I posted on the subject of the potential problems with the enthusiasm for immortality some months ago, and have stored this as an article on my website HERE. I was reminded of this when reading reviews in the New Scientist (10 July) of a couple of US-published books on this subject: Long For This World: The strange science of immortality by Jonathan Weiner, and The Youth Pill: Scientists at the brink of an anti-aging revolution by David Stipp.
The reviewer of both books, S. Jay Olshansky, says of Weiner's book that it is "a brilliant exposé of the fascinating science that has emerged in the search for everlasting life, and the quacks, drunks and geniuses participating in one of the greatest shows on Earth". Weiner focuses on the more extreme wing of the anti-aging enthusiasts, the ones who wish to extend the lives of individual humans indefinitely. I had quite a lot to say about this in my article, and it is telling that Olshansky says of one of its most prominent proponents that "having no children himself, he sees no need for future immortals to have them either". As if…
Stipp's book concentrates on the less ambitious goal of producing a longevity pill which will extend the human lifespan by a limited but measurable amount. This is the realm of serious scientists conducting careful, evidence-based research. Success would still not be without problems, though, as I have mentioned; the impact on employment and retirement being among the obvious ones.
Other recent articles in the New Scientist (one in the same 10 July issue) have discussed progress with identifying genetic differences between those who live to be 100 and those who don't. Scientists at Boston University have identified 150 elements in the genome which are far more common in centenarians than in those who die earlier, but their work only looked at people of white European descent and needs corroborating anyway. Even if this results in a useful outcome, such genetic indicators would clearly be only part of the story, since lifespan is also affected by environmental factors such as accident, disease, poverty and the abuse of drugs, alcohol and food.
All considered, it seems likely that science will begin to come up with some answers to life extension in the foreseeable future. All the more reason for society to start debating the kind of issues which I raise in my article, rather than be taken by surprise by them.
I recently saw The Dark Knight, the second of Christopher Nolan's reinventions of Batman, once more featuring Christian Bale as the millionaire crime-fighter. This time his enemy is The Joker; an unnervingly convincing depiction of insanity by the late Heath Ledger. The plotting is dense and it's necessary to concentrate to keep up with all of the developments - this is one film which merits a second watching.
I am more and more impressed by this director's output, he really is good. He has taken Batman from a simplistic comic-strip to a grim adult morality tale which is gripping from start to finish. These two Batman films highlight just how weak and pointless Superman Returns (reviewed a few weeks ago) is in comparison. I have read good reviews of Nolan's latest film, Inception, which has an SF plot which sounds fascinating. That's one I must see.