Saturday, September 02, 2006

Will Humans Soon Live 1,000 Years? The Answer is No.

There have been a flurry of news reports in the past few days about the possibility that one day soon humans will be capable of living up to 1,000 years.

It's certainly true that the average life expectancy has risen dramatically in the past 100 years: in 1901 life expectancy for newborn babies was 45 for boys and 49 for girls. By 2000 life expectancy was 75 and 80 respectively.

However much of this improvement has come from large reductions in infant mortality due to better living conditions and access to medicine, and not because of any fundamental change in how humans age. There are in fact many reliable reports of long life spans throughout history: Plato (80 years), Augustus (76 years), Pope Celestine III (91 years), Isaac Newton (84 years). The ancient Greek philosopher Democritus of Abdera is reputed to have lived to the age of 109.

Indeed the maximum life span for humans has not really changed throughout human history; remaining around 115-120 years. The oldest-ever person was a French woman, Jeanne Calment, who lived 122.5 years (1875-1997).

It seems that with a healthy diet and regular exercise most people in the developed world today can expect to live somewhere between 70-90 years, with a small number living to or past 100 years. But claims of massively increased life spans in the near future are no more than pure speculation.

And, anyway, isn't quality of life more important than quantity?


Anonymous said...

1000 years does seem a lot.I'm going to search the web about stem cell research to see if that might effect the numbers.Don't know much about it at this stage.

chrisrandom said...

I agree. Anyway, how can people S00n live to 1000 years when that is at least 900 years away?
Any idea if stem cell research will have an effect on the numbers? It's an area I want to read about but not done it yet.

Anonymous said...

I must say I agree it's the quality that matters not the quantity. There have been many people who have died young yet left a lasting legacy. Keats had written the bulk of his work by the age of 24 or 25. Shakespeare died at the age of 52, Prophet Mohammad had laid the foundations of a new civilisation in 63 years and united a people who had been bitterly divided from the beginning of their hitory.

In the time space contuum we are mere blips of light. It doesn't matter how long you live as long as you leave something good behind for the world. I can remember Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad once either quoting something (which is the impression I have) or saying himself that when one is born one comes into the world crying and the people around laugh with joy but when one dies one's loss should be felt in such a way by the people around one that they ought to be weeping at losing that person and that person should be happy to have lived a full life and to have left something good behind to be remembered by.

There was a review on your book in today's Guardian with 2 mistakes, it stated that you're a 'Londoner' whereas I think you've always despised the London Life or at least and that you HAVE epilepsy in words which gave the impression that you still have it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Daniel,

This is off topic but I am currently about 3/4 of the way through your book and I just had a question for you.

I was wondering whether you had tried counting or doing calculations in different number systems such as Octal or Hexidecimal (or even binary) and if so, whether the visual process you experience is any different from when you do it in Decimal?

Also, in your book you mention that many autistic savants or people with right temporal lobe over-compensation (i think, sorry if thats wrong) see numbers in colour, texture and emotion. As far as you know, do other people who do this see numbers the same or similar as you do? For example, would 1 be a bright light and 9 very tall for other autistic savants too or would they all see numbers in their own unique way?

Cheers, love the book


JC said...

The world is not big enough for people to live to the age of 1,000. Considering the current rate at which we are consuming resources, then surely there will not be enough to sustain a growing population that is surviving for longer.

Daniel Tammet said...

Hi Sean,

No I don't calculate or visualise numbers in other bases.

I know that some people have said to me that 9 is blue for them like it is for me, but I don't know whether this is true for a larger proportion of numerical synaesthetes or not.

Jimbo said...

It may well come down to relativity. Does a Mayfly feel cheated by it's one day of life? If it had concious thought, probably it would not. We learn to accept what time we have and the run of time is largely dependent on our frame of mind. When we are happy time seems to move more quickly and vice versa.

If the medics of this world crack the gene that tells our cells to die and not regenerate, we would have to deal with many other issues as we go past our second century. Mentally we would have to cope with the concept of having many dozens of offspring, several careers not to mention how we would deal with the death of those that simply don't want to live any more ... and those that die in accidental circumstances. Losing someone at the age of 50 would feel like losing an infant.

It is though a very interesting subject that I do not beleive has been fully explored in a fictional sense, unless someone knows any different?

Wartorious said...

I don’t know if you have heard but there’s a new molecule that has been developed that will stop cells dieing! This could be the start of the ultimate age reversing product that would greatly extend human life! I find this fascinating! Yet the prospect of a world where we live much longer would mean all society would need to change!

Yksityisetsiva said...

"And, anyway, isn't quality of life more important than quantity?"

In my opinion, having quantity just means more time to have quality.

How familiar are you with Aubrey de Grey's work and the concept of "life extension escape velocity"? (

Michael Anissimov said...

Have you actually read Aubrey de Grey's website, or are you just talking out of your ass because the idea scares you?

Anonymous said...

Hello Daniel, you beleive the answer is no, but why is this?

We know that lifespan in other organisms can be manipulated quite drastically with Caloric Restriction for example, this is one method that may enable many people to reach the 100 year mark and beyond. Of course this wouldn't get anyone to 1000 years, but whos to say that over time technology won't improve human longevity?

There are multiple fields of science that are increasingly working together to solve problems. Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Robotics, computing fields will all likely lead to dramatic improvements in disease prevention, maintenance of biological systems with the use of nano and biotech.

People have been saying that people will live to a 1000 or so for a very long time, but its only now that we can really see where technology seems to be heading and we can see a glimpse of the endless possibilities that near future technologies will bring.

If we don't do anything about aging in humans then will anyone live to a thousand? Probably not, but do you support research into aging?

Anonymous said...

I also believe that its possible to have quality and quantity of life.

Health of a person is one of the most important factors for having good quality. Right now calorie restriction is probably the best bet to live much longer, but we need much more research into developing technologies to decrease morbidity and extend life substantially.

There is so much to see and do, the universe is so big, how can one possibly do everything in such a short lifetime?

Anonymous said...

"Mentally we would have to cope with the concept of having many dozens of offspring, several careers not to mention how we would deal with the death of those that simply don't want to live any more ... and those that die in accidental circumstances. Losing someone at the age of 50 would feel like losing an infant."

Why is having several careers a bad thing?
Regarding death from accident - this is a tragedy now and always will be but it isn't an argument for not seeking more life.

As for "Quality not quantity" why not have both?

Aging is a disease like any other - more progress is being made daily in treating and curing it. We need only to reverse the accumulated damage on a regular basis to greatly extend our lifespans. Other posters have pointed to SENS - I recommend you look into it.

Anonymous said...

Life extesion is really just a matter of reverse engineering biology. I strongly believe that we will see maximum lifespan start to tick upwards this century do to accelerating returns in technology being applied to the fields of biology, chem and physics. While it may not be feasible for our generation, future generations will certainly experience "escape velocity." In silico biological simulations and machine learning applied to engineering more efficient proteins is on the horizon. Daniel, why not contribute your amazing mind towards snuffing out the suffering that accompanies aging?

Anonymous said...

How can you be sure the answer is no? Have you noticed the exponential growth of information technology? I would be very curious as to what you think of the Technological Singularity and Ray Kurzweil's book The Singularity is Near. I know that you are very good with numbers, but I remember you saying that it is difficult to see the overall picture. Perhaps it is difficult for you to see the exponential growth of information technology and the effect this will have - not only on lifespan - but in quality of life as well.
Good luck and thank you for sharing.

Deus_ex said...

You guys keep harking about daniel being wrong. But he said nowhere of any involvement of technology. But tha we would not attain 1k years naturally. thanks

Anonymous said...

I've heard that DNA unravels a little bit each time a cell splits, part of the process of healing and the daily replacement of cells as they die off. It's this DNA damage that leads to most of the problems we associate with aging. Apparently most of the DNA is not that relevent so the unraveling doesn't do harm until a certain age. They're studying ways to lengthen the extra useless DNA which could theoretically slow the damaging part of the aging process.

Cahoodle said...

Tish Tosh

In 'quantity' there's bound to be a fair bit of 'quality' thats what I say! It seems fundamentally obvious to me that the key to aging process will be found (I just hope its in the next 20 years .. tee hee). Lets not fight the obvious . . bring it on.

Terena said...

Does anyone give credence to the biblical characters who lived for many centuries until a law was applied that an average lifespan would be three score and ten.

Daniel Tammet said...

There are too many comments to respond to them here individually, but let me attempt a few thoughts:

1. I have read Aubrey de Grey's ideas and disagree with them.

2. I'm not in the least afraid of the idea of people living very long lifespans. I just don't think it is going to happen.

3. Aging isn't a disease like depression or cancer, but an extremely complex process. I doubt whether it would ever be possible to stop it as is claimed.

4. I have no problem with research into aging - especially where the focus is on maintaining good all-round health throughout the natural lifespan.

5. Of course quantity can affect quality - the entire essence of things like art or literature or music or poetry is working within limitations. The problem with obsessing over quantity is that it negates the possibility of a full and rich life being lived in a few or few dozen years.

6. Some people achieve an enormous amount in twenty years, while others achieve little in over one hundred. Simply extending lifespan won't necessarily make us any smarter, enlightened, happier.

7. The desire for a very long lifespan is understandable and perhaps even admirable. But we have to look at it from a perspective outside of itself (as with all things). Even if something became possible that wouldn't necessarily mean we ought to do it.

ceri ann said...

the human definition of the world seems to be dichotomy; right/wrong, good/bad, life/death. If we didn't die, would we appreciate life? Can you ever have one without the other? In my view, humans will never outwit nature and we will never achieve a physical immortality. I don't think I'd want to even if the option was there. Would you?

Anonymous said...

@ceri ann: You refer to a philoshophical statement in which I pretty much agree, however.... If you don't get to know the bad you can't possibly understarnd the good and this is a general truth of the reality we live, again "of the reality we LIVE".

Death is a paradigm shift, it is a state of non-existence so whatever philoshophy that applies on physical reality obviously does not apply on non-reality. It's like saying that "I'm very good with the ball when I play basketball so I have to be that good when I play tennis", but that's the point you won't be good in a tennis court just because you are good at basketball.

To make it more clear life is the basis of everything we know, so we base every theory, every religion, every philosophy, every piece of art in what we call being alive, death is not just the opposite of life, it's sth completely different, so you can't actually know death, at least not with the measurable standards of your reality, of your alive state.

I think pursuing to be alive as much as possible (without violating the freedom of others, of course) is the most ethical thing a person can do. If I am to choose between the known and the big unknown -or to speak with the language of mathematics-, if I am to choose between something in which my degree of freedom ranges from lim->0+ (anything closer to 0 but not 0 itself) to lim->100- (99,99...) of the possible outcomes my state of conciousness can be, and sth in which the degree of freedom of my conciousness is in a fixed state (0 vfor the atheists, varying for the theists), I would of course choose the first.

In other words death -whatever it is- is certainly not the answer, because it is a fixed state, if the initial state of your conciousness is to be a variable, how come its final state would be a constant, this is an obvious failure. We -humans- are not a single number we are an immense complex of information, reducing oneself to one single number is far from the answer -atheists:"You are 0 (nothing)", theists: "You are the No 3 or 16 or 35 or 23(you are a good person or a bad person or a generous person or a merciless pesron")-

Regardless of the existence (or not) of life after death, death will always be a foolish choice (if ever it'll become a choice) or worse it is an unfortunate outcome. Such loss of information, where we would be if Einstein was still alive or even more if Socrates was alive, how better our society would be (since the more information-rich always outdrives the lesser one, it's kind of nature's law), how better would we be with the nature how many problems that our ancestors solved wouldn't we face them again since they would be around and in their wisdom would now how we can solve them.

How more wise and beautiful the people would be if that disruptive loss of information never existed.
--- peace.

(my remarks also refer to the main article and consequently to the blogger too)

Daniel Tammet said...

The irony is that those who worry most about their health tend to be much less healthy than those who don't think about it too much, but get on with enjoying life.

Deus_ex said...

I reckon eienstein would get board of maths after a few hundred years if he had 1000 to live. He'd probably end up working for microsoft; realise computers do everything any ways so why try; no one believes in god any more; his bomb killed too many people and left its own ominous legacy down the generations and the fact that there are people out there who just need to look at geometrical shapes to get an answer that took him 20 pages, a lot of stress and a few grey hairs to come up with.

Daniel you say you don't think it will happen: that humans will not attain 1000 years of life. Are you saying that this technology will never exsist? Or that this technology could exsist, but would never be implemented because of social/political constriction?

If either, can you explain why? I'd be especially interested if you think that humanity will never acquire the technology. Do you know something we don't?

Anonymous said...

I would like to point everyone to a fable by Nick Bostrom about why research into the curing aging is very important. 150,000 people die every day from aging it is an atrocity that we MUST STOP NOW.

bowerbird said...

I must say that I've always been sceptical of these claims of increased longevity of everyone. Those people who are now living to their maximum ages are the cohort who lived through the war and grew up before televisions were common. Conversely my 1970s generation grew up eating junk food in front of the television. Will the longevity extend to these people? The answer won't be clear for decades.

homerj said...

If humans ever attain a lifespan of 1000 years it is likely they will no longer be human. For example we may find ways to replace or regenerate body tissues, organs etc.. with stronger, synthetic equivalents i.e we genetically engineer out the design flaws in the human body or substitute elements of it with stronger materials than flesh and bone. Humans might even clone themselves new bodies and transfer their conciousness' into them or even into synthetic bodies.

Who knows what the future holds?

Anonymous said...

When I first saw this quoted question, I thought you were talking about Humanity - I would have agreed with your answer in the quotations as well.

Will A human live to be a thousand years old? I doubt that. It's more than likely the human race will be long gone before a thousand years based on the way the world appears now, much theless a single human.

Anyways, similar to what other people above (or below) have said, it should be the quality of life that is improved, not the quantity. There are many people in history who have lived the greatest part of their lives in a span of a few years. Of course, that are the examples which contradict the above where people in their later years have done their best work.

The less we worry about time and start living our lives, the more we are likely to accomplish.

Anonymous said...

People are idiots if they want to live 1000 years (sweeping statement without qualification). I'm amazed at the way people, especially those in the developed world turn away from nature with their medicines and technology and then wonder why we're all so sick. We're effectively stopping evolution if we don't allow for natural selection.

On a personal level, we've probably all needed medicines and I know I've been glad of them but then again perhaps if our ancestors hadn't relied upon them so heavily we wouldn't have the genetic weaknesses we suffer now.

Having converted to a raw vegan diet a year ago, I've watched all my ailments disappear. Skin problems, teeth problems, depression, anxiety - these are things that no amount of drugs could touch really and yet just by going back to nature - that was it - they're gone.

I think people need to think less individualistically and more about the big picture. If we want to survive as a race then we're going to have to die as individuals.

And don't be afraid of death - it's all a cycle by the looks of things in an eternity whatever combo of factors that came together to make your consciousness happen will necessarily, by virtue of eternity's nature, happen again. If you give a finite number of factors and infinite number of'll be back. (It's another unqualified statement!)

John Hosty said...

I would think that with the way gene manipulation is already taking shape that we would be able to develope a pill that would counter the effects of years of free radical damage to the system. In effect this pill would hit your DNA strand and "purify" it for lack of a better word. I expect that as our society gets older on average the funding for this typer of research will increase causing huge leaps in advancement.

I'd love to hear what you think on this Daniel.

Anonymous said...

1000 human years or dog years? cat years?

clover_monkey said...

Oddly enough, I've thought about that alot actually. After my sad attempt to read the bible I noticed that the ages were very very high and they were very tall....some people were around 10 ft tall, and 879 years old. This makes me look at my grama, shes hardly 4'10, and my brother is 6'4. we're getting taller every year, and older. Not to mention houses built in the 1800's are really small....ANYWAYS. I don't think someone who just created the bible to make some cash would have conjured the thought that, we could potentially get taller and increase our life span once the industrial revolution rolled about. (can human tissue even last 1000 years?) -Ashley

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that Daniel has difficulty experiencing the number six - in the bible the number six is a number of death and anihilation - sort of a void between five and seven.

How do you experience the divine number seven?

Dan said...

Family reunions would be mindboogling.
Try blowing out a 1000 candles on a birthday cake.
I'd like you to meet my great great great great great great great great great great grandson.
Where can you buy superduper viagra?

Unknown said...


Man is the universes way of knowing itself, of becoming self aware and conscious. Think of your own life as a metaphor for the universe. You started out as a tiny egg and sperm, they came together as one, and you unravelled from something that could fit on the head of a pin, to a full grown intelligent human being. The human race as a whole has been going through this process as we evolved over millions of years from less complexity.

In 30 years human genetic engineering will have advanced so much, that humans might be able to use gene therapy and indeed live 1,000 years. Or use such genetic technologies to make sure children are born without genetic defects, infact we might even discover how to use genetic engineering so everyone can have super memory and math skills like you do. I just hope we don't use genetic engineering to prevent people like you Daniel from being born, because I think you are truly special and important for humanity.

In 30 years nanotechnology could be used to repair problems inside our body preventing cells and organs from reaching their end. Nanotechnology could be used to cure or prevent diseases.

In 100 years, many humans will be born from genetically modified humans (humans who used genetic engineering to enhance themselves) and we might want to call these people post humans.

Man is not an end unto himself, he is a bridge between the animal kingdom and god, someday science will unlock the secrets of our genetic equation and we may all ascend to a higher level of consciousness and being.

You will see this in your life time Daniel and I hope you will be open minded towards it, because it is coming.

Best Regards,

Professor Mark

Anonymous said...

Prof mark, I really hope you are right. I know people will say im crazy for saying this, but i would really like to live to 1000, possibly longer. The reason i say this, is simply to watch humanity progress, and because there is so much that we have yet to achieve, and that i would like to see happen.

anyone else think the same?

Anonymous said...

No one could possibly live to be 1,000. I doubt that anyone will even reach 150. Scientists believe that an increase in free radicals in our cells as we progress in years is what spurs aging. There are proteins that can keep free radicals from getting too terribly out of control in cells, but overtime the free radicals build up. No system is efficient enough to live 1,000 years. Jeanna was really pushing the limit in my opinion. I don't think that people can live much older than she did. Our bodies are just not efficient enough in mopping up free radicals.