Biological evolution and human aging demonstrate that human beings are animals. Sometimes in my more cynical moments, I find myself thinking something like: “Humans are animals without free will whose lives are pointless since they die anyway.” Broken down into its components, this statement says humans are:
1. animals (more specifically, mammals and primates)
2. without free will (since organisms are controlled by biology and physics)
3. whose lives are pointless (because evolution is an unguided process)
4. since they die anyway (due to the biological reality of aging)
All biologists may not necessarily endorse this exact phrasing, but I think they would agree that there are certain biological limitations on human life. This means that whatever people hope to accomplish in the material world is pointless unless it involves curing aging. It’s astounding that many skeptic groups and scientific organizations still pursue many other goals besides extending lifespan. Some naturalists even endorse the vague idea that a person’s life matters if they help others and are remembered in a positive way. None of that actually matters to the deceased. The dead will still be dead whether they improved the world or not. Some people believe their children and grandchildren give life meaning, but that’s an illusion due to the principles of kin selection and inclusive fitness. Though who can blame them since they don’t have free will anyway.
I previously discussed some possible solutions for this depressing scenario in my post Finding Meaning in Biology. Now I want to cover one of the potential solutions listed in that post: life extension research. You can think of attitudes toward death as being on a continuum. One side is convinced that biological immortality is an inevitability. The other side thinks death is natural and something people just need to accept as part of life.
There are others – those who think life extension is a possibility. I’m in that group. Research in nonhuman organisms demonstrates increased lifespan after applying techniques such as gene therapy and certain pharmaceutical combinations. This research is described in blogs like Extreme Longevity and indexed under the longevity heading in PubMed. An example of a life extension strategy might include:
1. gene therapy for cellular rejuvenation
2. medications to restore brain plasticity
3. tissue engineering and therapeutic cloning to replace organs
4. stem cells to repair trauma