Mar
14
2005

I wanna live forever...

As the Pioneer Press reports (and as was noted here earlier), life expectancy in the US continues to rise. The average American can now expect to live 77.6 years.

But how far can we push it? 100 years? 120? The Sunday Times of London offers a survey of current research and suggests that, at the rate medical science is advancing, it's possible that some children alive today may live a thousand years or more!

This will require a number of medical breakthroughs that aren't even on the horizon today, so don't order your tickets for Super Bowl MXXIV just yet. (That's the year 3000. No, the Vikings will not win.) But according to researchers, human immortality is at least theoretically possible.

This raises a number of social, moral and philosophical questions.

  • If people live to be 1,000, will we raise the retirement age to 650?
  • The initial treatments will no doubt be very expensive. What will it do to society if some rich folks get to live forever, while the rest of us have to die?
  • If you break a toe at age 300, will you walk with a limp for 700 years?
  • Will people who live forever still want to have children?
  • Will boomers still be listening to classic rock in 2967?

And, perhaps most important, what will we do with all that extra time? As the author Susan Ertz noted, "Millions yearn for immorality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon." (Easy for her to say; she died in 1985 at the ripe old age of 89.)

Immortality - limitless possibility, or endless boredom? I dunno. Somebody ask Virginia Woolf. Or Douglas Adams. Or, better yet, Mel Brooks.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Dave's picture
Dave says:

The Mel Brooks bit is one of my favorites.

What concerns me most about reports on life expectancy and medical breakthroughs is that the topics of population growth the and the disproportionate use of world resources are often ommitted from the discussion. Most of us in the U.S. tend to think about life expectancy as mainly a medical issue. But it's an open system, right? Considering exponential world population growth and the increasing gap in the proportion of world resources used by the U.S. (and others) compared to the rest of the world, what will "life expectancy" mean in another 100 years? It already means something quite different outside "developed" countries.

posted on Wed, 03/16/2005 - 3:16pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

If we lived forever we'd be so bored we'd kill ourselves anyway!

posted on Wed, 03/29/2006 - 1:06pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Jeez, you don't think you live forever anyway. If you could, why kill yourself?

posted on Wed, 03/29/2006 - 5:09pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

that isn't a very positive outlook on life

posted on Wed, 03/29/2006 - 5:57pm
Michael Johnston's picture
Michael Johnston says:

Have you ever lived forever?

posted on Mon, 03/03/2008 - 2:25pm
Krystle's picture
Krystle says:

I think this is cool...

posted on Thu, 03/17/2005 - 4:59pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

We shouldn't tamper with "The Plan". Nobody can be immortal. Sorry...

posted on Sat, 03/19/2005 - 9:55pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

We aren't supposed to live forever. Earth would be over-populated and even more unpleasant.

posted on Sun, 03/20/2005 - 2:07pm
LG's picture
LG says:

WE ALREADY ARE WORRYING ABOUT SPACE AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS. THE POPULATION IS GROWING FAST ALSO AND WITH LIFE EXPECTANCY TO 77 YEARS OLD?, WOULDNT THAT MAKE THE PROBLEM WORSE? THE EARTH CAN ONLY HOLD SO MUCH.MORE PEOPLE, MORE TECHNOLOGY, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT AND THE ANIMALS? MORE PEOPLE = MORE FORESTS,LAND,TREES, ECT.. TO BE CUT DOWN FOR MORE SPACE SO I THINK WE ARE PUSHING IT... WHO WOULD WANT TO LIVE ON THE MOON?...I WOULDNT.. o_( *-* )_o

posted on Mon, 03/21/2005 - 5:21pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

I think it was Steven Jay Gould who said, if we lived forever, we'd never cross the street. A vastly prolonged lifespan completely changes your view of what constitutes an acceptable risk.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you cross a street an average of 25 times a day. Some days more, some days less. And let's say that each time you do, there's one chance in 5 million that a car is going to swipe you. That's a pretty small risk. In fact, crossing 25 streets a day for 77 years is only about 700,000 streets. Over the course of your entire lifetime, you would have only a 14% chance of getting hit. Most of us are willing to take that risk -- after waiting for traffic to clear and looking both ways. (NEVER step in front of a turning Minnesotan!)

BUT -- what if you knew you could live for 1,000 years? 25 streets a day for 1,000 years is over 9 million streets. Your chance of getting hit at some point in your life are now 183% -- almost a certainty. And since you never know which day is going to be your unlucky day, you would never leave your house.

Living for 77 years means that some risks are so small, I don't have to worry about them much. I can eat a hamburger once in a while, go skydiving, even cross the street. Living forever means tiny risks accumulate to the point where EVERYTHING is dangerous. I would spend eternity in a prison of fear.

All risks are trade-offs. Every time I drive a car or fly on a plane, there's a tiny, tiny chance there could be an accident. However, there is also a huge, huge benefit -- I can get where I'm going in a short amount of time. But what if time didn't matter? If my lifetime was infinite, that trade-off would no longer make sense. Why fly to California and take the risk of an accident? Why not walk? Sure, it would take three months, but when you've got a couple thousand years to burn, what does it matter?

As Steven Wright says, "everywhere is walking distance, if you have enough time."

posted on Wed, 03/23/2005 - 10:52pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

if we live forever we will have to kill people of over population. DUH!

posted on Sat, 02/18/2006 - 3:51pm
tom's picture
tom says:

Immortality? hmmm well with eugenics in about 1000 generations we could immitate the longevity of fruitflies from many of the more well known experiments. Or with various stemcell and cloning techniques we could immediatly extend the lives of individuals of this generation. Of course who would this franchise be made available to? the general public? of course not that would cause overpopulation, a tax upon resources. However the rich and elite of our society would certainly be allowed access to this ambrosia. What would happen then? death frees kings of their wealth and power and allows a prince or rival to attain the thrown. what of a world populated by powerful methuselahs? Imagine strom therman, fd roosevelt, stalin, popes, billgates, rockerfeller living forever. consolidating power without the bother of the reaper knocking at their doors. What of the economics and dynamics of this world. certainly they would stagnate and strangle it all to death.......
soo for the progression of our society to continue this via of science should not be followed

posted on Tue, 03/07/2006 - 4:09am
Jacob's picture
Jacob says:

Our lives are far to short, think of what we could accomplish if we lived for a few hundred years. As far as population growth..quit breeding like rabbits lol. Seriously though, I would advocate limits on reproduction regardless of whether or not aging can be stopped.

posted on Fri, 09/07/2007 - 10:26pm
paige's picture
paige says:

how came people dont live for ever and how many people live on earth

posted on Tue, 12/14/2010 - 7:53pm

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