X-Message-Number: 0037
Subject: Why Life Extension -- or Why Live at All?

            WHY LIFE EXTENSION -- OR WHY LIVE AT ALL? by Ben Best


         I have been interested in life extension from the time  I  was  a
    child,  but have only pursued that interest with diligence in the last
    few years.  My emphasis has been primarily technical:  diet, exercise,
    CPR,  nutritional  supplements  and  cryonics.   I can't remember ever
    having convinced anyone that life is desirable, so I  write  more  for
    the purpose of explanation than of persuasion.

         When I discuss *life extension* I am not talking about  extending
    the period during which one is a geriatrics patient -- I mean extended
    *youth*.  At worst, this means having the constitution  of  a  30-year
    old  when  one is 70 -- and the constitution of a 70-year old when one
    is 150.  At best, it means eliminating the aging process.  Aging is  a
    *disease*,  and quite likely a potentially curable disease.  The cover
    story of the December 1992 issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN describes some
    of what science is learning about the mechanisms of aging.


         Philosophically, one can begin with the question:  "What  is  the
    purpose  of  life?"  One  could even give a standard answer:  "To help
    others." But as the philosopher Charles Schultz once pointed-out, this
    answer begs the question.

         And philosophically,  there  is  a  problem  with  the  question.
    Philosophy   distinguishes  between  *facts*  and  *values*.   *Facts*
    include things like, "It is raining" and "Water boils at  100  degrees
    Celsius".  *Values* motivate statements like "I like bananas", "I want
    to marry you" and "Something should be done to stop the  depletion  of
    ozone  from  the  atmosphere".   Values are concerned with aesthetics,
    motivation and emotion -- attributes of living  organisms.   Questions
    like "What is the purpose of the Universe?" or "What is the purpose of
    Life?"  are  only  answerable  by  intelligent   beings,   groups   of
    intelligent  beings  or, perhaps, by supernatural beings.  Only living
    beings have purposes.  And ultimately, to ask  someone  "What  is  the
    purpose of life?" in search of an answer, is to surrender self-control
    and ask "What purpose do you have for my life?"

         Therefore, it makes no sense to ask if the survival  of  any  one
    person or even the whole of humankind matters in some objective sense.
    A  god-like  being  may  make  judgements  concerning  the  value   of
    humankind,  but the physical universe makes no such judgements.  It is
    living beings that make judgements and have  purposes  --  and  rarely
    with unanimity.

         Given that judgements and purposes are only attributes of  living
    beings,  whose  purpose  is  most  important?  The government's?  Your
    mother's?   Your  own?   The  last  answer  may   seem   selfish   and
    self-centered,  but  whether  you  acknowledge  it  or  not,  you have
    ultimate responsibility for deciding what purposes are most  important
    to  *you*  (as  opposed  to  important  to  someone  else  -- the only
    alternative).  It may be easy to consciously or unconsciously delegate
    this  responsibility  --  and  others often attempt to make delegation
    easy  (if  not  obligatory)  --  but  no  one  can  truly  take   this
    responsibility from you.

         How important to you is the on-going survival of humankind?   How
    important  to  you  is  the  on-going  survival  of your country?  How
    important to you is the on-going survival of your friends and  family?
    And  how  important is it to you that you remain alive -- and how long
    would you like to remain alive?

         Suicide counseling is primarily  for  people  who  are  undecided
    about  the value of life.  The suicide counselor can attempt to remind
    the despairing person of the potential pleasures of life -- or attempt
    to  suggest ways to end pain and depression.  The suicide councilor is
    helpless to change a person who innately experiences  being  alive  as
    being  something  negative.   Many  (if  not most) people will eagerly
    choose death as a means to stop physical or emotional pain if the pain
    is intense enough and if the prospect of the pain ending seems bleak.


         To me, discussing the value of life extension  with  uninterested
    people  is a great deal like suicide counseling.  I see no easy way of
    translating my positive attitudes about life into other people  having
    a  positive  attitude  about  life.   I have come to believe that if a
    person does not value life, or believes that the value of life has  an
    expiry  date, the matter is beyond discussion.  And I mean this not in
    the sense of difficulty of communication, but in the sense  that  what
    is  of  value  to  me  may  not  be of value for someone else.  I like
    strawberry and she likes vanilla.  I want to live  to  be  a  thousand
    years  old,  and  he  doesn't  care whether he is alive in five years.
    Personal choices.

         What would I do with  a  thousand-year  lifespan?   I'd  probably
    spend some of it trying to find a way to live longer.  But I would not
    otherwise lack for things to do.  It would take me at least 200  years
    to  read  my  way  through  my  book collection.  I would like to gain
    mastery of mathematics, physics and chemistry.  I would like to  learn
    and  practice  medicine.   I  want  to  understand  jurisprudence  and
    practice  law.   I  would  like  to  master  carpentry,  plumbing  and
    electrical  skills  --  and  build  houses.   I  would  like to master
    industrial design & fabrication, computers and biotechnology so as  to
    start  &  operate  productive  businesses.   I want to build financial
    empires.  I want to learn to play musical instruments and explore  the
    many  worlds  of  music.   I want to join and organize communities for
    social experimentation.  I want to write great books.  I  want  to  do
    experimental  scientific research.  I want to explore the planet Earth
    with a deep-enough knowledge of flora & fauna &  geology  that  I  can
    appreciate  what  I  am seeing, hearing and touching.  I want to learn
    human languages, live & work in many different countries  and  gain  a
    direct sense of the lives, histories & cultures of others.  And I want
    to explore to the fullest my own loves, hates, fears and joys.  I want
    to  fathom  love,  my capacities for love and the limitless mystery of
    love & sexuality.

         But telling people what I would do with my extended life will not
    satisfy  those  who don't know what to do with themselves.  Enthusiasm
    for living is the driving force behind the desire to live.  To someone
    who  equates  extended  life with extended boredom, a list of possible
    activities will only seem like a list of chores.

         I don't expect the world to stand still.  Many  exciting  changes
    are  possible  in  a  world of accelerating technological development.
    Benjamin Franklin wrote that he dearly wished he could  be  chemically
    preserved  so  that  he  could  see the future.  But I am not a person
    enduring a "veil of tears" in my present life only  on  the  basis  of
    hope  for some future technological paradise.  I am enthusiastic about
    life.  The present world is such a rich  treasure-store  of  marvelous
    opportunities  that  my  most abiding interest in the possibilities of
    the future is the possibility of extending life.

         I am not even certain that my desire to endure is only  connected
    to  my desire to learn and accomplish new things.  The thousandth time
    that I smell a flower, eat a strawberry, sing a song or kiss  a  cheek
    may  be  every  bit  as wonderful as the first.  People ask me if I am
    afraid of death.  To me this question is a macho red-herring.  Would I
    be  afraid of the death of someone I dearly loved?  Yes, but *fear* is
    a misleading way to represent how I feel about the  precious  life  of
    another.  So it is with my own life.

         I am part of an international community of life extensionists and
    cryonicists.   They are my friends and allies in the quest for life --
    and I work hard so that these  precious  and  fascinating  people  can
    achieve the goals we share.

         If people ask me why I want to live forever, I ask why they  want
    to  die.  This is not a trick answer -- my bafflement is as genuine as
    theirs.  I can only speculate that most people  live  lives  that  are
    woefully  boring,  depressive  or  painful  --  and they are locked in
    despair that things will ever change.  Many people complete the  goals
    of   social  programming  (education,  marriage,  family,  career  and
    retirement) -- and then feel that there is nothing left to do but die.
    Ultimately,  I  cannot understand why people are so content to age and
    die when science is making strides towards  the  prevention  of  these
    things.  There is an incomprehensible gulf of different attitudes.

         The technology of life extension may well advance rapidly  enough
    that  biological aging can be eliminated and reversed within 50 years.
    If that is true I may be able to avoid  death  from  aging  simply  by
    watching  my  health  &  safety,  and  by  keeping-up  with the latest
    available life extension ideas.  If my only danger of death  were  due
    to  accident  or  homicide,  my  expected  lifespan would be 600 years
    (1,000 if I am as careful as I intend to be).  But  just  in  case,  I
    could  make  cryonics  arrangements,  ie,  arrangements  to be frozen.
    Being frozen after death is the second-worst thing that could  happen.
    The worst thing is dying without being frozen.


         Is it immoral to spend  money  on  cryonics  (which  some  people
    believe is a doubtful last grasp at life) when the same money could be
    used to save the lives of many malnourished Third World children?   In
    this  view,  cryonics  is  an  example  of egotistical selfishness and
    greed.  By this standard *any*  expensive  medical  procedure  becomes

         But is it really worse to spend money on cryonics than on  houses
    or  cars?   True  consistency,  in  fact,  would  demand that everyone
    dedicate themselves to earning as much money as possible and living  a
    monk-like  existence  which  foregoes  children,  pets,  new  clothes,
    cosmetics, fine  food,  smoking,  alcohol,  vacations,  all  forms  of
    entertainment,  etc.   --  in order to send all available money to the
    starving Third World.

         The kind of sacrifice demanded by the vision of an  Overpopulated
    Earth   can   look  pretty  unpleasant,  if  carried  to  its  logical
    conclusion.  A patient in a Developed Country  on  a  kidney  dialysis
    machine  or  expensive  AIDS  therapy is selfishly consuming resources
    that could save  many  starving  Third  World  children.   The  Ailing
    Elderly  in  the Developed World consume resources that could be going
    to those suffering in the Underdeveloped World.  It  is  as  if  every
    breath  we  take  asphyxiates  someone.   In this view, the Earth is a
    lifeboat and we are all confronted with a  kill-or-be-killed  scenario
    in  which the most noble thing any person can possibly do is to commit
    suicide to make room for others.  We are left  with  a  "humanitarian"
    attitude  which  regards  life as utterly cheap, rather than precious.
    Is this really  humanitarianism?   Is  it  humanitarian  to  oppose  a
    medical  discovery  which would extend human life, such as a pacemaker
    or a cure for  cancer?   One  hundred  years  ago  the  average  human
    lifespan  in North America was nearly half what it is today.  There is
    something  questionable  about  a  humanitarianism  that  regards  the
    attempt to stay alive as being an antisocial act.

         The Overpopulation Problem is a matter of human suffering --  and
    the  brunt of this suffering is currently born by Third World peoples.
    Sadly,  Third  World  governments  are  almost   invariably   military
    dictatorships  which  impede  the basis for economic and technological
    growth.  Moreover, it is a survival strategy for Underdeveloped  World
    peoples to have as many children as possible because the more children
    survive, the better-off the parents will be.  "Children are wealth", a
    man  from  Sri  Lanka once told me.  Women in Underdeveloped countries
    who lack access to contraceptive technology often find it difficult to
    opt for any career other than bearing a large family.  Food, money and
    medicine from the  Developed  World  may  temporarily  alleviate  some
    suffering, but it does not get to the root of the problem.

         Exponential population growth among  people  who  are  unable  to
    provide  for their children is the Overpopulation Problem that must be
    solved -- not linear population growth  due  to  improvements  in  the
    quality  and  quantity  of  human  lifespan.   Eternal youth *without*
    reproduction results in *zero* population growth.  Eternal youth  with
    the  production  of  one  child  per  person (two children per couple)
    results in linear population  growth.   Even  WITHOUT  eternal  youth,
    however, population will grow *exponentially* (as powers of 2) if each
    couple has  four  children.   Exponential  population  growth  is  the
    essential  population  problem  that must be solved, *with or without*
    life extension.

         From a practical point of view, less than  one-millionth  of  one
    percent  of  the  Earth's population has shown any serious interest in
    being frozen.  If this  remains  true,  cryonics  will  not  have  any
    significant impact on an overpopulation problem.

         The world is grossly underpopulated with the kind of  people  who
    can  solve the tough problems leading to human suffering -- people who
    can unleash vast stores of energy that is clean &  cheap,  people  who
    can  create social conditions that lead to economic growth, people who
    can teach others how to be productive and people who can find ways  to
    help  would-be  parents  to  have  only  as  many children as they can
    support.  When each person has the  capacity  to  be  a  creative  net
    contributor  to  world  wealth,  rather  than  a net drain, population
    growth will be loved rather than feared, and human beings will find it
    easier to value and appreciate human lives.

         People with  extended  lifespans  will  have  more  incentive  to
    improve   the  world  and  the  environment  --  the  consequences  of
    short-sightedness will affect them.   Unaging  brains  will  have  the
    opportunity   to  accumulate  wisdom,  a  precious  resource  that  is
    currently lost to senility and "natural" lifespan.  It is often argued
    that  death  is  necessary to remove rigid old minds from positions of
    power so that humanity can progress.   But  if  technology  eliminates
    aging,   minds   can  continue  to  grow  without  becoming  rigid  or
    inflexible.  Hundreds of years  of  accumulated  wisdom  by  youthful,
    vital  minds could prove to be the most valuable resource available to

         What about pollution?  Technology may well be the cause  of  much
    pollution,  but  technologies  to  eliminate  pollution  have  a great
    future.  Nanomachines may one  day  launder  the  earth's  atmosphere.
    Electric  cars  powered  by  batteries charged from fusion energy is a
    clean technology.  In fact, an elderly person once told me that  major
    cities  are  much  less  polluted now than they were 60 years ago when
    coal was commonly used for fuel.

         The desire to live as long as possible need not be viewed  as  an
    inhumane   desire.    If   uploading  to  a  computer  were  possible,
    micronization of computer circuits might mean that billions  of  minds
    could   inhabit  relatively  little  computer  space  while  consuming
    relatively little energy.  If *cost*  is  the  ultimate  criterion  by
    which  the  desire to live indefinitely long is to be judged, is there
    some price at which this desire is no  longer  selfish?   Cryonics  is
    expensive  today because relatively few people choose it.  If millions
    of people were cryonically frozen, economies of scale could drive  the
    cost very low (liquid nitrogen is *not* expensive).


         Some  people  doubt  that  future  generations  would  have   any
    incentive  to  reanimate  them.   Such  people  often  imagine  future
    restoration to life as entering a cold, alien technological  world  of
    strangers  --  without  loved-ones or skills for coping.  A fund which
    can pay for maintenance (yet still grow faster than inflation)  and  a
    contractual  agreement with a cryonics organization should be adequate
    incentive for reanimation.  Major surgery is typically performed today
    in hospitals on patients to whom the surgeon is a complete stranger.

         But there will probably be emotional incentives  for  reanimation
    also.   The  last  people frozen will be frozen with the most advanced
    technology, and it is they who will be  reanimated  first.   And  they
    will   have   a  strong  incentive  to  reanimate  their  friends  and
    loved-ones.  A chain of personal connections will reach  backwards  in
    time to reanimate relatives, friends and even casual acquaintances.

         Will the future be so technologically advanced that  we  will  be
    unable  to  adapt  or  become productive citizens?  Many immigrants to
    America have  moved  from  Stone  Age  conditions,  yet  have  adapted
    impressively  well.   It  seems  hard  to  believe that people such as
    Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci or Madam Curie would not adapt easily and
    joyfully  to  our modern world, if they could be brought back to life.
    In fact, many people with mental and physical handicaps who would have
    had difficulty adapting even one hundred years ago find that the world
    is becoming a more user-friendly  place.   Computer-aided  instruction
    and  technology  to  enable  the  handicapped cannot help but improve.
    Such advanced enabling technologies will doubtless make our adaptation
    to   the  future  an  exciting  adventure.   There  will  probably  be
    technologies to enhance our intellectual powers, which  will  make  us
    even more capable of adapting and thriving.

         If the world of the future  is  not  a  world  of  very  advanced
    technology,  we  will not be brought back.  But why should an advanced
    technological society be a cold, loveless place?  Freed by  technology
    from the time-consuming drudgeries of daily life, people will have the
    time and resources to  explore  their  innermost  beings  --  and  the
    innermost beings of others.  Self-understanding, passion, intimacy and
    intense personal fulfillment will be possible beyond anything  we  can
    imagine.   Love  will be cultivated like precious flowers in the world
    of the future, and the world will bloom  with  love  like  magnificent
    gardens  of  splendor.   In  a  state  of  enduring  youth, beauty and
    vitality, we will be able to explore and fulfill our deepest dreams.

         Of course, we would love to bring our loved-ones to  join  us  in
    this future cultivation of our inner potentials.  We should make every
    effort to do this.  But it is wrong to believe that love is impossible
    without  the  existence  of  some  particular  person.   "Love  is  as
    perennial as the grass", and the potential for love is without  limit.
    While I don't deny the uniqueness of the loveability of any particular
    person, others  will  always  be  found  who  have  their  own  unique
    qualities  of  loveability.   The potential for love comes from within
    *you*.  Loss of a loved-one may create a void, but it also  creates  a
    *space* for new and different love.

         The technology of the future will make our  bodies  disease-free,
    beautiful,  perpetually  youthful and more vigorous than they had ever
    been.  Our visual acuity, hearing and other sensory capabilities  will
    be  far  superior  to  what is today "normal".  We will have access to
    fantastic    technologies    for    transportation,     communication,
    construction,  exploration  and  entertainment.   We  will  be  vastly
    enabled in our abilities  to  both  work  and  play.   Our  productive
    capabilities  will  be  enormous,  and each individual will be able to
    effortlessly build what today would be called  empires.   We  will  be
    able  to sculpt our own mansions surrounded by vegetation and fauna of
    our own design.  We will be able  to  fill  our  worlds  with  people,
    laughter  and conviviality -- or experience oceanic peace and solitude
    in vast naturalistic settings.  Cheap space travel will give us access
    to  the  energies  of the sun and the enormity of interplanetary space
    into which we may expand.  Many will want to go to the stars.

         There is no absolute guarantee that the  aging  disease  will  be
    cured  or that people frozen with current technology can eventually be
    reanimated.  No human effort can ever be taken with 100% certainty  of
    success.   But  if  the stakes are high (survival, for example) even a
    modest possibility of success becomes  worthwhile.   Some  people  can
    think  up  innumerable  reasons why the future might be an undesirable
    place  to  live  --  imagining  anarchy,  oppressive  totalitarianism,
    overwhelming  strangeness  or  unbearable loneliness.  I believe in my
    ability to appreciate life,  to  adapt  and  to  work  to  improve  my
    conditions  under  almost  any circumstances.  But as "solace", others
    should remember that the option of suicide  will  probably  always  be
    available if things don't work out.

         Will humankind become extinct?  Such a scenario requires a sudden
    catastrophe.   There  is  now good reason to hope that weapons of mass
    destruction will not bring about human extinction.   If  a  strain  of
    AIDS  should  arise  that is as contagious as the common cold, immense
    resources can be brought to bear on the problem.   And  if  technology
    makes   space  travel  and  space  living  much  less  expensive,  the
    extinction of humankind will be very difficult to bring  about  within


         I feel pleased with the rate of  progress  of  interest  in  life
    extension  that is now developing.  I am more concerned about the rate
    of growth of interest in cryonics -- since this  is  the  "first  aid"
    which  may  be  necessary  for  some  of  us  to  reach  the time when
    biological aging is no longer  a  part  of  normal  human  life.   The
    decision to include cryonics in a program of life extension requires a
    great  stride  beyond   the   more   usual   methods   of   safe   and
    health-conscious  living.   I  hope  that  those who deeply care about
    their lives and the lives of their loved-ones will increasingly  learn
    to be open to the lifesaving potential of cryonics.

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