Saturday, 5 May 2018

The philosophical impact of setting longevity as a top personal priority

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If human beings were happy all the time, there would be little need for philosophy. If transactions never went wrong, there would be no need of lawyers and arbitration services. If individuals never became sick to the extent that they fear for their lives, few persons would choose to become physicians. If unhappiness and conflict justify the existence of philosophy and law, we can regard death as the ultimate justification for medicine, and its prevention, as the most crucial subject of study.

Statistics tell us why people die, but there is much more to death than what the eye can perceive. Road accidents, heart failure, stroke, and cancer occupy prominent positions in every country's causes of decease. Contemporary data also record the growing death toll taken by Parkinson and Alzheimer.

Statistics show the immediate causes of decease, but do not address the fundamental question of why we have to die in the first place. This issue should not to be dismissed as trivial. Unless we get a clear idea of why we must die, statistical data become irrelevant. After all, one could argue, if we are doomed to die at eighty-two (statistically speaking), what does it matter whether we die of cancer or diabetes?

The way to longevity

Since all living creatures expire at a certain point, we take for granted that nature has assigned a fixed lifespan to each species, but is this really true? Can science extend man's life and push death away, decade after decade, allowing the average person to become a hundred years old before his or her final demise?

History gives us many examples of men and women who have lived longer than a century. What is preventing us today from transforming longevity into a general rule applicable to all citizens? If we could eliminate accidents as a cause of death, can we also get rid of cancer and cardiovascular disease? Will those conditions ever be eradicated?

Scientists have put forward different theories to explain why living creatures die. Nonetheless, most hypotheses have been abandoned during the last sixty years due to insufficient evidence. The two remaining theories (the waste theory and the exhaustion theory) are still considered as work in progress, but they seem to be pointing in the right direction.

First, the waste theory regards death as the ultimate consequence of biochemical decay. From the moment an animal begins to breath, its cells will act as miniature biological converters that turn oxygen and other substances into chemical products that are consumed in order to keep the organism alive.

The conversion process is going to generate a certain amount of biological waste, which will slowly accumulate in the body. When the amount of chemical waste surpasses the body's ability to withstand decay, the living creature will die.

Second, the exhaustion hypothesis regards death as the natural depletion of the body's capacity to replace its own cells. While an animal is alive, its cells are continuously dying and being replaced by new cells, which are almost identical to the ones that have died.

According to this theory, cells can only reproduce themselves a limited number of times without losing important genetic information. This limitation is what determines the maximum lifespan of each species, which in the case of human beings. it is estimated to be 120 years.

When you hear about these two theories, you realize how little sense death statistics make. Indeed, if these hypotheses prove to be true, there might be a common reason for widespread causes of death such as cancer, Alzheimer, and cardiovascular disease.

A mentality change

What if those conditions are nothing but symptoms of a general process of biochemical waste-accumulation and cellular exhaustion? If that is the case, the practical consequences are earth-shattering. It is the equivalent of waking up one day, and realize that your vision of the world has been, until that moment, completely wrong.

If the latest scientific theories about death are correct, this means that the way most people make decisions is massively unrealistic. The misunderstanding has its roots in our perception of sickness and death as the result of the following steps:
  • We are born into a certain family and social environment.
  • We live, eat, and work according to what is generally considered acceptable.
  • One day, cancer, cardiovascular disease, or other major sickness hits us out of the blue.
  • We follow a medical treatment in order to combat that particular illness.
  • Even if the treatment is successful, sooner or later, another disease will hit us.
  • Finally, when medical treatments fail, we die.
However, if the theories of waste-accumulation and cellular exhaustion are true, we need to revise our concept of what it means to live, eat, and work. Sickness and death take a different significance when they are viewed as part of a natural process which each of us can influence to a larger extent than it is currently assumed.

The new paradigm would reshape our vision of life into a sequence of events in which we play a much more significant role:
  • We are born into a certain family and society, which do not always know what is good for us.
  • We will be much better off if we live, eat, and work using reason as a standard, irrespective of what other people may think of us.
  • We need to learn how to live in ways that slow down the accumulation of biochemical waste in our organism because our own behaviour is the number-one factor that contributes to keeping us healthy.
Take action today

Thus, when it comes to health matters, prevention should be our primary concern. If we trust the waste-accumulation theory, the right behaviour should help us postpone fatal illness to a later stage in life, enabling us to live longer and more healthily.

We need to learn to live in ways that minimize cell exhaustion, and help us extend our lifespan towards the ideal 120 years, which seems to be the limit for the human species. What kills most people is a direct consequence of their wrong way of living. By improving our decisions and actions, we can lead a healthier existence, and extend our lifespan.

Imagine the advantages of living a decade longer without being afflicted by debilitating illness. The inspiring aspect of the latest theories about death is that they are reinforcing the idea that each of us, as rational individuals, are in control of our own future.

Although we are still far away from understanding all implications of the new paradigm, it is clear that state-of-the-art scientific theories are strongly favouring the fundamental tenets of rational living: thoughtfulness, prudence, and self-reliance.


Image: photograph of classical painting -- photo taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

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