Messaging Rejuvenation Medicine at the SENS Foundation

A recent post by Sarah Marr of the SENS Foundation should really be read as a companion piece to Aubrey de Grey's interview with Wired last month. Taken together they go a way towards explaining the present thinking of the SENS Foundation principals on how to position engineered human longevity to best raise funds and obtain broader support. The lynchpin:

This is the basis of our core message: SENS Foundation works to advance research on rejuvenation biotechnologies. We exist because no-one else is working to deliver on the promise of rejuvenation biotechnologies, to steer academia and industry towards the adoption of a damage-repair paradigm which is currently neglected.

The mission statement also describes these rejuvenation biotechnologies as being applied to the disabilities and diseases of aging, not simply, aging. Our approach will create a comprehensive set of interventions (on which, more later), but each of the individual interventions in that set will address one or more specific diseases, and those interventions will develop over time, not all at once. It would be wrong, therefore, to frame our mission in a way which suggested the 'all or nothing' proposition implied by our using the word aging alone. Each individual success - each new application of rejuvenation biotechnologies - will solve very real medical problems.

The Foundation is moving to establish "rejuvenation biotechnology" as an alternative to SENS (the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) - as a brand for raising funds and educating people - for the simple reason that you don't have to work as hard to explain it. (A situation I am not unsympathetic towards given my own sites and efforts). There are other benefits, but as the common wisdom runs:

if your business is a mix of information provision and persuasion then it's probably not a good thing that you have to explain the meaning of your name to everyone.

A second important point in Marr's post concerns moving beyond one's origins. It's no great secret that the transhumanist and futurist community did more than their share in helping to make the Methuselah Foundation and SENS viable and ongoing concerns. But it is traditional in every movement's growth to marginalize the smaller groups and subcultures that helped it to get off the ground - we should look on it as a sign of progress when it happens. Changes start at the fringe, and as they move inward their rebellious origins are buried, one by one, and everyone pretends that they never existed.

The bottom line is that you (as a supporter) want us to succeed, and that means you want us to be a organization which does things, which nurtures rejuvenation biotechnology in its early stages, and then helps it to grow into a coordinated, global enterprise. For those reasons, there are some things you don’t want us to be. As an example (or two, or three), you don’t want us to be a ‘transhumanist’ organization: there’s no need for the distraction of couching what we do in terms other than curing disease and ending the suffering of humans. You don’t want us to be a ‘futurist’ organization: what we do is no more ‘futurist’ than any other medico-scientific research organization, and there’s no value in artificially separating ourselves from those organizations. You don’t want us to be seen as immortalists: immortality (in the sense sometimes associated with our work) is easily dismissed, both metaphorically and literally, often by an unseen bus, or - less frequently - falling piano. The list of ‘things you don’t want us to be’ goes on, but what it comes down to is that you do want us to be what we were founded to be: a mature, mainstream, biomedical charity. Anything else would be setting ourselves up for failure.

The very same process of burying the origins will happen to SENS itself - and when it does, we should all celebrate, because the movement that will bury SENS as its rebellious origin will be a large, mainstream research community that is working to reverse degenerative aging through repair biotechnologies. This is the way of the world; while some people might feel like getting up in arms about the marginalization of their contributions back in the day, it really isn't worth it. As Aubrey de Grey put it:

And there will be abundant people who are better than me at all the things I have to do at the moment, and I will no longer be necessary. And I shall fade away into glorious obscurity.

As shall we all - and if things work out well, we'll be alive and healthy for a good long time to enjoy it.

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