The Wrestling of Knee-Jerk Reactions in the Minds of the Many

People don't spend much time evaluating new information that crosses their path. That's simple economics; you have to filter the world in a way that is efficient if you are to have any time left to set and meet your own goals. Modern attempts to build reputation systems are partially an effort - possibly doomed, depending on who you ask - to do better than the ad hoc personal filters built and used by most people.

It is fascinating to watch large numbers of individual filters interacting in action, and recent events have provided a good laboratory. Peter Thiel, an individual of high reputation in many eyes, has donated $3.5 million to the Methuselah Foundation to fund real, honest to goodness scientific anti-aging research, a field that has a terrible reputation in the eyes of many. This is poor reputation for legitimate science is due in no small part to the fraud, greed and idiocy of the "anti-aging" marketplace, but also to the knee-jerk negative reaction that so many people have to the very idea of working to extend the healthy human life span.

This is an interesting experiment: find any random person you know and ask them what the downside would be to using better medicine to live for 150 years. Nine times out of ten, I'll wager, your friend will tell you that living for so long would be terrible because a person would spend most of his or her life decrepit, increasingly crippled by age-related conditions. In otherwords, your random friend thinks that "healthy life extension" means "being aged for longer."

So here we have a war of first-line, knee-jerk filters based on reputation, prejudice and habit. Does Thiel's association with scientific anti-aging research cause people to put Thiel into the "reject" category at this filter level, or does it cause people to pass the idea of scientists working to extend the healthy human life span through to the next level of inspection, thought and discussion?

From my admittedly scant view of the online world, I'm gratified to see that Thiel's perceived reputation is winning more often than one might expect. In many ways, Thiel's reputation and standing are a more potent donation to the Methuselah Foundation - and the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) - than the $3.5 million. It will go a long, long way towards legitimizing the fight to defeat aging - and frailty, suffering, pain and death - in the minds of the many.

Still, it is a sign of the power and breadth of shallow prejudice against healthy life extension that a fair number of people are willing to instantly dismiss to the crank bucket someone previously regarded as an intelligent, successful, talented businessman. There is much work left to do for advocates attempting to create broader awareness and education, as well as those researchers who are proving their case in the labs.

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