on 'an open mind' as he stumbles into Myki's surgery sporting a head wound that would have felled an elephant, muttering that he's got no idea why he's still alive. As we see Myki framed by the remnants of Luke's cerebral cortex, the question has to be asked: where in space/time is Luke doing his thinking?

Tony Fisk said...

Twitter may prove to be a useful backup as well (Not only what *was* I thinking, but when?).

Actually, the extended memory issue is simply one of effective organisation and lookup. The 'inner Google' as I sometimes refer to it. I don't think our memories take up all that much space at all.

TwinBeam said...

How could a 20 year old, aware of all going on in medical science today, NOT expect they have a good chance of making it to 120 - and very likely well beyond?

Nicholas M said...

"How could a 20 year old, aware of all going on in medical science today, NOT expect they have a good chance of making it to 120 - and very likely well beyond?"

Quite easily, TwinBeam, if they're aware of the cumulative degradation of carcinogens, radiation, and stress bombing them, day in and day out. Not to mention all the processed food that many of us eat.

Anonymous said...

We forget things all the time, our minds deem a great deal of what we see to be unimportant.

Tim H. said...

How could a 20 year old, aware of all going on in medical science today, NOT expect they have a good chance of making it to 120 - and very likely well beyond?

A definite maybe, if they're wealthy. Any life extension therapy will be cost rationed.
And the last 50 years has seen immense improvements in pollution, much of which happened before "Free" trade.

gmknobl said...

Let me point out that a frequently misunderstood part of Christianity is that you are suppose to live as if, to borrow a term from evangelicals, "the end time" will come soon. This does NOT mean it will be soon. That's what's confused by evangelical, many conservatives and your "Believers." They are not logically the same though. The point of living as if it will be soon is simply to keep reminding you to always act in a Christ-like manner. That's a good thing for anyone, not just Christians (if you use my interpretation of Christ's actions and beliefs) and is decidedly not a condemnation for anyone, whether Christian or not. You know, like Douglas Adams wrote, be nice to each other.

Unfortunately, that misunderstanding of Christian beliefs has caused many, many problems and has rooked many people out of their belongings and money.

John Kurman said...

Shostak, like every other human, has a poor understanding of risk. He fails to take into account that lifestyles allow humans to thrive as opposed to merely survive. Example; driving a car is dangerous, but riding a bike 30 times more so (approx). It's a tradeoff. He ignores Valhalla behavior. Who wants to be a tub of lard dying the straw death, (death by bedsore, staph infection, diet soda, etc) when life-threatening challenges keep you going longer, stronger, smarter?

I think Wil McCarthy coined the term, but I'd rather be immorbid than immortal.

rushmc said...

@gmknobl: But if we can extend our lives (okay, what is life? extend our consciousness and continuity, then) indefinitely, we can give the finger to the Christians' sick afterlife fantasy. People worry about maintaining the motivation to live over a long period with longevity, but society has lumbered for two thousand years under the burden of a death cult that preaches that life doesn't matter and everything real comes after death. We've seen the consequences of that.

Tyler August said...

TwinBeam said...
"How could a 20 year old, aware of all going on in medical science today, NOT expect they have a good chance of making it to 120 - and very likely well beyond?"

I'm still in my early 20s, but my health is worse than my father's; I'd not be shocked if he outlived me.

LarryHart said...

TwinBeam said...

How could a 20 year old, aware of all going on in medical science today, NOT expect they have a good chance of making it to 120 - and very likely well beyond?


A 20 year old Wal-Mart family member, maybe.

A 20 year old normal working person? What would there be to look forward to in a 200-year lifespan? Working for 150+ years? Or 150+ years in a state-run nursing home?

Robert said...

I must admit some curiosity as to what the effects of long-term weightlessness would be on lifespan; especially for a being conceived in a weightless environment and living its entire life there. I know some of this was touched upon in Larry Niven's "The Integral Tree" (and in other books in that series).

Rob H.

TwinBeam said...

Larry Hart: "A 20 year old Wal-Mart family member, maybe.

A 20 year old normal working person? What would there be to look forward to in a 200-year lifespan? Working for 150+ years? Or 150+ years in a state-run nursing home?"

Huh? I have no idea what you mean by the reference to WalMart.

And I didn't say anything about how much anyone 100 years from how will enjoy living to 120+. However I will:

Extended lifespan will largely follow from extended health-span. Longer good health will increase one's capacity to enjoy life, and longer life in one's companions will avoid a major cause of depression.

Given those two things, one will need a shallow idea of the extent of the world, to feel that a single lifetime is sufficient to exhaust it's wonders.

David Brin said...

"uite easily, TwinBeam, if they're aware of the cumulative degradation of carcinogens, radiation, and stress bombing them, day in and day out. Not to mention all the processed food that many of us eat."

Actually the answer is simpler. We are PROGRAMMED to get out of our kids' way. We are the species on Earth that has MOST altered that programming, when we stumbled into a use for grandparents. A tribe that had a few 45 year olds did much better... and if the big can had one 65 year old, it rocked. That put HUGE pressure to flick every easy (low hanging) lifespan extension button

...the buttons the Methuselah guys are all excited about in mice and flies. Ridiculous. WE have already flicked all those buttons. THe new fruit is way up in the tangled branches.

rushmc said...

So we create new buttons. Again, non-existent beings do not have a moral prerogative over existing ones, however much of a practical advantage the progression may have lent the species in the past.

rewinn said...

@rushmc wrote:
"...Effinger's moddies and daddies..."
... ah! that may have been the author. IIRC, he supposes that you plug in modules for information and/or personality traits useful to your current task, e.g. meticulous observation while you're solving a murder, something more tolerant while you're interacting with your family.

Imagine the hilarity that could ensue from mixing this up!

@Twinbeam
The reference to the WalMart family was undoubtedly shorthand for "being fabulously rich beyond the dreams of avarise", and not a reference to WalMart shoppers.

Sam Walton's kids have turned away from his pro-American stance (...remember when everything sold at WalMart was "made in America"? Am I dating myself???) toward a very firm pro-Aristocracy position, to all appearances because they're children of privilege, not unlike the Koch boys. For such as they, an extended life will be very pleasant since they can afford all the servants, hookers and drugs needed to make their stay pleasant. In contrast, the poor are not permitted to grow weed with which to make their final days bearable.

---

As for Christianity and the relationship between this earth and the next, it's fair to say that there is quite a bit of variation. For not knowing this, you may be forgiven (heh - Christian joke!), since the intolerant loudmouth segment of Christianity naturally have the loudest mouths.

TwinBeam said...

Oh, THAT family. So you have to be ultra rich to enjoy living a long time? I think not.

BTW - weed is becoming legal here, for those who claim to need it for medicinal purposes. Many of the "medicators" will be fakers, of course, but then the War on Drugs is a hypocritical charade anyhow, so that seems fair.

And it's fun listening to the local Fox radio personalities going on about how the program SHOULD have distributed weed through pharmacies - when of course they had uttered not one peep in favor of more rational legalization before hand.

David Brin said...

Rushmc I do not mind moving ahead and learning to steer our fate. What I mind is people blithely assuming that control of hyper-nonlinear systems will prove as easy as it was to, say, apply boolean algebra to primitive computers, or making steam or jet engines. There is no set of blueprints for the geneome, the proteome, or the vastl y complex inner rules of a cell, let alone their interaction en masses. Expecting such is utter naivete.

We may learn to tweak this or that... lengthen telemeres etc. tradeoffs will erupt as cancers or bizarre drawbacks. Dig it. Anything simple and our bodies would have stumbled upon it, by now!!! If we find it, it will take a lot more than 3 or 4 chemical tweaks.

Nanomachines that go around scraping out plaque from arteries? Ounds great! You first.,

Nicholas M said...

"
How could a 20 year old, aware of all going on in medical science today, NOT expect they have a good chance of making it to 120 - and very likely well beyond?


A 20 year old Wal-Mart family member, maybe.

A 20 year old normal working person? What would there be to look forward to in a 200-year lifespan? Working for 150+ years? Or 150+ years in a state-run nursing home?"

Oh, come now, this is a straw man, and a pretty easy one to knock down. If we're living long enough for 150-year careers... that means a few changes-

-temporary retirements
-multiple careers
-much longer time spans to attain greater levels of mastery

Check out Tim Ferriss "Four-Hour Work Week". His philosophy? Stay healthy, and take career breaks throughout your life. Design a new lifestyle.

The current one we have- career followed by retirement- is a product of the industrial age. Isn't the information age destined to create whole new lifestyles?

I'm not rich, but a few hundred extra years of life means a lot more time to *get* rich- and enjoy it!

rushmc said...

>>Expecting such is utter naivete.

But expecting to eventually crack a complex system may well not be. Or are you seriously arguing that a naturally-evolved system has reached a level of complexity that human (and computer-aided) intelligence can a priori never decipher and utilize directly? Or improve upon? That seems more pessimistic than the known data would indicate.

TwinBeam said...

" Anything simple and our bodies would have stumbled upon it, by now!!! "

Well, in fact they - or rather life well before humans - did. Two ways, in fact. Birth and healing.

Birth - Creation of new bodies that live for another full lifespan - which we are on the cusp of emulating in modest ways, to create replacement organs that almost certainly WILL be increasing average human lifespan probably before the middle of this century, by preventing many premature deaths.

Healing - in-place regeneration of a living system. It's break-down IS aging, but we can learn to support healing to keep it working better, longer. And it appears likely that stem cell injections will provide a means to let us directly engage healing in life-extending ways.

Both mechanisms provide potential avenues to life extension, that don't rely on "flipping switches".

David Brin said...

Who the heck said "never"?

I am ready to be pleasantly surprised by some things that happen earlier than I expect. I hope sanity related ways to both reduce indignation and increase intelligence come first.

But the singularity guys (I know em, love wm!) are extrapolating a Moore's law that is only slightly above linear, while ignoring the law of SOFTWARE in which progress lags WAY below linear. (Progress is SLOWING DOWN!)

And we're finding that bio complexity is more complex than we had thought, at a pace that is WAY WAY above linear. Much computing may take place inside cells!

Tell you what. If we live to 200 remind me I owe you a drink. Meanwhile, work to make a civilization that could both thaw out our frozen brains and that would want to have us around, because it's grateful for what you and I did.

THAT is the best life insurance.

Ian said...

"Dig it. Anything simple and our bodies would have stumbled upon it, by now!"

This reminds me of the joke about the two economists and the $20 note lying on the foot path.

Ian said...

"...the buttons the Methuselah guys are all excited about in mice and flies. Ridiculous. WE have already flicked all those buttons. THe new fruit is way up in the tangled branches."

soem of us have flipped more of them than others -and live almost 50% longer than the average as a result.

Recent studies of centenarians have show statistically significant genetic variants when compared to the general population.

I'm actually pretty pessimistic about longevity compared to the extropian crowd but I think there's a good chance that the average person's chance of living to, say, 100 or 110 could be greatly enhanced over the next couple of decades.

Robert said...

Brief foray into (sane) politics: a centrist cooperative group comprised of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents is forming to compete the leftist MoveOn and rightist Tea Party movements. Their aim seems to be to try and take the partisan out of politics and to protect moderate politicians.

The sardonic wit in me wants someone to start yelling at them and calling them traitors to America and the like, just so they get more attention and don't just fade into obscurity. Because there's nothing like a good flame war to get people to notice things. (Please excuse my cynicism here. We've had the Coffee party and that faded into obscurity. This group is likely to be no more effective in my viewpoint because there is a lack of passion that comes with the extremes.)

Rob H.

rushmc said...

@DavidBrin: I agree with your entire post. I guess my buttons get pushed a little when it seems someone is suggesting that because something is likely to prove more difficult than expected that it is going to necessarily prove impossible. You react to the excessive optimism of others; I react to your reaction. It's a corrective measure.

rushmc said...

@Ian: You make an excellent point.

@Robert: MoveOn is leftist? They have already discredited themselves with that statement. Only in our world where the right has dragged the left all the way to right-of-center could MoveOn be considered leftist.

Robert said...

Of course MoveOn is leftist. In fact, it's extremely Socialist in nature because it embodies a desire for changing government from a kleptomaniac organization that supports the ultra-rich and corporations over the citizens to something more balanced. Or to put it another way, it embodies Progressivism which is contrary to what the current incarnation of neconservativism wants (unless of course the progressive laws destroy the rights of the citizens and lift up the new Elite Oligarchs of the ultra-rich and corporations). ;)

Heck, Wikipedia describes it as "liberal" in nature. And from this old-school conservative's point of view (one, mind you, that has been forced further "left" because of the Right's abandon of reason for madness), it's hitting quite close to the mark there.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

TwinBeam:

Huh? I have no idea what you mean by the reference to WalMart.


I meant that a trillionaire doesn't have to worry about how he's going to PAY for the privelege of supporting his life for 200 years, but that most of us would have to consider that.


...one will need a shallow idea of the extent of the world, to feel that a single lifetime is sufficient to exhaust it's wonders.


In other contexts here, I've harped on the fact that as society becomes less dependent upon human labor to keep it working, we've GOT to come up with another method by which someone earns his right to a decent standard of living besides "Get a job!" and "Work harder!" It's a fundamental flaw in our economic system right now.

I only see this problem being EXACERBATED by increased lifespans.

So I guess my comment is ultimately a cynical one. In a vaccuum, I'd agree with you--bring on 200 years worth of learning and experience! Really (that wasn't meant as sarcasm). But in the economy we live in now (at least in the United States), I can't help but see that as requiring decades more of servitude, and I'm not sure I WANT to live an extra century or so if that time has to be spent primarily as an employee.

Tacitus said...

I don't think I would enjoy living in a society with 200 year life spans. Practically speaking, if the process was expensive we would have a cadre of pickled billionaires hanging around. Same kind of sorts who as medieval barons had themselves injected with extract of monkey gonads.
If the Methuselah process is only slightly expensive maybe we could all afford it, but think of how the rest of the world would resent us. If it it dirt cheap I would fear its mass introduction. Imagine how many children imprudent societies could generate with an extra century to accomplish it.

And philosophically I feel our success as a species might suffer. Sure, we primates do well by individual adapability, but I don't see chimps at the apex of many African ecosystems. We putativly advanced primates have the additional ability to pass wisdom from one generation to the next. The grizzled old sage holding forth by the winter fires and all that.
In a world where the old sages stick around for ever, as the young pups become equally old and sage, would we still transmit from generation to generation? Who would we listen to?

That young cub Brin? Heck, I'll just wait and see what Asimov comes up with!

Or, pipe down gramps, being 180 instead of 160 doesn't mean you know jack.

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

In a world where the old sages stick around for ever, as the young pups become equally old and sage, would we still transmit from generation to generation? Who would we listen to?


There's a Kurt Vonnegut short story from the 1960s that deals specifically with this subject. Families lived jammed together in overcrowded city apartments that prefigure those seen in "Soylent Green". The eastern metroplex covers the entire coast, and there's a throwaway reference to Chicago's western suburbs in Iowa. And the wizened old patriarch holds tight to the purse strings while the rest of the family kowtow to him in constant peril of his momentary displeasure.

At the risk of a SPOILER, there's a bit toward the end where someone is thrown in jail and finally has some luxurious living space there. The guard warns them that "Anyone who lets on how good jail is never gets to come back."

Darn, I can't remember the name of the story, but it's the last story in the "Welcome to the Monkey House" collection.

Anonymous said...

off-topic Note to Woozle:

A new book by the Secret Service agents at the assassination may answer some of those nagging questions: "The Kennedy Detail" by Gerald S. Blaine.

Tim H. said...

If near-immortality becomes widespread, will there be enough young people who won't know any better than to try the impossible? More likely, it will be limited to a handful of wealthy folk, who will decree a stately pleasure dome and severely chastise any servant who plays Rush's "Xanadu".

"fierlic", new jalpeno candy.

Robert said...

That would actually be an interesting conspiracy theory - if a scientist came up with a longevity process that cost a bit of money, then it's in his or her interest to keep quiet about it and quietly gather some rich sponsors. The circle of Methuselahs would quietly grow and any claims of "immortality" would be laughed and derided as science fiction nonsense.

There wouldn't even be the sort of backlash that the Howard Families suffered in Heinlein's books, seeing that the Howard Families weren't exactly the most rich and powerful of people on the planet, and thus could be corralled (until of course Lazarus Long shanghaied a spacecraft for his brethren). If you're rich enough to afford a longevity process, you're rich enough to afford plenty of bodyguards to keep the masses at bay if the secret did slip out beyond spin doctoring.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

Personal immortality may be the only solution to the rather annoying problem that authors keep churning out quality novels faster than I can read them.

Of course, if they're immortal too, the problem only gets worse...

===

Fans of Tinkerers and the various what-shall-we-do-with-America-after-we've-exported-the-last-job thing may enjoy Thom Hartmann's new work, Rebooting the American Dream

Robert said...

And speaking of health and well-being, Jon Stewart goes to town on the GOP for blocking the 9/11 First Responder bill. I rather liked the end with the hypocrisy of the Republican Senators thrown in their faces as we see Senator after Senator saying wonderful things about the First Responders... and then voting to filibuster this bill. And there was even a comment from one Senator saying "we can't waste money on this" in an op-ed piece.

I must agree with Stewart here: it's time for the Republican Party to put 9/11 behind them. By blocking this bill for the First Responders (a number of whom died and others have been sickened by the toxic dust they breathed in when they rushed to the WTC after it was struck) they proved that they don't care about the firefighters, police, and emergency personnel who risked everything. Otherwise, we would have seen someone take a stand for principle.

Rob H., who is a firm believer of VOTING ALL THE BUMS OUT.

Tony Fisk said...

In case you hadn't noticed, they're all in favour of having the bums voted out as well.

It's just that they've got the wrong end of the spinal column.

Ian said...

"That would actually be an interesting conspiracy theory - if a scientist came up with a longevity process that cost a bit of money, then it's in his or her interest to keep quiet about it and quietly gather some rich sponsors. The circle of Methuselahs would quietly grow and any claims of "immortality" would be laughed and derided as science fiction nonsense."

John Whyndam had an interesting take on this in The Trouble With Lichen.

Robert said...

Actually, I want a clean sweep. I want to see all the incumbents step down and allow entirely new candidates on both sides to run for office. That way we can have a decent selection of new candidates without having Republicans necessarily gain control of the Senate (seeing that I don't trust them right now).

Rob H.

rushmc said...

"Decent selection of new candidates"??

Have you SEEN who is running for office lately?

Robert said...

Yes. There are some real nutters out there. And you know something? If the Far-Right element of Republicans elect a nutter in their primary, but Democrats elect a moderate or an intelligent reasonable person, and the state isn't already gone downhill in a tailspin of insanity and idiocy, then moderate Republicans and Independents will look at the loon and look at the decent candidate and very likely vote for the decent candidate as the "lesser of two evils" (in that the candidate was a Democrat and thus "evil" in their eyes).

And if the leftist elements of the Democrats put forward one of their loons and the Republicans manage to find a moderate in their neck of the woods (for those more liberal states), then we will likely see moderate Democrats and Independents siding with Republicans to elect a decent Republican.

Yes, it's putting my faith in my fellow man, but if the candidates don't have incumbency to fall back on, then they have to run on their own merits and personalities.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Robert asked about the health consequences of microgravity. They're dire. It transpires that the human body was not designed for a weightless environment and suffers severe rapid degradation without a gravitational field.

Among the syndromes produced by microgravity, astronauts have documented the following: chronic diarrhea leading to dehydration (if severe enough, this can kill you -- this is how flu strains kill); osteoporosis, or loss of bone density -- somewhat ameliorated by intense exercise, but not enough to entirely offset the symptoms, which limits the length of time astronauts can remain in microgravity; chronic debilitating myalgia, or muscle atrophy, which seems only mildly retarded by vigorous exercise (Soviet cosmonauts who spent several months in continuous microgravity had to be carted out of their Soyuz capsule in wheelchairs because they were too weak to stand in normal earth gravity upon their return); and, since we speak of microgravity, we're presumably talking about some length of time in near-earth orbit, exposure to galactic cosmic rays. These are nuclei accelerated to such high relativistic velocities by cosmic processes like synchrotron radiation that they do tremendous damage when they strike the human body. Sufficiently long exposure to GCR will eventually produce virulent cancers, so outside the earth's protective magnetic field is not a place human beings want to be if they can avoid it.

This article from Scientific American
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-does-spending-prolong
details the above effects. Sad to say, microgravity appears to accelerate age-related changes. In other words, zero gee ages you much faster than normal. This turns out to be the exact opposite of what writers like Heinlein predicted. So instead of people going to the moon or space stations to extend their lives, that's the precise environment old people want to stay away from to avoid the effects of aging.

To give you an idea of the importance of earth's strong magnetic field to continued life on our planet, google some pretty pics of those gorgeous green and purple auroras at the poles. Now consider that these spectacular lightshows are the result of many trillions of super-high-energy particles blasting into the earth's atmosphere, funneled there by the field lines of the earth's magnetic field (which, as we know, intersect the earth's surface at both poles). Now imagine that intense flux of galactic cosmic rays blasting through your body while you're in orbit, outside the protective envelope of the earth's magnetosphere.

Not good for your health.

Some details about GCR exposure in this article written for layman:
http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-health-effects-of-cosmic-rays-on-the-human-body.htm

So, sadly, microgravity is inimical to human health in many different ways. A stay of more than a couple of months in a microgravity environment seriously degrades your body. Spending years in microgravity would almost certainly be fatal.

Robert said...

I think I worded my question about microgravity poorly. What I'm curious about is the effects of microgravity on an organism (mice, human, or whatever) that doesn't return to Earth. If you remain in a zero-G environment permanently, what are the effects? And what are the effects on fetal development and newborns and the like? I'd have to think that NASA or someone has done experiments on longer-term zero-G exposure.

I will say, however, that given the effect of zero-G on humans that expect to return to Earth, we might not be sending manned missions to Mars or the like anytime soon - at least, not unless we develop an effective engine that can constantly push a ship at at least .5 Gs of acceleration (and then deceleration). Either that, or a ship with a rotating section for people to sleep in to simulate gravity part of the time.

Rob H.

rushmc said...

>>At this point we enter the realm of Theseus' Paradox. Have you become immortal if, in so doing, you stop being who you were and become an entirely different person? With different memories, or no memories at all? With a totally different personality?

@Anonymous: I think you set up something of a false dichotomy. Our cells DO replace themselves. We do frequently become a different person. Our memories are conditional, created, and in flux. Our personality is subject to considerable change. And "who we are" is something we don't even begin to understand.

This is today, now, naturally, without the application of new tech. So is it really such a problem?

Tacitus said...

Rushmc

To be more accurate SOME of our cells replace themselves. So you want to have intact skin at age 200no problemo, but expect to be laying on some lotion and uber sunblock.

Now, you want a functioning nervous system at that point we have an issue, peripheral nerves regenerate imperfectly, the brain and spinal column not much at all.

Of course there are research attempts to make this happen but they are a long ways from practical application, and the potential for unintended side effects looks high. How to regenerate just the right cells at the right time? You sure don't want to stimulate a bunch of renegade tumor producing cells.

Me, I am pacing myself to accomplish my intended goals in life by 80, at which point I expect to die with my boots on.

Tacitus

Robert said...

And we've won one for citizen rights. Police are no longer allowed to seize e-mails from an ISP or outside location without a warrant, much as regular mail is not seizable without a warrant under the Fourth Amendment.

Rob H.

rushmc said...

>>Now, you want a functioning nervous system at that point we have an issue, peripheral nerves regenerate imperfectly, the brain and spinal column not much at all.

I'm seeing a lot of studies coming out that suggest that neurogenesis happens a lot more in adulthood than previously thought, and may be encouraged by telomerase- or other-based therapies. So I think the jury is still out on this.

TheMadLibrarian said...

On a side note of "How are we going to finance all those immortals?" DH has been doing a bit of research into post-scarcity economics. What happens to the laws of supply and demand if material goods suddenly (through Star Trek-like replicators or some other deus ex machina) become available to all for little to no cost? An example is digital goods, where virtually infinite copies can be produced for cheap. Turns out our current models fall apart once the bottleneck of production is eliminated. Value, I suspect, would then come from invention and novelty.

TheMadLibrarian

rewne - recycling digital libraries

Tony Fisk said...

It used to be thought that braincells stop dividing shortly after birth.
However, it has been found that there is a final growth spurt at the onset of puberty, where the brain mass increases by about 1% (big headed teens!)
It took so long to be noticed because the new growth gets pared back quite savagely once the useful pathways have been voted in (or maybe the drinking age should be increased?)

Why are the Swedes so desparate to extradite Assange? Could it be something to do with this?

Robert said...

The webcomic "Mindmistress" recently examined part of this (it's a "superhero" style comic where the heroine has her intelligence boosted to superhuman levels, and her efforts to remain out of government and industry hands while dealing with various threats). When the "Mindmistress" of another universe died and her secrets were all released (thanks to an AI fulfilling a mandate by her creator) industry pretty much collapsed and... well, it wasn't pretty (among some technologies was such things as effective brainwashing technologies and the like). Some people even sent viruses out to people's household assemblers to create grenades that would detonate.

If we did come up with widescale assemblers, we'd need to find ways of hardcoding into them methods of preventing the creation of weapons or explosive devices because someone would undoubtedly try to pull something like that.

Rob H.

ell said...

How will we make the transition? Current society seems to have a need for throwaway humans: soldiers, serial murderer victims, cheap labor and slaves, consumers to buy goods and then be replaced by new people to buy more goods . . .

A substantial part of society forbids contraception, some sincerely in valuing human life, some cynically in valuing throwaway bodies.

Anonymous said...

All the health problems mentioned get worse the longer you spend in zero gee.

You may not need to walk, but you need muscles: your heart is a muscle. Like your legs and arms, it gets weaker the longer you spend in orbit.

You might not need to walk, but without calcium in your bones, your fingers will shatter when you reach out your hands to stop yourself against a bulkhead in microgravity.

Cumulative radiation exposure gets worse the longer you spend in orbit. People who never came down from orbit would most likely die from cancer much sooner than people who live deep inside the protective atmosphere. People on earth's surface almost never encounter cosmic rays because they strike oxygen or nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere and decay. People in orbit would get bombarded by cosmic rays constantly.

Microgravity is not a good environment if you want to stay healthy.

Robert said...

That is a matter of philosophy. After all, consider this: are you the person you were when you were five? Is someone at ten the same person they were at five? Is someone at fifteen the same person they were at ten?

And what of someone who is 40 years old; are they the same person they were at 20? How about someone who is 60 years old? Are they the same person they were at 40, or at 20?

While I don't think highly of her works these days (my tastes have changed), Anne McCaffery touched upon some of this with the Crystal Singer series of books. Killashandra Ree (and most of the crystal harvesters) slowly lost her memories due to the effect crystal cutting had on memory processes. While she had a vastly extended lifespan, was she the same person she was at the start of the series? In many ways, yes, she was. In other ways, she was not.

Her partner (Lars) used photographs, memorabilia, and diaries to help refresh his own memory (something Killashandra avoided as she wanted to forget a lot of things) and managed to retain his memories. Likewise, someone who has pictures, objects, and diaries of their life will be able to refresh those memories and keep them from ultimately fading. It is thought that memory is holographic in nature; you can suffer brain damage and yet the brain damage will only ultimately destroy memory if it is extensive. Thus if neurons are replaced through stem cells and the like, refreshing the memory engrams through diaries and pictures and the like will help "back up" the memories in question and prevent a loss of identity.

Rob H.

Robert said...

How odd. I responded to a ghost message. There's not even a "deleted" message left behind.

Rob H.

rushmc said...

>>That is a matter of philosophy. After all, consider this: are you the person you were

I disagree. I think it has been presented as a matter of philosophy, but the actual fact of the matter is, identity is a fiction and not a continuous phenomenon. For legal and other purposes, the fiction is useful and therefore maintained.

rushmc said...

>>How odd. I responded to a ghost message. There's not even a "deleted" message left behind.

I had the same thing happen to me earlier. There's evidently a technical hiccup occurring here.

Jon said...

Yeah, I posted a long post about wikileaks and longevity, the site said it was on the page, then it vanished.

electronic cigarettes said...

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Indicator Veritatis said...

With Brin's love of commentary and the Enlightenment, I expected more commentary on the relevance of this tidbit:

" On April 8, the networking hardware that routes traffic on the Internet got new marching orders: Requests for data from 15% of Internet addresses-including Dell.com, Yahoo.com, Microsoft.com, and U.S. government sites-were directed to go through China. "

Is this somebody tampering with the DNS system? Why would anyone want these packets going through China? It seems unlikely that China would want to extend the Great Firewall of China to the whole world.