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Episode 13 – Is Death the Single Best Innovation of Life


Today we will be talking about life and death. Do innovations that extend life make life better? Would it be wonderful to find the secret to living forever?  Some very smart people are working on it. Most of us strive to live healthy and we spend a lot of money on health. The industries that cater to health are valued at billions and billions of dollars.So does this mean we want to live well or does it mean we want to live forever or both?

Questions we hope to answer:

  1. What motivates us to spend so much money on health?
  2. Why do we die?
  3. Would it be wonderful to live forever?

What effect does environment have on life?

  • Human life came to exist on this planet because the “stew” that is the environment evolved to support it. So single cell life forms continued to evolve and differentiate and in time the human species and other creatures came to being on this planet.
  • So, you can say that the earth truly is the parent of the human species and all others.
  • We often refer to the planet with the gender reference “Mother Earth” because we are self-referential. The success of the human species to date is due to sexual reproduction. However, not all species’ reproductions takes two!
  • Because our life spans are relatively brief, the persistent change around us may be mostly imperceptible. However, if we consider how fascinated we are with the pace of technological advances, then we have an analogue that can allow us to appreciate the impact of change on our lives. Then we need to realize that even more significant change is happening continuously on a much grander scale.  We just cannot see it due to the shortness of our life on earth.

What motivates us to spend so much money on health?

  • According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the US Federal government spent more than $3 Trillion on healthcare in 2016. It is a number that is difficult to grasp. However, it equates to spending roughly $10,000 a year on every US citizen.
  • Government and insurers healthcare spending tends to be reactive. That is, money is spent to treat health problems, to alleviate unpleasant symptoms and sometimes to slow progression of diseases.
  • Scientific advances in recent decades have extended life significantly.
  • Yuval Noah Harari in his book, “Sapiens,” speaks about groups of smart tech people who are working to eliminate death, but is that a good thing. Would it be wonderful to live forever?
  • In addition to the government and insurers’ spending on healthcare, we individuals choose to spend directly on healthcare buying healthy foods, joining fitness centers, buying fitness clothes and shoes and equipment, buying fitness meals and listening to fitness gurus.
  • Much of our motivation to open our wallets is to improve our level of energy, lessen our levels of stress, enhance our appearance and attractiveness. However, our commitment waxes and wanes. Evidence of this is the fact that the greatest number of fitness center enrollments happen at the start of every new year.

Why do we die?

  • This question was posed on Quora, a knowledge sharing network.
  • One expert, Dr. Suzanne Sadedin, an evolutionary biologist, shared her point of view.
  • She said some common myths are:
  • (1) that we die to make room for the next generation, and . . .
  • (2) that we die because our cells get damaged with age
  • She says we often make the mistake of thinking evolution is our friend. In reality, it is our genes’ friend. That may sound funny since we are made of genes.  But Dr. Sadedin says genes don’t really care about you and me.  They are real innovators motivated to succeed even if it means our death.
  • There are in fact many examples of health conditions that are actually the result of genetic mutations. Genetic mutations are the genes’ survival strategies. For instance, there are genetic mutations that allow some humans to live to reproduce and so pass on genes, but these mutations ultimately cause the death of the parents.  But the genes don’t care that the parent died because the genes succeeded in continuing in the offspring.
  • You might be tempted to say that this supports the “make room” theory, but evolutionary biologists argue that genes are smart and favor being with a parent who has 100% of genes rather than just half of them going to offspring.
  • A reality is that we exist in an environment that changes, so genes change or mutate in response to the risks of our environment. Many risks to life exist naturally within our environment signally the genes to make hay while they can. On any given day we could die due to a flood, tornado or fire, or falling off a cliff or even killed by an adversary.  Therefore, genes have learned to spend energy to support continuation beyond a parent who is likely to have its life ended from some cause.
  • Once the parent gets beyond its peak opportunity for procreation, the negative expressions of genes become apparent limiting the parent’s duration of life.
  • Because we have decoded the human genome and our learning about genes and life grows everyday, there are some very smart people who are focusing their energies on eliminating death.
  • This raises a question about the goal of our wellness striving. In Andrew Weil’s book, “Healthy Aging,” Dr. Weil urges us to accept aging. He offers guidance to support living well as we age.  Dr. Weil says we are most likely to age best when we reap the insights that aging offers.  Weil does not advocate eternal youth.  He eludes to a spiritual dimension to being where each individual’s true essence remains although the body dies.
  • Despite his genius and wealth, Steve Jobs died at just 56 years old. Jobs said death is a destination we all share, but no one wants to die not even people who believe in Heaven. Jobs stated that “death is very likely the single best invention of life.  It’s life’s change agent.  It clears out the old to make way for the new.”  Job said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

Would it be wonderful to live forever?

  • Consider the implications of suddenly living in a world where no one died except from accidents and natural disasters.
  • How would religions explain it? How would family units adapt? How would people and governments afford it? How would the educational system and other institutions change?
  • Would innovation advance at its current pace or would it slow?
  • If death became a rare event, imagine the psychological jolt a death would bring.
  • How would our genes adapt? Would reproductive years become extended or shortened?
  • Since the dawn of humanity, the human lifespan has significantly extended. It is remarkable to consider that as recently as the 1940s, the lifespan has gone from 50s to the 80s.
  • More people than ever are living into their 90s and beyond.
  • However, for those of us who care for someone elderly, we may also wonder if enabling long life is good when it does not come with sustained quality of life.
  • During the course of the last year, I have had conversations about death quite a lot. Many people with whom I have spoken are firm that they prefer fewer days, months even years of life in favor of a life of quality.
  • Even if we ceased to age physically at around 30 years old, would life have the same richness? Or would it be like the friend of mine who moved to the West coast and after a couple years remarked that everyday the weather was the same and it was oddly boring to him.

Enjoy the moment however long it lasts!

  • Perhaps living today or millions more days doesn’t really matter. Perhaps what matters is that we live fully now.


Tell us what you think? What motivates you each day? Leave us a reply below.

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