Further Thoughts on Advocacy for Radical Life Extension
Greatly extending the healthy human life span has always been one of the core goals advocated by transhumanist authors. Degenerative aging and the suffering and death that it causes are limits, and the philosophy of transhumanism is to develop the technological means to make limits optional - to create choice where no choice is presently possible. As a species we have greatly changed the human condition to date by improving our surroundings and our tools, but in the future we will change it by improving ourselves. To create medical technologies that enable the choice not to age, suffering, and die is the most important of all goals. The personal relevance of everything else that the future might bring depends upon being alive to see it, after all.
Transhumanist research and development takes place all around us, and the human condition changes a little every year as a result, but research into the means of extending healthy life is very sparsely funded. The public at large seems in the most part indifferent to the prospect of longer lives. Does this mean that we are doing too poor a job in advocacy and fundraising, or that good progress over the past few decades has taken place in the face of a widespread lack of interest and even hostility towards longevity science? It's certainly the case that there is more deliberate funding and advocacy for rejuvenation research today than ten years ago, even though it's still small in comparison to other fields of medical science.
Everyone has an opinion on what we might do differently to persuade more people to support scientific research aimed at the reversal of aging. To follow on from last week's post on advocacy and the lack of funding for rejuvenation research, I thought I'd point out a few thoughts from Maria Konovalenko of the Science of Life Extension Foundation. They are presented beneath this banner:
The topics of horror of death and despair of aging are poorly exposed in tranhumanist rhetoric. In the 14th century, in the plague times, death used to be one of the main topics of visual arts. Nowadays the topic of horror of death struggles its way to the surface only on cigarette packs in a few countries of the world. There is an unspoken ban on documentary demonstration of the moment of human death. Death itself is often embellished, heroized and named necessary for striving of other people.
We claim that there is nothing more dreadful than death, and our main goal is to fight it. We understood that one of the most powerful impact tools are not the rational arguments, but visual images. We are interested in creating the new art that describes the horrors of aging and death with the aim of increasing the motivation of people to fight for radical life extension, for immortality. So, if you happen to know some artists, tell them about tranhumanist ideas and about the urgent need of new art that will help defeat death.
People don't like to talk about death, and in my experience can become very resistant or even hostile when the topic of rejuvenation research, cryonics, or other ways in which we can try to address death are brought up in the course of conversing about death. The death of older public or private figures should be teaching moments for longevity science, but in practice turn out to be a good opportunity to make people angry. This is an interesting response but not very helpful. People rarely want to talk about death in any detail at other times, and when it cannot be avoided as a topic they often react angrily to any thought of avoiding death through science and research.
So I think there's something to be said for giving death a 14th century prominence. Perhaps fewer people will choose to bury their heads in the sand. Konovalenko offers up some other points and opinions as well, which you may or may not agree with but which are all worth at least a little thought. One of these days someone will figure out the key to open the floodgates of support for extended healthy life and rejuvenation research, but that won't happen without a diversity of effort aimed at a better way forward.
One of the main reasons why people don't want to talk about overcoming death is that these people have invested a huge amount of mental work over decades to build an elaborate structure that could shield them from dealing with painful and inevitable reality. To tell them now that death might not be inevitable is like telling them that the foundation of the safe home they have been building for themselves all their lives and loved is damaged and all of it has to be bulldozed into the ground. Additionally, most lack the right information about how to construct a new mental building where death doesn't have to be one of the tenants. They're just too attached to old ways of thinking and doing things, just like someone refuses to switch from VHS tapes to DVRs. It's just that trivial.
Blind hostility to arguments about overcoming aging results more from fear of abandoning what people have poured their hearts and souls to create, regardless of the quality of their "products", and from fear of going on-board with a new idea that aging can be defeated, which might lead to extremely painful heartbreak later on, rather than from errors in the longevity-advocating arguments themselves, which probably explains why older people are still not very enthusiastic about these ideas because they think it's too late for them already and the last thing they need is to invest the remaining life energy into this research just to end up failing still. Situation would be completely reversed if rejuvenation technologies were already available. Then, especially older people would be funneling everything they own into these therapies and investing in even better therapies.
Her arguments are visual. Every picture tells a story, etc. I believe there is a substantial segment of the populace who do not believe that anti-aging rejuvenation is possible. Reading about it is similar to flying cars. It is always "someday" and most people dismiss that someday as within their lifetimes.
It is my firm belief that for a visually driven culture -like this one in 2013- we need also images of rejuvenation. That is, treatments that address the "superficial" aspects of aging such as grey hair, hair loss, skin wrinkling, etc. Not just masking such as botox or toupees, but actual reversal of aging that can be seen and touched with human eyes.
This will open minds in the general public in ways that a tissue engineered trachea will not. They will see a visual reversal of aging. They will want these treatments for themselves because we are such a visually driven culture and when told that "Rejuvenation like this is possible for your entire body" it will be believed.
This I believe will be a tipping point in getting mass support from those who believe it is not possible and never will be; that it's "too good to be true." Because so much of what is sold in life is too good to be true. Thus I think money spent on such cosmetic and non life threatening things as hair and skin will in fact accelerate funding for other areas of anti-aging research and would advance their arrival, though it may seem counter intuitive.
If you want some visuals and do not mind low-resolution images from ten or twenty years ago, see the GIF files at:
(This was created before the term "tweakers" gained another, unfortunate connotation.)
Click on "READALL.html" to see all images in one page. Some of these images obviously are dated, given what we have learned in the past 20 years, but most others remain relevant today.