Charts: 1

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43 Responses to “Charts: 1”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The 100 percent death rate only applies to people that have already died. There could be thousands of future immortals already born. Of course some of those may end up as sentient brains in mason jars as seen in Futurama.

  2. mgfarrelly says:

    To me, it’s not about quantity, but quality of life.

    I have a bit over 50 odd years to go based on that chart. I’d rather have the bulk of them be healthy one than dawdle around well into my 90′s facing long-term illnesses, diminished capacities and generally weighing on my (at this point potential) children.

    Increasing lifespan is all well and good, but let us enjoy the time we are here more.

  3. js7a says:

    Take a look at the first source cited on Wikipedia’s Cryonics article. It’s this weird forum post at doverlocals.co.uk — that’s a pathetic source for the a crucial aspect of the topic it’s used to support. Wikipedia is the #1 source for reference information in the world, with almost 22,000 views of that article last month. If you want to help people understand this, may I suggest that you work on that and the related articles on Wikipedia after you’re finished guest-posting here on BoingBoing?

  4. Ugly Canuck says:

    Still, there are > 1 million centenarians, in the US alone.
    AS to max life, my guess is built-in limits (varying from species to species) in protein replication processing; a kind of cellular senescence. To increase max life, my prescription is to use relatively more centenarians’ eggs/sperma for reproduction. And repeat for 1000 generations.

  5. SamSam says:

    (even at a time of rapidly declining birth rates in many nations)

    Why focus on individual nations? The high birth rate across the planet as a whole means that the human population is still going up up up. That’s the more relevant fact, rather than the fact that some individual countries’ birthrates may be declining.

    Whenever I hear someone bemoaning the fact that their country’s birthrate is declining, it always sounds as if the person is worried that “those people” might someday catch up and overtake “us” (!!!). I’m not accusing you of this, but population questions have to be asked when looking at the planet as a whole, not just at favored nations.

  6. mdh says:

    I would much prefer to burn my body out now, while I can enjoy it.

    I mean, who wants to be 90 for 40 years?

  7. Roach says:

    It seems like it might be a better idea to figure out why birthrates are declining in many (mostly [or all?]) “first-world” countries and fix that, rather than extended the lifespan of the very people who have found themselves somehow unable or unwilling to prolong their species.

  8. Alex_M says:

    Cancer is the second-biggest killer in the devloped world. Curing cancer is one of the biggest things doable to extend lifespan.

    We know pretty much exactly how cancer is caused, all the way down to the molecular level. We know how it propagates, and lots and lots of other details of how it works. Which just goes to show how much you can know about something without having a good idea about what to do about it.

    Aging, by contrast, is largely a mystery. Certain things are known to be involved, but there is no credible theory of aging, and it’s unlikely that any simple theory exists. It’s a complicated process. (The cause of cancer, is simple enough to summarize in three words: Screwed-up DNA)

    I assure you, the reason why funding into prolonging life gets little funding, is because it’s bad research. Not the alleged ‘morally’ bad, but bad as in ‘bad science’. Because without any real theory to follow, any attempt at prolonging life is simply a wild guess.

    The causes must be understood first. And that is Basic Research. The priority of understanding aging, as well as every other biological process, is in fact pretty big. Whether or not we intend to prolong life (and the ethics of doing so) is irrelevant to that. As I said, even if we understood aging perfectly, we’d still be very far from ‘curing’ it.

  9. jimbuck says:

    For men, your real 1/2 way point of life is about 38. At age 38 you can expect to live another 38 years based on mortality figures insurance companies and the like use.

  10. Yamara says:

    To me, all other issues are trivial by comparison.

    Hm, no. There’s the quality of that life. Allowing someone to live for 40 years as a slave is less trivial than extending the life of a dilettante for a few more decades.

    Average lifespan has increased, but maximum lifespan has not changed significantly. [...]

    Many people seem to feel that extending maximum lifespan would be “wrong” (even at a time of rapidly declining birth rates in many nations) or “unnatural” (even though our average life expectancy used to be around 40, and has improved through totally unnatural means such as antibiotics).

    You’re answering you’re own question. Significant extension of the maximum lifespan would be “unnatural” by definition. It’s never been done, and would have profound (indeed, non-trivial) consequences for humanity, so it’s okay for trepidation to be felt.

    But this is one of the big issues for this century, so it needs to be faced as the adults we aspire to become. Because should life extension have strong success, we will all have been merely children up until that point.

  11. djn says:

    @ Insert (12):

    There are secondary effects that make longer lives beneficial, though.

    Imagine two populations of social animals. In one, parents die the moment they’re done raising the last child, and in another they hang around for a while.

    It’s not at all given which pack would do best. One has less competition for food, but the other has a large pool of individuals that can help e.g. raising children or protecting against predators, or even contribute survival methods for (unusual) problems that the younger members haven’t seen before. It sounds plausible that in some settings the longer-lived pack would do better, and then you’ve got an evolutionary advantage to a longer lifespan.

  12. Ohhhsnap says:

    Correlation does not prove causation.

    Technology isn’t linear, it’s exponential. Charts like this are flawed because they don’t take into account unexpected and sudden technological (including medical) advances.

  13. Yamara says:

    #2 posted by js7a

    I’ve been mother-hen over the Immortality article at Wikipedia. The encyclopedia could use some serious, mature input of overview on transhuman and longevity issues, with references and citations, though there is some good stuff already there.

    We need more bleeding edge facts and less 1990s-style sci-fi speculation, esp. on the Immortality article.

  14. Anonymous says:

    The oldest person I personally know, at 106, is in reasonably good shape, can still read, and walks, now with a walker for the first time in her life. But, she’s still in a nursing care home.

    I would think it is far more beneficial to improve the quality of life and how well we take care of ourselves rather than worry about the length of it.

    She has also watched most of the people she has loved die, and has no family left. She has many, many friends, which is great, and is pretty happy. Her biggest regret really seems to be saving too much stuff in her life, as she now has no place to keep it.

    Enjoy the time you are here, no matter how long it is. That is what we all should be working towards.

    And be kind to those around you, since they may provide your nursing home and nursing care later. The least happy person in the care center was the one bitching about all the “immigrants” taking care of her.

  15. insert says:

    I wonder if animal lifespans have been decreasing since, you know, Creation (a joke, chill) or whatever starting point we agree on.

    Consider from the perspective on evolution: When an animal reaches senescence, it is no longer reproducing or is less likely to reproduce at all. Thus, it’s genes are not going to be passed on to anyone once senescence is reached. All other things equal, an extended period of senescence does nothing to increase fitness; in human terms, however long a woman lives post-menopause, those genes have already been passed on and will never be passed on again.

    Often in genetics, genes come with costs and benefits depending on heterozygosity. One accepted example is sickle-cell anemia: heterozygotes for the sickle-cell gene don’t have sickle-cell, but do get resistance to malaria. I would posit that the low-lifespan-after-senescence-onset would likely have a similar effect — heterozygotic organisms (and maybe the homozygotes too) may have an advantage in terms of metabolism or ability to reproduce or something.

    Thus, a person with a short post-onset-of-senescence lifespan (POOL) is at a slight advantage (or, alternatively, no disadvantage) from having a short POOL. Since there is an advantage, over millions of years, the organisms with a short POOL and a pre-onset advantage will be favored, and thus animal lifespans have been on the decline.

    The reason I don’t think that a short POOL has no effect is that lifespans are fairly constant among people, environmental factors aside.

    Counterarguments would include the fact that there are no isolated tribes with significantly longer or shorter lifespans than we.

  16. Brainspore says:

    Eliminating natural death also means eliminating the process by which bad thinking dies out and stops influencing politics. If we eliminated aging, we might soon find ourselves locked into permanent conservatism. We would have to build in checks and balances against it.

    That’s an interesting topic for discussion. If civil war veterans were still around, I doubt we would currently be living under an Obama administration. (I can see the bumper stickers: “Confederates for Thurmond 2012.”)

  17. mitechka says:

    As was already mentioned, this chart seems to assume, that average life expectancy will not significantly change in the next 50 years. I mean, yes, you can assume with a good degree of certainty that if average life expectancy is 80 years an average 75 years old person has an average of 5 years left. Not so true about an average 20 years old. With the promise of nanotech diagnostics and treatments in the next 10-25 years, I reasonably expect ALE to be well into 100s by the time I reach my 70s (I am 34 at this time).

  18. mdh says:

    Charts like this are flawed because they don’t take into account unexpected and sudden technological (including medical) advances.

    are you quite sure you read the post?

    What causation?

  19. Brainspore says:

    Reminds me of an old article from The Onion, “World Death Rate Holding Steady at 100 Percent.”

    I don’t relish the idea of my own death but I’m certainly not going to spend whatever brief time I have on this planet obsessing over it.

  20. agger says:

    I’d say, living for a long time is not a goal in itself. I think we should always be aware that we might die tomorrow or next week, and we don’t know that’s not the best thing.

    I mean, suppose we could increase life expectancy so we all lived to be 3-400. Would people necessarily have better lives, then? I could imagine a lot of people working dead-end jobs to get their mortgage paid and see the children through college and looking forward to their pension wouldn’t be thrilled at the prospect of 300 years more of the same old routine.

    On the other hand, Mozart created more music and way more masterpieces of music than most composers ever have in an entire lifetime. His death deprived us of some, no doubt … but would he have worked with such frenzy, if he had known he could live for centuries …?

    In a day an age where many people live as if their lives would never end, “letting the days go by”, would they not let the days go by even more if they knew they’d live virtually forever?

    More, would we become too risk-averse if we knew that by taking this risk – jumping from our boat to rescue a child, say, or going into a burning house to save our neighbour’s wife – we’d lose not just a few decades, but entire centuries?

    A society of boring, conservative, risk-dodgers?

    And I’ve not even got to the extreme scarcity of children if we lived to be several centuries.

    So, I think I end up as I began: living for a long time isn’t a goal in itself, at least for me living fully is.

  21. agger says:

    #14, Brainspore:

    I don’t relish the idea of my own death but I’m certainly not going to spend whatever brief time I have on this planet obsessing over it.

    Spot on! :-)

  22. Kathryn Cramer says:

    Knowing both Charles & Wikipedia as I do, I don’t think sending Charles over to fix what’s wrong with Wikipedia articles he might be interested in is a good idea. (Hi, Charles!)

    I note that the page Usertalk:Charlesplatt reads, ” Welcome to Wikipedia. The recent edit you made to Charles Platt (science-fiction author) has been reverted, as it appears to be unconstructive. Use the sandbox for testing; if you believe the edit was constructive, ensure that you provide an informative edit summary. You may also wish to read the introduction to editing. Thanks. Catgut (talk) 02:29, 24 July 2008 (UTC)”

  23. Nobilis says:

    I’m not surprised that longevity research doesn’t get more funding, given that the people who would ultimately benefit from it would be the people funding it, i.e. people with money.

    Here’s my logic:

    When some kind of treatment appears that can stop the natural cycle of aging, you can bet that it will be expensive. As a result, only rich people will have it to start with.

    Among those wealthy people, the ones who have the power are not generally the 80+ crowd, but rather the ones between 40 and 80 who are their children and grandchildren.

    If you were 45 years old and saw the opportunity to extend grandpa’s life, possibly indefinitely, and thereby prevent yourself from inheriting his money, you would have a strong disincentive to believing that it’s a good thing to extend his life. You would then latch onto whatever other explanation you could find for diverting the money elsewhere, i.e. “the population is already too high” or “we’re built for 80 to 100 years let’s not mess with it” or whatever.

    So longevity will continue to be given lackluster funding for as long as the decision-making power is in the hands of a group of people who have little incentive to fund it.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I put together a chart something like this a while ago, with some minor differences: data was yearly instead of by five-year buckets, my y-axis was expected age at death, and I’d separated out male and female projections. The curves themselves were about what you’d imagine from what you see above, but what was interesting to look at was the (approximate) derivative: there were dramatic differences in the shape of this curve between men and women around their twenties.

    I should re-create that.

  25. Charles Platt says:

    I agree, quality of life is a big issue.

    But you can’t have quality of life unless you have life! Existence obviously is the primary concern. The more of it we have, the more chances we have to do something good with it.

    As for birth rates, the rate of increase has been declining everywhere, without exception. Among demographers this has become a well-known and pretty much indisputable link with prosperity. In poor agrarian societies, children are a net asset, to till the fields and take care of adults in their declining years. In richer societies, children become an economic burden, and as infant mortality diminishes, the need for extra children “as insurance” also diminishes. So, the answer to the population problem is prosperity, period.

    The birth rate is the primary issue affecting population, because it compounds itself, as children have more children. By contrast, lengthening of lifespan does not have a compounding effect, as the additional years are added after fertility has ended.

    In any case, any increase in lifespan will almost certainly affect economically developed nations first (because, their people will be the ones who are most likely to be able to afford new therapies). This may not be “fair,” but it is very likely true. Life extension seems especially desirable in European nations that have birth rates as low as 1.2 children per female lifetime, provided, of course, the extension is achieved by fighting the aging process, and thus maintaining a population in reasonably good health. I don’t think anyone is arguing in favor of life extension for people in nursing homes suffering Alzheimer’s disease.

  26. Ian Holmes says:

    sorry in advance for this rant, but i find the “eliminate senescence” crowd a little exasperating. yes of course it would be nice if we could eliminate aging. however, surely, one can argue that curing (say) infant mortality is a higher ethical and moral priority than curing geriatric mortality. i would hope that this position does not lump me in your straw man category:

    One reason may be that research to prolong maximum lifespan receives minuscule funding, especially compared with popular endeavors such as cancer research. Many people seem to feel that extending maximum lifespan would be “wrong” (even at a time of rapidly declining birth rates in many nations) or “unnatural” (even though our average life expectancy used to be around 40, and has improved through totally unnatural means such as antibiotics).

    One hopes that you don’t think I’m a Luddite because, with finite funding resources, I would rather allocate more of them to extending the lifespan of people at the midpoint of your chart, rather than the tail. The only other conceivable interpretation is that you think health research funding is infinite.

    The picture you paint doesn’t match up to reality, anyway: there is actually a great deal of research funding spent on prolonging lifespan. There are plenty of aging baby-boomers with cash to spend on this, and far more money flows in this direction than, for example, eliminating malaria or other “forgotten” tropical diseases. The attention paid to this topic appears to me supremely selfish, in the light of objective facts.

    The other reason that the immortality crowd is annoying is that they ignore (willfully?) the actual cellular and evolutionary roles of senescence. Sometimes this appears to be just pep talk: “I don’t care HOW we eliminate aging, let’s just DO it!” But to me, it removes most credibility from these people. For example, Alex_M@6 mentioned cancer, but rarely is it acknowledged by the let’s-end-aging community that cellular-level senescence is in direct tension with cancer: it’s the main force stopping cells from growing uncontrollably. It is also, apparently, taboo amongst anti-agers to discuss the possible evolutionary consequences of removing generational turnover (typically such comments invoke the straw-man argument that one is protesting “unnatural” science).

  27. Anonymous says:

    Average lifespan has increased, but maximum lifespan has not changed significantly.

    This is key. Does this take into account the fact that infant mortality rates have sunk lower and lower? i.e. has the maximum lifespan actually stayed the same or has it actually been lowered? It used to be that a large number of infants died but if you made it past the age of 8, or so, you’d likely live a long life. Now we don’t have as many infant deaths and I’m wondering if that skews this data to show that we are living just as long as we did 100 years ago.

  28. Ian Holmes says:

    In any case, any increase in lifespan will almost certainly affect economically developed nations first (because, their people will be the ones who are most likely to be able to afford new therapies). This may not be “fair,” but it is very likely true. Life extension seems especially desirable in European nations that have birth rates as low as 1.2 children per female lifetime

    Are you arguing that prolonging lifespan is inevitable? Desirable? A Good Thing? Or what?

    It seems like in one sentence, you’re saying “it’s not fair but it will happen”, but in another, you’re talking it up as the next big research priority.

    Frankly I think all of this contradicts your chart. Consideration of one’s inevitable death was regarded by Buddhist teachers as a good motivator of meditation. Yet your reaction appears more like denial…

  29. mdh says:

    As was already mentioned, this chart seems to assume, that average life expectancy will not significantly change in the next 50 years.

    I do not see that assumption anywhere on the chart, I think you must have brought it in with you. By your logic there are lots of shortcomings with this chart. The chart ALSO doesn’t include the notion of a global atomic war which kills everyone in 40 years. Also I don’t see the zombie apocalypse of 2012 noted on there either.

    Based on what the chart purports to be (different from what you want it to be) the “Average” “Expected” lifespan based on “2005 data” CAN readily be reported – AND IS.

  30. Ian Holmes says:

    btw, sorry if my rants are sounding personal. i don’t mean them that way (e.g. i didn’t mean to single out or criticize Alex_M, but re-reading what i wrote, it looks like I was doing just that).

    Many people I like & respect are anti-senescence — e.g. Charlie Stross the sci-fi author. it’s the particular position i find somewhat ridiculous, and *definitely* not the people who espouse it (they’re usually technophiles with whom i otherwise agree on many issues)

  31. mdh says:

    Existence obviously is the primary concern. The more of it we have, the more chances we have to do something good with it.

    Quantity v. quality? I think it’s only worth extending the quantity of a thing if the product is of sufficient quality. I’d MUCH rather be 25 for 40 years and then die than be 85 for 40 years and then die. Based on the advice and regrets of my geriatric friends – I am correct.

  32. arkizzle says:

    Mitechka

    Forgive me, but your confidence sounds uber optimistic to my ear.

  33. Neuron says:

    I’ve practiced geriatric medicine for almost 15 years. I use these figures for average life expectancy: 8 years at 80, 4 years at 90, 2 years at 100, 1 year at 110.

    “Average” means that half of 80 year olds will achieve 88 and half of 90 year olds will make it to 94.

  34. tomchaps says:

    I worked for a couple years for a center that studied the long-term history of aging and the determinants of mortality and morbidity over the life cycle, funded by a giant NIH grant.

    Basically, things are better than the OP or the comments indicate.

    First, studies of the oldest-old have found that the upper limit is, in fact, slowly increasing. More importantly, as a group people are staying healthier longer. I forget the exact numbers, but basically a 60-year old today is as healthy on average as a 50-year old was a generation ago. Those who made it to 100 in the 1960s were generally quite sick–today they can be impressively active. (Your mileage may vary, of course).

    When I had my son, the director (a Nobel winner) told me that according to his calculations, he had a 50/50 chance of living to 100.

  35. tomchaps says:

    Should have added this link to a NYT article about the center’s research:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/health/30age.html?_r=1&ex=1157169600&en=b2c81c1d7ee1a92c&ei=5070

  36. agger says:

    It’s also true about the procrastination. Many people who achieve great things are driven among other things by an acute sense of mortality, a sense that their time is limited and they need to make the most of it.

    So if we lived to be 380, the extra 300 years might easily become 300 years more of boredom and procrastination, and no great works.

    One more thing: The times I fear death the least is when I’m most happy, lying in the arms of the woman I love, e.g. For me, when I’m most happy, life could end right now, and it wouldn’t bother me (however, it might bother some people who depend on me of course, see the “acute sense of mortality bordering on panic” line above).

    The only time I actually feel any fear of death is if I feel lonely and depressed – then, cessation of existence may also represent a threat in itself. Otherwise, not.

    So, one valid question about a general increase in longevity is: Yes, but why would anybody want such a thing? Don’t we live long enough already?

    And one other thing.

    The supposedly shorter life spans of former times: “our average life expectancy used to be around 40, and has improved through totally unnatural means such as antibiotics

    is partly a myth. Yes, life expectancy used to be shorter, but *mostly* due to a very much higher child mortality rate. Once somebody had survived their first five years, life expecancy was not too different from what we have today.

    Socrates was 75 when he was executed, and he was not unusually old for his community. Archimedes was executed, and he was *also* 75, in good health and not unusually old for his time. This does not apply to periods with epidemic outbreaks of e.g. tuberculosis like Britain in the 19. century, but it does apply to Europe for much of ancient and middle ages.

  37. Jesse M. says:

    I read somewhere that most deaths due to “old age” represent failures of either the heart or the lungs. So, I wonder if the development of really reliable artificial replacements for hearts (perhaps not so far off) and lungs (probably quite a bit farther), or else vat-grown replacement organs grown from stem cells, could keep a lot of people alive for longer.

  38. igpajo says:

    So being 41, I look at this chart and realize I’m late with my mid-life crisis. Better get on that.

  39. cory says:

    Have you heard the phrase “progress is made in a hearse”?

    Eliminating natural death also means eliminating the process by which bad thinking dies out and stops influencing politics. If we eliminated aging, we might soon find ourselves locked into permanent conservatism. We would have to build in checks and balances against it.

    Death provides an emergency valve for lots of society’s functioning, including all types of resource distribution (food, energy, land, water), creative stimulus (entire genres of music, poetry, and art would vanish, not to mention the whole “eh, i’ll start writing poetry tomorrow” procrastination aspect). Without it, society would change drastically.

    I don’t consider this a terrible thing though. When we take that argument in the other extreme, it becomes “hey let’s increase resource distribution and stimulate creativity by killing everyone over 30!” And I think there’s a movie about that.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Eliminating natural death also means eliminating the process by which bad thinking dies out and stops influencing politics.< ?i>

      Actually, recent studies suggest that old people become less conservative in their world view. Once upon a time there was an idea that age could bring wisdom. Something about the leisure to philosophize with out worrying about how to feed your children.

  40. Anonymous says:

    At some point in the future we are going to make great strides in increasing the length of life.

    The lucky people of that time will look back at us with our depressingly short lives and wonder what the hell our priorities were.

    Death is the biggest problem. It’s a problem that will likely never be solved, but everything else is trivial compared to it. Screw alternatives energy, to hell with a trip to Mars – we gotta do something about death. There’s no time to waste.

  41. CourtMerrigan says:

    @32, I’ve never heard that phrase, but it’s a good one.

    Seems to me that most of those advocating life extension research or actual life extension are motivated more by a fear of dying, than a desire to live longer, per se. But the ancients had a cure: Are you afraid of what was, before you were born? No? Then why be afraid of what will be after you die?

  42. MadMolecule says:

    “But at age 75, on average you still have another 10 years left. How can this be? Because some of the people who were born around the same time as yourself have already died by the time you’re 75, leaving only a subset who were less susceptible to disease (or accidents).

    That’s not entirely accurate. It’s true that at birth, we have an average life expectancy of 75, but at 75 we have an average of ten more years to live. However, we can’t infer causality (susceptibility) from that. The figures include people who die in plane crashes, natural disasters, and other things that have no relation to susceptibility.

    From a purely statistical approach, X percent of the population will die before age 75. The 75-year average at birth includes those people. If someone lives to be 75, then clearly they’re not one of the subset who die by age 75, and those X percent can be disregarded in calculating life expectancy.

    (I work in life insurance; this stuff is our bread and butter.)

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