Before I Die, I Hope I Get Old

By Kyle Munkittrick | November 4, 2010 10:11 am

He's deep in thought trying to figure out who would paint a wall that color on purpose.

The world is getting old. Most developed nations have an aging population that outnumbers the young ‘uns. Ted C. Fishman’s new book, Shock of Gray, argues that this huge wave of elderly just might change the world. Recently interviewed at Salon, Fishman talked about a potential anti-agism civil rights movement, globalization fueled by young people immigration (get on my lawn?), and my favorite old-person related topic, super-longevity:

Our life span averages have leaped in the past century, as you point out, and I wonder if you think there’s a point where we’ll hit a ceiling. Now that you’ve read the science, is there really a possibility for immortality?

I only read the science as a layman and I can only tell you who I trust, which is based on emotional signals as much as empirical ones. I do think maybe eventually we’ll be able to reengineer the human body so that it’s some mix of mechanization and biological miracle and we live forever. But in the lifetime of anybody who’s reading the book, I think there are big limits to the expansion of the human life span. Our genetic makeup is such that the genes that help us grow when we’re young tend to turn against us as we get old.

[What’s] more important than antioxidants [for extending our lives]?

I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. But looking over all the places where longevity is more common, sociability is a telling characteristic. Antioxidants might be very promising, but this is the cycle of all promises of anti-aging — hype and debunking, hype, debunking. But we do know what the sure things are. Public health, sociability and literacy.

Those last three pieces  – public health, sociability, and literacy – would seem to rule out most of the “eat this food, not that food” logic around longevity. Combine that with advice of the oldest twins in Britain, to enjoy “laughter and having a joke with each other” and you’ve got a pretty good recipe for long life: read a bunch, hang out and laugh with friends, and live somewhere nice. That is a set of goals I can shoot for with gusto.

I do, however, hope that, as Fishman says, we might be able to “reengineer the human body so that it’s some mix of mechanization and biological miracle and we live forever.” While we’re waiting for that to happen, it seems the key to living a long time is to just enjoying being alive. Maybe if I enjoy being alive long enough, I’ll live to see super-longevity become a reality. Then I can enjoy being alive for a really, really long time. On that note, I’m going to go read a book and have a laugh.

Image from manuel | MC on Flickr


Comments (6)

  1. Bigby

    Let’s not forget the critical longevity factor of choosing the correct parents.

  2. Megan

    1. Why do we obsess about this is the first place? Is our fear of death the fear of cessation, the fear of the metaphysical condition of nonexistence? The permanency of it all? Would the permanency of immortality be not equally as frightening?
    2. If one was granted immortality at a certain age, would they remain that age forever (i.e. reach cruising speed at age of immortality)? Or would the mind and body continue to degenerate?
    3. (Based on #2) There are two models of boredom here: if you reach cruising speed, stages of life would be impossible. Everything that could happen, every thought or experience you could have, would happen. Thus you would become detached on account of the ceaseless repetition of old experience. Or… you could continue to develop and change, i.e. not remain impervious to change, and face the fact that eventually you will run out of steam and become a festering vegetable, albeit a living one.
    4. Does immortality necessarily mean [infinitely ~dead], or could one who is immortal be subject to disease or accident (therefore not de facto immortal, yet manage to dodge disease/accident infinitely)? In this vision of immortality there is no guarantee of immortality… the future is in your hands, sort of. This is arguably a better model; you aren’t necessarily strapped in for the (infinitely) long haul… you can pull the plug, if need be.

    Thoughts, Kyle?

  3. jld

    A really, really silly title!!!

    Why do we obsess about this is the first place? Is our fear of death the fear of cessation, the fear of the metaphysical condition of nonexistence?

    How old are you?
    Death isn’t the problem, decay is the problem…

  4. @Megan:

    1. I think it’s something like a paradox caused by the cogito. Try to imagine the self not existing. It’s weird to think, “what will it be when I am not?” And, in all honesty, immortality isn’t quite what I’m worried about at the moment. I’d just like an extra century or two.

    2. Most discussions of longevity in the transhumanist context involve preventing aging and preserving wellness. Therefore, initially, the treatments would just prevent further deterioration and damage, but with the hope that as we come to better understand aging, we can repair the damage already caused.

    3. Ever heard the phrase “If I knew when I was 20 what I knew now, I would have…” ? Imagine being able to, at the drop of a hat, restart your life on a new path, because you know you still have the time and energy to completely reinvent yourself. People would just shift their goals. Instead of mastering one instrument, musicians would endeavor to master the whole orchestra. Boredom is a state of mind, as it were.

    4. Immortality gets thrown around a lot, but the proper phrasing would be “super longevity.” You’d still be mortal to gun shots and fatal diseases and everything else, but your body wouldn’t be the cause. No one would die of “natural causes.” Furthermore, as most diseases are age-related (think about how many problems set in after 30, after 40, after 50, etc.) keeping the body in a youthful state would prevent a huge number of complications. The body would be mortal, just with no built in expiration date.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar