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The Increase of Cancer Rates in the Western World, and the Mario Analogy

March 15, 2015

The money quote:

“There is no reason to think that cancer is a new disease,” said Robert A. Weinberg, a cancer researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., and the author of the textbook “The Biology of Cancer.” “In former times, it was less common because people were struck down in midlife by other things.”

To what can this be compared?

Imagine a popular but difficult video game with 100 levels. Players have to advance through the levels one by one, with no skipping, or warp zones or the like. Now imagine that every level claims a number of players. Some can’t get past level 1 or 2, others level 10, but most players usually lose at level 3 or level 16. Then, players got around to finding whatever tricks were necessary to beat those two levels, and suddenly the levels after 16 became available for everyone to play. So, while players would still lose at all levels, we begin to see that most lose at level 42, which was apparently the newest hardest level, and no one has gotten past level 60, but not because level 60 is harder than 42, but because so few have actually made it there.

Levels 3 and 16 are analogous to infant mortality and the phenomenon of young adults dying from infectious diseases, things that were far more common before modern medicine and germ theory. But because we are ultimately dust and dirt, once we got over those hurdles, we could not cheat death forever, and eventually the body is going to self destruct. This is analogous to level 42, the cancers that would overtake any one as long as he lives long enough. And some manage to make it past that.

What does the future hold? Once mankind finds a way to beat cancer, the average human life span will jump, and then we will gradually see that the leading causes of death in the civilized world will involve neurological deterioration, like Alzheimer’s Disease, because the loss of neurons is both unavoidable and irreversible.


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