Human lifespan with modern knowledge, but not technology?

Say the Greens get their way, and we all go back to the land and start living in little communes etc.
Lets say medieval technology - simple living etc with self-contained villages.

Our knowledge of the importance of cleanliness, and of crop rotation would greatly extend our lifespans over our ancestors who lived in the same conditions.

Basically, without modern medicines and technology, how much longer would our knowledge of cleanliness/insulation/the importance of rest etc. extend our lives

I suppose what I’m asking is how much do complex pharmacuticals extend our lives.

Would there still be refrigeration, immunization and water purification?

If not, I figure life expectancy would revert to what it was circa 1900 (or what it is currently in countries where the above are not commonplace), and that’s after mass die-offs as disease sweeps through the now-uninhabitable cities filled with people who can’t adapt to agrarian life.

I suspect vaccines would be the kicker. A lot of those childhood diseases people used to die of in droves weren’t really cleanliness-related - diptheria, measles, mumps, smallpox, things like that were only stopped with vaccines. So the average lifespan would drop because so many children would die. Knowledge of the importance of clean water and handwashing and things like that might save us from cholera and typhoid, and we wouldn’t have a resurgence of puerpural fever, but if you look at that list of things you’ve been vaccinated against you have to realize that you got that vaccine because these things kill people, often children, and they used to kill a LOT of them. Are you ready for polio? Because we won’t even have iron lungs to stash those kids in.

You also have to assume that more women would die in childbirth - no emergency C-section, etc. Most premature babies would die. Heart attacks would be infinitely more fatal, as would many kinds of cancer. No pacemakers. No cholersterol-lowering drugs. No blood transfusions.

For that matter, no antibiotics. Ready for the Black Death? Essentialy, you have to define how modern “modern” medicine is. Do we have penicillin, at least? Injuries will be more fatal because of infection and lack of blood transfusions.

I’m no expert, but I’d say that while our knowledge would help us enormously in some areas (childbed fever, cholera, even physical therapy) things that we don’t even really think of as very modern medicine are going to seriously decrease our life expectancy in their absence. I’ve never had a blood transfusion or a hospital visit at all, I was born in a normal vaginal delivery, and I am a healthy adult… however, I don’t know if I may have died of a vaccine disease, my mother was 38 when she had me, and without glasses as a child I probably would have fallen into a river and drowned. Are glasses modern technology?

If so, you’ll at least be able to wave a stick around to get an idea of what you’re about to walk into.

Anyway, it’ll be possible for each household to boil water to ward off diseases like cholera, but that’ll lead to rapid depletions of forests for firewood, since I assume modern power distribution networks and fossil fuels are now verboten.

“Greens” = “midieval” (medieval) Really?

/\ Some Greens and socialists who don’t believe that we need what we have.

I have to admit I never considered the effect of vaccines.
I guess the death rate would be far higher than I thought (but AFAIR spectavles are actually a fairly old invention).

Not really - glasses as we know them date from the 13th century or thereabouts. Wiki link

According to Leslie Fish, it’s doable with post-apocalyptic low tech. Nothing keeps you living like the blue bread mold.

*** Ponder

Name one Green and one Socialist who believe this.

Will we still have the technology of football gear and pink-rock haircuts, because it ain’t Mad Max without 'em.

Did anyone ever tell her that the Penicillium mold cultivated commercially was created by exposing wild Penicillium to x-rays until mutant strains emerged that secrete thousands of times as much penicillin as their wild ancestors? That it’s like comparing modern marijuana whose leaves are frosted with THC to rope hemp? Moldy bread my arse!

And speaking of antibiotics, vaccinations reduce mortality at one end of our lifetimes and antibiotics extend them at the other end. Remember the cliche of someone with a simple head cold bundled up under a quilt with hot water bottles? That was because if that simple head cold turned into pneumonia, even the young and strong could die, and as for someone in their 50s or early 60s? Let’s say only the luckiest of the lucky made it to the Biblical threescore and ten.

The worst I’ve ever heard the Greens accused of was wanting a pre-industrial society; to be charitable, let’s say mid-Eighteenth century. Even so, knowing that plagues and epidemics are caused by communicable microbes doesn’t translate into being able to do much about it. Before Salk & co., the best they could do during polio outbreaks was close public swimming pools. Hell, how successfully has AIDS been contained despite education and prophylactics?

Would you even want people to survive past about 50?

Seems that they would be a serious drain on the group’s resources. If you don’t have mechanised and intensive farming people are going to have to pull their weight in the fields.

As a side note, I would imagine that even what we would consider trivial injuries now would not only be more deadly but more common what with people doing more manual labour. It doesn’t take much to pick up a nasty infection when you’re working with cowshit in the fields all day, just a scratch will do it.

Not to mention how much more prevalent injuries are when you don’t just have one guy with a tractor, you have a hundred guys with mattocks. Sharp ones. Oh, and you can’t sew those fingers back on, either.

On the other hand, full employment!

You’d need the old people because they’re the only ones who remember what life was like with vaccines and antibiotics, and have some vague idea of how to recreate them. (I could have a go at the old cowpox serum idea, if things were really desperate - could my kids?) Also, somebody has to keep the kids from falling into the fire or the ditch when the parents were out in the fields. That was an incredibly common cause of death for medieval children - falling into the hearth or into a ditch full of water.

After reading Earth Abides I’m pretty much convinced that trying to pass complex knowledge on without the aid of organised education is a battle you will lose.

As for looking after the kids, I’ve seen women in Africa working fields with babies and little kids strapped to their backs, I imagine the same would happen. When they’re a little older, they’d be helping in the fields too. And wouldn’t they be expected to be bearing children of their own by about 14?

When they are old enough to walk they are often left to their own devices (or the care of siblings not much older than themselves). Accidents are a pretty common cause of death among African children.

Vaccines and antibiotics would be the kicker- we can live just fine without refrigeration (buy meat daily, ferment stuff, thoroughly heat food) and water purification is easy enough- just boil (you are right that deforestation is a huge problem.)

But the reason why life expectancy was so low back in the day was not adults, but rather kids getting infectious diseases and dying. If you could make it past that critical point (and past child birth for women) you stood a good chance of reaching a decently old age.

A point that hasn’t been made yet is that vaccines and antibiotics would be a bad idea in a pre-industrial society. You don’t want the birth rate to outstrip the death rate by too much in the absence of modern agriculture. That way lies overpopulation and famine. Medieval agriculture simply couldn’t support a large population.

I don’t know why that would be a concern - the mass die-offs will just correct the problem, and that’s no big deal after the reversion to pre-industrial societies kills off half the human population anyway.

We’d have to have some kind of goal in mind. What’s better?
[ul][li]Worldwide population of seven billion, maybe half of it urbanized (roughly what we have now), arguably to stabilize at about 8-9 billion over the next half-century[/li][li]Worldwide population that varies between 0.5 and 1 billion with cycles of uncontrolled growth and uncontrolled mortality, without vaccines or other modern aids - roughly the pre-industrial standard, circa 1600.[/ul][/li]
All the information we have about life without technology is what life was like before technology. Does the agrarian society being discussed have hydroponics? Chemical fertilizers? Pesticides? Refrigerated railroad cars and trucks for shipment of food? Communications systems to warn of approaching hurricanes and such? What constitutes “knowledge without technology”, anyway?

Frankly, I’m happy to let anyone who wants to go off and live in a “self-contained village”. It’d make for an interesting anthopology study.

I met this author and read this book on the subject:

http://www.amazon.com/Quest-Immortality-Science-Frontiers-Aging/dp/0756761026/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1223818190&sr=8-1

He’s got an interesting and well-researched point of view. Basically, he says that the notion that we can live to some outrageous age if we live “right” is bunk. He also contends that the longer life expectancy we’re experiencing now is somewhat of a myth. That is, there are a few factors that make it look like we live longer, such as childhood vaccines, which increase the numbers of people making it past age 5. But barring that, the longest lived among us haven’t changed much.

According to this book the advent of insulin treatment for diabetes made a big difference among the diabetic population. So diabetics have a longer life expectancy now. But that’s a relatively small proportion of the population. In GENERAL the human lifespan simply hasn’t changed that much.

So, my guess is that people with specific diseases that we’ve figured out wouldn’t last as long without the technology. The average overall lifespan of humans would depend on what percentage of them had these diseases (such as the diabetes I mentioned) that we can now control better. In a different setting, the prevalence of such diseases might be less. That is, if we went back to pre-technology farming fewer people would be obese and thus, fewer people would be diabetic (or have heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and even eczema).

If we were educated about cleanliness and germs, my guess is that the life expectancy average wouldn’t change much under the conditions you describe. And since modern life and conveniences have actually CAUSED some of the health problems we have it might still be a wash. That is more people probably die from obesity-related illnesses now in spite of our greater knowledge of the problem.

Bryan is right. What exactly does modern knowledge without modern technology even mean?

Thing is, even if we run out of oil tomorrow and Europe and America turn into third world countries, modern technology isn’t going to disappear.

If we imagine some sort of religious movement that sweeps the globe where everyone rejects technology, well, the countries that aren’t infected with this religion now become the new world powers. Your life as an organic-farming villager isn’t going to seem so nice when every year half your crops are taken off to Argentina by unsmiling men with AK-47s.