I’m working on my next book, The Second Crucible, and imagining what it would be like in the immediate future if those who deny aging become the dominant cultural force in our society.
You know who I’m talking about. These are the people who believe that they will never get old. They believe the first person to live to be 1,000 years old is alive today. They believe that aging is a disease, a horrible blight on humanity, and that all we need to do to cure it once and for all is flex our technological prowess.
In ancient times, humans bowed to the Gods to pray for the gift of immortality. Today, humans bend their knee in worship of technology with a blind faith that it will save them from death. After all, the past century has seen the most dramatic increase in human life expectancy in history, right? And logically we can assume medical advancements will continue to extend the human lifespan, even by as much as a thousand years, right?
Herein lies one of the great fallacies of the anti-aging movement. They conflate increases in average human “life expectancy” with an increase in human “longevity” or lifespan. Life expectancy refers to the number of years we estimate populations of people will survive. Longevity refers to the maximum number of years a human being can live. It is very true that life expectancy has increased dramatically in the past century. Since 1900, the average life expectancy of men increased by more than 25 years and for women by more than 30 years. But almost all those gains were made before 1950 and were due primarily to decreased mortality among the young, particularly infants.
The reality is that no miracle cure, pill, supplement, medical advancement or other technology has increased the human lifespan by a single day. Sure, millions of lives have been saved from premature death – but not a single treatment has ever extended human longevity (let alone reversed it). In fact, Romans who had the good luck to survive infancy and adulthood typically experienced a lifespan equal to ours today – without the benefit of modern science. Shockingly, American life expectancy actually dropped for the first time in decades in 2010 and children today are the first generation in modern history expected to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.
Longevity remains a mysterious process little understood by modern science. We know a mixture of genes, environmental factors and luck determine our longevity. We know that we can only control the environmental factors, which still offers no guarantee of long life. And we know that even if we make stunning breakthroughs in gene therapy or other medical advances, we will not alter the reality that aging is merely a symptom of being alive.