Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Game of Life

Suppose you believe, as I do, that major breakthroughs in medical technology (from cloning, stem cells, etc.) are likely to occur within the next 20 or 30 years, allowing dramatic extensions of the human lifespan. How should this affect your behavior? Should you take less care of yourself, or more? The simple answer is that, since you think the new technologies will probably save you, you can risk a greater amount of unhealthy activity. But this answer is flawed, for at least two reasons.

First, there’s a question as to exactly when the advances will occur. You need to make sure you live long enough, and stay healthy enough, to take advantage of them when they finally arrive. You want to be the fellow riding the wave, not the guy who misses the swell and gets left behind while everyone else rides it in. (I hope Tom is not cringing at my amateur use of a surfing metaphor.)

Second, healthy living and medical technology might be complements, not substitutes. For instance, if they start growing cloned organs in labs for transplantation, you have to be healthy enough to survive the transplantation process. Or the new technologies might excel at life-extension but lag when it comes to quality-of-life. If you fail to maintain your body in ways that allow you to enjoy it, you could find yourself echoing the words of John Cougar Mellencamp: “Oh yeah, life goes on / Long after the thrill of livin’ is gone...”

A related thought: Some people can’t understand why I’d want to live forever (or for a really long time). I think those people must not enjoy living that much. But I recognize the possibility that I’ll get tired of life one day. And so I say to the naysayers, “It’s not necessarily about living forever; it’s about having the option.”


Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that even if aging could be stopped, you'd still have to contend with an "accident" eventually putting an end to your existence. I put quotes around accident because it is hard to tell what is really accidental and what is caused by man(un)kind's activities. So even if Tom is frozen and thawed and reconstitued (sounds like orange juice), he may get runover by the kid with a driver's permit traveling at 500 mph in the latest solar powered vehicle of the 22nd century.

The man who lives only by hope will die with despair.
-- Italian Proverb

Anonymous said...

I never stop being puzzled at how many just presume that there is something desirable about living longer. I am only 68 but I am a bit weary. I think I would prefer to not wake up some morning.

Anonymous said...

Life extension is about slowing or eliminating the aging process. Would your attitude change if you were in the same physical condition you were when you were 25?

Tom W. Bell said...

Rest assured, anonymous of May 12, 2005, that I have given careful thought to the "accident" problem. As a professor, I garner a lot of comments like, "Gee, it was a shame someone 'accidentally' keyed your car! Hey, did I mention I know where you live? Now, can we talk about my grade?"

Still, I figure that even a life with threats beats a life without, well, life. And, anyhow, I'll be able to make backup copies by 2100.

Incidentally, with-it cryoncists use vitrification--not freezing. It makes a difference, you know. Too many ice crystals can really spoil your (future) day.

Bob Hawkins said...

You know what G.K. Chesterton said: "Millions dream of immortality who get bored on Sunday afternoon."

Bob Hawkins said...

You know what G.K. Chesterton said: "Millions dream of immortality who get bored on Sunday afternoon."

Reason said...

As one of the other commenters pointed out, it's very unlikely that any technology for healthy life extension will result in you being older for longer. This is the Tithonus Error: in fact, you'll be younger for longer. Here, some references:

Anonymous said...

I hope you don't ever tire of living. I can think of only a few reasonable circumstances to give up on life--for reasons of poor health, severe depression or chronic pain. Even then, where there is life there is hope for a better day. Life is brief no matter how long you may live but death is forever and irrevocable (in spite of what Tom yearns for). Best of all is not to dwell too much on one's eventual demise but to live everyday to the fullest. Okay, this post was full of platitudes but at least it was "pro-life!"

gt said...

It means rethinking a lot of things. We live in a profoundly deathist culture.
Niven's puppeteers focus on risk management.
" poor health, severe depression or chronic pain" I've misplaced the link, but there's a guy who writes about how new tech won't just let us live longer and smarter, but happier. Depression (which I live with) and pain will be cureable sooner or later, so the trick is indeed to surf that curve. I used to have this conversation with a friend of mine. He's my age, but is hiv+, so his concerns are more acute.
Do some risk assessment. Avoid smoking, smokers, maybe car exhaust and food additives.
In my case I have to a) move out of the ghetto and b) see a doctor once a year and c) manage my depression.
In the short term, your risks are cancer, heart disease, liver failure, gunshots, car wrecks. In the longer term your risks include volcanos, asteroids, and some 7th grader blowing up the science lab and taking out the western hemisphere. So getting off the planet becomes a priority.
But you might not want to be a beta tester.