Defeating Aging and Death is the Most Important and Urgent Goal for Humankind

By Giovanni Santostasi, Ph.D. | 25 June 2013
ImmortalLife.info

Immortality is the only thing which doesn’t tolerate being postponed.
Karl Kraus

Everything you can imagine doing, achieving, giving, receiving, any goal worth striving for, any experience you desire having is based on one simple requirement: you need to be alive. Life is precious. In particular conscious, intelligent life is very rare and priceless.

When reasoning in a scientific manner about the universe we should consider only the evidence in front of us (and possible logically argued deductions from this evidence).

It is a fact that we didn’t observe yet any presence of intelligent life in the Universe. The Italian born physicist Enrico Fermi used this fact together with the several billion years age of the universe to question the existence of other form of intelligent life in the Universe, this is the famous Fermi’s paradox. He was a master of this kind of order estimates based on some simple facts and assumptions. Fermi’s estimate of the existence of intelligent life in the universe was order 1 (just us or few other ones, very far away).

If this estimate is right, then consider the density of intelligence in the universe. A rough estimate of the size of the universe is its age 13.8 billion years times the speed of light (this is a simplified calculation, the size of the observable universe is a actually few times bigger). When that is expressed in miles we have that the radius of the universe is about 100 thousand billion billion miles. The volume of the universe then would be is 1 followed by 69 zeros or a billion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion cubic miles. Let’s round the population of the earth to 10 billion. That means that if you spread human consciousness all over the universe you will find a brain every 100 billion trillion trillion trillion trillion miles. Indeed brains are very rare.

Each brain is unique, an invaluable treasure.

Neuroscience is revealing almost everyday new insights on our brains and how they function. It is clear that even if there are many traits that make us act in similar ways in given circumstances the precise wiring and connections between neurons is unique to each individual[1]. These unique connections make a personalized cognitive map of the world resultant of the individual diverse experiences[2]. Both environment and genetics can influence how these brain maps are evolving in time and how they react to events and what they are able to imagine and create. Even if the maps are changing and in constant flux their future trajectory is determined by the unrepeatable path that each mind has taken in its history.

It should be our top priority to preserve these minds, to allow them to continue to evolve and grow, to allow them to contribute to well being of other minds (and help heal them and guide them if they tend to be destructive and unproductive).

However 100 thousand of these minds are destroyed every day. True that others are created but the uniqueness of each mind is destroyed for ever.

Aging and death has been unavoidable until now but we live in extraordinary times. Science and technology is advancing so fast that a cure for aging is feasible in the lifespan of most living at the moment on Earth. This advancement could be even faster if made into a priority. It has been proposed that if one or more governments would come together and create a Manhattan Project style initiative (that focused the work of several scientists to create the first atomic bomb and gave them generous resources to achieve that goal) we could find a solution to the problem of aging within 10 years or less. Even less ambitious projects in the same scale of large scientific projects as the Large Hadron Collider could achieve the extreme longevity goal within a very short time. But this fundamental goal is left to the initiative of a few organizations and labs around the world, SENS being one of the largest and best funded[4]. This is not enough.

Deathist culture has been ingrained into us for centuries. (Image courtesy of MathKnight on Wikipedia Commons)

Because of the perceived inevitability of death and the lack of knowledge about the relevant science most people just don’t know how to reason about the issue of death. Religion has been the custodian of most of humankind’s imaginary discourse on the topic of death. Religion’s existence depends on the fear of death that the majority of sentient beings rightly possess. Religion has created much mind conditioning on many issues but on the subject of death even atheists and free thinkers seem to fall prey to powerful preconceptions even more powerful than religious thinking[3]. Discussing this topic many say absurd, nonsensical things, and use sacred words as selfishness, natural, cycle of life as if they were trying to exorcise something that terrifies them. It is an emotional reaction to the topic of death. Paradoxically accepting death to them is a way to exorcise the topic of death.

There is no justification to let minds being destroyed by what is understood as a natural process. Humans have thought their natural condition since they become to use their large brains. Each innovation, each invention, technological, social, political has been an overcoming of our nature. We have defined our nature over and over again. If anything can be said about the nature of humankind is that it is its nature to go beyond its limits.

Death and in particular the grotesque degradation due to aging is a tremendous and horrific limitation on the human spirit.

It is our enemy number one.

Death is a waste. Many of the most productive people spend years improving their skills, learning from experience, gaining wisdom on how to work and be successful in a complex world and when they finally start to master their field they decline in mental power and then die.  The equivalent of a large living library is destroyed when a mind is gone. But it’s not just what the library contains but what it will be able to produce and create that is also lost.

A common criticism against the idea of indefinite life spans is that such a goal is selfish and it will destroy the economy and the environment because of overpopulation. There is nothing wrong in being selfish and want to preserve your own life. A certain level of selfishness is necessary to get up in the morning and do anything useful for oneself and others. You need to love yourself first to help others. Altruism is intelligent selfishness.

Again because most people have not thought about this issue clearly enough and respond in a very emotional way when confronted with mortality the criticism is based on misconceptions. What is not understood is that the proponents of life extension are not proposing to extend senility but to keep people young, vibrant and creative.

It is clear then how for a world population being active and productive could be an enormous boost to the economy. Also people that have more life in front of them would be more careful in reproducing and seeing children as their main asset. It is a fact as a country improves economically the child birth rate decreases. Most of the overpopulation is due to developing countries and even in these countries the projections are that the child birth rate would decrease soon or is already decreasing. Far from being a problem life extension would be actually a solution to the opposite problem that many developed countries are experiencing that is the fact that a small, productive, young portion of the population has to support economically a much larger older, frail, unproductive one. Several studies have shown through modeling and reasonable forecasting that indeed life extension has a very beneficial economical impact[5].

It should also be clear that extending life would make life even more precious and reckless behavior as wars and violent crime would also be impacted by extended life spans. Crime should decline because people that commit crime often usually do so because they feel desperate and without any way out. But by living without an arbitrary time limitation people would have indefinite time to achieve goals and look for opportunities and do better planning for the future. Crime would not seem so appealing if you have many chances to prosper and be a productive agent in the world.

But besides the immediate advantages of life extension at the individual and social level, remember that the universe is so empty of consciousness and we need to spread intelligence and creative power everywhere to enliven the cosmos. We need more brains, many more to fill the dull and cold emptiness of space.

Immortal brains is what we need to achieve the task.

[1] G. Miller, Why are you and your brain unique? Science, 5 October 2012: Vol. 338 no. 6103 pp. 35-36

[2] I. Sample, Sebastian Seung, Your are your connectome. The observer, June 2012 http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/jun/10/connectome-neuroscience-brain-sebastian-seung

[3] S. Cave, Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization, 2012, Random House, New York

[4] SENS organization webpage: http://www.sens.org/

[5] L.A. Gavrilov, N.S. Gavrilova, Demographic consequences of defeating aging, poster SENS 4, June 2013; http://www.asmda.es/demographics2013workshop.html

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Giovanni Santostasi, Ph.D. is Associate Scientist, Neuroscience at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is interested in the study of consciousness, intelligence, and memory. He also studies the role of sleep in processing and storing memories. His research areas include computational neuroscience, neural network, and biophysics. He was previously Assistant Professor of Physics at McNeese State University.

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