One Thousand Years Old – Human Longevity

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How old do humans get? The world record is 122 years old. Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist and chief science officer of the SENS Foundation, tells us that eventually and inevitably we will reach “longevity escape velocity” and humans will live to 1000 years old. At a talk in San Francisco in December 2012, de Grey, who is the author of Ending Aging (St. Martin’s Press, 2007), asserted that the emphasis of his work is in “robust human rejuvenation” (vs “human longevity). Human longevity is a by-product of health.

How would life spans that reach into the thousands of years change us?
How would it impact family, career, faith, religion, travel, politics, economics, happiness?

The 2011 film, In Time, starring Justin Timberlake described a dystopian future in which “life span” is a consumable that can be bought and sold. These future humans were engineered to stop “aging” (in the sense of manifesting the damages the human body suffers with the passing of time) at the age of 25. They work their jobs and are paid with “time” or “increased life spans” and purchase things with time and decrease their life spans. The rich accumulated millions of years of life but the poor worked daily for their living, literally, just to gain a little more time.

Author, Sonia Arrison, writing in Slate (Don’t be Afraid to Live Longer, Justin Timberlake) believes that In Time got it all wrong.

While the film’s fun, it falls into a dystopian trap, assuming that greater longevity would create a terrifying society. But it gets almost everything about human life extension wrong. Scientists are on the verge of discovering ways to radically extend human life—though they probably won’t figure out how to maintain the pristine looks of 25-year-olds any time soon. In Time seems to argue that we should be concerned about this looming longevity. But there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Arrison, is right. One of the dangers of trend spotting is the tendency to emphasize the negative. However, the point of the movie is not to create a set of alternative scenarios, some negative and some positive. The movie describes one scenario, a dark one. Arrison seems to assume that creating a society in which humans live for hundreds and thousands of years would create a pleasant world. A world not to “be afraid of”. But, how does she know this? Is she not making just as much an assumption as do the filmmakers. (Personally, I hope she’s right). In thinking about the future, we must hold our assumptions weakly or we may get caught by surprise.

Here’s an article from the World Future Society based on de Grey’s presentation to us in Vancouver in 2011. In my next article on human longevity, I will touch on Arrison’s 8 ways that longer lives will change us.

Processing Questions…
How would life spans of 150 years change us?
Or, how would indefinitely longer life spans change us?
What do you think?


4 responses to “One Thousand Years Old – Human Longevity”

  1. Michael Avatar

    Since any answer to your questions would at best be speculation I’d like to respond by making clear what will not change as life spans increase.

    First, no matter how long we might live, all who are born or ever will be born will be corrupted by the sin nature inherited and passed down from our father Adam (Romans 3:11-20, 5:12-21); they will be born dead in their trespasses and sins and by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3).

    Second, no matter how long people might live, they will all have a need of a savior who can rescue them from their sins and the coming wrath of God’s righteous judgment that is being stored up for those who will not repent of their sins and turn to faith in Jesus Christ.

    Third, no matter what we think science is accomplishing, the only reason people are living and will live longer is because God has numbered all of our days (Psalm 139:16)

    Fourth, no matter how long people will be able to live, all will one day die and stand before God in judgment (Hebrews 9:27)

    These things are constant: we are born in sin, we all need a savior, our days are numbered, and we will all die. That being said, it really doesn’t matter what changes will occur or not occur as life spans continue to grow; what matters is will we heed the message of Jesus Christ – repent and believe.

    1. Alex McManus Avatar

      Michael, Thanks for your comment. Input from the religious sector is appreciated. I hear you saying that…

      (1) Your take on human nature and reality will endure regardless of what happens in the future.
      (2) That it “really doesn’t matter” to you what changes will occur or not occur. (Note: I don’t resonate with this one. Even though you believe that all thinking about the future, except yours, is “at best” speculation, I hope you won’t mind if I continue to invite comments from those who find it productive to imagine and discuss what changes may or may not occur. Not only do I think it matters, I find it interesting.)
      (3) My favorite psalm to think about in light of life spans that may reach to 150 and beyond is Psalm 90.10.

      Thanks again.

  2. John Gnotek Avatar

    “How would life spans of 150 years change us?
    Or, how would indefinitely longer life spans change us?
    What do you think?”

    “In Time seems to argue that we should be concerned about this looming longevity. But there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

    What do I think?

    I think physical longevity is certainly possible and very likely to happen. I think many of the arguments against such longevity might revolve around issues like issues now with social security—that people are living longer, the system can’t handle it. And us humans aren’t smart enough to handle such issues until they are upon us—then we react! And there’s truth to that. I remember when Reagan was president and there were warnings then about the situation now, that we should plan for it. But did we? It doesn’t seem so. The solution now seems to be, do away with “entitlements.”

    Another issue may be one that’s been somewhat an issue for as long as I can remember, world population explosion. How can we sustain? But we have, and we will. Technological agricultural advances and factory farming certainly have found ways to feed the world (where the powers-that-be have chosen to feed it). Not long ago I read $10B a month would keep the world from starving. (Don’t we spend that on war?)

    Natural resources are also an issue of longevity, but there too I think technology would solve any problems, in time.

    But the one thing danger I see in longevity that science or technology will NOT solve is that of the soul. Unless humans were to really to come to a utopian way of thinking and living, caring and giving, the soul is in mortal danger to longevity.

    What I mean is how much hatred and indifference; murder, war and killing; sadness and heartbreak can the soul bear before it hardens? And what happens when the soul hardens? Hatred and indifference; murder, war and killing become acceptable behaviors! Torture justified. Pre-emptive war justified. A presidential “kill list” justified. Eugenics justified. Abortion justified. And so. All becomes the norm of society, acceptable to many a soul.

    Of sadness and heartbreak, how much should a soul be forced to bear? Is it natural for a human being to bury children? Grandchildren? Great-grandchildren? Spouse after spouse? Very possible scenarios of many with extended longevity. Of course this can be equally countered with joys of life too… if in a utopian society. But projected as things are now, it’s likely only the privileged will indeed benefit from longevity, others would indeed suffer. Utopian society aside.

    In 1998, I studied the advances in biotechnology and cloning to write a series of essays for a class. One of the quotes I shared is from political theorist Andrew Shapiro who suggested that scratching the surface of both the information and biotech revolutions, one discovers a “control revolution.” This suggests that should only the wealthy be the ones that afford the priviledge of genetic engineering, then the “wealthy will be able to pass on not only vast fortunes, but also superior bioengineered lineages, thereby exacerbating class divisions.”

    David Shenk in a Harper’s Magazine article gives interesting alternative perspectives, “If millions of parents soon choose to create “blue-eyed, stout-hearted sons, the diversity of human gene pool would soon be diminished, which any potato farmer can tell you is no way to manage a species.”

    C.S. Lewis foresaw the decoding of the human genome 60 years ago and stated in his essay The Abolition of Man, “The final
    stage is come when Man by eugenics, by prenatal conditioning… has obtained full control over himself.”

    Man with full control over himself. Wow. Now that’s the issue!

    Perhaps God—with infinite wisdom—has set the time frame for us to “live.” Maybe people actually did live hundreds of years back in the day—when there was less danger of hardening hearts and souls, of less magnitude of heartbreak and sadness.

    I “think” the 21st century, short of a Utopian way of life, is NOT a time to live a thousand years—not without mortal danger to one’s soul. But then again, this from a guy who has a pig valve to extend his life from congenital heart condition… who may have been saying, “farewell world,” right about this time.

    A further question to process… add the premise of the “Final Destination” movies to the equation. Would we then be in battle with Fate living longer?

    1. Alex McManus Avatar

      Thanks for your thoughts, John. CS Lewis was a writer with great foresight. And, yes, the human heart seems to be vulnerable to deep darkness and capable of great beauty regardless of the longevity and/or brevity of life.

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