Overpopulation and Living Forever – Part 3

In my last two posts, I have replied to the overpopulation objection to radical life extension, the most common objection to those of us who want to defeat death. While my defense of indefinite lifespans has so far centered around moral concerns, the computer scientist Alexandre Maurer has recently offered mathematical reasons to doubt the whole premise of the overpopulation objection to longer lifespans.

His main conclusion is that fertility rates and not longevity are the true culprits in population increases. A spectacular extension of life will have a negligible effect on population growth compared with a slightly greater fertility rates. To explain, he offers a simple example.

Assume an initial population of 1000 people. The fertility rate is 2, and the life expectancy is 80. Women give birth at 20. Now, let us consider two variations:

Case A: Death disappears. Nobody dies anymore!
Case B: The fertility rate slightly increases from 2 to 2.5.

Which of these two cases will lead to the greater population increase? A quick calculation gives the following results:

– After 500 years, the population will be 26 000 in case A, and at least 780 000 in case B: 30 times more than in case A.
– After 1000 years, the population will be 51 000 in case A, and at least 206 000 000 in case B: more than 4000 times case A! The gap will be enormous.

The point is that the disappearance of death “only causes a linear population increase; while a fertility rate slightly greater than 2 causes an exponential population increase.” And this means that early death is an inefficient means of population control compared to lower birth rates.

Another consideration is that:

There is an inverse correlation between fertility and longevity: population increases the most in the countries with the shortest life expectancy. The common cause is poverty: when infant mortality is high, there is an incentive to have many children to ensure that some of them eventually survive. In addition, when there is no retirement system, the only “retirement insurance” consists in having many children. Further, to this double incentive to have children, must be added the lack of access to contraception, and a lack of information about it.

The implication of all this is that “people concerned about overpopulation should focus on reducing inequalities and improving the standard of living of the poorest countries.”

In fact, in rich countries, underpopulation is more of a problem rather than overpopulation, and rich countries would benefit enormously from increased healthy lifespans. Moreover, since rich countries will probably be the first to benefit from life-sustaining technologies, “is very unlikely that increasing life expectancy will result in an overpopulation crisis; especially since such an increase will first happen in rich countries, where the fertility rate is low.”

Furthermore, better material security generally leads people to have fewer children. Remember too that a “even if we lived 1000 years, a fertility rate slightly lower than 2 (e.g.,1.9) is sufficient in the long-term to result in a decreasing population.”

So in addition to all the moral arguments I have made in my two previous posts, I add Maurer’s insight: fertility rates are much more significant in causing population increase than death rates.

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8 thoughts on “Overpopulation and Living Forever – Part 3

  1. Brilliant! Let’s see the pro-death friends beating THOSE arguments.

    And as far as I can see, they certainly didn’t beat the moral ones, either.

    Thank you for your article!

  2. thanks for all your comments Luigi. Seems we are in agreement. But most people think us crazy.

  3. Was Protagoras correct when he said that: “Man is the measure of all things?” Sixty-five million years ago (just a minute ago on the geological time scale), Dinosaurs were probably oblivious of the small mammals under them… and who would soon replace them. We could someday be shocked if we encounter extra-terrestrials that look and think nothing like us. We are short lived creatures; we flower and then die. What young, healthy person would not enjoy a longer life? I have no doubt that we’ll get there, not in our lifetime, but it’s possible, unless we or Nature bring about our demise, after all, we have been stuck on 5 minutes to midnight for years.

  4. John,

    in the end, do their views really matter that much, or even at all? You have done what good philosophers do: have given thorough arguments about the topic at hand. Unless other people can beat your arguments, with facts and evidence and/or better arguments, what they “think” really doesn’t matter.

    Let’s face it, most people are unable to argue at all; they think that “arguing” means insulting others or quarrelling with them, or disliking their views but at the same time being utterly incapable of demonstrating how the views they dislike, are defective.

    Of course, I am not saying anything you don’t already know, here 🙂

    They seem to like death after all, and to keep “population” in check. Fine. Soon enough they will serve the very purpose they are so sure everyone else is eager to fulfill.

    The rest of us will die too, but at least we saw it for the strange cheat it really is.

    Thank you for your articles!

  5. PS. and before they themselves die, should someone they know dies, they can always include in a eulogy:

    “Well, after all, your death helps to keep the population in check. So thank you for that, and see you later somewhere in Heaven. Get the harps and the drinks ready.”.

    I mean, seriously, I know the majority of people only say silly things, John, so now I can only read stuff good philosophers write. It feels like having to choose between a nutritious meal, and a cheeseburger. I can’t read anything else, other than the news (and that I do quickly).

    “…..Is the world mad, or I ?” -Schopenhauer

  6. thanks for this Luigi. Yes, I know all this but it’s still nice to hear someone confirm it. When you spend a lifetime doing philosophy you get used to other philosophers allowing a forum of rational discourse (as opposed to emotion or violence) to determine which argument is stronger but of course, you know that in the real world might does tend to make right (sorry Plato.)

    thanks so much, Luigi

  7. This is a anecdote of the totalist way in which people think: I told a skeptic that there was probably a future for space travel. He replied that space travel is only permissible if “everyone” could do so. Such is the all-or-nothing-at-all way in which almost everybody thinks.
    “Everyone” must live forever, or else no one can live forever? Now I’m not to put humanity down—yet the evidence is that Bill Joy is correct:
    the future doesn’t need us.

  8. Maurer’s mathematical comparison is very useful. But, of course, it doesn’t consider the possibility that people who LOVE having and raising children will just be thrilled to have and raise MORE of them if given the opportunity to live forever. That would be a hopeless situation of Case A + Case B.

    The real answer isn’t math; it’s culture change. As you said about Living indefinitely changes everything about our motivations and consequences and we need to take that into account and show the way forward with wise insight. I know you are aware that’s what I’ve tried to imagine with my novel The Vitanauts, which is having difficulty finding the light of day, but your wise blog posts help too. So, thanks for that.

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