The Long Tomorrow


I became interested in life extension because it seemed to be the best explanation for the philosophical deduction of quantum immortality. Rather than try to convince you that I will live to be 120 billion years old, I will take the more conservative position to show how you, if you are young enough, will live to be 1 000 to 2 000 years old. Now, I know that no one has lived to be more that 125 or so, and the whole idea of living to be 1 000 is entirely foreign to most of you, but you will see that it is all reasonable.

Why do we get old? What does it mean to age? Ageing is the exponential increase of death rate that begins in our early twenties. Conventional wisdom is that all living things get old and die. But that reasoning isn’t a result of science. That reasoning is based on 4 000 years of religious thinking. We have believed this so long that we have even made the science fit the religion. A typical biologist may even say that ageing is a result of thermodynamics or some other such pseudo-science. All wrong. The ageing process is a result of evolution, and in the 1980’s Dr. Michael Rose used selective breading to produce Methuselah Flies, fruit flies that live 3 times longer than normal. Your genes determine when you get old.

For my birthday I got The Scientific Conquest of Death: Essays on Infinite Lifespans. Dr. Rose wrote the first essay in this book, and was recently interviewed on CBC’s Quirks and Quarks.

Ageing is a genetic disease that we have all inherited. Evolution doesn’t care too much about old people. As you move past your 20s and 30s, evolution begins to care less and less about you. After you are done reproducing, your body is basically a useless husk to evolution and it doesn’t care if you live or die. In fact, if a gene increases the chances of you living to your 20s, but shortens your lifespan, you better believe that that gene is going to become widespread.

But because ageing is a medical condition, it can be treated. And there are a wide variety of potential treatments, from artificial hearts and hips, to therapeutic cloning and tissue engineering. In fact, we have already had a huge success in infant mortality. Look at the death rate by age between 1900 and 1998.

Figure 4: US Death Rate by Age in Males, 1900 and 1998

See that big upward slope as you get older. That’s ageing. But look at the death rate in the 1900s for people under 14. It’s huge, while the curve for 1998 is almost flat. That was the result of modern medicine: sanitation, vaccinations, antibiotics. That curve was flattened in the last 100 years and infant mortality has been all but eliminated. And just look at we know what we know today.

Now look at the 1996 curve for people over 55. It looks not so dissimilar to the infant mortality curve. I expect in the next 100 years we will flatten that curve too, maybe even sooner. And in 60 years, when I am pushing 90 years of age that curve will have been largely flattened, allowing me to live to be 130. By the time I am 130 the curve will be flattened allowing me to live to be 1 000.

At this point there is no getting old. The genetic diseases of ageing will have been cured just like the viral and bacterial diseases of infant mortality have been cured today. The only thing that left to kill people is massive trauma. And who knows, maybe in 1 000 years we will be able to cure massive trauma too.


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Russell O’Connor: contact me