That’s the question the rock band Queen poses to us in one of their many hit songs. As it turns out, quite a lot of people do. Few things perturb us as much as the inevitability of death, and so, for as long as recorded history at least, we humans have looked for ways to extend our lives.
Most civilizations have beliefs that soften the psychological specter of death. Most religions have the concept of an “afterlife” that claims some core part of our being continues on after we die, usually for “eternity”. The Egyptians, for example, believed that mummification was part of this eternal afterlife, and many other beliefs riff on a similar theme. While we have no evidence that any of this is true, we can work to extend the useful lifespans of humans who are still alive.
Why Do Transhumanists Care?
I shouldn’t even need to have this paragraph here, to be honest. There’s almost nothing that transhumanists care about more than radical life extension. Curing death may be the single most important topic to most people who think of themselves as transhumanist. Death can be thought of as the big roadblock to truly stupendous achievements, or the simple continuation of the pleasure of life.
Before we started getting the hang of the world, humans on average did not live very long. Aside from an incredibly high infant mortality rate, medical conditions such as rotten teeth, the flu, and infections were easily fatal. Humans generally didn’t live much beyond their childbearing prime, and the early 30s were a common time to snuff it. Over time, the average lifespan of humans has risen significantly. Clean drinking water and other sanitation developments have played a big part. Antibiotics, advanced surgery, and, of course, our cutting-edge, modern day medical science now means humans in well-developed countries with access to the best treatments live to nearly eighty.
But no matter how well you maintain a human body, inevitably it will break down and die. Some of this is due to damage that we can’t do anything about yet, such as oxidation, cross linking, and genetic damage due to toxins and radiation. Even if you canceled out those causes, aging and death are programmed into our genes. We seem designed by evolution to die off. It makes perfect sense, since a species won’t last very long if the new generation has to compete with the previous generation for limited resources. But resource conditions no longer apply as we advance technologically. Not to mention the fact that we can control birth rates, too.
We have no idea yet how old a person can become with the aid of technology, but the oldest human to have ever lived died at the age of 122. There are people who claim to have lived longer, but their ages could not be independently verified. In any event, as far as we know, 120 is the natural lifespan limit with what we have. Extending beyond that age while still being youthful enough to enjoy a good quality of life would require radical physical changes.
What’s in this Section?
The overall life extension field integrates a lot of different areas of science. It involves nutrition, genetics, robotics, and almost every area of bionics and biotechnology. The aim of curing death requires concerted effort at solving multiple types of problems. So in this section I discuss any development or technology that primarily exists to help us live longer. That also includes things which may today not qualify as being “alive” in the mind of many people; cryogenic freezing and mind-uploading are two examples.
The Long Haul
Being afraid of death is not a good enough reason to want a radically extended life. What would you do if your 20s or 30s could be extended indefinitely? Would you spend that time traveling the world? Would you learn as many languages as possible? Would you paint? In a way, the question of what we would do with so much extra time is more important than the question of how we would gain it in the first place. It sure would be nice to have the chance to try though!