What Science Says Would Happen If Humans Aged Backward

Aging is a burdensome process we all must face. Some say it's all downhill after 30. Others claim age is but a number, and that the power of positive thinking and action can combat the woes of growing old.

Regardless of personal mindset on the issue, nobody can deny the fact that if you live long enough to grow old, you will. Brittle bones, wrinkled skin, hearing loss, and skin spots come with the territory. According to MedlinePlus, aging takes a real toll on the heart, forcing it to work harder and causing it to thicken, a condition known as hypertrophy. The brain, too, decreases in its function, and the National Institute of Aging reports that some sections of it even shrink!

What if we didn't have to grow old? What if we could be born old and then grow young instead? Reversing the aging process is quite a daunting task, and the results are probably not what you'd expect.

Talk about a rough childhood

You might recall some tough times in childhood, instances of skinned knees and minor cuts and scrapes. Remember how you wailed the first time you fell off your bicycle or how you cried out the first time you had a nightmare? Well, in a reverse-age scenario, being a baby is something that only happens when you get old.

As such, The What If Show reports that newborns would come into this world with full heads of graying hair, not to mention all the physical aches and pains of growing old. Sadly, if newborns were born physically and cognitively older, many of them simply would not survive to see the silver-lining years of "youth" that would take place much later. Medical News Today reports that 65-74-year-olds are seven times more likely to experience a heart attack than people in their 30s and 40s. Approximately 75% of strokes happen to people over the age of 65 (via Medical University of South Carolina), and while falls and fractures are commonplace childhood occurrences, the newborn and toddler body is much more equipped to handle these slips than the elderly body is (per the National Institute of Aging).

So, instead of bittersweet memories of falling down, getting back up, and trying again, your childhood would be a mosaic of memories of falling and just staying down, wailing from agonizing arthritic pains and heart palpitations.

There would be fewer humans on the planet

The tragic truth is that if human beings were aging backward, many would not make it past the first few stages of life. The elderly body is much more fragile than the young body and not equipped for physically exploring new surroundings (via the National Institute on Aging). Science Alert reports that "old age" was the leading cause of death in the 19th century, and it continues to be a prevailing, albeit vague, cause of death today.

Deaths categorized as being caused by old age are really attributed to the conditions of aging that make it difficult to fight off illnesses and other ailments. Given the circumstances, an age reversal of humanity would mean losing lots of babies to old age straight out of the womb. It would also mean that newborns and infants would have the weakened immune systems associated with aging and have trouble fighting off other illnesses, like the common cold (per the Journal of Clinical Investigation).

The mental potential for humanity would be dismal at best

According to Insh, living life in reverse is a terrible deal for the brain, which produces 90% of its development in the first five or so years on earth. This means that human beings would devolve rather quickly, and the human race would essentially sport the mental capacity of a jellyfish (via PBS).

Without the necessary intellect to navigate a new and complicated landscape, a lot of the progress humanity has made — stuff like technology, government, communication, organization, and the ability to not get eaten by giant hyenas — would dissipate. Insh goes on to explain that from a mental perspective, the average human being would only have average modern intelligence for approximately three years toward the end of their life, so just long enough to recognize the apocalypse.

With human beings reduced to mindless drones, this leaves an open space for the leadership of other intelligent species, such as hominids (per Live Science) and octopuses (via Scientific American). Yikes!

You'd achieve the optimal physicality for the same amount of time

In this rather eerie scenario where human beings are less intelligent and forego their top spot on the food chain so they can grow up to be youngsters, they still get to be "young and beautiful" for precisely the same amount of time as they do now. The What If Show reports that since 50-year-olds would look like 20-year-olds, their physical appearances might not match their level of life experience, causing a great deal of confusion from a social perspective.

If reverse aging was a collective experience, we'd likely just adapt. The 20-year-old middle-ager would become the new normal. And since the idea of beauty itself is an ever-shifting pendulum (per National Geographic), who's to say that looking 20-30 would still be considered the optimal standard? It's important to point out that the clock is simply reversing, not extending (via Insh). You'd have the same number of "best years" from a physical perspective. Those years would just be ahead of you rather than behind you.

Intelligent and wise people grow up to be babies

A world filled with aging individuals (via The What If Show) seems like the ultimate price to pay to find a fountain of youth. Perhaps the most mind-boggling aspect of all, however, is the endgame. You spend your whole life waiting for this surge in intelligence. You spend your 50s in the body of a 20-year-old and the brain of a one-year-old.

Then suddenly, as you enter the last stages of life, you're finally smart enough to understand the world around you (per Insh). But in a bitter twist of irony, your body shrinks down to the confines of infancy. From your crib, you can decipher complex math equations. You ponder political perspectives. You have compassion, maturity, and cognitive ability, all at the tips of your fingers. You possess all the wisdom of a seasoned adult, the kind of discernment that can only derive from experience.

Too bad you need your diaper changed!