Another Jerking Knee

Following on from the tale of two reviews a couple of days ago, thought I'd point out another article on "How to Live Forever or Die Trying: On the New Immortality." Here, again, is a reviewer reaffirming their belief in the immutability of aging and death with an appeal to those arguments from the gut he finds most appealing:

The reason, for instance, why the human body is fundamentally different to a car is complexity. Each and every cell of the body is millions of times more complex than a car, and we have many billions of cells in our bodies, any one of which can go awry, become a cancer and cause the entire system to collapse in death.

In any case, how many vintage cars are used for everyday city commuting - the sort of hard driving we put our bodies through just by the simple acts of eating and breathing?

Complexity is not a barrier to the possible - it is an indication of the level of work and capabilities of the tools required to undertake the task. Scientists manipulate and investigate fantastically complex systems in the body every day - in essence, the present biotechnology revolution is all about our increasing abilities to understand and use complex systems, which is why it so resembles the computer software and hardware industries in its organization and trajectory. Reaching for complexity as a barrier is akin to saying "it's hard, therefore it's impossible." Nonsense, in other words, meaningless. It's one thing to say, as everyone knows, "we can't repair aging and rejuvenate people today" - but quite another to then dismiss the future precisely because we can't do it today.

Yet in all of his writings, de Grey fails to mention that none of his approaches has failed to extend the lifespan of any organism, let alone humans. In fact, a group of 28 distinguished scientists signed a joint letter in 2005 to one science journal condemning de Grey and the gullible journalists who fall under his spell.

Which is a lie followed by a selectively chosen piece of information, the sign of a reviewer who hasn't actually done any real background reading on the subject of the book. Casting biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey as a crank might be nicely reassuring for someone who wants to hold their world unchanged in concept and boundaries, death, aging and all, but it isn't reality. Sure, we have the 28 conservative gerontologists who signed a joint letter - you'll find disagreement in every field. But how about the 57 signatories of the Scientists' Open Letter on Aging, or the 148 to attend the SENS2 conference organized by de Grey to focus on his view of longevity research, or the many scientists to submit papers to de Grey's journal, the highly-cited Rejuvenation Research, or the staff and leaders of the organizations backing the Longevity Dividend, or the donors and supporters of the Mprize and the Methuselah Foundation, co-founded by de Grey? Just like the actual science itself, none of this is at all hidden from sight ... unless you want to ignore it.

As one of the previously noted reviews said:

Oh yes, very funny. Let’s all have a good laugh at these nutters. That’s how many of us will want to feel. As you read this book, your willingness to laugh will tell you something, namely that you are rather more attached to death than you thought you might be. One becomes defensive when death is challenged. That’s interesting, isn’t it?

Do you believe involuntary suffering and death are good or bad? Do you accept that aging is the greatest cause of involuntary suffering and death? Do you believe that you have a responsibility to help do good in the world? These are simple questions that lead to a simple answer - working to defeat aging is no more a fantasy than working to defeat cancer, and just as great in merit.

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Haha, how lame. Nice debunking.

Posted by: Michael Anissimov at January 25th, 2007 10:45 PM

"de Grey fails to mention that none of his approaches has failed to extend the lifespan of any organism"

I'd like to be the first to congratulate Aubrey on his 100% success rate. :)

Posted by: jj at January 26th, 2007 5:00 AM

I kind of like reading about the debate, even if I don't agree with all sides, because it's not my field and it's the easiest way to learn.

Ethically we'll have a problem what to do in the future since it's mostly rich people who will be able to afford the life extending technology and there's only so much space on the planet.

Nice article.

Posted by: Hank at January 26th, 2007 8:20 PM

Hank, substitute "heart surgery" for "life extending technology" there and the logical fallacy in that point should be apparent. All successful technologies are expensive and unreliable at the outset, and become exponentially cheaper and more reliable with the passage of time.

Regarding space on the planet, have a look at this:

Posted by: Reason at January 26th, 2007 9:06 PM

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