People think that humans are living
longer. Actually, that's not entirely true. What has
happened is that medical science has progressed to the point
where it's now possible to sustain babies born with serious
physical problems. But if an individual lived through
childhood and managed to avoid diseases and accidents a century
ago, their lifespan would have been close to what it is today.
Today the average lifespan is up around
80. After that, humans begin to decline and eventually
succumb to normal wear and tear. In fact, it's been
estimated that if all diseases were eliminated - including heart
attacks, cancers and strokes - it would add only about ten years
to the average lifespan. But now medical science is poised
to go off in a different direction. Instead of trying to
treat things that go wrong as a result of aging, the goal is
trying to treat aging itself. What will come as a great
surprise to most, is that science predicts a dramatic increase
in life expectancy in the near future.
The reasons why our bodies slow and
eventually stop are remarkably well understood and just as one
might expect, the means of reversing these are similarly well
understood. Researchers around the globe are coming at the
problem of aging from many different directions. They are
studying life forms that grow but don't seem to age. These
include lobsters and turtles. Then there are individual
cells that neither specialize nor age and seem to be immortal.
Curiously, cancer cells that kill can also be an example of
living forever. And let's not forget technology and the
possibility of growing new parts and perhaps even whole new
bodies. Organisms such as flatworms can do this and some
lizards regularly regrow their lost tails and limbs.
Watching a new 3-D Printer in action makes it easier to
understand the thinking behind growing something like a new
heart for a pig...already being tested and assuming the
possibility of a quantum computer, what's to prevent making a
copy of a human brain?
Look At It This Way
Of course it's possible to go down this
path with evermore imaginative, yet potentially possible, means
of defeating the Grim Reaper. But is there a down side to
a dramatic increase in life expectancy?
Our culture is currently built around a
three score and ten model so people who continue collecting
Social Security much past age 70 put a strain on the system.
Clearly that's a situation that will need to be addressed if we
all start living to 150. Then too, would you want to keep
doing the same job for another half century? If not, that
means learning a new vocation. And what about women who
see themselves as mothers? Can they bring in new lives if
old lives aren't departing at an equal rate? And would you
want the same spouse for 100 years? And what would you do
with your leisure time? If you go bowling twice a week
would you want to go four times a week?
In a recent poll, when subjects were
asked if they would like to live to 100 (even if in excellent
health) only 51% said: Yes, So how would you answer?
A good guess would be, how much you enjoy life now is an
indication of how much you'd like it to continue.