In a previous post, I mentioned how there is a time to do more of the useful stuff and after rolling the ball according to an essential roadmap, there is a time to do less of the useless stuff. Then I observed that something really interesting has happened in the field of biology that is a kind of an analogy for this concept. Even more interestingly, it teaches us an exactly opposite lesson.
Harari in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind mentions some thoughts on extending the human life span.
Although the average life expectancy has double over the last hundred years, it is unwarranted to extrapolate and conclude that we can double it again to 150 in the coming century. In 1900 global life expectancy was no higher than forty because many people died young of malnutrition, infectious diseases and violence. Yet those who escaped famine, plague and war could live well into their seventies and eighties, which is the natural life span of Homo Sapiens. Contrary to common notions, seventy-year-olds weren’t considered rare freaks of nature in previous centuries. Galileo Galilei died at seventy-seven, Isaac Newton at eighty-four, and Michelangelo lived to the ripe age of eighty-eight, without any help from antibiotics, vaccinations or organ transplants. Indeed, even chimpanzees in the jungle sometimes live into their sixties.
In truth, so far modern medicine hasn’t extended our natural life span by a single year. Its great achievement has been to save us from premature death, and allow us to enjoy the full measure of our years.
In this respect, let us first admit that the scientists had been doing what needed to be done for the past few centuries. Next, we can safely assume that they had no concrete roadmap to extend the expiry date of our organs. A doctor saves lives — not adds years. So just by the way of analogy, a person taking the path of reducing the inessential first will have a tough time on getting on the productivity highway. The other route of starting one or two big projects first and then reducing the inessential, in my opinion, is a better approach.