I had a little rant the other day (July 2nd.) about journalists who hype scientific results to raise unrealistic hopes, and I cited the Indepenent's reporting of some gene research which allegedly allows us to predict who will live to be centenarians.
I was astonished to learn from Wikipedia recently that there is at least one expert in the biology of ageing, Aubrey de Grey, who believes that many children already born will live to be 1000 years old.
Put very simply, his reasoning is as follows.
The average life expectancy has increased dramatically in the civilized world in the last 2000 years or so. In the Middle Ages it was probably around 35 to 40 years, in Victorian times it was 55 to 60 years, and by the mid-20th century it was around 70 years. Moreover the rate of increase has accelerated as scientific knowledge has increased, so the curve is becoming asymptotic. Also we now seem to be on the verge of discovering biological strategies which will counteract the normal ageing processes. It is therefore quite likely that some of these advances which will slow down or even reverse the ageing processes will become practical possibilities within the next 20 years, so that a baby born today with a life expectancy of say 85 years, will in 20 years time be expected to live to 110 years. And 50 years after that, when the same person is 70, the life expectancy will have advanced to 200 years. By the time that same person is 200, we shall know how to live to be 1000.
I should point out that not all scientists agree with Dr. de Grey, though he did graduate from Cambridge with a BA in Computer Science in 1985, and in 2000 he was awarded a Cambridge Ph. D. for his work on 'The mitochondrial free radical theory of ageing'. In 2007 he wrote a book,with Michael Rae, entitled "Ending Aging" which provides a detailed account of the social problems which will arise when many people live forever.
What a scary thought!
Personally I can't think much past the anticipated problems of a 90 year old. I like the story of the two old men sitting on a bench in the sunshine in a park, watching all the girls go by. One turned to the other and said
'George, d'ye remember those tablets they used to give us when we were soldiers in 1941, so we shouldn't want to go with women?'
'Aye, what about 'em?'
'Well I think they're starting to take effect'.
The problem of the changing requirements of men at different ages is also neatly illustrated by their choice of restaurants.
A group of middle-aged men decided to meet for a School-Reunion Lunch. After some discussion they decided on the Ocean View restaurant because the waitresses were all chosen for their friendliness and their curvaceousness and they wore low-cut dresses.
Ten years later, now aged 50 they again chose the Ocean View, because the food was great and the views of the ocean were good.
Ten years on, now 60, they chose the Ocean View, because there were no stairs and it was quiet, so you could hear what people were saying.
Ten years later, they chose the Ocean View, because it had wheel chair access and the hospital was only half a mile away.
Ten year on, now 80, they chose the Ocean View, because they'd never been before.