This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What If We Could Live to Age 1,000?

Yes, that's what I asked, and no, this is not April Fools Day! Thanks to my long-time friend Larry Freymiller for giving me his copy of the June issue of The Smithsonian which has an article by Elmo Keep about a Silicon Valley non-profit research organization whose goal is ostensibly to stretch human lifespan to 1,000 years. Aubrey de Grey has a PhD in biology from Cambridge and his work is aimed at extending the ideas in his 1999 book "The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging, in which he argued that immortality was theoretically possible. Since then, he’s been promoting his ideas from prominent platforms—the BBC, the pages of Wired, the TED stage. He delivers his message in seemingly unbroken paragraphs, stroking his dark brown wizard’s beard, which reaches below his navel. Unlike most scientists, he isn’t shy about making bold speculations. He believes, for example, that the first person who will live to be 1,000 years old has most likely already been born."

Mr. Keep keeps it real, however, by interviewing others who suggest that while de Grey puts that idea out there to attract funding, he probably doesn't really believe it. Keep also asks him some hard questions about the whole concept of extending human lifespan in a way that he thinks might be possible:
I ask de Grey about how the world would change—socioeconomically especially—if no one ever died. Would people still have children? If they did, how long would the planet be able to sustain billions of immortals? Wouldn’t every norm predicated on our inevitable deaths break down, including all the world’s religions? What would replace them? At what point might you decide that, actually, this is enough life? After decades? Centuries? And once you made that decision, how would you make your exit? 
“I find it frustrating that people are so fixated on the longevity side effects,” de Grey says, clearly irritated. “And they’re constantly thinking about how society would change in the context of everyone being 1,000 years old or whatever. The single thing that makes people’s lives most miserable is chronic disease, staying sick and being sick. And I’m about alleviating suffering.”
Longevity "side effects"? An interesting way to think about what would probably be the most radical change ever to occur in human society. Think about it. What would your answer be?

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