It has been thirteen years since Nick Bostrom published The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, a clear call to action regarding our relationship with aging and medical technology. The world has come to treat aging and the vast tide of death and suffering it causes as something set in stone, and so it was, for in past generations even the best of medicine could do little to influence the course of aging. Yet today we stand in the midst of revolutionary progress in biotechnology, and all of the old limits and incurable conditions might be addressed given sufficient funding and will. Unfortunately, a majority of people continue to hold that old belief that aging cannot be changed, even as we move into an era in which it is possible to create real, working rejuvenation therapies.
Our community is one of patient advocacy, philanthropic support of science, research into aging, and medical development, aimed squarely at the defeat of aging and the deployment of means of human rejuvenation in the clinic. Over the years, philanthropic funding and research programs have produced results, and the first rejuvenation therapies, those based on clearance of senescent cells, are entering clinical trials. Our numbers have grown considerably since the Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant was first written, and many of the newer faces might not even know of this important work. So is pleasant to see the sizable audience and effort put into this adaptation by the same YouTube creators who produced the excellent Why Age? Should We End Aging Forever? last year. Take a look and see what you think.
Once upon a time, the planet was tyrannized by a giant dragon. The dragon stood taller than the largest cathedral, and it was covered with thick black scales. Its red eyes glowed with hate, and from its terrible jaws flowed an incessant stream of evil-smelling yellowish-green slime. It demanded from humankind a blood-curdling tribute: to satisfy its enormous appetite, ten thousand men and women had to be delivered every evening at the onset of dark to the foot of the mountain where the dragon-tyrant lived. Sometimes the dragon would devour these unfortunate souls upon arrival; sometimes again it would lock them up in the mountain where they would wither away for months or years before eventually being consumed...
Stories about aging have traditionally focused on the need for graceful accommodation. The recommended solution to diminishing vigor and impending death was resignation coupled with an effort to achieve closure in practical affairs and personal relationships. Given that nothing could be done to prevent or retard aging, this focus made sense. Rather than fretting about the inevitable, one could aim for peace of mind. Today we face a different situation. While we still lack effective and acceptable means for slowing the aging process, we can identify research directions that might lead to the development of such means in the foreseeable future. "Deathist" stories and ideologies, which counsel passive acceptance, are no longer harmless sources of consolation. They are fatal barriers to urgently needed action.
The quality and length of the rest of our lives depends on the degree to which the world at large - its research and development institutions, its public voices, its funding institutions - choose to bring an end to aging. It can be accomplished, but it will only be accomplished if a sufficiently large number of people first desire that goal, and then act on that desire. In an environment of widespread passive acceptance of a terrible status quo, persuasion is just as important as scientific progress.