Southerly by David Haywood

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Southerly: Coming Up For Air

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  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    we will reach a point where we can deal with pretty much every cause of death

    Bart, I think this needs some further explanation. I'm not one for keeping us all alive for perpetuity. Death is a necessary, and unavoidable, part of life. N'est-ce pas ?

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    Death is a necessary, and unavoidable, part of life.

    Really why?

    If you view a person as a collection of cells and bacteria (mostly bacteria) that combine to make a living person. Then individual cell death is normal. But death of the individual is not necessarily required for any reason.

    You may have philosophical reasons for thinking death is normal and necessary, but I can't see any biological reason.

    There are certainly ecological reasons for have individuals die off.

    And because of the way evolution works we have evolved to breed and then there is no species survival advantage to living after breeding. Also note it's unlikely that there is any species survival selection advantage for dying, bearing in mind most of our evolution occurred when humans were a relatively small population.

    In practice, for us, at our stage of medical care yes death is inevitable and normal. And dealing with it, is indeed, part of life.

    I have no idea what cultural changes would ensue if we were functionally non-dying. I also don't know what would happen to a personality that survived say 5 centuries.

    But purely biologically, no I don't see death as inevitable and I really do believe that at some point humanity will have to deal with individuals essentially living a very very long time.

    And as usual I am straying very far from David's thread - I think it's a disease.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Testing… one… two…

    We are making extraordinary progress understanding our own biology and I really don’t see any solid reason why the “natural” causes of death are certain.

    Is this microfauna on?
    Apoptosis off?
    I’m thinking that our ‘own biology’ means
    admitting that we are each and all individual biospheres,
    colonised, coordinated and roughly balanced…
    eggs of energy, sacs of meat, standing waves
    processing our way down our reality tunnels…
    we don’t just live in the environment
    we are an environment…
    and death is just recycling.

    <oh, you already addressed this above...
    the quick and the dead, eh? :- ) >

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    just recycling

    and if you are constantly reusing and recycling
    are you still the same person?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    There are certainly ecological reasons for have individuals die off.

    And because of the way evolution works we have evolved to breed and then there is no species survival advantage to living after breeding. Also note it’s unlikely that there is any species survival selection advantage for dying, bearing in mind most of our evolution occurred when humans were a relatively small population.

    It's funny how humans have both constructed themselves out of our "natural" environment in every possible way - not necessarily on an individual level across time, you could have a fairly decent lifespan in the Roman Empire if you were rich enough, but on a population level - and yet we're still subject to selection. It's just selection by an environment we've created. We're not the first or most important species to do something like that - cyanobacteria have to win that prize, for the oxygenation of the Earth - but in terms of non-biological creations...it's such an interesting conundrum.

    Like you, I certainly believe that death isn't a forever-inevitable part of life - but changing that would bring such massive changes to our society that I don't think we can, from here, predict the shape of it. On the other hand - we have doubled the average lifespan in many places in a century or two. That's a pretty massive change. And society has changed because of it. (C.f. Japan, especially.) The question is what changes you get when you start extending people's functionally healthy lifespans in a serious way. That's something else altogether.

    oh Lucy! That was terrible. Also very geeky.

    You're welcome. :P

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Attachment

    That is the first time I have ever heard anyone posit that death, and decay, are not a biological given. Interesting. I have always believed that all organisms decay and then die. Oranges, human beings - all one and the same as far as that goes. What you are saying is that, although cell death occurs, we don't need to die? No, I guess we don't. But I don't want to live in that world. Fuck, no.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    as usual I am straying very far from David’s thread

    Well now that David's sorted his insurance company, and you've fixed mortality, time for a few days off, eh? ;-)

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • dyan campbell,

    I really don’t see any solid reason why the “natural” causes of death are certain.

    Really? What about

    apoptosis

    telomeres

    entropy

    inflammation

    And as Lewis Wolpert and David Suzuki both keep saying, things are much more complex than we think when we first start to learn about them – here’s Lewis Wolpert explaining why this theoretical immortality might be possible, but is very unlikely to be realised

    Interview with Lewis Wolpert – Blogging the PhD

    “Evolution doesn’t give a hoot about us as long as we reproduce and bring up children.” It also allows for some fascinating speculation about the biological possibilities of prolonging life, in particular upon the assertion by the English biologist of ageing, Thomas Kirkwood, that immortality is theoretically possible. Did he agree?

    “Yes, I do. The reason I say so is because there is one set of cells that never age, and these are the germ cells. They have a mechanism to prevent ageing so if we understood precisely what that was, then in principle one could put that mechanism into all the cells and they would be immortal. Apart from accidents one wouldn’t age. That’s the remarkable capacity of germ cells. But even if you could find out how they did it, then you’d still have the problem of putting that into all the cells. And who would be the scientist who’s going to give us immortality? He would be in his forties already by the time he did it, so would he ever know if it worked? And always remember, as I was only telling students the other day, that however complex you think cells are, they’re always more complex. In fact they’re so unbelievably complex and clever that to change our genetic constitution in such a way as to ensure immortality would never practically be possible. Theoretically possible, yes. But practically, no.”

    Edited to fix a typo!

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report Reply

  • dyan campbell,

    Death is a necessary, and unavoidable, part of life. N’est-ce pas ?

    Beautifully put, Jackie!

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    I have no idea what cultural changes would ensue if we were functionally non-dying.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • JacksonP,

    In order to define death, we first have to define life.

    I'll get back to you on that one.

    <coat>

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 2450 posts Report Reply

  • dyan campbell,

    In order to define death, we first have to define life.

    I’ll get back to you on that one.

    <coat>

    Well I hate to get all spiritual and poetic on you all, but I feel in my heart that life is

    a steady state and negative entropy

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Actually, death can be a very beautiful thing, and the bearing witness to it can be liberating, euphoric even. When someone has been in pain, or when their body is tired of the struggle needed to keep all their organs going, there is a tangible lightness of being when they enter that period of time, be it seconds or minutes, before their heart finally stops. Or maybe that was just me.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • JacksonP, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    Or maybe that was just me.

    Nope. It is, IMhO, one of the things that sets us apart from other species. I'm sure there are arguments to counter the notion that grief is not a science, but if there are, I'd just as soon not know them.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 2450 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to David Haywood,

    I'm hoping that with a name like 'Hebe' the phenomenum of nominative determinism might have kicked in, and that you will be an expert botanist

    I wish; "Hebe" comes from my snit when the rest of the family would not call the latest kitten Hebe so I used it for a pen-name. I have some useful links and resources and contacts that I will email you in the next week or so when I have time to assemble them and the wifi works again. Sweet hazel I don't know about in Canterbury but there are many and various ways of utilising coppices and shelterbelts depending on your needs and the locality; eg for food, firewood, shelter, shade/sun and many others. Eucalypts are certainly one option; the invasive willows not so good. But whatever you choose, do make a species plan before you start.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2899 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to dyan campbell,

    Really? What about

    apoptosis

    telomeres

    entropy

    inflammation

    Apoptosis is about individual cells or tissues not the organisms as a whole, except that apoptosis is part of development to create organ shape etc.

    Telomeres are more interesting but there is an increasing understanding of how they work and why in some cases they don't shorten. If that can be understood, and I see no reason why not, then it seems reasonable to postulate drugs or treatments that restore telomeres to "the young state".

    Entropy is about physics and on the universe level you can't fight it. But it is trivial to reverse on a local level we do that every day, for the universe entropy always increases but for the individual entropy can decrease.

    Inflammation is just another biological process we don't fully understand. Again I see no reason why we will not develop a complete understanding of the biology and be able to control it.

    None of these things is easy and as I said I don't have any idea when it will happen but I'm quite certain that those things we think of as inevitable about aging will become trivial to deal with. It used to be inevitable that your teeth would fall out by age 30.

    If you want to look at the history of science it's littered with folks (some of them very very bright) saying something is theoretically possible but practically impossible only to be run over by three different impossible things.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Baby boy(s) born with two heads.

    This is on Stuff at the moment.

    We have moved to discussing living longer.....it is obvious it has implications for the beginning of life as well.

    Has medical life sustaining technology moved on too far or, with the discussion on the possibility of prolonging life, not far enough?

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    maybe that was just me

    It wasn't for me. But I understand your point. For an individual in pain with no hope of recovery ...

    Really I'm not suggesting death is an evil thing to be feared today but rather saying that biologically there is no reason why a self renewing individual cannot live for a very very long time, with good health.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to dyan campbell,

    Well I hate to get all spiritual and poetic on you all, but I feel in my heart that life is

    a steady state and negative entropy

    Oh, a thermodynamics question!

    But from a thermo point of view life is definitely *not* steady state, right? Since we started off with a barren planet and ended up with a multitude of beasties?

    And while life certainly generates negative entropy at a local level (but net positive entropy, of course), isn't that an argument for Bart and Lucy's point of view? So long as you can have a sufficient energy input then you can avoid the undesirable effects of entropy at a local level?

    Until the eventual heat-death of the universe, that is. So I guess it all depends on how you define 'immortal'.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Entropy is about physics and on the universe level you can't fight it. But it is trivial to reverse on a local level we do that every day, for the universe entropy always increases but for the individual entropy can decrease.

    Snap! Sorry Bart... should have updated my page before I posted.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I've been very lucky with the deaths I have witnessed, by and large, because it's not always beautiful, of course. For the person dying or the people surrounding them, or who have to deal with the fallout. I understand what you're saying - I just don't think it would be a very good thing.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    If you want to look at the history of science it's littered with folks (some of them very very bright) saying something is theoretically possible but practically impossible only to be run over by three different impossible things.

    Lord Kelvin (of whom I'm a huge fan, by the way) made a few of those pronouncements -- most famously about aeronautics:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Thomson,_1st_Baron_Kelvin#Pronouncements_later_proven_to_be_false

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Hebe,

    I have some useful links and resources and contacts that I will email you in the next week or so when I have time to assemble them and the wifi works again.

    Thanks so much, Hebe! I'll look forward to it!

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    People are healthier now, which seems an odd thing to mention but if you have a really serious problem with your health you are less likely to notice or care about a food allergy and less likely to report it.

    Great point. Also fits with reported disability rates being roughly twice as high in more developed countries.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • dyan campbell,

    Bart said:

    Apoptosis is about individual cells or tissues not the organisms as a whole, except that apoptosis is part of development to create organ shape etc.

    Oh you incorrigible reductionist Bart. Apoptosis is not as simple as first thought.

    The cross-talk between apoptosis and autophagy is therefore quite complex, and sometimes contradictory, but surely critical to the overall fate of the cell. Furthermore, the cross-talk is a key factor in the outcome of death-related pathologies such as cancer, its development and treatment.

    Nor does it only affect one aspect of the cell’s life, without influencing the organism’s life

    Dying cells can display several distinct cell death phenotypes, each driven by a different subset of proteins and molecular pathways. Examples are the caspase-dependent apoptotic cell death, autophagic cell death and programmed necrosis.1 Cells exposed to the same input signal can switch from one cell death modality to another in response to specific perturbations,2, 3, 4 and in some cases, a mixed type of cell death can also be observed.

    David said:

    But from a thermo point of view life is definitely *not* steady state, right? Since we started off with a barren planet and ended up with a multitude of beasties?

    Abiotic synthesis, or Oparin’s theory as proven by Miller you mean? I thought Bart was talking about life as it pertains to an individual organism… obviously abiotic synthesis is not negative entropy. Further down the page I linked to on entropy, you will find this:
    Entropy and life
    For nearly a century and a half, beginning with Clausius’ 1863 memoir “On the Concentration of Rays of Heat and Light, and on the Limits of its Action”, much writing and research has been devoted to the relationship between thermodynamic entropy and the evolution of life. The argument that life feeds on negative entropy or negentropy as asserted in the 1944 book What is Life? by physicist Erwin Schrödinger served as a further stimulus to this research. Recent writings have used the concept of Gibbs free energy to elaborate on this issue.[56]
    In 1982, American biochemist Albert Lehninger argued that the “order” produced within cells as they grow and divide is more than compensated for by the “disorder” they create in their surroundings in the course of growth and division. “Living organisms preserve their internal order by taking from their surroundings free energy, in the form of nutrients or sunlight, and returning to their surroundings an equal amount of energy as heat and entropy."[57]
    Evolution-related concepts
    • Negentropy – a shorthand colloquial phrase for negative entropy.[58]

    And while life certainly generates negative entropy at a local level (but net positive entropy, of course), isn’t that an argument for Bart and Lucy’s point of view? So long as you can have a sufficient energy input then you can avoid the undesirable effects of entropy at a local level?

    Simple! Except… how do you identify and supply the sufficient energy input to prevent the cross talk between cell-death types and their interplay? And bear in mind, Bart’s assertion was pretty bold:

    I really don’t see any solid reason why the “natural” causes of death are certain.

    Like Lewis Wolpert says, theoretically possible, but in practice not likely.

    David said;

    Lord Kelvin (of whom I’m a huge fan, by the way) made a few of those pronouncements – most famously about aeronautics

    But aeronautics have such quantifiable, knowable and limited variables compared to biological sciences.

    I agree with Lewis Wolpert and David Suzuki – that when you really begin to understand the way living organisms function and interact, you begin to realise things are far more complex than you first thought, and that processes that seem simple and knowable may be so in isolation, but in nature these do not exist in isolation. A more apt comparison would be Fleming's warning that penicillin would not be a wonder drug for long if it was used carelessly, and that bacteria would evolve much more quickly that we could develop methods with which to control it.

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report Reply

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