On Convincing People of the Merits of Healthy Life Extension

A discussion is presently ongoing at the Immortality Institute, kicked off by thoughts on the frustrations and vicissitudes inherent in persuading people that healthy life extension to the degree of decades and centuries is plausible and desirable. Perhaps more importantly, that the process of developing the needed technology merits material support today.

Some time ago I decided to try and see how the concept of radical life extension would be accepted with some students from my university. So I introduced the idea to some of my acquaintances.

Well, I was faced with some religious arguments, which was to be expected, but the most overwhelmingly popular response was that of ridicule and unwillingness to accept that anything like this would EVER be possible.

I felt like everyone thought I was whacked in the head and there was no convincing that would help them believe that 20-30 years of life extension to reach the escape velocity would be possible.

Well, I said not to take my word for it and promised I would provide some material to prove that I am not completely gone crazy and some agreed (with a smirk). So I provided them with [biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey's] presentation, [the Immortality Institute website], [the Exploring Life Extension film], Aubrey's site, [the Mprize for longevity research] and some others, all tied into a neat little package.

And the response to that: nothing, propably just assured them that I was insane. And the most obvious thing was that even though many of them weren't religious, it seemed that no-one cared. It was as if the whole matter couldn't be anymore insignificant.

We've all seen something of this response, I imagine. Just look at how long it takes any concept to overcome the resistance folk have to change; most people are slow to identify in public with any position not reinforced by their peers. It doesn't matter how obvious the new position is in hindsight, or how ridiculous and evil the present state of affairs is, the weight of opinions held by others is very important to most.

We are creatures built upon a foundation of ape instinct; normalization of expressed opinion and action within a hierarchy is second nature to us, and embracing the new on its merits as a leader, ahead of the curve, is not the human default. Facts are never as important as what others say about the conclusions supported by those facts - sad but true. Thus evangelizing the new takes time and effort. Yes, it is frustrating - but the frustration of the moment is really a matter of expectations. What are your expections with regard to the practical and possible rates of progress? What are your expections with regard to goals you might attain in the course of your activity?

That said, there is little worse than failing to try. The fellow quoted above made the effort - more effort than many do - to change the future for the better by bringing more people to think about living longer, healthier lives, and about the research that must be accomplished to make it happen. All of us can play a part in making support for healthy life extension research an accepted mindset. All it takes is the effort to talk to people about it; if we keep at it, if we persist, these ideas will gain the foothold needed to win out, blossom and spread on their merits in the mainstream of our culture.

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Also 95-99% of people are follow the herd people. And it must be that way, not everyone can be chief. And a chief needs tribesmen to organize to accomplish bigger and better things.

So what it means in reality is to enact change you don't have to reach the 99%.. you only need to reach enough of the 1% to change the tide. Everyone else will follow them once the 1% shift their thinking.

Posted by: aa2 at April 2nd, 2007 11:30 PM

I think many people look at it based on life experience. They have seen life expectency change by about 5-7 years for people in their 20's and older. More success against childhood disease.

It has been a while since the major disease cures from vaccinations etc... were made. Plus they look at 15 years for a basic drug to get approved by the FDA.

They have seen the long campaigns against MD (Jerry Lewis, 40 years and still on the air), cancer, heart disease etc...

Plus now environment continues to cause problems for lifespan and lifestyle problems of obesity.

If several big diseases get cured every couple of years and there is major progress on the science front (gene therapy, RNAi, RNA activation, regeneration, stem cells actually being used to stop disease and enhance performance), then people would shift and say OK we are getting close, this could really happen.

For molecular nanotechnology, the recent successes with DNA nanotechnology, synthetic biology, rotaxanes, carbon nanotubes, directed self assembly, greater precision tools is starting to shift the debate from it is impossible to maybe it could happen but it will take a lot longer and be different and some people in government saying "Whether or not one believes in the Singularity, it is difficult to overestimate nanotechnology’s likely implications for society. For one thing, advances in just the last five years have proceeded much faster than even the best experts had predicted."


There were "best experts" saying and predicting it could happen, but just not the ones that they were listening to.

However, convincing most people should not be the goal or the expectation. Some people could have successful SENS treatments and most people would be in denial or oblivious. The people and the talking heads who are against it are not doing much to stop the work or funding. People who believe the naysayers were not part of the group of possible early adopters of the concepts. It is only a matter of continuing to convince enough early researchers and funders to continue the work.

Posted by: Brian Wang at April 3rd, 2007 1:48 PM
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