Aubrey de Grey, Robert Butler, and Leonard Guarente recently sat down to discuss anti-aging medicine. One of the most common critiques of anti-aging – one I didn’t address in my FAQ – is one of existential crisis. Let’s say that I knew that medicine had advanced to a point where I could reasonably expect to live to be 350 years old, with the first two decades of course going to maturation, and let’s say the last two decades resembling our current aging process.
The question one is asked and must ask oneself: what would you do with all of that time? Wouldn’t you get bored? What would you do?
I asked myself those questions and realized that right now I feel impossibly rushed. There is so much life to experience, in so many ways that I feel compelled to try and do everything at once. Some people spend their teens and twenties partying and living paycheck to paycheck in a visceral, hedonistic, perpetual Bacchanalia of youth. Others cloister themselves away in libraries and academia to emerge in their late twenties/early thirties as The Next Big Thing in their field, granting them a position of influence for decades to come. Others travel, seeing the world, discovering who they want to be and meeting their fellow human beings. Still others start their careers, steadily moving up the ranks and in the process have the financial stability to settle down and have a family.
Yet for everyone of these potential ways of living comes at a cost of all the others. The very process of aging forces a choice. But what if I didn’t have to choose because I wasn’t aging? What if raising a family didn’t take half of my adult life, but barely a tenth of it? What if I could be a reckless youth, traveling, partying, living on a shoe-string budget and making loads of mistakes, for decades without worrying that I was “too old” or not “preparing for the future.” What if I could work for a couple years, putting most of it into savings, and then, 100 years down the road when I decided to have kids, have an enormous nest egg? There are so many questions we don’t even consider because we frame our lives as windows of time, wherein we get to do somethings but not others, because you only get that one chunk of time once. But what if instead of a couple decades of youth and vigor with another several decades of slow decline and aging, what if a person lived for over three centuries, with nearly all of it in a state of youth akin to a twenty-five year old. What would it be like?
Had I world enough, and time, here is how I would spend it.
I would grow up, I presume, as normal, but after undergrad, I wouldn’t have immediately started fretting and panicking about careers or graduate school or “what are you going to do with your life?” Instead, I’d spend a few decades, say three or four, living the life of a bachelor. No marriages, no living in one place for more than a couple years, career changes constantly, living with low inhibitions, thrill seeking, unworried about mistakes, bank accounts, savings, or nice things. I would take my time with everything. I’d try living for a while with almost no worldly possessions, going from hostel to hostel, working odd jobs and making barely enough money to pay for the next ticket or meal. I’d meet people and interact and learn. Then maybe I’d spend a few years just partying, embracing utter hedonism. Maybe after that, as a sort of cleansing, I’d go volunteer in one of the countries I’d visited a decade before, spending a few years giving myself freely to others. Thirty years of youth.
Perhaps somewhere in there I discovered a career I loved. Let’s say it’s marketing. I don’t want a family yet, don’t want to settle down, but I love this job: the people, the work, the company, all of it. I do well, make big bucks, put a bunch into savings and use the rest to live it up in a nice apartment, buy flashy crap I don’t need, go for the gusto with materialism. Just to see if I like it. Play the stock market with my extra bucks. Maybe I’d have a long term relationship, maybe I’d date, maybe I’d be so involved in work I’d barely have time for more than the occasional fling. I could live the life of a man about town, doing a job I loved, with money to spare.
But after a while, maybe fifteen years, I’d feel I’d done all I could in marketing, and my arm chair study of economics has really been intriguing me, so I decide to use some of my savings to go back to school. Maybe before I retired from marketing, I’d take some refresher courses, and then dive into things full time in a grad program. With my savings, I can pay tuition and go to school full time while still living comfortably. Having traveled and partied and worked for almost half a century, I’d revel in the solitude of study, spending whole weeks cooped up in the library or my home office, investigating nuanced, esoteric trains of thoughts and reading the enormous tomes of the greats at my leisure. I graduate in a decade with a Ph.D. and go out into the field.
Maybe I end up with a job at the IMF, over seeing development in South East Asia, a place I know well after traveling there for two years a few decades before. I speak Thai and Vietnamese, of course. I see it as one of the many homes I’ve had and take a personal investment in working to do the best for the region because of the time I spent there. While working for the IMF, I meet a woman. We fall in love, courting, dating, and experiencing each other over the next several years while working in Asia. We decide to get married.
Anticipating kids, we both quit our jobs at the IMF and get stable, low demand jobs back in the states in our respective fields. As we plan the wedding, we put most of our earnings into savings. A decade and a half after we first meet, we decide to have kids. We both take work off for a decade to raise the kids, living off of our enormous next egg from our previous decades of work and nearly century old savings accounts. I’d be able help my kids go through school, being deeply involved in their lives, continuing my learning with them, helping them discover as much of the world on their own terms as possible. Instead of supporting my family and having it at the same time, I’d support it first, then have it.
With our kids grown and happy, going off into their own lives and adventures, I’d still have nearly two hundred years of life left. By now, I’m approaching 110 years old. Maybe my travel itch is back, and probably the itch for week-long parties too. Maybe my wife has got the same urges, and now, instead of traveling, partying, living recklessly, and on a shoestring budget alone, I’m doing it with a partner, re-seeing the world again with her.
And so the cycle would continue. I wouldn’t live one life, I would live lives, experiencing being every version of the good life out there. Imagine being able to genuinely start over, to be always able to live your life as if you’ve just turned twenty-five and your whole life is ahead of you to explore, but you’ve already lived a century and a half. Life goals wouldn’t just be to read the great works, but maybe every work by every great writer. Or maybe not to learn just an instrument, but perhaps how to play every instrument in the orchestra. The options are so preposterously wonderful that they are hard to contemplate not because they are impossible to imagine but because they remind us of how little time we really have.
There is too much to do, how could one not want enough life to be able to do it?
Bioethics is controversial.
No one endorses the ideas or concepts explored here, not even me.
You will develop a strong opinion about something you find here. I want to hear it. Philosophy is a conversation.
popbioethics [at] gmail [dot] com
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