WHY AGING HAPPENS AND WHY WE MUST CURE IT


Abstract: Why exist for just a day? Why not exist for a million years? This is both a biological question and a philosophical one. Biologically, aging advantages, or makes possible, species found in dynamic environments, by augmenting their mutational rate, genetic or epigenetic. This cause of aging implies aging is not destiny, but a biological trick. Worse: aging is adverse to cultural inheritance which makes possible cultural species (which are the most advanced species). There is plenty of evidence that the shortness of human life encourages hubris, and other futile pursuits, including violence, genocide and generalized sadomasochism.

Conclusion: we could, and should cure aging, the ultimate disease

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Aging as mileage which varies considerably:

Many view aging as unavoidable. But aging is no biological necessity. The lifespans of species are highly variable…the shortest lifespan of an animal is a day, with the Mayfly; the longest organism lives around 10^5 years. That’s a factor of 30 million, so clearly aging is a biological choice… aging is not a law of physics, but a biological trick, just one component of evolutionary success some species evolve into, more or less. Different species have different aging rates as a result of different evolutionary paths. For example, some lepidopterans can survive the winter, other butterflies do not even have a proboscis to extract nectar: unable to feed, they die within days. Thus, when pondering a species lifespan, one has to ponder their lifestyle. 

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My theory: Aging is one way for a species to evolve fast (there are other ways, such as epigenetic control). So aging evolved as an adjuvant to some species. It was highly successful, thus it is ubiquitous. But there is no reason we should be condemned to it.

Aging is the fruit of selection. A short lifespan increases the evolutionary speed of a species, a longer lifespan decreases it. Thus if the ecological niche of a species is chaotic, the species will be forced to evolve very fast, and thus have a very short lifespan. Some species are in ecological niches which do not require change, because their ecological niche does not change (think mussels clinging to the rocks bathed by the same cold current for 50 million years). Other species are in a constantly changing environment. Lifespan balances between the time the individual of a species needs for its lifestyle and the evolutionary pressure the change of the niche it thrives in exerts [1]. 

Continual changement can come simply from being a small organism: it is inversely proportional to the physical size of a species. A tiny insect will be submitted to more viruses, viroids and other microbes than an elephant: each new genetic variation from another microbe will require that the tiny insect species adapt genetically, whereas elephants have, literally, thick skin (thus big species are less susceptible to infections, whereas small species, like birds get sick very easily and very fast). Thus it is necessary for small species to have a short generation time: short generations allow them to evolve quickly (although some insect species can live nearly 30 years, and many have variegated lifespans, depending whether they are queen bees or workers, etc.) An albatross, though, lives in an ecological niche which does not change and is relatively sterile (island bathed by UV). So there is no reason for albatrosses not to have a long lifespan…  

So lifespans depend upon the ecological niches animals live in. The more stable the niche, the less the pressure to evolve fast, and thus the species can well produce specimens with eternal life. This is exactly what is observed with trees. Some trees, self-cloning and extending themselves, can live 80,000 years. And not just aspens and eucalyptuses. Greenland sharks are known to live at least three centuries, and maybe five… They reach sexual maturity around 150 years old. Not much is happening in the icy depths.

And why would Wisdom the Leysan Albatross have a chick when she is at least 70? Well, it is not easy being an albatross, there is a stiff learning curve, which starts in sheltered lagoons, learning to fly with smart sharks in attendance for an easy meal, in water so shallow the cartigelanous devils have to partly drag themselves out of it to catch overgrown chicks which can flap their wings, but not really take off. 

Biologists say that Wisdom possesses a rare set of skills that have let her have a productive life soaring over the Pacific Ocean. She produced 36 chicks, starting in 1956 (when she was at least five years old). When she was first banded, in 1956, Dwight Eisenhower was in the middle of his two-term presidency. The biologist who banded her, Chandler Robbins died at 99 years of age. “I think that over the years, she’s definitely learned to avoid predators out in the ocean, and she’s learned to forage very efficiently and also maybe avoid plastic these days and potentially fishing vessels,” Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge biologist John Klavitter told National Public Radio in 2013. 

An albatross has to catch all sorts of living organisms at the surface of the sea (some unfortunately regurgitate plastics). Great frigates, another oceanic bird, fly for days, and nights, going to foraging zones (further away, due to human devastation). They soar and they glide in air currents, barely sleeping for weeks. The frigate birds sleep forty minutes a day during moments when they do not need to see where they are going. The fact they do not otherwise sleep shows that this ocean flying requires great skill, and great skill takes years to learn. While on land, frigate birds catch up with their sleep (13 hours a day!) 

Wisdom herself, attentive mom, at least seventy years old. She is quite tame and lives a few meters from a multistory human building. Gooney birds, as they are known, are remarkable in all ways. If one comes really too close, a foot or so away, and they don’t like it, they make a slamming sound with their beak.

Complicated lives with arduous learning implies that individuals who perpetuate the species are few, exceptional, hard to replace, thus they should live long. Hence some species of whales, such as the 100 tons Bowhead whale, live centuries.

Bowheads have complicated language. An advanced animal is an animal using sophisticated software, be it acquired instinctually, experimentally, or culturally. Advanced animals need time to acquire this advanced software, so they need to live long, and, because it’s hard to do, few individuals achieve it and thus they are precious, and have to live a long time so that the species can exist.

Hence a way for mentally advanced species to exist is to have a long life: it enables the animal to learn and teach others and especially youngsters, a lot. This is the power of culture: no need to experience everything, culture did it for us.

Cephalopods are smart, they learn instinctually and experimentally, but they are not equipped to learn culturally. This limits the sophistication of their behaviors, hence it prevents cephalopods from impacting its own ecological niche, and makes for a precarious existence. The species nevertheless exist, thanks to its short lifespan, which enables it to thrive, by constant adaptation.

In the more mentally advanced the species of the cultural type, aging has to balance between the time necessary for cultural discoveries, then transfer, and short generation span to enable the species to evolve fast (epi)genetically. Other species, some whales, some sharks, tortoises, do not have the pressure to evolve and so live centuries.

Living centuries will make the world more precious. Someone purchasing a property in Florida intending to retire there for the next two centuries will become a militant against sea level rise (limestone is porous, dams can’t hold the sea). Similarly, the odds in favor of nuclear war will decidedly look too high, and the same retiree will also become a militant for world peace. Thus, instead of having ways of thinking making a virtue of lives short, brutish and cruel, future centenarians will take a much longer view of the human condition. Eternal youth will make for a nicer human existence all around. The argument that perpetual youth would decrease the appreciation of the world and hedonism is contrary to observation. Borges pretended that a disease, aging, was a gift, to assuage his pain. But we can fight. Most diseases now are diseases caused by aging. Instead of fighting them one by one, we must fight their sponsor, aging. Many human follies are engaged precisely out of contempt for death, and as a distraction from the death sentence we are all getting, all too soon. Since 1900, life span doubled. Implanting 3 genes seems to rejuvenate neurons: hope to graduate from death!

Fixing aging is how to cure most diseases.

And it can be done. 

A paper published in Nature December 2, 2020, shows that neurons of the eye can be programmed to revert to a youthful state in which they reacquire their ability to resist injury and to regenerate. The authors’ findings shed light on mechanisms of ageing and point to a potent therapeutic target for age-related neuronal diseases.

By expressing three transcription factors, collectively called OSK, the authors found that they could erase “epigenetic noise” which corrupts the genetics of neurons; this enabled the authors to bring back neuronal youth. How this can happen is a mystery, and a big surprise, but it does happen, it’s an astounding new scientific experimental finding.

The authors found that OSK expression enhanced axon regrowth and cell survival in human neurons in vitro. The effects of OSK in people remain to be tested, but the existing results suggest that OSK is likely to reprogram brain neurons across species.

See “Sight restored by turning back the epigenetic clock“, Lu et Al., Nature December 2, 2020

The philosophical perspective in fighting the ultimate disease, aging, is not to be eternally old and ever more degenerate, and presenting this as a success. It is the exact opposite: to cure ageing will make us eternally young and regenerated (literally!) This will help us re-evaluate all values in a way more respectful of the gift of life and thought, and will enable humanity to graduate from a shorter and more brutish state of creeping degeneracy. 

And why do we want to progress? Why to want to cure the ills of the world? Is it not naive, sort of Christian, or straight out of the Vedas, when Vishnu tries to compel us to fight? Well, let me put it this way: not all human beings want to fight and improve things. At some point comes exhaustion, a sense of surrender. However, surrendering and doing not much more than a cow, is not in human nature. There will always be (hopefully!) many human beings who want to fight and improve things, because this is how humanity evolved, and what it evolved into: a force that goes (dixit Victor Hugo), for the best and the better. There is no better cause, at this point, to augment wisdom to do like Wisdom, and live, and think, much longer and thus much better.

Why do we want progress and long lives? Because our name is Wisdom, and wisdom comes only from long lives… If we don’t want to behave like animals anymore, we shouldn’t live like animals anymore.

Patrice Ayme

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[1] Call the genetic variety of a species G; G varies linearly with time, from spontaneous mutations. Now G has to vary with the environment E. If E does not vary, G doesn’t have to vary, and generally will not. E itself generally consists of a narrow niche (say a tight range of temperatures for a corral species).

However, if E varies very fast (as it presently does with Global Heating), G will have to vary fast too. Now the human species generate its own E, and the greatest the human factor, the greater the dE/dt

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4 Responses to “WHY AGING HAPPENS AND WHY WE MUST CURE IT”

  1. Gmax Says:

    So if I understand well, you say that aging is an elective. So it can be dispensed with. And peace on earth will come straight out. Count me in

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes, simple but true. A philosophy group informed me though that this had no philosophical interest…. They very often publish obvious junk, so I am rather amused…

      Like

  2. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Amusing Internet “philosophy” related group reaction to the preceding. Notice the bad spelling of this “group” followed by 10^5 individuals:
    Group rules that were violated
    1Focus on group topics
    Your post must relate to group topics or it may not be accepted. Keep comments relevant to the orginal post. Off topic, gif spam, poisioning the well or the traitorous critic fallacy are penalisable

    Like

  3. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Why is not the subject of aging viewed as a proper philosophical subject? After all some philosophers claimed philosophy was all about death. Why not making it just as gloriously about life?

    Liked by 1 person

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