X-Message-Number: 2571
From:  (Thomas Donaldson)
Subject: CRYONICS Re: Overpopulation
Date: Mon, 24 Jan 1994 22:15:25 -0800 (PST)

Hi. I hope my netlink doesn't cut off this time --- I've been having LOTS of
trouble recently.

However, the linkage of overpopulation and immortality, and ideas about how
very cheap space travel would eliminate the problem, deserve some comments.
Neither one is exactly WRONG, but at the same time they can't mean what 
their proponents think they mean.

First, immortality itself cannot cause a population problem unless people do
not curb the births they need to curb. The basic reason is very simple: 
currently population is growing exponentially. Immortality would cause this
exponential growth to become ... exponential growth. The integral of exp(x)
is exp(x). 

The very most that immortality could do would be to bring the population 
crisis a bit closer (the constant in front of exp(ax) will change). If the 
rate of birth is not brought down, a population crisis will occur. Immortality
has nothing to do with it.

Is it really likely that such a crisis would happen? No. The reason is that
even primitive peoples such as those of ancient Polynesia were quite well
aware that they could only support so many people. Whenever a birth happened
on those islands, the village elders got together and decided whether or not
they would be able to support the new mouth. If they decided against it, the
baby was taken from its mother and killed. We have no reason to believe that
if push comes to shove human beings won't resort to similarly drastic 
measures again. Whether push ever WILL come to shove is an interesting 
economic question which takes in lots of issues, and is much more complex 
than most proponents of world population limitation seem to believe .... but
it is certainly true that overpopulation has threatened in the past, and the
response of human beings has been rational. (Some may claim it was also 
immoral; whether it is more moral to starve to death collectively rather than
kill a large number of newborn babies is a question I won't discuss).

Could space travel at zero cost change the population situation? No. Ultimately
(that is, if exponential growth continued) we would have a spherical expansion
of the human race into the Galaxy at the speed of light. But that would mean
a problem: That spherical expansion provides at most a growth on the order of
T**2 per year, while exponential growth would proceed at exp(T) per year. No
technology on the horizon solves the problem that exp(T) quickly tends to 
exceed T**2 (T squared). Even though I would like to see lots of settlement
in space, and like the idea of space colonies, nanotechnology or not, space
settlement will not solve any population problem UNLESS the birthrate is 
limited... regardless of space colonization.

If we really want to look at the problem rather than play with stupid fears,
it is useful to look more closely. Bringing down the death rate of children,
and educating women, both have a powerful effect on the birthrate.

As for immortality, even if it were to come tomorrow, we will all have to
understand that one way or another, by our choice or by force, the RATE
at which we have children will fall dramatically. As for the issue of choice,
I find it somehow incredible that immortal people will decide that the best
thing they can do with their lives is to produce more and more and more
children. Do you really want to spend the next 10,000 years wiping infants
bottoms? I will go even farther: our interest in simple reproduction, and
all the mythology it involves, will fade away. Certainly, there will always
be a few children produced. But if our expected future lifespan becomes
long enough, then out of 250 million people the number of children will
fall to less than 100.

		Best, and long long life,
			Thomas Donaldson

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