No, extending life isn’t bad.

Elizabeth Trykin
12 min readOct 14, 2020

“The first person to live to 1,000 years is already born.”

Says Aubrey De Grey, the Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation (a company working to prevent and reverse age-related ill-health).

So it could be you, or maybe me, or maybe your neighbour Gimmy, but Aubrey De Grey, a human longevity researcher is confident that one of us (or all of us) will live to 1,000 years old.

Just think about that.

1,000 years old.

100 years * 10.

You could live up to 10 times the current life expectancy. 🤯

But people think that’s bad.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be so down to live for 10x longer. Just imagine how much knowledge you would have after learning for 10 centuries. The problems you could solve. Heck, you could even have a whole century dedicated to just solving the world’s biggest problems! Or anything else you love to do (I only mentioned solving problems because that’s what I’d do).

Yes, I can agree that there’s lots of issues associated with this, like overpopulation, limitation of food, space, water, too many old people etc. But we’ve solved problems before, I’m sure we can solve this one.

But one of the main problems I think of is motivation. Once we establish our motivation behind living, then we can live a meaningful life for 10 centuries. So here’s a breakdown of why this is important: (And then I’ll get into the technical side of actually living for 1,000 years and how we’ll do it.)

Motivation

Yesterday I finished an essay for my Canadian history class. It was assigned two days ago and is due in three weeks. 3 whole weeks. That’s a story for another day, but I just wanted to point out that I’m given 3 weeks to write a 4 page, double-spaced essay.

This week I was challenged to emphasize the mindset of curiosity. What I mean by that is I have been asking more “why” questions, looking into things I’m interested in and having conversations about things I’m curious about.

So naturally, because I’ve been asking questions all week, I started asking myself: “Why am I writing this essay and what is motivation?”. Just to give you a summary of my thoughts, the reason I was writing this essay was that I would like to complete this course and this was a mandatory assignment.

That’s reality😏.

Extrinsic Motivation

Most of what students complete for school is solely for the purpose of receiving high grades, validation (in rare cases), a high-school diploma, attention and I could go on. But this concept stretches out to more than just school.

📚Why do most people attend university? To be given a higher-class job.

👩‍⚕️Why do most people go to work? So that they can get money.

💰Why do we need money? Well, this one depends, but you get the point.

The motivators I listed all fall under one major category of extrinsic motivation, which is driven by the prospect of external rewards. This type of motivation entails that the person is doing something, whether its school, work, social media etc. because they understand that there will be a “reward”.

And correspondingly, these motivators have the ability to occur on a subconscious level. For instance, if I don’t go to this meeting, this person will probably think less of me or if I do bad in school, my parents will most likely be subconsciously disappointed. Sometimes, we do things for reasons we do not yet establish, we do not genuinely think through and analyze.

Intrinsic Motivation

In comparison, intrinsic motivation defines internal motivation; the type of motivation that comes from within you. There are different reasons as to why we may have an internal drive: the activity may bring a sense of self-accomplishment, ongoing curiosity, relaxation and pure positive feelings.

Pursuing a specific job, activity, relationship, friendship etc. out of pure enjoyment or satisfaction is the basis of intrinsic motivation. That being said, even if the desire to perform these actions arises without any external rewards, this does not mean there is an absence of reward. Just as rewards can be external, which include money, praise and attention, they can also be in an internal form.

The “Over-justification Effect”

If you’ve gotten to this point, using pure logic and experience, you are most likely convinced that intrinsic motivation is 10x better than extrinsic, however, here’s a little more proof.

The American Psychological Association performed a study, examining two groups of people playing the same game. The difference was that one group was told they would be given a reward and the other group was playing for their own enjoyment. During the analysis, even though this was a simple, fun game, the group that was promised money showed decreased levels of desire to play it.

Another way that this has been proved is by taking someone’s hobby and turning it into a part-time job. The person is now getting paid but begins to hate the hobby that they used to love.

This concept is called the “Over-justification effect” and seems to go against something we’ve been assuming for centuries.🤯

It’s crazy to think that in many cases, money, attention and recognition actually do the opposite of creating a desire to pursue the task and reach those goals. And the reason why this works is that the human brain is wired to make extrinsic rewards overpower those that are intrinsic. So as soon as money or attention is introduced by focusing on the extrinsic reward, our brain diminishes our feelings and enjoyment.

Most humans are extrinsically motivated, which is the not so good part.

‘Although we can talk about becoming intrinsically motivated, requiring a lot of self-reflection and development, it’s a very hard concept to establish. Because at our deepest level, a lot of humans “live our lives to the fullest” as a result of an understanding of death.

Arguably, we‘re more motivated to do stuff because we acknowledge the fact that once we pass our ultimate deadline, there won’t be an opportunity to do this stuff anymore.

So for instance, take people wanting to see the 7 world wonders before they die. Is that really them truly have a desire to see the Great Pyramid of Giza, or is this their deadline motivating them to get cool sh*t done before its too late?

Why does this matter, why should you care?

We are on the edge of extending human life. In the past century, average life expectancy has increased by about 20 years. That gives you around 73, 000 more times you can wake up in the morning and have an incredible day!

Here’s an explanation as to how we’re extending human life:

There are two main types of cells in our bodies: mitotic and postmitotic. Mitotic cells, including muscle cells, stem cells, blood cells, epithelial cells, fibroblasts and several others are able to easily undergo mitosis.

Although cell division is a natural part of life that renews our bodies, ironically, it’s the reason why we age.

Senescent Cells🧬

Our chromosomes are linear and therefore, have “caps” on both ends, called telomeres. These small DNA-protein structures are responsible for:

  1. preventing chromosomes from sticking to one another
  2. organizing the 46 chromosomes in the nucleus.
  3. allowing correct replication of DNA during cell division

Expanding on this third point, well how exactly do they do that?

When DNA is replicated, the DNA primase enzyme sets a primer, which tells the DNA polymerase enzyme where to start replicating the DNA. However, the primer isn’t set at the very end of the DNA strand and therefore, several nucleotides are left out.

This moment is exactly where telomeres come in. These structures have extra repeated DNA sequences that can be used. But similar to almost everything else in life, these telomeres start to wear down over time. As they get shorter, the DNA is at greater risk of damage while replicating. After about 60–70 replications, the cell reaches its Hayflick limit and therefore, cannot replicate or divide anymore.

These types of cells are now considered “Senescent cells” and are very good, but at the same time also very bad for our bodies.

  1. On one hand, since the cell cannot replicate anymore, this reduces the risk of cancer spreading.
  2. On the other hand, this decreases the number of cells that can replicate and regenerate tissue.

So creating an endless supply of telomeres is not the best solution…

And deleting all the senescent cells in your body may also not be the best solution because these cells cannot replicate and therefore, decrease the risk of cancer.

Would you lengthen your life if this also meant increasing your risk of cancer?

Although you can answer this question for yourself, there's a very minimal chance you’ll ever have to, since there are a couple of other alternatives, most of which come back to this foundational concept.

The Death Talk

But before any of this can happen and you can take a magic pill that makes you live for 1000 years, we need to talk about one big thing:

Why Ray Kurzweil was incorrect when he said,

“Death gives meaning to our lives. It gives importance and value to time. Time would become meaningless if there were too much of it.”

Going back to my history essay, I previously asked myself, “Why am I writing this essay and what is motivation?” And the reasoning is that in order to graduate high school, I need to take this course, which requires me to write this essay. Now according to Mr. Kurzweil, going off that same logic, if the deadline was moved to a week later, that would have made me want to write the essay even less than I already do.

And I will guarantee you that have a sooner deadline does not make me want to write the essay. Maybe having an earlier deadline will motivate me to get it done faster, that I could agree on, but will it necessarily add meaning to what I’m doing?

Probably not.

But that’s exactly what Mr. Kurzweil is getting at.

The same goes for everything else in life. If your boss said you have 3 days to complete this project, did that statement create a true desire for you to get it done or a meaning for that assignment? Again, I’d say it didn’t.

So now, how come we’re using this to define our lives?

How come we’re saying that death is necessary for our lives to be meaningful?

This all goes back to understanding the two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. I believe that people who think that death (an extrinsic motivator) gives life meaning are assuming that everyone values praise, money and attention over everything else.

However, that is only the case for a fraction of our population. And this is also the opposite of what we should be optimizing for. We should be optimizing for everyone to be intrinsically motivated because that is exactly how we solve big problems, evolve as humans and live a long, meaningful life.

For example, do you honestly think that Jennifer Doudna discovered CRISPR because she wanted to become a famous researchers and earn lots of money?

Well, she even says:

“I have always focused on basic research, motivated by a desire to understand the world.”

If you have intrinsic motivation to: live your life in a positive way, have a family, earn money in a way you enjoy etc., you’ll do all of that and more, even if you have knowledge that you could be living for 200, 300 and even 1,000 years!

But intrinsic motivation seems to be the opposite of what society is built for. ☹️

Which in my opinion, is a big problem. Why are we focusing so much on grades, certificates and competition in school? Why aren’t we taught to learn for the reason of curiosity and enjoyment? Why isn’t curiosity supported in school? Why does it seem like learning is something I’m being in a way, forced to do?

I’m going to leave you with these questions to internalize and think about. Maybe even ask yourself why you’re doing some of the things you’re doing. I’ll start you off, why are you reading this article right now?

So… the basis to having strong meaning to your life is motivation. However, there are another valid point that should be adressed.

Meaning is not an intrinsic property. It is not independent and free of other factors. Meaning is also to be developed, not something created by default. In other words, you need to decide what “meaning of life” really means to you.

We are so scared of death because we are wired in the way that has forced us to be. The system of life has always killed the weakest and this is one of the reasons why psychologically, we think death = bad (I’m definitely not saying its good). No one wants to seem weak. Smaller than anyone else.

But the underlying reason as to why we are so scared, is because humans are very curious.🤔 Centuries ago, we started asking questions to understand what happens after we die. We were so curious that we even developed religions, which gave us answers to those questions. We found things to believe because we were so scared of dying.

This developing fear, with a root cause of curiosity, then turned into finding ways to justify death, to give death a purpose, a reason for it to exist. So we told ourselves: if death wasn’t a thing, we wouldn’t value our lives so much, we wouldn’t be as motivated to live, life would have no meaning and therefore, death would happen for a reason!

But I don’t believe in all that. I don’t believe that death gives my life a meaning. I don’t think that living my life just because it will end some day is reasonable. In fact, death is the thing that doesn’t have any meaning.

So let’s talk about one more thing to prove my point: what actually makes a life meaningful, in one form of another. This one depends on your personal goals and what you think your purpose is. But for example, maybe having a family, having good relationships with people, being a nice person and creating positive impact in this world (just to name a couple). For a very apparent reason, death isn’t on that list🤷‍♀️.

So then why do you choose for it to be?

Why do we all choose it to be?

I hope that if prior to this article you thought death gave life meaning, this article changed your mind.

And on that note…Stop googling what the meaning of life is.🤦‍♀️

Establish your own meaning.

TL;Dr

  • There are two types of motivation: Extrinsic, which comes from external rewards like money, attention, grades and intrinsic, which comes from within you, including curiosity and enjoyment
  • Intrinsic is awesome😎, extrinsic motivation in most cases sucks👎.
  • Why does this matter? We may be doubling and tripling our lives soon. But before this happens, we need to establish the motivators, as well as the meanings to our lives.
  • Death does not give our lives meaning and the reason why we thought otherwise, is because that validates death and gives it a reason to exist

Action items:

  • Think of the motivators in your life, why you do some of the things you do. Maybe reevaluate.
  • If you are confident that death gives life meaning, I’d love to talk about it!

and…

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