There are people, serious scientists, who are currently, today, working on the problem of eliminating aging.
This first came to my attention several years ago via the above TED talk by a biologist named Aubrey de Grey. And since then, foundations have been created and many top-name biologists have subscribed to the principles.
I won’t go into detail about the science, but the basic idea is this: our body does lots and lots of things to keep us alive, so that we continue turning food into energy. This is called “metabolism.” Our body does “metabolism” pretty well, but not perfectly, so as a result, there is a constant amount of damage that accumulates to our various bits and parts. When this damage exceeds some threshold, it starts to cause us serious trouble, which we either refer to as “aging” or “age-related disease,” or “death by natural causes.”
Now, most of science so far has focused on the two outside sections: biology has focused on understanding metabolism, while medicine has focused on curing disease. But both of those two things are horrendously complicated, and will probably take us centuries to understand fully. The part in the middle though, the “damage” caused by metabolism, which is not yet disease, turns out to be a short-list of fairly straightforward problems, all in-principle reversible.
In fact, scientists understand this “damage” so much better that, rather than taking centuries like it will to master metabolism, Aubrey de Grey thinks that there is a 50-50 chance that we will have treatments able to reverse the damage, and thereby suspend aging, within the next 25 years.
For emphasis: TWENTY-FIVE YEARS!!!!!!!!!
Well, that’s a big deal for me personally, because I’m sort of expecting to still be around in 25 years.
And yes, it is not a sure thing, and that’s only an estimate from one person. But to me, it’s such a dramatic possibility that it warrants further thought, even if it takes a bit longer, or doesn’t happen at all.
If this is the first time you’ve heard about this, you probably have a lot of concerns and questions. There are some fairly obvious looming social issues related to ending aging: overpopulation, resource scarcity, long-lived dictators, etc. Then there are moral issues: should we do this; do we even have the right to make this choice; what about people who are currently alive but won’t live long enough to benefit from these treatments.
And yes, these are all big issues, that we will have to come to terms with as a society as this research goes forward.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today. What I’m interested in is: how should I, personally, live my life differently if I might live several more centuries instead of decades? I’m choosing to ponder this for obvious reasons of self-interest, but also because nobody else seems to be talking about it, instead focusing on those social and moral issues.
So after some thought, here are my preliminary ideas about how to change your life if you expect to live indefinitely:
1. Take things slowly. We live in a fast-paced world, where we can’t make time for anything, rarely finish what we start, and nobody stops to smell the roses, because ain’t nobody got time fo that. But, although we don’t think about this very often for obvious reasons, this mostly stems from fear of our impending death. Well, if your death is suddenly approaching more slowly, then maybe you do have time for that. So, start now: finish things, set aside time, and move slowly. Take in the world and people around you to the fullest extent possible.
2. Play it safer. Although aging might be ending soon, bus routes won’t be, and all the medications in the world won’t stop you from getting hit by a bus. The big problem is, if you live for 700 years instead of 70 years, you’ll be crossing the street a lot more times. All of those small dangers that we ignore because they probably won’t kill us in the next 50 years? Well, they might kill us in the next 500, so we’ll have to re-think our level of acceptable risk.
3. Don’t Make Lifelong Commitments. People can change dramatically in as little as a few years, so how could you possibly pretend to know that your needs and desires when you’re 335 will be the same as now? Imagine working at the same company for 200 years. And nobody would ever marry anybody if at the altar you had to literally commit for 1,000 years (it gives a whole new meaning to this song…). Instead, give yourself reasonable time-frames. You may still be in love with that person in 100 years, or you might not. But either way…
4. Get out when you should. We’ve all met people who’ve worked the same lousy job for 40 years, or have been fighting with their spouse non-stop since before the kids were born. Again, we don’t think about this, but they’re really just riding it out until they die. That won’t really be an option in this brave new world. Instead, recognize a bad situation, and take responsibility to end it when you should. But!!! On the flip side…
5. Explore possibilities. For the last 100 years, the average person’s life goals could be summarized as “pick a job, learn that job, do that job, have fun along the way,” biding the time until you die. And that’s been nice, but most of us have more than one thing that interests them. Imagine what you’d do if you really had the time to explore all of your passions? Maybe instead of 1-2 careers, people will someday have 9-10 or more. If you have a lot of time, then you can try more, and it wasn’t wasted even if that experiment didn’t pan out. Since you have more time, there’s less pressure to do things right the first time, and more freedom to try more jobs, more people, more books, more shows, more activities, more everything. You don’t have to be afraid of making a commitment anymore.
6. Re-think retirement. Yeah. That’s just not going to happen. More likely, you’ll work for some amount of time and save money, maybe 30 years, then use that money to take 5 years off and travel, then go back to school, and start in a new field. So plan your money accordingly.
7. Don’t forget that everything else is going to change too. We routinely make the mistake of making long-term decisions while assuming that very little is going to change between now and our death. But with the pace of technology, it has never been more obvious than now that that is just not true. So if you’re trying to make far-ranging decisions of any kind, you have to look to the fringes of what’s possible today. Because 30 years ago, there were no smartphones, no internet, no laptops, etc. In another 30 years, the world will run on fusion power, robots will do most of the jobs, and knowledge will be downloaded directly into your brain. And people will be living forever. That really is all stuff you should probably be considering now, because it’s coming.