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Scarcity and Abundance for the Long-lived

Phil Bowermaster reflects on the implications of radical life extension for the human lifestyle: "Life in Abundance".

Phil Bowermaster writes:

In a recent essay in the Globe and Mail, futurist Peter de Jager writes about the unexpected problems that result from abundance:

What do traffic jams, obesity and spam have in common?

They are all problems caused by abundance in a world more attuned to scarcity. By achieving the goal of abundance, technology renders the natural checks and balances of scarcity obsolete.

So we're fat because our bodies were designed to alternate between scarcity and abundance, and we never give them the scarcity side of the equation. All the dieting that goes on is really just an attempt to reintroduce scarcity. We have traffic jams, de Jager claims, because we have an abundance of speed, which kills the constraint of distance. (Personally, I'd be more inclined to say that traffic jams result from the combination of an abundance of cars and a scarcity of lanes.) We have spam because spammers can send out e-mail in vast quantities justified, from their perspective, by even a minuscule return.

He concludes:

Any technology which creates abundance poses problems for any process which existed to benefit from scarcity.

Let's take one of our favorite emerging technologies, life extension, and see how it might affect the interplay between scarcity and abundance. Continued

8 Responses to “Scarcity and Abundance for the Long-lived”

  1. Kadamose Says:

    Limits to Growth

    Actually, scarcity is a 'major' factor of the equation, that unfortunately, is overlooked. The reason why people age, grow old and die to begin with is due to oxidation of the cells – oxidation occurs due to free radicals which are created by the Mitochondrial DNA once food is consumed. Since the Mitochondrial DNA is only 95% efficient, what's left after the burning process becomes toxic on the cellular level. This is what causes Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, and almost every form of cancer we are aware of. The human body was never meant for abundance to begin with – you can see this fact by simply watching how the cells operate; the more deprived they are, the less energy they need to operate – while 'well-fed' cells tend to burn more energy than required, which later results in apoptosis.

    Science has aleady confirmed that 'calorie restriction' almost triples the lifespan of the individual – these tests have been done on mice, dogs, and yeast so far at this point…all of which have had the same results.

    But, I'll try to be more on topic at this point. The simple fact remains that there needs to be a limit to growth. People who say overpopulation is ok, and that when we run out of living space on the Earth, we can simply migrate into space and find more resources elsewhere, are fools. What gives us the right to consume all of the resources of this planet, and possibly every other planet in this solar system or beyond? We have NO RIGHT, simply because we lack responsibility as a species. Look at what happened to the Rapa Nui of Easter Island after they consumed all of their resources – their technology did not save them, and they simply disappeared as if they never existed to begin with – they did, however, leave their legacy (and wasteland) behind for all the world to see…and possibly learn from. Unfortunately, mankind doesn't appear to give a shit, and history is, once again, repeating itself in the same manner.

    'True' Nanotechnology will indeed give us great power – so much power in fact, that old regimes will no longer have ANY power over the people, the money system will be destroyed due to the lack of scarcity in all forms, and religion will be disposed of because the people who once thought that miracles were once created by some non-existent, omnipotent being, will have the power to create their own miracles by their own hands.

    The problem is all about responsibility and how we, as a species, decides to move forward. Yes, Nanotechnology will take scarcity out of the equation entirely – the only problem is the people who are currently in power will stop at nothing to make sure that scarcity stays exactly where it is – it is, afterall, the very thing which gives them power to begin with. And then there's the responsibility – where are the boundries, and what are our limits? Do we have the right to take over the entire galaxy and populate it with a bunch of braindead zombies? If we do have the right to do so, who and what gives us those rights?

    To move forward, there MUST be sacrifices – and I can't emphasize that enough. Life extension through nanotech will raise the human life span indefinitely – a lifespan of more than 10,000 years will not be uncommon. This is why it will be absolutely necessary to shut down the human reproductive system permanently. Many people think that idea is repulsive, but in all honesty, it is the ONLY option next to complete annihilation. There MUST be a limit to growth – we are just like the cells within our bodies; if we consume too much, we will use up more energy than is necessary, and overconsumption, as science is just barely proving, leads to cell death.

  2. Gavinr Says:

    Re:Limits to Growth

    I read with interest the comments posted by Kadamose, and it is with the the hope that I can count myself amongst the conscientious nanoenthusiasts that I find myself adding my part for it's worth. I agree for instance that we cannot simply expand without consideration, no matter the size of the universe, if only out of courtesy to any neighbours we may have.. I too have thought many times about the problem of the human species not "giving a shit" where it's ecological responsibilities lie, but there will be limits imposed upon our lifespans and habits, even in our individually tailored "demi-god in training" existences. For the question of life; As Eric Drexler has pointed out in times past, probability of death in an accident (particularly considering the outrageously hazardous environments we may expose ourselves to in our nano-future) would be one of the main reactions, as I would imagine it is today. Other forces will probably be at work too, potentials which are frankly quite nasty to contemplate.. suffice to say I think this particular worry will be ultimately balanced by a cocktail of natural and/or human/alien means. As for habitual use of resources; given the possibilities for repairing the world and faced with the greatest possible recycling technology in mankind's history, we should have no excuses for not making the most of the situation and restoring respectability to our currently deplorable consumption rates. From my own personal thirty two years of thinking, I believe (and I would imagine Kadamose would agree with me..?) that the best hope for our future lies in our consideration for a society (and I'm speaking on a planetary scale here) of extraordinary technology coupled with basic, good old common sense; there are more than a few lessons to be learned from the old world. I stand to be corrected on this, but the true pagan and native North American Indian cultural approaches (but two examples and, ironically, both appallingly maligned in history) of co-existence with the mechanisms of nature seem to me to be good starting points for sources of wisdom, and it can't be a coincidence that they seem to have a handful of points in common.. Concerning the shutting down of the human reproductive system, braindead zombies and the need for sacrifices; these can all be dealt with using another badly maligned advantage we have as conscious entities.. EDUCATION. Can I be the only one thinking permanent sterilisation a little drastic (unless we decide to change our way of reproduction, and sex becomes purely recreational..?). No, for my money determination and an education system based on real learning, where the outcomes are truth and wisdom, and not necessarily the quickest/easiest/cheapest/most politically convenient way to get through a problem (consequences be damned), would benefit us immensely and should even help protect us from the "people in power" (for further inspiration I would recommend reading David Brin's "Earth" novel for an interesting perspective on anti-secrecy).. With a few millenia under each individual's belt wisdom should be a natural progression for many, given that we shouldn't have to try and live such amazing lives in too short a space of time. Utopian perhaps? Well, if you don't aim high you'll never shoot low, and personally, I think some things will be worth the effort.

  3. Kadamose Says:

    Re:Limits to Growth

    Permanent sterilization is necessary to stop the exponential growth. Granted, we will be able to create life artificially with our 'hands and minds' (i.e. Catgirls/hybrids) but we will no longer be able to reproduce with the facilities we are born with. With no sperm, and no eggs to fertilize, creating a human being will be extremely difficult for those who are extremely uneducated. It may sound cruel…and perhaps it is depending on how you look at it, but I feel that it is the only way this planet will ever have a chance to heal. Human beings, at this point in time, are acting exactly like cancer which is spreading at an enormous rate – the only way to stop the cancer is to stop it from spreading, and then remove it completely. No matter what amazing technology we have, whether it be Nanotechnology, Picotechnology, or even Femtotechnology…only two options are available to us:

    1) Complete annihilation of the species.

    2) Permanent sterilization of the species – those who survive the new paradigm shift will be granted extreme longevity and literally will become 'gods' in their own right.

    There is no other way around this.

  4. Gavinr Says:

    Re:Limits to Growth

    I still refuse to believe that sterilisation is neccesary. Symbiosis is possible if we're willing..

  5. Kadamose Says:

    Re:Limits to Growth

    And why do you refuse to believe sterilization is not necessary? Elaborate, please.

    Without complete sterilization, exponential growth will continue – granted, it won't be at the rate it is now, but growth is growth, and if we are going to have extreme longevity, the growth has to stop on ALL levels. Otherwise, the universe will experience a HUMAN GREY GOO EFFECT.

  6. humansoul Says:

    Re:Limits to Growth

    i agree that if we are allowed to continue reproducing we will exterminate not only all the living things around us and the resources, but also our own species(i was just having this conversation with my friend earlier and i find it coincidental that i happen upon this very topic here). however, what if we were beset by some fast acting virus or war obliterated a large portion of human beings or worse, all of the people with knowledge enough about all of our technologies were assasinated(read "the world of tiers" by philip jose farmer. granted it is fiction, but even the grandest lie can have some truth to it). what would we be left with then? we would expire. there would be nothing left of us. we would in time, whither away to nothing. there needs to be some way for us to continue reproducing, but there will have to be some way of controlling it. maybe after a couple hundred or even a thousand years of existense we will be wise enough to control our urges, but what about the first hundred or even five hundred years? will we humans be able to stop ourselves? doubtful. maybe if the drug that extends our lifespan also delays our ability to reproduce for a couple hundred years or so. however, inherent problems arise there too. what if our lifespan is cut short before we are able to reproduce again? i suppose that even if we make ourselves infertile we will still be able to get around it somehow. maybe if we had a system set up that put you on a "waiting list" so that when it was your turn you could have a kid. that way, if we did have some catastrophy or if people died from accidents, someone would be allowed to "fill in" for them. this would keep our population at a very sustainable level and in the event of a catastrophy we could allow a lot of people to reproduce. wtih this theory, by reproduce i mean; go to the doctor and have a "test tube baby", using material from the two persons involved. in theory this sounds like it would work but, like communism, in practice it could prove dreadfully lacking. only time will tell i suppose. we shall see.

  7. Kadamose Says:

    Re:Limits to Growth

    Why is it that the majority of the people in this world think that children are needed? Because 'children are our future'? How is that so, when they make the same, stupid mistakes as their predecessors? Screw the children – I am my own future.

    To add to that, humans were originally hybrids that could not reproduce on their own – it wasn't until later that they were 'granted' the ability to procreate by 'external forces' simply to create a slave race much faster than the other alternatives provided. This ability has outlived its usefullness and needs to be shut down permanently. Humans will then become hybrids, once more.

  8. Phil Bowermaster Says:

    Re:Limits to Growth

    Kadamose, I've written a response to your thoughts on shutting down reproduction, if you're interested.

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