My comment on Ioana’s essay:
“Excellent article. Thanks very much for sharing this. I’ve often thought people’s resistance to even considering whether anti-aging medicine is possible was just due to some innate thing where people always assume things that have never been done before (e.g. powered flight) are naturally considered impossible. But this essay highlights that even considering extended/indefinite life messes with people’s coping mechanism for death. Not thinking about the ‘inevitable’ thing one is trying to cope with is actually an important part of the coping process.
It is a morbid thought, but I’ve got to wonder how many people who contracted HIV in the 1980s, before effective multi drug cocktails, sailed serenely to their deaths rather than raging against the status quo? Ioana makes a good point that HIV viral infection was once an inevitable death sentance that people had to cope with.
I think HIV was different to aging though as other viruses had already been conquered by science (Polio, Smallpox) but the condition of aging has never been conquered. Perhaps it will take an indefinitely living mouse to change most people’s opinions? Until then there will be a funding gap for the basic research needed to create this mouse? There will be no large government funding without a percentage of the population supporting anti-aging research. But there will be no percentage of the population supporting anti-aging research without an indefinitely living mouse. And creating the treatments to create this mouse will go very slowly without large government funding. So anti-aging research is in a bit of a poverty trap.
Is this similar to the period before the industrial revolution where perhaps the entire world was in an economic poverty trap?”
The text of Ioana’s essay:
On Inevitable Things and Coping Mechanisms
On average, coping mechanisms are more good than bad. Imagine going through life without any guardian of your negative thoughts, destructive behavior or haunting problems. Each day would be a pretty messy business, wouldn’t it? But then again, do not think that the opposite is bliss because it really isn’t. Nobody likes overachievers anyways…
Now, as many have already pointed out, the problem with coping mechanisms is that they might gradually lead to a semi-conscious rejection of reality. And at the end of the day, reality denial perpetuates rather than eliminates one’s hardships and frustrations. Thus, don’t be surprised if and when the act of coping, which in its honest self doesn’t commit to deliver more than it promises, fails you. Coping is not problem solving. But, according to some, under certain circumstances, it is the next best thing.
And here is where the issue of inevitability comes into play. By their very definition, inevitable things are bound to happen no matter what. Moreover, most of the time, they are bound to happen in a very specific way, while nothing (or very little, at best) can be done about them. In this context, as problem solving is out of the question, coping is all we’re left with.
There are so many inevitable things around us that people have generally chosen to cope with. Among them, aging and death are my favorite examples, probably because I genuinely and equally dread and despise them. In all likelihood, it is the most rational approach to develop, at the individual level, some defense mechanisms against the disturbing thought of non-existence. But then there is this striking fact that we should not disregard: many times, the inevitability of things comes with an expiration deadline.
Through displays of genius and huge effort, people like you and me have managed to stop the unstoppable over and over again. This is by no means an exaggeration. Just think about those times when viral infections were an irreversible sentence to death or, on a less dramatic note, when one’s inborn sex would forever remain unchanged even if it didn’t correspond to one’s self-image and self-assigned gender. We might take such things for granted nowadays, but this was not always the case. The reason for the accomplishment of such grand projects lies firstly in a change of attitude: from compliance with the given to non-compliance. Only after allowing the ‘what if’ to make its way into our thoughts and speech can we actually proceed to thinking about overcoming the inevitable.
This is what the situation is now with the fight against aging and death. In some ways, embracing religious precepts and the promise of an afterlife transforms non-existence into something that many actually look forward to. Oh, the gardens and the foods and the clouds and the people and the peace… Who would want to give that up and exchange it for nothing, really, except the idea that maybe it doesn’t have to be that way?
Although there are many important scientific breakthroughs related to aging and its associated diseases, the thought of supporting this path gives many people the chills because it forces them to review their life principles and reassess their coping mechanisms. Some will say that living to 200 is not natural, while having absolutely no problem with using antibiotics or birth-control pills. Others will invoke the boredom of a long life. Who knows, non-existence can potentially be more exciting, but it’s also pretty long because it’s infinite. The point of the matter, though, is this: refusing to perceive aging and death as inevitable leaves permanent scars on one’s life views, which will possibly make one’s days a bit more daunting than otherwise. But, on the bright side of it, it prevents the self-sabotaging inertia that kills innovation, progress, and, in this specific case, a whole lot of other people too. Also, if I think about it there are some other reasons for optimism as well: personally, I know more individuals that have conquered death by still being alive than those who didn’t . What about you?
In closing, I would like to highlight the fact that the long and widespread existence of certain things doesn’t make them right, nor acceptable. Inevitability is only as inevitable as one allows it to be.