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":
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.”


The Unknown Pundit said...

Saw a cartoon once that showed an old old man wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts sitting on the exam table in a doctor's office. The doctor says to him:

All those years you added to your life by not drinking, smoking, and fooling around, well, these are them.

JimB said...

Umm. Lets see. Montaigne lived to be 58 or 59 years old. So forget the advice and live it up!

Jim Brock

Jose_K said...

Montaigne lived to be 58 or 59 years old. The life expectancy by then was below 30 years.In the middle of religious wars even lower. He was catholic and was attacked by other catholic that wanted revenge after being attacked by hugonottes They confused him with an hugonotte. His brotheres were. So a simple trip could end with your life

Give up wine; give up meat; give up sex... why i would like to live 100 years that way?

edutcher said...

Montaigne lived about as long as a healthy person of his time could expect.

The life expectancy thing was skewed by all the deaths in childbirth and infancy.

Strelnikov said...

Reminds me of this joke:

MD: I'm afraid you only have six months to live.
Pt: Is there anything I can do?
MD. You could give up drinking, smoking and chasing women.
pt: And then I'll live longer?
MD: No, but it will seem longer.

Dan in Philly said...

Ummmm, live forever? Montaigne is just as dead now as his contemporaries, and I imagine in 400 years all the long life experts will be just as dead as the rest of us.

- Suppose you were told you were going to die either tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. Unless you are an abject coward, you will admit there's no real difference between the two. Now realize there's little real difference between days, years, and even decades.

Marcus Aurelius

Jose_K said...

Life expectancy was 30 years until 1900 all around the world

wildswan said...

There's a rumor floating about that by curbing your calories down to concentration camp levels you can live longer. And people are doing this. It's called caloric restriction; it has many websites. This is the kind of thing I consider absolute rubbish. But I've read that NIH tried it out as a possible treatment for problems of old age under Obamacare. Luckily everyone died.