Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Do You Want To Live Forever?

What if there were a new drug discovered that would make it possible for you to live forever? Would you try to procure that drug and take it?
What if that drug were widely available—but only for people who were willing to sign a declaration that they would not have children? What kind of society would that produce?
Malley’s dystopian novels about everlasting life
While working on my Dec. 31 blog article about resistance, I came across and subsequently read two thought-provoking science fiction novels: The Declaration and The Resistance (both published in 2008) by British author Gemma Malley. They are set in the 22nd century when a new drug, called Longevity, makes it possible for people to live forever.
Although written for young readers, I found Malley’s dystopian novels fascinating. They also raised some exceedingly important questions about the practical problems that might well occur with the advent of everlasting life on earth.
The current search for everlasting life
Some of you may recognize the name Peter Thiel. The German-American Thiel (b. 1967) is, among other things, an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and political activist. He is, specifically, a billionaire who founded PayPal in 1999.
As a few of you may remember, Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention in July and then in November became a member of the PEOTUS’s transition team. 
Back in September 2006, Thiel announced that he would donate $3.5 million to foster anti-aging research through the Methuselah Mouse Prize foundation. He gave the following reasons for his pledge: 
Rapid advances in biological science foretell of a treasure trove of discoveries this century, including dramatically improved health and longevity for all. I’m backing Dr. [Aubrey] de Grey, because I believe that his revolutionary approach to aging research will accelerate this process, allowing many people alive today to enjoy radically longer and healthier lives for themselves and their loved ones. 
The SENS Research Foundation, headed by de Grey and supported by Thiel, is working to achieve the reversal of biological aging.
As far back as 2005, de Grey was saying that some people living now may have a lifespan that is “likely to exceed 1000 years.” And some journalists are suggesting he may be on the cusp of finding “the key to eternal life.” (See this 4/15 WaPo article.)
Everlasting life or eternal life?
The words “everlasting life” and “eternal life” are often used interchangeably. In the article about Peter Thiel just referred to, as well as many times in the Malley novels, unending human life on earth is referred to as eternal life.
I grew up with the King James Version of the Bible and early on learned from John 3:16 about the possibility of “everlasting life.” Later I learned that there is a difference between “eternal life,” which is found in most “modern” translations, and everlasting life.
Everlasting life is quantitative, a measurement in time. Eternal life a timeless concept that is qualitative. That significant difference is not widely recognized by many regular Bible readers nor by the general public, so, as we have seen, the words are often used interchangeably.
While I am all for eternal life, I am quite sure that everlasting life on this earth is not a good thing. (Consider the quotes from Malley’s novels I have posted here and here.)
And I am not sure having a man who is passionate about finding a way to “enable people to live forever” in the top echelon of the PEOTUS’s transition team is a good thing either.
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13 comments:

  1. I wouldn't have any problem about the pledge not to have children, since I'm 83. I would have a problem with living forever. In fact, during the recent fiasco and before the fiasco ended with an exclamation point, I said I was not sure I wanted to see another presidential election. And what if that election should be followed by another that ended with a similar exclamation point? And with guys like Peter Thiel in charge, guys like me (and you) would be in the surplus category. Really, I don't think we are surplus. But there comes a time when the saddle should be on a new horse. Charles K

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    1. Thanks, Charles, for your comments.

      Yes, I realized while sending this out to my mailing list of people predominantly past child-bearing age that signing the Declaration would not be a problem. It would be much different, of course, for the young readers for whom the novels were written.

      So it was interesting that the author had the young people in her novels realize that living forever would most likely not be a good thing.

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  2. From Thinking Friend Eric Dollard, who again make significant comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for bringing up this interesting topic.

    "Although I would like to live longer--if I am in good health, I have no desire to live forever, or even for 1,000 years.

    "I wish that Peter Thiel had instead invested his funds in finding cures for diseases that kill or disable people before they have lived full lives. Why must some children die of leukemia or Burkitt's lymphoma? And we should not forget the thousands, or millions, who are killed through warfare. We should first work to insure that everyone lives a fulfilling life to age 80 or 90 before worrying about living to age 200 or beyond."

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    1. Thanks for once again commenting on a pivotal issue in my article. Although I did not have the space to deal with it, a major problem with the idea of a longevity drug is the likelihood of it being available only for the financially well-off people of society.

      In the novels it seems that everyone in England had access to the drug, but I wondered how that was economically possible. If such a drug were to become available in the U.S. now, there would be a quite small percentage of the population who would be able to procure it, I'm sure.

      That brings up the problem you raised about using funds for dealing with illnesses that endanger children's lives now--as well as malnourishment that stunts the health and life of so many.

      It seems to me that society certainly ought to work on more equality of health benefits for all people now rather than to work on a longevity product that would most likely benefit mainly the wealthy and that would greatly increase societal inequities.

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  3. Here are comments from Dr. Will Adams, an esteemed local Thinking Friend who is older than I:

    I've often wondered what history would have been like if the average human lifespan were 500 years. That would mean that a sizable portion of the population at the time of the American Revolutionary War would have grown up under feudalism. How would that have impacted the struggle for ideas of human freedom? We'll never know, but I doubt the effect would have been beneficial."

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  4. In the biblical account of the creation of man (Gen. 2-3), the Tree of Knowledge gets all the press while the Tree of Life is rarely mentioned. The Tree of Life along with almost every other plant is unrestricted in its use, yet at the expulsion it is to be protected from man's further touch. Though obviously creating some hypothetical theology here, it would seem the writer wanted to convey the idea before the fall man would have the choice of living forever in mortal form by eating of the tree or if he so chose to refuse to eat of it and so die a willing death.

    The implication would seem to be the Genesis writer of this second creation account felt "everlasting" life was an option at man's disposal until he chose "eternal" life in another existence. The fall cost him that voluntary choice.

    Perhaps this is bringing a little too much fantasy into scripture, but it is not original to me. Even J.R.R. Tolkien included in his work, The Silmarillion, the notion death had the original intent of being a blessing for those who chose it and not a curse. Only later would uncontrolled pride turn death into something to be avoided at any cost. That, I fear, would be the same power that would restrict "immortality" drugs to the rich and powerful, never to be available to the deserving if such ever existed.

    Like others above, I have no desire to live for centuries even in good health in this body of flesh.

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  5. Well, I am doubtful that it is possible to get anything like "everlasting life." Indeed, so far nothing has been successful at increasing the maximum lifespan of around 120 years. The great increase in average lifespans has been due to many more people getting closer to the maximum. Some room may be possible, since a bowhead whale has been verified at age 211, but whether their sea lives have a secret that would work on land is unknown. Other long-lived whales such as blue whales top out around human maximums. So we are already in the handful of longest living mammals on earth. Even reptiles are not known to exceed these limits. Only plants get far beyond us, with some mountain trees topping 5,000 years and some tree clumps such as aspen actually possibly getting close to immortality in their tree roots. So if you are willing to be a tree in the mountains, perhaps you have a chance. Read here about the whales: http://marinelife.about.com/od/Whales/fl/How-Long-Do-Whales-Live.htm

    Any really long extension is likely to be extremely expensive, and only available to a few extremely wealthy people. Environmental degradation will further reduce the chances of even living a normal lifespan, let alone an extremely long time. Asthma, lung cancer, skin cancer, all these wear and tear hazards only become more dangerous as people age. Meanwhile, in the real world, America cannot even provide a health system that extends life to the average of advanced countries, and we are about to engage on a dangerous experiment in deconstruction of the healthcare system, even as the lifespans of some demographic groups are currently falling (such as white women in Appalachia). I suspect rich proponents of extreme lifespans know this, but do not want the rest of us in on that knowledge. Well, we may get our revenge (sort of), since they are also pursuing long range space flight to escape a dying earth, even as space dementia is threatening even a trip to Mars. We have only one earth, and I think we should focus on being much better stewards of it.

    Since the last paragraph I have paused to watch President Obama's monumental farewell address. America is about to have unleashed upon it its youngest (or nearly so) ex-President. Still, even all that hope and change does not erase the caution with which I was planning to end. I once dismissed Trump's odd relationship with the truth as just another sign that postmodernism is a mess. However, I read a powerful article earlier today on his "gaslighting" of America, and of how this represents a distortion and even destruction of the truth commonly used by authoritarian regimes. I see dark storm clouds gathering throughout his cabinet, and even his sudden call for all politically appointed ambassadors to come home before the inauguration looks suspicious. What is Trump planning? He flaunts decades of tradition and even common decency for families with children in schools around the world (note Melania is staying in New York so the Trump son can finish his school year). What precedent is he setting for the next President? We may have ambassadors retiring in droves before every Presidential election. See the article on gaslighting at this link: http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/10/opinions/donald-trump-is-gaslighting-america-ghitis/index.html

    For those still with me, here are two links from this month's Scientific American that touch on world views and paradigm shifts.Michael Shermer looks at what happens when facts collide with world views (hint: Trump), and Steve Mirsky looks at paradigm shifts. We have a choice: remain scientifically grounded, or let our brains float away!

    Shermer link: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-convince-someone-when-facts-fail/

    Mirsky link: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/baseball-confirms-the-faber-college-motto-knowledge-is-good/

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  6. Here are comments from a third Thinking Friend who is past 80 years old, Dr. Glenn Hinson:

    "Quality of life, as you suggest, would rank ahead of longevity. From what we can observe at this point in time, quality goes down as we age. Watching one of my cousins go through Hell with cancer the past couple of months makes me think it is important for us to let go of hopes for continuing to live. I rejoice when I see that someone has lived longer than a hundred years, but I wouldn’t want or hope the same for everybody. Life has too many other variables. I prefer not to be 'as God.'”

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  7. Interesting that no one so far refers to the belief I imagine most of this blog’s readers grew up with—that Christianity promised “eternal life”, being with God, and that involved knowing and loving God. Our years of “growing” have included changed views about that possibility, at least with this body, even “spiritualized” (Paul, Corinthians) or with a “soul” (with a nod to Aristotelian metaphysics).
    No one has focused on “consciousness” in thinking about “everlasting” life or even highly elongated life. Or focused on what “stage” of one’s physical development would one “continue on”---at the height of physical power in the twenties, a more experienced, more connected brain of the fifties, or walking slowly in the seventies and beyond? (I didn’t read the science fiction links).
    I don’t know, i.e., have any consciousness, of where or what I was, if anything aside from the heredity of my parents, before I was born, and all of science so far (not science fiction) offers no evidence of consciousness after death.
    But we morals seem to be attracted to science fiction and continue to theologize. Are we hoping for some other reality in which consciousness (self-awareness) continues?
    What do you conclude, or surmise, having raised the question and analyzed the responses?

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Larry. I was expecting there to be more comments about what Christians have usually referred to as "eternal life."

      If there is eternal life as seems to be clearly taught in the New Testament, it would clearly involve consciousness. But as I understanding it, eternity is timeless, so that is why the term "everlasting" seems inappropriate.

      I have often said that eternal life is the type of life which God has. So just as science offers no evidence of consciousness after death, neither does science offer any evidence of God. But by faith we can believe in God and believe that knowing God means to know eternal life, which doesn't end with physical death.

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    2. Although raised around a dispensational eschatology, the reading of tea leaves about the future is difficult, even reading the "Red Letters". But since it is written about by prophets and "men of old who, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God", and "the Son of God" in His "Red Letters", faith comes into play. (Not just in the Jewish and Church writings.)

      My favorite novel on the matter is "The Last Battle" by CS Lewis, the last of his "Chronicles of Narnia". This holds well with the Orhtodox view of theosis, and that we know some of those will have eternal life, and some who will not, but since God is judge, we cannot declare all of who will or won't enter eternal life. Thus I take belief/faith in Jesus Christ seriously, as well as the need for "good works" and a "holy life" in this life realm. Of the list given of those who will be cast into perdition, "the idolators, the murderers, the immoral..." the list begins with "the cowards". God grant me boldness to do good and honor You.

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  8. Wow, I'm blown away by the interesting thoughts and comments by each one above. Tom's thoughts about the Tree of Life in Genesis was esp intriguing. As for me, I am a member the group who works for "death with dignity" and hope that will be available in Missouri if or when my mind and body wear out, so my soul (essence, spirit or whatever) can join other loved ones who have gone on before.

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  9. I don't know as I would care for an everlasting life here on Earth. We have our time to make a positive difference. (In Orthodoxy this is known as Theosis.) Our view of afterlife / the world beyond is primarily one of faith. But even within Christendom there are variances of belief. The book/movie "Tuck Everlasting" lays out in interesting concept of everlasting life for a family and a toad. I recommend it.

    Time itself is interesting since the laws of physics allow it to bend so easily and measurably.

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