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How far are we?

  1. Mar 3, 2009 #1
    Will it ever be possible biologically, or chemically to stop aging so humans could become immortal? Is there hope for this, and if so how would it stand ethically in today's world? I don't know that I would really want live forever. Your thoughts , and facts plz thku.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 4, 2009 #2
    I'm not sure how far we are away from it, but I would imagine that with enough knowledge and understanding of the complexities of all the levels of biological systems that it could be possible. Life may be able to be extremely prolonged, but you are still prone to any type of accidental death. To do this we would need to know virtually everything about the human body, every detail, largest to smallest. We need to develop far more detailed imaging systems (especially ones that can look at living, breathing tissue). We need massively powerful computer systems to decipher complex biophysical processes like protein folding, metabolic pathway interaction, mutation, gene regulation/expression, to name just a few. We are only barely starting to scratch the surface on these topics. We are made up of trillions of cells, and each of them contain millions and millions of macromolecules, all interacting with one another in unimaginably complex ways that we do not understand. Figuring it all out will be a real feat, and we may develop some radically new and powerful tools along the way to help us in our quest of understanding ourselves. But, assuming there are only physical processes involved in any biological system, and nothing magical, and assuming scientific understanding continues to advance, having nearly 100% control of our own biology is inevitable. I would imagine that politics and the religious-minded will present a formidable hurdle to developing and ultimately wielding this technology.

    There would need to be fundamental changes to our global society if this were to happen. Any procreation would probably need to be severely limited. Alternatives to large urban sprawl will need to be developed to accommodate a growing population in which virtually no members die. There would probably be many orders of magnitude of improvement in safety systems of every type. Cities and transportation will need to be rethought. I would imagine that a few generations into this ageless age, any kind of accidental death would be viewed as horrifying, and the populace would insist that everything that could be done to stop it, must be done. Society may choose to primarily or exclusively interact in virtual worlds from the safety of their home. Choosing a time of your own death may become ubiquitously accepted, or possibly even expected. People will no longer be limited to one career, and would be free to take on work in multiple disciplines throughout their extended life. A society free from the mental and physical crippling effects of aging and other disease might be far more productive and content. All pure speculation of course, it is extremely difficult to predict the future.
  4. Mar 4, 2009 #3
    Thx. I agree with most of what u say if not all. I know this would create multiple debates on a range of different topics, and also agree we should find ways too stop physical and mental illness 1st. But could u just imagine the benefits from such a possibility? If we could live lets say 300 years or better ; 1 mans work, and wisdom on any given subject or topic could be priceless and, so beneficial to mankind in the long run. Information could be gathered 10 fold from such a person. Imagine if Einstein were still alive, and had been involved in physics none stop because of such a possibility. Energy crisis;? probably already solved, maybe? Who knows? Mankind could probably find answers too Questions faster, not to mention live in his space capsule long enough to fly further into the Universe. There are alot of pros , and cons, but in the long run; if we found how to be immortal I'd haft to be for it. To throw away possibilty of such info because of mans pathetic squabballing amongst himself sounds counterproductive to me. There would be much work to be done, but we'd haft to go for it. I personally would only like about 500 more years or so, and who would'nt?:) As far as death goes I'd wanna chk it out eventually. You u'd never know what that's about unless u go try or see anyway. Who knows? It could be a whole new discovery in it self. People would maybe look at how long they would live differently if, they could choose there time. Not everyone would want too live for ever, would they?
  5. Mar 4, 2009 #4
    I agree, I think the only way such a thing could be implemented without destroying the fabric of society would be to offer a choice: you can get the treatment only if you agree to be sterilized and not have offspring. I don't know, perhaps you could allow one child maybe? Such a thing would be likely to be quite expensive as well and if only the rich could afford it, it might lead to class conflicts etc.
  6. Mar 4, 2009 #5
    I diagree the more people we have living for ex:300+; the more knowledge we obtain. Just because we could do this dose'nt mean it's mayhem. WE could say we r building the army of tommorow for space travel and planet civilization, and every person living is needed. As far as the rich go I say everyone would have a choice as wheather or not too have this chance. Not Just the rich or poor. Not just certain people, but anyone wishing to help man kind hunt for knowledge. I would haft to say not all people would do it due to beliefs of their own. Their is plenty of room, "space" in the universe for everyone. Money would become a thing of the past because everyone would be rich in life and knowledge. We would finally realize how dumb it is fighting each other over such a thing like money. If it is possible to give this choice to people with out losing freedoms liberties, choices, and without being discrimated due to money or anything else for that matter: Then why not? I know earth will be full one day , but maybe by then we will have been leaving and colonizing somewhere else for hundreds of before that. JUst pondering some positive outlook into the strange questions that arise with these ethical, and social problem fears.
  7. Mar 4, 2009 #6
    Well, that certainly was a positive outlook! :approve:

    The "Star Trek" utopian society....one can only hope.
  8. Mar 4, 2009 #7
    I know sounds a lil off the deep end but, I don't think it would be bad too try. Then again we can't even fix healthcare as we know it with the tech we do have without money being an issue. I know probably a far cry. Seems like the logical thing to do even if it's a lil Star Trek like.:biggrin:
  9. Mar 4, 2009 #8
    Possible? I would think so. Chances? Slim-to-none. First thing, we don't even have a concrete theory as to why we age. I would argue that natural selection - removed from modern medicine and technology, favors longer life spans. So, clearly living longer is on the up. However, as far as immortality goes...that's iffy. Again, depends on how you look at it. Some say that its the telomeres of our cells. No telomore=no cell. So, having telomeres that didnt degenerate as fast, not at all, or ones that died at the same rate as being produced would mean immortality. This is a very basic approach and I'm no expert but, it's my two cents.

    I would agree with what been said on the social ramifications of such a thing.
  10. Mar 4, 2009 #9
    What is the logic that would lead you to that assumption? (just curious)

    I would think it would be the opposite. Life is in the business of propogating itself. Once the act of breeding is done (which seems to happen rather early in the lifespan), then the longer things live would add to the competition for limited resources. (my 2 cents :smile:)
  11. Mar 4, 2009 #10
    Heh. Your thinking makes more sense...much more. I based that on a limited understanding of natural selection, it would seem.
  12. Mar 4, 2009 #11


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    Natural selection doesn't favor either. Natural selection only favors long life up to the maximum reproductive age. After that, since you've already reproduced, you can no longer influence natural selection (if you are killed or die out because of competition, your offspring are none the wiser).
  13. Mar 4, 2009 #12
    Good point.

    I found http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0040007" fairly interesting.

    So the guppies that had high predation, lived longer, matured faster, and had longer reproductive periods. I guess that makes sense too.
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  14. Mar 4, 2009 #13
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  15. Mar 14, 2009 #14
    As to the social/political problem of overpopulation if we achieved immortality, We could adopt a rule that we must put off having children until we make room for them. This may take 1000s of years to, e.g., terraform Mars, but, hey, we have the time.. Those who violate any such rules would loose rights to there own immortality, and allowed to live out their natural, limited, lifespans, being replaced by their offspring (as we now do).

    Generally, once we have solved the problem of death, we have more time to solve the others.
  16. Mar 14, 2009 #15


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    I see the postponement or irradication of death as a terrible thing. Where will new thinking come from? Will it mean no more geniuses will be born? No more Einsteins or Mozarts? People wrapped up in their own thoughts will only become more opposed to new thought? Will we even have any new thought? Or will we forever dig ever deeper into our own psyches and misguided beliefs? Longer life does not equate to more intelligence or new ideas. It often takes a new viewpoint to make advancements to an existing idea.
  17. Mar 14, 2009 #16
    Evo, I agree that new thinking is a good thing, that Einsteins and Mozarts are good (to bad they died), people should not be wrapped up in their own thoughts. I find that I, and others I know, are able to change their outlooks, and adopt new viewpoints as time goes on, that we are not stuck in a rut. I believe in freedom, that a person who does not want to continue living should be free to die. I do not plan to forever dig deeper into my own psyche, and I feel my beliefs are not misguided -they are quite grounded in reality. Yes, longer life does not imply more intelligence or new ideas, but it does enable it. Bottom line is I love life and want this fantastic journey to continue as long as I feel this way. Death is a tragedy for people like me.
    You imply that no more people will be born, and that is wrong.
  18. Mar 15, 2009 #17


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    Fewer people will be born, thus a smaller percentage that will be capable of making significant new contributions. I think it will not be a world I'd want to live in. What if all of the people that were chosen to have long lives were like me? People of extremely high IQ and little formal education?
  19. Mar 15, 2009 #18


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    Entrenched views and attitudes could paralyze scientific advance permanently (or at least slow it exponentially) if lives were greatly extended. As Howard Aiken said "Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down peoples' throats." One need only read Einstein's memoriam on the death of Ernst Mach to see how seriously he took this problem.
  20. Mar 15, 2009 #19
    reply to Evo's last post:
    There is really no reason to think that fewer people would be born.
    Yes, they would be born at a slower rate to those who chose
    immortality, but we can still populate the solar system, galaxy and
    universe with our descendants. Actually I would anticipate having more
    offspring, and having more time to spend educating them if I was

    As far as percentages capable of making significant new contributions,
    why would our descendants be more capable than us? In fact, I think
    the older, more experienced and knowledgeable among us would be able
    to make more significant contributions so that the percentage would
    actually rise among the immortals. Also, making significant new
    contributions should not be the sole criterion used to justify a
    person existence/continuance.

    If the world becomes one that you do not want to continue living in
    you do not have to be immortal. No one should impose something like
    that on someone; that is a personal choice.

    You imply immortality would be chosen for only certain people. It
    should not be imposed by any state, rather a personal choice.

    I would like to see people like you choose to extend their life, then
    they would have more time to acquire formal education in many area and
    we would benefit from their high IQs. But I think any motivated person
    could improve their IQ over time. Also, it would be nice if you stuck
    around, and tens of thousands of years from now, we could reminisce on
    these early discussions, and on all the things we have each learned
    and experienced over those years we chose to give ourselves.
  21. Mar 16, 2009 #20
    I wonder how many years of life your brain can remember accurately? It seams that people tend to forget or mix up old memories. I would think we would need to interface our brains with computers to really get the benefits. I would also think that IQ wouldn't necessarily get better and better after so long. IQ is more of a measure of raw intelligence not aquired knowledge. With all the extra knowledge to cycle through and all the extra memories to filter out, IQ may actually get worse over time. This may lead to an extreme case of closed minded know it all/stubborn attitude.

    One thing I see could be a problem is that if society becomes immortal, and sex is no longer needed, we might see men deciding they have no need for women or vice versa. We already live in a world, where the worlds financial elite and power brokers like to exclude women from their circles. I would expect it to be that group which would dominate. For example the Bohemian club, no females aloud where elite business men, bankers, ceos, presidents, etc. go to get connections and make plans.
  22. Mar 16, 2009 #21
    I agree there is a tendency to be overwhelmed by to many memories. As you suggest, memory aids may be engineered. Also, one lesson learned from studying physics is how to look for the larger patterns -how to organize thoughts, and people may actually get better at this over time on their own.

    I, for one, think that sex would always be 'needed' ;-)

    It is in our nature that, as we advance our technology, more powerful tools become available that can be put to good or bad purposes. This needs to be worked out in a sane society, e.g., Aldous Huxley's 'Island'. An earlier post mentioned that immortality would lesson our anxiety, and this may lead us to concentrate less on petty battles.
  23. Mar 16, 2009 #22
    You make it sound so easy...

    Speaking of "how far are we?", we are probably further from this possibility you suggest (colonizing the galaxy) than we are from prolonging life. How many habital planets do you know of? I know of only one... and we are currently stretching it to the limits of it's ability to sustain our population size as it is. By the way, this population is currently growing exponentially. Add in immortality to this and things would rapidly deteriorate.

    Anyways, true immortality would be cheating the odds....something will get ya eventually. And there would be a multitude of ways to die if this type of society ever came to be.
    Pick your poison: famine? murder? war? disease? riots? :surprised
  24. Mar 16, 2009 #23
    Sorry, did not mean to make living off Earth sound easy, but I think it is a problem that we can solve with time.

    I agree colonizing galaxy or even terraforming Mars would probably take more time than prolonging life effectively to forever. But then we will have more time to work on it. One could argue there is a moral imperative to transform the non-living matter of the universe into living on the premise that life is good.

    I agree things would rapidly deteriorate if we suddenly became immortal and did not address the population explosion. One possibility is to put off having kids till we make room.

    Yes, it would be ironic if just after popping the immortality pill I went out to celebrate and rode my motorcycle off some beautiful roadside vista.
  25. Mar 18, 2009 #24
  26. May 3, 2009 #25
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