Living Longer

Dr. Steve Mason
“We make some of our greatest gains when we see old things in new ways.”

Contact Dr. Mason by email at

Living Longer

People think that humans are living longer.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  What has happened is that medical science has progressed to the point where it’s now possible to sustain babies born with serious physical problems.  But if an individual lived through childhood and managed to avoid diseases and accidents a century ago, their lifespan would have been close to what it is today.


Today the average lifespan is up around 80.  After that, humans begin to decline and eventually succumb to normal wear and tear.  In fact, it’s been estimated that if all diseases were eliminated – including heart attacks, cancers and strokes – it would add only about ten years to the average lifespan.  But now medical science is poised to go off in a different direction.  Instead of trying to treat things that go wrong as a result of aging, the goal is trying to treat aging itself.  What will come as a great surprise to most is that science predicts a dramatic increase in life expectancy in the near future.


The reasons why our bodies slow and eventually stop are remarkably well understood and just as one might expect, the means of reversing these are similarly well understood.  Researchers around the globe are coming at the problem of aging from many different directions.  They are studying life forms that grow but don’t seem to age.  These include lobsters and turtles.  Then there are individual cells that neither specialize nor age and seem to be immortal.  Curiously, cancer cells that kill can also be an example of living forever.  And let’s not forget technology and the possibility of growing new parts and perhaps even whole new bodies.  Organisms such as flatworms can do this and some lizards regularly regrow their lost tails and limbs.  Watching a new 3-D Printer in action makes it easier to understand the thinking behind growing something like a new heart for a pig…already being tested and assuming the possibility of a quantum computer, what’s to prevent making a copy of a human brain?


Look At It This Way


Of course it’s possible to go down this path with evermore imaginative, yet potentially possible, means of defeating the Grim Reaper.  But is there a down side to a dramatic increase in life expectancy?


Our culture is currently built around a three score and ten model so people who continue collecting Social Security much past age 70 put a strain on the system.  Clearly that’s a situation that will need to be addressed if we all start living to 150.  Then too, would you want to keep doing the same job for another half century?  If not, that means learning a new vocation.  And what about women who see themselves as mothers?  Can they bring in new lives if old lives aren’t departing at an equal rate?  And would you want the same spouse for 100 years?  And what would you do with your leisure time?  If you go bowling twice a week would you want to go four times a week?


In a recent poll, when subjects were asked if they would like to live to 100 (even if in excellent health) only 51% said: Yes, So how would you answer?  A good guess would be, how much you enjoy life now is an indication of how much you’d like it to continue.

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