University of Colorado aging researcher Tom Johnson takes exception with U Cambridge biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey's argument that life extension will make people more risk averse.
"Look at who dies in accidents now," he said. "It's people in their twenties, who already have the most to lose."
That's because people don't become cautious until they feel the first tinges of mortality in their joints, he reasons.
"And if you feel fairly youthful at the age of 100, you're more likely to go bungee jumping and sky-diving," he said.
But is this simply because those twenty somethings feel young? Or are they lacking in the experience and wisdom that comes with age that teaches people not to act so crazy?
back in 1999 I predicted that, once we cure aging, driving (even on the ground!) will be outlawed as too dangerous for others. Remember also that when we have so many more years ahead of us, we won't need to be in such a hurry all the time, so flying cars would only be for recreation anyway.
My own guess is that Aubrey is atypical in the intensity of his desire to avoid death. If he wasn't then there'd be a lot more advocates of a massive effort to reverse aging than there currently are and more people would make it the chief goal of their life. Though perhaps many would rethink their views if they knew they could entirely avoid aging and achieve engineered negligible senescence.
So will people choose to live less risky lives once we can stop and reverse aging? That depends on human nature. Some people are thought to have an innate urge for sensation-seeking and to be risk-takers by nature. One possible explanation involves differences in cortisol levels. Another proposed explanation is that genetic variations on dopamine receptor genes DRD2 and DRD4 as a cause of dangerous thrill-seeking behavior. However, that report has been contradicted by later studies that have failed to find confirmation for a link.
We are still in the early days for discovering the genetic factors that affect behavior. But it seems likely that there are underlying genetic causes of differences in the desire to engage in highly risky and thrilling behaviors. Once those causes are discovered it is almost a certainty that drugs and other therapies will be devised for modifying human personalities to make a person have a greater or lesser desire to engage in dangerous activities. So this brings us back to the question of what people will do once they have youthful life expectancies that are, for all intents and purposes, of an indefinitely long duration. Whether those who currently are risk-averse will become even more risk-averse and whether the risk-takers will become risk averse depends heavily on this basic question: What kinds of personalities will people choose to give themselves once they are able to make enduring changes to their personalities?
Your guess is as good as mine. What do you think? Will people choose to become risk averse and give up driving and flying? Or will the timid chartered accountants of the world decide to fulfill their dreams to become lion-tamers by having their personalities altered so that they can be fearless in the face of a dozen lions propped up on circus stands in the big top?
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2003 September 16 03:08 PM Aging Debate|