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Biotech Science

How Long Do You Want To Live? 813

Hugh Pickens writes "Since 1900, the life expectancy of Americans, driven by improved hygiene, nutrition, and new medical discoveries and interventions, has jumped from 47 years to almost 80. Now, scientists studying the intricacies of DNA and other molecular bio-dynamics may be poised to offer even more dramatic boosts to longevity. But there is one very basic question that is seldom asked, according to David Ewing Duncan: How long do you want to live? 'Over the past three years I have posed this query to nearly 30,000 people at the start of talks and lectures on future trends in bioscience, taking an informal poll as a show of hands,' writes Duncan. 'To make it easier to tabulate responses I provided four possible answers: 80 years, currently the average life span in the West; 120 years, close to the maximum anyone has lived; 150 years, which would require a biotech breakthrough; and forever, which rejects the idea that life span has to have any limit at all.' The results: some 60 percent opted for a life span of 80 years. Another 30 percent chose 120 years, and almost 10 percent chose 150 years. Less than 1 percent embraced the idea that people might avoid death altogether (PDF). Overwhelmingly, the reason given was that people didn't want to be old and infirm any longer than they had to be, even if a pill allowed them to delay the inevitable. Others were concerned about issues like boredom, the cost of paying for a longer life, and the impact of so many extra people on planetary resources and on the environment. But wouldn't long life allow people like Albert Einstein to accomplish more and try new things? That's assuming that Einstein would want to live that long. As he lay dying of an abdominal aortic aneurysm in 1955, Einstein refused surgery, saying: 'It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.'"
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How Long Do You Want To Live?

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  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:40PM (#41140477)
    I know Jesus exists. So what if I die, I get to live forever. There's a cool thing that happens when you know this life isn't the end: You suddenly stop caring about yourself and just live your life to help everyone else. This life will be the only life where other people need our help. It only costs 100$/yr to keep children from starving to death. So the obvious idea is to work for enough money to live on frugally, then give excess to the poor. If enough people actually did do self sacrificial giving of their excess funds, there would be no such a thing as World Hunger. But as long as other people need help to survive, we should be helping them.
  • by stevegee58 ( 1179505 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:50PM (#41140637) Journal
    While life expectancy has increased over time due to improved diet, health care, lower infant mortality etc the max age has held steady.
    Even 200 years ago you could live into your 80's or 90's as long as you survived past around 10.
  • Re:600 years. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @04:02PM (#41140869)

    I've always said I'd like to live at least 500 years. Of course, it would be interesting to be able to stay relatively "young" more or less indefinitely.

    Might not be something everyone is interested in but I would love to never feel any pressure to hurry up and do all those things I want to do. I could spend 50 years just reading interesting books. Maybe spend ten years building a house. And thinking more long-term, how about a few hundred years in deep space? You'd have the time...

  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @04:07PM (#41140949)

    The problem is that no generation of people stops to consider themselves as a roadblock toward the advancement of the generation that will come after.

    Note all the self-directed answers in this thread, for instance.

    I don't know about you, but I don't want a person who was born 5 centuries ago battling against me at the polls concerning societal issues, like gay rights, or even teaching evolution in schools. (Note, 500 years ago was in the dark ages. With immortal people, that becomes a stark reality.)

    I don't want any generation doing that to aother, becase they refuse to die. Death is necessary.

  • Re:640K years (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @04:12PM (#41141021)

    Eliminating aging won't eliminate dying. People are always going to be getting killed one way or another, whether it's some crazy shooter or serial killer, or forgetting to look before you cross the street in front of a speeding bus.

  • by mapkinase ( 958129 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @04:20PM (#41141125) Homepage Journal

    How old are you?

    >I mean, have you *seen* this world we live in

    I am in my mid-40s and the things that interest me in the world rapidly shrink. I do not want to see most of the Europe as I used in earlier years. I do not want to visit my long-time friends in a neighboring state, because travel is seen as more and more hassle. The only reason for my travel is my son duty of visiting the parents. I do that regularly with a great pain.

    I have seen plenty of relatively healthy old people, in whose eyes I read only one desire: to finally end this.

    I am still relatively healthy. It's just the grass is not as green anymore as it is used to be, so, naturally, my desire to see new vistas, new man made objects, new people is less.

    We are limited in our capacity of learning as we are limited in everything else.

    Ask Tony S. why he did it.

  • Re:600 years. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mooingyak ( 720677 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @04:23PM (#41141189)

    I can't find a reference for it, but I remember reading that if you eliminate aging and disease, some actuary worked out that the life expectancy would be roughly 800 years before you die in some kind of accident / murder / etc.

  • by LateArthurDent ( 1403947 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @04:29PM (#41141289)

    Only 1 % choose not to live forever, until the moment they about to die, then they change their mind.

    Most people who die at an advanced age really, really want to die. Each of my grandparents, when they were getting to that point, voiced the opinion that they just wished their lives were done with.

    Being sick and in pain all the time is not fun. Which, as others have pointed out, is really the problem with the question as worded. It's now, "how long do you want to live while getting increasingly frail?" Nobody wants that. The question is, "how long do you want to live while looking and feeling like a 20-year-old?" The answer to that, universally, should be "forever."

  • Re:640K years (Score:5, Interesting)

    by element-o.p. ( 939033 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @04:30PM (#41141333) Homepage

    Dying is what makes us real.

    Interesting concept. Can you explain *why* you believe this is so?

    Most of "life" is a tornado of colliding imaginations.

    I don't even know what this means...is that an attempt to be "deep" by going all metaphysical, or what? It kind of sounds like you are suggesting that all of us are just figments of someone/something's imagination. If so, well, that was an intriguing concept back when I was elementary school, but now...not so much.

    Everyone thinks they're the ONE exception.

    But no in [sic] ever got out of it, ever.

    <shrug> But so long as life is interesting and enjoyable, what's the problem? Personally, I'm with cayenne8 on this one. If I'm healthy and fit, then I wouldn't mind having a bit more time here on earth. I'm not saying I'd like to be immortal -- as others have noted, there would still be accidental deaths, and it would suck spending millenia without your loved ones -- but if we could find a way to keep the biological machinery functional for a century or two longer, I wouldn't mind having a little more time to be in my prime before succumbing to the inevitable.

  • Re:640 years (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday August 27, 2012 @04:38PM (#41141453) Homepage Journal

    When my grandmother was 95 she told me "I don't know why everybody wants to live to be a hundred. It ain't no fun bein' old."

    As to the "how long is best," I think it doesn't matter. A lifetime is a lifetime, whether it's ten years or two hundred. I'm 60, and I don't feel any older thanI did at 20. Thirty year olds seem like children to me, but a 30 year old to me is like a ten year old to a twenty year old.

    I really don't feel like more time has passed now than it did when I was young. From birth to now, your life seems like "forever". Perhaps that's because time gets shorter when you get older. Remember how long it was between Christmases when you were five? Christmas to Christmas was 1/5th of a lifetime! Far longer than a year to me, only 1/60th of a lifetime.

    The only difference is that I've seen and done a hell of a lot more.

  • Re:640K years (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @05:07PM (#41141875)
    How about you spend enough time at a 9 to 5 job to build up enough money for you to start your own business doing what you really love. You run it long enough for that you build up a good team that you can leave it to, and just check in every now and them, rinse, repeat.

    Basically, most immortals will live their lives like Richard Branson does now. Do what you want once you have built up enough capital to support yourself.

    If the world does become overcroweded, you have a giant workforce of people with hundreds or THOUSANDS of years of experience who can apply that experience to settling space. This will happen organically, without the need for outside intervention because that is how an economy works.
  • by Wraithlyn ( 133796 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @05:12PM (#41141941)

    We've lived too long, seen too much. To live on, as we have, is to leave behind joy, love, and companionship because we know it to be transitory; of the moment. We know it will turn to ash.

    Only those whose lives are brief can believe that love is eternal. You should embrace that remarkable illusion. It may be the greatest gift your race has ever received.

    -Lorien (Babylon 5, "Into the Fire")

  • by GodInHell ( 258915 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @05:28PM (#41142149) Homepage
    From about age 21 to 26 I couldn't afford a root canal that was badly needed (two wisdom teeth, cracked open with exposed nerves). One thing you learn dealing with that kind of pain is that eventually -- it just tunes out. (no, the nerves didn't die off -- I wish). The first month or so was hell, but then I got used to it and for awhile I had a pretty impressive pain tolerance. (broken foot? No problem.) Point being, 5900 years in bed, reading great fiction, playing video games, getting visited by family, advancing my interests and continuing the work of my first 100 years -- even with constant pain -- sounds worth it to me.
  • Re:640 years (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @05:48PM (#41142461)

    I'd take a day in pain and feces over oblivion any day of the week. Maybe I've never experienced true pain but it seems to me that *anything* is better than nothing.

  • I agree. I was raised as a "Christian". When I began to research the history of Christianity and the Bible, I became an Atheist. It took about a year of being an angst filled teenage fatalist before I realized that because there's no afterlife I must do as much good as possible in this life as possible to advance our race. Then I created my bucket list of humanitarian projects, and the race to complete them began -- as a Teen. Even if I don't get done before I die, I've already helped more people than my religious relatives ever have. I could die tomorrow a happy man, satisfied with my life's works.

    Furthermore, I value life much more than they do. I said something about curbing our pollution problems to my Aunt last week. Her stance was that it didn't matter because it was part of "God's plan"; She'd be in heaven before the future went to hell; And, some BS about the events being signs of the end times and Rapture, and how I needed to go back to church. I told her that she was being selfish, and that she was worsening the planet for her grand children, and all other future people.

    I told her that our advances in medicine and science, specifically understanding the brain and machine intelligence, may allow some of us to live thousands or millions or billions of years -- We may some day even be able to scan a dead brain and bring its consciousness back to life. Then I promised her that if she didn't start using the recycling bin and curbside pickup the city provides her, that I would dedicate the rest of my life to bringing her mind back to the future so she could witness the horrors her careless actions had helped bring about.

    Despite her being a God fearing woman, I was able to place a new kind of fear in her: The fear of having to live with the long term consequences of her actions. She has seen my AI projects demonstrating uncanny human like capabilities (she called them an abomination), so she knew I was serious. Though she claims her beliefs have not been shaken at all, I now see her recycling bin full instead of empty every garbage day.

  • by Kittenman ( 971447 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @07:00PM (#41143321)
    Sorry to mention it, but isn't the fact that the average American glutting on fast-food, doesn't exercise and is a workaholic moving the life expectancy down? I remember hearing that the current generation will be the first one for a while to live longer than its children. And I know ... citation needed.. and here it is
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/aug/13/usa.ewenmacaskill [guardian.co.uk]
    and here http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/nation/life-expectancy-map/?hpid=z3 [washingtonpost.com]
  • Re:640K years (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ohnocitizen ( 1951674 ) on Monday August 27, 2012 @07:08PM (#41143419)
    I think the survey's results would be illuminated by also asking the following two questions:

    1. Do you believe in an afterlife?

    2. Are you assuming you'd live your extended lifespan in excellent, good, decent, poor, or horrible health?

    If it was an extra 100 years of old age, vs an extra 100 years of being 20, I bet the answers would differ significantly.
  • Re:640K years (Score:4, Interesting)

    by element-o.p. ( 939033 ) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @12:18PM (#41150441) Homepage
    I can't answer for anyone else, but from my perspective, I "grew out of" it because it made no practical difference to me. Whether I am real or a figment of someone/something else's imagination is irrelevant from my point of view. So long as I perceive pain, enjoyment, etc. from my experiences, whether real or imagined, I will continue to act in a way that maximizes enjoyment and minimizes pain. If I suddenly discover irrefutable proof that I am not really "real" but that I am merely a figment of some great cosmic being's imagination, I still won't quit my job, leave my wife and daughter, or anything else *because I still perceive the world around me* -- even if it, too, is merely a figment of something else's imagination. Consequently, this line of reasoning is a dead end: it makes no practical difference to how I live my life. Therefore, I concentrate my energy on things that *do* impact my life.

Did you hear that two rabbits escaped from the zoo and so far they have only recaptured 116 of them?