I noticed a recent New York Times article on the interests of one of the world's few hundred billionaires:
Because [David Murdock] is 87, it makes an unusually robust specimen, which is what he must be if he is to defy the odds (and maybe even the gods) and live as long as he intends to. He wants to reach 125, and sees no reason he can't, provided that he continues eating the way he has for the last quarter century: with a methodical, messianic correctness that he believes can, and will, ward off major disease and minor ailment alike.
His affluence has enabled him to turn his private fixation on diet and longevity into a public one. I went to see him first in North Carolina in late January. It is there, outside of Charlotte, in a city named Kannapolis near his lodge, that he has spent some $500 million of his fortune in recent years to construct the North Carolina Research Campus, a scientific center dedicated to his conviction that plants, eaten in copious quantities and the right variety, hold the promise of optimal health and maximal life span.
Profiles and even interviews as they appear in a paper are no way to gauge the finer details of what a fellow does and doesn't believe. A superficial reading of the article would cast Murdock as someone who has spent a lifetime of benefiting from exercise and mild calorie restriction - and the related benefits of veganism - while having little interest in the actual science of calorie restriction. In that he would be much like the late Jack Lalanne, if it is an accurate rendition of his views.
Murdock will, I think, be disappointed in his goal of 125 years of life: with the medical technology of today, and the predicted medical technology of the next ten years, he has very little chance of living to be 100 no matter how healthy he is now. No man is verified to have lived much past 115, and those who made it past 110 are a minuscule fraction of the billions who are presently alive. That is true regardless of anything Murdock might do with his life insofar as diet and exercise go: the statistics of human mortality are what they are.
The simple, unfortunate truth of the matter is this: if eating exceedingly well really could let people live to 100 and beyond with any reliability, then this would be well known, and the world population would include thousands upon thousands upon thousands of centenarians. But people who do the very best largely die far earlier than that - few of them make it into their 80s, let alone 90s. Living well has great worth: clearly there is much that can be done to optimize your own person life expectancy under present day medical technology. But don't expect to live to 100 under those conditions, because the odds are that you won't. The only thing that will bring much longer life to all of us is the advance of medical technologies into the realm of repairing the biological damage of aging.
It might be disappointing or frustrating for some in the longevity advocacy community to know that at least two billionaires - David Murdock and John Sperling - have enough of an interest in longevity to do something about it, have enough funds to realize a rejuvenation biotechnology program such as the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), but will never take that path as their convictions lie in a completely different - and ultimately futile - direction. That emotion is the natural human inclination to know better how to spend another fellow's money, but try to suppress it. It's pure poison, like the green-eyed monster of jealousy, and suffering it is no way to lead a stress-free life.
Really this is - and should be - no more frustrating than the fact that any billionaire has a personal and vested interest in fixing aging, the fiscal ability to develop out SENS to function in mice over the next ten years (and build a thriving research community along the way) and probably won't do it. This is what it is, and will be until we change it.
Billionaires are best viewed as a process rather than a person: they are a churning cloud of forward momentum, companies, and thousands of people, including dozens or hundreds of inner circle advisors. When thinking about how to persuade a billionaire to see things your way, you should be thinking along the lines of how you persuade a company of people to see things your way. The traditional path is to build an organization - to gather supporters, advocates, press, and donated dollars. All these are forms of validation that companies - and high net worth individuals - pay attention to.
In this sense, you should look at initiatives like the Methuselah Foundation and the SENS Foundation as being in essence long levers used to gain the attention of wealthy concerns. Alternately, you might see them as components of the very long lever that is the entire longevity science community. It is to the credit of the SENS and Mprize communities that so far these groups have been able to gather multi-millionaires to the fold and talk them into supporting the broader mission of defeating aging. To pull billionaires to the table will require reaching the next level in growth and size of community - ten or a hundred times as large and loud as it is today. It can be done, and it can be done in a very similar fashion to either cancer advocacy or AIDS advocacy. It's just a matter of work and time.
The clock is ticking. What are you doing to help?