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IEET > Life > Enablement > Innovation > Health > Vision > Bioculture > Staff > Kyle Munkittrick

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What Would Humanity Be Like Without Aging?


Kyle Munkittrick
Kyle Munkittrick
Science Not Fiction

Posted: Sep 13, 2011

The cover of The Postmortal is one of the coolest images I’ve seen in a long time. Death impaled by his own scythe – be not proud, indeed.

deathbnp
The idea behind Drew Magary’s great new book is simple: aging, as it turns out, is caused by one gene. Shut that gene off and you stop aging; accidents and disease are still a problem, but you’ve cured death by natural causes.

Now compound that discovery with the fact that any person who gets the Cure simply stops aging. People don’t become younger, they just don’t get older, frozen at their “Cure age.” What happens next?

In an effort to find out, Magary takes us through the life of John Farrell, a New York lawyer who gets the Cure for aging at the age of 29 in the year 2019. From that point on, things go rather poorly for John and the rest of humanity. As one might expect, curing aging doesn’t cure social ills, over-population, ennui, or a host of other human hangups. Mark Frauenfelder has an excellent synopsis of the book over at boingboing.net, and I share his opinions about the book’s bleak tone and high quality.

Magary’s argument through the text is essentially this: death creates meaning. Not mortality, but guaranteed natural death due to aging. The idea that no matter what you do, how you live your life, the concept that you will be born, mature, grow old, and die creates human meaning. Magary has a point: from the riddle of the Sphinx to Tyler Durden to the final books of Harry Potter, aging and death seem to be at the epicenter of human thought. I don’t deny him that at any moment any one of us could meet a tragic end. Life is precious in part because it is not meant to last.

But here is where I struggle. The Postmortal is not about a post-mortal society, it is about a post-aging society.

Lots and lots and lots of people die in Magary’s vision. In fact, he seems to argue that in the absence of death, people will not only seek death but will create circumstances that create death and thereby, create meaning. It is only when Farrell’s life is most in peril that he finds purpose in existence.

But Farrell is never immortal, no one is. So my question is: is the process of aging as meaningful as the condition of being mortal?

Read the rest here.


Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
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COMMENTS


I haven’t read the book, but it sounds as if it makes the classic sci-fi error: extrapolating the effects of the progress of a single technology to ludicrous results.

Although I feel sympathy for older generations right now, I don’t actually find longevity technology that interesting, as I expect to fully transcend biology itself within 25 years or so.

What’s the point of longevity technology when I don’t expect my substrate to remain biological?

Of course, for those old enough, it becomes important in order to reach that point, so I have some sympathy.

Also, the I think that the study of longevity will lead to advances in computing as well, so there is some transference.

In any case, my opinions on:

The book: Sounds like a conservative neo-Luddite book to me.

Life and Death: As a living process, I am a blur of life and death at all scales. I do not perceive any final state. Neither alive nor dead, but a process that incorporates living and dying from moment to moment. I’ve been this way since time began.

Technology: As I mentioned, I’ll be leaving behind organic life soon (if I survive the transition period we find ourselves in ).





“Magary has a point: from the riddle of the Sphinx to Tyler Durden to the final books of Harry Potter, aging and death seem to be at the epicenter of human thought…I don’t deny him that at any moment any one of us could meet a tragic end. Life is precious in part because it is not meant to last.”

Or say Jeremy Rifkin’s notion of not only human life but also animal life being precious, nature as it has evolved over billions of years is “rhapsodizing” as Rifkin writes (in his ‘Algeny’ book), say for instance birds singing, cats chasing birds, and so forth. If we saw something living in a world of replicas we would embrace it, he wrote.
However IMO we would find a way to destroy the biosphere for fear of death—the Death Wish on a larger scale.





I am not a believer in the notion that “Death Gives Life Meaning”
Death is Death
Meaning is Meaning
Death only Gives Death to Life
Meaning provides Meaning to Life.

It is entirely possible for most of us to have an entire life without Meaning, the fact that we die certainly doesn’t provide any Meaning at all, it just means that we ran out of time to find Meaning.

Meaning - which is a wonderful feeling, although rather elusive and transitory in my experience - is something that is attained, if one is lucky, not by the constraints of Time but despite the constraints of Time.

I would even argue the opposite of “Death Gives Life Meaning”  -
that oftentimes it seems as though
“Death Removes All Meaning From Life”

since we’re conversing in short maxims here, I’d also like to propose:
“Immortality Gives Meaning to Life”
which is why people try to do great things, so that they’ll be forever remembered

and finally, since I am 30 years older than 29, I’m in a position to complain about the phrase “grow old with grace.”
I’m not quite sure what it means, but romanticizing agedness seems silly and unproductive and rather nauseating to me. The best thing to do with aging IMO is to simply delay it, not embrace it “gracefully.” Generally, when we say some old person is “beautiful” it doesn’t mean they are “sexy” which would actually be a compliment. It just means they don’t look as absolutely horrible as they could at their age. This is a rather pitiful compliment. The best compliment IMO for an old person to hear is simply—“You look 10-20 years younger.”

There are many books that discuss how Death terrifies our consciousness in destructive ways - the Death Wish, etc.  Death’s contribution to Life is destructive in far more ways than the obvious one, and this book’s attempt to make Death “valuable” seems off-base.

Of course, we all want the wisdom of a 100 year old in the body of a 29 year old.  No argument with that!





@Hank: GREAT comment.

@iPan re “I don’t actually find longevity technology that interesting, as I expect to fully transcend biology itself within 25 years or so.” - so do I, but I am afraid it will take longer than 25 years, perhaps much longer, and probably longer than our remaining lifetime. I hope they perfect brain/mindfile preservation technology soon.





Agreed, guys. One quibble is how about the wisdom of a 100 year old in a 14 years old’s body? (all in favor say “Aye”)
IMO Rifkin’s—using him as a voodoo doll to stick pins into—oversight can be expressed in a simple 3 part question: what good is our humanness & humaneness if we..
a) subconsciously want to harm ourselves, e.g. the Death Wish?;
b) both unconsciously and consciously want to harm others?;
c)  unconsciously and consciously harm the biosphere?





i didn’t read the book and definitely couldn’t agree with such a pessimistic view but nonetheless i found the article interesting. First I never heard before (sorry) a near-future-sci-fi story where aging is THE topic, and I find it interesting as a “thought” experiment (sorry again) ; knowing that I will die could give some meaning to my life if I knew there would be no option to go away from it, as a major feature of my life, but knowing we could fund more research, it just makes my life pointless ; still, in Brasil at the moment, if I want to know the culture it will take some high percentage of my life to stay here maybe, this choice is meaningfull because it urges me to know who I am and what I want, here the word urges is the important one, doesn’t mean that to be in a hurry is a good thing, but is a feature that shines on the meaning of one’s life, up to the level of emotions one intends to experience during one’s lifetime ; but let’s not talk for nothing, I’m just writing during a teeth pain insomnia, and I’m as much depressed about how poorly funded SENS is thant I am confident that our future will be soon much more “lovely” than this book would let us believe ; and also I believe not aging would be enough for a mental-shift that would allow a much more efficient “collective learning” that, if I dare, makes this book, that Ididn’t read and probably couldn’t appreciate to the fullest since english is not my mother language, partially irrelevant (to me) - not mentioning that I would have some modification about the drawing in cover so that death can die in a last pleasurable moment, at least as a reward for all the meaning she gracefully gave to us.





some people can even be young and beautifull without being sexy, well usually I don’t go such in the details, but for sure oldness to a point can be “sexy”.. I support the idea !





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