A Realist View of Aging, Mortality, and Future Longevity



Differences in methodology and philosophy have led scientists analyzing the same mortality data to arrive at very different conclusions about the behavior of mortality trajectories, the nature of aging, and the future of human longevity. This note describes the authors’views on these issues, which taken together can be termed a “realist” position. In this view, life expectancy is unlikely to exceed an average of 85 years absent significant advances in the control of aging. We identify a number of myths that have been attached to our work: 1) Reaching an average life expectancy of 85 years is a pessimistic outlook for human longevity, 2) Species possess an intrinsic mortality schedule that cannot be modified by human intervention, 3) Realist scenarios of the future course of human longevity are based on notions of biological determinism, 4) Realists assert that there is an age beyond which there can be no survivors, 5) Hypothesized biological barriers to longer life spans have been scientifically studied and refuted, and 6) Realists claim that life expectancy at birth cannot exceed 85 years. In dispelling these myths, we hope to provide a more accurate representation of our school of biodemographic thought.