The Downside of Discussing Immortality

I recently mentioned a little of the upside relating to public discussions of biological immortality (a state of agelessness, not invulnerability) - this in connection to the "suitable outrageous extreme." In essence, the presence of a serious discussion about the science of a cure for aging and a post-aging world creates an environment in which is is easier to gain support and raise funding for more modest research into extending the healthy human life span. This more modest research still happens to be the first step on the road to a cure for aging. Talking about the end goal speeds the journey by increasing public acceptance and thus driving funding. In that sense, I'm all for the responsible discussion of biological immortality through medical technology - curing aging, in other words. On the other hand, talking about immortality rubs some intelligent, well-meaning folks the wrong way right off the bat. Two good examples are here:

We can see that this fellow is so repulsed by something that is "obviously" fringe that he throws out or refuses to investigate associated facts and science - despite coming across as someone who would be sympathetic to a more subtle approach. For example:

To these concerns, de Grey would no doubt say, "Don't give me possible problems that might or might not happen. Give me the possibility of problems that might or might not be so bad that it's preferable to carry on condemning 100,000 people a day to death, forever."

If there's one thing I hate more than brute force, it's brute reasoning. I wonder how many of those people die from war, famine, car accidents, political prosecution, disease or other factors a genetic code for immortality wouldn't solve. Come to think of it, how are we supposed to get the secret of immortality to people who can't even get clean water? Or how are we going to stop wars? Sure doesn't look like finding immortality is going to do a lot to reduce that amazingly large questionably calculated number.

A few moments of research would uncover that, yes, approximately 100,000 people each and every day could be saved by a cure for aging and age-related degeneration. Another 50,000 each day die from violence, non-age-related disease such as malaria, and other consequences of politically-imposed poverty - but you can't hold back progress on account of poor distribution strategies and bad politics. That's simply reaching for all the old, disproved arguments against any new technology. A rising tide raises all boats, and the building of better boats is a separate topic from raising the tide.

There's much more in that and similar veins of course, the sort of thing an educated person would pick up from filtering the public opinions of scientists and a little knowledge of science through a prexisting bias that any talk of a cure for aging is "fringe" or "cultish." The question would be what we advocates can take away from this view point. What can we learn? From my observations, this sort of reaction is in a minority compared to more positive responses - especially when balanced against the "outrageous extreme" effect of a discussion of immortality on public support for near-term healthy life extension goals. Still, is there a good way to gain the support of people like this while continuing to educate the public about the possibilities offered by healthy life extension research and the fight to defeat aging?


As I've consistently said, the word itself is a problem in that it has millenia of religious beliefs encoded within it...and thus gives people the bends when you try to change thousands of years of definitional fixity. MF assiduously avoids this word because it is not semantically apropos - since it is an article of faith - not science. Science cannot predict tomorrow with accuracy...much less thousands of years - science itself is arguably only 400 years old.

As to ethics and morality, we are ALL already life extensionists if we've survived premature birth, gum infections from tooth decay, appendicitis, polio, scarlet fever, smallpox, malaria and a host of other insults that killed earlier generations in a way we THINK OF TODAY as prematurely...LE is a done deal. Anything that cures alzheimers, cancer, heart disease will have a similar though modest LE effect at a population level. But we must all remember that the most important LE is PERSONAL - happy statistics don't help you if you are personally dead. I promote reversal of aging because it has the greatest potential to bring about the end of what I think of as "Mainframe Medicine"...offering NO cures and duplicative treatments at high cost...developed ridiculously slowly, unbelievably expensively and delivered dangerously.

People are not responsive emotionally to diseases - they are responsive to individuals / friends who are suffering. That is why there are so many foundations focused on a particular disease. The Founder's relative became a sufferer. Aging must come to be understood to be a disease. And then? Should we cure aging? The real question is Do we love our elders less than we love anyone else? Is their pain less real? Do we understand that we ARE them over time certain? If a pill that cured aging were available would you make sure your Mom didn't get it? I for one am doing all I can to assist my mother to get healthier and live pain free and happily.

Posted by: Dave at February 24th, 2005 9:20 AM

Wow... your naval-gazing self-affirming attitude proves my point perfectly.

Posted by: Saint Nate at February 24th, 2005 2:22 PM

St. Nate,

Dave's post is right on target. What on Earth is possibly wrong with it?

What's your hang up with life-extansion, anyways? If you don't want it, thats fine by me. Noone is about to force it on you. But who the hell are you to question the right of other people to pursue it and to invest their time and money into developing it? Different people have different dreams and goals. Our dreams and goals are just as valid as yours or anyone elses.

I'm getting fed up with the deathist attitudes from people like yourselves. Aubry de grey is right on target when he asks if any problem or set of problems is worth the sacrifice of 100,000 lives every day. This is way more than the number of people who died in WWI and WWI together.

Posted by: Kurt at February 24th, 2005 7:11 PM

I have a suspicion Nate was commenting on Reason's article and perhaps not my post. Or am I mistaken?

Posted by: Dave at February 24th, 2005 9:34 PM

Not that it really matters either way ... it's all good food for thought insofar as tactics for advocacy go.

Posted by: Reason at February 24th, 2005 9:45 PM

Saint Nate, the world calls for change. You can feel it in the air, written in the very laws of it. When you look at it, history, physics, it's all lead up to this point, a turning point.

It is true, you have a right to fear it, but know that eventually you must embrace it.

If someone is saved from a disease, hunger, accident or crime TODAY, you've only given them a rather short period of time, they'll decay and wither away, many times in a painful way(for them, and their loved ones). Is that how it should be? Is that what must be?

I believe the answer is NO, things must change, though political barriers are indeed a problem. Politicians have failed us, but it's my belief that just as in the past we've seen the feasible weaponry, such as that which uses the power of the atom, change the fate of man, novel feasible weaponry will again provide the engines of change, the engines of a new world.

I believe in a world of freedom, equality, and democracy. Right now some say democracy, freedom, equality exists somewhere... But the fact is it does not.

Democracy requires an informed and intelligent populace, it's not so.

Freedom requires that one be capable of behaving aptly, without requiring the force of law, so that the law's presence is needless, but this is not so.

Equality, heh, to open up so many possibilities, so that individuals may spend their time as they so please without lacking provision for their basic needs, essential human rights, requires change, yet this is neither so.

To bring these things into the world the political landscape must change, humanity itself must change.

Posted by: Apocalypse at February 27th, 2005 4:17 PM

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