Wealth Does Not Grant Vision

There is a discussion that takes place with great regularity within any community of advocates. It builds from the eternal triad: (a) exceedingly wealthy people exist, (b) their wealth could change the world for the better if applied in the right way, and yet (c) they are not applying their wealth in this right way. Pick your "right way" from any of the paths you consider valuable - for me, it's generating meaningful progress towards the prevention and reversal of degenerative aging, the universal medical condition that kills more than 100,000 people every day. But perhaps you have something better, more beneficial to humanity in mind. After all, we're all very sure of the causes we support.

Some folk seem to thrive on the outrage they can generate by considering just how many dollars of other people's money aren't being spent the way they want. Others are deeply saddened and discouraged - but neither strikes me as a healthy way to view the world. Why should an advocate be perpetually worked up about those wealthy individuals who do not see the world the same way as he or she does? Perhaps because the advocate expects more from the wealthy than from the poor - and in many more ways than relate to size of donation.

What I mean by this is that I think there's a certain tendency to believe that wealthy people have attributes and talents that in fact they don't possess: they have a great deal of one important thing, so therefore they must have more of all the others, right? But across a broad spectrum of the wealthy, you are probably not going to see greater intelligence, drive, wit ... or vision. Wealth doesn't grant you any of these things if you didn't have them beforehand, and a few decades of being alive and socially active should teach you that none are a necessary prerequisite for becoming wealthy. I'm not even all that certain that they help.

If you think over your experiences in talking about longevity science with people, you're probably in just the same boat as me: most of the folk you'll meet don't believe that near-term progress is possible, don't like to think about aging and death anyway, and are locked into a view of their own lives that has them progressing and ending just like those of their grandparents. There is no vision, they learned the shape of the box they will live in while they were young and in school, and have little interest in change. In this, your friends and acquaintances are not at all different from any given selection of high net worth individuals.

So why be disappointed that those high net worth individuals are just as unlikely to help of their own accord, or understand the possible future of rejuvenation biotechnology? Wealth is not magic gold and blessings from the fae; these people grew up in the same society as the rest of us, and thus are on average just as blinkered - in need of education and persuasion - when it comes to aging and longevity science.

Now with all that said, you might look at Maria Konovalenko's comments on the philanthropic works of Bill Gates:

Mr. Gates said: "No idea is too radical" in what he termed as the Grand Challenges in Global Health and the goal was to pursue paths that the National Institutes of Health and other grant makers could not. Based on these statements in the article, we can see that the money has not been spent effectively so far. As life extension specialists, gerontologist and on behalf of all humanity - we are urging you to help pursue an expansion into anti-aging research.

To the best of my knowledge, the Gates Foundation makes no significant contributions towards longevity science - which one would presume means that Bill Gates and his advisors are average, ordinary folk in that regard. Unconvinced, or it isn't even on their mental radar, or they are set comfortably into the scope of a life they believe will look like that of their grandparents. And so forth. It is a challenge: exactly the same challenge that you yourself have faced when you have trouble persuading a friend on the development of rejuvenation biotechnologies and support of the SENS Foundation.


I agree with your assessment of the wealthy. There are some differences though, which leads me to believe certain things in regard to longevity medicine. People like Bill Gates, and even more people like Sergey Brin, are visionaries. I know for a fact that Sergey Brin is sympathetic to transhumanist ideas. Sergey Brin alone could easily finance the Methuseleauh Foundation's goal of $100 million per year, forever. But to my knowledge he hasn't financed anything in life extension anywhere. Being that he is a transhumanist, it's a good question to ask, "why not?" There could be many reasons, but underneath it all his motivation would be there to finance something, anything, that would have the best chance ot combating aging.

Pardon my ignorance, but it is my understanding that if the Methesulah Foundation does solve the longevity problem in mice, it will not patent anything, but give it away to the research community at large. Is this correct? If it is, that is one very good reason for the rich not to finance it. The potential market for these technologies would be in the trillions.

I was recently asked, if when I reach 70 (I'm 45 now), I could stay in a clinic and come out with 30 years additional quality life, how much would I pay?

My answer: Every penny I had. Which would mean selling my house, cars, and all my possessions. I would be willing to start out with absolutely nothing, other than my new good found health. I imagine this is true for most of us wanting to combat aging, so you can see just how much money these investors stand to gain.

Therefore, I think there in fact is research going on in these area, but it is being done quiety, in secret, without peer review, because the payoff potential is too big. It is possible then, that there are very rich people investing in just such research, but keeping it under wraps until they can patent and make enormous fortunes on it.

I'm interested in hearing yours and others thoughts on why forward-minded investors, especially people like Brin and Thiol, are not investing more money, especially if it means the difference between living to a 100 versus 1000+. Being that I would give it ALL away if it was a sure thing, I would certainly give at least 10-20% away if I was rich to make it happen. Afterall, I can't take all that money with many when I die.

Posted by: Paul at December 30th, 2010 12:35 PM

When I mentioned the Methuselah Foundation, I meant the SENS Foundation.

Posted by: Paul at December 30th, 2010 4:13 PM

There exists wealth in the financial realm, but there also exists wealth in the realm of knowledge....

Some knowledge is worth thousands, other is worth millions, then there comes that which is worth billions... but high up the tree of knowledge there exists knowledge that eclipses the total worth of the global economy.

Posted by: Cameron at December 30th, 2010 9:13 PM

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