Monday, April 5, 2010

Every Day You Live Your Life Expectancy Increases by Six Hours

Such is the claim from Duke University which did some simple calculations. The calculations is that human life expectancy has grown about grown at a rate of 2.5 years per decade. That is a 1/4th increase per time lived which reduces to 6 hours per day. You could further reduce it to and extra 15 seconds per minute; now that sounds cool. It is however, totally ignoring the lead; not even burying it. The problem is over aggregation. Life expectancy has not increased in a linear line, but at an ever increasing rate. That first year for every day you lived you might only have gotten another 5 hours. By the end you may have gotten an additional 7. While the numbers themselves are not important, the increase is. It is the basis for numerous futurists to declare that humans life expectancy will become infinite; many projecting it will happen within the next two decades. The crux of that notion/theory is that at some point in the next 20 years for every day you live your life expectancy will increase by more then 24 hours; immortality. Well, maybe not immortal. We will be like certain deities who never die but can be killed (Star Trek Fans think of the Q). (via)

"An article from the Duke University media outlet reminds us of the bigger historical picture of human life expectancy: continual incremental improvement ever since the Industrial Revolution. It's also a good example of how to write a decent popular science press piece, one that adds context to the research it references, rather than dumbing it down or papering it over. From the perspective of the reliability theory of aging and longevity, the historical increase in life expectancy has occurred because better and more widespread availability of medical technology lowers the rate at which biological damage accumulates. Prevention of chronic infectious disease, for example, falls into this category: disease applies a damage load to an individual, and that damage reduces the mean time to failure of bodily systems.

"We're living longer because people are reaching old age in better health," said demographer James Vaupel, author of a review article appearing in the March 25 edition of Nature. But once it starts, the process of aging itself - including dementia and heart disease - is still happening at pretty much the same rate. "Deterioration, instead of being stretched out, is being postponed." ... Over the past 170 years, in the countries with the highest life expectancies, the average life span has grown at a rate of 2.5 years per decade, or about 6 hours per day.

Six hours per day sounds a lot more exciting than a few years per decade - there's a lesson about the time preference of human psychology lurking in there somewhere. Advocates take note: tell your friends how many extra hours of life they gained today thanks to advancing medical technology, and see what they say.


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