If you were asked right now, ‘How long do you want to live for?’, what would you say?
From my experience, people often pick a high-sounding number. “95 would be good”, or “Let’s see if I can get to 100!” (said in a joking tone of voice). Think about what you’re saying: you’re putting a number on the age at which you’d be happy to live to. Phrased another way, it’s the age at which, if you had the choice, you would choose to die at.
But why would you want to die? Life is everything. Unless you are in some serious shit right now (think slavery, torture, on the run, or in serious depression), then life is fantastic and you want it to continue to be this good, if not better!
The Status Quo
Being stuck with a problem for long enough can lead to you accepting that it can’t be solved.
Nick Bostrom tells The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, a story of a dragon that is ferocious and giant and demands that ten thousand people be delivered to it each day to satisfy its hunger. The only village nearby cowered in fear. Some tried and failed to slay the dragon. They had no technology, no weaponry, no hope to defeat the it. Seeing that they had no choice, they obeyed the demands of the dragon.
The fatalities selected were always elders. Although senior people were as vigorous and healthy as the young, and sometimes wiser, the thinking was that they had at least already enjoyed a few decades of life.
This continued on for centuries until it became a fact of life. People had children earlier and earlier as they realised their turn to become food for the dragon was looming in the future. They wanted to experience everything they could before they died.
I’ll leave it to you to read the ending of the story. It’s moving and eye-opening if you have never contemplated death this way before.
It seems as though the majority of the world’s population has succumbed to learned helplessness when it comes to defeating death. No one has ever been able to solve it in the past, so why would it be possible in the future?
Learned helplessness is the psychological phenomenon that occurs when an individual is faced with a negative situation that they cannot escape from. They might try and try to get rid of the situation but eventually that situation is accepted as fact and they stop doing anything. Even when it does become possible to get themselves out of a negative situation, they don’t. They don’t think they have the ability, so they don’t even try. They have already accepted the negative situation as fact and so they leave themselves in it.
150,000 people die every day. About two thirds of that number die from age-related diseases. This is not okay.
Unlearn your learned helplessness. Don’t give into death. Don’t forget that it’s our enemy.
Doing Something About It
If you don’t give into death, then what do you do? You fight for life!
There are companies, both for-profit and not-for-profit, that are trying to solve death.
Of the direct-approach companies, I first heard of the SENS Research Foundation through their CSO Aubrey de Grey and his numerous TED talks and videos on YouTube. His latest TED talk on YouTube is Undoing Ageing: Aubrey de Grey at TEDx Danubia 2013. Realise that it is a few years old now and he has more recent videos.
The About page on their site says “The research we fund at universities around the world and at our own Research Center uses regenerative medicine to repair the damage underlying the diseases of aging. Our goal is to help build the industry that will cure these diseases.”
What can you do?
You can help SENS by offering your skills in medicine and bio-gerontology or, for the rest of you, donate.
There are other approaches, too. If your skill set is in maths, you might be able to help the Machine Intelligence Research Institute to solve ageing through artificial intelligence. If your skill set is in genetics, there are companies working in that area. If your skill set is in computer technology or nanotechnology, there are people working in that area.
Living Long Enough
If you’re younger than 30 then, with enough help and progress in the right fields, you have a higher chance of being alive to experience advancements in the fight against ageing.
I don’t know how the progress will be made but I doubt we’ll go from ‘death by ageing is an issue’ to ‘death by ageing is no longer an issue’ in one year. I expect it to be a gradual movement. In that case, as long as the advancements in technology progress at a rate faster than our age, then we’re fine.
Ray Kurzweil terms this ‘living long enough to live forever’. For example, if your biological age is 60 when the first advancement becomes available and it drops you back to the biological age of 40, then as long as it takes them less than 20 years to come up with the next advancement of -20 years, then you won’t go past the biological age of 60 (if the advancements continue at a fast enough rate until death by ageing is solved).
What Can You Do?
Make sure you live long enough to experience these technological advancements.
For now, there are obvious and practical things you can do to live longer. Exercise, sleep enough, eat a diet with foods according to recommended dietary requirements, avoid excessive amounts of alcohol, don’t smoke — see the rest of the list here.
If You Don’t Live Long Enough
What if you’re not younger than 30 at the moment? What if the technological advancements take longer than expected?
Then you have cryonics as a backup plan.
Cryonics is essentially the process of taking a person who has reached legal death (the point at which current technology cannot bring you back to health) to very low temperatures and storing them that way until technology gets to the point that we can bring that person back to health. The body is cooled to -196°C, liquid nitrogen temperature, and your body does not physically change after that point.
The body is not frozen, it is vitrified — the body is mostly water and if you drop the temperature of water below freezing level it turns into ice and expands. Expanding water in a body does not leave the body in good condition. Instead, the water is replaced with a solution that doesn’t expand, so you’re fine to be left at liquid nitrogen temperatures for as long as it’s necessary. That length of time depends on how long the technology takes to get to the point to be able to warm a vitrified human into good health.
Tim Urban from Wait But Why wrote what I think is considered the most well-reasoned article on Why Cryonics Makes Sense.
If you don’t even consider the article worth reading then you’ve given up on fighting death and you’ve already lost the battle.
Cryonics is literally life insurance — a backup just in case things go wrong. It’s still experimental and there are no guarantees that it will work but Tim Urban from Wait But Why phrases it perfectly:
You’re on an airplane when you hear a loud sound and things start violently shaking. A minute later, the captain comes on the speaker and says:
There’s been an explosion in the engine, and the plane is going to crash in 15 minutes. There’s no chance of survival. There is a potential way out—the plane happens to be transferring a shipment of parachutes, and anyone who would like to use one to escape the plane may do so. But I must warn you—the parachutes are experimental and completely untested, with no guarantee to work. We also have no idea what the terrain will be like down below. Please line up in the aisle if you’d like a parachute, and the flight attendants will give you one, show you how to use it and usher you to the emergency exit where you can jump. Those who choose not to take that option, please remain in your seat—this will be over soon, and you will feel no pain.
What will you do?