Forget space exploration, get cracking on a due date

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So nice that NASA sent that sweet little machine into space to photograph Saturn’s rings, but did the investment match the outcome? Are we wasting budgets and resources?

Here is where we are, pretty much stuck in our strangely open-ended lifespans; lives that should be devoted to a much more pressing area of science – our life expectancy. To be more specific, a use-by date.

Consider the opportunity such research could offer bright-minded, well-resourced scientists, physicists and doctors, and perhaps even philosophers and psychologists.

We are born, we marry – or least shack up in a meaningful way – and we die, the three vital, usually celebrated steps that set the pattern for the continuance of our kind.

Pregnant women are given a due date and are able to plan their lives accordingly. Weddings can be scheduled to the very minute. Both of these are, usually, optimistic, life-enhancing occasions.

Death is such a different matter that, most of the time, we don’t even think about it, never mind make a time-plan and a guest list.

Suppose you get sick, and the doctors discover it is due to something rather serious. There is malfunction in an organ or two, or your clever neurological or chemical systems have been hacked and are doing things that will leave you increasingly helpless.

You go to hospital where teams of dedicated fixers swing into their curing roles and for a while you become the centre of their and your family’s and friends’ attention. Your body is subjected to drugs, surgery, implants, transplants, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.

Usually things improve, but some things can’t be clearly diagnosed or successfully treated. “You could have a few months,” a doctor might say. “Or you could go on for years.” So you go home and take your pain and/or bewilderment with you.

It is what happens next that seems to me to cry out for further exploration, because you can no longer pretend you are here for the long haul. 

In the post-death sentence state, you don’t necessarily know how quickly your illness will progress. If you are rational – people with dementia have a different set of problems – and not in severe pain, you have to start living this strange, budgeting-with-no-fixed-timeline existence.

Whatever you do, health issues will own you and, to a great extent, run your life. The man with the scythe has a foot in your door, and you know he is never going to leave. You also don’t know when he will step all the way in and get you, and this makes planning for whatever time you have left so difficult that the option of legal euthanasia might start to feel like a comfort.

It seems to me that the medical/scientific world needs to devote itself to accurate, practical prognostication. I am not a doctor, but I am a very experienced patient.

Here’s what the researchers need to do. 

They need to work out what the organising system is in each body, to see where weaknesses, defences, reinforcements and deprivations lie. To some extent they already do this. They see that blood vessels have filled with fatty droplets or that various kinds of cells are either growing too rapidly and in the wrong places or are not growing enough.

Clever advances in the medical world have already given us longevity our grandparents would not have believed possible. But prognostication is still a vague science.

Researchers might devise testing methods that delve into each person’s genetic script to determine exactly when the scythe will fall. 

Of course, researchers would have to deal with a big range of variables, such as diet choices, the weather, other people’s germs, the patient’s truthfulness and, of course, accidents. But, in standard conditions, I imagine a prognostic report would say something like: “Provided you stick to the diet, sleep and exercise regimens you worked out with your professional team, your use-by date will be no later than  …”

If you didn’t want to know your use-by date, you wouldn’t have to ask. But my guess is that most people in this peculiar situation would be glad to know for sure that we had no more than three months, or three years and 43 days, or 10 years and a week.

Then we could proceed more confidently into living, rather than have our focus constantly pulled towards dying. Our decisions would be more realistic, less deranged by hope, hyper-alertness or despair. Fear would be replaced by confidence.

Presuming that you do not have dementia, or are not in a state of severe chronic pain, and you had been given a definite date, you could more easily decide, for example, about upgrading your car, putting solar panels on your house, travelling to India, buying a puppy.

Potential heirs, who may be somewhat eager to see you out, may be more inclined to back off because they know how long they need to wait.

Accurate prognostication could save the world a fortune in ultimately useless medical interventions.  More importantly, it would keep an increasingly large proportion of society sane, focused and more confidently ticking off do-able things on realistic bucket-lists – lists that would probably include planning pretty spectacular farewell parties.

Would you ask to know your use-by date if that were possible? Would the capacity to know help or hinder your enjoyment of life?

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53 Comments

Total Comments: 53
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    Listen to Monty Python’s “The Galaxy Song”

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      – or Monty Python’s, ” I am not dead yet!” hehe
      and the meaning of life is 42!
      V1K1 I agree – black humour is by far the best way to approach our darkest hours.

      As for space exploration. My life’s quest in my short 100 year gift of life on the planet Earth is to learn as much about the Universe from the depths of our oceans to ancient galaxies in the abyss.
      Money is just a means of transacting goods and services. The Universe is far beyond a few coins in my pocket.

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    Well -I know I’m past my use by date, and it is a source of personal pride that I’ve held off The Reaper several times…. in several ways…

    Got too much to do, not least the work of saving a nearly morally and intellectually defunct nation from itself….. but I’ll be here to pester you and politicians for a while yet…

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    This is naval-gazing garbage. Unless humankind finds a way to reach other star systems, we are doomed to extinction. NASA is a crucial ingredient in this search.

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    This rather dumb article presumes an either/or approach. There’s no reason why human beings cannot conduct BOTH medical research AND space exploration.

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      If anything Medical Research is the human race’s ultimate undoing.
      Instead of adhering to Darwin’s theory of evolution we are not becoming genetically stronger each generation. We are enabling weaker genes to survive as we perpetually repair and treat conditions.
      I am glad of all the things we can fix – and I wouldn’t be writing this now if they hadn’t, however it is a fact. We have found a way to nurture the sick, the weak and the dying and in exchange we have over-population and starvation.
      So I thank the Medical Profession for all they have done for me. Yet, I am aware we are playing God and there is a yin and yang.

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    I’ve either outlived my use by date (given to me over 20 years ago that I had 6 months to live) or the year that those six months are in hasn’t rolled around yet!!! Quite frankly I believe that science deciding when our use by date is due is fraught with danger and perhaps culling of those who reach that magic number, regardless of whether they are a burden or not. To me, even though I suffer severed and largely unrelievable chronic pain (I am highly allergic to codeine/morphine and their many derivatives) I keep myself busy helping others, and I’m glad that even though humans long ago declared me unfit to be employed, God obviously still has a purpose for me. I have the company of my two furry companions, and both look after me very well. I’ve outlived two of the doctors who gave their decree many years ago. As I often say to others who’ve been told their use-by date, don’t die before you stop breathing! Science does not and cannot know everything, humans are far from infallible. I’m happy to be still on this mortal coil, but won’t protest when God does invite me Home either.

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      Just a by the way, I did read the writer’s comment that if someone wanted to know their use by date they would be told, BUT how long will it be before one is expected to die at their given date regardless? I say this from experience, years ago aborting a perfectly healthy foetus was thought to be a terrible crime, now that abortion is legalized if a single woman doesn’t want an abortion she’s often deemed to be ‘only after the sole parent’s pension’ (having been on it when bringing up 3 children after divorce, I can say it’s nothing to aspire to)?

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    Dear Viki,
    With due respect you lack an understanding of both the purpose and the scope of both fields.
    Exploring space has helped to give us the dual benefits of understanding the power and beauty of the universe (and an inkling of what we might be able to achieve in it in the future) and the enormous array of technological spin-offs which have expanded our capabilities here on earth (radio, gps, satellite forecasting etc etc).
    Predicting what might happen with our bodies is a much more difficult task, as there are so many other factors to take account of (such as the human spirit, unforeseen contingencies, new discoveries in medecine etc etc)
    I favour spending money on learning as much about our wonderful universe and leaving my use by date in the lap of the ‘gods’.

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    Space flight incurs problems not normally experienced so new technologies have to be developed that can have much practical use, – ( not just for underwater voyaging) – new fabrics, more sophisticated computers and other devices, and most important, because space craft were sent to Venus and rockets with sensors sent into the atmosphere, we have discovered that the atmosphere of Venus is over 96% carbon dioxide, – no water nor oxygen, just a bit of sulphuric acid and argon.
    This put paid to the Global Warming Deniers claim that Carbon dioxide was good for you, the more the better, and indeed currently it is believed by many that modern Venus is the result of runaway greenhose effect, (possibly by it’s inhabitants behaving the same way us humans are behaving on Our precious planet) so we don’t need to try it ourselves to know what will happen if we don’t stop throwing billions of tons of C02 into the atmosphere, all life on earth will be destroyed.
    Thanks to Space flight we now know what are our options, – Pollute and Perish, or Live Sustainably in regards to Co2 concentration in our atmosphere, – we’ve got, what? another 12 years? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2H60ritjag

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      Lookfar wrote: “the atmosphere of Venus is over 96% carbon dioxide, – no water nor oxygen, just a bit of sulphuric acid and argon.
      This put paid to the Global Warming Deniers claim that Carbon dioxide was good for you”

      Yeah right. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing …

      FYI the Venusian atmosphere is over 90 times as DENSE as that on Earth but it is not the greenhouse effect which is warming it up.

      This is proven by the fact that with the very slow rotation of Venus THE DARK SIDE DOES NOT COOL DOWN OVER THE THOUSANDS OF VENUSIAN NIGHT HOURS as it does on Earth.

      It’s the atmospheric pressure stupid!

      If Earth’s atmosphere was as thick as that on Venus, Earth would also be a fiery hothouse.

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      Hey lookfar,

      Oh, I forgot to mention another very good reason for the lack of a greenhouse effect on Venus.

      Venus is totally shrouded in THICK CLOUD COVER which prevents most of the incident sunlight reaching the surface.

      This reflected sunlight makes Venus the brightest planet in the solar system, being easily visible from Earth with the naked eye.

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    I think it would be a good idea if life started the other way around — stared at the ënd” and finished at the beginning, with an orgasm.

    No, I don’t really want to know the date of my demise

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    No point spending more on medical research they never find cures because that will do in the pharmaceutical companies. Have a read of Anthony Williams books, medical medium, Liver Rescue, LIfe changing foods, and Thyroid healing and you will find some insights into the future of health. Our bodies are very resilient but we need to take care of them, feed them wholefoods and stop abusing them.
    As for space exploration, as much as it is interesting I still don’t know the purpose of spending so much money on it, where is it getting us? We are still trashing the planet we have.

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    Why start off criticising NASA? Have you actually looked at what NASA has given us? They use only 0.4% of the US budget (and notice US, doesn’t come out of our pocket so why have a go at them) and spin off tech includes benefits in health, transport, public safety, industry and computer tech.

    And such ignorance about the millions of things that determine how long you live. The very moment you know your life expectancy, your life expectancy would change. And who’s going to insure you or lend you money or give you a job if you have a low life expectancy? That’s information that could destroy your life and of course then lower your life expectancy and quality of life.

    We already know what helps you live longer, and genome science tells us so much more, and gets more than enough funding.

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