Who Wants to Live Forever?
In “The Enthusiast” (September/October 2007), David Ewing Duncan discusses the scientific controversy surrounding Harvard biologist David Sinclair’s longevity research but fails to mention a more sinister controversy, one that exists outside the scientific community. As a bioethicist, I am unhappily aware that many of my fellow bioethicists oppose in principle any attempt to extend the human life span. They think people should accept the “natural” limits on longevity, although they do not oppose electric power on the grounds that we should accept the “natural” limits on indoor light and warmth. As a future old person, I hope that scientists will continue to ignore such small-mindedness and that someday your magazine’s feature on outstanding innovators in the early stages of their careers will feature innovators under 150 rather than just those under 35.
Felicia Nimue Ackerman
Conservative British philosopher Roger Scruton is profoundly uneasy about the morality of seeking to live for hundreds of years, and he makes elegantly referenced arguments about why such a quest is a bad idea (“The Trouble with Knowledge,” May/June 2007). However, his arguments overlook one simple fact: each new breakthrough will offer us not immortality but simply the opportunity to not die today. That is how longevity has been achieved over the last 100 years: each wave of miracle drugs has helped push the grim reaper back a few years. The by-product of medical progress is that one day, someone may wake up for his 1,000th birthday. If on that day pain lashes him and the world goes gray, he will cry out, “Please! Of course I do not want to live to be 2,000. Who would? But I do not want to die today!”
Royston, Hertfordshire, England
Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett reaches the verdict that computers are the equal of humans in chess (“Higher Games,” September/October 2007). To the contrary, computers cannot play chess at all. Chess is a game; games are for having fun; computers cannot have fun.
Bright Lights in Stockholm
I loved the 1962 photo that accompanied James Watson’s essay recounting his part in the discovery of the structure of DNA (“Letter to a Young Scientist,” September/October 2007). Six brilliant men posing side by side with their Nobel Prizes: five great scientists and … John Steinbeck! I wonder who, as they sidled together for the picture, was more in awe of whom?