It wasn’t just that he doubted whether such nostrums would deliver the promised effects — although he did doubt this very much. It was that the purpose of extending life, even if it could be so extended, was not worth the price asked for. If you put the conduct of your life under the care of physicians, Montaigne thought they would make you miserable: “If they do no other good they do at least this, that they prepare their patients early for death, undermining little by little and cutting off their enjoyment of life.” By all means, listen to those who may have authentic medical expertise, but do not give up your freedom of action in so doing. Montaigne said that he knew of, and pitied, “several gentlemen who, by the stupidity of their doctors, have made prisoners of themselves, though still young and sound in health . . . . We should conform to the best rules, but not enslave ourselves to them.” As another proverb has it, to live physically (that is, according to the dictates of doctors) is to live miserably. Don’t be like those people who, in order to extend life, never actually live it. Life is not just about avoiding death; it’s about the active use of our powers while we are alive. To live like a human being, you must do all the things that human beings are capable of doing and should do; you must learn to suffer like a human being, and, finally, to die like a human being: “We must meekly suffer the laws of our condition. We are born to grow old, to grow weak, to be sick, in spite of all medicine. . . . We must learn to endure what we cannot avoid.”
August 3, 2012
"Give up wine; give up meat; avoid chills; sleep only on your right side; take rhubarb pills three times a day."
Old advice on how to extend one's lifespan, from the books available to Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century essayist, whose opinion on such advice is discussed by Steven Shapin and Christopher Martin in "How to live forever: lessons of history":