Bootstrapping Towards Radical Life Extension

"Radical life extension" means different things to different people, whether engineering a healthy life span of 150 years, 500 years or 1000 or more. I think that we can all agree that it implies a far longer healthy life span than can currently be attained, or even attained in the near future. Radical life extension implies the need for radical improvements in medicine, biogerontology and our understanding of the biochemical, genetic mechanisms of aging.

Radical life extension is not unbelieveable, or obviously unattainable, however. We can conceive of a car, lovingly maintained and supplied with ample spare parts, lasting for a century or more. It would require a great deal of effort, but it is not impossible. Similarly, we can suggest general methodologies by which the healthy human life span could be greatly extended. You can always buy a new car, but you can't buy a new self.

Bootstrapping, the title of this little piece, is one of the assumptions taken for granted in most discussions about healthy life extension. This assumption been examined ad nauseum in past decades of transhumanism and life extensionist writing, and so is mostly skipped over or referred to in passing in more modern pieces.

(See Closing in on the Cure for Death by Aubrey de Grey at the Longevity Meme for an example of this in action).

We need to give this bootstrapping idea more prominence again. A lot of newcomers are finding their way to healthy life extension in these times of advancing medical science. They need to be shown the dream that motivates us. The promise of longer, healthier lives is in the air, and bootstrapping explains how we can realistically work towards living to see the medical technologies of radical life extension. (Whatever they may turn out to be; the smart money is currently betting on medical nanotechnology, or nanomedicine, expected to arrive somewhere in the middle part of the 21st century).

The future is bright - if research is allowed to continue unimpeded by restrictive legislation - but we have to face up to the fact that scientists don't currently know how to greatly extend the healthy human life span. The best we can do right now is to live a healthy life in the hopes of becoming a centenarian. Calorie restriction (eating fewer calories, while still obtaining the necessary nutrients) has been shown to extend healthy life span, but it does not appear to be able to give you more than 20 extra years at most. Of course, your years will be very healthy, but many of us feel that dying at the end of it rather defeats the point! Why be satisfied by 20 extra years when we could be working to do better than that?

This is where the bootstrapping takes starts to take off, in theory at least. The extra healthy life we gain for ourselves through a healthy lifestyle and calorie restriction can be used to support, fund and advocate research to extend the healthy human lifespan. At the moment, this means:

- participating in the fight against cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's
- supporting the Methuselah Mouse Prize
- pushing for more funding for aging and real anti-aging research
- fighting political attempts to ban medical research
- supporting research into stem cells, therapeutic cloning and regenerative medicine

In my opinion, the next wave of medical technologies that will prolong healthy lifespan will be based on regenerative medicine. If we, as a society, can successfully fund and support regenerative medicine, we will probably be able to cure most age-related damage to our bodies two decades from now. We will be able to repair diseases, replace injured tissue, and grow new organs for transplant from our own stem cells as needed. This is not pie in the sky science: the first steps have already been demonstrated in labs around the world. Regenerative medicine and stem cell medicine represents a first crucial level of control over the material and processes of our bodies.

If regenerative medicine can give us 30 extra years of healthy life, then we will have time to develop working medical nanotechnology - it will be 2050 already! While regenerative medicine is largely a matter of manipulating existing proteins, genes and cellular mechanisms to heal, nanomedicine promises to use tiny machines to do all that far more efficiently and with greater degrees of control and effectiveness.

Beyond nanomedicine...well, nanomedicine will give us many healthy years to think about what comes next.

This, in a nutshell, is the bootstrapping process: extending healthy life span faster than we age. It's a realistic goal for modern science. Not an easy goal, but a realistic one. It will take a great deal of funding and time, far more than is currently being applied to medicine and the science of aging. This is why we advocate and speak up: even us younger folk only have a few decades in which to make sure that the right fields of science take off. This is why we have research prizes, life extension organizations, advocates and debates. We are being presented with - literally - the chance of a lifetime, and we must rise to meet the challenge!


The bootstrapping process that enables longer lifespans to those that gain a few years today will only work if people manage to restart and maintain and improve civilization as people of today know it.

The first obstacle to this will be the shortage of energy. Oil prizes will more than triple before alternative sources of oil and energy will be economical. You should remember that the military might of the seafaring people in the mediterranean and the vikings of Greenland collapsed when their source of power, the trees, were used and gone.

Energy is the key, and as more of the world becomes "civilized", conflicts caused by the flow of money and energy will become more frequent.

The War on Aging cannot continue while other wars are being fought.

Posted by: John Titor at July 15th, 2004 8:46 AM

Malthusianism is a bankrupt argument - especially in regard to energy. Sunlight alone could be used to power a civilization many times the size of ours.

More than 100,000 people die every day due to aging, far more than any war. You can't wave vague, speculative flags about the future in order to postpone attempts to cure aging.

Posted by: Reason at July 15th, 2004 10:16 AM

I would like to know if there are intellectuals on this planet that are independently wealthy and powerful who are able get all, do all, enjoy all, who can control election outcomes due to there influence and wealth without anyone suspecting them of this. As well as controlling armies and other powerful people beneath them in status because of there intelligence, wealth and position. Because of all this and other factors they may vary well live for-ever in good health, wealth and power because of scientific connections. They may even have first pick on any all things of pleasure and fun and state of the art new surgeries, medicines, medications and drugs.

Posted by: james e brown at January 25th, 2006 5:29 PM

The world doesn't work that way James - there are no conspiracies, science can't be kept secret, and no desired product fails to fall in price. Either we all win or no-one does.

Posted by: Reason at January 25th, 2006 5:56 PM

If there are others out there some where in time and space.
Maybe they who or what ever they may or may be have not yet obliterated themselves by now. It?s possible that we animal humans have wiped our selves out many times in the passed before and we just been lucky and made it back over and over again somehow. Maybe these ufo?s or what ever they are may find our D.N.A. floating around a black hole in space some time in the future. That is if anything is left after this atom bomb stage they may of gone through and where going through has ended. That may by the reason why where alone in our near universe as far as we know. They wiped them selves out long ago and there is no one out there any more at all. It?s bad enough that space junk may cause our demise let alone, space asteroid and or meteors of some kind.

Posted by: james e brown at January 25th, 2006 6:08 PM

There is a lot of room out there in space and time, maybe we can get out there in time for the sake of all life on this planet.

Posted by: james e brown at January 25th, 2006 6:21 PM

Okay James, I'm not sure how germane that is but as long as the subject is broached... Not a few folks have postulated that ultimate self destruction is the reason we, to date, find ourselves alone in the universe, why we have yet to detect an alien world's Nick at Nite wafting over us but I have another, less bleak, possibility; that electromagnetic communications become either obsolete or advance so that they are carried in variations of the spectrum so subtle (that's how the usable spectrum has increased for us) that we can not, today, detect them.

Posted by: megapotamus at February 3rd, 2006 8:06 AM

I am fascinated by this topic. Although I am almost 50 years old, most people are shocked when I tell them my age, because they think that I’m in my early 30’s.

How I did it? Well, everything in moderation, including moderation. Quality over quantity. Avoid bad people and situations if possible. Lots of peace and quiet. Vipassana meditation. A divorce, many decades ago, from mainstream mass media, and its power of suggestion. Staying single, as opposed to marriage. Trying to be a better person. Education every day of your life. Walking 4 miles every day. Ayahuasca-based shamanism. tantra-like sex and love, leading to a kundalini rising. Love of animals, children, and all other people in a platonic way. Lots of humor.

Posted by: Russell at November 24th, 2006 7:03 AM

Once stem cell therapy is a succes, will it not by itself be sufficient to attain enormously extended lifespans? Will we still require nanomedicine to reach the final frontier of indefinite lifespan?

Is it not the case that if adult stem cell therapy succeeds then it might be possible to transdifferentiate patient's own stem cells to produce neurorns, glia, beta islet cells,cardiomyocytes etc and transplant them to the injured site. This procedure could be repeated again and again as need arises. Is such a scenario possible or do stem cells have their own limitatioms in this respect?

Posted by: nanohelix at March 4th, 2008 9:38 AM

if nanomedicine would be tiny machines going around all over the body making tiny tiny holes all over the cells while they're locating the places to fix, now that doesn't sound like a cure. more like something that kills you.

if nanomedicine is then a liquid form will it be strong enough to cause changes where necessary, yet subtle enough to pass through gently without the above problem of digging tiny holes all over your body?

no way we'll reach advances in this technology by 2050 if we don't even have any capacity to understand these practical problems, yet alone how to manufacture on this tiny scale something worthwhile

and by the way the biggest conspiracy is that there is no conspiracies. for sure few rich people are kidnapping people as their guinea pigs to try and get personal advances in this field of medicine. it'd be foolish not to, i certainly would if i had the money and i was getting old. besides many rich are sociopaths, and as such power is everything to them. certain qualities are required in order to become extremely successful (ruthless) at the expense of others. this leads to views of "i'm only rich if everyone else around me is made to suffer more poorness". as everything is relative, thus it even makes logical sense, further giving them this excuse to think that way.

btw i happened to come here by watching the new tom cruise movie, oblivion. had one very touching scene pondering the actual relevance of each of our personal life (if there's any such relevance to begin with)

Posted by: Don Mega at April 12th, 2013 8:48 PM

and obviously our bodies are made to work the way they are. who's to say our bodies wouldn't completely be broken by introducing foreign material in there? to simply turn off our natural defense systems could do it, but there's huge longterm damage caused by that alone and certainly it's not the viable solution. so how to make these nanomachines smart enough to not trigger any adverse reactions?

or is the reason we don't see any other lifeforms out there that they all eventually started meddling with either their food supply and starved to death (just like our gmo is shown to produce lower yields, and be less drought resistant, but is promoted by fascist government/corporation alliance), or by changing their own genes or developed nanomedicine which lead to incurable condition to kill them all off?

those are just as viable options as the nuke theory.

Posted by: Don Mega at April 12th, 2013 9:00 PM
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