Everything That’s Ever Been Said About Boning Before Sporting Events

by Andrew Fiouzi

1. The idea that celibacy breeds maximum athletic performance dates back to 444 B.C., when Plato, of all people, opined, “Olympic competitors before races should avoid sexual intimacy.” A few centuries later, Aretaeus of Cappadocia, a celebrated Greek physician, gave Plato’s thinking a little more color: “If any man is in possession of semen, he is fierce, courageous and physically mighty, like beasts.”

2. The most detailed explanation, though, can be found in Philostratus’ Gymnasticus, the oldest text on sports known to man: “Those who come to the gymnasium straight after sex are exposed by a greater number of indicators when they train, for their strength is diminished and they are short of breath and lack daring in their attacks, and they fade in colour in response to exertion. … And when they strip, their hollow collar-bones give them away, their poorly structured hips, the conspicuous outline of their ribs, and the coldness of their blood. These athletes, even if we dedicated ourselves to them, would have no chance of being crowned in any contest. The part beneath the eyes is weak, the beating of their hearts is weak, their perspiration is weak, their sleep, which controls digestion, is weak, and their eyes glance around in a wandering fashion and indicate an appearance of lustfulness.”

3. Perhaps that’s why Cleitomachus, a star pankratiast (sort of an ancient form of MMA that was a big event during the earliest Greek Olympics), is said to have never slept with his wife, and would avert his gaze when he saw two dogs mating.

4. To ensure that a male athlete’s seed was never spilled — intentionally or otherwise — Galen, another prominent Greek doctor, recommended the following around the 2nd century, “A flattened lead plate is an object to be placed under the muscles of the loins of an athlete in training, chilling them whenever they might have nocturnal emissions of semen.”

5. That said, not everyone thought a little pre-game bacchanal was the mark of a loser. In fact, in 77 A.D., Pliny the Elder, author, philosopher and inspiration for a delicious beer, as well as a naval and army commander of the Roman Empire, argued directly against Plato and everyone else above when he wrote, “Athletes when sluggish are revitalized by lovemaking.”

6. Despite the passage of about 2,000 years, our thinking on the topic has not gotten any clearer. And the methods some athletes have gone to suppress their libidos are no less barbaric than sticking lead plates down their pants. For instance, Antonio Miguel, head of medical services at the Club Universidad Nacional Pumas, one of the top soccer teams in Mexico, has said, “At the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s, people thought that sex diminished the players’ performance. Coaches gave us nitrate salts (potassium nitrate, a substance used to prevent erections) because, according to them, this would inhibit the sexual desire.”

7. With or without nitrate salts, Muhammad Ali, according to several reports, abstained from having sex for six weeks before a fight.

8. After all, WOMEN WEAKEN LEGS:

9. All of which seems backward, since a 1968 study, “Muscular Performance Following Coitus,” found that men who hadn’t had sex for six days did no better on a strength test than men who’d had sex the previous night.

10. Same for a 2000 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness involving 15 high-level athletes between the ages of 20 and 40 who participated in a two-day experiment. Its conclusion? Sexual activity had no significant overall effect on how the athletes performed during exercise and mental tests.

11. In fact, Emmanuele A. Jannini of the University of L’Aquila in Italy has found that sex stimulates the production of testosterone. “After three months without sex, which is not so uncommon for some athletes, testosterone dramatically drops to levels close to children’s levels,” he told National Geographic.

12. Of course, Joe Namath didn’t need Jannini to tell him that. “I try to [have sex the night before a game],” he explained in his 1969 Playboy Interview. “Before one game last year, I just sat home by myself and watched television, drank a little tequila to relax and went to sleep fairly early. But most of the nights before games, I’ll be with a girl. One of the Jets’ team doctors, in fact, told me that it’s a good idea to have sexual relations before a game, because it gets rid of the kind of nervous tension an athlete doesn’t need.”…




What Really Turned the Sahara Desert From a Green Oasis Into a Wasteland?

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One of the world’s most iconic deserts was once lush and green. What happened? (Alamy )

10,000 years ago, this iconic desert was unrecognizable. A new hypothesis suggests that humans may have tipped the balance


When most people imagine an archetypal desert landscape—with its relentless sun, rippling sand and hidden oases—they often picture the Sahara. But 11,000 years ago, what we know today as the world’s largest hot desert would’ve been unrecognizable. The now-dessicated northern strip of Africa was once green and alive, pocked with lakes, rivers, grasslands and even forests. So where did all that water go?

Archaeologist David Wright has an idea: Maybe humans and their goats tipped the balance, kick-starting this dramatic ecological transformation. In a new study in the journal Frontiers in Earth Science, Wright set out to argue that humans could be the answer to a question that has plagued archaeologists and paleoecologists for years.

The Sahara has long been subject to periodic bouts of humidity and aridity. These fluctuations are caused by slight wobbles in the tilt of the Earth’s orbital axis, which in turn changes the angle at which solar radiation penetrates the atmosphere. At repeated intervals throughout Earth’s history, there’s been more energy pouring in from the sun during the West African monsoon season, and during those times—known as African Humid Periods—much more rain comes down over north Africa.

With more rain, the region gets more greenery and rivers and lakes. All this has been known for decades. But between 8,000 and 4,500 years ago, something strange happened: The transition from humid to dry happened far more rapidly in some areas than could be explained by the orbital precession alone, resulting in the Sahara Desert as we know it today. “Scientists usually call it ‘poor pramaterization’ of the data,” Wright said by email. “Which is to say that we have no idea what we’re missing here—but something’s wrong.”

As Wright pored the archaeological and environmental data (mostly sediment cores and pollen records, all dated to the same time period), he noticed what seemed like a pattern. Wherever the archaeological record showed the presence of “pastoralists”—humans with their domesticated animals—there was a corresponding change in the types and variety of plants. It was as if, every time humans and their goats and cattle hopscotched across the grasslands, they had turned everything to scrub and desert in their wake.

Wright thinks this is exactly what happened. “By overgrazing the grasses, they were reducing the amount of atmospheric moisture—plants give off moisture, which produces clouds—and enhancing albedo,” Wright said. He suggests this may have triggered the end of the humid period more abruptly than can be explained by the orbital changes. These nomadic humans also may have used fire as a land management tool, which would have exacerbated the speed at which the desert took hold.

It’s important to note that the green Sahara always would’ve turned back into a desert even without humans doing anything—that’s just how Earth’s orbit works, says geologist Jessica Tierney, an associate professor of geoscience at the University of Arizona. Moreover, according to Tierney, we don’t necessarily need humans to explain the abruptness of the transition from green to desert.

Instead, the culprits might be regular old vegetation feedbacks and changes in the amount of dust. “At first you have this slow change in the Earth’s orbit,” Tierney explains. “As that’s happening, the West African monsoon is going to get a little bit weaker. Slowly you’ll degrade the landscape, switching from desert to vegetation. And then at some point you pass the tipping point where change accelerates.”

Tierney adds that it’s hard to know what triggered the cascade in the system, because everything is so closely intertwined. During the last humid period, the Sahara was filled with hunter-gatherers. As the orbit slowly changed and less rain fell, humans would have needed to domesticate animals, like cattle and goats, for sustenance. “It could be the climate was pushing people to herd cattle, or the overgrazing practices accelerated denudation [of foliage],” Tierney says.

Which came first? It’s hard to say with evidence we have now. “The question is: How do we test this hypothesis?” she says. “How do we isolate the climatically driven changes from the role of humans? It’s a bit of a chicken and an egg problem.” Wright, too, cautions that right now we have evidence only for correlation, not causation.

But Tierney is also intrigued by Wright’s research, and agrees with him that much more research needs to be done to answer these questions.

“We need to drill down into the dried-up lake beds that are scattered around the Sahara and look at the pollen and seed data and then match that to the archaeological datasets,” Wright said. “With enough correlations, we may be able to more definitively develop a theory of why the pace of climate change at the end of the AHP doesn’t match orbital timescales and is irregular across northern Africa.”

Tierney suggests researchers could use mathematical models that compare the impact hunter-gatherers would have on the environment versus that of pastoralists herding animals. For such models it would be necessary to have some idea of how many people lived in the Sahara at the time, but Tierney is sure there were more people in the region than there are today, excepting coastal urban areas…


Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-really-turned-sahara-desert-green-oasis-wasteland-180962668/#3aY85oLSfAGlomkP.99
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The Strange Blissfulness of Storms


Is there a biochemical reason that extreme weather makes us happy?

Ifelt pretty sure something was wrong when the deer began running toward me. I knew something was wrong when a pine branch flew by my head. The air went dark and a noise like a train barreled through the forest, the actual wind coming after the sound of itself. The trees all swayed in the same direction, and then came the slap of thunder.

I felt more than saw the huge shelf cloud, a wall of black striped with electricity, surge forward over the ridge of the Allegheny Mountains overlooking Green Bank, West Virginia. A sharp line against the blue sky, it looked less like weather and more like a Rothko. I lived in this remote town, and I was on my usual afternoon run, picking my way across the trails that led from my house to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, where I worked. Adrenaline told me I needed to fly, faster.

I ran two miles in 12 minutes, a pace I’d never maintained before and never have since, hurdling downed trees and power lines. When I got back to my house, surprised to be safe, I dragged my dog down to the farmhouse basement. After a restless 30 seconds, though, I bolted back upstairs, threw the door open, and stood on the porch. A wall of wind hit me. Lightning struck like a strobe. I felt awakened, alive, engaged. As the edge of the front pushed forward, the force seemed to clear the air and charge the whole scene with yellow-lit significance.

STORM INSIDE: Negative ions released in a thunderstorm, foreboded by a massive shelf cloud over a plain, might affect us in a way that explains the emotional rush we feel in extreme weather.NZP Chasers

I’m not the first to feel this way, or write about it. “It was his impression that not just he but other people too felt better in hurricanes,” wrote Walker Percy in his novel The Last Gentleman, published in 1966. Today, people crowd around Weather Channel broadcasts and cross their fingers that storms will strengthen. They get giddy over thundersnow. Percy, a philosopher as well as a novelist, was intrigued by the phenomenon. In one of his earliest essays, published in the 1950s, he asked, “Why do people often feel bad in good environments and good in bad environments?”

Why hurricanes elevate our mood—lift us out of a malaise we might not even know we’re sunk in—is a rich question for philosophers, novelists, and people who like philosophy and novels. It’s deepened by the fact that our giddiness often comes spiked with guilt, and a revulsion at ourselves for hoping for, and enjoying, something so destructive.

But the thrill of storms may not just be a psychological phenomenon. A branch of science called biometeorology attempts to explain the impact of atmospheric processes on organisms and ecosystems. Biometeorologists study, among other topics, how the seasons affect plant growth, how agriculture depends on climate, and how weather helps spread or curb human diseases. For decades now, a faction have looked at how charged particles in the air, called ions, might alter our psyches as they wing in on the wind.

Explanations of the environment’s impact on us sometimes crash at the intersection of science and pseudoscience. The idea that electrically charged molecules affect humans has led to dubious cures like negative air-ionizing therapy. But recent, rigorous studies have hinted at compelling links between ions, physiology, and psychology. The collision of that work with the science of storms could bear a message of connection for us all.

Scientists first attempted to unweave the web between air ions—whose composition changes with weather and environment—and human mood in the mid 20th century, when ion-generating machines and ion counters became more standardized and available. Ions, natural or ginned up inside a device, are electrically charged particles: Negative ions have an extra electron, and positive ions are missing an electron. Positive ions get their spark when some force—like the scrape of air over land or shear from water droplets splashing—strips an electron from them. That electron goes on the rebound and attaches itself to a nearby oxygen molecule, which then becomes a negative ion.

In the wild, people encounter the greatest densities of negative air ions in pleasant, hydrated places and during summer months. Breaking ocean waves and falling water—dropping from the sky or flowing over a rock ledge—release a rash of negatives into the air. So do bolts of lightning. Positive ions—often associated with pollutant particles like smoke, smog, and dust—are more prevalent indoors, in urban areas, and in the winter. The leading edges of storms and hot, dry winds like the Santa Anas in California also blow them in.

Lightning struck like a strobe. I felt awakened, alive, engaged.

Medical doctor Daniel Silverman of New Orleans and Igho Kornblueh of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia were first to test whether the shifting tides of ions do anything to the human body or mind. Is either polarity good or bad, or are they both neutral? In 1957, they gave subjects 30-minute treatments with air ions from ion-generating devices.

During the treatment, Silverman and Kornblueh watched patients’ electrical brain activity on electroencephalograms. Their long, slow, alpha waves looked calm and relaxed when they were surrounded by negative ions, positive ones, or both at once (not exactly conclusive). Another research group later confirmed chilled-out brain activity and sharper perception, when they treated patients with negative air ions. Their results weren’t definitive, but three other studies in the ’50s and ’60s looked at how ions changed self-reported perceptions of comfort and restlessness. According to this research, some subjects felt negative feelings with positive ions, and some reported positive feelings with negative ions…





Source: Steep Hill Labs


The prevalence of pesticides and contaminants in retail cannabis is one of the most important issues facing the industry. As more states require testing, the high levels of pesticides in retail products are causing alarm among consumers and regulators concerned about the potential health effects of these chemicals, especially on medical patients with compromised immune systems.

The extent of the problem was highlighted by Steep Hill Labs, a leading cannabis-testing company. It found that, if California implemented the same testing requirements adopted by Oregon, 84 percent of the products tested in the state would fail—an alarmingly high number for the country’s largest cannabis market. Nor is the pesticide problem confined to California: The Association of Commercial Cannabis Companies estimates that half of the cannabis tested around the country contains measurable levels of pesticides, though the exact number is still not known. As Jeffrey Raber, president of the ACCL, states: “Cultivating-agent contamination is a huge concern.”

Technological advances in testing have enabled us to see the true extent of the problem. As the ACCL reports, “Using state-of-the-art mass-spectrometry-based approaches, we have broadened the ability to detect more of these cultivating agents and have come to understand that this problem is larger and more complex than anyone initially suspected.”

One of the most prevalent pesticides, myclobutanil, is of particular concern in smoked forms of cannabis, because it turns into hydrogen cyanide—a compound that is toxic to humans—when combusted. Sixty-six percent of the cannabis samples tested in California contained myclobutanil, indicating its widespread use despite the health risks it poses.

The intensive use of pesticides in loosely regulated cannabis markets is understandable: The plant is highly susceptible to fungal infections that can damage entire crops, which can be extremely costly to growers. This leads some to overuse pesticides, resulting in residual levels in the harvested plants that far exceed what is considered safe for human consumption. A single joint of contaminated cannabis may not be enough to kill or cause severe harm, but the cumulative effects of ingesting contaminated cannabis may pose serious long-term health risks to cannabis consumers.

The increased focus on pesticides is being fueled by a greater interest on the part of consumers in the quality of the cannabis they purchase. In illicit markets, cannabis consumers had very little access to information about its source, its potency or its quality. With the transition to legal cannabis markets, especially those that now mandate testing, consumers are seeing for the first time the extent of the contaminant problem in cannabis, and are increasingly demanding more information on product quality.

Cannabis testing has become more widespread as recreational and medical marijuana states include testing requirements in their regulations. Under the newly passed adult-use law in California, for example, all cannabis will need to be tested before it reaches store shelves.

While the precise testing requirements have yet to be finalized, the extent of the pesticide problem revealed in Steep Hill’s analysis indicates that many growers will need to change their practices to ensure that their products can be sold. This may make it more challenging for growers, but the public-health concerns raised by unfettered pesticide use are too significant to ignore.

John Kagia is executive vice president of industry analytics for New Frontier Data.



Diseases of the Will: Neuroscience Founding Father Santiago Ramón y Cajal on the Six Psychological Flaws That Keep the Talented from Achieving Greatness

Self-portrait by Cajal at his library in his thirties, from Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal

“Our neurons must be used … not only to know but also to transform knowledge; not only to experience but also to construct.”

“Principles are good and worth the effort only when they develop into deeds,” Van Gogh wrote to his brother in a beautiful letter about talking vs. doing and the human pursuit of greatness. “The great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together.” But what stands between the impulse for greatness and the doing of the “little things” out of which success is woven?

That’s what neuroscience founding father Santiago Ramón y Cajal (May 1, 1852–October 17, 1934) addresses in his 1897 book Advice for a Young Investigator (public library) — the science counterpart to Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and Anna Deavere Smith’s Letters to a Young Artist, predating one by nearly a decade and the other by more than a century.

Although Cajal’s counsel is aimed at young scientists, it is replete with wisdom that applies as much to science as it does to any other intellectually and creatively ambitious endeavor — nowhere more so than in one of the pieces in the volume, titled “Diseases of the Will,” presenting a taxonomy of the “ethical weaknesses and intellectual poverty” that keep even the most gifted young people from ascending to greatness.

It should be noted that Cajal addresses his advice to young men, on the presumption that scientists are male — proof that even the most visionary geniuses are still products of their time and place, and can’t fully escape the limitations and biases of their respective era, or as Virginia Woolf memorably put it in Orlando, “It is probable that the human spirit has its place in time assigned to it.” (Lest we forget, although the word “scientist” had been coined for a woman half a century earlier, women were not yet able to vote and were decades away from being admitted into European universities, so scientists in the strict academic sense were indeed exclusively male in Cajal’s culture.) Still, when stripped of its genderedness, his advice remains immensely psychologically insightful, offering a timeless corrective for the pitfalls that keep talent and drive from manifesting into greatness, not only in science but in any field.

Considering the all too pervasive paradox of creative people “who are wonderfully talented and full of energy and initiative [but] who never produce any original work and almost never write anything,” Cajal divides them into six classes according to the “diseases of the will” afflicting them — contemplators, bibliophiles and polyglots, megalomaniacs, instrument addicts, misfits, and theorists.

He examines the superficiality driving the “particularly morbid variety” of the first type:

[Contemplators] love the study of nature but only for its aesthetic qualities — the sublime spectacles, the beautiful forms, the splendid colors, and the graceful structures.

One of Cajal’s revolutionary histological drawings

With an eye to his own chosen field of histology, which he revolutionized by using beauty to illuminate the workings of the brain, Cajal notes that a contemplator will master the finest artistic techniques “without ever feeling the slightest temptation to apply them to a new problem, or to the solution of a hotly contested issue.” He adds:

[Contemplators] are as likable for their juvenile enthusiasm and piquant and winning speech as they are ineffective in making any real scientific progress.

More than a century before Tom Wolfe’s admonition against the rise of the pseudo-intellectual, Cajal treats with special disdain the bibliophiles and polyglots — those who use erudition not as a tool of furthering humanity’s enlightenment but as a personal intellectual ornament of pretension and vanity. He diagnoses this particular “disease of the will”:

The symptoms of this disease include encyclopedic tendencies; the mastery of numerous languages, some totally useless; exclusive subscription to highly specialized journals; the acquisition of all the latest books to appear in the bookseller’s showcases; assiduous reading of everything that is important to know, especially when it interests very few; unconquerable laziness where writing is concerned; and an aversion to the seminar and laboratory…





Booze, Weed, Food Comas, Caffeine: How to Sober Up From Everything

Art by Erin Taj

by Brian VanHooker

Because sometimes you need to come down quickly

We’ve all been there: You’re hopped up on shrooms, having an in-depth discussion with your friend’s pet turtle, when suddenly, you remember you have a job interview in an hour and you’ve got to get sober, fast.

…Okay, so maybe we haven’t all been there, but most of us have, for various reasons, found ourselves needing to sober up from something in a big hurry. If you haven’t got time to sleep it off, here’s what the experts say might help counteract whatever the hell you’re on.

Type of Intoxication: Alcohol
How to Sober Up: According to biochemist and medical cannabis advocate Junella Chin, you should “eat a meal rich in carbs, protein and fat.” This is by no means an instant fix, though: While downing that late-night burger will put you on the path to sobering up, it does not mean you’re instantly going to be okay to drive.
Why It Works: “This kind of food will help eliminate alcohol concentration from the body faster [by soaking up the booze],” says Chin. Eating a meal also helps increase blood flow to the liver, which helps the liver enzymes in the digestion and clearing out of the alcohol.

Type of Intoxication: Weed
How to Sober Up: According to Chin, your best bet is taking a shower and then going for a walk. Also, and more surprisingly, taking another form of cannabis may help — specifically, cannabidiol (CBD) oil.
Why It Works: Chin says that a shower “will help relax you,” which can offset the tachycardia (the fast heartbeat and panicked feeling) that can be a side effect of THC (the psychoactive component in weed). Walking, she says, helps since “light exercise will increase the endorphins in the brain to help metabolize the THC quicker.”

As for the CBD oil? “This will counteract the THC’s psychoactive effects,” she claims. “CBD and THC have an antagonistic effect on each other.” In other words, if your high has gotten a little more trippy than you intended, the CBD oil will help mellow you out.

Type of Intoxication: Magic mushrooms
How to Sober Up: Unfortunately, you’re pretty much shit out of luck when it comes to shrooms, according to Chin. “Essentially, you must allow it to run its course, which can take six to eight hours,” she says. The only other possible solution is to take drugs known as benzodiazepines — something you should NOT try to administer at home.
Why It Works: “In the hospital setting, we would administer benzodiazepines to patients to help reduce the intensity of the high [since they] serve to calm the patient down,” Chin says. “This must be done in a medical setting and closely monitored.” It’s also worth noting that even benzos don’t stop the trip entirely: They just make it more bearable by lowering the patient’s stress and anxiety to a more manageable level.

Type of Intoxication: Cocaine
How to Sober Up: Once again, benzodiazepines are your best bet.
Why It Works: Put simply: It’ll calm you down. But as with shrooms, it’s very important to follow Chin’s advice and to leave this to a hospital setting only. Mixing drugs like this can be deadly, so unless you want to go to the hospital (or worse), you’re better off just riding it out.

Type of Intoxication: Sugar high
How to Sober Up: If you’ve just downed a family-sized bag of M&Ms in one sitting, there are a few things that may help in getting you down from your sugar-induced hyperactive state — mainly proteins, fats and water. If there’s any room left in your stomach, try eating some nuts, an avocado or fiber-rich veggies like peas, spinach or potatoes.
Why It Works: “Paleo foods [like nuts, meats, fish and leafy greens] give you fat and protein to slow down your digestion, while the fiber helps slow the absorption of simple sugars,” Chin says. The end result is that the sugar’s path to your bloodstream gets slowed down, making you less hyper. As for the water? That’s just to make you feel more full so you eat less sweet stuff.

Type of Intoxication: Sleep deprivation
How to Sober Up: The best way to combat those feelings of grogginess or dulled senses when you’ve been up all night is not, surprisingly, to down three cups of coffee (although that’s certainly the easiest approach). You may be better off with supplements like tyrosine, magnesium and most of all, creatine.
Why It Works: While sleep deprivation reduces high-energy phosphates (the chemical reactions in your body that provide the energy for your bodily processes), creatine restores them, thus bringing back your strength, stamina and focus…





Will 90 Become The New 60?


As our lifespans have increased, so too have our active years. Can that go on?

Immortality: Trust us, you wouldn’t like it.

It’s a comforting message, in a sour-grapes sort of way. It sounds wise and mature, suggesting that we put aside childish dreams and accept once and for all that there can be no vital Veg-O-Matic that slices mortality and dices infirmity. Gerontologists like it, being particularly eager to put on a respectable front and escape the whiff of snake oil that clings to the field of life extension.

In 1946 the newly founded Gerontological Society of America cited, in the first article of the first issue of its Journal of Gerontology, the need to concern ourselves to add “not more years to life, but more life to years.” The dictum was famously sharpened 15 years later by Robert Kennedy when he told the delegates at the first White House Conference on Aging “We have added years to life; it is time to think about how we add life to years.” Political theorist and futurist Francis Fukuyama was particularly eloquent but hardly alone when he warned two decades ago that if we maintain our obsession with extending life at all costs, society may “increasingly come to resemble a giant nursing home.”

Robert Holland / Getty Images

Around the same time noted aging researchers S. Jay Olshansky and Bruce Carnes wrote in ominous tones that we were treading into the realm of “manufactured survival time,” warning that “this success has been accompanied by a rise in frailty and disability in the general population.1 This is a consequence that neither the medical community nor society was prepared for.” A celebrated article by epidemiologist E.M. Gruenberg in 1977 bemoaned the “failures of success”: “at the same time that persons suffering from chronic diseases are getting an extension of life, they are also getting an extension of disease and disability.”

This message is particularly dire if lifespans rise over extended periods of time—which they have done. In 1936 Louis Dublin, the chief actuary of Metropolitan Life teamed up with the esteemed mathematical demographer Alfred Lotka, to calculate the maximum life expectancy theoretically possible. They came up with a limit of 69.93 years. This limit was exceeded by women in Iceland five years later, by American women in 1949, and by American men in 1979. Life expectancies have been increasing at a steady rate of 3 months per year for the past 175 years, and on average, expert calculations of the maximum possible human lifespan have been exceeded an average of five years after being made. In some cases, they had already been overtaken by events somewhere in the world at the time they were issued.

But what if long lifespans don’t necessarily mean more years of disability? At the turn of the present century George C. Williams, celebrated evolutionary theorist of aging, attacked what he termed the “Tithonus error.” Tithonus, son of a nymph, lover of a goddess, was granted the boon of eternal life. But the further gift of eternal youth was unattainable. Frail, bent, and suffering he shriveled at last into a cricket. Williams’ argument was almost a trivial one, from the perspective of evolutionary biology: The very aged are rare, hence there is unlikely to have been any evolutionary pressure to shape the timing of the end of life, in the way that the timing of early development has been shaped. What we see as the “natural lifespan” is simply a balance between the wear of daily life and the limited ability of repair mechanisms to undo it fully. Shifting the balance, either by increasing the rate or efficiency of repair, or by reducing the rate of damage, must surely stretch out the whole process. Actually, it should do even better than that: The end stage, where most of our suffering is found, ought to be the least susceptible to extension, since it requires maintaining the function of an organism that is failing on multiple levels. This is consistent with the observation that, while mortality rates have been falling at all ages, the pace of progress has been slowest at advanced ages. Youth, according to this argument, should take up a greater portion of our lifespan over time. In 1980 the medical researcher James Fries called this process “compression of morbidity.”



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