Gregory Stock at Aging 2008

Jeriska continues the good work at Future Current, here posting a transcript of Gregory Stock's presentation at Aging 2008 last month:

Dealing with aging and death has always been a challenge. People have different ways of handling it. I see it in four categories: One is to just ignore it. This is pretty easy for awhile - you can just pretend it isn’t happening, particularly when you are young and when the manifestations of aging are not really apparent at all.

Another is, you deny it. "Death is not really real, because our soul will live eternally." Or, we will live eternally through our creations - those sorts of things. A lot of people like to feel that; it makes them feel better about the situation. Another is just to accept it. That is a common practice too, to say it is inevitable, natural, even the best thing. Leon Kass, for example, has said it is life’s finitude that gives it its meaning - as though young people who do not think about their mortality don’t enjoy life.

The final approach is to battle it. This was the strategy of Ponce de Leon, who was wandering around in the jungles of Florida. It could be Aubrey de Grey, too, who is trying to catalyze a serious effort to control the aging process. What is different now, though, is that suddenly, for the first time ever, it is actually quite plausible. As you heard from the comments of earlier speakers, we might actually be able to accomplish that.

What is interesting is that this is not the goal of biogerontology today. Its goal is not to control aging, or extend our natural lifespan, but to somehow compress morbidity, so that we can be healthier for a longer period of time and then fade away quickly. Initially that sounds reasonable, but at its logical conclusion, it really is completely out of sync with our aspirations.

As I've said elsewhere, the most important cultural battle of our time is that which started inside the gerontological community. It is the fight to build a research community whose members eagerly and vocally work to achieve what is possible with the future of biotechnology: the repair of aging and defeat of age-related degeneration.

At present that community is in only its earliest stages. The rest of the field is still mired in the views of yesterday, a place where no-one can talk about healthy life extension for fear of ridicule and loss of funding opportunities. Societies have a way of working themselves into a conservatism that holds back progress. This is slowly changing, but that change must continue and accelerate if we are to see significant progress within our lifetime.

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