The Monotony of Immortality; The Joy of Longevity
Does the thought of never dying appeal to you? There are some who regard that the ultimate goal of longevity is to eliminate dying. Not me. Eliminating dying has a lot of consequences; most of them undesirable. Healthy longevity, conversely, is a joyful thing.
Longevity has become a hot topic and one I’ve studied a fair bit over the last 5 years. In this article I provide a brief introduction to longevity – Gord’s version.
But first, let me take you back to my boyhood and tell you about Sam.
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Sam died when I was 12. I was cradling him in my arms after the accident. His eyes were closed and he was resting peacefully. His breathing was shallow and I desperately wanted to avoid any awareness of when Sam breathed his last. Big grown-up 12-year-old boys don’t cry, after all.
Watching from a respectful distance was Mom, that reliable fixer of all my childhood problems. But I was grown-up enough to know that this was one problem beyond her capacity to fix.
I ran to her. “Sam’s dead,” I said. And then I wept.
That would not be the only death that shattered my 12-year-old world. Uncle John, my favourite at the time, died suddenly at age 54. I didn’t understand why. And against the pleadings of both my parents, I stridently refused to attend his funeral. I’m not sure why I was so adamant. Perhaps it was the embarrassment of crying in public that I wanted to avoid. 12-year-old boys don’t cry.
Alas. The comfort of my childhood world was being assaulted by the reality of adulthood and some brutal facts; That nothing is permanent; That life brings death; That all things must pass.
But why must things be like that? Why must we die? Why can’t we have immortality? And not in some future afterlife. But NOW! Echoing ancient pleas that we humans have cried out to the Universe since we evolved brains big enough to contemplate abstract ideas such as our mortality.
Is Immortality a bad idea?
Earlier this year, futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted that by 2030, humans will have eliminated or cured the things that cause us to die and thus usher us into the world of immortality, or at least a very very long life – possibly thousands of years.
My 12-year-old self is rejoicing.
But immortality is one prediction on which I believe Ray is dead wrong. More importantly, it’s really a bad idea.
Now Ray Kurzweil is a pretty smart guy. He is a globally renowned scientist, author, and futurist and, most interestingly, he’s a fellow IT professional. Over the years, he’s also called out an impressive list of future predictions that have come to fruition. Almost all of them are in the field of technology.
But the end of death? That’s a pretty hard nut to crack.
To be clear, we can’t actually end death completely. We won’t become invincible, after all, and people will still die. If your plane crashes you’re probably done for. A new deadly virus could emerge out of nowhere and kill millions before a vaccine is developed. Furthermore, people will still find reasons to end their own lives or the lives of other people.
Nonetheless, a strategy that mostly eliminates the leading causes of dying today – heart disease, cancer, kidney disease and a host of other conditions collectively called the diseases of ageing – will certainly mean a longer life for most people.
But that’s just the first step. Your body still ages. Chronic conditions that don’t necessarily kill you but degrade your quality of life – arthritis, dementia, chronic pain and so forth – must be part of the equation as well. And even if we can deal with those aspects, there’s the whole issue of the degeneration of all your bodily functions as you age.
Immortality: The Upside to the End of Dying
But what if you could actually end death? Proponents of immortality are optimistic that many of the intractable problems that immortality could bring are solvable in the future through human ingenuity and technology. I remain pessimistic, at least for anything in the foreseeable future. But more importantly, immortality, it’s simply a bad thing.
But Gord, I hear you say, I kinda like the idea of immortality – or at least living for 1000 years or more.
You’re thinking of all you could do with unlimited time on your hands. You’d have generous amounts of time to spend with loved ones. You could get caught up on your reading. And your desire to learn the play the violin – well, you’d finally have the time. And then there’s your to-do list; It’s catastrophically long. It would take you years to get caught up. But hey, that’s exactly what you’d have more of … years. And lots of them.
Who would argue with the personal benefits of immortality? But there’s the rub. The benefits of immortality seem to be expressed in terms of personal self-interests. Are we missing the forest for the trees?
Immortality: The Downside to the End of Dying
Consider the human condition. Much of life is ruled by time and deadlines. You get to work at 9 am because that’s when work starts. You arrive at the dentist’s at 11 am because you have an appointment. The house needs to be cleaned by Saturday because you have a family gathering on Sunday. And then there’s the ultimate deadline; Death.
Remove the prospect of dying and you remove the time urgency to get to any of your projects or ambitions. In fact, the whole concept of time takes on a different perspective. Some in the field argue that the psychological impact of a life without death could be devastating to many; the loss of purpose, depression, ennui, and a life of perpetual punishing boredom.
But there is a bigger picture at play. The planet as a whole.
The current population explosion is a global concern to many. Our drain on resources, our need for land, and our impact on other species. Eliminate humans dying and the population explosion explodes. That, in turn, would plainly ratchet up the strain on resources, housing, food availability, use of land and water and the entire global ecosystem in general.
The obvious solution to the resulting global crisis of too many humans is to stop or severely reduce the number of new humans being born. Governments would have to find ways to bring the birth rate way down – close to zero.
You can anticipate how that would bring all sorts of other consequences. Schools and Universities would become outdated institutions lacking that continuous flow of fresh cohorts to attend them. Retirement would have to be abolished; Not only would you need to keep income flowing just to live, there’d be no new blood to replace you. The upside is that you would become irreplaceable. Of course, all this would tend to stagnate businesses and innovation. I could go on, and it gets uglier, but you get the picture.
Immortality looks wonderful for the individual at first blush, but the reality for humanity and the planet gets pretty ugly pretty quickly.
So I call out Ray’s immortality prediction as nutty as a box of frogs. Both unlikely and undesirable.
So let’s get back to my vision of longevity, starting with the secret to life.
The Secret To Life
I offer you my [not so] secret to life and death on planet Earth; and what it means for longevity and immortality.
Homo Sapiens are like every other animal on the planet.
… We live off the life of other previously living things.
Life comes with death and death brings new life. Like it or not, death is necessary for life. And life embraces death.
Yup; that good old circle of life bites us even as it feeds us.
And for us, death may be unwelcome to the individual but it has a positive side for all the other humans …
- It clears the way for new blood.
- It cleans out the current contingent of undesirable plutocrats, oligarchs, despots, controllers, movers and shakers and anyone in general who covets a disproportionate share of wealth and power.
- It makes room for fresh ideas to emerge from flexible and youthful minds.
- It gives another generation the opportunity to fill the gaps, to find better ways of doing things, to build on and improve previous structures.
The Gord Credo of Longevity
So life is good. Immortality (at least in this world) is ugly, death is necessary and longevity is desirable.
I have my own personal easy-to-remember slogan that defines longevity. I call it:
The Gord Credo;
That’s it. Dead simple.
Each of the three parts of the Gord Credo points to a principle of longevity;
- Live Long
But not forever. 80 to 90 is good. 100 and even up to 120 is doable. That’s a reasonable maximum human lifespan according to some of the longevity experts to whom I subscribe and trust. There’s good evidence based on the longest-living humans that the human body kept in good working order could serve its owner for 120 years, perhaps up to 150. But there are some very significant hurdles to jump to extend our biological systems any further even with medical advances and artificial components.
- Be Healthy
Longevity is a happy journey when health is a fellow traveller.
And that’s great news, because you may not realize how much control you have over your health, even into old age. And if there is one thing to encourage you to pay heed to your health, it’s the possibility that you will live long.
“If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself” – Eubie Blake
- Drop Dead … but not quite yet.
Longevity is about delaying death, not avoiding death.
So I say; Happy is the person that has come to terms with their own mortality because only then will they be able to inhale the sublime breath of life to the fullest.
You’re not dead yet so live life now …
Then drop dead.
There you have it. The three principles of the Gordo Credo for longevity.
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As for Sam; He was an adorable floppy-eared Cocker Spaniel. We buried him on a hill in the cherry orchard on our farm.
In life, Sam brought joy to a 12-year-old boy.
In death, I imagined that Sam’s remains nourished the orchard and made the cherry blossoms all that more fragrant and the cherries all the sweeter … and furthermore;
That’s how Sam Made the Cherries Sweeter.
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