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Reasons against anti-aging

by Mark Miro1 min read24th Jan 20215 comments

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World Optimization
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I agree with Peter Thiel on many things, but not when it come to his belief that anti-aging will be beneficial. It could be that my concerns are wrong. Or maybe anti-aging is inherently interesting to some people who want to live to see flying cars and no rational critique would dissuade them.

 

Impossible tree pruning:

Getting older involves building up a world view that allows you to exploit gaps in the world and use them as a way to make money. In order to do this you build a mental model (a tree) of skills based on where you think there's demand for skills like your own. Each layer takes time to develop. Everyone else is also building up this tree for themselves. What happens over your career is that everyone in the world changes the world in some way that creates new gaps that may not fit into the tree you've imagined. Further, the gaps in the world that used to exist become filled. In short, the best approach would be to rebuild your tree from scratch. This is why having kids is more efficient than just having more time on earth.

 

Population growth:

Even if birth rates went down to replacement rate tomorrow, improvements in longevity would result in more people being on the planet at any given time. This would be because the window of possibly alive people would expand to include older and older people. For the people worried about population growth it may not be as big a concern as growth caused by families having 4 kids. It might still be worth mentioning.

 

Downstream problems: 

Arguably, one of reasons young people are frustrated with modern politics is that boomers are still very much in the driver's seat. I think large demographic shifts are likely to create instability. An increase in productive years could lead to an increase in a more drawn out decline. If so, we'll need more senior care. This may become a costly burden on future generations. We may also have to consider assisted suicide for people who would be dead if it weren't for technology. Should we keep them alive because we can?

 

Ultimately:

My point is not that people should stop doing this type of research, it's just that I personally don't find the benefits to outweigh potential costs. I believe a better understanding of human biology would inherently aid in anti-aging anyways while also increasing our chances of sustaining more human life on the planet, or even supporting life on Mars.

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3 Answers

This is why having kids is more efficient than just having more time on earth.

Somehow, efficiency is not my whole decision algorithm.

we'll need more senior care. [...] Should we keep them alive because we can?

Don't let your kids read this. On the other hand, maybe it's more efficient if you do.

"Or maybe anti-aging is inherently interesting to some people who want to live to see flying cars..." 

Maybe anti-aging is inherently interesting?  Do you not expect some people to want to survive?  The will to live is inherent in humanity for very obvious evolutionary reasons.  Moreover, anyone whose quality of life is positive has reason to want to live so long as that is the case.  There are religious people who want to die so as to attain an afterlife, but unless you are hoping for Heaven/Nirvana/72 Virgins/whatever, or your current quality of life is negative, anti-aging should be inherently interesting to you.

"and no rational critique would dissuade them."

If something is inherently interesting, people will want it unless there is a cost that exceeds the benefit.  If there is such a cost, such a rational critique will in fact dissuade rational people.  This seems like a cheap attempt to make transhumanists seem unwilling to listen to reason without actually making a case to that effect.

"In short, the best approach would be to rebuild your tree from scratch. This is why having kids is more efficient than just having more time on earth."

More efficient for what purpose?  Even if we assume you are correct that experience is a negative to career success (not what is typically observed, to put it mildly), what are you hoping to attain with your career that is better served by dying and hoping your children will carry on the work?  It can't be making money for you-you do not benefit from money when you're dead!  It can't be making money for your children; you're as dismissive of their survival as of your own.  It sounds like you want money for your genetic lineage, but why?  Normally people value their wellbeing and that of their family; all of you dying does not serve this.  You can't even claim to be following some underlying evolutionary principle, as the survival of you and your children will preserve your genes better than letting them be diluted down over generations.  

"Even if birth rates went down to replacement rate tomorrow, improvements in longevity would result in more people being on the planet at any given time."

Correct.  On the other hand, while overpopulation is a potential concern with longevity, it is worth taking five minutes to consider the problem rather than simply electing to die.  Potential solutions include interplanetary colonization, mind uploading, better birth control or simply handing off the problem to a friendly AI.  All of these are technically challenging, but so is life extension.  It does not make sense to assume that a world capable of it must be forever incapable of ever finding a solution to overpopulation.  To assert that this question must necessarily make life extension harmful is to assert that we know that no such solution can be found, quite the extraordinary claim.  The milder claim that this is a concern worth addressing is by contrast valid, but that's not a reason to abandon life extension, merely one to develop population solutions in tandem, if we can.

"Arguably, one of reasons young people are frustrated with modern politics is that boomers are still very much in the driver's seat. "

Easy enough to mandate political retirement at a particular age.  Disenfranchisement is better than death.  To quote Eliezer's short story Three Worlds Collide, "Only youth can Administrate.  That is the pact of immortality." 

"...we'll need more senior care. This may become a costly burden on future generations. "

Potentially.  Or a population that spends more time healthy and able to work and less time slowly decaying in retirement might have a lighter burden on future generations.  Or perhaps a growing, potentially-automated economy will obviate the question entirely.  This is much like the overpopulation question in that it conflates desirability with prudence.  Desirability is whether or not we consider a thing beneficial as such; whether or not we'd want it in the absence of countervailing costs.  Prudence is whether or not we consider a thing worthwhile on net even counting the costs. You point out, correctly, that overpopulation and a strained senior care system are potential risks that may need to be addressed if we want to make life extension prudent.  That does not mean that it is not desirable, nor that we should immediately view the costs it could impose as impossible to mitigate. 

"We may also have to consider assisted suicide for people who would be dead if it weren't for technology. Should we keep them alive because we can?"  

Do these people want to die?  Are we out of resources to sustain them with?  If the answers are no and no, why should we kill them?  If one or more of the answers is yes, that's a concern, but one better answered by seeking to improve their quality of life or acquire more resources, at least if we value human wellbeing.  And if we don't, why are we bothering to stay alive ourselves, or avoid killing willy-nilly?  

Ultimately, it is human nature to value survival.  We cannot always survive, we may sacrifice ourselves for others we care for if we cannot both survive, and some people even choose death out of misery or religious faith.  Yet where it is possible, it is better to make life worth living than to give up and die.  Where it is possible, it is better to save everyone rather than sacrificing our lives.  Where it is possible, it is better to oppose aging like we would any other injury, and while I cannot claim that life is better than Heaven, you did not bring up afterlives, so it seems unlikely that they are factoring in your reasoning.  Unless you assert that the natural order of things was divinely, benevolently ordained, there is no reason to think that death by aging is somehow better than any other threat to life, be it disease, injury, war, poverty or the like.  

Would you use those same reasons to argue for Covid?

"why should we kill them?"

This would be bad. Not endorsing death of people who don't wanna die.

There are super smart people like Peter Thiel who are into anti-aging research. Then again, Elon Musk has lots of kids and Thiel doesn't have any. Maybe their personal survival strategies are born out in their interests.

please go read the most basic counterarguments to this class of objections to anti-aging at https://agingbiotech.info/objections/

1 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 8:45 PM

As someone who is very much in favor of anti-aging, I'd answer to it something like this: "I'm fine with you entertaining all these philosophical arguments, and if you like them so much you literally want to die for them, by all means. But please don't insist that me and everyone I care or will care about should also die for your philosophical arguments."