Examines every side of the dilemma of aging - from the promises of science to the consequences of living an extended lifespan beyond any previous experience. Topics include the science of aging and how melatonin is guiding the drive to extend life, new gene research, environmental concerns, gaps between poor /wealthy nations, religious concerns.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
How can we butcher it with soundbites? Let us count the ways2 Feb 1998
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Being an interested layman who has spent quite a bit of time reading and thinking about the economic and philosophical implications of life extension, I was hoping the authors would help me gain new insights. Of the 215 pages of text in "Cheating Deat", 74 actually list general social, political, and economic predictions which have little to do with aging or longevity. A benign interpretation would see them as establishing the "context" in which the changes in aging will take place, but they look more like fillers dug out from old - and outdated - files of Forecasting International, a firm founded by one of the authors. Take number 38 of their "50 Trends for a Postmortal World": "... By 2000, the European Free Trade Association countries will join with the [European Community] to create a market of 400 million people with a $5 trillion GDP. Sweden, Norway, Finland, Austria, and Switzerland will join the founding twelve ..." First, the EC was originally founded by only six countries, not twelve; secondly, Sweden, Finland, and Austria have been members of the EC since 1995 (while voters in Norway and Switzerland decided their countries shouldn't join) - mind you, this book was copyrighted in 1998, and on the back flap one of the authors is described as a consultant to, among others, the CIA. Their domestic forecasts ("Seventy-four Trends for a Postmortal America") don't really inspire more confidence, e.g. number 74: "... by 2000, just three major corporations will make up the computer hardware industry: IBM, Digital, and Apple ..." (At the time the book went to print, IBM was trying hard not to loose even more market share, Digital was struggling, and Apple was fighting for its life.) In the remaining text the authors throw lots of numbers at us (which we can't verify because there is not a single reference), but they don't provide any kind of visualisation of the data, nor do they spend much time putting things in perspective. Most of it remains raw data instead of being digested and transformed into information, and most of the interesting questions remain not just unanswered, but unasked. The authors seem uncomfortable with changes that cannot be quantified, and so the philosophical and religious implications are only briefly touched on in the last and shortest chapter. One of the religious authorities interviewed by them, when presented with the eventual possibility of an indefinite extension of life by medical means, is at loss for words: "We would have to reconsider our whole existence. I'm going to have to think about this for a long time." Yes, exactly, but one wishes the authors had talked to someone who had already done some of this thinking. One comes away from this book wishing that the authors had thought about the subject for a lot longer themselves, rather than producing a concatenation of soundbites much in the style of an early-evening local news program.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
So, what's the purpose of the book?29 May 2013
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Since time immemorial human beings have been seeking the fountain of perpetual youth. Prior to the past few decades, the idea that we might live beyond the apparent maximum human life span of some 120 years seemed nothing more than a pipe dream. Scientists had not yet discovered why we age. And until scientists were able to make that discovery, it seemed highly unlikely that we could somehow reverse or even forestall the aging process. All that began to change as a result of the work of Leonard Hayflick and his discovery that cells divide only a limited and predictable number of times before they stop dividing. Later, with the linking of the telomeres on the ends of our chromosomes to cell division, an understanding of the mechanism of aging was at hand. With this discovery the anti-aging revolution was underway.
Not surprisingly, while most scientists remained extremely cautious in making any predictions as to whether an understanding of the mechanism of aging could lead us to figure out how to reverse aging, a few scientists along with quite a few sensationalists began churning out books that predicted the likelihood of life spans far beyond that of 120 years. Some of the most optimistic even suggested that it would be possible to live forever. And the truly optimistic confidently predicted that all this would come about in a few years.
Martin Cetron and Owen Davies were among the most optimistic, as is clear as soon as one opens "Cheating Death: The Promise and the Future Impact of Trying to Live Forever." That in itself is no reason to condemn the book, since there were other authors at the time who were making similar predictions in their own writings. That fifteen years later we are no closer to finding a way to permanently forestall aging than we were back then is not an argument that scientists will never achieve that breakthrough.
The main problem with this book is that it is weak both on its science and on the predictions it makes concerning what the world will be like in the future. If one is interested in looking at the mechanisms of aging, there are plenty of books that detail this, including Hayflick's own "Why and How We Age." If one wants to read up on the research being done in hopes of finding a way of forestalling aging and death, there are also a number of books that do a tolerably good job of this, including a couple by Michael Fossel. If one reads "Cheating Death" one will get no more than a very cursory account of this fascinating subject.
But, wait. Perhaps that's not the main purpose of "Cheating Death." After all, much of it is devoted to making predictions concerning what the world will look like in the future. Okay. Fair enough. And there are a whole lot of predictions in the book, enough to keep everyone happy. Some of these involved events that were supposed to have taken place by now. And the truth is that many of those have not come to pass. Well, maybe that's not a great big deal. After all, futurists (and Cetron and Davies consider themselves futurists) often go out on a limb, and one can't expect all of their predictions to come about.
However, this isn't the main problem. What is perplexing is that many of these predictions have nothing about them that is obviously connected with whether or not people live longer. Case in point: Cetron and Davies make a prediction about nations that were not part of the European Common Market in 1998 (the year of publication of the book), as to which ones would join and which ones wouldn't. Their prediction turned out to be inaccurate. However, this is not the issue. The point is this: What, exactly, does this prediction have to do with the purpose of the book, which is presumably to talk about the future impact of people living for hundreds of years? After all, isn't this what the subtitle of the book says it's about--"The Future Impact of Trying to Live Forever"?
This is not an isolated example. A significant part of the book is devoted to making predictions concerning the future. The vast majority of them have little if anything to do with the matter of the longevity of the human race in the future. It is almost as though the authors quickly ran out of anything to say about the anti-aging revolution and decided to fill up the space by discussing issues that are at best tangentially related to the apparent purpose of the book.