Closer, But Still So Very Far Away

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?


"But people who do the very best largely die far earlier than that - few of them make it into their 80s..."

Just wondering if that bit is actually true? Life expectancy in many western countries isn't far off 80, so there must be a substantial minority living into their 80s.

Posted by: wenneth at March 7th, 2011 7:29 PM

Someone really needs to step up to the plate and be a leader. Not just an adovcate but someone who can mobilize those of us who are willing to help but aren't sure how to begin. We need to come up with an ORGANIZED plan of attack and stop relying on each of us doing their random thing(s). As a group, we really need to make some noise and refuse to be silenced. In order to do that effectively, there needs to be some group events, whether it is to bombard specific government officials with faxes and e-mails at a coordinated dates and times (or over a period of time)and do the same with the media, and social groups. There should also be a campaign of distributing flyers, mailers, bumper stickers, wearables (hats, t-shirts, etc.). Think of the causes and organizations that you hear the most about and look at how they get the word out. Massive, organized, flooding of everything we see, hear and read, ALL OF THE TIME. Let's begin a world wide campaign with all of our supporters. Only one questions remains......Who will lead us?

Posted by: Mark at March 7th, 2011 7:41 PM

I hate to agree with the base line opinion about said billionaire but I can't help but make the comparison not only to parts of this organization but also Mr. Kurzwell whose fascinating books I have read with much interest and intend to read more of them. But the parallel I want to draw is of the most ancient variety Ponce De Leon who traveled around Columbus's primal Florida in search of a fountain of youth as we all know by now. I can further add to this discussion by making the keen observation regarding Julia Child and Jack LaLane. Born on the same day in the same year she made it to 91 eating just about whatever she liked and washing it down with a quart or two of the "French Paradox" and Jack worked out every day of his life including 3 days before his eventual passing. I figure if Jack couldn't get past 96 and only got five more years than a most interesting celebrity counterpart where does that leave us? Then again as Mr Kurzwell states we should take as much proactive action as we can for the future events to be of help to us! And Mr Kuzwell thought that action has lived longer than any male member of his immediate family. So it's not all pie in the sky by and by.

Posted by: Jeff Gerbino at March 8th, 2011 9:10 AM

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