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What is the goal of ageing research?

Tue Feb 14 08:04:57 EST 1995

I've been reading this newsgroup for several months and this is my first
posting. I'd like to relate to the latest discussion about life extension
via genetic engineering and ask more general question. I think, Patrick's
arguments against life extension are very persuasive. Right now even minor
changes in human lifespan would cause a demographic  disaster.
 But if so, what is the ultimate goal of aging research? May be I missed
something but I don't remember any serious discussion about this subject.
In my opinion there can be several possibilities:
1) The aging research is being carried out because of pure scientific curio-
sity. I think no one really believes that this is so. Any real progress in
this research will be immediately implemented. Even if there are some people
claiming that they are satisfied with their current lifespan there will always
be plenty of those who want to live longer. We are talking about lot of money
here and this argument can beat both moral and demographic calculations in our
2)The purpose of aging research is to find a way for people to remain healthy
and active till their death without increasing their lifespan. The two obvious
questions are:"Who will want to die if this is achieved?" and "Why would people
die at all?"
  It's unlikely ,I think, that the scientists will only know how to make an 80
years old man look young and healthy and won't know how to make him live longer.
In any case such situation will only make people unhappy because many of them
are now ready to accept death because of aging and it's consequences.When this
reason is taken from them they may feel better physically but not psychologically.
3)We really want to increase human lifespan ,perhaps even become immortal. This
is the possibility that has been discussed here at the last few days and I don't
think there is much to add. Even those who are optimistic about conquering other
planets etc. would agree that if some radical breakthrough in aging research
happens before we find a solution to the population problem, it won't bring any
blessing to humanity. It'll be demographic bomb that can be even worse than
nuclear one.
 I don't see other possibilities except what I mentioned. If anyone does I'll be
glad to hear.
 My personal suggestion is that researchers should focus on alternative ways to
prevent death. First of all the question that should be answered is: What is death?
Until now no one has proved scientifically that there is life after death,
however, no one has proved the opposite as well. It seems like this question is
being avoided by the official science because of it's religious and mystical
connotations. But there are some facts requiring explanation and such
explanation has to be provided. Announcing anyone who is trying even to collect
those facts pseudo-scientist won't help.  If we discuss the possibility of
colonizing other planets and changing completely human genom, why can't we
imagine that afterlife really exists. And anything that exists can be studied
by science. If we prove  that  our identity will be in some form preserved
after death we'll be able to give up the desperate attempts of making people
live longer and start studying aging out of pure curiosity (and it'll be
really possible).
  If we prove that there is no afterlife, then we should answer a new question:
What part of ourselves should be preserved in order to make us immortal? Is it
our body, our mind, our soul (what is it?), our memory or all together.
 Let's say we managed to copy all the information stored in person's brain
into a computer  and make a machine think in the same way. Does it mean that we
made this person immortal?
  May be if there is no other form of human existence except in biological body
we should create such form.  It can be computer, a combination of biological
tissue and some artificial parts or something completely different which we
can't even imagine right now.
This all sounds like science fiction but the computer which I'm using to write
this and the Internet itself would seem a science fiction to any reasonable
man some 30 years ago. But here they are and this is just the beginning of
their development.
  This is about all I wanted to say. I really want to know what you think
about it.

                               Vladimir Litvak   litvak at vms.huji.ac.il

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