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Memories of the 28th Century

Upper Limit

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What is the upper limit of the human lifespan? I recently saw an article that concluded that there is no upper limit to the human lifespan, and I recalled that there had been something about the upper limit being about 300, because murder or accident will get you, if your body holds up that long. I’ll look at the actuarial calculations for that, if I can find them. There are incurable diseases, but eventually cures will also be conquered, and the only real medically related problem will be getting to a suitable medical facility in time.

Many people mistakenly think that medical problems are caused by aging, but that is false. There are specific causes to those aches and pains and other problems that people get when they get older, and in most cases those problems (the underlying cause) can be corrected. But there is no cure for a stray bullet from a terrorist’s gun or a runaway truck or a chunk of ice from a passing airplane, and even after the Really Great Pandemic there will be unpredictable hazards.

The average probability may be correct for the average person, but there are other factors in most cases, and most of those hazards could be overcome, if one were prepared.

As skills, theory, and practice expand and improve in the use of stem cells it will become possible to grow spare parts for humans using their own DNA, so there will be no chance of rejection unlike the situation with transplants from donors. Replacement parts could repair damage from accidents or injury in addition to organic deterioration, the upper limit on replacement parts might be right up to the brain itself. And there have been fictional accounts of memory transfer, but that will remain fictional for a long time.

With gene therapy and replacement parts Aubrey de Grey’s prediction that the first person to live to be one thousand years old was already alive in 2005 might well be proven true, but it will take a considerable time to determine that.

There are some problems with the extreme longevity, because people would doubt a claim of great age. Li Ching-Yuen, the Chinese herbalist who died in 1936 at the age of either 197 or 256 (he joined the army in 1749 at the age of 72, so a birth year of 1677 is indicated). His life was documented at the time of his death, but the documents were destroyed in the Japanese conquest of Nanking.

Old Tom Parr was also well documented when he died in 1635, but people started to claim that he had used his grandfather’s date of birth, but Tom was dead at that point, so he couldn’t correct them. Even in these modern times records can be lost or destroyed. But that’s a side issue.

One thing that will make it more difficult for people to live to great ages is that people believe that it is ordinary and correct for people to break down with age, and some conditions advance slowly, but there are specific actual damages to the body, but it is hard to notice there is a problem until it is relatively serious. A situation of this sort happened to me, but I didn't notice that there was a problem until a fainted from low blood pressure. But with that corrected, there is not reason why I shouldn't live to a great age.

One effect of generally greater longevity may be that it will not be enjoyed by everyone. There are many maladies that have their roots on the individual's DNA. At present most genetic conditions are treated and cures are attempted, but in most cases cures are partial and temporary; although there have been some genetic treatments. From the evolutionary point of view, it would be better if genetic diseases would be left out of the gene pool. Some genetic characteristics that limit longevity may have been worthwhile in some places and times, but those advantages have disappeared.

Even if there is no official segregation of those with longevity from the rest of humanity, there probably will be a tendency for the two groups to avoid each other, because they will have different preferences and needs, but a combination of the two may produce a better result; hybridization often leads to greater vigor. We could experiment in this when we we colonize other star systems. It might be that certain characteristics will do better than others on different planets.

As the differences in longevity become ingrained there may be conflicts. With luck the conflicts will be personal and/or legal. Struldbrugs have great advantages over dayflies in the long run, and Struldbrugs will tend to be wealthier than dayflies, because they will emulate Rip van Winkle and let money at interest and forget about it until the debt is due. That method works quite well; you've never met a poor van Winkle, have you?

As time passes, the Struldbrugs probably would be willing to fund longevity research but would be less willing to fund some other things, and the Struldbrugs and Dayflies would become political parties.

Over even longer periods of time, they might split into separate races and eventually into different species, but that will take a few tens of thousands of years or longer.

So what is the upper limit? We will have to wait and see. The scientists disagree, but there is plenty of fair to good information on the subject.

No Upper Limit articles
Upper limit may be 125 (this is not the article, because that is costly data)
There is a limit

“In a study that has not yet been peer-reviewed, these researchers report that the maximum age for women is 115.7 years, and the maximum age for men is 114.1 years. They also concluded that, over the last 30 years, there has been no significant increase or decrease in maximum lifespan.”

Note: Struldbrug is from Jonathan Swift’s satirical masterpiece “Gulliver’s Travels”. The Struldbrugs were people in the nation of Luggnagg who were immortal.