Arguments against life extension

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There are various common arguments against life extension with greatly differing levels of credibility.


Another original infographic from Deku-shrub. This was inspired by the low quality of discourse and advocacy for life extension I've experience online and offline. Many people have attempted to straw man opposition to life extensionism as 'only deathists' or 'only religious crazies' when the individualistic, social and biological/technical views expressed are actually numerous.

Understanding the breadth of issues leading towards scepticism towards life extensionism or similar terms is crucial to move towards more effective discussion.




Larger concepts

Quality of life - Many people feel rightly or wrongly that an extended life would be of lower quality than under a traditional lifespan. A character in Blade Runner quotes the chinese philosopher Laozi "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long" to imply a shorter life can be more fulfilling.

Social - Many feel society is not yet ready, or may never be ready for longer life spans for numerous different reasons.

Environmental - A specific class of social issue is that of the impact on the environment.

Technical - Due to the many biological and technological limits of contemporary medicine in effectively treating age-related ailments, many feel these challenges may never be overcome.

Specific issues

  • Dehumanisation caused longevity is a cultural trope often featuring beings like Frankenstein's monster and Dracula.
  • Unnatural and many people may not consider aging is a disease. The Life Extension Advocacy Foundation makes a number of extended arguments debunking increased lifespans as unnatural.[1]
  • Involuntary immortality exists both in fiction such as the Struldbrug[2] from Gulliver's Travels, the character of Jack Harkness[3] in Dr Who, and the eternals in the film Zardoz.[4] The ideas is also associated with being kept alive on life support against one's consent and/or opposing euthanasia. It is to counter these misconceptions that term indefinite lifespan is sometimes preferred over 'life extension'. The naturalistic fallacy would typically reject aging as a disease, despite its similarities to cancer.
  • Eternal boredom is a scenario many imagine when asked to consider significantly longer life spans. Once again, the association is likely with the inactive low-energy lifestyles of the most elderly rather than a thoroughly considered position. It should be considered that, should boredom arise, it should be preferrable over pain, suffering and permanent disability as a result of aging.
  • Personal development stagnation will radically alter how we view childhood, adolescence, starting a career and social advancement in a world of highly long lived people. Without obvious milestones of having children or inevitably advancing to the top of one's career, some may find this disconcerting.
  • Loss of mental functions such as via various forms of dementia are often perceived as unavoidable in the ageing process. As such, the idea of living longer and fading away is a highly unpalatable idea. Terms such as rejuveneering are often selected to make it clear such issues are being addressed
  • Loss of physical functions on the other hand, is there much point being in a frail body, or even a brain in a jar without a corresponding healthy physical body? Consequently anti-aging research seeks to not only slow, stop but if desired entirely reverse the ageing process.
  • Limits of mental capacity what happens if an idealised healthy person reaches an unprecedented age such as 150 or even 200? Might they stop learning things, or worse, start forgetting things at random. Such limits are neither understood nor can currently be reliably predicted.
  • Loss of neuroplasticity[5] stands at a key intersection of individualistic, technical and social issues. Without ensuring the long term abilities for not only learning, but changing opinions we could end up with a unhappy people living in an unhappy society.
  • Outliving friends or family becoming a person out of time is explored in scifi media, especially with regards to the far future (e.g. cryonics) or the far past. Highlander[6]) Transmetropolitan plays up the traumatic natural of adapting to the future, whereas Futurama mostly plays it down.
  • Resources best spent elsewhere for those who may believe in the technical credibility of life extension technology and even its desirability for others, there will be always be calls for investment and research to be spent on arguably more pressing matters. Be it investing into green energy, addressing present day inequality or even hurrying to explore space, living longer is simply not at the top of many people's agendas. The Transpolitica project around the longevity dividend attempts to illustrate the economic benefits of such investment to counter this position.
  • Against God's will The religious position is typically one of ambivalence and caution from varying religious demoninations.[7] Some head into full conspiracy mode. Not to be confused with the broader term, 'playing God' in the sense of opening up new dangerous frontiers of risk in a number of different areas.
  • Selfish critics such as bioethicist Leon Kass have described life extension as "childish and narcissistic"[8]
  • Economic collapse many are already concerned about the ageing population destabilising national social security programmes and variables that may exacerbate this
  • Immortal dictators or elites In fiction, elites such as in Jupiter Ascending kill billions to gain additional years of life in a rather inefficient process. In real life however, there are many existing disliked long lived individuals such as Rupert Murdoch or Robert Mugabe to whom awaiting for them to naturally die of old age is the hope held by many. The need for 63 year old Vladimir Putin to constantly be portrayed performing outdoorsy activities is state propaganda signalling for people to be unconcerned for this scenario.
  • Life extensionism as a religion Similarly to transhumanism as a religion, religions have offered immortality since the dawn on civilisation. Why should advocating the same with technology be given any additional credibility?
  • Social stagnation Social issues are constantly evolving across society and one of the variables that sustains it is the young challenging the old and the best new ideas inevitably rising to prominence. Without ageing and death, this entire process is called into question. Even the field of science could be jeopardised, if science no longer advances one funeral at a time.[9]
  • Increased inequality The tendency of the rich and the old to effectively consolidate riches is countered by two major factors, death and taxes. Without death, we could head towards a Gerontocracy[10] and the long term power of existing power structures given further power. For people concerned about even existing inequalities, this is a highly concerning scenario.
  • Overpopulation or population controls Whilst overpopulation risk may be exaggerated, the continual belief in a population crisis has convinced many that this would be environmentally destructive or cause a draconian response such as restrictions around human reproduction.[11] Whilst an understanding of the demographic transition is key,[12] wider definitions of 'overpopulation' need to be considered when countering this position.[13]
  • Environmental sustainability Some dark green positions are so concerned about the world's population's impact on the environment, they would seek to reduce the population rather than do anything to increase it.
  • Investment in life extension not cost-effective or credible Critics of projects such as SENS include Jason Pontin who's $20,000 SENS Challenge to discredit the initiative failed publicly. None the less, many scientists in the field of biogerontology are sceptical of such organisations.[14] Cryonics has its own issues.
  • Fundamental limits of biology Some scientists suggest that hard biological limits may be at play, preventing significant returns on research. The idea of a 'age limit' of around 115 has be touted, but only in the context of without advanced medical intervention as advocated.[15]
  • Technological road map not credible Specifics of programmes such as Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence[16] are disputed by various bioscientists. Cryonics has its own issues.
  • Germ line and emergent issues Complexities of human biology mean we never effectively fight all the processes of ageing in combination. The end of death may lead of the end of natural human evolution and eventual extinction.
  • Cosmic inevitabilities such as the march of entropy towards the heat death of the universe and other cosmic existential risks may weaken immortalist and therefore life extensionist arguments.

See also

External links