The Last Mortals

Regina Rini considers why we are especially unfortunate to die, when our near-descendants could be immortal

Medical science has overturned common sense about what counts as a “normal” human lifespan. An average American born in 1900 could expect to live only forty-seven years. If that American did make it to 1950, they saw babies born with a life expectancy of sixty-eight years – a 45 per cent lengthening of life in only two generations. And that baby born in 1950 is probably still around today, to witness newborns who can reasonably expect to reach the age of eighty. The UK Office for National Statistics has predicted that female Britons will have an at-birth life expectancy of a hundred years by 2057. So if you are currently under the age of forty, then you can plan to meet young people who will live to see 2157.

Imagine that, after a few more breakthroughs, a scientific consensus emerges that we will have conquered illness and ageing by the year 2119; anyone alive in 2119 is likely to live for centuries, even millennia. You and I are very unlikely to make it to 2119. But we are likely to make it relatively close to that date – in fact, relative to the span of human history, we’ve already made it very close right now. Think that through, carefully. What would it mean to realize that you very nearly got to live forever, but didn’t? What would it mean if, in our looming senescence, we were increasingly forced to share social space with young people whose anticipated allotment of time massively dwarfs our own? We would then be the last mortals.

Read More at The Times Literary Supplement

Read the rest at The Times Literary Supplement