Neither Death Nor Taxes
by The World

‘Nothing is certain but death and taxes’, said Benjamin Franklin, but we think that he was too pessimistic. We deny that taxes are inevitable or desirable, and we see no reason to take a different attitude towards death. Though it is not yet known how to do away with either, doing away with them is just a matter of knowing how.

Death from old age is not a fundamental part of what makes us human any more than defecation is. They are both merely unfortunate and entirely contingent accidents of nature. What makes us human is the ability to think, to create new ideas about the world. Death gets in the way of thinking. It is alien to everything truly human and we should try to get rid of it.

The explanation for why we die is quite simple: the human body is a collection of design kludges brought about by millions of years of random trial and the elimination of error. The human body evolved, not to live for as long as possible but to pass on genes. Our lifespan is merely the accidental consequence of adaptations selected for that purpose.

But we have different, better purposes in mind. So what can we do about this? We could contemplate designing a human body Version 2.0 that would last longer, but this would be extremely difficult and is definitely not something we could even begin to embark on today. We can work on replacing organs when they fail, but that will only take us so far. A better, more general approach is that advocated by Aubrey de Grey, a geneticist at Cambridge University. The idea is to intervene using biotechnology to remove damage to our bodies as it accumulates, before it poses a serious problem. It is called Engineering Negligible Senescence (ENS).