Wednesday, October 1, 2014
15

我们要不要活到1000岁?

普林斯顿—医学和生物科学应该讲研究焦点聚集在那个问题上?一个理直气壮的回答是集中在对付夺走最多人生命的疾病上——比如疟疾、麻疹和痢疾,这些疾病在发展中国家夺走数百万人的生命,但在发达国家中几乎无人因此丧生。

不过,发达国家把大部分研究资金投入到其国民所遭受的病痛中,在可预见的未来,这一趋势将会持续。在这样的约束条件下,哪种医学突破能最大地改善我们的生活?

如果你的第一反应是“癌症新疗法”或“心脏病新疗法”,那你应该三思。SENS基金会首席科学官、反衰老研究最著名的支持者格雷(Aubrey de Grey)认为,将大量医学资源用于与老龄疾病作斗争而不去应对衰老本身是无济于事的。如果我们可以治愈一种老龄疾病,从这种疾病中幸存下来的人也会在几年内陷入另一种疾病。因此,这样所带来的好处极为有限。

在发达国家中,衰老是90%死亡的的最终原因;因此,对付衰老是所有老年疾病的预防性良药。此外,衰老在导致我们死亡之前,已经降低了我们的生活质量,也降低了我们为他人造福的能力。因此,我们不应该将目标定在人类达到一定年龄后患病率显著增加的具体疾病上,停止或修复衰老过程对我们身体的伤害才是更好的策略,难道不是吗?

格雷认为,即使未来十年在这方面只能取得微小进步,人类寿命也能得到极大延长。我们所需要做的是达到他所谓的“寿命逃逸速度”(longevity escape velocity),即把我们的寿命延长到足以等待后续科学进步实现寿命的进一步延长的水平,这样一来,我们就可以期待更多的进步和更长的是候命。最近,格雷在普林斯顿的演讲中说:“我们不知道第一个能活到150岁的人现在多少岁,但可以肯定的是,第一个能活到1000岁的人,现在还不到二十岁。”

这一前景吸引格雷的地方不在于长生不死,而在于健康、年轻的生活的延续,我们可以随之在一定程度上控制衰老过程。在发达国家,让年轻人祸中年人更长时间地保持年轻将让前所未有的老龄人口比重(通常得靠年轻人赡养而活)所造成的人口问题有所减轻。

另一方面,我们仍需要回答伦理问题:我们寻求大幅延长自身寿命的行为是否自私?如果我们成功了,结果是否只对一些人有好处而对其他人不公?

发达国家的人民预期寿命已然比穷国长30年。如果我们发现了延缓衰老之道,我们将面临这样的世界:大部分穷人在死亡的时候,少数富人才走过预期人生旅程的十分之一。

这一差异是认为克服衰老会增加世界不平等程度的原因之一。另一个原因是,如果老人不死而新人继续出生,地球人口增长率将大大超过现有水平,我们的生活水平可能出现大幅下降。

我们是否能够克服这些弊端取决于我们对未来技术和经济进步的乐观程度。格雷对第一个弊端的回应是,尽管反衰老治疗在初期可能相当昂贵,但价格是会下降的,很多其他创新就是如此,比如计算机和防治艾滋病药物。如果世界能够继续走高技术、低价格之路,那么人们将变得更富有,长期看,反衰老治疗能够让所有人获益。既然如此,为何不在现在就把它列为重点开始前进呢?

对于第二个弊端,与许多人认为的不同,克服衰老的成功本身将给我们呼吸空间用于寻找人口问题的解决之道,因为这同样能够延迟或消除更年期,让女性的首次生育年龄大大延后。如果经济可以持续发展,发展中国家的生育率会随着它们步入发达国行列而下降。最终,技术将提供不会增加碳排量的新能源,从而有助于克服人口弊端。

人口弊端引出了一个更深层次的哲学问题。如果地球支持人类生命的能力是有限的,那么,让更少的人活得更长和更多的人获得更短哪个更好?认为更少的人活得更长更好的一个原因是,只有被生出来的人才知道剥夺生命意味着什么;本不存在的人不会知道他们失去了什么。

格雷成立了SENS基金会支持反衰老研究。从大多数角度看,他的筹资努力相当成功,如今该基金会年预算已经达到了400万美元左右。但从医学研究基金的标准看,这还只是杯水车薪。格雷也许是错误的,但如果他有些许正确的可能性,则巨大的潜在好处意味着反衰老研究是比当前资金远为充裕的其他领域医学研究更合适的投资对象。

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  1. Commentedhari naidu

    From a purely ethical and moral perspective, birth and death are categorical imperatives of the Creator.

    Aging per se is not the physiological issue but a symptom.

    @+75 I've found that prevention of pain - due to aging - is more critical and provides for a healthy and long life. Of course, diet and exercise is essential; but good health is defined by lack of muscular pain in an aging body.

    Now, after remarkable success with ailing foot of racing horses and sportsman, there is medicinal recourse to interleukin plasma from human body to remedy orthopedic pain.

    Only fools waste their time on longevity - without recognizing preconditions for a life without pain.

  2. CommentedAyse Tezcan

    More important question is evolutionary plausibility. Unless we find other planets to inhabit and resources to sustain, our evolutionary drive will result in new ways of ending our existence to open space and resources for our offsprings. Of course unless we lose this trait.

  3. CommentedGary Mezo

    LIVE TO 250+ ??? WE AGREE THAT Basic human life processes/systems are programmed to live 250+ years as Aubrey de Grey states, but the declination of health leading to premature demise is principally secondary to a life-long systemwide cascade of events caused by arteriosclerosis. Stop arteriosclerosis early on in the 20's-30's or reverse arteriosclerosis to that stage and man can continue to live to ~250. Our R&D shows that arteriosclerosis is primarily a waxing-waning inflammatory cascade reaction to secondary to a lifelong infectious burden. We believe that we have isolated the pathogen, have done research on this endovascular problem for 20+ years and have developed a therapeutic to reverse the arteriosclerotic plaque burden.....we even have IRB-Monitored, peer-reviewed, published clinical trials conducted by cardiologists.....Our physicians usually treat themselves and their families first. Read about it and address your own mortality-issues! http://www.nanobiotech.us/nanobactx

  4. CommentedKennita Watson

    People may feel less need to cram when they have no time limit. At that point the obsessive behavior will be fully unmasked as the pathology it is, and can be treated accordingly.

  5. CommentedJames Flint

    Until we dismiss our toxic, bronze age religions our progress will be fitful and difficult. Ethics should not be based on fairy stories.

  6. CommentedTom Shillock

    I seems to me that in order to biomedically target the aging process as opposed to the diseases of aging it would help to have a biologically compelling definition of aging process that that distinguishes it from the diseases of aging and that guides experimental research. That would seem to be a job well suited to an analytic philosopher.

  7. CommentedNathan Coppedge

    In my conceptual studies of immortality, I think it is worth underscoring that there are multiple strategies to achieving longevity.

    One is a path to wisdom, minimal fitness and no terrible mistakes, symbolized by age before youth, eliminated by some sort of chronic effort, producing a pragmatic remainder.

    Another is sheer fitness, which has been more popular, but poses the problem of strain and rest, which can cause fatty accumulations, as has often been experienced by athletes. I think stress is under-represented amongst studies of athletes.

    A third method is more similar to vampirism, and represents stimulating the body with drugs, or refurbishing the blood through artificial means. In the best cases it might involve genetic treatments.

    A fourth method involves exceptional adaptation such as having an 'immortality threshold', that is, highly specific responses to environment gradually 'affect' immortality. This may be prone to sudden changes, eliminating it's long-term benefit, but may supplement other methods.

    I suspect that if there are other primary methods than these (and 'drug' may fit under multiple of these categories ultimately) then it involves nobility or grace of some kind, perhaps resulting from specific lessons learned in older age.

    Certainly an interesting subject. I hope that I've been helpful in clarifying genii (Four Genii !) related to immortality.

  8. CommentedJerry Russell

    The trend suggests we actually need longevity to survive as a species. Studies show an increase in quality of life decreases our fertility rate, and the world is on a trend to dip below sustainability within a generation. Forget those that scream overpopulation, it's foolish to look at our raw population surpassing 7 billion and suggesting runaway growth.

    Bonus thought, when we dramatically increase our longevity and quality of life we could end up as some race mostly composed of thousand+ year old elders who rarely breed. Which in all honesty is better for the universe, greater chance of other species thriving and joining us.

    Info and extra reading:
    The rate of sustainability for developed societies is 2.1 kids, today we have Australia at 1.92, US at 1.9 and UK is 1.94 (wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_fertility_rate#Replacement_rates)

      CommentedKennita Watson

      The universe is nice and all, but I do NOT volunteer to die for its sake. Besides, you _way_ overestimate your significance, and even the significance of the entire planet, if you think that the universe will care, or even notice, anything we do, no matter how dire? We just discovered a black hole the mass of around 30 billion suns, about 250 million light-years away. Our sun could go nova and it would have immeasurably less impact than one molecule of acid in the Pacific Ocean. The universe will be fine; it's you who are under a death sentence.

  9. CommentedLuke Parrish

    I have a conviction about the potential for cryonics research that is similar in some respects to de Grey's regarding antiaging research. I think that perhaps if we funded research into cryobiology, there would be breakthroughs that would lead to being able to put people's vital status on hold, preventing them from aging or feeling suffering.

    Contemporary cryonics is not quite like that because of the requirement of legal death beforehand (which often involves an extended agonal period), and because the great uncertainty of ever coming back means that most people would not want to enter such a state until in the late stages of terminal illness anyway. True medical suspended animation would consist of something that does no damage beyond our ability to repair, and could be entered much earlier in the process (or even be used for non-terminal illnesses that are otherwise a strain on resources such as a flu pandemic).

    On the other hand, the hope of reanimation and anticipation of actually seeing the future does add something positive and irreplaceable for current cryonics cases -- enlivening an otherwise hopeless terminal illness. This hope of seeing the future (space travel, world peace, and so forth) is one of the things about life extension that I find thrilling, in addition to the hope of escaping near-term death.

  10. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    I think the much more important question is what can we do with those years we spend in this life in a useful, purposeful fashion.
    At the moment all we care about how much pleasure we cram into ourselves in a very self centred, self obsessed manner, fully accepting the marketing messages: "you deserve it", "life is only about pleasure", "you need to have this and that..." and so on.
    The problem is that in the process of chasing as much self-fulfilment as possible we became more unhappy and depressed than ever before, all human institutions are falling apart from the family unit to the global human system. We even lost our hope for a better future, simply hoping to survive.
    If we continue like this, by extending human lifespan we simply create an army of zombies wandering around in a very unhappy life for decades.
    People have to start figuring out what truly gives lasting fulfilment in today's global, interconnected reality, where people are tied together as in a single family.
    If we managed to figure out this "meaning of life" question this might lead to the solution to the global crisis and all the problems humanity is facing today.

      CommentedLuke Parrish

      Depression and the harm of counterproductive/suboptimal lifestyles have huge utilitarian potential, and this is amplified by longer lives. However, I'm not convinced that we are all doing so poorly that we should let it distract us from life extension research. Certainly we can afford to fund the endeavor a bit more. Hope for the future is itself something of an antidepressant.

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