Longer Lives and Questions of Quality

Frank B. Withrow - the Dawn Patrol

There was a time in the early days of mankind when life spans were less than twenty years. Today we are seriously finding ways to slow down or stop the aging process. The world just reached seven billion persons. With life spans being extended and more babies being born, we must ask: Are we getting too crowded?

There are researchers that believe we can extend life to 250 years. There are serious questions we need to ask with respect to population and whether or not we are headed to a standing room only Earth. We saw in the 20th Century life spans extend to 100 or more years in one century. We saw women in 1900 on average having seven children to today’s woman having only two. We have seen demographic shifts worldwide and in individual countries. For example, Japan has the oldest median age at about 53 whereas Afghanistan has the youngest median age at around 17.

Nations with younger median ages tend to be more violent and aggressive whereas older median aged nations are more passive and conservative. As life spans expand, there is more time for education and lifelong learning. In fact, older aged societies are more likely to have the senior population engaging in more informal and formal learning opportunities. Increased life spans are altering the stages of life. More and more people are shifting how they expand their life styles.

I recently read a story about a woman who went back to college in her 80s, obtained a masters degree in her 90s, and is now working on a PhD. She had a successful career in insurance before she retired. Her college work was in microbiology, a field she had always been interested in but had not pursued.

I was recently on a cruise ship and noticed how many senior people had iPads, Kindles, etc. and how sophisticated they were in using them. We had shore visits, and people gathered information about the places we visited. In addition, they recorded in pictures the places we visited and often shared those experiences with fellow cruise members at night. It was sort of a two-for-one experience. We exchanged our experiences.

What if we really are able to extend life to 150 years or beyond? Will we see marriages of 125 years or more? We already have many people that cannot sustain a marriage for more than 72 days or twenty years. Will learning at the later stages of life expand? How will we provide for the elements of a life of high quality? What will be the nature of work? How will wealth be distributed in a society of people that live to be 250 years old? If aging is solved, will women of an older age be able to bear children? How will population growth be controlled so that there is not a problem of standing room only on Earth?

The steam age saw us replace man’s muscles with more efficient machines. The computer age is seeing us enhance if not replace mental powers with digital devices. If we are able to slow the aging process and extend life spans, how will we utilize these extended powers? What will such activities do to our social and political interactions as well as our economic base?

I once read a science fiction story of a world where there were very few individuals, but through digital devices they controlled the planet. For the most part they lived in isolation from one another and contacted each other only through their digital devices.

If we solve to any extent the problem of aging, the final question is, can we ensure economic, societal and political changes that will sustain a higher quality of life on Earth for all our people?

2 Responses

  1. Isaac Asimov addressed the issue of longer life spans. He considered 150 years and projected a highly conservative society that could not produce any innovations. Interesting.

    We are a unique species who can really work to extend its typical life span. As with so many other technological advances, beginning with taming fire and creating tools, it has its consequences, some unintended.

    Ray Kurzweil feels that we’ll achieve effective immortality in 20-30 years and plans to be alive to partake of it. I’m not so sure.

    However, life extension to a typical life of 90 or 100 years is on the horizon. Researchers say that we cannot go beyond 125 years without a truly innovative medical breakthrough.

    Yet, the problem remains of providing a good life for everyone. What would the world be like if Stalin had lived for 125 years? How will young people react if the corporate and national leaders last to such an age?

    This is all interesting speculation but not really about education — unless you realize that education is really and truly a lifelong process. Imagine providing learning for each person for 100 or 125 or even 150 years. How would that realization change the education industry?

  2. I learned early in my interactions with Ray Kurzweil to never underestimate his projections. I am not sure he is right about immortality, but longer life spans probably yes. Longer life spans have many personal and societal issues that we need to consider and think about. Already we see the implications for society in Social Security when we thought 65 was old and now 85 is often yesterday’s 65. At 85 I must admit I am not as frisky as I used to be, but I can still dream and explore new adventures. I dream of a new television science fiction story that takes advantages of the new social media. I am drafting scripts. Nothing may come of it but it is fun for me.

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