We’ve heard plenty from the transhumanists and the pillpushers who think we can medicate our way to eternity. But now this, from Peter Hoffmann at Nautilus:
Nanoscale thermal physics guarantees our decline, no matter how many diseases we cure.
There is a vigorous discussion inside the aging research community about whether to classify aging as a disease. Many researchers studying specific diseases, cellular systems, or molecular components would like to see their favorite research subject take the mantle of “the cause” of aging. But the sheer number of possibilities being put forward refutes the very possibility. They can’t all be the cause of aging. Leonard Hayflick, the original discoverer of cellular aging, pointed out in his provocatively titled article “Biological Aging Is No Longer an Unsolved Problem” that the “common denominator that underlies all modern theories of aging is change in molecular structure and, hence, function.” The ultimate cause, according to Hayflick, is an “increasing loss of molecular fidelity or increasing molecular disorder.” This loss of fidelity and increase in disorder will manifest itself—by its very nature—randomly and therefore differently for different people. But the ultimate cause remains the same.
If this interpretation of the data is correct, then aging is a natural process that can be reduced to nanoscale thermal physics—and not a disease. Up until the 1950s the great strides made in increasing human life expectancy, were almost entirely due to the elimination of infectious diseases, a constant risk factor that is not particularly age dependent. As a result, life expectancy (median age at death) increased dramatically, but the maximum life span of humans did not change. An exponentially increasing risk eventually overwhelms any reduction in constant risk. Tinkering with constant risk is helpful, but only to a point: The constant risk is environmental (accidents, infectious disease), but much of the exponentially increasing risk is due to internal wear. Eliminating cancer or Alzheimer’s disease would improve lives, but it would not make us immortal, or even allow us to live significantly longer.More.
To summarize: “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” These days, the years could be ninety but that’s only a reprieve.
That said, aging – fast or slow – is a fascinating topic, given the inevitability, in terms of how it affects different life forms.
See also: Insomnia in the elderly is due to evolution? (“grandmother hypothesis”)