Friday, December 23, 2005


Existential Friday: Life expectancy

Most of us believe that, barring an unforseeable tragic event, we will be longer-lived than our parents. It's a kind of life-span "upward mobility" theory. Life expectancies have generally been going up in the history of our society, so why shouldn't that trend continue?

Well, let me suggest some reasons.

The pace of technological change seems to be increasing rather dramatically, and may be affecting our environment in ways that we don't yet fully understand.

What if ubiquitous telecommunications signals -- electromagnetic fields or god knows what -- from cell phones and wireless internet actually do contribute to cancer?

What if the huge increase in technological inputs into our food supply (pesticides, genetic modification, growth hormones and antibiotics, chemical additives) and fat and sugar in our diets (fast food, hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, etc.) pulls down life expectancy? We know we're getting fatter, and there may be other health effects as well.

What if pollution and population density have reached a tipping point that will exert a depressing effect on lifespan?

What if the dramatic increase in global trade and travel has made us more vulnerable to exotic disease outbreaks?

The point is that all these things are new enough that we won't be in a position to fully understand their effects until the next generational cohort starts dying off: perhaps the baby boomers, perhaps the generation Xers. It will be interesting to see whether baby boomers live longer than their parents.

Interesting post. I think you're right. The generation that was young during the depression and the war years was raised healthier in their younger lives and learned some life values then. Those early years help determine your habits and health in old age. I think we are living a better quality of life, they tell us, but will not physically live longer on average because of the "advances". We'll just blow through life faster with more amazing connections and things. Worth it or not -- you make the call.
Maternal grandmother: 97.

Mother: 75.

Me: worried.
the surest way to figure your life expectancy is to look at the actuarial tables. Those insurance guys know a thing or two.

Having long-lived parents is no indication of your lifespan, despite what Heinlein might have thought about the matter.

Mom died at 78 - her parents hung on to 97 or so (mother) and 103 (father). Both dad's parents died youngish (in their 50's, I think), and he's still kicking around at 90.

I'm at an age where those actuarial tables start to make an impact. I guess the bell curve graph for age vs death is ramping up, and I've been going to a lot more funerals of memebers of my peer group in recent years.

and I don't know which is better. Is it better to survive all your friends? Then you're left with nobody to hang out with. I suppose it's time to cultivate some younger friends....
Lol. It's a holly jolly existential Friday.
wrong timing for post. it's on yom kippur that you get to see if you have been written into the book of life for the coming year. on hannukah we celebrate the miracle of one day's oil burning for 8 days instead, so for this holiday season, you may assume that you will outlive your actuarial predictions.
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