On the Psychology of Longevity Advocacy

An interesting post over at In Search of Enlightenment:

Firstly, support for legitimate longevity science is hampered by the vast number of products currently being sold as "anti-aging" therapies without any science to substantiate their claims. See here, for example. And thus one has to be very careful when convincing people that (1) aging is something that ought to be retarded (as it increases our risks of morbidity and mortality); and yet at the same time convince them that (2) we might actually be able to slow human aging and yet (3) none of the current products being sold on the market have been demonstrated to do this (indeed, they might be harmful). The latter point is emphasized, for example, in this excellent piece in the Scientific American by Jay Olshansky, Leonard Hayflick and Bruce A. Carnes.

Now if one is pressing (as indeed I am) (1) and (2), it is of course understandable that people will be want to do something about aging (and thus be tempted to violate (3)). But when asked "So what can I do to slow aging?" my response is "(a) support increasing the amount of public funding we invest in the biology of aging and (b) encourage linkages between different fields of research-- from genetics and evolutionary biology to engineering and statistics". Well, as you can imagine, many people will find that answer rather flat! They want the solution and they want it now (today)! The same is true about climate change. Few people have an interest in being told the best solution is investing in new R&D and might be long-term. Patience never was a human virtue.

There's more in that vein, so take a look. I'm not in the "slow aging by massive government funding of the same community that's strongly resisted progress to date" clade, but the excerpt above is a fair summary of the immediacy problem - that once you've convinced people to think about healthy life extension on the merits, the natural result is a lot of waste and noise in addition to helpful additions to the community. That's the way that humans tend to act; we're given to look for the backsliding easy way out, even when we know it's not going to work. For every person who donates to the Methuselah Foundation's longevity research program, there will be another who decides to look into a new wrinkle cream.

You can lose a lot of sleep over things like this, but I think we advocates are better for accepting that other peoples' choices are not our responsibility. Everyone has free will; our task is to make better information available and persuade those who can be persuaded to help advance the state of longevity science. However well we do, there will continue to be a dubious "anti-aging" snake-oil industry and some number of people making poor choices.


It's amazing that you don't see the absurdity of expressing your opinion that "everyone has free will" in a discussion forum that seeks to help fight genetically induced age related disease processes. There is no better poster child for man's lack of free will than aging.

Posted by: Mason Hamilton at July 27th, 2008 8:23 PM

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