Escape velocities

27 June 2021
27 Jun 2021

Something reaches escape velocity when it moves fast enough to “keep falling forever” – when it moves quickly enough that even the gravity that pulls it back to the ground can’t bring it back to the ground. Once you reach escape velocity in space flight, for example, you are guaranteed escape from Earth’s gravitational grips.

I think the metaphor of escape velocity applies neatly to other areas of life.

Financial escape velocity

If you are smart about investing, you can reach a point where you can live comfortably from just the returns on your investment into a healthy market. Finance people call this “financial independence”, but another way to describe this maybe to reach “financial escape velocity” – your momentum from investments is enough to carry you beyond the grips of whatever immediate source of income you may have. You are guaranteed escape from employemnt, because you “fly” (earn returns on investments) faster than you “fall” (spend money).

Longevity research

This is an existing idea, popularized by Aubrey de Gray, called “longevity escape velocity”.

To live forever, you don’t actually have to invent a way to live forever – you simply need to invent ways to extend your life by at least as much time as it takes to develop such technologies. Suppose that by the time I’m 100, there exist technologies to let me live another 50 years. And then when I’m 150, there exist technologies to let me live yet another 50. This cycle may continue indefinitely. And if so, even if there isn’t actual “immortality” achieved, I will effectively live forever – I will have reached biological escape velocity, because with every year I “fall” (age), I’ll also be “flying farther” (gaining access to technology that extends my life by at least as much as I aged).

What other areas of research, technology, or life could we apply this metaphor to?


User interfaces and software wayfinding