You 30 Year Olds Are Too Damn Optimistic

I'll say this for the younger adult crowd in the healthy life extension community: you 30 year olds are too damn optimistic about future timelines for healthy life extension technologies.

The biggest concern for me--right now, anyway--isn't maintaining my body in a youthful state. While this is definitely a concern, I feel able to adequately take steps in this direction, and mainstream society largely facilitates and encourages this behavior with widespread access to information and products aimed at youth restoration and maintenance. While many of these products are dubious, and others have only minor effects, I believe in the bridge hypothesis expounded by Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey and others: Each generation of life-extending interventions need only keep me alive until the subsequent generation in order for me to have an effectively indefinite lifespan. And given that I'm 29 and as far as I know in good health, I believe that, barring an unfortunate accident, there is a good chance for me to stay biologically youthful for a long period of time. (And yes, as a backup plan I am pursuing cryonics.)

I can't fault Simon Smith - the writer of that piece - for failing to stand up and do something; he has achieved more than I in building a well-trafficked megaphone and watering hole for healthy life extension and other transhumanist ideas. But still, there is the undercurrent of complacency that I see in the writings of many of the younger set - that the future technology is sorted, on the way, and meaningful anti-aging technologies will arrive in time.

I'd be optimistic myself if a scientific healthy life extension infrastructure as dedicated, large and advanced as that for cancer or Alzheimer's research actually existed. But it doesn't, and the scientific and advocacy communities have barely even started on the long road to building such a thing. The process could have been started a generation ago, but it wasn't. It may not get off the ground this generation.

My point here is that widespread complacency will be an undoing for us all - it's a common failure mode for those who look towards a better future, but never manage to engineer it. Massive assignment of time and resources is required for the goal of healthy life extension in our lifetimes. Engineering this use of resources is a huge task in and of itself. But supporters become enthusiastic, overestimate the degree of progress and the number of people helping make a better future, and stop making their own contributions. That scenario repeated en mass would mean that no progress is made - that healthy life extension technologies will not become effective enough to reach actuarial escape velocity within our lifetimes. Thus, game over; oblivion or taking your chances with cryonics.

We have a chance, a shot at radical life extension. We have to contribute, all of us, or it will slip from between our fingers.

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I definitely agree with this...nobody can afford to sit around waiting for radical life extension to find them. At age 27 I am fully aware of the critical need to keep spreading positive memes, but also contributing in a tangible manner to the drive toward finding and mitigating the causes of aging.

I do not ever plan to succumb to the disease of decline but I certainly don't expect to be able to defeat biology through mere wishing or positive thinking. It is necessary, I think, to maintain optimism -- but in the sense that Max More talks about in his "Dynamic Optimism" essay:

rather than the "passive, blind" optimism of someone who just sits and speculates. I have myself donated to the Mprize, I am keeping up with every source of information I can find on the current state of progress, and I am trying to control my diet to the point of developing a healthy CR-type regimen. Reading this post has inspired me to try to draw up a more formalized plan for "what I can do" to contribute more meaningfully. The 2 worst thing that could happen would be for too many people to be convinced that they are going to "make it" without effort on their part, or that one person cannot possibly make a difference. I am determined not to fall into either of those traps.

Posted by: Nydra at April 15th, 2006 11:01 AM


You raise an important point. I think a few arguments need to be made to the younger set to get them to feel a greater sense of urgency about the development of rejuvenation treatments:

1) Do you want your parents and older friends to die from aging and disease?

2) What about the people who are disabled? The same treatments that will help reverse aging will let people get up out of wheelchairs and to stop suffering from chronic pain.

3) You may yourselves get a chronic illness that makes you live in pain for decades before that rejuvenation therapy becomes available.

4) Not everyone makes it to 65.

The point 3 could be expanded on with research results on the incidence of chronic pain by age. I've seen these kinds of numbers in the past and am going to watch for them in the future. Then we could tell 25 and 30 year olds what their chances are of having chronic pain by the time they are 50.

Also, on point 4 I want to watch for data on the incidence of death at each age. Do you really want to run a 1 or 2 or 5 chances in 100 chance (whatever it is) of dying from disease by the time you are 65?

So I think arguments can be built to shake the younger folks out of their complacency. I think we need to build up those arguments.

Posted by: Randall Parker at April 15th, 2006 12:38 PM

More action needs to be taken. I believe with continuous effort, more people will be aware of this and more people will take action.

I for one came to this blog a few years ago, and ever since, I have been reading this and hope that we can one day defeat aging. I will contribute to this effort soon, once I have gather the resources needed. It shouldnt be long. hopefully there will be more people who join in the fight.

Its progressing, but we need to step up the effort to progress faster.

Posted by: Jack at April 15th, 2006 8:09 PM

Cryonics is not a preferable method of life extension. It is not even an adjuvant therapy. It is a last-ditch gamble and the odds are terrible. Engineered Negligable Senescence is within our grasp within our immediate lifetime. Dumping funds into cryonics rather than serious biological and nanotechological research will only set us back.

Posted by: Andrew J. Brownson at April 16th, 2006 2:48 PM

I totally agree with Max Moore's philosophy of dynamic optimism. Each person can contribute in a meaningful way. Even if the actions seem insignificant what happens is a movement is created. And things in this world tend to move in exponential not linear terms. Both positive and negative things.

I'm one of the people reason is talking about, I'm 26, and my life expectancy according to the last test I took is 77. But even if you said you will for sure make it, I would still try just as hard as I am now. As I have friends and people I love, who are older.. 50. They've got some time left I hope, but we need to start getting things to delay the process.

I'm in stocks for a living and what makes me want to push to the next level is not so I can drive a fancier car. But so I can finance research and the organizations of promoting healthspan extension.

Posted by: aa2 at April 18th, 2006 11:32 PM

I dunno Reason,

I'm very disillusioned and depressed at the moment. You know when I first encounterd transhumanism I fondly imagined myself sweeping away all the technical problems in a couple of weeks...I'd solve AGI on Monday, Aging on Tuesday, Nano-tech on Wednesday. Didn't work out that way bud. I found out I wasn't that crash hot :-(

Then there was all the transhumanist in-fighting. The big egos, the arguments. Some transhumanists seem a lot more interested in showing off their high IQ's than doing anything to help the world.

What really are are chances - taking a totally cold, objective look at the facts?

Not good I'm afraid. The human body is one of the most complex objects in the known universe - bio-tech is still in the very early stages. What of other approachs - AGI for instance? For God's sake don't talk to me about AI! The human mind *is* the most complex object in the known universe. You can forget about AI. No hope there anytime soon (those SL4 guys are just deluding themselves).

Knowing all this, I give the average 30 year old less than a 50-50 chance of 'making it', no matter what he or she does.

Perhaps it's just not worth it. Perhaps we're just not gonna make it bud :-( Too early for us and we're too weak, too few, too stupid. So why fight? Why not just go out and enjoy the short life we've got rather than constant misery struggling against an unbeatable foe (aging,death)?

Posted by: Marc_Geddes at April 19th, 2006 11:39 PM

I disagree with the point that Marc_Geddes tries to make.

I believe calculating chances of making it is a false way of thinking about the issue of life extension. This because the calculation considers future development of science and technology, so it's grounded on prediction.
In fact science and especially technology advances in such rythm and in such ways that we should not and even cannot make any predictions. I agree that in healthy life extension the progress seems slower than in other fields but a relevant breake-through may come from anywhere. I'm not trying to make an optimistic point here but only to say that calculating odds about when a practical treatment for aging can be implemented is a waste of time and thought.

If one agrees that indefinite life extension is possible and one really wants to benefit thereof one should make any effort and take any action one is ready to make to achieve it.
Of course not everybody is ready to make the same effort for it. But I believe that in deciding what personal effort is acceptable, thinking about the odds of personally achieving life extension is a false argument.
It's more a matter of faith. One should decide if he/she considers life-extension achievable or not. In practical sense on this issue there is no grey area. In my position as profane in matters of science I really don't feel able to make predictions. I just believe it and in theory I do not think I can afford to consider the possibility that it will not be implemented in my life time.

How much do you want it? How much effort are you ready to put into it? I think this constitutes the baseline, for me at least. I'm lazy and vicious and maybe I'm not doing enough for myself in the direction of life extension and certainly not something meaningfull for the scientific and technological activity pursuing life extension, but my decisions are not based on calculating the odds of personally achieving it. Getting up earlier in the morning is certainly possible and I don't need o calculate the odds for it, but as I am lazy I will not make the effort unless something important enough to me needs my attention at that early time of the day.

But I keep my faith and I hope I will be able at some point to contribute in some practical way.

Posted by: Virgil at April 28th, 2006 2:05 AM
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