I read Infidel753’s blog a lot. He’s always an interesting read. I’m gonna annoy Infidel here (he’s a Democrat) by suggesting that anyone with a vested interest in putting the Republicans back together again could do much worse than read his stuff on the travails of the GOP.
Anyway, one of Infidel’s big things interests is life-extension (and I don’t just mean his own) but technologies to combat ageing. Now I mainly know about this sort of stuff from Infidel’s blog and over the last year or so I’m beginning to think this sort of thing is plausible. What I mean is not the slow ramping of the life-expectancy charts but a sudden dramatic increase with the chance that that will buy you more time until they get something even more whiz-bang which will buy you more time until the nanobots reset your DNA or whatever… The main reason I now think it plausible (apart from the phenomenal progress with stem cells and computational biology* and such) is that if anyone gets anything to work they will make an absolute bloody fortune.
“All that I own for one moment of time”
-Last words of Queen Elizabeth I – probably apocryphal.
Moreover it will demonstrate the field is not a “fringe” investment opportunity. Any significant advance will be like the Rainhill trials. Before that people bitched and moaned and mocked the railways. After it investing in railways was the place for the smart money to be. History is littered with things that people thought daft, dangerous or immoral that are now indispensable. Lord Reith who was the guiding spirit of the BBC thought TV immoral. He later thought it OK but that colour TV was a step too far and in some obscure way would bring about the end of civilization. Well it did make the televisation of snooker feasible so I guess the curmudgeonly old puritan might have had a point**.
Anyway something close to rolling immortality might pitch-up soon. But I do wonder at the moral, social and philosophical implications. I’m not at all arguing that such treatments (if they are even possible) should be banned but they would profoundly alter the human condition in a way that no technology since writing has and that they will take a hell of a lot of getting used to. One of the most universal human experiences is bereavement. How will the experience of that be changed if people are clinically immortal but can still die in wars, natural disasters and accidents of the Tom & Jerry fashion. I mean if you get married you promise for “as long as you both shall live” and it’s possible to make a fair guess at that but what if that is potentially indefinitely? And what of the question of access to this stuff? I don’t just mean cost but I can imagine some folks will be genetically not suitable. There are phenomenal issues here. I cannot even begin to think them all through.
I can though guess at one. I think people (at least the compatible and wealthy enough) will become much more risk averse because losing your three score and ten is one thing but losing a potential eternity is quite another.
Oh, and God knows what the religious nutter types will make of it. I guess they’ll still be inconsolable with grief over the birth of the first kid who is the genetic child of two lesbians (that is very feasible and you can imagine the Phelpsites going absolutely stratospheric over it). It will happen and I’m looking forward to the absolute end-of-days chaos that will ensue. I’ll get the beer and the nachos in for that one. It’ll be bloody marvellous. Well in a way it will but not alas for the kid. There is a bitter irony there. The religious mentalists will go ape and cite (naturally) the effect this unnatural coupling*** will have on the child’s future happiness without even realising that by generating a stink over it they really aren’t helping screw the kid up. Don’t doubt me on that. A couple of years ago a woman in her late twenties in the Northwest of England gave birth to her first child. The Times felt it had to say the baby was “normal”. That woman was Louise Brown.
We are living in interesting times and I hope they get even more so. Because social, economic, scientific, technological, medical, stasis is the death of our wonderful, creative civilization and novelty is it’s own reward. At the end of the 300 Delios makes a rousing speech to the lads before the Battle of Platea. The bit that nails it for me is, “…and usher in a world brighter than any of us can imagine”. That’s beautiful. I want the future to be so bright I gotta wear shades and I’m just beginning again to think it might be. I also studied nuclear science and I revelled in its paradoxes and new discoveries and it’s revolutions and it’s capacity to astound. I am also a Libertarian so there are no five-year plans for tractor production for me. I want the future to be the undiscovered country but I appreciate it’s not gonna be smooth or easy or plain sailing. I also appreciate that that is exactly where the fun lies.
Let’s just do it and see what happens! The hell with stuffed shirts and moralising gits! I mean there are gonna be cock-ups, difficult questions, disasters and God knows what on the rocky and random path to the sunlit-uplands and even more upsets and “issues” to confront from there to the stars but hell’s teeth that’s life. My ancient ancestors didn’t stumble blinking and grunting out of the jungle onto the African savannah to get to a certain level and then set it in aspic like a Victorian housekeeper with a potted ham****. We are stardust from supernovae forever in motion and our very atoms yearn to get back there. It didn’t take (in geological time anyway) long for us to go from throwing spears at mammoths to throwing Saturn Vs to the Moon and back. I hope we are in for an interesting ride. I have to hope that because otherwise what’s the point?
Per Ardua, Ad Astra!
PS I composed this in Word 2000. It green-lined “blog”. It also uggest I replace “Phelpsites” with “Philistines”…
*Might I cite that absolute cyclone of biological advance Craig Venter?
**Infamous Colemanball – “For those of you watching in black and white the brown is the one behind the green”. My favourite sports commentator line though has to be this from a cricket match) “The batsman’s Holding, the bowler’s Willie” which caused at least one RTA. Though Bobby Robson’s epic “tribute-act” to Ali, “Des Walker jumped like a salmon and bit like a ferret” has the merit of just being gloriously nuts.
***”Unnatural” to me means something that can’t exist or can’t be done. If it can exist or can be done then that’s it – end of.
****The Victorians knew a thing or to about progress, which is why, they stopped potting hams and invented refrigeration.