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How many of you expect to die? (newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com)
49 points by huherto on July 11, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

I think is worth reflecting about the last stages of life, and how you would like to live them.

For me I would like:

1- A Healthy life. There is plenty you can do, nutrition, exercising, regular check ups, etc.

2 - A productive life. Make sure that every day you produce something of value.

3 - Prepare to die. Understand that is going to happen no matter what.

4 - The present is the best time to enjoy life. You may become a millionaire, but all that money will not buy you more healthy time alive.

4 - The present is the best time to enjoy life. You may become a millionaire, but all that money will not buy you more healthy time alive.

Incorrect. A huge fraction of medical expenses are from the last few months of life. That money will keep you alive. It's probably not worth staying alive at that point, of course.

I also think it's a little sad that you're so ambitious, but you've given up on living forever. Accepting even a small chance of not-dying, or of living for 200 years, can radically change some of the calculations you might make.

"Spending on intensive care, which today comprises 30-40 percent of hospital costs, may go even higher as the population ages, according to a new Mayo Clinic study."

Here is a tough question. If the bulk of a person's lifetime medical costs are incurred in the literal last days of their life (ICU), is that right from a profit (HMO) or ethical (family, loved-ones) perspective?


It's probably a cognitive bias that would not be hard to correct by making arrangements in advance. I've made it clear to lots of people that I'd much rather be killed cheaply than be a burden to everyone -- almost certainly not the choice I'd make in the last few days of my life.

It might help for insurance companies to make it even more broad: to ask people "Do you think people should spend tens of thousands of dollars on living another agonizing week, or that they should die?" and use the customer's general answer as a guide in specific circumstances.

I believe that the most precious thing in our lives is being alive, and I spit in the face of anyone who is cowardly enough to give up on his life at any point, past, present or future.

Sorry for being harsh, but that's how I feel about it.

Yes, spend every resource on the planet to keep me alive for one more second.

Well, I guess that's a sustainable strategy as long as only one person pursues it, and everyone else is cool with it.

I don't know what to think of a moral system that dissolves all rights when one practitioner really, really wants something. Seems like nihilism with a smiley face.

I wouldn't call it nihilism. Nihilism says existence is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. I say the opposite.

To each human being, existence has infinite value, to the extent that nothing else matters.

Of course, that's an extreme statement, and there might be circumstances where even with such beliefs, one decides that something else is of more value (or, conversely, that life loses its value if a life-ending action is not taken). But the point is that you start from a standpoint of infinite value, which makes any declaration that "I don't want people to spend tens of thousands of dollars to keep me alive" completely obscene, a bit like if someone said they don't want to spend $1 to stop you from going blind.

I think you underestimate the power of denial, as I did before I read Sherwin Nuland's book, How We Die. In a lot of terminal cases, neither the patient nor the patient's family know that the case is hopeless, because the doctors don't want to break the news, and may not have accepted it themselves, since doctors often tend to regard saving the patient's life as a matter of success and failure and will try nearly anything not to fail. There are clear-cut cases, but most people die in cases where the probability of recovery is very low but not zero.

Interesting, what would those calculations be?

If you expect to die, things like crossing the street, eating unhealthy food, doing drugs, etc., are just going to affect the timing. But if you think there's a chance you won't die, you can think of these things as slightly killing yourself, instead of changing the date of your death. So it makes you more conservative.

But it also makes you more optimistic! Someone who admits to maybe living for a very long time will probably want to invest a lot in having multiple possible careers, not to mention lots of money saved up. This basically amounts to maximizing positive surprises (you can take advantage of more career and investment opportunities) and minimizing negative surprises (losing a job when you have a month's worth of savings is a crisis -- losing your job when you've saved forty years of expenses is a blip).

In the movie "Big Fish" by Tim Burton, an excellent film about father-son relationships, there is a scene where the son goes to an oracle and learns how he is going to die. After learning how he is going to die, he takes on various death-defying stunts without consequence - for he knew that was not the way he was going to go.

You mean the father.

Great movie.

My life plan includes emigrating to the moon at age 80 because I figure the first few generations of settlers are going to have a high attrition rate anyhow and at that age I will be expendable. Also low gravity should be good for joints and heart...

Yes - low gravity and joints definitely sounds like fun.


Speaking of expendability at the end of one's life, I just finished Scalzi's _Old Man's War_. Don't settle somewhere, join the army!

Mars waits.

"I'm going to live forever or die trying."

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying"

I plan to live forever without dying. So far, so good!

You haven't died before. Just do not start the habit.

what is this?

I want to die like my grandfather: in my sleep, not screaming and yelling like everyone else in the car.

Har har. Old joke.

For whoever voted me down:

  1. The joke is old and I assumed that most of us have heard it before
  2a. What he said really didn't comment on the article
  2b. Therefore, I felt the comment didn't add anything
  2c. I would, however, automatically expect to see such a comment on Reddit
  3. The fact that it's being voted up (5 at this point) disappointed me
  4. I voted him down. People always complain when they are voted down without explanation 
  5. I intended my previous comment to explain why I voted him down
That's all. I could make the leap and say that the quality of comments here is going down, but that might be going too far for everyone's tastes.

If everyone explained their downvote in comments, how crappy do you think this site would be? Please don't.

I could make the leap and say that the quality of comments here is going down, but that might be going too far for everyone's tastes.

So set a good example and don't reply to downmods with 7 reasons why your comment shouldn't have been downmodded. Even good comments get downmodded from time to time; deal with it.

Voting you down for insufficient explanation, are 5 bullet points really all you can manage when explaining something of this magnitude?

As with any other project, constraints motivate progress. Mortality makes life meaningful.

Or as Steve Jobs put it. "Death is life's greatest invention"

That always struck me as BS, like lying to kids about your flavor afterlife. I understand it's nice for coping & all, but none of the people saying it would choose to die if they could live forever.

So what? Few heroin addicts would reject a dose of heroin, but that doesn't prevent them from rationally knowing that it's not doing them any good. Arguably, our attitude toward life is like that of an addict.

I also think it's BS, FWIW, but not for the reason you mentioned.

That brings up an interesting question: if immortality were possible, would people choose to die, and what would their motivations be? It seems that curiosity about the afterlife would be a primary factor. Then there is the question: would this curiosity mount over time, to the point that everyone succumbed to it? I don't think anyone can answer this question. Peoples' religious views might change over the centuries-- I know mine have, over mere decades-- and it might be that nearly everyone comes to believe in a better life after death at some point, and chooses to die.

or just get tired as hell of living

That I don't worry about as much. By the time we've figured out immortality, we should have cures for fatigue and neurological illnesses such as depression, which can be treated as small subproblems of mortality. Whereas curiosity will have to still exist in order for us to develop and maintain the technological infrastructure.

Why doesn't the occurrence of suicide answer that question?

Clearly some people would always choose to die, but I think the question was really "would most/all people choose to die?"

Yes, and if we were immortal, suicide would probably be a lot less common. Suicide is a lot more common in older people than in younger people, but the claim that this is driven by health problems is a misconception. Most older people who kill themselves are in good health, but suffering from depression-- the same illness that drives a lot of young people to off themselves. The difference is that the 65-year-old has about 15 years left of life, and the 20-year-old has several decades left, and so the younger person is losing more. If we were immortal, suicide rates would probably be very low, because one would be giving up an infinite amount of life, during which there would be more than enough time to work out one's problems.

It's an existential dilemma I haven't quite solved yet. I don't want to die, but I can't help but feeling that immortality is a trap. What if I'm really a 12th dimensional being and death is the only way to exit this false reality? It would be terrible to spend an eternity trapped in a lesser universe. Though with infinite time and infinite wisdom maybe we can bust our way out.

I doubt anyone would live for an eternity. Even if we had the techology to live for a million years, everyone would have some sort of accident before then. Perhaps you will die in a super nova accident, while visiting another galaxy in 10.000 years?

Well, you could in theory live forever if you transitioned your consciousness into a computer. It will soon be possible to simulate a human brain in a computer (see the Blue Brain project http://bluebrain.epfl.ch). Philosophical issues aside, you can effectively live forever this way as long as human civilization is able to continue getting resources and energy to power the computers.

I recall a study where they said nobody would live beyond a certain age due to the probability of accidents occuring (the age was something like 200-300 years old).

If you feel like not dying, I would suggest signing up for cryonics with Alcor or another reputable provider.

Otherwise, frankly, quit whining. It's not like there are no alternatives to death.

If SENS is successfull to any degree, it may be possible to live "young" to a very old age.

From looking at those graphs, I'll take Cancer. What did Cobain/Young say? "It's better to burn out than fade away"

And thus forsaking (statistically) 10 years of your life? For me it's a non-issue: cancer would be the last option of the three, by far.

Well, I suppose he'll never know. Euthanasia is always an option. Why pessimize prematurely?

I'm fairly young, so hopefully they'll be solutions by the time I get old.

Lets face it, we are in an exponential technological curve, go back 100 years, and probably 90% of stuff in your house didn't even exist back then.

Then take into account that people want to live forever. So hopefully in the next 100 years(I'm 20 now, but chances are the current generation will most likely live to be 150), we'll develop something that can either rejuvenate us, or store our memories, or cloning.

  Lets face it, we are in an exponential technological curve, 
  go back 100 years, and probably 90% of stuff in your house 
  didn't even exist back then.
Actually, I think there are very few things in my house that didn't exist a century ago. There are a few important items, for sure: refrigerator, AC, microwave, computer, cell phone, CD/DVD players and associated media, automobiles. There are probably a few things I'm forgetting, but there is so much more than that in my house that's virtually no different than what was around in 1908: clothing, wood floors, ironing board, closets, stuffed animals, blankets, plates, silverware, drawers, photographs, tables, chairs, beds, doors (my house was built in 1924, so this list could go on and on and on). For that matter, I think the vast majority of things in my house would have been present in similar forms in any number of centuries past.

I think the prospects of medical advances that will lengthen lifespans is fascinating, but I also think people tend to lose perspective on how the times really aren't as different as they think they are. We end up thinking we're special because of the times we live in, and it's just not the case (no special criticism of you, of course - just an observation spurred by your remark).

You forgot the super important invention called doors, roof, and windows.

But that's the thing our sciences have taken a huge leap forward in the last 100 years. Another 100 years should bring plenty of new inventions. I mean look 200 years ago, if you got sick they tried to exorcise the sickness away.

The more important point is about advances in genetic engineering. That's been going on for maybe 30-40 years, at best. If the pace picks up a little, what the grandparent says (significantly larger life spans) may well be a reality.

we'll develop something that can either rejuvenate us, [...] or cloning.

I never understood how cloning could make someone live longer. If you can't transfer your soul/conscience into the clone, it's not going to get you anywhere.

well,for a heart failure patient,he could have a new cloned heart!

Just like in the movie The Island, where a powerful insurance company has clones of all its customers. Those clones stand ready to provide for potential failing organs in the body of their real-life counterparts.

Immoral as a concept. Excellent as a sci-fi movie scenario.

I highly doubt that we're in an exponential technological curve.

But it might be nice if we were!

Many measures of technological development are increasing exponentially: computer processor cost performance, solar cell cost performance, resolution of FMRI, DNA sequencing cost per base pair,....

here lies nazgul, the world's oldest man. No one knows how long ago he was born, but some say as far back as the 20th century. He died peacefully in his sleep after a strenuous night, several of his girlfriends reported. :p

If I read the literal question here (ignoring the article), my response is: "I expect to die at some point, horrible horrible reality - but i'm going to fight against it with all i've got"

Hackers never die...they're just slowly overwritten.

There is a way to liver forever, but it cannot be achieved through scientific endeavor.

Yes it can. Think of Newton, Galileo, Einstein, etc. ;-)

I do.

I thought this was going to be an article about the singularity.

I believe reincarnation is the most likely afterlife, so I'd much rather have a young, quick death than rot away slowly, in order to occupy the smallest proportion of my time with bodily failure. Frailty I can deal with, but dementia sucks. On the other hand, I don't want to die too young, because I haven't lived a complete life yet.

I think the reason why cancer gets a bad rap, even though it has the most desirable dropoff curve, is that it can strike anyone at any time, regardless of age and lifestyle. Therefore, it scares the hell out of us, all of us, in a way that heart disease doesn't. (I'm 25.)

I expect to live to be about 80, working and exercising the whole way to that point. I think that the lifespan itself won't have increased by much by the time I get there (average will be 85-90) but that late-end quality of life will be a lot better.

I'm pleasantly surprised that an army of Singularitarians (is that really a word?) hasn't shown up already to tell us how closed-minded we are for expecting to die.

"I believe reincarnation is the most likely afterlife"


It makes the most sense intuitively, and it's the only one I've seen evidence (e.g. the work of Ian Stevenson) for.

Frankly, I am quite happy to die. To know that, all my achievements and all my failures, eventually, will cease to matter.

To know that I too will give way to the next generation and that, hopefully, they can make up for my follies and mistakes, because we are none of us perfect.

And I hope that, as things progress and I get older and progressively more sick, that should I tire of my body, I can choose to leave life at a time and place of my choosing.

Of course, with the way things are going, I'll be in my 50s and the only way to do it will be to run my wheelchair off a cliff. (I couldn't end this on a non-cynical note, it just wouldn't be me!)

This is the only poll with 100% positives and 100% accuracy

Really? I don't expect to die.


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