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If you’re going to argue against life extension…

Friday, 27 June, 2008

…don’t forget to take into account other likely biotechnological changes to the human being. By the time these become a problem from life extension technologies, other fields of biotechnology will have advanced enough to provide a solution. Take, as examples, for common arguments, resting on human psychology, against extending the human lifespan:

Overpopulation will result

This argument is based upon the fact that we humans have, like most higher mammals, evolved a desire to reproduce (as opposed to an instinct). Nevertheless, given a state of advanced pharmaceuticals and genetic engineering in the future, it is very likely that we will have a far greater control over both our capacity to reproduce, through allowing females to control their own ovulation and males to control their own spermatogenesis, and our desire to reproduce, through suppressing our desires to become parents (or at least, to become parents of large families). If we can control age, surely we can control reproduction.

Political stagnation will result

This argument rests on the fact that younger minds are more capable of change than the older ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ opinions of the older generations. This is a result of the same process that makes it harder to teach an old dog new tricks – as one ages, neurons form more solid connections and prune off others, making it harder to change the arrangement of the brain. Research is, however, currently looking at ways to reverse such changes, because in those who have experienced spinal cord damage or stroke, it would be a great benefit to be able to rebuild parts of the brain. Therefore, it is possible that some drug or genetic tweak will enable people to either remain, throughout their life, as malleable in their opinions as they were when they were in twenties, or to occasionally revert the brain to a child-like state in terms of opinions, in order to pick up new beliefs and opinions. After all, if we can give people youthful bodies, why can’t we keep them young in mind too?

Love will not last

Love has evolved to facilitate pair-bonding between humans, but despite what Shakespeare may have said, love’s gentle spring doth not always fresh remain. As the decades turn into centuries, It may be increasingly difficult to maintain a romantic relationship with the same person. But, it is also hard to keep the human body going over centuries. It may be that a particular genetic modification, brain implant or drug could keep the feeling of new love going for years, and the feeling of a steady romance for centuries thereafter. After all, if we can keep our bodies safe from the ravages of time, why not that which we call love?

We would become bored or crazy

I think you will be able to see where I’m going with this. Yes, humans have evolved a desire for novelty, and this could be a problem if we had time to do everything (if such a thing is possible). But, some people display more novelty-seeking than others, so it is at least possible that novelty-seeking may be malleable to biotechnological interventions. Alternatively, taking guidance from Nietzsche, if we had control over our memories (a desirable thing for many in favour of life extension), then surely we could choose to forget certain things in order to experience their novelty again. As for turning insane, surely neuropsychiatric care and/or treatments will be advanced enough that we will not go crazy unless we wish to. After all, if we can maintain our bodies indefinitely, why not our sanity?

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