I’ll be babbling in St Paul today

At 1:00, I’ll be at the Rondo Community Library (461 Dale St N, St Paul, MN 55104) to talk about how humans will never be immortal, explaining some recent technological follies that demonstrate that no matter how bad the work, someone will pay for it. Would you believe that some “futurists” are claiming that the first person that will live to be 1,000 years-old has already been born? I’m not seeing that kind of progress.

If your idea of a fun time is watching a cynical atheist puncture balloons, come on by.


  1. John Thimakis says

    Isn’t it at least in principle possible to modify our DNA so that all our organs and cells constantly regenerate, effectively making us immortal, barring accident, diseases, murder etc…

  2. hemidactylus says

    Wouldn’t be ironic if in some distant Futurama scenario the bottle bound head of PZ Moyers is babbling about misguided futurists? Adding insult to injury it is in a debate with the head of Nixon.

  3. says

    All nonsense. Do you believe in a free lunch?

    Or how about this: do you believe aging is a disease? Because that’s how too many people regard it.

  4. hemidactylus says

    It is a byproduct of our alleged self-awareness that humans can reflect on our mortality. Gould put religion forward as a spandrel because of this. Camus saw religion as an evasive leap of faith to avoid the consequences of our absurd existence. Becker saw humans constructing immortality projects, including religion, to assuage death fear. Without the consolation of religion as a hope of an afterlife, except Buddhism which merely seeks exit from the Sisyphusian cycle of transmigration, we need technological means toward a goal of cheating death. Hope springs eternal. Futurism seeks its own immortality project.

  5. D956 says

    Whether ageing should be considered a disease or not is irrelevant. It’s a problem we should seek solutions for.

    Personally I am hoping Dr. David Sinclair is right and I have a chance of making it to 120, maybe even 150.

  6. says

    Yes, I think aging is a disease.

    Even if you do not regard it that way, people should have the autonomy to decide whether they live or die. The body and what makes a human being is ultimately physical, and it is quite ludicrous to think that we won’t eventually have the technology to make that composition stop aging as it currently does (whether by mechanical intervention or modification), effectively eliminating age-related death (unless, of course, the person does not choose that).

    A better question is how we achieve a sustainable existence as people achieve longer life spans and eventually stop dying of age.

    I’m with you that futurists settings dates and times for such achievements is quite tiresome though.

  7. says


    “no matter how bad the work, someone will pay for it.”

    Well yes, this is pretty much stating the obvious. Nobody is saying that immortality (or vastly increased life spans at any rate) will come for free. As stated, the question is how we make such payments sustainable so that both humans and the planet benefit.

  8. hemidactylus says

    Aging is a byproduct of surpassing the reproductive years. Due to progress more people in privileged societies cope with the senescent decline of advanced age. Some consequences of the downturn such as senility may be considered a disease, esp. dementias like Alzheimer’s. Are greying hair, wrinkles, or pattern baldness diseases or aesthetic issues?

    But given things like pleiotropy, what are the foreseeable, unforeseen, and unforeseeable consequences of mortality-avoiding genetic tweaks?

    And not so much about potential for extending life, how will breakthroughs be distributed given stratification. What will it do to retirement age and age related benefits, extending them into future? And how much longer do we forego the marshmallow versus discount the extended future? How many economic depressions and disease pandemics will one see in an extended lifetime? Divorces and remarriages? Broken hearts?

    What would it be like for long-lived war veterans of the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and Korea type conflicts over an extended age of military eligibility? Or would drones and battlebots take over? Would most people live longer merely to deal longer with the gig economy and be subsidized via universal basic income?

    And what would the benefit of living longer into a looming environmental catastrophe be?

  9. hemidactylus says

    Pinker puts things into proper perspective in Enlightenment Now:

    “Lacking the gift of prophecy, no one can say whether scientists will ever find a cure for mortality. But evolution and entropy make it unlikely. Senescence is baked into our genome at every level of organization, because natural selection favors genes that make us vigorous when we are young over those that make us live as long as possible… Biologists would have to reprogram thousands of genes or molecular pathways, each with a small and uncertain effect on longevity, to launch the leap to immortality.”

    After previously mentioning Kurzweil’s optimistic forecasts, Pinker seems more pessimistic, though heralding our fight against scourges such as cancer. He punctures the Singularity bubble with Sisyphusean reality, especially his snark about “treatments with side effects worse than the disease”.

    He goes on to say that entropy wins.

  10. D956 says

    Nobody is arguing for immortality. The universe itself has a limited lifespan. The question is whether humans will ever reach lifespans of a thousand years or more.

    Gene editing to increase lifespan does indeed seem quite unlikely, which is why repair and replacement of cells, tissues and organs is being proposed.

  11. microraptor says

    Given how people are currently treating the planet, which doesn’t seem likely to change in the near future, I’m not really seeing what the incentive for living 1000 years is.

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    A life tragically cut short. Leaving the gene therapy clinic after only his second treatment, Adolph Robottom was hit by a bus while crossing the road, at the tender age of 384. So much achieved, yet so much more potential snuffed out by the number 4 to Pudsey. He will be especially missed by his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grand-niece Myrtle, who had actually met him once. The funeral service will be held at Elland Road football ground, with attendance limited to the 35,000 closest relatives, including 17 ex-wives and husbands.

  13. says

    I saw the suggestion several years ago that even if we stopped aging that we’d probably only live to 300 or 400. Live long enough and eventually you’ll be in some situation that leads to untreatable fatal injuries.

  14. unclefrogy says

    the numbers of people now living on earth and the way we are doing that are stressing the ecosystem rather badly. I can not imagine what it would be like with population increase that would occur if and when life span was increased to 1000 years or more. talk about a population explosion
    uncle frogy

  15. tacitus says

    Whether we will be able to extend life indefinitely one day and whether we should extend life indefinitely are two completely separate questions. However, knowing human beings as we do, if we ever can, we will, regardless of the possible consequences, so the should we? question is moot.

    As for whether we will, I am always leery of statements that say we will never be able to do something because never is a very long time. Assuming our civilization doesn’t implode (I know, that’s a big assumption) then I would argue there is enough incentive — be it money, medical need, curiosity, pride, arrogance, or a combination of all five — that we will never stop trying, and that we will eventually extend life well beyond the natural limit, which seems to be around 120 years.

    Now, I am just as leery of claims that this will happen within our lifetimes, or our children’s lifetimes, since such statements are almost always self-serving. Just as Christians interested in End Times prophesy always claim we are in the last generation, secular prophets rarely like to predict anything they won’t get to see for themselves.

    But the gap between “in our lifetime” and “never” is huge, and if there was any way to collect, I would wager a cool million that we will eventually extend life well beyond 120 years. It might take another 1,000 years or more, but as long as we have the resources, we’re not going to stop trying.

  16. tacitus says

    @Rob Grigjanis

    Adolph Robottom was hit by a bus while crossing the road, at the tender age of 384. So much achieved, yet so much more potential snuffed out by the number 4 to Pudsey.

    Assuming the route doesn’t change in the next 380+ years, that bus service will go right past the house where my mother was born! (1, Parkfield Mount, just off Church Lane).

  17. tacitus says


    And not so much about potential for extending life, how will breakthroughs be distributed given stratification. What will it do to retirement age and age related benefits, extending them into future? And how much longer do we forego the marshmallow versus discount the extended future? How many economic depressions and disease pandemics will one see in an extended lifetime? Divorces and remarriages? Broken hearts?

    We’re going to be faced with most of those issues no matter what happens, given the coming automation of many of the white collar and blue collar occupations. Self-driving vehicles will all but eliminate transportation jobs, and advances in processing and AI are already encroaching into the space of the more entry-level office jobs.

    Marriage is rarely for life already. The street where my parents live is full of 50-something divorcees, most of whom are working on their next long term relationship. Any great increase in the age limit will simply be rinse and repeat. Most people get over broken hearts, sooner or later, especially if they know there’s time enough to find another love of their life.

    If you compare our lives to those of people who lived just 200 years ago, the differences are massive, and yet we manage to muddle through for the most part. We are an adaptable species, and while I’m sure there will be many tragedies and disasters ahead, I would back the human race to adjust to whatever the future holds.

  18. pilgham says

    Off topic, but I would be happy to buy Dr. Myers lunch. Usually I find people who say “There is no such thing as a free lunch” are never people I would want to eat lunch with. Even if they paid.

    Anyway, it’s more useful to improve people’s quality of life than increase their longevity. Almost certainly easier too. Excepting cancer, of course. But angina, migranes, blindness, deafness, dementia, there are a lot of things that don’t kill you, just make you miserable. Diabetes is still a royal pain.

  19. nomdeplume says

    So, people want an extra 100, 200 more years in a body in which ageing has somehow been turned off, but the wear and tear on the body leave you unable to enjoy that extra life? It seems to me a bit like the religious idea om”heaven” in which they see themselves being not as they were when they died but as they were at age 21.

  20. Ed Seedhouse says

    You can believe in a 1000 year lifespan. You can agree with the laws of thermodynamics. You can’t do both and be rational. And if you disagree with the second you might be rational, but you are still nuts.

  21. Ed Seedhouse says

    Also, extended life widens the window for some horrible natural disaster to find you and kill you. Here on Vancouver Island we wait for the Juan de Fuca plate to rupture and do it’s thing. Or maybe Mt. Baker will have an explosive eruption. The longer I live the more likely I will see it, so my plan to deal with that is to die before it happens.

    I’ve had a decent 75 years and am probably good for five or ten more. 20 if I am extraordinarily lucky, perhaps. After that it’s time to make room for new sentient beings. The planet is already nearly dead from the weight of humanity already.

  22. tacitus says

    Beware what you wish for.

    Sure, but the issue is that there are a lot of people who don’t want to die. The cost of end of life care in the US is astronomical because so many dying people want major surgical procedures even though the odds of success are very small. Of course, the right in America, through their demonization of national healthcare, has exacerbated the problem by freaking out about any attempt to rein in those excessive costs invoking the death panels nonsense.

    So, yeah, even if they knew living to extreme old age meant living in extreme old age, you’d still get plenty of takers.

  23. birgerjohansson says

    Biological entities will not be immortal like the elves, but more like the dwarwes, as gene editing extends life spans until people die from accidents (or from being killed by orchs). Eventually, accidents will catch up with us, especially since genetic tinkering will not stop parts of our bodies from getting more vulnerable to damage.
    BTW When we get “strong” AI in a distant -but not infinitely distant- future, we wil theoretically have immortal sentient entities. But since they are likely to have radically different minds, they may not be so obsessed with dying.

    -PZ, your colleague Mano Singham has an interesting post:
    “Wall Street fires a warning shot to the Democratic party” https://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2019/09/27/wall-street-fires-a-warning-shot-to-the-democratic-party/
    “If this trend of Warren ascending and Biden declining continues, you will see the mask slipping further and the naked face of oligarchic power increasingly revealed.”

  24. johnson catman says

    Just asking here because there is no way to comment on the thread for me: Has the “Political Madness All the Time” thread stopped updating? The last post I see on it is #330 SC (Salty Current) 28 September 2019 at 7:19 pm.

  25. says

    Fun fact: while the average lifespan is still increasing, if you plot the age of the longest living persons the graph seems to have reached a plateau over the past decade of around 115 years (with Jeanne Calment the outlier at 122 years). Eventually the body just gives up.
    -sorry I don’t have a reference for this, it came by in a presentation in our lab –

  26. D956 says

    That 115 year maximum lifespan comes from a publication in Nature.

    The paper ends with the following though:

    To further extend human lifespan beyond the limits set by these longevity-assurance systems would require interventions beyond improving health span, some of which are currently under investigation. Although there is no scientific reason why such efforts could not be successful, the possibility is essentially constrained by the myriad of genetic variants that collec-tively determine species-specific lifespan.

    One of it’s authors, Dr. Jan Vijg, also co-authored a piece on the possibility of brain rejuvenation using stem cells:

    See also this accompanying blog post: