Two awesome videos

Even though I have already shared the news on Rejuvenaction’s Facebook page, this is such good news that it is definitely worth repeating myself. Today YouTube channel Kurzgesagt has released a video titled: Why age? Should We End Aging Forever?

The video is fantastic to say the least. It explains briefly what ageing is, promises a later video about some of the nitty-gritty of rejuvenation biotechnologies, and it depicts the whole thing in a very positive light. On top of that, CGP Grey made another video on pretty much the same topic, just much, much, MUCH more blunt. I definitely recommend you give both a look.

The video above was made with the help of, which is also mentioned in the description. I don’t think CGP Grey’s video was released also today by sheer coincidence—he did talk about teaming up with Kurzgesagt, if I’m not mistaken—but is not involved in the making of his video. Still, it is awesome.

How would you like an easy way to help the cause? Share these videos on your social media, like them and upvote them. If you’re one of those brave souls who dare looking at the comments, please do and let people know about where appropriate. Like comments that mention it. Both channels have a rather large number of followers (we’re talking millions), so this could really help get the ball rolling.


Mathematics, rejuvenation, and immortality walk into a bar…

If a fully rejuvenated person was hit by a train at full speed, I can promise you they would stand the same pathetically low chances of ever being reassembled into a single, barely functional piece as any non-rejuvenated person of any age. Keeping that in mind, if anyone tried to sell me rejuvenation as ‘immortality’, rest assured I would demand to see the manager right away.

On a different yet unexpectedly related note, if I had a nickel for every time I heard or read something along the lines of ‘death is inevitable because probability’, I could donate so much money to LEAF the IRS would start thinking they’re a bit too well off for a charity.

Oh, and with the rest of the money, I could buy LinkedIn and pay someone to finally give it a user interface you can look at without your eyes bleeding.

That being said, no matter how hard rejuvenation advocates strive to make a clear distinction between rejuvenation and immortality, nearly everyone keeps cheerfully swapping them around, largely convinced that two absolutely incompatible statements hold true at the same time, namely

  1. rejuvenation implies immortality, and
  2. probability grants you will die at some point, rejuvenation or not.

But that’s okay, really—I mean, people hold contradictory beliefs all the time. What pisses me off is that statement ‘b’ is false.

Immortality buys the first round

You might be thinking I must be a few fries short of a happy meal, because after all, statement ‘b’ is only a special case of the more general statement ‘Given infinite time, anything that is possible, however unlikely, will eventually happen’. This is false too, by the way—if a special case is false, then the general case isn’t true either.

To be fair, among people who think both statements ‘a’ and ‘b’ are true, probably many intend immortality in a weaker sense than I do. To me, ‘immortal’ is somebody who cannot die, no matter what; to them, ‘immortal’ is just someone who doesn’t die of their own accord past a vaguely defined ‘best before’ date. I think using the word ‘immortality’ for the latter is wrong and misleading, but since surely most people will keep using it no matter how much I whine about it, I could agree to call ‘strong immortality’ the former and ‘weak immortality’ the latter. Weak immortality is thus what some people call ‘functional immortality’, ‘biological immortality’ or ‘amortality’—again, the property of a creature whose body doesn’t fall apart by default with the passing of time.

Quite frankly, I think strong immortality is not possible, because it implies that one’s chances of ever dying are exactly zero; or, if it is possible, I think it’s so far off that it’s not worth holding your breath.

Some are convinced the laws of probability say that, inevitably, the odds a living creature will die go up with the passing of time, and from this premise, they conclude rejuvenation (or weak immortality, if you really want to use the i-word) is a pointless goal: Sooner or later you will die anyway, so why bother with rejuvenation?

Well, apart from the fact that staying biologically young and healthy is a worthy goal regardless of how long you’ll live, as I was saying above it’s not true that probability makes your death inevitable: In fact, under certain circumstances death may become more and more unlikely with the passing of time. Whether or not we can produce these circumstances is a different matter, which we will also look into; my point here is debunking the myth that death is certain no matter what because probability says so. Another way of putting it is that if your goal is to never die, you don’t need strong immortality: You can be mortal and yet never die, so long as your death is a vanishingly unlikely event.

Mathematics takes over the open mic stage

Maybe you’re used to think of probabilities in terms of percentages, but in statistics you generally use numbers between 0 and 1 instead, which is perfectly equivalent. Intuitively, a probability of 0 is 0%, 1 is 100%, 0.5 is 50%, and so on. That’s how we’re going to do it here.

We want to prove that death is not necessarily certain even given infinite time; in other words, we want to show that your probability of death over an infinite time can be less than 1. To do so, we need an expression for your probability of death over an infinite time; more precisely, we are going to need an expression for your probability of death over an infinite number of years, starting from the first year of your existence, which we say is year 1.

As you probably already know, nobody dies twice; in order for you to die in year 10, for example, ten distinct events must all happen: You must live through (or, equivalently, not die in) years 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and you must die in year 10.

On any given year, say year n, you have a certain overall probability of dying that takes into account your probability of death from all causes: accidents, murder, heart attacks, etc. All of these add up to a number between zero and one, which we call dn, as in ‘chance of death in year n’. This is your chance of dying in year n on the assumption you have not died before; in other words, dn is the answer to the question: ‘Assuming you did not die in years 1, 2, 3, …, n – 1, what is your chance of dying in year n?’. Notice that this question is not the same as ‘What is your chance of not dying in years 1 through n – 1 and dying in year n?’ The reason is that the former assumes you already made it through the first n – 1 years, and asks what are your chances of dying in year n in such case; the latter makes no assumptions and asks what are your odds of making it through the first n – 1 years and not making it through the nth year.

The answer to the second question is the probability that n events all happen, which is calculated as the product of the individual probabilities of each event.

Clearly, in a given year you either die or you don’t; these two events represent 100% of our options, so their probabilities sum up to 1. Thus, if dk is your overall chance of dying in year k, your chance of not dying in year k is 1 – dk.

Now we can calculate your chance of not dying up until year n – 1 and dying in year n; we call it Dn and it is

Dn = (1 – d1)×(1 – d2)×(1 – d3)×…×(1 – dn – 1dn.

For example, we have D1 = d1 (because you didn’t exist before year 1 and therefore couldn’t die before then), and D4 = (1 – d1)×(1 – d2)×(1 – d3d4.

Each Dn is the chance of a specific combination of events happening, namely your living through years 1 to n – 1 and dying in year n. Obviously, only one of these event combinations can happen, because as said you don’t die twice. For example, you either live through years from 1 to 5 and die in year 6, or live through years 1 to 10 and die in year 11, but not both.

The question ‘What is the chance that you will ever die, given infinite time?’ can thus be restated in a more verbose, but more accurate, way: ‘What is the chance that you will die in year 1, or live through year 1 and die in year 2, or live through years 1 and 2 and die in year 3, …’ and so on, ad infinitum.

While you multiply together the probability of individual events to find out the probability that they will all happen, you add together their probabilities when you want to find out the probability that only one of them happens. (Technically, from the result you should subtract the probability that any combinations of them happen, but in our case this probability is exactly zero, because as said death can happen only once, so there’s nothing to subtract.) We call this chance D, and it is

D = D1 + D2 + D3 + … + Dk + Dk + 1 + …

all the way up to infinity. There is a more convenient way to write the sum of infinitely many terms, which is this:

So, instead of writing D as the long sum in the middle, we express it as the Σ (‘sigma’) thingy on the right. They mean the exact same thing.

Alright, so now we have an expression for your probability of dying over an infinite time, D, and we want to show it can be less than 1. This might seem absurd to you: How can an infinite sum be less than 1? Shouldn’t it always be infinity? No. A sum of infinitely many terms is called a series. If a series happens to add up to a finite value, it is said to be convergent; if it blows up to infinity, it is said to be divergent. I know it seems strange; welcome to maths.

In order to get to the desired result, let’s first notice that the series D is actually always smaller than another series. Remember that D is just the sum of infinitely many Dk’s, and each Dk is equal to the product

(1 – d1)×(1 – d2)×(1 – d3)×…×(1 – dk – 1dk.

All the terms in these products are larger than zero and at most 1, which means that when we multiply something by any of them, this something won’t get any larger; if anything, it could get smaller. In other words, the term

(1 – d1)×(1 – d2)×(1 – d3)×…×(1 – dk – 1dk

isn’t any larger, and is possibly smaller, than

(1 – d2)×(1 – d3)×…×(1 – dk – 1dk,

and if we iterate this reasoning, we see that ultimately

(1 – d1)×(1 – d2)×(1 – d3)×…×(1 – dk – 1dk

isn’t any larger, and is possibly smaller, than dk. This means that D1 is no larger than d1, D2 is no larger than d2, and so on. Therefore, the sum of all Dk’s (that is, D) is no larger than the sum of all dk’s. In symbols,

which means your probability of ever dying is always smaller than (or equal to) the sum on the right. If that sum could ever be smaller than 1, we would be done. Can it?

Note that the sum on the right is the sum of all your overall yearly probabilities of death—that is, the sum of your probability of dying in year k on the assumption you safely made it through all years until year number k – 1, for each k. Suppose that, thanks to technology, the elimination of ageing, and so on, we were able to reduce these probabilities each year in a very specific way, that is according to the formula

where p is any number larger than 2. (You’ll understand why in a moment.). What would happen then? Let’s just plug the expression for dk in the expression for D and we’ll find out.

Remembering that the term on the far right is just a seriously long sum, we can rewrite it like this:

So, ultimately we get

Now look at the sum on the far right again—only the sum, forget 6 divided by πp. That is a known convergent series, and it adds up to π2 divided by 6. This means the following:

Now you see why I required that p be larger than 2: This way, p – 2 is always larger than 0, which in turn means that πp – 2 is always larger than 1, and thus the whole fraction is smaller than 1. Therefore, D, that is your probability of dying over an infinite time, is less than 1. Furthermore, the larger p is, the smaller D will be, which means that if we were able to make your yearly overall probability of death decrease faster and faster as time passes, your chance of ever dying would become smaller and smaller, though it would never be exactly zero. This means that, over an infinite time, you might die, but it would not be very likely.

On top of that, if we assume you safely made it through 5000 years, then your probability of ever dying past that point would be only

which is clearly less than D, as it is only part of it. More generally, if you make it through the first n years, your probability of ever dying past year n is

The stuff above is called the tail of a series. In particular, this one is the tail of the series D, which we know is convergent, since whatever it adds up to, it is less than 1 divided by πp – 2. So it is the tail of a convergent series. The tail of a convergent series has an interesting property: as n grows larger, the tail tends to zero. In other words: Under these circumstances, the longer you lived, the closer to zero your chances of ever dying would get (though they would never be exactly zero).

This, mind you, is true if we can make it so that your yearly probability of dying decreases each year according to our formula—or, more generally, in any other way such that the sum of all these probabilities is a series converging to less than 1; and this, make no mistake, is no small if.

Go home maths, you’re drunk. Rejuvenation will take care of you.

Before we send maths on its way, it’s important to notice that our assumption of a decreasing overall yearly probability of death is crucial to the reasoning. If we assumed this probability was constant, for example, then no matter how small it was, you’d be royally screwed, as your probability of ever dying over infinite time would then be exactly 1. Indeed, say that each year you have a probability of dying of d, of which we require to be just any number larger than zero and at most 1. Then, your probability of living through years 1 to n – 1 and dying in year n would be

Dn = (1 – d)×(1 – d)×(1 – d)×…×(1 – dd,

where the term (1 – d) appears n – 1 times, ultimately yielding

Dn = (1 – d)n – 1×d.

At this point, D would be

where we factored d out just like we have done before in a similar case. Now, the series on the right is called a geometric series, and if (1 – d) happens (as it does) to be smaller than 1, then the whole thing will add up to 1 divided by 1 – (1 – d). That is,

As I was saying, royally screwed. You can imagine that, if your yearly overall probability of dying is not a constant but it increases instead, then you’re even more screwed—and this, by the way, is exactly what happens because of ageing. In this very moment, as things stand, your probability of dying goes up as time passes. Sorry about that.

But let’s not get all doom and gloom about it, and rather, let’s focus on another question. We established that, if we can make your overall yearly death probability decrease fast enough, then death is no longer a certainty and can even become increasingly unlikely. So, can we accomplish this? Hard to say.

The good news is, if we managed to eradicate age-related diseases, if nothing else your probability of death wouldn’t go up by default with the passing of time. I’ve done some digging on the Internet and I found a few informal calculations about how long the average lifespan would become if ‘natural’ causes of death were eliminated altogether; estimates vary, although they all talk about centuries. In particular, this article on Gizmodo discusses a statistical simulation according to which if all ‘natural’ causes of death were taken out of the equation and the only remaining causes of death were things like accidents, murders, etc, then the average lifespan (in the US) would be 8,938 years. (There’s also a fabled calculation apparently made by an insurance company, or something like that, according to which the average lifespan would be ‘only’ about 800 years; I say fabled because I’ve heard about it several times, and I was told about it by more than one person, but no one had the source and I wasn’t able to find it. If you happen to know where I can find it, please let me know, and I’ll update this post.)

Now, 8,938 (or even 800) years is a bloody long time, but it is not ‘forever’; however, you have to take into account that the fine chaps who made the simulation did not take into account how much we might be able to reduce the chances of ‘non-natural’ death over the course of almost 9000 years, and they didn’t do it for a very good reason: They don’t know if, when, and how much the chances of specific death causes are going to decrease. Taking wild guesses at it would introduce far too much uncertainty in the calculations to make them any useful. Regardless, it is perfectly safe to assume that over the course of such long lifespans, we’ll have figured out a way to make cars safer, for example, and thus reduce the chances of dying in a car accident. To be perfectly frank, that’s already happening with self-driving cars, and it is quite possible that within a couple hundred years cars will have been replaced by something else entirely.

Similarly, we can expect other possible causes of death will be either mitigated or eliminated altogether, pushing the average lifespan up and up while you still are alive—though, meanwhile, entirely new causes of death might appear. We are nothing but extremely complex pieces of biological machinery, and the more complex something is, the more numerous the things in it that can go wrong. (And yes, even if we became non-biological machines, technology through and through, as some people would like, we could still be destroyed or irreparably damaged. Could, but not necessarily would.)

On top of that, we can’t know for a fact if an unexpected world war, or a pandemic, will break out and push up everybody’s chances of death, or on a grander scale, we don’t know for a fact if the heat death of the universe will happen or not, or if we’ll have figured out ways around it by then.

In my opinion, the hard bit will not be making our death chances decrease fast enough; the hard bit will be making sure they keep decreasing fast enough forever without any significant oscillations. If the general trend of your death chances over an infinite time is a negative one (i.e., overall your chances keep going down all the time), relatively short periods of time during which your odds of death stay constant or even go up can be okay—if these odds aren’t too high to begin with. For example, if you had a 0.5% chance of death each year for just five years and then the chance went down again, most probably (but not certainly) you’d safely make it through those five years alive and you could look forward to a very long life. If this period of constant death chance was much longer than five years, your odds would be worse. However, there’s no way to know for a fact that we’ll be able to maintain a general downwards trend indefinitely, so, sorry, neither I nor anyone else can promise you with 100% certainty that you will never die, if that’s what you were hoping for. Then again, death isn’t necessarily the mathematical certainty some people would like to pass it for, which is all I wanted to show with this article, and just in case someone decides to interpret it the wrong way, let me stress again what this article doesn’t do. It

  • does not claim strong immortality is possible;
  • does not prove you (or anyone else) will never die/live forever;
  • does not prove that we will necessarily be able to constantly reduce anyone’s death chances enough to make their death over an infinite time extremely unlikely. It’s possible, but not certain;
  • is not a great discovery or anything like that. What you just read is basically a simple Calculus 101 exercise.

I also care to emphasise that I’m not flawless or always right, so if a fellow mathematician spotted a mistake in my reasoning, I’d be happy to correct it. Meanwhile, be careful out there, and try not to make your chances of death any larger than they have to be—so don’t browse LinkedIn for too long, ’cause bleeding eyes aren’t good for you.

Ending Aging in Portuguese

I would like to let you know that a crowdfunding campaign to translate Aubrey de Grey’s book Ending Aging in Portuguese is currently hosted on, Brasil’s largest crowdfunding platform.

If successful, this campaign will allow professional translators Nina T. Zanvettor and Nicolas Chernavsky to create both a paper and an e-book version of Ending Aging—or, in Portuguese, O Fim do Envelhecimento. The campaign will last until June 5th, 2018, so there’s plenty of time to collect the goal of R$ 28.000, a little less than 8.000 US dollars. On the campaign page, you’ll find a description of the project both in Portuguese and English; if you like, you can follow the campaign both on its own website and its Facebook page.

Importantly, this project has the endorsement of none else than Aubrey de Grey himself, as you can see in the video below.

If you speak Portuguese and would like to read Ending Aging in your own language, or you’d simply like to help spread the word in more languages, this crowdfunding campaign may interest you. I also invite you to spread the word on your social media, especially among your Portuguese-speaking friends. 🙂

News from campaigns

Before I’m too late for the party, I’d like to let you know that’s crowdfunding campaign AgeMeter for the development of a diagnostic system to measure functional human age has been extended by two weeks. Presently, 70% of the necessary funds have been collected, i.e. a little over 20.000 dollars out of 30.000. It would be great if yet this other campaign made it to its goal, so if you haven’t made your donation yet, please do—remember, there’s no such thing as a donation which is too small: Broadly speaking, as long as the amount you donate is a positive real number, it is much appreciated! The AgeMeter campaign will end on September 16, 2017.

Contextually, another crowdfunding campaign has been launched: MouseAge, an AI project aimed at assessing ageing biomarkers in mice visually, using image recognition techniques. If successful, this approach could help speed up rejuvenation research and reduce animal suffering. I’ll let the researchers speak:

MouseAge ends on October 14, 2017. As always, please donate if you can, and do spread the word as far and wide as possible. Thanks!

Introducing Rejuvenaction Italia and other news

I’m pleased to announce the launch of Rejuvenaction Italia, the Italian version of Rejuvenaction. As you might know, Italian is my native language, and while I have neglected/postponed online advocacy in Italian for over two years now, I realised that, as the topic of rejuvenation starts to reach broader audiences, there’s a necessity to make information available in several languages, for the benefit of those who don’t speak English. Regardless of one’s native language, the questions people have about rejuvenation are always the same: How do you do it? Why? Have you thought of overpopulation? And tyrants living forever? and so on. Thus, Rejuvenaction Italia (henceforth officially nicknamed RJi, and accordingly Rejuvenaction will be simply RJ) is essentially a clone of RJ, except in Italian. The blog won’t be nearly as lively as that here on RJ because, you know, there are only 24 hours in a day. I will translate some of the most substantial posts or important news from RJ to RJi, though, and there will be RJi-specific posts that won’t be worth translating into English.

If you speak Italian and/or know someone who does, it may be worth checking out RJ’s Italian clone and share the news on your social media. I would appreciate that very much. 🙂 There’s a link to RJi at the top of the sidebar.

As I translated the contents of RJ into Italian, I took advantage of the occasion to rewrite some articles that were long due for an update, and added entire new sections. You might have noticed them silently popping up here on the English site, together with a minor graphics revamp.

The Ageing section has been extensively rewritten. While I was planning to have a much more comprehensive and technical biology section, I eventually discarded the idea, for three reasons: It would have taken far too long (especially given my lack of specific expertise); it would no longer be the simple, newbie-friendly yet extensive introduction to the topic that I aim for; and it would essentially be duplicating what FA! and LEAF already are doing. Nonetheless, you might want to check out the new What is biological ageing? and What is rejuvenation? pages, as well as the What else can be done? page.

How to help used to be a single, rather messy page; now it is a section in its own right, with a page explaining how to donate, one about how to advocate and join the rejuvenation community, and a little one for scientists or scientists-to-be.

The new Resources section contains a guide to advocacy and a brief list of books of interest; the Links page has been reorganised.

Finally, I decided to group all info about yours truly and this website in a single About section, which also contains a sitemap to ease navigation, contact info, and licence info.

Other minor tweaks aren’t worth mentioning; what I do want to mention (horribly late) is LEAF’s new AgeMeter crowdfunding campaign to realise a tablet device for scanning ageing biomarkers. The campaign was created by the Centers for Age Control, and as of this writing it has reached 60% of its goal. You can read more about biomarkers and this campaign here. The campaign will end on September 2, 2017; I have already made my donation, and I hope you will make one too.

The meaning of death?

The point of this blog is to advocate for rejuvenation therapies. In principle, it could be written without ever typing the word ‘death’, because rejuvenation is about keeping people healthy, and the indefinite postponement of death is merely a possible consequence of constant good health. In this sense, this and many other posts and articles on Rejuvenaction could be considered off-topic. However, it is not uncommon for people to accept, rather uncritically, the stale cliché according to which life gets its meaning from death, and without the latter, it would not have meaning. If rejuvenation can stave off death and extend lives indefinitely, will these extended lives be utterly meaningless?

No. Time and time again have I said this before, but I still fear that this misconception may be one of the worst enemies of rejuvenation; consequently, I spend much time thinking about its roots and how to debunk it.

Whether life gets its meaning from death or not, people who think it does implicitly admit that life has no meaning per se. In a general sense, this is correct. Life is meaningless, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It is no reason to be depressed, and I have explained why many times: Meaning is not an intrinsic property of anything. To paraphrase a common adage, meaning lies in the head of the beholder, and that’s where you should expect to find the meaning—if any—of anything, life included. In other words, it is up to you to find meaning in your life, and you should neither expect it to have meaning by default, nor let others decide for you what the meaning of your life is. This applies to everything else too. Whenever the meaning of X is being discussed, one should always ask to whom X means what, or who meant what when they did or said X. It goes without saying that, just like life, death has no intrinsic meaning either. My view is that, up to this point in time, finding the meaning of death has been an even more pressing problem for humans than finding the meaning of life; the reasons of this urgency stem from an evolutionary paradox. However, the meaning of death is much more difficult to find than other meanings. It is for these reasons, I argue, that the meaning of death ended up being that of giving meaning to life itself.

The blow inflicted by the discovery of biological evolution to the idea of an intrinsic meaning of life was arguably the worst. Far from being carefully designed by a loving creator, life is the product of random mutations and the blind force of natural selection, indirectly weeding out genes less fit to their environment through the death of their unfortunate carriers. Evolution has no meaning, no purpose, and no goal: Creatures that we see today evolved because they could; it was not meant, it was no one’s goal. The conditions on Earth were such that some lifeforms were more suitable to the environment and managed to pass on their genes to future generations; others were not as lucky and did not survive to tell the tale.

Random mutations, one little change at a time, gave these creatures certain features. If these features made the creatures more fit for reproduction, they would thrive more than other creatures without the same features. Eventually, creatures with these ‘good’ features became the only game in town. In the case of humans, two of these features were their intelligence and their innate desire to live and avoid death. (Much many more species than just us possess the latter feature, though perhaps it is ‘just’ an instinct without conscious desire.)

It is obvious why a strong wish to live makes an individual more fit for reproduction: If I fear death and try to avoid it by all possible means, I stand better chances to live long enough to reproduce than somebody who isn’t so afraid; this somebody is likely to put less effort in avoiding death and is thus more likely to die before having children than I am. Therefore, evolution has ‘penalised’ creatures who did not have a strong survival instinct, and ‘rewarded’ those who did. This is why we hold our lives so dear.

Human intelligence made us extremely fit for survival; our curiosity and drive to answer questions that we ourselves ask are among the things that make us unique on this planet. However, there’s a flip side: Eventually, they made us wonder why we die. While today we have a rather good idea of the answer, back in the days of the first human societies this was no trivial question. Since evolution has made us so afraid of death, it was inevitable that we’d start wondering about our mortality and looking for more and more clever ways to cheat death.

However, evolution ‘cares’ for the survival of the genes, not of their carrier; the carrier only needs to live long enough to pass on the genes. What happens to them past that point is none of evolution’s concern. We have evolved brilliant self-repair machinery that blesses us which such long lives only because it gave us better chances to have children. Suppose that, back in the days of our early ancestors—and I am talking of non-human lifeforms that might well have lived in the abysses—there were two groups of creatures, group A and group B. Creatures in group A had a ‘normal’ longevity; on average, they would reach reproductive age just fine and have children; ageing would then kill them after a certain time. Members of group B were just like those in group A, except that they lived much longer past reproductive age, because a set of lucky mutations gave them better self-repair machinery. In terms of ability to pass on their genes, group A had no disadvantage compared to group B. There was no reason why group A should have been outcompeted by group B so badly that, eventually, group B would have taken over. This is why evolution hasn’t bothered eliminating ageing: Assuming the necessary conditions were ever present, there has been no evolutionary pressure to eliminate ageing creatures from the pool. Any ‘anti-ageing genes’, or genes that significantly slowed down ageing, if they ever existed, were diluted in the rest of the pool, so that today we observe creatures that age to death and whose lifespans don’t vary too wildly among members of the same species.

This is the paradox that I was talking about: Evolution has made us fear death and wish to live indefinitely, but at the same time, it has not given us the means to fulfill that wish. Strictly speaking this is not a paradox; I just mean that we’re caught between a rock and a hard place—the fear of death and its apparent inevitability.

Whether death is really inevitable will be a matter for another post; for now, we’ll assume it is and focus on what this ‘death paradox’ has led us to.

The first and most evident sign of our attempts to solve the paradox are religions. With their promises of an afterlife, religions sidestep the problem entirely: Yes, we fear death and don’t want it; Nonetheless, die we do. But we don’t really die; only the body does. We will live on as pure spirits, or through reincarnation, or something like that. In ancient times, thanks to our ignorance of how the world works and their intrinsic unfalsifiability and appeal, religions and hopes of an afterlife spread like wildfire, and are still alive and well today. However, secularisation is taking its toll on all sorts of religious or magical thinking; the result is that, in terms of the death paradox, we’re getting back to square one. As our ever-growing understanding of the world started undermining the very idea of afterlife more and more, we needed to find other ways to put death out of our minds.

Some of us have resorted to accepting it: I am not sure I fully understand the concept, but it seems to boil down to convincing yourself there’s nothing to fear in death and you’re okay with it, and in some cases, giving yourself a certain air of superiority because of it. It is no mystery that accepting the inevitability death is largely regarded as a sign of wisdom; in part, this is because there would be little point in fighting the inevitable, but there is another reason, which is possibly even more important. Some accept death because, they say, it is better than the alternative, i.e. never dying. No one has first-hand, irrefutable evidence of this, of course, but our literature is full of entirely made-up stories on the misery of immortal creatures or the terrible price you pay for eternal life on Earth. Take zombies, or vampires, for example. They’re immortal alright—or at least they don’t die as long as they are not physically destroyed with weapons or rituals—but they were either possessed by an evil spirit, or infected by a terrible plague, or they sold their soul to the devil, or something. The moral of the story is always the same: The only ways you could avoid death are not something you’d like.

I’m sure there must be exceptions to the rule, but how many of you have ever heard of a story about an immortal creature, or a creature who can live indefinitely, that is not largely about how horrible or difficult this must be? More generally, do you know any stories where the ability to live for an indefinite timespan is seen as something positive, or at least not portrayed in negative light? Or—God forbid!—a story where indefinite lifespans are simply normal, and the plot is about something else than moralising on how long life should be? (Doctor Who could be an example if it wasn’t for the recurring theme of his bearing the weight of solitude as the last member of his species, not to mention the Doctor’s manifest hypocrisy about undoing ageing in the episode The Lazarus Experiment. That episode was a collection of the worst logical fallacies and clichés about life, death, and what is or isn’t human. The Doctor, an ageless being, regenerates back to life each and every time he’s about to die—as he attempts to in the very next episode—and yet he had the effrontery to claim that ‘It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person’. I could have bought that if his first incarnation, rather than the tenth, had said it.)

It is impossible not suspect a fox-and-grapes situation and think that scary stories about creatures who have the alleged misfortune of never dying are nothing but a way to make death more acceptable: If never dying is bad, then we can be at least a little bit less upset about the fact we all die. I am in no position to claim that everyone who says they accept death lies about it; this is quite probably not true. However, I remain sceptical.

Then there are the ‘adventurists’: Death, they say, is an adventure, which they’re excited to… live through. (Though this might be true only for the ‘well-organised mind’—whatever that means—according to another fictional character.) The reason why death would be an adventure, as I understand, is that we cannot be entirely sure of what lies beyond it. Even though we have very cogent reasons to think that beyond death there is absolutely nothing—as ‘nothing’ as it gets, in fact. In an hour, I’ll go to the mall. There’s no reason at all to think that anything but absolutely regular shopping will happen then, and yet, since I can’t be completely sure of it, in an hour I’ll live an ‘adventure’, at least according to this logic. I apologise if I come off cynical, but this sounds like yet another attempt to sugarcoat death in order to better cope with it and thus escape the death paradox.

Another way around the death paradox is the ‘death is part of life’ philosophy. Whether this is true or not is arguable: At least of one’s own death, I’m inclined to think that it is not, because death occurs precisely when life ends; rather than being part of life, I’d say death comes right after it. But this is, admittedly, just pointless nitpicking. The real issue is that whether death is or not part of life is irrelevant, just as it is irrelevant whether or not something is ‘natural’ to decide if it is good for you. Getting sick or being bullied are part of life for the vast majority of people. High child mortality used to be a very real part of life until we changed that. Yet these indisputable facts do not mean that any of these things are good for you or should remain a part of life. This way of thinking is a reasonably effective way to avoid losing one’s wits because of an unchangeable, undesirable reality—such as high child mortality—at least so long as this reality is indeed unchangeable. The claim that ‘child mortality is part of life’ might have consoled parents of their children’s death 200 years ago, but today it would console no one and probably outrage everyone. As soon as undoing ageing and postponing death indefinitely will become possible, the ‘part of life’ excuse will lose its efficacy.

The final way to circumvent the death paradox is the fabled ‘meaning of life’. This is the central problem of this post. What better way can there be to rationalise death and escape our mortal (pun intended) fear of it than making it what gives life itself its meaning? Far from being something we should fear or avoid, death becomes thus essential, for without it, life would have no point. That appears to be a great argument, at least up to the point where everyone nods approvingly without getting down to the nitty-gritty of it.

We have established at the very beginning of this post that meaning is not an absolute. Meaning is something we, the observers give to things. Death is nothing more than the name we gave to the status of a creature whose body is damaged beyond its ability to function; it most definitely is not an observer, and it cannot give meaning to anything, let alone life.

What does it even mean, to give meaning to life? We are, again, investigating a meaning, and thus there is no absolute answer. I may think that the meaning of… giving meaning to life is X; you might think it is Y. Neither of us is wrong. It’s a subjective matter. Most would probably agree that filling your life with activities, people, and things you love and enjoy is a valid candidate for the meaning of life; so is helping others, or doing something for the common good; something that we feel is appreciated by others, and are thus gratified by. Giving meaning to life might mean doing some of these things, and clearly, none of these potential meanings is given to life by death. However, these are viable options but aren’t the answer, because there is no single answer. You decide what is the meaning of your life; not old legends, not old myths, not clichés, not other people; you do. Thus, the only way death could be the meaning of your life would be if you decided so, which I hope you won’t do.

Not even being mortal gives more meaning or value to life, as some seem to think. Your mortality does nothing for you: It’s just the ‘ability’ to lose your life. It’s more of a potential problem than anything else. On the other hand, knowing of your mortality does do something for you: It makes you more careful not to lose your life. Mortality isn’t precious or valuable; being aware of mortality is.

Ultimately, there’s nothing especially wise in accepting death. In my opinion, the only exception is if you know for a fact that you will die within a time so short that nothing can be done to prevent it. At that point it may be sensible to play the ‘accepting card’, if you can, and enjoy whatever time you have left as best as you can. There is no meaning that death can give life, especially not death by ageing. The length of our lifespans is the result of a meaningless, purposeless process that happened for no other reason than the fact it could. Accepting that result as it is would be accepting that very meaninglessness—which, when you think that the intent was to give life meaning, would be sadly ironic.

New section: Reasons for rejuvenation

In the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a new section of Rejuvenaction: the Reasons for rejuvenation. As I said in that section, the motivation behind it is that this blog goes to great lengths to answer objections and concerns, but it had no dedicated section to explain why rejuvenation would be good. Newcomers, or people who aren’t on board yet, might well think that this idea needs a lot of defending while giving no reason to endorse it. I hope the new section will solve this problem.

As a side note, to prevent the horizontal menu from breaking down, the section Ageing and SENS has been moved under The problem of ageing. It’s a temporary arrangement, meaning—spoiler alert—that entire section too is due for a full rewriting, with a lot more science and a lot more details, plus a shorter summary, in the same style as those included in the Reasons for rejuvenation and Answers to objections sections. That’ll take a while, though. Other updates are underway too, and they’ll likely arrive sooner.

Additionally, I retouched a few answers to objections—most notably the everliving tyrants objection, which has been rewritten entirely—because some of my older articles used to have a far too condescending and inflammatory tone which was not only detrimental to the cause; I didn’t like it any more either. You know, I’m against growing old, not up. Hopefully those articles are better now, and further revisions are not out of the question.

Finally, you might have noticed that two new answers to objections have been added: the Ageing has its good sides objection, which dates a few weeks back already but I didn’t bother announcing, and the Living ‘forever’ would cause extreme risk aversion objection. Apparently, I never run out of objections and concerns to address. 😛