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Posted October 21, 2003
This is a very interesting book, especially if you are in the older half of the population, enjoy scientific mysteries, or are otherwise interested in theories of biological aging. The book makes a pretty good logical case that aging is a potentially highly treatable condition and that therefore we, specifically the U.S. Government National Institutes of Health, should be spending a lot more money on anti-aging research. The author thinks a fifty-percent improvement in human life span is a reasonably short-term possibility. In this case the scientific quandary, (the dilemma of the title), is whether or not aging is an evolved characteristic in the same way that eyes, claws, and fangs are the result of evolution. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that aging is evolved but Darwin¿s theory of evolution says aging can¿t be an evolved characteristic because it is adverse to survival and therefore counter to survival-of-the-fittest. This has resulted in two scientific camps. The larger camp goes with Darwin¿s theory and has produced at least three different theories in which aging is not evolved but is some sort of defect or fundamental unchangeable property of life. The smaller camp, (including the author), has developed at least three different theories that say that aging is evolved and that Darwin¿s 143 year old theory needs at least some minor adjustments to accommodate aging and some other similarly incompatible characteristics of animals. According to the book, Darwin himself thought aging was evolved, despite his theory! Why should we care? The people in the non-evolved camp tend to believe that aging is inescapable and that therefore anti-aging research is a waste of time and money. The people in the evolved camp tend to think the chance for major medical intervention in aging is much better. Depending on theories, researchers will look in different places for answers. One thing seemed clear to me: The scientific justification for the idea that aging is an unalterable fact of life is rather weak. This is significant considering that, (according to the author), about 80 percent of the public and a probably larger percentage of health professionals think that major improvements in life span are either impossible or very unlikely. Along the way to these conclusions, the book provides a lot of interesting factoids about human mortality, miscellaneous bizarre aging and life span characteristics of various animals and other organisms, summaries of all the theories including Darwin¿s theory of natural selection, and results of a survey on public opinions about aging. The author maintains a web site that provides one-click access to on-line resources cited in the book. This book is relatively free of scientific jargon.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.