Live forever? Not on your nelly…

I can remember my garrulous dad commenting on the difference between doctors and engineers.  The latter included him, my uncle Sir Alan, my brother and my brother-in-law: all the men in my family apart from black sheep me. His oft repeated wry joke was that doctors can always bury their mistakes.  Engineers however have to live with theirs.

The other aside was that for quite a while doctors were trying to get us to live forever.  Now apparently they had accepted defeat but were hard at work trying to make us all die healthy.

Hmmm.  What me and the old fellah had in common was the desire to give the grim reaper a firm two fingers.  We’ve done it in different ways though.  He drank a bottle of scotch and smoked forty fags a day until forced to stop late in life.  I do slightly over the top amounts of yoga and other energetic stuff whilst keeping substance abuse generally to a minimum.  This allows me to remain in denial about societies’ expected norms for my age, and about my age full stop. I am still able to run, jump, jiggle about and generally make an idiot of myself much in the same way I did when I was in my twenties. And what’s more I’m not about to give any of that up if I can help it.  Nor are my patients either by the way.

I do however feel slightly cheated, ungrateful so and so that I am.  With the best will in the world one has to pragmatically accept the constraints of one’s biological framework.  Breeding, empire building and putting it about a bit are best done during certain phases of one’s existence.  If I make old bones [and I bloody well intent to] then in all likelihood I shall bow out like every other bugger in history has had to, hopefully with some grace, after a very good innings.

The best one can hope for is illustrated by an analogy I use in practice quite often.  Picture a farm dog, happy with his lot.  Plenty of exercise and doggy stimulation.  A majestically superior and unknowable being to unconditionally adore and worship as a god, complete with a familiar smell, flat cap and green wellies.  In other words, as good as it gets dog-wise.  In the last fifteen per cent of his life he’ll slow a little but still be having fun and being useful.  One day he wont get up, two days later he’ll be dead.  In people terms it translates as follows.  A full life.  Plenty of laughter, plenty of love given and recieved, secure in one’s place in the world and of the value of one’s unique contribution.  Stimulation aplenty physical and mental. Spiritual scratches itched, as we all need to, hopefully not bothering the neighbours.  No real health worries.  Some creaking after about sixty five or seventy but still largely fine.  Come the mid nineties there’s perhaps a year or two of frailty then the mortal coil is dispensed with.

Pretty good. Or is it?  Greedyguts here could do with a bit more, thankyou very much.

I mean, honestly… I’m just starting to get the hang of it, and I’m about halfway through already!  In particular I’ve done twenty one years of Osteopathic study but can see at least fifty more before I really get it sussed. And when I get there I’ll probably change the goalposts then.  When one looks at the sweeps of history, the even bigger [we hope] sweep of the future of humanity, ninety years or so is downright piffling and mean.  I could do with about four hundred and fifty.  I get this figure from one of favourite authors, Iain M. Banks.  Like many a successful sci-fi writer he has hit on a winning formula. His is called the Culture, a theme carried across a number of novels.  In it humanity has spread all round the galaxy, met and occasionally fought with all kinds of other species.  Robots are around and smarter than anything biological by several orders of magnitude.  Most people have lots of fun and get up to all sorts.  There’s no disease or any reason to die, but people opt to, generally at about four or five hundred years of age. By this stage they have seen it, done it, bought the flipping T-shirt in respect to justabout everything.  There are some individuals who don’t choose to die but they are considered seriously odd.

I’m not a weirdo, I wouldn’t want to miss out on that next great journey/annihilation/sublimation, but a bit more time would be nice.

This, for better or worse, may be forthcomming.

We have done some serious probing into the building blocks of life in the last few years.  The genome’s been mapped, and animals cloned.  Human beings, or at least bits of them, are sure to follow shortly.  This will happen with our heads in the sand or not.  Also computing power has been doubling every two years since the dark ages.  There will be ways to transfer our mental functions over to a non-biological substrate pretty soon.  I know I know it all sounds bonkers.  Bonkers, but also likely and not at all impossible.  Plenty of seriously scientific crystal ball gazers suggest that anyone in good health aged below about fifty may never need to die.

What a moral/philosophical/spiritual mess that’ll get us into.  Not to mention scarce resources and global conflicts. No wonder noone wants  to know.  It’s this sort of turbulence across the whole swathe of humanity that makes Sir Martin Reece, our Astronomer Royal, suggest that we have about a fifty fifty chance or surviving the century.  This highlights the wisdom of the ancient Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times”.  Yikes.

Well, I want to have a look at it all.  Maybe four hundred and fifty is being a glutton but you’ve gotta give me at least two hundred.

Please.  I mean,  c’mon!

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