#GivingTuesday: Help Lifespan.io

November 28th, Tuesday, is Giving Tuesday—the international day of giving, an initiative to encourage people to donate to charities engaged in important causes all around the world.

For the occasion, Facebook is teaming up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to double any donations made to charities through Facebook. The details can be found here, but if you’d like to help Lifespan.io—the crowdfunding platform for research on rejuvenation biotechnologies against age-related diseases created by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation—you can find all you need to know below.

If you want to donate

  • Only donations made after 8:00 AM EST on November 28, 2017 will be matched. If you donate before 8:00 AM, or after November 28, your donation will not be matched. If you want to know what’s the time frame in your timezone, try this tool.
  • If the donation is made between 12:00 AM EST on November 28, 2017 and 11:59 PM HST on November 28, 2017, Facebook will also waive the donation fee they usually keep to the charity receiving the donation.
  • Only the first $2 million in donations will be matched. If you wait too long to make your donation, it’s possible that your donation won’t be matched as the matching fund ceiling might have been reached already. Additionally, only the first $50,000 worth of donations will be matched for each given charity—so, again, the sooner you make your donation, the higher the chances it will be doubled.
  • In order to be matched, donations must be done through Facebook. The easiest way you have to make a donation and have it matched is to visit Lifespan.io’s Facebook page, click the blue “Donate” button on the right under the banner, and follow Facebook’s instructions. The screenshot below shows the location of the “Donate” button, circled in green.

If you want to spread the word

  • You can make a Facebook post explaining to your friends why you think it’s important to support Lifespan.io, and add a “Donate” button to it. Your friends will be able to make their donation to Lifespan.io by clicking the “Donate” button on your post, and their donation will be matched (if done within the time limits). Adding a “Donate” button to your posts is simple; instructions can be found here. Don’t forget to include a #GivingTuesday hashtag.
  • You can record a video to accompany your Facebook post created as described above. Videos are typically more effective than text posts. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or fancy: a simple, short-and-to-the-point cellphone video will do.
  • You can do a Facebook livestream and add a “Donate” button to it. To add a button to a livestream, read here.
  • You can share this very post (permalink) on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or any other social media you like, and don’t forget the #GivingTuesday hashtag.

I strongly suggest you to invite your friends to follow your lead and donate and/or spread the word themselves. Just liking, upvoting, or commenting, without more concrete actions, will accomplish nothing. On the other hand, writing a brief status update explaining the importance of this cause and adding a button to it won’t take longer than five minutes, and it can really make a difference. We’re lucky enough to live in an age where, at least from time to time, we actually have the opportunity to achieve a lot with little effort. Please, let’s not waste it.

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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 Lifespan.io, 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 Lifespan.io 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 Lifespan.io 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.

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.

Be the Lifespan

I apologise for my long silence (both here and on l4t), but I’m having another of my crazy busy periods. As a matter of fact, I’ve got something going on behind the scenes for Rejuvenaction—major content updates that I’m planning and soon I’ll be working on, but don’t hold your breath. It’s gonna be a long thing, and I probably won’t get to it properly until my busyness is over.

In the meantime, have a look at Lifespan.io’s new campaign:


This campaign has no expiry date, and it aims at getting a decent monthly budget for LEAF/Lifespan.io to fund more and more projects and initiatives to help scientific research against age-related diseases and spread awareness. The base goal is 1000$, but with a higher budget, LEAF may be able to do a lot of cool things, like collaboration videos with big YouTube names such as SciShow and Kurzgesagt and yearly conferences. If you can spare even just a few dollars a month, you can help LEAF make a big difference.

You can also help out by spreading the word on your social media—remember to use the hashtags #aging, #crowdfundthecure, #bethelifespan.

Not all discriminations are born equal

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything new. I’ve been quite busy lately with a lot of things, including rebooting looking4troubles, my other blog. As a result, my topic list for Rejuvenaction has been growing dangerously long, so I decided it’s about time I tackled some of the lengthiest items on my list.

People like talking about justice, equality, and discrimination a lot. I mean a lot. In my experience, though, most tend to focus mainly or entirely on the type(s) of discrimination they’re more interested in for whatever reason, sometimes minimising others or not even noticing they exist in the first place. Some other times, they even end up endorsing one type of discrimination for the sake of warding off another.

As if poor people cared

Take the good ol’ ‘only the rich‘ objection against rejuvenation. Its essence is that, to forestall the possibility of rejuvenation being available only to a few wealthy ones, rejuvenation should not be created at all—if not everyone can have it, then no one should have it.

The core misconception behind this argument is obvious. Given a certain gap between rich people and poor people, if you better rich people’s lives in any way you do widen the rich-poor gap, but you do not change the poor’s quality of life at all. In other words, if you develop any new technology and only rich people have access to it, you make rich people better off than they were before, while nothing changes, in absolute terms, for the poor people. They are worse off than before with respect to the rich, but this hardly matters. Their living conditions are exactly the same as before, for good or bad. Rich people’s quality of life is not the yardstick by which we should measure everyone else’s quality of life. If extreme poverty didn’t exist and the poorest person in the world was as wealthy as a typical middle-class person in the western world, I think we’d have little to complain about the existence of all the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs. (Except perhaps for some who seem to be unable to lead a happy life if they don’t have something to be unhappy about.)

Even without bothering with rejuvenation, poor people don’t really care if Mark Zuckerberg has one Ferrari, or two, or three, or none—they’re likely more concerned with whether they have food for one day, or two, or three, or none. It could be argued that Zuckerberg could spend more money on the poor rather than on Ferraris (which he probably does—I just needed a rich guy’s name), but while I’m okay with prioritising poor people’s needs over buying Ferraris, I’m not okay with prioritising the lives of starving people over the lives of geriatric patients. They’re both in danger and they’re both suffering. Rich or poor doesn’t matter: Any elderly person is just not as healthy as a young one, irrespectively of their wealth, and they’re possibly closer to the grave than a young starved person is. I’m not saying we should prioritise rejuvenation over combating world hunger; I’m saying they’re equally important, and they can and should be fought simultaneously.

Discriminating discriminations

Ah, but I’m neglecting an important factor at play here, am I not? If rejuvenation was only for the rich, that would be discrimination against the poor. You would have right to good health only if you were rich enough, and that would be unjust. It would indeed, and I am the first to say that we need to make sure that equal access to rejuvenation is granted to everyone as soon as possible. That is why we should discuss these topics already now, when rejuvenation is mostly on the drawing board and partly in the lab: We’ve got all the time in the world to make things work out nicely.

To some, however, this is not enough, and they’d sooner have everyone wilt and die than let only the rich benefit from rejuvenation. Sometimes I have the feeling that, in the collective imagination of people, ‘the rich’ are evil incarnate. Are all rich people so bad that they deserve to age to death? Why? And who gets to decide it? Even if not everyone was able to benefit from rejuvenation from the very beginning, as compassionate and caring human beings as we should be, what should we decide about rejuvenation’s fate? That it should be created and save at least some lives in the present, and hopefully every life in the future, or that it should never be created and save no life at all? What about those future generations that we seem to worry about so much in terms of climate change and pollution? They deserve a clean world, but not a disease-free existence?

In case it went unnoticed, the type of discrimination that rejuvenation opposers are trying to fight off with the ‘only the rich’ objection is income/wealth discrimination; the form of discrimination they’re endorsing (whether they realise it or not) is a form of ageism; whatever their reasons may be, whenever people say that rejuvenation should not be developed, they’re saying that elderly people should not have the chance of equally good health as younger people.

Some opposers are not only concerned that rejuvenation would not be available to all; they’re also concerned that being rejuvenated or not might in itself become a discriminating factor. For example, suppose that not everyone wants to undergo rejuvenation treatments and prefer to age and die ‘normally’. What if—I was asked once—an employer denied you a job on these grounds?

This question betrays a lack of understanding of several things—the fact that rejuvenation is not a single-shot therapy that you take now or never, or only once and for all, for example—but anyway the point here is not the answer to this particular concern. The point is that some people seem very concerned about the potential discrimination that rejuvenation might cause, but not very much about the concrete discrimination against elderly people, actually taking place here and now each time we question and postpone the development of comprehensive anti-ageing therapies that could fully restore chronologically old people’s health. While we ponder this and that hypothetical future problem, elderly people suffer from all sorts of ailments.

Equality in a cloak and a scythe

Going back to the ‘for all or for no one’ argument that some people like to make, I wonder if they would still make it if the matter being discussed was something other than rejuvenation. In the case of rejuvenation, they would prefer it not to be developed at all rather than risk unequal access to it. Would they think the same of human rights, for example? Unfortunately, human rights are not respected everywhere. By the ‘for all or for none’ logic, for the sake of avoiding inequality and injustice it would be better to take human rights away from everyone rather than have only some people enjoy this privilege. Even better, perhaps, human rights should never have been invented to begin with. A more fitting example is an evergreen: vaccines. Even today they’re not equally accessible everywhere, let alone when they were first invented. Maybe, if vaccines hadn’t been invented in the first place, we would have experienced less inequality; at the same time, though, a lot of people, rich and poor alike, would have died of infectious diseases before age 2 in the past decades.

Here I’m touching another point that some advocates of ageing like to make: Death is the ‘great equaliser’. If vaccines had not been invented, then not only the poor who could not afford vaccines would die of infectious diseases; everyone would, even the rich. If nothing else, like some authors suggest, the poor can take comfort in the fact that the rich will die too, just like them. If we developed rejuvenation, for example, we’d run the risk of depriving the poor of this ‘comfort’ and would make the world a much too unequal place. I am frankly quite amused at how nonchalantly some people call schadenfreude ‘equality’ or ‘justice’: Be happy, dear poor person, for even if you and your children have suffered many privations, rich people will one day die, just like you will! Wohoo. If that ain’t a reason to throw the wildest party, I don’t know what is.

I would really like to ask a simple question to all the poor people whom the advocates of death like to speak for: Would you rather take the chance that rejuvenation might be available to everyone, including you, or the certainty that both you and all the rich will age to death? I wonder how many would actually find the second option more enticing than the first.

Doing the right things for the wrong reasons

Some time ago, I bumped into a short excerpt of a video interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Larry King. After I watched it, I was sadly surprised by what deGrasse Tyson said. Before you read further, you should take a minute to watch the interview. If you can’t see the video or can’t be bothered to watch it, here’s a transcript.

NdGT: If you could live forever, would you?

LK: Yes!

NdGT: [laughs] OK, We’re done of the interview!

LK: [incomprehensible]

NdGT: Yes! No, OK, sure. That’s an attractive idea, but the way I look at it is, it is the knowledge that I’m going to die that creates the focus that I bring to being alive. The urgency of accomplishment; the need to express love now, not later. If we live forever, why ever even get out of bed in the morning? Because you always have tomorrow. That’s not the kind of life I want to lead.

LK: But why? Don’t you fear not being around?

NdGT: I fear living a life where I could have accomplished something I didn’t. That’s what I fear. I don’t fear death.

LK: Don’t you fear the unknown?

NdGT: I love the unknown! I loved it—You know what I want on my tombstone? My sister has this in her notes, just in case I can’t tell anyone after I die. On my tombstone, a quote from Horace Mann, great educator: “Be ashamed to die, until you have scored some victory for humanity.” That’s what I want on my tombstone.

Superficially, this might sound right, and if it does, I think it’s because it does one thing: It appeases our fear of death saying that there’s nothing to fear, and that death should instead be cherished as a motivator.
Stick with me, and I’ll show you why I think this is profoundly wrong.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and a cosmologist. He’s written several books, won many awards, and indeed accomplished a lot in his life, just like he wished he would. That’s great. What motivated all these accomplishments? According to what he himself said, the ‘urgency’ of accomplishment was a consequence of the knowledge that he’s going to die. This is not the picture of a passionate man who loves what he does. Rather, it is more like the picture of a man who’s stuffing his face with whatever he can grab from the buffet before they take it away. To my shame, I haven’t read anything he’s written, or watched any other videos featuring him, and I know that I should. From what I gathered through other people’s opinions, he’s a brilliant man with a lot to teach, and I refuse to believe that the reason behind all his remarkable accomplishments is the fear of dying without having done anything with his life. Sure as hell he must love physics and science, he must be enraptured by the mysteries of the cosmos and all they can teach us. He must be deeply passionate about the science he has contributed to advance.

I sincerely do not doubt his passion. But what he’s saying in this interview is that his passion alone isn’t enough. If he could live forever, his passion about stars wouldn’t be sufficient to get him out of bed every morning and study them, because he could always postpone that to tomorrow. What kind of a passion is that, for heaven’s sake? I certainly grant everyone the right to choose how intense their passions should be, but if you ask me, a passion is something that, alone, is enough to get me out of bed every morning with the very specific intent of pursuing it, regardless of how much time I have left to dedicate to it. If anything, knowing that my time on this Earth could be limited makes me depressed, because it means I only have so much time to dedicate to the things I love; I only have so much time to express love for the important people in my life. On this subject, I assure you I need no special motivators to express love, and in particular I think the pressure imposed by one’s limited time is the worst of all potential such motivators. I don’t express love for people dear to me because one day I’ll lose them; I express love for them because they deserve it and I need it. That’s all the motivation I need. Screw death. If you don’t want to lead a life where you don’t accomplish anything or never express love for others, all you need to do is decide to love and accomplish and get to it. You don’t need any sucker in a black cloak and a scythe to push you; if you think you do, I argue you need to rethink your approach to life, and perhaps have a closer look at what you’re pursuing and the people you’re spending your life with.

Even if I was willing to accept deGrasse Tyson’s motivator in life as such (and I most definitely am not), I think he’s confusing death with mortality. They’re not at all the same thing. Not even close. Mortality is the ‘ability’—for lack of a better word—to die; death is the act of actually dying. Even if our life was not limited in time—for example, because we developed rejuvenation biotechnologies to eliminate age-related death, as we are indeed doing—this wouldn’t make us immortal. Death would still be possible, by accident or by diseases we can’t yet cure, for example. You would still be unsure if you’ll wake up tomorrow, and would thus still have this highly questionable motivator.

I suggest a better motivator, one that a man of science like deGrasse Tyson should appreciate. If we lived forever—or indefinitely, as I find more correct to say—we could accomplish much more. Instead of cramming all we can in our miserably short lives, we could learn for centuries and experience much more of what the universe has to offer. We would no longer be forced to choose between equally worthy goals because of lack of time: We could fully master one skill thanks to decades of practice, and then move on to the next, never afraid that our bodies will fail us or that the reaper will prevent us from continuing to enrich ourselves and the rest of the world. We could witness as science unravels the marvels of the universe, instead of dying thinking that there’s a lot we’re going to miss out on in the future we’ll never see.

Wouldn’t Neil deGrasse Tyson love to see what cosmology will be like in the future? Wouldn’t he want to live to see the day we become a spacefaring civilisation? Wouldn’t he love to see his great-grandchildren grow into adults, and perhaps become scientists themselves? Wouldn’t he want to be there the day we make contact with an alien civilisation? Wouldn’t he be even a little bit curious to see what’s become of humanity thanks to the very victories he himself scored for it?

I know I would.