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Life, Liberty and Happiness Part 1: Life

You are free to call me an optimist, but I believe that humanity has in its grasp the solutions to the world’s ills. To prove my contention, I have decided to tackle the three “inalienable rights”, which we really don’t have. My first essay, on Life, is largely a book review.

The book makes a remarkable claim – that we can live forever! No, the authors are NOT crackpots. Ray_Kurzweil, the lead author has received 17 honorary doctorates. Terry Grossman is a medical doctor.

Their argument is not that we now have the technology to live forever. Their argument is that we now have the technology (and knowledge) to live twenty years longer. In twenty years, we will have breakthroughs that prevent and cure most illnesses. Growth in technology is undoubtedly exponential. The microchip is an excellent example, but they focus on the human genome project, which demonstrates exponential increases in both the speed of deciphering individual genes but also exponential decreases in the cost of doing so.

The authors identify two technologies that hold much hope. Gene technology will allow the identification of the specific gene causing disease and either the repair or replacement of the gene. Nanotechnology will allow the development of nanobots that travel our blood stream, repairing specific injuries.

The book, however, is more than crystal-ball gazing, it examines what we currently know about health and illnesses and provides very specific steps to take now to get to 2030. The steps themselves are cutely packaged into the mnemonic TRANSCEND, the title of the book.

The individual steps are:
Talk with your doctor
Calorie reduction and weight loss
New technologies

Each of the steps is explored in a separate chapter. However, the quality of the chapters is somewhat mixed. Some of the information, such as what medical tests to get done and supplements came across as leading edge. For example they recommend an ultrasound to detect calcification of the carotid artery, a non-invasive, relatively inexpensive test, but rarely done. They discuss optimum hormone levels, and quote research on therapies and supplements work. Other chapters, such as Calorie reduction and Relaxation are middle of the road surveys of good practice. The chapter on Detoxification didn’t come across as evidence-based, just a tree-hugging exercise – eat fresh, organic, avoid chemicals in the home.

All in all, it’s the best book I’ve read on personal health, and for less than a GP’s consultation fee, well worth buying for anyone interested in their personal health. The book had one glaring blind spot. Other than Relaxation, they do not write about mental health (Anti-cancer, by a psychiatrist who has survived cancer twice, is a good complementary read).

Has the book convinced me that I can live forever? I don’t think I want to live forever. I bought the book because it gives me tips on maintaining and improving my health – and it certainly does that.

The book does not even hint at the social consequences of a society that can live forever. But I suspect a number of my fellow Webdiarists will have plenty say on that.

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Perpetual war and economic decline

Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

Jay, above is an extract of a piece written by Bob Herbert in the New York Times.

I admire your optimistic outlook, and I hope you are right. We have a very long way to go. Otherwise the vision of an extended life will only go to those of us who are fortunate to be born rich.

We must realise that to live a rich and healthy life we have to take others with us.

As long as there are greater numbers of people without adequate health and access to wealth there will always be war, death and the future of humanity will be limited.


I like the conversation between David and Jay. From a distance, it looks like humanity is an out of control train driven by unpredictable impulses, heading for - where?

Jay, I don't think social science knowledge is the problem, it's the under or misemploy, or suppression of social sciences and economics and the parallel counter-producitve movement with arts/humanities subject corpus, incuding history, literature and philosophy, that give us vison and knowledge for educated planning, against the suppression, the dumbing down of these for the short term gain of a few.

Scocrates apparently thought it is easier for people to do right than wrong. My take would be that on that basis, there must be a lot of exhausted people out there.

Big mac and chips

No, of course Jay is right, if only one had the character to embark upon these activities that offer hope for a longer, healthier life.

More predictable than Climate Change?

Interesting article in Time on Kurzweil's predictions.  Will machines overtake man by 2045?

Our Final Century

Jay, Martin Rees' book lists the following potential human-show-stoppers:

  • uncontrolled climate change / biosphere destruction
  • nuclear war
  • the Terminator scenario (Kurzweil's Singularity with added Arnie)
  • uncontrolled release of biotechnology
  • ditto nanotechnology (the "grey goo" scenario)
  • bioterrorism and other WMD upgrades to terrorist acts

... and some others (somebody borrowed my copy and didn't bring it back).

His view is that, while each of these has a low probability on their own, there's a better than 50% chance of one of them coming through in the next hundred years. After watching that nice Mr Abbott's performance yesterday (and the cheerleading for his position in the News Corp papers this morning), I'd say nearer to 100% ...

Pandora's box

David, you remind me of another of my pet Bees (in the Bonnet): that the technologies of the physical sicences have grown too fast compared to the social sciences, and that this balance needs to be redressed if humanity is to prosper and perhaps even survive.

Perhaps I am wrong (a technocrat?), but I feel that the humanities, while valuable, cannot by themselves define their role in (value to) society, but are dependent on the social sciences to do so.  

Call me a pessimist ...

I'm still going with Martin Rees' Our Final Century, and betting on these long-lived types being from the very small minority of humanity's peak 9 billion still alive at 2100 - (say 100 million or so).

For a really pessimistic read on other developments in medicine, look at some prognostications for a future without truly effective antibiotics, eg this one from the recent Sydney Antimicrobial Resistance Summit. 


 OK, you're a bloody pessimist  David.

Eternal life would be hell on Earth

Initially sounded OK until you get to the "detoxification" bit - live forever without a drinky poo, nah, I'd rather be dead, besides who'd want to live forever anyway?

And even if you could you wouldn't, because sooner or later you'd get run over by an enormous bus, driven by a very small but sober leprechaun, dressed in combat gear and high heels - believe you me it does happen, unless of course you are too pissed to notice.

PS. If one must talk to a doctor it is always best to find one who drinks more than you - it works for me, but I do go through a lot of doctors.

PPS. Eternal life would be the death of humanity - think about it.

Drinky poo without the poo

By then, Justin, we'd be having Drinkys which have all the positive effects but not the negative. In fact, both modern and ancient pharmacology already have a swathe of substances which produce effects simjilar to drinky poo, but cause less damage.

Unfortuantely, most of these substances are banned by the politically correct brigade and special interest groups.


Infinite life does have benefits...

Jay: if one were to have infinite life then one would ample time to murder every politician and inane special interest group on the entire planet - along with call centre operators, anybody who uses leaf blowers, people who keep birds in cages, bullfighters, anybody who gets off watching bullfights and of course idiots who write stupid stuff on blogs.

Now let's down a pangalacticgargleblaster, or three before somebody throttles me.

Your 500 year old grandkids.

This sort of stuff is why we need to work out what humanity is now.  Around the scifi traps the notion of a 2050ish convergence of technologies has been around for a while, the exponential growths combining to possible produce something reality shaking.

I enjoyed some o fhe things the British Astronomer Royal, Lord Rees was talking about on his last visit here.  He seemed set on the notion of the next step in human evolution as techno-organic and the exploration of universes being within the easily-traversed distances of the quantum viewpoint.

 As my old man is fond of saying, when we're black boxes in the bottom of the ocean, we all should know how to play the bannjo.  The ethics and culture we define now might be the legacy of the current form of humanity. 

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