Creating Wealth Versus Persuading Wealth

We'd all like to see more funding for our favored longevity research. Yours may not be SENS, the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, but mine is. Engineers skip the unnecessaries and get right to the crux of the matter - getting the job done:

SENS is a detailed plan for curing human aging. SENS is an engineering project, recognising that aging is a medical condition and that medicine is a branch of engineering. Aging is a set of progressive changes in body composition, at the molecular and cellular level, which are side-effects of essential metabolic processes. Many of these changes are eventually bad for us -- they are an accumulation of damage, which becomes pathogenic above a certain threshold of abundance.

The traditional gerontological approach to life extension is to try to slow down this accumulation of damage. This is a misguided strategy, firstly because it requires us to improve biological processes that we do not adequately understand, and secondly because it can even in principle only retard aging rather than reverse it. An even more short-termist alternative is the geriatric approach, which is to try to stave off pathology in the face of accumulating damage; this is a losing battle because the continuing accumulation of damage makes pathology more and more inescapable.

Instead, the engineering (SENS) strategy is not to interfere with metabolism per se, but to repair or obviate the accumulating damage and thereby indefinitely postpone the age at which it reaches pathogenic levels. This is practical because it avoids both of the problems with the other approaches: it sidesteps our ignorance of metabolism (because it does not attempt to interfere with metabolic processes and their production of side-effects) but also it pre-empts the chaos of pathology (because it repairs the precursors of pathology, rather than addressing the pathology head-on).

Stop to think about that: we can defeat aging in the future, utterly and comprehensively. The door is open, the path is there. The science is laid out ahead of us, no obstacles from the laws of physics or chemistry in our way. It's all just a matter of work and will - a lot of work and will.

Research and development costs money, of course. Either we pay for a future that includes medical technology to repair aging or we moulder down the slow road of suffering to a painful death, just the same as every past generation. We have the option of doing better than that, and it'll be a damn shame if we let it slip away through the normal combination of cluelessness, unthought conservatism, laziness and general lack of nous.

Where do resources for research originate? From the wealth of those who step up to make a difference. Those who strive to improve the lot of longevity research are faced with a fairly simple economic choice whenever we would like to pour more wealth into the pot, to help more hands make progress arrive more rapidly. Do we work to create that needed wealth, or do we work to persuade those with wealth to invest in research that will benefit their future health and longevity? How long will each path take? What is the likelihood of success in either case? I can assure you that even if you don't think that you think about these things, you do. We are all creatures of rational economic action, at every level of choice from persuading a friend versus chipping in a dollar yourself up to making investments to grow capital versus raising funds from investors and philanthropists.

I believe it is hard to argue against the proposition that time spent on persuading wealth to fund research is better used than time spent on creating wealth to fund research. The amount of wealth in the world donated to research each year is massively greater than any individual can expect to create for themselves, and the level of wealth that lies unpersuaded and unallocated to any cause is far greater still. So many people focus on creating wealth that it is hard to see any shortage appearing in that camp due to the oomparative few who divert their efforts towards advocacy for philanthropy.

The only potent argument that springs to mind is the miserable past history of successful persuasion when it comes to meaningful levels of philanthropic funding for longevity research. Caution and conservatism increases with the number of digits on the check, and one might argue that creating and donating wealth is a form of persuasion itself in the early years. Certainly the Methuselah Foundation would not be where it is today, seeking more seven-figure sums from philanthropic sources, without thousands of modest donations from supporters over the years. Those folk put their seal of approval upon the Mprize for longevity research and the SENS research program, giving the Foundation's work valuable legitimacy in the marketplace of ideas.

Still, it is an open topic for discussion, with a right answer for each individual. Building wealth to help buy more years of life, or working to spread awareness of this era of potential in longevity science?

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