This will kill us all.
One hundred and fifty thousand people die every day and sooner or later you’re going to be one of them. You probably already knew that – even if you prefer not to dwell on it for too long. What you may not have realized, however, is that everyone dies of the same thing – organ failure. If none of your organs fail, then you don’t die. Keep all of your organs going and you’ll be fine.
Further, there is only one thing that causes organs to fail, only one thing that can turn a healthy functioning organ into a failed one, one thing that stands between you and eternal youth, and that is the accumulation of organ damage. And not just a little damage, the body is fine with a little damage, and can even repair a substantial amount of damage itself – that is why we live longer than a mouse, our bodies are much better at repairing damage. To kill you, the damage has to be severe enough to cause organ failure – which is pretty severe. Keep all those organs of yours in pristine condition, and you’ll be young forever, even a little less than pristine, and you’ll still be fine.
Now I am all for avoiding damage, and sure you can probably live like a monk and slow it down a little, but unfortunately you can’t stop it entirely, and what slips past you will accumulate and ultimately kill you. Unless… Unless, you can repair the damage faster than it accumulates, then, in that case, your organs wouldn’t fail, and you wouldn’t die. Now, I expect that it would be quite difficult to repair the damage of – say being run over by a bus, fast enough to prevent organ failure, but the vast majority of people don’t get run over by a bus, but rather die due to damage that has accumulated over decades.
Now there is no need to panic – it is not like your life depends on it – well it does, but hey dying from the excruciatingly slow accumulation of organ damage is a golden time, or so people would like to believe. It is like the slow recovery from a deep illness, but in reverse, each day the damage builds just a little, your eyesight, your hearing, your vigor, your memory, until one day after perhaps twenty years of debilitation an organ fails and takes you out – can’t be that bad hey?
Ok, perhaps you should panic. It might be slow, but unchecked it will get you eventually. There might be time to do something about it, but it doesn’t look like it is getting too much funding. It might be slow, but currently our medical institutions are slower.
Here’s a thought – what if we repaired the damage faster than it accumulated. Considering that you would only need to repair the damage slightly faster than it accumulates and that it currently takes about 80 years for your body to accumulate enough damage to kill you, then well maybe developing therapies to repair damage should be given a little higher priority in the scheme of things. Perhaps just enough to keep yourself alive for an additional 30 years or so. You never know what might happen in 30 years, but perhaps we could use those years to work out how to repair a little more damage – perhaps enough to keep us alive for another 30 years and so on. Who knows where that might lead. After all, you don’t even have to repair all the damage as the body can cope with quite a bit of damage. Initially, you really only need to go after the “easy to repair” stuff, that will buy you some time to work on repairing the more difficult stuff later – in 30 or 60 years when there is better technology.
But what about cancer, what about heart disease? Well, the really great thing about the repair approach is that it does not matter what is causing the damage as long as we can fix it faster than it is accumulating then it is not that big a deal, and certainly not a death sentence. Most diseases take years to kill you as the damage that they cause build relatively slowly, and the better that we get at repairing the damage, then more diseases that we will be able to render harmless.
On the other hand, you could put all of your efforts into saving the planet, but I am pretty sure that the planet will still be here in 100 years, and unfortunately, I hate to tell ya, but I am not so sure about you. Perhaps it is time that we stopped trying to save the planet and started trying to save the people. What is the good of an empty planet?
“When one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.”Robert Pirsig 1991
What to read next?
Developing therapies to repair the damage is all well and good, but how do we get people to back the idea? Well, we could start our own doomsday cult – that seems to work. As you will see in The Greatest Existential Risk people have been using this approach for years – in fact I suspect that there are very few people that have not been sucked into one, at least a little, at some point in their lives.