Thursday, 4 February 2010

Ageing, an illness to be combated? Debate




While browsing through the videos in ted.com, I stumbled upon one that I considered would make for a very interesting debate, as its focus is ageing (aging AmE), a process that shapes our lives from the moment we are born and thus relevant to us all. The speaker, Aubrey de Grey is a Cambridge "biogerontologist" who is adamant that funds should be allocated to research on how to revert the deterioration our bodies suffer with the passage of time in such a way that we would remain youthful and escape death for even centuries. He claims that -if philanthropists decide to invest in this quest- breakthroughs are imminent in the near future and that when they come along people will gradually abandon the -now prevailing- wrong notion that ageing is an inevitable (and even desireable) natural phenomenon.

So my suggestions are 1) watch the video by clicking on this link. It is 20 min long and he was pressed for time and speaks really fast, so enable the subtitles in English, a function you will find down left on the video. You can pause it as often as you like. You do not have to try to remember the complex concepts he mentions, just the gist. 2) If you have the time, you can also read about Aubrey de Grey in Wikipedia.

Finally, please, publish a comment with your opinion.

6 comments:

  1. Carlos, I´ll try to do some of these things as soon as I get a decent Internet connection. It´s not that easy, even for a place like Prague. I´ll be back the 7th of May, do you think I´ll make it for the exam? Say hello to everyone from me, you may look for me in Facebook if you want to see some photos or anything, See you soon!

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  2. Alberto,

    Great to hear from you! If you are back on that day, you'll make it for the exam no problem. Pity about your Internet connection, but do try to read the article about Mr. De Grey on Wikipedia and let us know what you think. Your contributions are always valuable.

    I will of course pass on your greetings to the rest of the class.

    Enjoy yourself. I hope your stay there is proving a great experience.

    All the best.

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  3. Living for centuries??!! Just in case the research on lifespan succeeded, the first step should be to design risky birth control plans. Are world governments ready to design them? Can you imagine human beings fighting because a drop of water or an inch of earth? That scares me so much.

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  5. Thank you María, for your comments.
    You are so far the only one that seems to have heard my “voice in the desert”, the only life form in this barren land.
    You have raised the question of the overpopulation that prolonging the lifespan of humans would cause, as effective birth control measures would be very difficult to implement. The result: a scarcity of resources and the subsequent turmoil on a planetary scale.
    I would like to raise other issues in relation to this:
    * Identity: it is difficult enough to maintain one’s feeling of identity through our lives as it is, as it mostly rests on memory, a very fragile capacity. How would this hurdle be overcome? All other cells regenerate, but brain cells don’t...
    * Futility and psychological exhaustion: shouldn’t we first focus on improving our quality of life and that of further generations. As it is now, I doubt many people would like the idea of, say, prolonging their daily grind for hundreds of years. The idea of not retiring until you are 67 or older, proposed as a measure to safeguard state pension funds in our country, seems daunting enough...
    * Privilege: this artificial prolongation of life would inevitably benefit just a few privileged people, thus widening the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”. Even if we concluded that longer lifespans are desirable in all other respects, first we would have to make sure the same level of health care is available worldwide. Otherwise, we would create two clearly different “humankinds” and, in the best possible scenario, constant friction between the two.
    * Maturity: The level of emotional, intellectual, ethical and spiritual development in the vast majority of humans as it is now would mean that prolonging lives would also mean prolonging hatred, envy, selfishness, vengeance, greed, addictions and all other imaginable vices. And, sorry if I sound prejudiced, but rich people, the ones benefiting first from this hypothetical longevity, are not precisely renowned for their capacity to cooperate and fight for the general welfare.
    * Emotion: would we be really capable to make do without spontaneous sexuality, children etc. How would the first beneficiaries feel when outliving all those they felt affection for? Would postponing death make its eventual arrival even more painful?
    * Temptation: On the other hand: if we were individually offered to have our lives prolonged just for a couple of decades, accompanied with improved physical and mental performance, would most of us refuse and, at what point would we say “no more”?

    Please, comment on these points and add your own.

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  6. Please, allow comment some of the issues although, I confess, in a not very deeply way:

    1. Identity: Do not set up the feeling of memory on yours but by building your identity through what the others will remember. A human being exists as long as he/she is in someone's memory.

    2. Futility: But think, even the worst daily grind or the most idylic paradise of happiness would become a plain and dull welfare if eternal.

    3. Privilege: You say the longer lifespan the wider gap between the rich and the poor but maybe that would provide the opportunity of chage since nothing is permanent.

    4. Maturity: Yes, indeed: hatred, envy, greed are part of the human essence but also goodness and solidarity. However I would not dare say the firsts are common among the "haves" and the seconds among the "have nots". Even more, it is expected all of them reside in the whole wide humanity.

    5. I absolutely agree that it is not worth to live without your closes just in case some or most of them had decided to stop living. Watch out! Would we be talking about suicide? or about the skill of making our own decisions?

    Meanwhile this is not possible we have some choices:
    - Firstly try to feed, it is to say, inhance your personality, your life, gathering all type of good experiences. That will make you feel more elevated and face the dilemma stronger.
    - Join a slow movement such as slow education, slow food, slow sex, slow living...That will become your ordinary 24-hour-day into a 48 one (see www.slowmovement.com).
    - Share your vital experiences with others openly (see the Egypcians or Romans) or anonymously (see www.banksy.co.uk). Both are hugely valuable.

    Finally why not start creating our own avatar?

    María.

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