After the last death: Doctors, academics debate the possibility, value of a 150-year lifespan | January 9, 2015 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - January 9, 2015

After the last death: Doctors, academics debate the possibility, value of a 150-year lifespan

by Joshua Alvarez

Halloween was approaching and Dr. Joon Yun was explaining why he wanted someone to hack our bodies.

This story contains 3197 words.

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Freelance writer Joshua Alvarez can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Jamie
a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 9, 2015 at 9:56 am

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by 150--No, thanks.
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 9, 2015 at 11:05 am

At 55, I have begun to feel some of the infirmities of old age--arthritis, vision changes. I'm pretty sure I don't want to live to 150.

To the point, "All of us hate oblivion." I don't. If it ends and all fades to black. So be it. But the possibility of something is else is interesting. This life is wonderful, and I feel blessed to have enjoyed it. I'm curious about what might come next.

I have filled out the paperwork. Do not resuscitate.

1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2015 at 11:23 am

The main plus about living longer, i.e. way into old age, would be
to understand that our bodies have more or less stopped evolving.
Our evolution has now moved into our machines and our stored
experience in writing, science, art, video, theater, etc.

If I had to estimate, I'd say it takes a person about 50 year to really
get any idea about what is going in on our planet in the human
space. You need to learn how think, then you need to have experience
and then you need to develop wisdom and integrate that into
your life and the lives of others you care about, and extrapolate
that to the planet if you evolve to that point.

If you die at 70 that gives you 20 years to have a rationalizing
postive effect on the planet and for humans. Is it is coincidence
that where we see the most chaos, crime, anti-social behavior
and destruction are in places where people don't live so long.

Wisdom in this day and age is extremely important to bring to
bear on the problems we face, and face it, most young people do
not have the understanding, time, energy, resources, money or
wisdom to contribute much aside from their labor and what they
can be sort of programmed into believing and going with.

Anyway, just a thought on the importance of a long life in a
democratically driven society. In fact it might be interesting to
do some mathematical models that would go back and tally
how past elections and referendums would have turned out
had votes cast been weighted by age in some way. That is
give everyone the number of votes equal to the number of
years they have lived, or even decades.

Face it, in one generation without external information and
culture the entire planet could be wiped clean or organization
and undertanding ... it is our older people who have the
responsibility to talk about what is going on and suggest
fixes and alternatives.

1 person likes this
Posted by Ralph C
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jan 9, 2015 at 11:34 am

Ask the population of those of us who are over 70 whether we'd like to live to 150 and we'll say it sounds like a cruel joke. The planet can't support its human population now, let alone care for the elderly (or the young) with current life expectancies.

1 person likes this
Posted by helen
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 9, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Me I'm going to stay on this earth as long as this earth will have me. Ill health? Who cares! I want to be around when ETs finally make contact, when someone figures out whether the universe really is expanding or just looks that way. Absent unbearable pain, oblivion can't hold a candle to being here.

2 people like this
Posted by Claude Ezran
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 9, 2015 at 12:50 pm

So that takes care of death; but what about taxes?

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe Btfsplk
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 9, 2015 at 12:50 pm

There's not enough joy to cause me to want to live to 150.

I can't think of any economy in the world that could support significant numbers of its population living comfortably to 150.

Like this comment
Posted by A Lumsdaine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2015 at 2:21 pm

The interesting philosophical issue here for me is that wisdom along the lines of compassion and forgiveness comes not just from age, but from experience and overcoming hardships along the way, such as illness. Old age doesn't automatically make one wise. If we simply extended life to 150, those who lived longer might not be the most wise among us or the most capable of providing some compensating benefit to society (presumably wisdom) that makes the "exchange" of longevity worthwhile (for a healthy and sustainable population with lots of centenarians). We might unnaturally be favoring selfishness to our ultimate detriment.

Or, maybe not, maybe people who live a really long time will be more compassionate on the whole for having loved and supported others through hardship. Or maybe we can just place a higher value on teaching compassion and peacemaking and thus use education to teach what will be lost from (hopefully) a lack of hardship from greater homeostatic capacity across the population.

The prospect of everyone being healthy and vital to 100 or 150 may seem unnatural, and yet if it is from improved homeostatic capacity in a changing world, perhaps it is the "right" thing. If everyone lives longer but is healthy, they might each use fewer resources than we imagine now -- people use a lot of resources in decline -- it's hard to imagine what will happen because it's so hard to imagine the case of a lot of centenarians with high homeostatic capacity. If this were to happen, would this extend childbearing years? Would people be able to have multiple lives, as it were?

I have long wondered if the loss of homeostatic capacity with age (and other traits like heart disease) might be a human GROUP advantage/survival trait (as opposed to individual survival/fecundity traits). (Please be gentle in your response and criticism of my ideas, I am an armchair geneticist, or perhaps Darwin prize aspirant ;-) )

Just as "negative" genes can only persist in populations to a large degree if they offer some compensating benefit, I have long wondered if we (all of us, or some of us, depending on the trait) have genes as individuals that may compromise us as individuals, even doom some people (depending on the trait and circumstance), but be involved in our success or survival as a group, or have been in the past (and sadly for us, offer no advantage to us or our group in the present). For example, why does eating "rich" food result in diseases like gout and heart disease? Why wouldn't our bodies simply pass through the extra calories when we get to that point, it would be better for us individually? Individuals who consistently take more than their share over a long period of time might not be the best ones to survive to 100 for our group (or so "say" our genes?)

There was some recent research (off the top of my head) on the impacts of food deprivation or overplenty during early puberty to the grandchildren or greatgrandchildren of men -- and it seemed to underscore the above. Web Link

From the Weekly article:
"Yun and the researchers leading the teams believe that homeostatic capacity erodes with age. Diabetes, hypertension and other afflictions that correlate with age may be consequences of an aging body's inability to self-stabilize."

If extending a high level of homeostatic capacity for everyone now, rather than after we (perhaps) evolve to it, is just compensating for nature's taking a lot longer to get to that result "naturally", then we would be using technology to do the "right" thing that nature would do eventually, should modern conditions persist and become more prevalent. Is decline in homeostatic capacity just wear, inevitable from life, or is it because we are this way for reasons that have to do with group adaptation traits?

If the latter, then Dr. Yun's research seems to hold the promise of overcoming a kind of genetic curse that we would otherwise have to simply ride out as a population as the world changes. (I have long thought there are other disease problems we could better solve from that perspective. What is the thinking in the scientific community on group genetic adaptation, where traits might not favor the survival or success of the individual, but might hedge the bets for the group? And be totally out of place or unhelpfully negative in a present modern context? Is that so for many of the aspects of aging we consider natural, even in healthy aging?)

1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2015 at 2:44 pm

> Old age doesn't automatically make one wise.

Water doesn't automatically make something wet, but without water something will not get wet at all.

Like this comment
Posted by A Lumsdaine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Maybe, but I have to say, the phrase "out of the mouth of babes" comes from somewhere :-)

I know a lot of wise 5-year-olds who got a lot less wise as they came of age...

OK in all seriousness,

Agree with you there. But if people getting to be 100 or 150 in pretty good health is the norm, are we going to have a lot of "dry" immortals?... Or can we provide the water in a nicer way?

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Heyer
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2015 at 4:22 pm

As a former resident of Midtown, I found this an excellent article laying out the issues in extended lifetime. Having moved to Panama in 2007, we now have a much lower stress lifestyle which affords us in fact greater personal productivity and satisfaction.

In addition, having reached 67 myself, neither of us has visited a doctor for a malady in seven years. No prescription drugs, no antibiotics, just a healthy diet, active life and happiness. I have a growing list of ways I am healthier now than when I was 40. Our community is filled with survivors. 160 years? 700 years? Being it on!

Most people have the view that retirement is a destination. In reality, retirement is a transition - just like adolescence. Those who understand the concept of multiple lives embrace the changes and prosper. Those who don't, die.

The government supported social welfare programs are obviously not designed to work in a world where people contribute to the system for 20 years and draw from it for 60 more (at a minimum). Every person who adopts the long life philosophy also accepts that they will be responsible for their own financial welfare for longer than they actually worked in the "young" workforce.

However, given the wisdom of age and absent the necessity to send children to college, buy expensive cars and houses, pay absurd taxes, work for despicable companies and avoiding the health/industrial complex, you can live a better and happier life style on far less money. All the while doing art, building things, helping society prosper or whatever floats your boat.

So my friends, it's not about how many years but how you value and care for your own life.

"The master in the Art of Life does not distinguish much between his work and his play, his work and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He barely distinguishes which is which. Simply, he perceives his vision of excellency in everything he does, leaving others to decide if he is working or playing. To his own eyes, he is always doing both."

Live long and prosper,

From the mountain rain forests of Panama,

Mark Heyer

1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 9, 2015 at 4:38 pm

I'm a recent widower. My wfe died last June from several underlying complications but the killer was dementia. My hope is that no more money be put into this bizarre research (and ridiculous awards) effort until they come up first with a solution for dementia of all kinds. And then listen to us who question how many people our planet can support. I question the sanity of the people that are doing this research and those who are supporting this effort. If we can tamper with the original way of creating and dying, copulating to procreate, and then letting our progeny carry on...when we die...with hopefully our best gene contribution...we are a lost people. I don't subscribe to this...but rather than tampering with our genes, let wars, muderers, and deaths from many other causes take their place in reducing our world population.

I can't believe we're even talking about this anymore.

2 people like this
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 9, 2015 at 4:43 pm

All silliness. Medicine has not cured any genetic conditions. None. Not even ones involving single genes. The idea that it's not a question of if but when is something only someone who is a modern-day snake oil salesman could say. Yun has already won $$ and I'm sure will convince other suckers to give him more. Good luck to him. I'm sure he'll amass a fortune before he dies, just like the rest of us.

1 person likes this
Posted by A Lumsdaine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Gale Johnson,

I'm so sorry to hear of your loss, and what you went through with your wife's illness. I have close-to-home experience with dementia and agree that solving diseases and quality of life should be the priority.

I think such research above has a lot of promise in that regard, at least the group looking at homeostatic capacity. I think there's a lot of humility inherent in that endeavor — we don't nearly have the ability to understand healing the way our bodies do naturally, and figuring out if we have a way to extend that capacity to an older age could possibly reduce dementia (and a lot of other diseases associated with aging) without our even understanding first what dementia is.

I don't think it's so simple to say that people living longer will be more of a burden anymore than it has been in first-world countries with longer-lived healthier residents versus third-world countries where people were having more children because of higher mortality rates. What if longer, healthier lives meant more people put off having children until they were, let's just think really out of the box here, 60, 65? The wealthier more educated people get, the more likely they are to put off having children into their 40's, and the fewer children they have, and that has a beneficial impact on population if a lot of people do.

1 person likes this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 13, 2015 at 6:12 am

mauricio is a registered user.

If humans lived to be 150, it would cause an environmental disaster that would end up killing everybody, including those much younger. The planet cannot support a doubling and tripling of its population, and there not enough natural resources to feed and sustain such a population. How would people in their 100's support themselves financially? They would need to keep working, making it much harder for younger people. Having people live this long would be a disaster on all levels, environmentally, financially and socially. It would be one of the worst things we could do.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:53 am

All this is driven by fear of death.Or rather avoidance at all costs. All dies, even universes. We, in the West, would do really well for ourselves to accept this.

1 person likes this
Posted by Jixxer
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 13, 2015 at 3:29 pm

[Post removed.]