But Enough About You

Every once in a blue moon, I'll participate in a blogmeme. Blink and you'll miss it, right back to longevity science and advocacy the next day. This is a small one put forward by Michael Graham Richard:

Here are 7 questions that I would like to ask to the following people: Michael Anissimov, Jamais Cascio, Tom McCabe, George Dvorsky, Steven Smithee, Randall Parker, and Reason of Fight Aging.

1. What would you nominate as the best idea that anybody has ever had? Why?

From a utilitarian point of view, the formalization of the scientific method that produced the present long-surviving community able to sift and preserve truth from the great foaming sea of lies and mere belief. This is more than a matter of the method, but also the way in which the method is presented, and the way in which scientific communities govern and propagate themselves. We'll put Francis Bacon forward as the figurehead originator for the modern world, though it was an idea whose time had come (once again) in his lifetime.

Men have sought to make a world from their own conception and to draw from their own minds all the material which they employed, but if, instead of doing so, they had consulted experience and observation, they would have the facts and not opinions to reason about, and might have ultimately arrived at the knowledge of the laws which govern the material world.

Imagine a world in which a community as devoted to the practice and protection of the scientific method had emerged and sustained itself as early as seems possible, say perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 years ago in China. How much further could we have advanced by now?

2. What non-fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

Anything that provides a solid, readable overview of the Austrian school of economics as it applies to everyday life, modern democracies and the choices we make. Widespread and profound economic ignorance - meaning ignorance of the way in which our world really works, leading to an inability to identify and address the many problems and evils that exist - is at the root of the yawning chasm between what is and what might be.

The very advanced class should go straight to the online edition of Mises' Human Action, while everyone else might consider starting with the very readable and recently released "The Revolution: a Manifesto" by Ron Paul, or perhaps Economics for Real People.

3. What fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

Atlas Shrugged - though I imagine that if you're were ever going to read it, you probably have already. Still, put aside anything you know about the author and read it as a work in isolation. The most important lessons in life revolve around the following triad: that choices matter deeply, self-knowledge is power, and hard, honest work is required to attain any goal worth having. Rand's writing will make you think about these things, and you will be the better for it.

4. What technology has most changed your life in the past 10 years and why? What technology do you think will have the biggest impact on your life in the next 10 years and why?

In both cases, the communication and computation infrastructure that sustains the internet; it opens up myriad opportunities and economic niches that were impractical in earlier ages. Bandwidth and information density in component peripherals matters, which is why, I imagine, that the mobile communication revolution hasn't really changed matters for me all that much. The next interesting phase transition, for people like me at least, will occur when you can carry the all the function and utility of a home office and high bandwidth connection in your pocket for a reasonable amount of money. This is more a matter of sorting out the peripherals than the bandwidth, or at least it looks like the peripherals have further to go, but at that point a truly nomadic lifestyle is quite plausible once again for a significant section of the populace.

5. What piece of music would you want with you on a desert island (that has a functioning stereo, of course)?

A spoken word piece on how to build a decent transmitter from the components of a stereo. For the rescue request. It can be set to sparse drum and flute accompanyment if you like.

6. What is the most interesting thing you are working on/reading about/writing about these days?

In terms of what I am watching from the sidelines, even more than the advancing science of longevity, I think it is the ongoing cultural upheaval in the gerontology community that is most engaging. We are witnessing a sea change of paradigm and transfer of influence, from a community that dared not even talk about extending healthy life span, to a vocal and engaged community that now spars in public over how best to do it, and how long it will take.

This is of great importance. The science is just work and money - large amounts of both, of course, but that can always be found if the will to progress exists. The real battle is over whether the science will be turned to the purpose of longevity in any significant way at all.

7. Looking ahead, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Why?

One has to be an optimist about the progress of science and technological capabilities. It's a fast uphill ride, and the next three decades will see the advent of powerful technologies like molecular manufacturing, affordable orbital lift capacity, enormously powerful computers for the cost of sand, organ regrowth and the absolute control of human cells.

I am very pessimistic about the influence of dominant forms of political organization in the developed world and the corrosive influence upon culture that follows - the vanishment of ambition, education, self-sufficiency, responsibility and accountability. Progress will be hindered and shackled, especially in the world of medicine. All the incentives are horribly misaligned, towards stagnation and poverty of service, and - short a long overdue revolution - will only get worse.

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