Thursday, June 30, 2011


Okay, now that I'm really tired of the discussions on other sites (not listed) with the men's rights people, many of whom are unable to see any POV other than their own; and the gay marriage advocates (not listed), many of whom insist there is nothing but bigotry in any opposition to their legislation; and the government union people (not listed), who insist that all this recent hullabaloo is not about principles but power, not for them, of course, but only for those evil other guys; I thought a nice philosophical discussion about whether life extension was a wise idea, and how much tax money should go to encouraging it, would be an invigorating, mostly-intellectual affair from first principles.

And note these are what are generally considered peripheral issues, rather than getting into who is more hypocritical than who in getting us into wars, or giving jobs to cronies, or covering up corruption in his own party - issues where one would expect that people would be a bit partisan and defensive, even at the best of times.

And oh yeah, one of the coaches on Kyle's team quit just before the championship because of his argument in the dugout with the head coach the night before. It was about whether they should hold the runner at third with the bases loaded or the third baseman should play in to try and stop the run. Life or Death, really.

I conclude that none of us - well, none of you, anyway - are capable of listening to even the remotest suggestion that we have made stupid assumptions. My whole series about May We Believe Our Thoughts? MWBOT 1-17, in which I offered the moderately comforting idea that we are influenced by nonrational factors, but are essentially rational creatures? I take it all back. I should go back to fundamentalist Christian sites to argue with people that the KJV was not designated by God as the acceptable translation. I think I had more success there.

So let's try some ideas on questioning whether we should devote hearts and minds to life extension.

1. It would be totally awesome, no matter how elegantly disguised and expressed, is sufficient reason for you to be in favor of it, but not enough to prove to me it's a good idea.

2. Opponents have some stupid objections is true, and must feel great to know, but is likewise not a persuasive positive case.

3. Great minds have been speculating about this for at least three thousand years, and most of them have seen both good and bad possibilities. That should be worth at least a look.

4. No one has ever been there. That should be worth a moment's pause.

5. I don't see the steady improvement in my personality that suggests living another hundred years would perfect me. In fact, I sense the opposite.

6. If you look around you, you will see that old people are not generally improving, nor do they say they are.

7. You, in particular, actually.

8. Waving off the last three points, claiming that all those things will be fixed when we have better knees and great digestions and electro-stim attitudes is just a wee bit wide-eyed in its optimism.

None of these is a true argument against life extension. It might turn out great. But criminy, is there anyone over there on the advocacy side who is intellectually capable of at least considering there might be teensie-weensie unintended negative consequences that don't disappear with a wave of the hand?


dilys said...

I went to a "longevity" conference with lots of cryogenics enthusiasts, and they seemed incapable of grappling with the disconnect of being resuscitated in a thousand years, knowing no one, needing to be resocialized as infants are, but without the charm or neural plasticity of infants. Totally clueless and discarnate in their calculations of the living reality of post-cryogenics (even if it worked perfectly in technical terms).

james said...

Someone said that as you aged you became more like yourself. Given the mix of good and evil I find in myself, I don't think that's a comforting prospect. I think a spot of redemption/purification first would provide a better outcome.
Shaw's Back to Methuselah was fun but hardly serious--no matter what he thought.

jaed said...

For me it's relatively simplistic. Life is good. Premature death is bad. (Premature death might in some cases turn out to have been a blessing, as with most bad things from getting fired to being run over by a truck - I'm speaking of the thing itself here, not of the many possible serendipitous consequences.) Therefore, saving people from dying is good in itself.

This is so obvious to me that I genuinely have trouble understanding why anyone would think it's a bad thing. It's like saying having more children in the world is a bad thing in itself. I think this puts me squarely in your category #1.

Could there be unexpected bad consequences? Certainly. (Everyone who's read enough science fiction has been exposed to bunches of possibilities.) Could these consequences, in principle, be bad enough to overcome the great good proposed? That's entirely possible as well. (But "There just might be unnamed bad consequences and therefore we mustn't go there" strikes me as an untenable argument. I'm talking here about real, known evils. And knowing about such consequences is, for me, a reason to find ways to avoid them, not a welcome excuse to give up entirely.)

It's true people don't invariably improve with age. I look around me and see evil, nasty old people as well as patient, wise old people. (But would the former be a little less evil and nasty if their joints didn't ache so much and they were spending half their time in doctors' offices?)

terri said...

It depends on what you're talking about.

Cryogenics always makes me imagine some point, thousands of years in the future, where either an alien race or evolutionarily advanced humans come across an abandoned, yet still operating, warehouse of frozen heads....which they thaw out and give to each other as amusing pets!!

That type of anti-aging=BAD!! ;-)

Anti-aging would be great if it is qualitative. If I can live an extra 20 years but am still house-bound or uncomfortable or dependent on constant medical care....then what's the point?

If I can live an extra 20 years with relatively good health and cognitive function...then that's great!

I think you are too cynical about humans and "improvement". If the bar for our purpose in life is how well we are "improving" then not many of us are going to pass it.

For most of us, living and dying rather obscurely, an extra 20 years won't make a differenece....other than the support we can provide to society in general through work, helping our families grow and have the relational and financial support that healthy elders could provide.

On the other extra 20 years for people who are highly motivated and in the trenches of science, or outreach, or any "important" causes that have positive impacts on society would be invaluable.

Another productive 20 years for Einstein? OR Louis Pasteur? Or any number of people who have changed the world with their life's work?

that would be something.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

20 years is just about at the margin of what I am talking about. Expected
Year You Croak of 95 doesn't seem like a bad thing for humanity, though it will take some adjustments in how long we work. I suspect my granddaughters might live to be 120.

Even that may turn out to include too much personality deterioration, but perhaps that will be so variable as to be a wash.

But the serious life-extension people are talking EYYC of 200 or more, happening very soon. I don't think we're prepared for that.

Liza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
terri said...

Well, if 200 years was a healthy bodily and mentally functioning 200 years that would awesome, especially because if we are ever going to undertake any serious space exploration we'll need people who can live that long in order to traverse space and terraform Mars.

I say that only half-jokingly. Right now our natural life spans are a real deterrent to long-term space travel and exploration.

Conquer health and life span first, then use that to catapult us further into conquering space.

Sam L. said...

If we could live up to 200 years, and at 100 be much as we are now at 40 or 50--would we still become adults at 20? At 30? At 40? What about children? What about the population of the world? There will be concerns, and there will be unintended and unexpected consequences of living that long.

Texan99 said...

Weren't we talking a month or so ago about what our imperfections suggest about our eternal life after death? If we're just getting worse as we age here, what does that tell us about eternal life? I suppose it leaves us depending on the resurrection and redemption.