Arguing that Public Desire for Greater Longevity is Growing

Our community has undertaken years of advocacy for rejuvenation research, with the aim of developing ways to reverse age-related disease and disability, and thus greatly extend healthy life spans. The first concrete results are emerging from the research community, the result of philanthropy and persuasion, then the incremental accretion of funding to programs that showed promising initial data. So now we have senolytics, and I would hope not too many years from now we'll have glucosepane cross-link breakers - and then more thereafter.

But have we persuaded the broader public at all? Have we convinced more than a small number of people of the plausibility of the goal of human rejuvenation? Of the merits of ending aging, of eliminating the enormous scope of suffering and death that is all around us? At the large scale, and over decades, progress requires public support. Aging research as a whole needs the same widespread, overwhelming support enjoyed by HIV or cancer research programs; the history of both of those vast patient advocacy initiatives is well worth studying. We are not there yet. But are we further along than was the case at the turn of the century? You might compare the results of the survey noted here with another survey conducted last year; while it certainly looks like progress, I think it is far from clear as to where exactly things stand.

People generally do not believe in the plausibility of targeting the mechanisms of aging in order to slow down and reverse age-related damage. After so many millennia of fruitless dreams, with so many powerful psychological defenses that protect our state of mind when we face the idea of inevitable death by aging, becoming hopeful is usually too much to ask. This can explain why most people, when asked about their desired lifespan, add only a few years to the life expectancy of their given countries.

However, in the last few years, things have apparently started to change. In 2015, in a study by Donner et al, it was found that given perfect mental and physical health, 797 out of 1000 participants wanted to live to 120 or longer; over half of these 797 people desired unlimited lifespans (around 40% of all participants). A new study by YouGov shows even more impressive results. We at generally stay away from strong statements such as "living forever" or "immortality", because these expressions are hardly scientific and have a religious background. The notion of immortality even seems to scare some people because it seems to limit their freedom and because immortals are pictured by pop culture as criminals, crazy, or morally inferior. Therefore, people often reject the idea of extended life without perfect health.

However, in a new study by YouGov that included around 1200 participants, one in five (19%) people agreed with the statement "I want to live forever" without any promises related to perfect health. 42% of the participants chose "I want to live longer than a normal lifespan, but not forever", while 23% said, "I don't want to live longer than a normal lifespan." People in different age groups reacted to this survey differently; it turns out that the idea of radical life extension was more supported by young people (24%) than by people over 55 (13%), while support for the status quo was the opposite (19% of young people didn't want to live longer than a normal lifespan, while this position was shared by 29% of people aged 55 and older).

The YouGov survey participants were randomly selected, and few of them will be regularly exposed to news about aging and longevity research. However, over 60% explicitly expressed a desire for radical life extension. That is a big jump from the Pew Research study from 2013, where only 38% of the participants expressed the desire to undergo medical treatments to slow aging and live to be 120 or more. Of course, the questions in these surveys were formulated differently, so we cannot directly compare them. However, looking at various, similar studies, it appears that, in the last 5 years, 20% more Americans have become aware that something serious is going on in the rejuvenation biotechnology industry.



People can think what they want but I believe they are being disingenuous when 42% answer "I want to live longer than a normal lifespan, but not forever". When do they think they will wake up in the morning wishing they were older (and not take that shot of energy, life, and beauty in the jar on the night stand). Or decide "Today is a good day to die" (discounting a handful of extreme situations involving the defense of freedom).

I suspect the 42% will diminish and the 19% will grow as people gain additional self-awareness over the years.

Posted by: Tom Schaefer at February 5th, 2019 6:59 AM

The tipping point of public acceptance will come when mass market sci fi movies set in the future, star trek etc, only cast younger people. An acknowledgment that at some time in the future humans will have mitigated aging.

Posted by: JohnD at February 5th, 2019 9:57 AM

Make a cosmetic breakthrough like curing wrinkles or restoring hair color something anyone can see and I assure you public opinion change will be swift and dramatic.

Posted by: Corbin at February 5th, 2019 10:09 AM

Reason, any thoughts when you think clinical studies will hit for glucosepane cross-link breakers treatments as you alluded that it may be the next treatment in line for the public? Also, can you give a brief synapse of what this will do to help the aging body? Thanks

Posted by: Robert at February 5th, 2019 11:51 AM

Henry Ford said "If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

Posted by: gwood at February 5th, 2019 1:09 PM

The desire will grow when the therapies will be there. People will buy them and stop saying nonsense such as overpopulation or eternal boring. Until then I don't see the public desire grow.

Posted by: Jonathan Weaver at February 5th, 2019 1:25 PM

I remember when in New 2000 Year I said to my best friends I'd hope to celebrate New 2100 Year, they were laughing at me loudly for long like at a crazy idiot making very sarcastic jokes. If I say it now, for example, if say "I hope to live 150 and longer because I believe in Science and Technology", many people will look at me with a respect. People's opinion in this matter have changed dramatically in last few decades.

Posted by: Aleks Aleks at February 5th, 2019 2:12 PM

I would say that if you tweak the questions you might get markedly different answers. For example, "do you want to feel like 50 when 90 years old?" Or do you want to be like 20 when 60. There will be very few people that will say "no".

And of course, living "forever" is not possible even if we never age and have perfect regeneration. Freak accidents happen rarely but over 1000 years they for sure will reap a big portion of the population. Boredom and exhausting the brain capacity might be real concerns when living a few hundred years. But we will not know before getting there.
Remaining young can give you the theoretical possibility to worry about the sun exploding or even the heat dead of the universe , but your chances to live that long in a human body are minuscule, even if you don't age, have perfect regeneration and repair and even avoid deadly infections.

It is ironic that fighting HIV got more vocal support that anti-aging. And even leaving with HIV can become a minor chronic condition if we dind't have to age...

Posted by: cuberat at February 5th, 2019 4:03 PM

@cuberat "Boredom and exhausting the brain capacity might be real concerns when living a few hundred years"

I already have plans for the next ~500 years given all the superior women I want to have kids with (prioritization is going to be a nightmare!). Then there are the ones I'll discover in the meantime. And there are so many exciting things that are likely to occur on various time scales: Seasteading, Building a huge prosperous city in the 50km long X 100m diameter cave on the Moon, building Gerard K. O'Neil space colonies in the asteroid belt, then going to other solar systems. Life will be increasingly interrupted by joyful reunions with expanding family, and celebrating their achievements. Then their is the increasing pace of technological advance to keep up with. No, I don't think boredom will ever be an issue.

Posted by: Tom Schaefer at February 6th, 2019 9:13 AM

There is a solution for boredom. We can imagine future technologies which can make you forget about certain things or experiences, so that you can restart from zero about video games, sex, learning maths, watching movies or listening to songs, ect...

Posted by: Jonathan Weaver at February 6th, 2019 12:32 PM

So true @Tom Schaefer and @Jonathan Weaver. I've forgotten songs/films I listened to and watched 10 yrs ago nevermind 110 yrs ago!

Posted by: Steven B at February 6th, 2019 3:57 PM

"I want to live longer than a normal lifespan, but not forever" doesn't seem disingenuous to me, because it's exactly what I think. "Forever" doesn't really seem like a meaningful concept when considering questions of extending life by way of medical science. You could live a trillion years and not be any closer to forever than you are now, after all.

I'm inclined to agree with De Grey: this is about health.

Should I be healthy long enough to either choose to die on my terms one day, or alternatively to transcend life and death as we currently understand them in some far flung future, then I'm okay with that outcome as well.

But if 'forever' means living a chronological, human lifespan that simply *never* ends... I'm not sure I really understand the point. One way or the other I expect to say goodbye to this human experience one day, either by dying, or leveling up. For now I don't want to get sick and I don't want my loved ones or anyone else to die from preventable diseases. That's more than enough incentive.

Posted by: Ben at February 7th, 2019 3:00 AM
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