Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman have a new book Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever which gives a program for outwitting our genetic heritage. They claim that Natural Selection has programmed us humans to die and get out of our children’s way soon after we have brought them to adulthood and that our bodies are designed for maximum efficiency, survivability and procreativity only up to age 25. After that age our bodies are neutrally programmed genetically for survival so we have no natural bodily inclination to repair ourselves and we begin to rot. That developmental theory and similar ones are usually discussed under the term Evolutionary Psychology.
I don’t think these theories emphasize human intelligence in the selection processes enough, especially for the last 100,000 years or so. I have developed a new theory for human development based on the concept of Eveish Selection which emphasizes the verbal gossip-like quality of women analyzing men for mate choice. With Eveish selection many more qualities than just vigor at the time of mating are being analyzed and brought into the reproductive selection process. Because modern human mate selection is greatly influenced by social status, and that status is largely derived from social standing of the parents, then the aging of the body being chosen for a mate isn’t as strong a selective factor as it is in standard natural selection or standard sexual selection.
Kurzweil is fighting a life and death battle with a slightly skewed theory of what is happening and therefore if he improves his theory to closer to how humans were actually selected he will enhance his chances for an extended life. Being more precise in the definition of human genetic heritage might not make much difference in life expectancy in the technologically advanced modern world. These days an individual has a good chance of living to the age of eighty years if they simply choose to live a healthy life – avoiding dangerous materials like drugs, smoking, alcohol, and dangerous activities like motorcycles and of course eating excessive amounts of high calorie foods. Then everyone also knows the positive things they should do like cultivate low stress behavior, be comfortable with several social associates and get plenty of physical exercise like walking.
Kurzweil is taking an infinitely more proactive approach and is trying to find ways to one-up our genetic heritage and find workarounds to what has in the past been called natural ageing. He wants to find and implement ways to not only stop the ageing process but to reverse it such a way that after ten years of his program the individual practitioner will be physically five years younger. He doesn’t want to be like Jack Benney and be sluggish middle aged thirty-nine forever but rather to be a far more active age twenty-five … forever. Many years ago, about 1969, I attended a lecture by a then famous futurist, Herman Kahn and he said that if one could live for another fifty years technology would be so improved that one could live forever. It’s now fifty years later and Kahn didn’t even come close as he died shortly after the speech, but average life expectancy for people who choose to live healthy lives has certainly improved. People who were excessively over weight like Kahn are not having an improved life expectancy but who knows perhaps a diet pill will be found that works really well for them too. Kurzweil does walk the walk as well as talk the talk and looks surprisingly spry for someone his age.
Life extension is certainly available now but forever is a very long time.