The Pro-Aging Trance Versus Inexorable Technological Progress

Some of the core strands of the modern day discussion of greatly increasing healthy human longevity through the advancement of medical science can be found in the first issue of Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology:

As advances in medicine and the life-sciences continue offer the opportunity to “enhance” humans and other species, it becomes clear that the discussion of human enhancement raises questions in philosophy, religion, science, medicine, sociology, history, law, and many other disciplines.

There is something to be said for pushing aside the normal self-serving blather that populates this sort of region of ethical debate, colonizing the space with determined intent and hard science to support it. Chase out the bad with the good, and spread the meaningful debates that have taken place within the healthy life extension community: how, how long, what must be done to reach the goals of radical life extension.

Life Span Extension Research and Public Debate: Societal Considerations:

The pace of a given strand of scientific research, whether purely curiosity-driven or motivated by a particular technological goal, is strongly influenced by public attitudes towards its value. In the case of research directed to the radical postponement of aging and the consequent extension of healthy and total lifespans, public opinion is entrenched in a "pro-aging trance" - a state of resolute irrationality. This arises from the entirely rational attitude to a grisly, inevitable and relatively far-off fate: putting it out of one's mind allows one to make the most of what time one has, free of preoccupation with one's demise, and it is immaterial how irrational the arguments that one uses to achieve this are, e.g. by persuading oneself that aging is not such a bad thing after all.

As biotechnology increasingly nears the point where aging will no longer be inevitable, however, this studied fatalism has become a core part of the problem, making people reluctant to join the crusade to hasten that technology's arrival. An effective way to address this hesitation is to promote debate about the reasons people give for fearing the defeat of aging, most of which are sociological. Such debate exposes people to the glaring flaws in their own logic. Thus, the more the debate is sustained and promoted, the harder it is for those flaws to be ignored.

Medical Nanorobotics: Breaking the Trance of Futility in Life Extension Research:

Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey has suggested that one of the reasons we as a society invest so little in research on combating aging is because we are in an intellectual trance. We think the effort will be futile: aging is immutable, so why try? A healthy skepticism can be a good thing but it is a major mistake to bet against the irresistible force of inexorable technological progress. Over the next few decades, nanotechnology will come to play a pivotal role in the solution to the problem of human aging. Medical nanorobotics, if it can be made to work, can unquestionably offer convenient solutions to all known causes of age-related damage and most likely can also successfully address any new causes of senescence that remain undiscovered today.

These two papers illustrate one of the core debates within the healthy life extension community - but it is a subtle debate, not addressed openly to the extent it deserves. Many people see activism in support of longevity science to be of limited necessity because they believe, I think, that general advances in technological capabilities drive entrepreneurial development cycles that drive public support for new uses. In effect, this is a belief in the robustness of a free market to explore every possible economically viable avenue for human betterment, and to leap upon newly viable avenues as soon as they arise.

My position is that this is probably the case in the long term. However, as always, it is easy to point out many economically viable and technologically possible projects that have not been started, in medicine or other fields, in the decades since they became viable. In addition to the economy of the free market, there exist economies of regulation, attention, understanding and philantrophic support - just because something is viable does not mean it will happen within your lifetime.

There of course is the crux of the matter. If we are to benefit from healthy life extension therapies, from medical technologies capable of repairing the damage of aging, progress must be rapid. Healthy life extension through scientific advancement is inevitable - but not for us, unless we get our act together.

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