Re: >H Hayflick on death and immortality

Michael Nielsen (
Sat, 30 May 1998 15:07:17 -0600 (MDT)

On Sat, 30 May 1998, den Otter wrote:

> Yes, Mr. Hayflick is apparently a couple o' bulbs short of enlightenment, as
> are most other "great minds" & cultural icons. Could it really be that, of the
> aprrox. 6 billion people on earth, only a couple of hundred or so really think
> rationally ?

By this, I presume you meant that a couple of hundred people think
"rationally" all the time? Leaving aside the difficulty in defining
"rational" in the present context [1], I doubt that there has ever been a
human being anywhere who was always rational. If you meant it in the more
restricted sense of with respect to this issue, then you are wrong by
many orders af magnitude. Based upon the best information known to
them (which is usually very poor), the rational opinion for most people
to have on this subject is either "I don't know whether immortality would
be a good thing", or "I'd like it, but I don't think it's very likely".
These are both opinions which I've heard expressed or implied quite often
by a wide variety of people.

On a more general note, I have often been intrigued when reading the
biographies of creative people to note the existence of huge blind spots
in their thinking. I wonder if this may not be more of an advantage
to their creative abilities than a disadvantage. Profound knowledge
combined with profound ignorance seems to be quite common amongst the
most creative scientists. James Watson's "The Double Helix" is a good

[1] It is quite possible to construct a value system which implies
that immortality is a bad idea. If Hayflick's value system is of this
type, then his conclusion is quite rational, although his stated
reasoning is not.

Michael Nielsen

"I know the answer! The answer lies within the heart of all mankind!
The answer is twelve? I think I'm in the wrong building."
- Charles Schulz