6 Oct, 16 | by Iain Brassington
It might just be a product of the turnover of people with whom I have much professional contact, but I’ve not heard as much about human enhancement in the past couple of years as I had in, say, 2010. In particular, there seems to be less being said about radical life extension. Remember Aubrey de Grey and his “seven deadly things“? The idea there was that senescence was attributable to seven basic processes; those basic processes are all perfectly scrutable and comprehensible biological mechanisms. Therefore, the argument went, if we just put the time and effort into finding a way to slow, halt, or reverse them, we could slow, halt, or reverse aging. Bingo. Preventing senescence would also ensure maximum robustness, so accidents and illnesses would be less likely to kill us. To all intents and purposes, we’d be immortal. Some enterprising people of an actuarial mindset even had a go at predicting how long an immortal life would be. Eventually, you’ll be hit by a bus. But you might have centuries of life to live before that.
I was always a bit suspicious of that. The idea that death provides meaning to life is utterly unconvincing; but the idea that more life is always a good thing is unconvincing, too. What are you going to do with it? In essence, it’s one thing to feel miffed that one isn’t going to have the time and ability to do all the things that one wants to do: life is a necessary criterion for any good. But that doesn’t mean that more life is worth having in its own right. Centuries spent staring at a blank wall isn’t made any better by dint of being alive.
But a letter published this week in Nature suggests that there is an upper end to human lifespan after all. In essence, the demographic data seem to suggest that there’s an upper limit to survivability. That being the case, we should stop worrying about making people live longer and longer, and concentrate on what’s going on during the 125 years or so that Dong, Milholland and Vijg think is allotted to us. more…