Beliefs Matter

Some thoughts stood out for me from a couple of recent Depressed Metabolism posts. People believe a great many things, individually and as groups, and beliefs shape actions - or lack of action, as the case may be.

Historical Death Meme

Historically, there has been a powerfully optimized meme regarding the topic known as death. If you lost vital signs, you were irrevocably lost. There was nothing that could be done. The belief evolved that there is a mysterious point termed 'death' which is in principle irreversible. ... Now, bring cryonics into the picture. The cessation of vital signs is no longer a sign of irreversibility-in-principle. ... In other words, the perfect conditions for cognitive dissonance have been established.

As the author points out, traditions regarding what can be done and should be done with the bodies of the dead are powerful things, and cryonics - like so much of medicine has done at one time or another - breaks those traditions. So we see a certain level of hostility, something that is true of longevity science in general, and for the same broad reasons. There is an ongoing collision between hidebound cultural traditions and the moving boundary of what is possible in medical science.

Over the decades ahead, the research community may, with sufficient directed funding, slow and reverse the course of aging, ultimately eliminate aging entirely (as well as the frailty and age-related disease it brings), and even provide a way to prevent other forms of death from being permanent under optimal circumstances. A substantial proportion of the population does not see these as desirable goals, however. That is a problem, our problem, and a challenge we have to surmount.

The diminishing returns of reactive medicine

So what is the reason why vast amounts of money are spent on research to treat age-associated diseases but so little on eliminating or mitigating aging as such? Why is this "one-disease-at-a-time model" so dominant? One reason might be that most people believe that overcoming one specific manifestation of aging is easier to do than overcoming aging itself. Not surprisingly, most academic and commercial research is shaped by short term ambitions or short-term financial interests.

The argument can be made that in fact it is cheaper to try to repair (or even just slow down) aging than to fix a particular disease - because to truly eliminate an age-related condition such as Alzheimer's or heart disease, you would in effect need to remove all of the contributions of aging. You need to fix the damage or replace the damaged parts in other words. So you might as well start there, rather than finishing there - but this isn't happening yet. Research communities hold different beliefs, and so work as they have done, one disease at a time.

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