Youth is wasted on the young

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The New Yorker has an excellent article on geriatrics and the physiology of aging, including a mention of the classic studies in C. elegans. Now I know we have some older readers, and I hope they take no offense, but I have to say, shit, getting old must really suck. And for the younger readers, we are reminded that time is short– for the love of God, eat, drink, and screw while you still can.

14 Comments

  1. Getting old is called living. Being old is something else. The good news is that youth lasts almost forever, and the middle years are plenty long enough. Old age flies by, like a tape on rewind, with the big D getting ever closer.

  2. These findings notwithstanding, scientists do not believe that our life spans are actually programmed into us. After all, for most of our hundred-thousand-year existence?all but the past couple of hundred years?the average life span of human beings has been thirty years or less. (Research suggests that subjects of the Roman Empire had an average life expectancy of twenty-eight years.) Today, the average life span in developed countries is almost eighty years. 
     
    That first sentence is false. Even basic biological observations, like menopause, show the human lifespan is programmed for grantparenthood – not “30″! – and scientists believe this. 
     
    Appears to use the infant mortality gambit – See Burbridge’s POPULATION FALLACIES: PART 1. The Romen Empire was not our evolutionary history, and even then people weren’t dying at 30 like how your dog dies of old age at 15!

  3. The fact that aging sucks so hard should be motivation to develop the biotechnology to eliminate the Fing problem, rather than just bending over and greasing up like most people still seem to advocate.

  4. These findings notwithstanding, scientists do not believe that our life spans are actually programmed into us. 
     
    Basically the gauge of human lifespan isn’t the awkwardly lumped average of when children, infants, adults are dying, but the age window when frailty sets in and the systems start deteriorating – i.e. people in the Roman Empire didn’t start getting wrinkles, menopause, and dementia when they were 25, even if they were dying off that early, on average, from starvation, disease, and violence. Human evolutionary life span, by contrast, as determined by the onset and accumulation of age-related frailty has been relatively constant across time and place. 
     
    Lifespan research should focus on delaying frailty over prolonging years. I would rather live as a 20 year old until I was 70-80, than live as an 80 year old until I was 150.

  5. Jason, 
    I differ on the ‘live like I’m 20 until I’m 80′ comment. I’d rather cling to life like a limpet, even without regard to an eventual cure. I fear the dark. I could also be biased by my top notch mtDNA (many of my relatives seemed OK enough at that age).  
     
    Of course, that’s not how the actual mechanics of aging works out— I mean, it doesn’t seem like there are some mechanisms (I know, I know, telomeres do) that suddenly give out at age 80 and you’re dead– more like the mechanisms gave out at age 30 and by 80 you have all your accumulated damage.

  6. And for the younger readers, we are reminded that time is short– for the love of God, eat, drink, and screw while you still can. 
     
    Ha, learn and create while you still can! Guess how old Newton was when he secluded himself and invented calculus, the law of universal gravitation, etc. Or how old Einstein was when he published the Annus Mirabilis papers. Just two representative examples — read a biographical sketch of anyone whose name is worth knowing, and see what they were doing during their 20s. Not eating, drinking, and screwing! xD 
     
    Seriously, average performance IQ declines starting at 30, and really accelerates after ~50. You can continue packing more vocabulary words into your mental dictionary, as well as facts into your established webs of thought. But imagine someone who hasn’t done math since high school trying to learn intro calculus when they’re 55. Even if they’re really smart, it’ll be hard. That’s not even to mention having an original thought on the topic! 
     
    Now, “eat, drink, and masturbate” — that wouldn’t be such a waste of time.

  7. scientists do not believe that our life spans are actually programmed into us… 
     
    That first sentence is false.
     
     
    well, not really. I see what you mean, but to the average reader of the new yorker, “programmed into us” means fate or something like it. like “you will die at age 42.54″. it’s an obvious statement, but maybe a necessary one.

  8. Now, “eat, drink, and masturbate” — that wouldn’t be such a waste of time. 
     
    on the other hand, here we have a false statement. :)

  9. I don’t know what the youth of today is coming to, with all this drinking and masturbating that goes on.

  10. Speaking from the standpoint of the early ’50s, hardly “old,” it’s quite amazing to observe the aging process. The body has its own cycles and they simply aren’t to be denied. Distance vision goes … then reading vision. Aches and pains accumulate. Energy subsides. Memory starts to let go. The ability to learn new things (especially technical things) evaporates. You can’t boss your system around the way you could as a kid; you can’t will much of anything into existenece any longer. You have to go with the flow, whatever it is.  
     
    And all this happens whether you take good care of yourself or not. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink much, I’m relatively slim and fit and eat well — and on the changes come anyway.  
     
    One psychological upshot for me is that I don’t identify as much with my body as I once did. When young, you’re powerful, you can push, you’re full of explosive energy and desires — yeah, that feels like you! Decades down the line you’re still yourself (the soul, the Atman, whatever), but the body is going its own way. So a kind of psychological detaching from the body starts to take place …

  11. “The fact that aging sucks so hard should be motivation to develop the biotechnology to eliminate the Fing problem…” 
     
    I know, I know. I used to think Pete Townshend had the problem licked, (don’t trust anybody over 30, talkin’ ’bout ma..ma..ma generashunn..etc.)but damn, those losers just kept on turning 30 anyway, didn’t have the guts to commit suicide before the event, and like so many ex-pols and CEOs of today, were not held accountable. Their fans still trusted them. They weathered their Saturn returns. 
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=saturn+return 
    (which return I suspect many of you are experiencing now) 
    Been there, thought that. Now here, think this. Don’t trust anybody under 30. They don’t know the half of it. Most especially, don’t trust anybody over 30 who wants desperately to be under 30. They don’t know anything.

  12. You also could take that statement as “There’s not some built in mechanism that decides to kill you off at 70.” Instead, there’s just a lot of stuff that accumulates damage, stops working, or finally evades immune surveilance and takes over. Selection hasn’t designed a suicide switch to get rid of you at 70 or 80, it just hasn’t designed repair/defense mechanisms to reliably get you past 70 or 80, since that probably didn’t have a big impact on fitness.  
     
    If you assume that there’s a constant death rate due to random crap you can’t control, stuff like being surprised by a hungry lion or falling down the wrong way and getting a compound fracture, then there’s going to be something very much like a discount rate applied to the impact of anything on fitness, once you’re in your reproductive years. If half the people alive at 20 have died of random crap by age 40, then an adaptation that increases your probability of survival by X at age 20 probably has to increase your probability of survival by 2X at age 40 to be worthwhile. I assume someone has really worked this out in detail, so if anyone has references, I’d like to read them. (A truly fascinating question is what the relationship is between the discount rate for evolutionary purposes and the internal discount rate of individuals making decisions.)

  13. George Williams (1957) Pleiotropy, natrural selection, and the evolution of senescence. [pdf]

  14. p-ter, 
     
    Thanks!

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