Civilization's Silver Lining


In The Tradeoff, I outline the unintended consequences of humanity's shift away from its ancestral way of life to the 'man made' way of life we experience in civilization. In the long-run, however, I can see how technology (medical advancements in particular) will eventually lessen many of those undesirable consequences. In particular, extending the mean age of a population to the degree possible will improve the stability and sanity of human governance. So, how much do we need to extend life expectancy for this to play out as I speculate?

Physics Makes Aging Inevitable, Not Biology is an interesting article that challenges the idea of extending life expectant... but I see flaws. Read it if you like and then consider my responses...

Note: I have inserted parts of the article below that stood out for me, followed by my responces.


In An Unsolved Problem of Biology, Medawar pitted two explanations for aging against each other: On one hand was “innate senescence,” or aging as biological necessity. On the other was the “wearing out” theory of aging—aging due to the “accumulated effects of recurrent stress.” The former is biology, the latter physics. Innate senescence implies that aging and death are dictated by evolution to make space for younger generations.

One error we make is the zero-sum view of nature, i.e., it’s either free will or determinism. Here, it’s either “innate senescence” (biology)  or “wearing out” (physics). Realizing I don’t’ know is better (71) so, I’d see it as possibly both, plus the unknown ‘constant’ i.e., The way possible to think, runs counter to the constant way.

Medawar himself argued for the “wearing out” theory—the physics viewpoint on aging. First, he said, it is difficult to see how natural selection could have selected for senescence, because we don’t reproduce in our elderly years and natural selection is driven by differences in reproduction rates. Second, it is unnecessary to actively kill off older individuals to keep an aging population small. Random chance can accomplish this on its own.

This portrays the tunnel vision of evolutionary theory. It is all about natural selection for fitness, and discounts any other, what I loosely call a ‘universal consciousness’ aspect. Profound sameness (56) is always a factor I constantly and increasingly seeing at work.

Eliminating cancer or Alzheimer’s disease would improve lives, but it would not make us immortal, or even allow us to live significantly longer.

Who wants to be immortal? Not me. How long is significantly longer? At what increase of mean age life span for a population would make a useful sobering difference in civilization’s governance ‘wisdom’? I already see a difference between the ‘teenagee’ civilizations of past centuries and the ‘middleagee’ civilizations of today. I’m not expecting miracles; just better management that is more in line with nature overall… not perfect, just better.

That doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. More research into specific molecular changes in aging is needed. This may show us if there are key molecular components that are the first to break down, and whether that breakdown leads to the subsequent cascade of failure. If there are such key components, we would have clear targets for interventions and repair, possibly through nanotechnology, stem cell research, or gene editing. It’s worth a try. But we need to be clear about one thing: We’ll never defeat the laws of physics.

It was good to see he came down to earth in the end. And who ever said we need to defeat the laws of physics.


Neither of these two theories of aging (“innate senescence,” or aging as biological necessity, and the “wearing out” theory of aging—aging due to the accumulated effects of recurrent stress) explains the “negligible senesence” of certain species of rockfish, which can live past 200 years with no signs of aging. Facts always trump theory, or should, if science is involved. Theory is fine in philosophy, as in Should we live longer, and if so, Who should have this privilege? Or even, Is it a privilege?


I reckon if one lives long enough, a long life won’t be so much a privilege as a responsibility. And when one’s ‘job’ is done and feeling of responsibility wane, one can fade into Nothing again. Given how much science has effected humanity over just the past 100+ years, it is hard to imagine humanity not figuring out a way to extend life span. It is quite an adventure we are on, as I look out on today from my cave man, hunter-gatherer eyes.


I don’t have this much faith in humans in hierarchical social systems. Though life expectancy has increased in past centuries, human foibles have increased. Technology serves as a crutch that forestalls critical thinking and natural adaptation to a varied environment.


I understand how difficult it is to have faith in modern humans (i.e. post hunter-gatherer ancestral times). However, I suspect one reason for this lies in how expectations of ‘better’ rise each step we make toward ‘better’. Historically, humanity’s rapacious ways are slowly moderating. The increasing median age plays a role in that. Up until recent centuries, the median age of the world’s population held steady, neither rising or falling much except during famine and plagues. This link gives some background: … and here is an excerpt.

The visualization below shows the dramatic increase in life expectancy over the last few centuries. For the UK – the country for which we have the longest time-series – we see that before the 19th century there was no trend for life expectancy: life expectancy fluctuated between 30 and 40 years.

Over the last 200 years people in all countries in the world achieved impressive progress in health that lead to increases in life expectancy. In the UK, life expectancy doubled and is now higher than 80 years. In Japan health started to improve later, but the country caught up quickly with the UK and surpassed it in the late 1960s. In South Korea health started to improve later still and the country achieved even faster progress than the UK and Japan; by now life expectancy in South Korea has surpassed life expectancy in the UK.

Put another way, older populations are much less eager to rush to act. It is in our youthful years that we are more likely to act foolishly. A lifetime of folly helps sober and humble many to at least glimpse the ‘constant’. As chapter 16 says,

Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results.
Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial


It’s not humans as a species I’m concerned with, it’s human institutions and social organization. I don’t see these ways as moderating at present. Quite the opposite in that oppressive, hierarchical systems seem to be on the ascendance, and cooperative, decentralized social systems on the decline.

This too shall pass, in time.


This too shall pass, in time.

That is the point! Looking back at history, either my own or earth’s, I notice there is always something ‘wrong’ and in need of evolving further. Indeed, I regard ‘the problem’ whatever it is for me at this stage in life, or for earth in general, as reality. And if I conform to reality, embrace it even, I’m more at peace than if I dwell on the current problem. That approach will never resolves anything, even as evolution marches on. There will always be a ‘problem’.

If reality = problem, then what is really the problem? Frankly, the problem is simply what I don’t like. Problems I see are really projections of my own self interest. Naturally, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with that; it’s not a ‘problem’; it is natural. Moreover, the problem disappears if/when I accept the problem as reality. In other words, when I realize the problem is simply a projection of my own self identity, it deflates the whole issue considerably because that realization forces me to take responsibility for the ‘problem’. All that is left for me is the view as you put it, “This too shall pass, in time”.

Now, this must come across as a kind of mind trick, which it is. The mind gets me into trouble; mind must trick itself to get me out of trouble. :~)