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What are some valid objections (and their counterarguments) to extreme human lifespan extension?

What are some valid objections (and their counterarguments) to extreme human lifespan extension?

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By Shubhankar Kulkarni on Aug 18, 2020

[1] https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2004/03/healthy-life-extension-and-boredom/

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A great video summary of arguments and counterarguments against radical life extension

The "Why die?" video by CGP Grey - https://youtu.be/C25qzDhGLx8 Then Kurzgesagt made a 2nd part - https://youtu.be/GoJsr4IwCm4 And then this really drives the point in - https://youtu.be/QMNGEY8OZqo

by Darko Savic on Aug 18, 2020

Shubhankar Kulkarni 16 days ago

Don't miss the third video...

The argument of naturalness

Another common objection to lifespan extension is that it aging is natural. Some argue that before we go into deciding whether aging is natural or not, we need a more comprehensive definition of what ‘natural’ means in this context. This is because a virus or bacterium infecting its host is a natural process. Or, from another perspective, the long lifespan in some pockets of the world (the blue zones) could be considered unnatural. Two conditions that are put forward for a biological process to be considered natural are inevitability and universality. It argues that since aging is both inevitable and universal, it is natural. In response to this argument, the inevitability of the infections by the micro-organisms does not cause physicians to dismiss them as natural and, therefore, unsuitable for treatment. [1] Furthermore, genetic diseases can be considered inevitable. [2] That does not stop us from treating them. There are two types of universalities: within a species and between species. “Within a species” universality restricts us to considering Homo sapiens. All humans undergo aging. If, however, a drug that can halt the aging process was discovered, it will make aging no longer universal (or inevitable). Should aging then be considered unnatural? [3] The “between species” universality allows us to adopt a broader perspective. [4] When we consider other organisms, we see that aging is not entirely universal. Some animals exhibit negligible aging and senescence [5]. Some argue that aging is, therefore, a special sort of disease. [6] Therefore, both inevitability and universality are not sufficient conditions to define naturalness such that it includes aging, but no (other) diseases. One could also argue that, if aging has a function, it is natural. However, aging exists simply as a by-product of selective forces working to maximize reproductive advantage early in life. [1] Even the evolutionary theories of aging suggest that aging has no biological function. [7] Thus, either we consider aging as unnatural, or consider it natural, but along with other diseases. References: 1. Caplan AL. The “Unnaturalness” of Ageing—Give Me Reason to Live! In: Health, disease and illness: Concepts in medicine [Internet]. Georgetown University Press; 2004. p. 117–27. Available from: https://books.google.co.in/books?hl=en&lr=&id=quhKDAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&ots=6gnIf-jXz7&sig=RTDBLHa4nKocjIwM9RIZZqfQ34A&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false 2. Walker FO. Huntington’s disease. Lancet [Internet]. 2007 Jan;369(9557):218–28. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0140673607601111 3. De Winter G. Aging as Disease. Med Heal Care Philos [Internet]. 2015 May 21;18(2):237–43. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11019-014-9600-y 4. HAYFLICK L. Biological Aging Is No Longer an Unsolved Problem. Ann N Y Acad Sci [Internet]. 2007 Apr 1;1100(1):1–13. Available from: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1196/annals.1395.001 5. Finch CE. Update on Slow Aging and Negligible Senescence – A Mini-Review. Gerontology [Internet]. 2009;55(3):307–13. Available from: https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/215589 6. Gems D. Aging: To Treat, or Not to Treat? Am Sci [Internet]. 2011;99(4):278. Available from: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/aging-to-treat-or-not-to-treat 7. Partridge L, Gems D. Mechanisms of aging: public or private? Nat Rev Genet [Internet]. 2002 Mar;3(3):165–75. Available from: http://www.nature.com/articles/nrg753

by Shubhankar Kulkarni on Sep 04, 2020

"Do You study at all when there is no deadline?"

Let's say we did an amazing job researching in medicine and biotechnology and managed to prolong human healthspan up to 500 years or more. By perfectly balanced, personalized diet programs, we give all the right and specifically engineered components to our cells, so they can perform metabolism more efficiently and with less harmful consequences. Old stem cells are being replaced with new ones, refreshing and maintaining the tissues. Enhanced internal systems detect malfunctioning cells and clear them, along with senescent cells. People have no wrinkles or grey hair, bones are strong as made of titan and the sight is still sharp, while cognitive abilities and knowledge grow day by day. Our healthspan is prolonged, but what happens now when we removed a deadline (literally)? How does it affect everyday life? Pros On the one hand, people could become very cautious about what they eat, how they drive, or how they cross busy roads. Safety standards and insurance companies would gain importance almost overnight, using the eternal life as the main marketing tool. Death would not be just an end of the road for all, but only for those who are not careful. It would also potentiate the development of the green sector (industries, ecological solutions) and result in a healthier planet in general. Also, people would then have much more time to invest in studying and building their careers, resulting in more inventions and less stressful life. Cons On the other hand, the psychological impact of a prolonged lifespan on living generations could be devastating. For people who at first believed life has a natural ending, more time could result in laziness, people not wanting to do their jobs fast and efficient, because they have the whole eternity to do it. Moreover, death was always a reason or an excuse for many things. How many times we didn´t want to learn, but we had a deadline, so we made ourselves? How many wives suffered domestic violence, believing it will end soon? How many times did we decide to do something just because we were not sure if we will have a chance to do it again? People would lose a sense of time as a driver of change and focus on themselves and their battle for eternity. It would then be much harder to battle the depression when we fall in or to find motivation when there is no rush. Unstable people would probably give up much easier. Why? It is maybe the best to cite philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist, and Nobel laureate - Bertrand Russell: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

by Juran K. on Sep 07, 2020

Povilas S 5 days ago

I agree that sometimes harsh conditions might be of value to you, but there's a huge difference when you impose them on yourself understanding the value of that (for example taking cold showers to strengthen immunity) and when you simply have no choice. No one wants to do something, if they simply have to do it. When you have no deadline, you study what you want, when you want and for how long you want. And if you don't study at all - then you don't want to. In other words, fear doesn't motivate you. Having a deadline often means that the subject of the study is also chosen for you. We can't always do what we want, because there are limits to that and death is the ultimate limit. Reducing those limits gives you more space for freedom, more space for choice. When there are no things you have to do, then you can do what you want. And how can you know what you really want to do if you always have to do something? There's no time for figuring that out. You had to go to school, then you had to find a job, etc., you have to survive in the first place and you can't even survive for very long, there's a deadline (especially good word in this context). When death is an inevitable thing anyway, then yes, remembering it makes you not to waste time for nonsense and can make you realize that you should only study what you really want, because time is precious. But this is only true when death is an inevitable limit. If you could remove that limit, you'd simply have more freedom in the first place. People often have this perspective that "have to's" is a good thing - they don't let you stay lazy, they grow you, but what is not considered here is that "have to's" restrain your freedom in the first place, and freedom is the ultimate value. If you choose something difficult yourself, then it's no longer a have to, it's done out of freedom, but you must be able to choose first....

Shubhankar Kulkarni 10 days ago

I agree with this point of view. However, the same argument can be used against the current limited life. For example, if I know I am going to die, why bother? Why bother studying, getting a job, chasing dreams if all of this is going to end some day and has no meaning after death? Thinking that things should change for the better only if I can live in that improved environment for a substantial amount of time, is valid. I agree there will be some psychological impact (although not necessarily a negative one) but understand this - in the year 1900, the average lifespan of humans was 40 years. It has doubled today. We have attracted some benefits, some problems, and some solutions to those problems with the extended life that we have today. This change was not drastic. It took 100 years. Further lifespan extension (after today) will, too, happen gradually. This gradual progress will prepare us (and our psyche) to adapt to the new lifespan. It would then, probably, not seem like a drastic change and disturb the human mind to the extent of madness. We humans will ease into it. Sure we will face newer problems, but will also find solutions. Also, I agree people suffered domestic violence knowing that it would end soon. However, with the extended lifespan, knowing that the violence would not end will also lead to a rebellion, asking for help, or divorce at the right time rather than succumb to it and face it till death. Also, people may be able to better plan their future. ...

Juran K. 10 days ago

Okay, you stated some really good arguments. It can definitely go both directions, but the pace of the change will give us (or not) time to accommodate. ...

Should aging be considered a disease?

Another question that arises is whether or not aging is a disease and whether it should be treated. Researchers have started off by defining (/redefining) disease. The characteristics a phenomenon needs to possess to be classified as disease are - (i) it leads to a reduction of one or more functional abilities below typical levels caused by internal processes or environmental agents, (ii) it leads to a reduced capacity of coping with changes in the environment, (iii) when comparing the individual under consideration to a sufficiently broad reference class. [1] Aging (or senescence) refers to the biological changes affecting organisms in the stage that can be called the adult period. Various biological indicators of functional abilities show a decrease during the aging process, [2–4] therefore, indicating that aging can be called a disease. One objection to consider aging as a disease is the argument of naturalness, which we have dealt with in another suggestion here (above). Secondly, there is the argument of successful aging. Elderly individuals who do not consider themselves to be worse off (successful aging) than their younger counterparts [5] illustrate that aging is not a disease. The main response to this argument lies in the subjectivity of self-reports and well-being. One can be ill and happy. [6] Therefore, viewing aging as a disease does not imply that persons of old age must be unhappy. Furthermore, one could argue that their subjective assessment of their situation (self-reporting) is affected by the expectations that certain physical capacities (for example, painful joints) are supposed to decline with age. “Self-deception is perhaps particularly likely to arise when people are faced with making judgments regarding their health...” [7] “It is possible for a person to be ill, happy, and aware of the fact that he or she is ill, allowing him or her to judge his/her status as suffering from a disease…. Some might argue that some of the elderly exhibit relatively little signs of a functional decline. However, it should be mentioned that a disease needn’t have a uniform manifestation. Diseases can have a later onset or a less precipitous decline. For example, in Huntington’s disease, both the age of onset and the rate of progression of the symptoms can vary significantly.” [1] The third argument is that of the reference class. This argument states that the elderly should constitute a reference class of their own, excluding younger adults. This will allow comparing the functional decline (or not) with the people who are of the same age as that of the patient of interest. This will obviously indicate that both the case and the reference have a similar functional decline and further prove that aging is, therefore, normal and not a disease. [8] However, there is no good reason why the normal values for functions observed in young adults cannot be used as a reference for elderly adults. [9] References: 1. De Winter G. Aging as Disease. Med Heal Care Philos [Internet]. 2015 May 21;18(2):237–43. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11019-014-9600-y 2. Vijg J, Campisi J. Puzzles, promises and a cure for ageing. Nature [Internet]. 2008 Aug;454(7208):1065–71. Available from: http://www.nature.com/articles/nature07216 3. Walker RF. Is aging a disease? A review of the Serono Symposia Workshop held under the auspices of The 3rd World Congress on the Aging Male, February 9, 2002, Berlin, Germany. Aging Male [Internet]. 2002 Jan 6;5(3):147–69. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/tam.5.3.147.169 4. Joaquin AM, Gollapudi S. Functional Decline in Aging and Disease: A Role for Apoptosis. J Am Geriatr Soc [Internet]. 2001 Sep;49(9):1234–40. Available from: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1046/j.1532-5415.2001.04990.x 5. Sneed JR, Whitbourne SK. Models of the Aging Self. J Soc Issues [Internet]. 2005 Jun;61(2):375–88. Available from: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2005.00411.x 6. Carel H. Can I Be Ill and Happy? Philosophia (Mendoza) [Internet]. 2007 Aug 7;35(2):95–110. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11406-007-9085-5 7. Cooper R. Disease. Stud Hist Philos Sci Part C Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci [Internet]. 2002 Jul;33(2):263–82. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0039368102000183 8. Boorse C. Health as a Theoretical Concept. Philos Sci [Internet]. 1977 Dec;44(4):542–73. Available from: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/288768 9. Izaks GJ, Westendorp RG. Ill or just old? Towards a conceptual framework of the relation between ageing and disease. BMC Geriatr [Internet]. 2003 Dec 19;3(1):7. Available from: http://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2318-3-7

by Shubhankar Kulkarni on Sep 10, 2020

Juran K. 9 days ago

American researchers stated that an early man´s lifespan 30 000 years ago was not more than 30 years. In a more recent, ancient times, Romans and Greeks had an average of 20 to 35 years of life expectancy. At that time, brutal wars, bad hygiene, and deadly diseases such as cholera, smallpox, or the black plague limited longevity. Slowly, people adopted better hygiene and diet routines, doctors started to wash their hands (yes, around year 1800!), learned how to treat diseases, and enabled longer healthspan that led to a rapid growth or life expectancies around the world in the last 100 years. The proof that these things actually work is nowadays seen in the difference of lifespan in developed and 3rd world countries (https://www.verywellhealth.com/longevity-throughout-history-2224054). But did humans 500 years BC look old, wrinkled, and with grey hair in their 30s? I guess no, same as the people in 3rd world countries look more less the same as people of their age in America, for example. So, during all these years, medicine didn´t postpone aging, just treated diseases, and prolonged general human healthspan. Statistics are known to reveal interesting but hide the vital, which is the case here. Despite the average human lifespan in the 1200s being 35 years of age, old healthy man who survived wars and epidemics could have lived to see his 70s. So, the aging/age limit is a constant throughout history, the same as death. Let´s take cancer as an example of disease. When a person has cancer, specific symptoms occur, pointing out the tissue or an organ where failure is happening. We can then, using staging and grading systems (defined for each type of cancer), describe the size, spread, and cellular characteristics of cancer. That allows us to shoot the right (more or less efficient) therapy. What makes it a disease is a localized source of malfunction, causing the appearance of specific symptoms and aberrant phenotype, which gives us a possibility to put it on sort of a scale. Aging is not a localized process, the symptoms that occur are not always specific and do not necessarily affect the functioning of the organism (graying of the hair, wrinkles). Also, most of the symptoms are already defined as diseases (osteoporosis, hypertension, impotency, cancers, etc). Therefore, aging (for not) is more likely a syndrome than a disease. ...

Shubhankar Kulkarni 9 days ago

By labeling "aging" a disease, my intention was to establish that it can be (or needs to be) treated. Policy makers (and in the future even insurance companies) might need a basis for acknowledging a treatment for aging. Calling it a disease makes it easier to comprehend its treatment. However, I am glad you pointed this out. Pursuing a cure for aging need not depend on its classification as a disease since it is desirable either way. [1] However, as mentioned earlier, labeling aging as a disease could benefit in ways like creating more funding (like the kind of funding anti-cancer research and treatments have today) [2,3] Also, treating senescence as a disease could result in a decline of ageism in medicine. If senescence is considered a disease, with a similar status as other diseases, perhaps physicians and other healthcare providers will be less inclined to consider treating the aged as less useful than treating the young. [4] Also, getting a disease status for aging will fuel further research in the pathophysiology of aging itself, allowing us to better define aging and spell out its characteristics like we did for cancer or the metabolic syndrome (group of diseases that includes type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, and stroke). References: 1. Murphy TF. A Cure for Aging? J Med Philos [Internet]. 1986 Aug 1;11(3):237–55. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/jmp/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/jmp/11.3.237 2. Gems D. Tragedy and delight: the ethics of decelerated ageing. Philos Trans R Soc B Biol Sci [Internet]. 2011 Jan 12;366(1561):108–12. Available from: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2010.0288 3. Izaks GJ, Westendorp RG. Ill or just old? Towards a conceptual framework of the relation between ageing and disease. BMC Geriatr [Internet]. 2003 Dec 19;3(1):7. Available from: http://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2318-3-7 4. Bowling A. Honour your father and mother: ageism in medicine. Br J Gen Pract [Internet]. 2007;57(538):347–8. Available from: https://bjgp.org/content/57/538/347/tab-article-info...

Juran K. 9 days ago

I understand your intentions. Aging as a disease would, through marketing campaigns, bring a lot of money to longevity research, development of anti-aging products and probably result in a longer lifespan. I also love the idea of treating the aged equally useful as treating the young. Nice example! Yes, although we can find many reasons why aging and senescence are not diseases, I completely agree that it would be in the interest of all mankind....

Caring for life as a whole rather than just our own

If you view life from a holistic perspective, Gaia is an organism and we are part of its body. Humans could be compared to specific cells composing specific tissue in Gaia’s body, maybe even a neural tissue (although we would be quite a failure so far - a brain harming the whole organism). In this perspective, limited lifespans of our species don’t seem like a bad thing – if we didn’t have limited life spans we would be like cancer cells in Gaia’s body, especially having in mind that we are already harming it, even with limited lifespans. If we would find ways to indefinitely prolong our lifespans, we would become a tumor. If a certain generation starts to have a choice to live as long as they want, then we would face a serious human population crisis, if reproduction won’t decrease. One question is - would people still want to have children? Because a wish to have children is at least partially psychologically motivated – you want to have a continuation of yourself in one way or another (this is at least a partial reason and for some people might be the main) and if we affect our biology in a way that life of the species is extended without producing offspring, then maybe at the same time we would eliminate biological instinct too and there would be no reasons for producing children left. Then another question arises - would this be fair concerning all potential individuals yet to be born to never come into existence and a certain population of humans being fortunate enough to live in the right time, to have a right to live as long as they want without giving birth to others? Although if the wish for children would persist, we would definitely need solutions for the overpopulation of the Earth sooner or later. Coming back to the Gaia hypothesis, one could say that a part of the living system is beneficial to the whole only if it gives to that system instead of just using its resources and multiplying endlessly (the case of a tumor or a parasite). Maybe we didn’t discover extraterrestrial life yet, because our purpose is to make life extraterrestrial – to bring it to other planets or man-made space objects, starting from the Solar System. Then overpopulation wouldn’t seem like a problem anymore – space is too vast even for reproducing species with infinite lifespans. And it’s likely, that an actual, practical opportunity to extend human life and opportunity to bring life outside of the Earth will arise at the same time. But the harmonious image of such life extension beyond Earth in my mind would only be achieved if other life forms wouldn’t be used merely as a necessity for human survival, but for the sustainability of ecosystems and value of biological diversity. In short, humans should care for preserving and expanding life as a whole, rather than just their own.

by Povilas S on Sep 12, 2020

Shubhankar Kulkarni 6 days ago

Thank you Povilas! To the problem of overpopulation, Vitalik Buterin answers with this: https://twitter.com/VitalikButerin/status/1244693006176919560/photo/1. The annual growth rate of the world population is currently decreasing and is estimated to decrease further. Aubrey de Grey, too, points out the fact that fertility rates are already plummeting in many areas. "Overpopulation is not a matter of how many people there are on the planet but rather the difference between the number of people on the planet and the number of people that can be on the planet with an acceptable level of environmental impact, and that second number is not a constant; it is something that is determined by other technologies. If we use renewable energy and other things like desalinization to reduce the amount of pollution the average person commits, we can increase the carrying capacity of the planet. The amount of increase in the carrying capacity that we can expect over the next 20 years far exceeds what we could expect from the rise in population resulting from the elimination of death from aging." Technology is bound to happen sooner or later, he says. By delaying the arrival of the technology, we are risking the people of the future to the same kind of death and disease and misery that we have today in old age, rather than relieving by developing the therapies in time. Reference: Illing S. Scientists are waging a war against human aging. But what happens next? [Internet]. Vox. 2017. Available from: https://www.vox.com/conversations/2017/5/4/15433348/aubrey-de-grey-life-extension-aging-death-science-medicine ...

Povilas S 5 days ago

Yes, but the actual number of people on Earth also matters. There is a limit to how big it can be, "the number of people that can be on the planet with an acceptable level of environmental impact" - as A. de Grey points out himself. Slower population growth helps to delay that time and total population size might even start decreasing, if people would continue to die from old age, but if that factor would be ruled out and nobody died from old age (assuming this includes most if not all old age related diseases) anymore, then it's very unlikely that total population size would ever start decreasing (unless there would be extreme indifference towards having children). So in those circumstances it would be just a question of time when that limit would be reached. It's a bit like with AI, if we consider any rate of development at all, it will achieve human level intelligence sooner or later. So once that limit is reached, getting out of Earth would be necessary, that's why I wrote about that....

Shubhankar Kulkarni 5 days ago

To which Aubrey replies with - If you are faced with a choice of either raising children or helping your parents have a longer and healthier life, what would you do? He assumes that you would go with healthier parents....

Longer life, but for whom and for what purpose? At what cost?

The first thing that occurs to me when thinking about prolonging human life span is the extent of it. What is the longest that could be added to human (or any other) life? While living a significantly prolonged life seems like an attractive fantasy-come-alive, I want to draw attention to some possible counters which might make us rethink whether we should really vie for it. When we say that we want to prolong life to a very large period, we need to be conscientious enough to think about the real technology that we will have to use to make it happen, repercussions of such an extension, and equally the proportionate reach of such a technology. One argument against extensive human longevity could be that such a technology will only create a massive inequality if it is not available to each and everyone on the planet. Such inequality would be different from all sorts of economic problems of the existing world since the gap in such a context lies not just in wealth and income or resource, but the very biology and physique itself. This will be very demanding, politically and philosophically. Another argument is purely environmental in reason. Human-caused climate change and environmental degradation are already taking a large toll on the planet. According to data, it is approximated that the average carbon footprint per person is around 4 tons, with an average life expectancy of 72 years. Data also says that to maintain the global climate rise well within 2 degrees Celcius - the cap beyond which the world's ecosystem and habitats will start collapsing- the average carbon footprint must fall to 2 tons per individual. If we live an extensively long life, our carbon footprint can be expected to increase rather than decrease. Additionally, it can be argued that living for far too long might be existentially futile and boring. All the while we would consume resources more as we live more, we might be the prey of dread and disgust. It might not be so interesting for people who are not inherently creative to live such a prolonged life without any meaningful purpose at hand. https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/#:~:text=The%20average%20carbon%20footprint%20for,is%20closer%20to%204%20tons. https://climateanalytics.org/briefings/15c-key-facts/

by Subash Chapagain on Sep 14, 2020

Shubhankar Kulkarni 6 days ago

Thank you Subash! Some very good comments there. To answer some, I would like to direct you to my comment on Povilas's suggestion above. ...

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