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Danger Lampost

Futurist & Technology Consultant,


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Why do so few people want to live significantly longer and healthier than a so-called natural life span?

As I have discussed the concept of immortality with people over the years, something has consistently surprised me. I ask people, "If you could live a much longer but still vital and healthy life, would you want to live, say, 200 years? 500 years?

Most people do not want to live that long - even if they could remain healthy and vital all that time. It seems what most people are saying, is that they actually *want* to grow old and die.

Yet we all supposedly want to be healthy and strong, and of course we would naturally want to heal ourselves if we got sick or injured - we seek health. Then why this death wish among most people I poll?

I'm obviously in the "Hell yeah, give me healthy immortality" camp, so I'm looking for help from other people in explaining the other side of this please.

Is that a coping mechanism to help accept our own mortality? Would you really turn down an opportunity to live much longer, along with your friends, and healthy?

Or is my own personal polling off? I guess we'll see!

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    Oct 21 2012: We usually forget that the most important thing is how well we live our lives; not how long.
    Because anything in this world, with a beginning, will definitely have an end. A long life will end, just like the short.
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      Oct 21 2012: I think you are so right about that point which you stated very well: It's about living a good life, not a long life.

      Yet still, imagine you are living well: Why not extend such a good life if you have the option available to you?
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    Oct 26 2012: One of the aspects of life that prompts an urgency to do what matters is that our time is finite. Funny how when you have a few minutes or hours to accomplish a task you get right on it, But when you have days, or months,or years there are always other distractions…I think that a purpose of clearly understanding of the timespan we have in this life is to focus our energies on what matters. To give our life to that which we find meaningful in the limited time we have. If we routinely had 500 years to do this, instead of 80, I think our society could develop in interesting and wonderful ways. Our expected level of mastery in our fields and our expectations for a life well lived could extend tremendously.
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    Oct 23 2012: ...perhaps you have asked the wrong people? - most of the people I associate with answer in the affirmative - provided they are mentally and physically fit. There is a million and one things we would all like to do and we don't have time in one short lifetime (even if you do things quickly!).

    When you meet positive, creative people who have 'mastered the inner self' they see the world differently and yearn to learn more and see what the future holds for the human race. When you consider that we may be the only sentient creatures in the universe (unlikely I believe) and certainly we must have a kinship with all sentients everywhere (see Is anyone there?http://www.commonsensethinking.co.uk/philos.html), I personally can't wait to find out if the human race will manage to survive and how. In just a few decades we shall probably have a step change in technology (robotics et al) that takes the human race to another level - freeing us from work and drudgery - who would not want to wait and see how it all pans out? Perhaps we need to teach our children to be more imaginative?
    This reminds me of a nice quote:
    If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you
    really make them think, they'll hate you.

    Most people do, unfortunately spend their lives not really thinking much at all, this must be partly because of nature's policy for us and perhaps are poor ability to educate ourselves - especially our children - do we nurture them to really think? (or just train them to keep their heads down?)
    see Fit for Life:

    Anyway - if you find a way - please put me on your list i'll gladly join you!
    ta, JP
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    Oct 23 2012: I do think it's because they have already accepted their own mortality. They probably feel the second they started wanting it, they would start to fear death again. Which, being life extension still beyond the average individual's comprehension and expectations, would be a pointless suffering. Therefore, they say instead they don't want any of that.

    This is why it's important to spread awareness about how life extension works, and how it's a real possibility. So people feel it's something to strive for, rather than a torturing, impossible dream.
  • Oct 22 2012: All I am saying is ...sure with good health life is beautiful on Earth...but after experiencing all aspects, wouldnpt you want more? like not having this heavy 3D body, going to the bathroom every day, not being able to fly teleport, create instantly? which things are possible in a higher dimension...where we have higher vibrating light bodies...and a wider awareness of everything?
    That is the attempts daredevils try to achive ..but can not escape 3D limitations
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      Oct 22 2012: Thank you for describing that wonderful world. I feel I visit that world often in my lucid dreams.

      Does a natural death for you get you a ticket to that wonderful world, whereas suicide voids your ticket, maybe because you "have more to do on this planet" or something like that? That's the only reason I could think of for not committing suicide so I would be very interested to hear if there's another reason for you?
  • Oct 22 2012: i think it's part of the god dilemma, to quote Achillies "the god's envy us because we are mortal everything is beautiful because we may die at any moment" do you really want to live forever for never? i think thats why people hesitate, while scientists look for longer life cuz they are scared of death other accept and celebrate their mortality... and btw this has nothing to do with religion i am a tea pot atheist and i'm curios of the afterlife like many people :)
    • Oct 22 2012: Yes Arthur,

      I relate well to this quote by Achilles. Thanks for this!
  • Oct 22 2012: That surprised me on many levels for my instinct tells me that most would desire to live longer. Greed appears to be a great motivator of humankind and at the end of the day greed is exactly what life-extension is all about. Perhaps the people you meet are smart enough and blessed enough to accept the finality of their lives. Or as Ralph waldo Emerson so aptly said "Its not the length of life, but the depth of life."

    I like to believe, "Life has meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself.” Antione de Saint-Exupery
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      Oct 22 2012: I think you may have hit the nail on the head as to why some people are against life extension: They believe life extension is greedy and morally reprehensible, which I believe is the conclusion that you seem to have reached.

      So that leads me to ask this follow up question: Was it greedy for us to extend our life expectancy from about 21 years old 1000's of years ago, to about 80 or so today? Or is it only greedy when we extend our maximum potential life span, not so much our average life expectancy? Is it more greedy of us to pro-create at such a fast pace, or to live longer? Aren't both equally greedy, or am I missing the reason why it's greedy?

      If you're saying it's only greed when we extend our maximum potential life span (like with Richard's potion), what is the magic about our current natural life span, versus what we (as mankind) can do to increase that? Is it because that's "the way it's supposed to be" or the way we were created?

      And if it's greedy to want to extend our natural life span, would it be generous to shorten our life span? Why not? Why ever cure yourself from a disease, as you could save those resources for other healthy people?
      • Oct 22 2012: Hey Danger,

        Regarding the life span being increased form 21 to 80 years (at least in in Western countries) ... I feel guilty that there are people in the world who live in countries where the life expectancy is 59 (or less.) I hope that when/if I reach 60, I will have the courage to not make extraordinary efforts to extend my life should I become seriously ill. I want to live as natural of a life and die as natural as a death as possible once I have lived a reasonable life span ( for my personal goals.)

        However .. my goals may change with time... ;o)

        Also, in response to your post above .. I have very chosen to not have children because I have felt that there are others who have children and that I can better serve as support to them than to have children of my own.

        i guess that I do feel that resources are limited and that I want to help other people have a chance at quality life.
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    Oct 20 2012: i believe it is part of what de grey calls the global trance. if death is inevitable and bad, it is a depressing feeling. so since it is inevitable, it has to be good. that's is how people cope with it. as they say, the grapes are sour.

    should there be a breakthrough in life extending methods, people will think very differently.
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    Gail . 50+

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    Oct 20 2012: In my experience, living in this day and age, the idea of living another 100 years sounds awful. Life is changing too quickly, and we're heading to some terrible times unless something is done to change the trajectory. If I were living in a saner culture, I might feel very differently. If I were younger, I might also feel differently. (I do remember this question when I was younger and deciding that I really didn't care)

    I'm just very tired of the oppression, tyranny and massive ignorance.
  • Oct 20 2012: I think that you are assuming what you are trying to prove. I don't believe that you are right unless you mean few people are willing to radically alter their lifestyles to live 300 years. That.s from Asimov's great group of Robot etc. books. You can live longer But what a change.
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    Oct 26 2012: Hello Danger,

    Interesting. A question about immortality is intrinsically related to the question of mortality.

    And even though I know many people who are not afraid of dying, I can't say I have ever met someone who wants to die, well, maybe excluding some very depressed individuals, but in general, people would prefer not to die tomorrow, if that could be a choice.

    As it has been mentioned in other TED conversations, the answer as to why people want to live longer, might just be the irrational (probably genetically conditioned) aversion to dying that we (and other living organisms) have. I am not so sure that it is a minority

    But from a pragmatic point of view, lets imagine that someone found a magic way to make immortality available. Who should decide who can and cannot live forever? It is a fact that if it was a personal choice, and a big percentage of the population elected to, then somehow reproduction would have to be abolished or drastically reduced (can't have a cake and eat it at the same time, right?)

    Now, I am a parent, and that colors my view on the matter. Would I be willing to sacrifice their right to live in order for me to live forever? I doubt it. One of the things i take most pride in is the mere fact that i will be able to pass both my genes and some of my accumulated knowledge down to future generations. Who would we do things for if we were to live forever? just ourselves?

    In any case, great question

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    p s

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    Oct 25 2012: 'I don't want to live forever.' Lemmy. Ace of Spades.
  • Oct 25 2012: The problem with living so long is that we can get used to it.
    It may become just a habit .
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    Oct 23 2012: May it be because I am a 'slow learner', or just 'odd' in a way, but I would embrace the chance to extend my lifetime with one condition only - that was, that I am to decide to die whenever I wan't to.

    As far as I can see, as more intellect we grow and - hopefully - wisdom gain throughout our lifes, as less time remains to finally profit from it by its application.

    The only disadvantage I see in extending lifetime is the reduction in evolution flexibility, which may be negative influenced by such a project. But I think, that our minds are not designed for 'infinite' or much prolonged existence, so that there might be a 'natural' barrier, from where most individuals would just wish to end freely.

    One day, I am most certain, we'll have the technology to consider those questions more seriously.
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      Oct 23 2012: I agree with what you say.

      The part I find most interesting in your comment is about having the right to decide to die whenever you want to. Do you think that suicide is an option that should always be available to everyone at any time? Or only for those on extended life span?
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        Oct 24 2012: To me, suicide is one of the highest forms of human dignity, as long it refers to the individual being only and that the decision is formed by a free and healthy mind.

        Political, religious and other 'non being' related motivations are excluded.

        Even though the 'healthy mind' condition is quite a topic on its own, each of us may sense what it would mean for ourselfs.

        As we all carry the instinct of survival within us, a concious decision against it, must therefore bear an ultimate and final conclusion, which is to respect by others.

        Support, help and understanding by others within the process of such a descision is assumed, as, to me, only by this the definition of a 'free mind' should be framed.
  • Oct 23 2012: Would you like to play pinball with 50 or infinite balls, instead of 3 ?
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      Oct 23 2012: Yes I would like to play pinball with more than 3 balls, and I'd like the pinball game to evolve and become ever more interesting to me, as me and my infinite balls explore an ever more interesting pinball game.
      • Oct 26 2012: But what if it doesn't evolve? What if it gets boring and monotonous, "without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (to add some C. S. Lewis) Maybe the people you ask are seeing a world losing its simple chances of valuable interaction, or are losing sight of their ability to interact.
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    Oct 23 2012: If you are on the Hell yeah side, it will be difficult to imagine the other side. My question to you is; have you asked, 'why not?' have you searched for an in depth answer from the people that have answered that they just want to grow old and die?? They have the answer!! here is mine; Not everybody is able to live outside of their realm, it is a matter of Biology, the wiring (if I may),. Boredom can and will lead to depression. Some cannot imagine a lifetime of this enclosed reality. The subconscious desire to live past a present and natural age span is very likely accompanied by the desire to experience all parts of existence (life). Some people's worlds are much smaller than others, this is not necessarily a good-bad thing, it simply is; and it is part of a much bigger picture. In order to have the desire for a longer journey, one must be able to imagine this journey. till then, this natural life span is sufficient. Just for the record. I'm also on the 'hell yeah side' ;)
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      Oct 23 2012: That's a pretty harsh reality you paint there, and I have to say it's hard for me to argue against. If you're someone who wants to die by natural death at our current life span, I wonder what you think when you read something like Vincenzo's comment?

      My understanding of this argument, is that if you choose death by current natural life span then it's because your biology has limited your ability to experience this universe, so you're naturally inclined to exit this reality sooner than someone else who has a greater capacity to explore more of this universe.
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        Oct 24 2012: Danger. Just imagine doing the same thing over and over again and again. How long will it take till you say "ok, that's enough" ?! I suggest that this depends on your horizons. The bigger your world, the longer your journey. Science is helping humanity with this process, and as you may have already noticed, our life span is getting longer and longer. It has opened our eyes to an incredible vast Universe. You don't have look too far, your own back yard is a good starting point. This sort of enlightenment excites our senses and makes us wish for the longer life span..... as I said before, it all depends on the length of the journey that you are able to imagine. This will help dictate what is a natural life span.
        Once again. Cheers
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    Oct 23 2012: I think:

    That is because they do not enjoy their life, which is due to:

    (1) “The VALID happiness is the short-time feeling of things being a-step-better for keeping one’s own DNA alive. ”
    (2) A long life of 200 years or more will make the “a-step-better” smaller and smaller.
    (3) When the “a-step-better” approaches zero, no people enjoy their life naturally!

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      Oct 23 2012: Well I wouldn't say "wrong", but I think differently. I completely agree with you that valid happiness is a short-time feeling. That's what you feel when you win the lottery.

      There is a concept of joy, which is ours for the taking, and always around us, if we know how to take it. Sadly It is a cruel fact of our existence that the path to joy is not obvious and often requires going through great pain, but not always. Many disciplines exist to help us discover this joy.

      Joy is a state of mind that is timeless and doesn't need a step better to continue. That's the major difference between joy and happiness.

      With joy in my heart, I can live forever.
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    Oct 22 2012: Health and happiness are not synonymous.

    Part of the reason is religion. People have been taught that we are sinners and are suffering in this life for our sin. They think that the hereafter is much to be desired, so to extend this life would be to forestall the heaven that they seek.

    Another part is the pessimism that many people feel apart from religion. A person can be lonely in a crowd. A person can be miserable in wealth. When you have the vitality of life, but lack the resources or opportunity to do what you would like to do, it's like being in jail. You feel trapped in your circumstances.
    Many people have watched the quality of life grow dimmer with time. Less and less people can afford to own a home. Less and less people can afford the vacation dreams that they once sought after. People have watched their income fall short of their needs with increasing rate. They are being asked to do more with less. They are having to work longer hours with less job satisfaction. They have seen their benefits decline. They don't see this as changing. Only those who don't care what others feel are not affected by this.

    A third reason is that many do not feel that they are their body. They feel that they are a spirit confined in a body. As the cycles of life go on, life evolves to higher dimensions. We see children learning much faster than we did when we were young. We want that for ourselves. To watch the world around us accelerate to new horizons while we remain fixed in our present understanding (its hard to teach old dogs new tricks), would become increasingly more mundane. Those who feel that the body is just a vessel that we cast off at death, are hopeful for what is yet to come.

    A fourth reason is that they don't believe it is possible to live longer and still be healthy. They called old age the golden years to spice it up. No one is bragging about it.
  • Oct 22 2012: The natural death does not necessarily mean one can go and stay in a higher vibrational, dimensional plane of existence, unless one soul is done experiencing, learning and serving Earth life. Suicide is not the way, because it is violence against the body if it comes from negative emotions, is an escape. ( I am not against assisted suicide in case of terminal pain, or some other circumstances ). but the natural soul evolution means, after we "graduate" from 3d Earth school, it is natural desire of our unlimited pontential-ed soul to want to experience a freer, in movement, creativity, expanded consciousness to ascend to a higher plane. After we have experienced joy, sorrow, being in the body, appreciation of what Earth can offer and Yes, learning to be non judgmental, loving...So extension of life is good, ...and many highly evolved beings who are in higher dimension, come back for a period for serving and helping beings on Erth.
    So in short. Life is purposeful, good if you are here, extending HEALTHY life is a good desire, ..I just state that there is a point when one wants greater experience of life in a higher demension, where love , beauty and creativity is more emphasised. There are highly evolved beings who can non vioently leave ther body, with the agreement of their body at the end of their purpose being in physical embodiment,...also in some other dimensions. The body served its purpose, thank it and so to speak fly out of it...
  • Oct 22 2012: IMO, where there’s an end, there’s a fulfillment, and where there’s a fulfillment, there’s an unutterable joy.
    Another thought for this question is that people are willing to choose to do something decidedly(so to speak) if there are limited options available for them.
    Take Sheena Iyengar’s TED talk for example,
    “We decided to do a little experiment, and we picked jam for our experiment. Here’s their jam aisle. They had 348 different kinds of jam. We set up a little tasting booth right near the entrance of the store. We there put out six different flavors of jam, and we looked at two things: First, in which case were people more likely to stop, sample some jam? More people stopped when there were 24, about 60 percent, than when there were six, about 40 percent. The next thing we looked at is in which case were people more likely to buy a jar of jam. Now we see the opposite effect. Of the people who stopped when there were 24, only three percent of them actually bought a jar of jam. Of the people who stopped when there were six, well now we saw that 30 percent of them actually bought a jar of jam. Now if you do the math, people were at least six times more likely to buy a jar of jam if they encountered six than if they encountered 24.”
    As you can see from her quote, we’re kind of trying to engage ourselves in at least some limited period of time so that we can plan for our lives with realistic strategies—once regarded as not wonderful to us when we were young, but as time goes by, we’re getting excited(so to speak) about finding a way to survive in this reality, and enjoy various moments of our “finite” lives.
    Even enjoying the magnificent scenery you can see through the window could become a tedious job if you’re doom to do it forever.
    Maybe we have this unconscious desire that keeps telling us, “That’s enough!”
    There's only so much we can take ... :)
    • Oct 22 2012: Love this thoughtful response Elizabeth Gu!
  • Oct 22 2012: Most people do want to live longer, just not in this era with primitive technology, stupid religious nutbars and endless wars. Not to mention being stuck with a 21st century (human being v1.0) brain.

    It's all about quality of life. This planet has too many stupid people on it. Think about this for a minute, there are billionaires and homeless people IN THE SAME DAMN COUNTRY in 2012! The socioeconomic system and the underlying values of the society are one of the big reasons why these things exist. There is no cap on how much stuff people can own.
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    Oct 22 2012: it is simply because they do not look for GOD in their youthful age...there is nothing like immortality without GOD and hope

    food cannot only give us immortality cause it is written that because of Adam and Eve man must die .I do not trust illusions and idols and vague deities that presume they can do what God can ..
    That is why the bible says by HIS STRIPES WE ARE HEALED ...DOCTORS just try medicines to see which works but GOD has the solution and to heal ...cant you see the pastors pray for people through GOD power ...the HOLY SPIRIT IN CHURCHES ,CRUSADES, ETC
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      Oct 22 2012: Thank you Michael. I want to make sure you understood my question: My question is about why people do NOT want to live a longer life on this planet. I want to ensure I understand you: In answer to my question as to why people do NOT want to live a longer life, you said it's because people did not look for GOD when they were younger? If I understand that right, then you're saying that If they looked for god, they would wish to extend their natural life span before they get to heaven? Or did I miss what you're saying?
  • Oct 22 2012: Another thought following my last response is this. Is it possible you are asking the wrong questions for the wrong reason. Or at least based on your cultural conditioning? We live in a culture that dictates possessing more and more, will make us happy.

    The fundamental question becomes, what do we lose when we die. Other than that moment and bits of protein in our brain stored as memory

    “Were you to live three thousand years, or even thirty thousand, remember that the sole life which a man can lose is what he is living at the moment; and furthermore, that he can have no other life except the one he loses. When the longest- and the shortest-lived of us come to die, their loss is precisely equal. For the sole thing of which any man can be deprived is the present; since this all he owns, and nobody can lose what he is not his.” Marcus Aurelius
  • Oct 22 2012: My first response comes from the book; "The long drive home was filled with periods of free flowing dialogue punctuated with long spaces of silence. “In reality,” Richard stated, "For 99.9% of humanity's existence, people have lived to a ripe old age of 19. Life expectancy at the end of the last century was around 50 years. Now, it's closer to 80 years.” His wife responded quickly, “Yes, Richard, but that's the point. It took generations of time to adapt, and it wasn't something that was just suddenly thrust on humanity.”

    Another point from the book is "What this means in essence is that you will have a whole generation that becomes lost.”
    Hack took a breath “In this context lost, means young kids will be forced out of the workplace and unable to get into college. You will be extending life to an aging population that will clog the arteries of the economy and the higher education system. The interests of older adults will clash with the upcoming interests and needs of young people. This in turn will cause either rebellion or total apathy from our children.”
  • Oct 22 2012: The thing is, if you believe in other dimensions, with more creative poweres, and bilocation, teleportation in a less dense light body, then to be stuck in 3D limitation is not very attractive.....unless this heavy Erth with our bodies accelerate to a lighter body where we could enter into the next dimensional existence with all of its new possibilities
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    Oct 22 2012: It's actually a bit simpler than you think... It comes down to this... Do you enjoy life? And... More importantly, do you enjoy your work?

    I would suggest that almost half of people enjoy life in general... but that's probably a lower number than you were expecting. 90% of people HATE, their labor. They do it to survive. They spend 40-60 hours a week, almost half their waking life, doing something that brings them absolutely no joy. In the modern world, they rarely even get a sense of accomplishment. In a world where you can live to be 200, it will be very expensive... and most people don't want another 200 years of work they don't enjoy taking up more than half their time.

    If you imagined yourself being a meaningless cog in the wheel of Dunder Mifflin Paper for another 200 years... It probably wouldn't excite you very much either.