Regeneration vs. reproduction

An intern in my group a couple of summers ago became interested in aging when he got to med school. I usually have a fun time with my interns so sometimes they keep in touch. He called me and wanted to know what was known about aging. Knowing nothing, but always willing to be distracted, I looked into it and discovered all sorts of mathematical models of aging and death. These are usually at a pretty phenomenological level, but it is good to know about Gompertz and the Penna model and so on. In fact, these models don’t take evolution into account. Rephrasing: Why aren’t we all immortal with lots of regenerative capabilities? That’s something that Kurzweil might want to think about, no? So, given that evolution selects on the phenotype and evolves the genotype, I don’t see offhand how the appearance of programmed death in all multicellular species I know about is something that emerges without taking environmental variation and the whole group of individuals into account. In other words, why do we have children instead of continual self-renewal? Why doesn’t our homeostasis include regenerative homeostasis. Avoid all the diapers …
This is something I wonder about a lot, especially after my father’s death a couple of weeks ago, is why is it so hard to accept death for most people? My father died a good death, no prolonged suffering, at a ripe old age, surrounded by his family. So why does my mother keep re-iterating that she did not expect it to be like this? I couldn’t help asking her: How did she think it would happen? I’m more or less convinced that a large part of religion is simply to stop people from going nuts at the prospect of ceasing to exist by offering them an afterlife, with the bonus that if they conform in this life, the afterlife will feature many comforts (conform to being a jihadi and you get umpteen virgins and so on … which brings up: What happens if you’re a woman jihadi? Inquiring minds want to know …) Getting back to this lamentation of death, why is this horror of death a cultural/social survivor? Recall the easy way to induce opposition to healthcare reform: Death panels!! But actually, this isn’t at all unrelated to the concept of regeneration vs. reproduction. We have a certain tradeoff to make: We keep the present genes intact and cared for, or we produce new sets that will carry on while entropy wins over the present set. People should really be asked: This is a finite planet. Do you want aggressive treatment if you fall sick or do you want your descendants to have the equivalent resources? Of course, as a society we’ve decided that we care more about our well being rather than the economic well being of our descendants, so I suppose we’re evolving into the Kurzweil model of keeping our present genes functioning, thank you very much.

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