Share

With the recent surge of enthusiastic support for LEAF/Lifespan.io and the idea of defeating aging, I really shouldn’t be complaining about the lingering holdouts opposing the idea of living healthy and longer lives for whatever reason. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to point out the jarring contradiction of a species whose members are constantly on the lookout to avoid danger, yet need to be reassured that at some point they will die and that science is by no means trying to prevent that.

Fear of life extension

This curious phenomenon was pointed out earlier this year by James Goodwin in the journal of the Gerontological Society of America[1]. In his article “Fear of life extension”, he argues that the commandment of geriatrics is “quality, not quantity” because policymakers fear a future in which longer life means overpopulation of nursing homes, and as a consequence, researchers working on interventions on aging need to clearly state that their goal is just making our final years a little better—but making us live longer? God forbid, no! We only want to live in perfect health for about 80 or 90 years, then magically drop dead for no apparent reason.

Quite concisely, Goodwin explains that you can’t have significant longevity without an equally significant improvement of your health, and vice-versa; so did I, in my own small way, in this article. Yet, the idea of living longer than the status quo, or even suggesting that this might be a good thing, is almost blasphemous to some, and I’m not talking just about academics bending the truth a little for the sake of getting their next grant. “Quality, not quantity” has become a mantra, not only because of the largely unjustified concerns about the potential downsides of longer lives but also because it has somehow been incorporated into the set of conventional wisdom that nearly no one dares challenging for the simple reason that nearly no one else does.

Don’t worry—you’ll die anyway

I’ve personally talked to a number of people who think it would make no sense if your life never came to an end; there has to be closure for it to have meaning, they say. I’ve spoken to people who “know” they’ll want to die at some point, and I’m not talking about bitter old men who’re tired of their failing bodies and the many disappointments life has served them; I’m talking about barely adult people in their early twenties, with their health and looks still perfectly in place and pretty much a whole “normal-length” life to live. This, I must ascribe to the power that clichés have on the human mind; a lot of people repeat that accepting, wanting, and cherishing the finitude of life is wise, so it must be true, and so they follow suit. That sort of thing.

And it is no joke because advocates of rejuvenation often need to reassure people that this is not about eliminating death; it’s not about making you unable to die. Granted, that is true—rejuvenation doesn’t make you immortal—but I’ve lost count of articles and videos on the subject of aging that, while discussing advancements that may improve our lives and maybe even make them a little longer, still make it absolutely clear to their audience that they needn’t worry—fear not, you’ll still die at some point! Whew, what a relief! For a second there, I actually thought I’d be able to get out of life alive.

If you think it through, though, this is most strange. Like most if not all creatures on this planet, we have evolved to avoid danger and situations that might cause our own demise. To put it bluntly, we have evolved to fear death, yet we have people who say there’s nothing to fear in it.

If that’s so, why do we have hospitals to fix us up, ambulances rushing to accident sites in the hopes of making it in time to save the most people, safety measures to minimise our risk of death? Why do we look after our young, why do we take medicines and vaccines, why do we have suicide helplines? If there’s nothing to fear in death, why do we go through so much trouble to avoid it? Seems a bit odd to me.

Just to be clear—I don’t fear what lies after death because my personal view is that there’s nothing at all on the other side; and while I do fear a painful death, that’s not what I’m getting at here. Death would put an end to all I like and love, and quite frankly, that would kind of throw a spanner in my works. If something had gone wrong with me and I didn’t have the instinct to fear death anymore, I’d probably have a harder time avoiding death, but I’d still have plenty of non-fear-related reasons to want to avoid it.

Conclusion

What are the roots of this fear of longevity? Why is it that it almost can’t be spoken about? Is it the misplaced concern of longer decrepitude? Is it a fox-and-grapes situation? Is it some sort of Stockholm syndrome that makes us grow fond of our persecutor? Is it the fear of overpopulation and boredom? Maybe a combination of all of these possibilities?

I’m not sure, but I do know that it might be a roadblock on the way to a world without age-related diseases. As I said at the beginning, there certainly are reasons to think that the roadblock, if it is even there, is slowly being dismantled; nonetheless, I suggest not to underestimate this danger and to keep doing our best to explain why healthy longevity, not the finitude of life, needs to be cherished.

Literature

[1] Goodwin, J. S. (2017). Fear of life extension.

CategoryBlog, Concerns
About the author

Nicola Bagalà

Nicola is a bit of a jack of all trades—a holder of an M.Sc. in mathematics; an amateur programmer; a hobbyist at novel writing, piano and art; and, of course, a passionate life extensionist. After his interest in the science of undoing aging arose in 2011, he gradually shifted from quiet supporter to active advocate in 2015, first launching his advocacy blog Rejuvenaction before eventually joining LEAF. These years in the field sparked an interest in molecular biology, which he actively studies. Other subjects he loves to discuss to no end are cosmology, artificial intelligence, and many others—far too many for a currently normal lifespan, which is one of the reasons he’s into life extension.
  1. November 14, 2017

    I very good blog article on coping mechanisms and why they prevent people from thinking clear about aging and death when it comes to potential rejuvenation technologies:

    http://mauveornot.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/on-inevitable-things-and-coping.html?spref=fb

    “Now, as many have already pointed out, the problem with coping mechanisms is that they might gradually lead to a semi-conscious rejection of reality. And at the end of the day, reality denial perpetuates rather than eliminates one’s hardships and frustrations. Thus, don’t be surprised if and when the act of coping, which in its honest self doesn’t commit to deliver more than it promises, fails you. Coping is not problem solving. But, according to some, under certain circumstances, it is the next best thing.”

  2. November 14, 2017

    I read a very good blog article on coping mechanisms and why they prevent people from thinking clear about aging and death when it comes to potential rejuvenation technologies:

    http://mauveornot.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/on-inevitable-things-and-coping.html?spref=fb

    “Now, as many have already pointed out, the problem with coping mechanisms is that they might gradually lead to a semi-conscious rejection of reality. And at the end of the day, reality denial perpetuates rather than eliminates one’s hardships and frustrations. Thus, don’t be surprised if and when the act of coping, which in its honest self doesn’t commit to deliver more than it promises, fails you. Coping is not problem solving. But, according to some, under certain circumstances, it is the next best thing.”

  3. November 14, 2017

    It could be something along the lines of stock-hole syndrome?

    • November 14, 2017

      I presume you mean Stockholm syndrome :) Yes, I suggested that at the bottom of the article.

  4. November 15, 2017

    I enjoyed reading this, and got a couple pointers, but maybe it was not hard-hitting enough.

    Three items not mentioned are (1) that the dominant religions paint death as a release into paradise for their followers, and (2) that capitalist economy depends upon death to redistribute wealth concentrated into a few hands. The third and especially horrifying factor is the tremendous money being made by Big Healthcare on the pain of the elderly as they slowly wither from age-related diseases.

    People are disinclined to mention these factors because they strike at the heart of putrid but ubiquitous dysfunctions in our world. It is civic duty to keep bringing them back into the light.

    • November 15, 2017

      Interesting points you raise, Walter, though I must say I extremely rarely (if ever) personally met anyone who had your point (1) as a reason why they fear or don’t want rejuvenation biotechs. Anyway it’s certainly possible that believers may fear rejuvenation will prevent them from reaching God, even though it is not immortality.

      About point (2), I’m not sure I agree. When a wealthy person dies, his or her wealth is likely to go to the heirs, thus ultimately not being redistributed too much around, I think. I’m not an economics expert so I’m not going to go into details I wouldn’t be able to understand, but my two cents are that death is not the most important factor when it comes to wealth redistribution, especially in the case of large wealth.

      About point (3), I’m not going to go full-blown conspiracy theorist and accuse “Big Pharma” to exploit people’s suffering, but I won’t deny they do make profits out it either. However, as far as I am aware, rejuvenation biotechnologies as they’re conceived right now aren’t one-shot treatments that you take once and you’re done; they’d need to be periodically reapplied (and therefore bought) every couple of decades or so, so I guess the pharmaceutic industry wouldn’t really have a reason to hinder the development of rejuvenation biotechs on the grounds it would deprive them of their profit.

  5. November 16, 2017

    Thanks for your response, Nicola. Regarding point (1), I have found that people who hold superstitious beliefs (and they are legion!) rarely allow them to be confronted. I grew up in a conservative Christian household, though, and can assure you that at its core, Christianity loves mortal death, as a release into “Heaven.”

    Regarding point (2), capitalism is a system where the “haves” enjoy disproportionate access to even greater wealth, given the enormous commercial power of connections. Death is the ultimate brake on their accumulation, and even division of their wealth among a handful of heirs does serve to reset the game significantly.

    Regarding point (3), looking at it again, I overstated my point, but it does not take a grand conspiracy; rather, simply significant vested interests. The enormous money being made treating chronic age-related diseases logically opposes health extension upstarts that threaten to topple the cash cow. It is simply the nature of the beast.

Write a comment:

*

Your email address will not be published.

© 2018 - LIFE EXTENSION ADVOCACY FOUNDATION
Privacy Policy / Terms Of Use

       Powered by MMD

Want the latest longevity news? Subscribe to our Newsletter!