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Thread: Why do we die?

  1. #1
    Habitual Fi LineStepper JocktheMotie's Avatar
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    Default Why do we die?

    I have been thinking about this recently, and I think it is a pretty interesting concept. From my understanding, biological evolution seems to be a process that is strongly in the favor of the individual being, what with the whole ďsurvival of the fittestĒ tag being a good descriptor of its general theme. Determinists and reductionists can tell you that lifeís sole biological purpose is to pass on your genetic material as often and as much as you can: biological systems are generally built for this. The question then arises, if ďsurvival of the fittestĒ is the general way to go, why doesnít evolution support a being that will never die a natural death. I think about this, and would think that a being that can pass on genetic information indefinitely until killed by something would be favored, rather than organisms that have biological mechanisms that force them to die, or force them to be not as able to stave off a natural death.

    I will use humans as an example, but you can see this in almost every complex organism. What is the evolutionary, biological advantage to the chemicals released that begin the aging process? Why donít our bodies try to maintain our physical and sexual peak? I donít really buy the argument that it simply costs too much energy to do so. Why, after a specified time, does our body begin to weaken itself and allow for death? I canít really think of a biological explanation that preserves evolutionís individual preference for one being succeeding over many lesser specimen.

    I can think of philosophical or psychological reasons as to why death is something incorporated into life in general, however none that are biological [although Iím sure some would argue psychological is biological in terms of neuroscience]. Iíd rather get otherís opinions on the topic, but to set us in a direction, a psychological reason as to why death exists may be because a consciousness may not be able to handle the concept of never dying. Think of how death is such a part of our lives, if that makes sense. Could a conscious being be able to handle the fact that they will never die of old age. That if they are healthy and take their flu shots and look both ways all the time, they will not die. They will exist forever. Maybe evolution has already tried this approach, and the organisms couldnít handle it, because they were never afraid of death enough to resist it.

    All opinions and reasons are welcome, even the spiritual, all viewpoints should be considered. Iíd just rather not this devolve into God vs Science. Also, I'm fully prepared for somebody to completely prove me wrong, but I couldn't find anything in my reading to answer this question.


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    There's some weakening by the body itself. (And you might have heard of the debate over people who have heart attacks and "die" , then are brought back successfully... then suddenly die because the cells have been primed with the destruct sequence. Freezing the body seems to lessen this chance of "after-death" caused by the body itself. Cancers seem to be able to turn off this cellular self-destruct, leading to massive expansion of the cancerous tissue, so one research goal was to find a way to target cancer cells and turn that programming back on.)

    But.... some of the damage occurs because of damage to the genetic code itself via the radiation inherent in sunlight and exposure to whatever other forces comprise the world... just like anything new we get eventually gets worn out.

    So isn't death at least in part just a natural erosion caused by the interaction of the human biology with an antagonistic environment?
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    ‚ÄúPleasure to me is wonder‚ÄĒthe unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.‚ÄĚ ~ H.P. Lovecraft

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    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JocktheMotie View Post
    I will use humans as an example, but you can see this in almost every complex organism. What is the evolutionary, biological advantage to the chemicals released that begin the aging process? Why donít our bodies try to maintain our physical and sexual peak? I donít really buy the argument that it simply costs too much energy to do so. Why, after a specified time, does our body begin to weaken itself and allow for death? I canít really think of a biological explanation that preserves evolutionís individual preference for one being succeeding over many lesser specimen.
    Species that do not die cannot adapt: they eventually die anyway.

    Think of it in terms of species (ie: able to reproduce with one another)... if you have a group that dies and one that does not, who is going to adapt to changing situations the fastest and with the least resources? The one that dies will, simply because the newer generations will be environmentally pruned (ie: each generation 'adapts' by traits having an advantage over their peers). The elders that would live forever would slowly lose survival ability and die, but in the meantime, the elders would also be having children that are non-adaptive (ie: many generations removed from the new environment). They also would lose survival, and eventually die... and so forth. In the meantime, they are all consuming resources, or at least competing for them. That would put resource pressure on all generations, which would lead to 'adaptation' for those resources even in the absence of anything stronger.

    Of course, evolution only paths to the places it can incrementally go to. Humans broke that with engineering, and once it turns to us (which is already has, but not terribly large scale), I don't see why it isn't possible. Ignoring the whole "we aren't designed for it" part, heh.

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    Senior Member Qre:us's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JocktheMotie View Post
    I have been thinking about this recently, and I think it is a pretty interesting concept. From my understanding, biological evolution seems to be a process that is strongly in the favor of the individual being, what with the whole ďsurvival of the fittestĒ tag being a good descriptor of its general theme. Determinists and reductionists can tell you that lifeís sole biological purpose is to pass on your genetic material as often and as much as you can: biological systems are generally built for this. The question then arises, if ďsurvival of the fittestĒ is the general way to go, why doesnít evolution support a being that will never die a natural death. I think about this, and would think that a being that can pass on genetic information indefinitely until killed by something would be favored, rather than organisms that have biological mechanisms that force them to die, or force them to be not as able to stave off a natural death.

    I will use humans as an example, but you can see this in almost every complex organism. What is the evolutionary, biological advantage to the chemicals released that begin the aging process? Why donít our bodies try to maintain our physical and sexual peak? I donít really buy the argument that it simply costs too much energy to do so. Why, after a specified time, does our body begin to weaken itself and allow for death? I canít really think of a biological explanation that preserves evolutionís individual preference for one being succeeding over many lesser specimen.

    I can think of philosophical or psychological reasons as to why death is something incorporated into life in general, however none that are biological [although Iím sure some would argue psychological is biological in terms of neuroscience]. Iíd rather get otherís opinions on the topic, but to set us in a direction, a psychological reason as to why death exists may be because a consciousness may not be able to handle the concept of never dying. Think of how death is such a part of our lives, if that makes sense. Could a conscious being be able to handle the fact that they will never die of old age. That if they are healthy and take their flu shots and look both ways all the time, they will not die. They will exist forever. Maybe evolution has already tried this approach, and the organisms couldnít handle it, because they were never afraid of death enough to resist it.

    All opinions and reasons are welcome, even the spiritual, all viewpoints should be considered. Iíd just rather not this devolve into God vs Science. Also, I'm fully prepared for somebody to completely prove me wrong, but I couldn't find anything in my reading to answer this question.
    I heard this interesting phrase from an evolutionary psych prof when asked why we die (what is the evolutionary advantage of death).

    His response: evolution - it's all about: live fast, love hard, and die young.

    Competition. Either you use your energy to get bigger antlers, or, conserve energy, be mediocre and have longevity. Evolution adheres to the former. The 'fittest' of the species usually died the youngest, because they played it the hardest, which showed them at their 'fittest', which thus, helped be selected.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Qre:us View Post
    I heard this interesting phrase from an evolutionary psych prof when asked why we die (what is the evolutionary advantage of death).

    His response: evolution - it's all about: live fast, love hard, and die young.

    Competition. Either you use your energy to get bigger antlers, or, conserve energy, be mediocre and have longevity. Evolution adheres to the former. The 'fittest' of the species usually died the youngest, because they played it the hardest, which showed them at their 'fittest', which thus, helped be selected.
    Interesting.

    ... "I'd rather live a short life of glory, than a long life of ..." - Alexander the Great

    Thanks, that made me feel a little better about my life...

  6. #6
    Habitual Fi LineStepper JocktheMotie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    There's some weakening by the body itself. (And you might have heard of the debate over people who have heart attacks and "die" , then are brought back successfully... then suddenly die because the cells have been primed with the destruct sequence. Freezing the body seems to lessen this chance of "after-death" caused by the body itself. Cancers seem to be able to turn off this cellular self-destruct, leading to massive expansion of the cancerous tissue, so one research goal was to find a way to target cancer cells and turn that programming back on.)

    But.... some of the damage occurs because of damage to the genetic code itself via the radiation inherent in sunlight and exposure to whatever other forces comprise the world... just like anything new we get eventually gets worn out.

    So isn't death at least in part just a natural erosion caused by the interaction of the human biology with an antagonistic environment?
    I understand that this is a death caused by the environment finally winning against the body. I'm not really asking why this happens. I'd also argue things like cancer and heart disease are issues of the older, not of the younger, in which case, if your body hadn't chemically signaled to begin aging, would things like this even be that common.

    Quote Originally Posted by ptgatsby View Post
    Species that do not die cannot adapt: they eventually die anyway.

    Think of it in terms of species (ie: able to reproduce with one another)... if you have a group that dies and one that does not, who is going to adapt to changing situations the fastest and with the least resources? The one that dies will, simply because the newer generations will be environmentally pruned (ie: each generation 'adapts' by traits having an advantage over their peers). The elders that would live forever would slowly lose survival ability and die, but in the meantime, the elders would also be having children that are non-adaptive (ie: many generations removed from the new environment). They also would lose survival, and eventually die... and so forth. In the meantime, they are all consuming resources, or at least competing for them. That would put resource pressure on all generations, which would lead to 'adaptation' for those resources even in the absence of anything stronger.

    Of course, evolution only paths to the places it can incrementally go to. Humans broke that with engineering, and once it turns to us (which is already has, but not terribly large scale), I don't see why it isn't possible. Ignoring the whole "we aren't designed for it" part, heh.
    In your case, selection would favor the more desirable survival trait, irregardless of whether the species would eventually die or not. I may not have made myself clear, as your last sentence broaches the subject I'm trying to examine, which is why we are designed to die in the first place. There doesn't seem to be any evolutionary or survival reason why these traits would be favored, over traits that prolong youth and ability. Qre:us illustrates perfectly why, for instance humans can physically procreate much earlier than they are mentally ready to handle it, because evolution favors speed in this case. You have a better chance to mate if you develop quicker than all the others.

    However, and this is my point, what is the evolutionary, biological reason for the systems in our body, after a certain point, being told through our genetics, to start to shut down.



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    Interesting topic, so I'll give my 2-cent...

    Quote Originally Posted by JocktheMotie View Post
    However, and this is my point, what is the evolutionary, biological reason for the systems in our body, after a certain point, being told through our genetics, to start to shut down.
    According to what I know from biology, aging is to do with the recession in the bodily processes - such as cell division, respiration, etc... quite possibly these may have a genetic factor behind it, but there could be potential external factors.

    ... such as entropy - what's the suggestion? The entropy of the universe always 'increases', which dictates more disorder and randomnity... and chaos, within the government of the physical laws of the universe. It could be possible that this is the reason behind aging, and whatever code that is 'in' our genetic make up is to oppose that - henceforth, organisms promote life - as a way to hold on to it! However, given that we have one life and it's almost certain that our genetic code remains 'constant' throughout our lives the gradual increase in entropy of the universe is getting the best of our cellular material... whatever the genetic 'code' has in sustaining normal healthy processes may be caught unaware of that entropy that kind of... dominates it.

    Kind of like a gaming console - say, the PS2... it is programmed to play games of such-and-such megapixels, which is it's limit... however, the more you play it, and start introducing it with better quality games with higher megapixels, you could almost imagine it's 'programming' overwhelmed - it'll require more power, affect it's circuits, get burned out, and become obsolete... And given how fast technology is moving, now we have the PS3! Kind of like an evolution in latest-technology gameplay.

    In Physics, the universe is expanding... theoretically, the entropy of it is increasing up to infinity, as is the universe - where could that possibly lead the fate of the universe and everything in it? ...

    ... in my general perspective, that could be one potential reason as to why aging is a 'natural' process - there could be a number of factors.

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    Minister of Propagandhi ajblaise's Avatar
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    Our bodies don't make the decision to weaken and die, they do everything they can do to maintain, until they can't anymore. It's the outside environment combined with the physical matter our bodies are made up of that causes it to eventually die. Life always goes in cycles, I'm not sure why we should expect evolution to break the cycle of cycles any time soon. Human lifespans have been increasing though.

    Theoretically, maybe at some point, an advanced brain transplant would be able to transfer the consciousness of an old person to that of a new-born, and retain a single "being" indefinitely.

    I'm fairly sure it has nothing to do with are consciousness's handling of an abstract concept. Though brain power alone can certainly have an effect on how our environment impacts us. Like when monks lit themselves on fire to protest the Vietnam war, and they were able to sit there without moving. But of course their brain's ability to induce themselves into a pain-free or near pain-free state was their undoing.

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    We don't die - our genes live on in the next generation.

    All that 'dies' is our ego.

    And what a production we make of it. But our genes give rise to new ego after new ego. There are, after all, six thousand million egos here today.

    Our ego is simply they eyes of our genes - and our genes can produce eyes whenever they want to.

    And even when homo sapiens becomes extinct our genes will continue in other species.

    Good heavens, we share the same genes with bananas.

    So for all practical purposes our genes are immortal, whether your are a banana or Bananatrombones.

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    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JocktheMotie View Post
    In your case, selection would favor the more desirable survival trait, irregardless of whether the species would eventually die or not.
    No, it wouldn't - it couldn't. If the sum of the parts led to extinction, then the individual parts would also be extinct. In order for any species to survive, the species as a whole must also be competitive. That is, any system that encourages individual advantage over group selection, in a way that escalates negative group selection, will eventually become extinct.

    The interactive effect between them must be sustainable.

    Qre:us illustrates perfectly why, for instance humans can physically procreate much earlier than they are mentally ready to handle it, because evolution favors speed in this case.
    That's a modern myth - we are quite capable of handling reproduction earlier than we think. It's just not socially expedient in our world of constraints. What the prof was saying is that in a world where we die, it pays to mate as early as possible, and signal our ability to mate as soon as possible.

    You have a better chance to mate if you develop quicker than all the others.
    Generations aren't specific time points, so it's not about others... it's about not being dead before you get a chance to mate.

    However, and this is my point, what is the evolutionary, biological reason for the systems in our body, after a certain point, being told through our genetics, to start to shut down.
    The biological reason is because it's programmed. The evolutionary question is - why is death there if it doesn't give an advantage. The assumed answer is "because it doesn't give an advantage".

    If you think of it from the cellular point of view - what's better? Even ignoring the necessity of apoptosis as a means of developing complex systems from basic cells, which is harder to scale up into full life, the advantage rests with the colonies that would die off.

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