Tag Archives: death

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Remembering the Man Who Turned Numbers Into Hope – Article by Steven Horwitz and Sarah Skwire

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Categories: Economics, Education, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatSteven Horwitz and Sarah Skwire
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After the spate of celebrities who died in 2016, the death of a Swedish professor of international health might not seem very newsworthy. However, Hans Rosling, who died of pancreatic cancer on February 7th, was no ordinary or obscure professor.

The story of his life and career can be found both at Wikipedia and in this marvelous Nature profile. What those sources cannot quite convey is Rosling’s importance as a role model for intellectual honesty, personal warmth and charisma, and a willingness to go where the facts took him, regardless of whether those facts adhered to any simplistic political narrative of humanity’s past and future. Both Rosling’s intellectual fearlessness and the substance of his work have importance for those who care about human freedom and progress.

Intellect and Humanity

But it isn’t just the content of Rosling’s work that matters. He was an amazing rhetorician. He had a unique ability to use and present data in easy to understand and visually appealing ways that were very effective at conveying an argument. He also was able to think creatively about the linkages among the various causes of wealth and the improvements they made in human well-being. His natural storytelling ability gave him the capacity to put those complex historical factors into narratives that not only got the history right, but did so in a way that appealed to our shared humanity.

All of these skills are on display in his two most famous videos, both of which impart lessons in presenting ideas and interpretations of data that classical liberals will find very useful.

Underlying much of Rosling’s work as a public intellectual was a concern with how we enable all of humanity to share in the health and wealth that has come to characterize the Western world.

With his background in health and demographics, Rosling was interested in the factors that led to the rising health and longevity of the West. First, of course, he had to document just how much better things had become in the West, then he had to explore the causes.

Presenting the raw data about the improvement of the West was the centerpiece of his BBC video “200 Years, 200 Countries, 4 Minutes.” Using real-time data visualization techniques, he shows how every country in the world was poor and sick 200 years ago and then showed the path by which so many countries became wealthy and healthy. There is no better visualization of the progress of humanity than this one.

For those of us who work with students, this video gives us the opportunity to talk about the factors that made that growth happen, including the role of liberal institutions and the rising moral status of the individual in that process. It is a great complement to the work of Deirdre McCloskey.

The video also provides a way to talk about global inequality. What is clear from the visualization of the data is that 200 years ago, countries were far more equal than now, but they were equally poor.

It’s true that the gap between rich and poor countries is greater now than back then, but everyone has improved their absolute position. And two of the countries that have improved the most are two of the most populous: China and India. Rosling’s presentation opens up countless useful discussions of the importance of economic growth for increases in life expectancy, as well as what exactly concerns us about growing inequality.

As he concludes, the task before us now is to figure out how to bring the rest of the world up to where the West is. Though he does not discuss it, the economic evidence is clear that those countries that have experienced the most growth, and therefore the biggest increases in longevity and other demographic measures of well-being, are those that have the freest economies. By giving us the data, Rosling enables classical liberals to engage the conversation about the “why” and “how” of human betterment.

Inspirational ‘Edutainer’

But our favorite video of Rosling’s is definitely “The Magic Washing Machine.” Here Rosling uses the example of the washing machine to talk about economic growth and its ability to transform human lives for the better.

Rosling’s focus is on the way the washing machine is an indicator of a population that has grown wealthy enough not only to buy such machines, but also to provide the electricity to power them. The washing machine is a particularly valuable machine since it relieves most of the physical burden of one of the most onerous tasks of the household, and one that has historically fallen entirely to women.

No one who has seen the video can forget the story of Rosling’s grandmother pulling up a chair in front of the new washing machine for the sheer joy of sitting and watching while the clothes spin. Her excitement becomes even more poignant when one considers that this must have been the first time in her life when she was able to sit while laundry was done, instead of standing over a tub of hot water and soap.

Rosling points out, in a moment of calling his fellow progressives to task, that while many of his students are proud of biking to class instead of driving, none of them do their wash by hand. That chore, though green, is simply too onerous for most moderns to take on. He then goes on to discuss how we have to find ways to create the energy needed as billions of people cross the “wash line” and start to demand washing machines.

The video ends with him reaching into the washing machine and pulling out the thing that the machine really made possible:  books. The washing machine gave his mother time to read and to develop herself, as well as to read to young Hans and boost his education as well.

The visual image of putting clothes into a washing machine and pulling out books in exchange captures all that is good about economic growth in a succinct and unforgettable way. Rosling concludes the video with a heart-felt roll call of gratitude to industrialization and development that has been known to reduce free market economists to tears.

What Rosling does in that video is to effectively communicate what classical liberals see as the real story of economic growth. He gets us to see how economic growth, driven by markets, has enabled women to live more liberated lives. Classical liberals can talk endlessly about the data, but until we talk effectively about the way in which industrialization and markets have made it possible for women (and others) to be freed from drudgery that was literally back-breaking, we cannot win the war on the market.

Thank You

Bastiat said that “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.” Hans Rosling’s work is the best possible example of the best kind of defense of a good cause. He was a model and an inspiration.

Rosling ends “The Magic Washing Machine” by saying “Thank you industrialization. Thank you steel mill. Thank you power station. And thank you chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books.”

We say, “Thank you, Dr. Rosling. Thank you, data visualization. Thank you TED talks. And thank you, Mrs. Rosling, for buying a washing machine and reading to your son.” We are richer for the work he did. We are poorer for his loss.

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions. He is spending the 2016-17 academic year as a Visiting Scholar at the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise at Ball State University.

He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

Sarah Skwire is the Literary Editor of FEE.org and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is a member of the FEE Faculty Network. Email

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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“A Morte é um Erro” – Portuguese Translation of “Death is Wrong” – Translated by Eric Pedro Alvaro – Post by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Art, Education, Philosophy, Science, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
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A free PDF version of A Morte é um Erro – the Portuguese translation of Death is Wrong – is now available for download from The Rational Argumentator. You can obtain your copy here and may spread it to Portuguese-speaking audiences as widely as you wish.

A Morte é um Erro was generously translated into Portuguese by Eric Pedro Alvaro.

Death_is_Wrong_Portuguese_CoverPaperback copies of A Morte é um Erro can be purchased in the following venues:

Createspace

Amazon

Kindle copies of A Morte é um Erro can be purchased on Amazon for $0.99.

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Se você já se perguntou, “Por que as pessoas morrem?” então este livro é para você. A resposta é que não, a morte não é necessária, inevitável ou boa. Na verdade, a morte é um erro. A morte é uma inimiga de todos nós, que deve ser combatida com ciência, medicina e tecnologia. Este livro lhe apresenta os maiores, mais desafiantes e mais revolucionários movimentos para prolongar radicalmente o tempo de vida humano, para que você então simplesmente não precise morrer.

Você aprenderá sobre algumas plantas e animais com um tempo de vida incrivelmente longo, sobre recentes descobertas científicas em relação a ampliação do tempo de vida em humanos, e sobre simples e poderosos argumentos que podem refutar as comuns desculpas para a morte. Se você alguma vez já pensou que a morte é injusta e que ela deve ser derrotada, você não está sozinho. Leia este livro, e se torne parte desta importante busca na história da humanidade.

Este livro foi escrito pelo filósofo e futurólogo Gennady Stolyarov II e ilustrado pela artista Wendy Stolyarov. Com o intuito de lhe mostrar que, não importa quem é você e o que você pode fazer, sempre há uma forma de ajudar humanidade em sua batalha contra morte.

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Refuting Ayn Rand’s “Immortal Robot” Argument – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Philosophy, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II

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Here I refute an argument that has been leveled against proponents of indefinite human longevity from a surprising direction – those sympathetic to the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. Some advocates of Ayn Rand’s philosophy believe that indefinite life would turn human beings into “immortal, indestructible robots” that, according to Ayn Rand, would have no genuine values. Both of these claims are false. Indefinite life would not turn humans into indestructible robots, nor would an indestructible robot with human abilities lack values or motivation for doing great things. In Ayn Rand’s own words, “Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.” (John Galt’s speech in For the New Intellectual, p. 135)

Rand’s “immortal robot” argument is found in “The Objectivist Ethics” (The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 15): “To make this point fully clear, try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.”

The “immortal robot” argument needs to be challenged because it originates from Ayn Rand, who otherwise espouses numerous rational ideas. I myself agree with most of the fundamental principles that Ayn Rand advocates. However, in some of her particular reasoning – at least, if applied to the wrong context – she can be off-target in such a way as to retard further progress. The often-leveled argument, derived by contemporary non-transhumanist Objectivists from the above-quoted passage, is that achieving indefinite longevity would turn human beings into Ayn Rand’s description of the “immortal, indestructible robot”.

In responding to Rand’s argument, several points can be made in relation to prolonging human life indefinitely and lifting the death sentence that hangs over all of us. First, at no point in time will human beings become the “immortal, indestructible robots” that Ayn Rand describes. The simple reason for this is that our existence is physical and contingent on certain physical prerequisites being fulfilled. The moment one of these physical prerequisites is lacking, our existence ceases. This will always be the case, even if we no longer have a necessary upper limit on our lifespans. For instance, biomedical advances that would greatly expand human lifespans – allowing periodic reversions to a more youthful biological state and therefore the possibility of an indefinite existence – would not turn humans into indestructible robots. There would still be the need to actively turn back biological processes of decay, and the active choice to pursue such treatments or not. People who live longer by successfully combating senescence could still get run over by a car or experience a plane crash. They would retain potential vulnerability to certain perils – such as death from accidents – although, as I have explained in “Life Extension and Risk Aversion”, they may be more diligent in seeking to greatly reduce the probability of such outcomes. If it is ever the case that death by senescence and the myriad diseases which kill many human beings today can be averted, then human beings will try to avert the other possibilities of death – for instance, by developing safer modes of transportation or engaging in fewer wars.

It is possible to significantly reduce the likelihood that one can be destroyed, without ever eliminating the theoretical potential of such destruction. Furthermore, because human beings have free will, they always have at least the hypothetical option of choosing to undermine the physical prerequisites of their own lives. In my view, no sane, rational being would actually choose to pursue that option, but the option is there nonetheless. For anybody who seeks to commit suicide by immediate or gradual means, or by refusing to take advantage of life-prolonging techniques once they become available, there is virtually nothing in the world that could prevent this, apart from rational persuasion (which may or may not be successful).

Even with indefinite longevity, human beings will always be vulnerable to some actual or hypothetical perils or poor choices. Moreover, when we manage to avoid one kind of peril, other kinds of perils may become more pressing as they come into the frame of awareness of longer-lived beings. If we do manage to live for hundreds of thousands of years, we will be far more subject to long-term geological changes and fluctuations of the Earth’s climate, such as the cycle of ice ages, whereas today humans do not live long enough to experience these massive shifts. Most of us today do not worry about the consequences of huge glaciers advancing over the continents, but humans who live for millennia will see this as a pressing problem for their own lifetimes. Likewise, the longer we live, the greater the likelihood that we will experience a global cataclysm, such as a supervolcano or an asteroid hitting the Earth. Human ingenuity and resources would need to be devoted toward confronting and even preventing these perils – a highly desirable outcome in general, since the perils exist irrespective of our individual lifespans, but most humans currently lack the long-term vision or orientation to combat them.

Moreover, the need to reject the “immortal robot” argument when discussing indefinite life extension does not stem solely from a desire to achieve philosophical correctness. Rather, we should recognize the potential for actually achieving meaningful, unprecedented longevity increases within our own lifetimes. For instance, the SENS Research Foundation is a nonprofit biogerontological research organization whose founder, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, has outlined an engineering-based approach to reversing the seven principal types of damage that accumulate in the human body with age. (SENS stands for “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence”.) Dr. de Grey has stated that, with proper funding, there is approximately a 50 percent probability of these rejuvenation treatments being developed 20-25 years from now. (The 20-year figure is presented in this transcript from a recent NPR interview of Aubrey de Grey – quoted in “Discussing Science and Aging: Aubrey de Grey and Cynthia Kenyon at NPR” by Reason at FightAging.org.) The SENS Research Foundation is not the only entity pursuing radical life extension. Major commercial efforts toward research into reversing biological aging – such as Calico, created and funded by Google (now Alphabet, Inc.) – have been launched already. Thus, it is premature to conclude that death is a certainty for those who are alive today. Medical advances on the horizon could indeed turn many humans into beings who are still potentially vulnerable to death, but no longer subject to any upper limit on their lifespans.

It is therefore ill-advised to pin any ethical justifications for the ultimate value of human life to the current contingent situation, where it just so happens that human lifespans are finite because we have not achieved the level of technological advancement to overcome senescence yet. If such advances are achieved, common interpretations of the “immortal robot” argument and its derivative claims would suggest that life for human beings would transform from an ultimate value to some lesser value or to no value at all. This implication reveals a flaw in arguments that rely on the finitude of life and the inevitability of death. How is it that, by making life longer, healthier, and of higher quality (with less suffering due to the diseases of old age), humans would, in so doing, deprive life of its status as an ultimate value? If life is improved, it does not thereby lose a moral status that it previously possessed.

Yet another important recognition is that some animals have already attained negligible senescence. Their lifespans are de facto finite, but without a necessary upper limit. Suppose that evolution had taken a different course and rational beings had descended from tortoises rather than from primates. Then these rational beings would have negligible senescence without the need for medical intervention to achieve it. Would their lives thereby lack a type of value which the proponents of the “immortal robot” argument attribute to human lives today? Again, a conclusion of this sort illustrates a flaw in the underlying argument.

But suppose that a true immortal, indestructible robot could exist and be identical to human beings in every other respect. It would possess human biological processes and ways of thinking but be made of extremely strong materials that did not deteriorate or that automatically renewed themselves so as to rapidly, automatically repair any injury. Ayn Rand’s argument would still be mistaken. Even if death were not a possibility for such a being, it could still pursue and enjoy art, music, inventions, games – any activity that is appealing from the perspective of the senses, the intellect, or the general civilizing project of transforming chaos into order and transforming simpler orders into more complex ones.

The fear of death is not the sole motivator for human actions by far. Indeed, most great human accomplishments are a result of positive, not negative motivations. Rand acknowledged this when she wrote that “Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.” At least in the short term, you do not need to do much to avoid death. You could just sit there, stay out of trouble, eat, drink, keep warm, sleep – and you survive to the next day. But that is not a full life, according to Rand. Obviously, one needs to avoid death to have a full life. Survival is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Many thinkers sympathetic to the Objectivist school, such as Edward Younkins, Tara Smith, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Tibor Machan, George Reisman, and Lester Hunt, have extended this insight to conclude that survival is not enough; one should also pursue flourishing. (Younkins provides an excellent overview of this perspective in “Flourishing and Happiness in a Nutshell”.)

I concur fully with the goal of flourishing and recognize the existence of numerous positive motivations besides mere survival. For example, the desire to see oneself create something, to witness a product of one’s mind become embodied in the physical reality, is a powerful motivation indeed. One can furthermore seek to take esthetic pleasure from a particular object or activity. This does not require even a thought of death. Moreover, to appreciate certain kinds of patterns in existence, which are present in art, in technology, and even in games, does not require any thought of death. Many people play games, even if those games do not contribute anything to their survival. This does not mean, however, that doing so is irrational; rather, it is another creative way to channel the activities of the human mind. Via games, the human mind essentially creates its own field of endeavor, a rule system within which it operates. By operating within that rule system, the mind exercises its full potential, whereas just by sitting there and only doing what is absolutely necessary to survive, the mind would have missed some essential part of its functioning.

Creating art and music, undertaking scientific discoveries, envisioning new worlds – actual and fictional – does not rely on having to die in the future. None of these activities even rely on the threat of death. The immortal, indestructible robot, of course, might not engage in precisely the same activities as we do today. It would probably not need to worry about earning its next meal by working for somebody else, but it could still paint a painting, just because it would like to see its mental processes – in this scenario, processes greatly resembling our own – have some kind of external consequence and embodiment in the external reality. Such external embodiment is a vital component of flourishing.

Fear of death is not the sole motivator for human action, nor the sole prerequisite for value, as Ayn Rand acknowledged. There is more to life than that. Life is not merely about survival and should be about the pursuit of individual flourishing as well. Survival is a necessary prerequisite, but, once it is achieved, an individual is free to pursue higher-order values, such as self-actualization. The individual would only be further empowered in the quest for flourishing and self-actualization in a hypothetical environment where no threats to survival existed.

While we will never be true immortal robots, such immortal robots could nonetheless flourish and truly achieve life. As a result, the “immortal robot” argument fails on multiple counts and is not a valid challenge to indefinite life extension.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

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How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us from Curing Death – Article by Edward Hudgins

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Categories: Philosophy, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
July 3, 2015
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Are you excited about Silicon Valley entrepreneurs investing billions of dollars to extend life and even “cure” death?

It’s amazing that such technologically challenging goals have gone from sci-fi fantasies to fantastic possibilities. But the biggest obstacles to life extension could be cultural: the anti-individualist fallacies arrayed against this goal.

Entrepreneurs defy death

 A recent Washington Post feature documents the “Tech titans’ latest project: Defy death. “ Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist, has led the way, raising awareness and funding regenerative medicines. He explains: “I’ve always had this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing… Most people end up compartmentalizing and they are in some weird mode of denial and acceptance about death, but they both have the result of making you very passive. I prefer to fight it.”

Others prefer to fight as well. Google CEO Larry Page created Calico to invest in start-ups working to stop aging. Oracle’s Larry Ellison has also provided major money for anti-aging research. Google’s Sergey Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg both have funded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation.

Beyond the Post piece we can applaud the education in the exponential technologies needed to reach these goals by Singularity U., co-founded by futurist Ray Kurzweil, who believes humans and machines will merge in the decades to become transhumans, and X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis.

The Post piece points out that while in the past two-thirds of science and medical research was funded by the federal government, today private parties put up two-thirds. These benefactors bring their entrepreneurial talents to their philanthropic efforts. They are restless for results and not satisfied with the slow pace of government bureaucracies plagued by red tape and politics.

“Wonderful!” you’re thinking. “Who could object?”

Laurie Zoloth’s inequality fallacy

 Laurie Zoloth for one. This Northwestern University bioethicist argues that “Making scientific progress faster doesn’t necessarily mean better — unless if you’re an aging philanthropist and want an answer in your lifetime.” The Post quotes her further as saying that “Science is about an arc of knowledge, and it can take a long time to play out.”

Understanding the world through science is a never-ending enterprise. But in this case, science is also about billionaires wanting answers in their lifetimes because they value their own lives foremost and they do not want them to end. And the problem is?

Zoloth grants that it is ”wonderful to be part of a species that dreams in a big way” but she also wants “to be part of a species that takes care of the poor and the dying.” Wouldn’t delaying or even eliminating dying be even better?

The discoveries these billionaires facilitate will help millions of people in the long-run. But her objection seems rooted in a morally-distorted affinity for equality of condition: the feeling that it is wrong for some folks to have more than others—never mind that they earned it—in this case early access to life-extending technologies. She seems to feel that it is wrong for these billionaires to put their own lives, loves, dreams, and well-being first.

We’ve heard this “equality” nonsense for every technological advance: only elites will have electricity, telephones, radios, TVs, computers, the internet, smartphones, whatever. Yes, there are first adopters, those who can afford new things. Without them footing the bills early on, new technologies would never become widespread and affordable. This point should be blindingly obvious today, since the spread of new technologies in recent decades has accelerated. But in any case, the moral essential is that it is right for individuals to seek the best for themselves while respecting their neighbors’ liberty to do the same.

Leon Kass’s “long life is meaningless” fallacy

 The Post piece attributes to political theorist Francis Fukuyama the belief that “a large increase in human life spans would take away people’s motivation for the adaptation necessary for survival. In that kind of world, social change comes to a standstill.”

Nonsense! As average lifespans doubled in past centuries, social change—mostly for the better—accelerated. Increased lifespans in the future could allow individuals to take on projects spanning centuries rather than decades. Indeed, all who love their lives regret that they won’t live to see, experience, and help create the wonders of tomorrow.

The Post cites physician and ethicist Leon Kass who asks: “Could life be serious or meaningful without the limit of mortality?”

Is Kass so limited in imagination or ignorant of our world that he doesn’t appreciate the great, long-term projects that could engage us as individuals seriously and meaningfully for centuries to come? (I personally would love to have the centuries needed to work on terraforming Mars, making it a new habitat for humanity!)

Fukuyama and Kass have missed the profound human truth that we each as individuals create the meaning for our own lives, whether we live 50 years or 500. Meaning and purpose are what only we can give ourselves as we pursue productive achievements that call upon the best within us.

Francis Fukuyama’s anti-individualist fallacy

 The Post piece quotes Fukuyama as saying “I think that research into life extension is going to end up being a big social disaster… Extending the average human life span is a great example of something that is individually desirable by almost everyone but collectively not a good thing. For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

What a morally twisted reason for opposing life extension! Millions of individuals should literally damn themselves to death in the name of society. Then count me anti-social.

Some might take from Fukuyama’s premise a concern that millions of individuals living to 150 will spend half that time bedridden, vegetating, consuming resources, and not producing. But the life extension goal is to live long with our capacities intact—or enhanced! We want 140 to be the new 40!

What could be good evolutionary reasons why we die when we do? Evolution only metaphorically has “reasons.” It is a biological process that blindly adapted us to survive and reproduce: it didn’t render us immune to ailments. Because life is the ultimate value, curing those ailments rather than passively suffering them is the goal of medicine. Life extension simply takes the maintenance of human life a giant leap further.

Live long and prosper

 Yes, there will be serious ethical questions to face as the research sponsored by benevolent billionaires bears fruit. But individuals who want to live really long and prosper in a world of fellow achievers need to promote human life as the ultimate value and the right of all individuals to live their own lives and pursue their own happiness as the ultimate liberty.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright, The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

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Changing the View of Aging: Are We Winning Yet? – Article by Reason

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Categories: Culture, Philosophy, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Reason
June 28, 2015
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Peter Thiel, who has invested millions into the SENS rejuvenation research programs over the past decade, has of late been talking much more in public on the topic of treating aging. Having wealth gives you a soapbox, and it is good that he is now using it to help the cause of treating aging as a medical condition. One of Thiel’s recent public appearances was a discussion on death and religion in this context.

In the struggle to produce meaningful progress in rejuvenation research, the tipping point can come from either a very large amount of money, hundreds of millions of dollars at least, dedicated to something very similar to the SENS research programs, or from a widespread shift in the commonplace view of aging. At the large scale and over the long term, medical research priorities reflect the common wisdom, and it is my view that public support is needed to bring in very large contributions to research. The wealthiest philanthropists and largest institutional funding bodies follow the crowd as a rule; they only rarely lead it. They presently give to cancer and stem-cell research precisely because the average fellow in the street thinks that both of these are a good idea.

So it is very important that we reach a point at which research into treating degenerative aging is regarded as a sensible course of action, not something to be ridiculed and rejected. Over the past decade or two a great deal of work has gone into this goal on the part of a small community advocates and researchers. It is paying off; the culture of science and the media’s output on aging research is a far cry from what it was ten years ago. When ever more authorities and talking heads are soberly discussing the prospects of extended healthy life and research into the medical control of aging, it is to be hoped that the public will follow. Inevitably religion is drawn in as a topic in these discussions once you start moving beyond the scientific community:

Quote [Source: “Peter Thiel, N.T. Wright on Technology, Hope, And The End of Death” by Max Anderson – Forbes/Tech – June 24, 2015]:

The Venn diagram showing the overlap of people who are familiar with both Peter Thiel and N.T. Wright is probably quite small. And I think it is indicative of a broader gap between those doing technology and those doing theology. It is a surprise that a large concert hall in San Francisco would be packed with techies eager to hear a priest and an investor talk about death and Christian faith, even if that investor is Peter Thiel.

Thiel has spoken elsewhere about the source of his optimism about stopping and even reversing aging. The idea is to do what we are doing in every other area of life: apply powerful computers and big data to unlock insights to which, before this era, we’ve never had access. Almost everyone I talk with about these ideas has the same reaction. First there is skepticism  – that can’t really happen, right? Second, there is consideration  – well those Silicon Valley guys are weird, but if anyone has the brains and the money to do it, it’s probably them. Finally comes reflection, which often has two parts – 1. I would like to live longer. 2. But I still feel a little uneasy about the whole idea.

The concept of indefinite life extension feels uncomfortable to people, thinks Thiel, because we have become acculturated to the idea that death, like taxes, is inevitable. But, he says, “it’s not like one day you’ll wake up and be offered a pill that makes you immortal.” What will happen instead is a gradual and increasingly fast march of scientific discovery and progress. Scientists will discover a cure for Alzheimer’s and will say, “Do you want that?” Of course our answer will be “Yes!” They will find a cure for cancer and say, “Do you want that?” And again, of course, our answer will be “Yes!” What seems foreign and frightening in the abstract will likely seem obvious and wonderful in the specific. “It seems,” Thiel said, “that in every particular instance the only moral answer is to be in favor of it.”

One of Wright’s objections was to articulate a skepticism about whether the project of life extension really is all that good, either for the individual or for the world. “If [I] say, okay I’ll live to be 150. I’ll still be a sinner. I’ll still be conflicted. I’ll still have wrong emotions. Do I really want to go on having all that stuff that much longer? Will that be helpful to the world if I do?” This roused Thiel. “I really have to disagree with that last formulation…it strikes me as very Epicurean in a way.” For Peter Thiel, Epicureanism is akin to deep pessimism. It means basically giving up. One gets the sense he finds the philosophy not just disagreeable but offensive to his deepest entrepreneurial instincts and life experience. “We are setting our sights low,” he argued, “if we say everyone is condemned to a life of death and suffering.”

Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries. 
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This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license. It was originally published on FightAging.org.

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Rise to Meet the Enemies at the Gates: Join the Battle against Disease and Death – Article by Eric Schulke

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Categories: History, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatEric Schulke
June 25, 2015
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A lot of your great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers have prepared and gone through the fire of war. This happened time and time again over the centuries. It was nearly routine.

The video “World Battleground, 1000 Years of War in 5 Minutes” adds some good perspective to the frequency of larger-scale conflicts.

If you didn’t have the genes for it, didn’t have it in you to put up a staunch defense or go on a successful offense when necessary, then you and your people didn’t survive as often. It is unfortunate that such a terrible trait has played such a fundamental role in shaping who we are, but that seems to be the way it is.

It is in us to adrenalize in the face of battle and do what it takes to find victory. Most of us don’t directly chase it, and we shy away from it when necessary, but when cornered or challenged, when our towns are burned down or our family and neighbors are murdered on the trails, we draw our weapons and pursue the enemy to the corners of the lands, taking them dead or alive.

Aging and diseases have us cornered. So what are we to do? Should we approach it like it is peacetime? Should we get up in the morning and think of aging and disease as another day at the office or another bill to pay, another fish to be caught for supper or another window to be boarded up for a storm?

When an adjacent empire marches in and demands allegiance to expand its power, with the alternative of impalement or crucifixion for everybody you’ve ever known, you churn out ramparts, build your defenses, get the trenches dug, get the spit and sweat out, and make a stand for life against a bunch of killing scum-bags like you’re supposed to do. There is a time for the industry of peacetime, and there is a time for war.

It is like wartime right now.

In this war against aging, other diseases, and death in general, we don’t need guns, and – it’s incredibly lucky for us – we don’t even need to spill guts. Our enemy causes our guts to be spilled, but these gutless intruders don’t even have them to spill. They are microscopic misalignments, cellular maladjustment, biological disrepair, but they are terrible opponents nonetheless. They snatch our lives away from us. That’s why we put up staunch defenses, and beyond that, prepare a fierce, forceful, battering offense in the form of a worldwide expedition in support of the philosophy and research of indefinite life extension – of extended healthy longevity.

If winning a war involves spilling forth solutions from your head and not guts from people’s bodies, and you won’t do it, then we can only be left to assume that winning isn’t worth it for you unless you can dismantle flesh. That’s not the case, is it? It is catastrophic to the outcome of an urgent fight for life if we can’t recognize that a deadly enemy that doesn’t bleed is still an enemy.

Comanches on the warpath had a lot less to lose than you do, and yet they put up a lot more of a fight. Match them, at the least. You have it in you, and we desperately need you at these front lines of the diseases of aging and general death.

We can’t win this unless we expedite, instill energy, move fast, work hard – work wartime hard. And why shouldn’t we get serious if it means a great shot at winning this? Indifference is one of our biggest obstacles here, and that indifference comes in large part from this phenomenon of the children of warriors not recognizing war without enemy blood. As more battle cries go up around the world, those centuries-old frequencies of battle will begin to ring in the DNA of more brave new life-extension advocate centurions and soldiers like you. With a little time, a great army can be raised up in this showdown with the Grim Reaper and its despicable harbingers of aging, and other forms of diseases and death.

Attack disease and death with this attitude. Get pumped up: it’s the only way to accelerate the pace and save life. Join the battle.

You weren’t bred to back down and wimp out. You are the sum total of the survivors of thousands of years of constant brutal wartime. Respect your ancestors by harnessing that fury and stepping up to this call of duty. Report to your nearest life-extension organization or project. Fight for the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension with everything you’ve got.

Pick your legion, be it Fight Aging, the Methuselah Foundation, Longecity, the SENS Research Foundation, Foresight Nanotech Institute, the California Life Company (Calico), the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the Longevity Party, the Transhumanist Party, the Buck Institute, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, the Life Extension Foundation, or another, and report.

The Movement for Indefinite Life Extension supports and lists as many of the core, main organizations as possible on this page.

The world is at stake. We all need you.

This song, not affiliated with this movement (yet. Call us, Rammstein), illustrates the concept well.

Translated lyrics:

Even on the waves there is fighting
Where fish and flesh are woven into sea
One stabs the lance while in the army
Another throws it into the ocean

Ahoy

Arise, arise seaman arise
Each does it in his own way
One thrusts the spear into a man
Another then into the fish

Arise, arise seaman arise
And the waves cry softly
In their blood a spear is lodged
They bleed softly into the ocean

The lance must be drowned in flesh
Fish and man sink to the depths
Where the black soul dwells
There is no light on the horizon

Ahoy

Arise, arise seaman arise
Each does it in his own way
One thrusts the spear into a man
Another then into the fish

Arise, arise seaman arise
And the waves cry softly
In their blood a spear is lodged
They bleed softly into the ocean

Arise, arise seaman arise
And the waves cry softly
In their heart a spear is lodged
They bleed themselves dry on the shore

Eric Schulke was a director at LongeCity during 2009-2013. He has also been an activist with the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension and other causes for over 15 years.

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“La mort, c’est mal!” – French Translation of “Death is Wrong” – Translated by Philippe Castonguay – Post by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Announcements, Art, Education, Philosophy, Science, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 16, 2015
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La mort, c’est mal! – the French translation of Death is Wrong – is now available for download from The Rational Argumentator. You can obtain your free PDF copy here and may spread it to French-speaking audiences as widely as you wish.

La mort, c’est mal! was generously translated into French by Philippe Castonguay.

Death_is_Wrong_French_CoverPaperback copies of La mort, c’est mal! can be purchased in the following venues:

Createspace – $9.48

Amazon – $9.48

Kindle copies of La mort, c’est mal! can be purchased on Amazon for $0.99.

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Si vous avez déjà demandé « pourquoi les gens doivent-ils mourir? » alors ce livre est pour vous. La vérité est que non, la mort n’est ni bonne, ni nécessaire, ni inévitable. En fait, la mort, c’est mal! La mort est notre ennemie à tous et toutes et doit être combattue par la médecine, la science et la technologie. Ce livre vous introduit au plus grand défi de notre espèce, à son mouvement le plus révolutionnaire; celui d’augmenter radicalement l’espérance de vie humaine pour que vous n’ayez plus à mourir, du tout.

Vous trouverez dans ce livre des plantes et des animaux à la longévité spectaculaire, des découvertes scientifiques récentes pavant le chemin vers l’augmentation de la durée des vies humaines, ainsi que de simples, mais puissants arguments pour affronter ceux en faveur de la mort. Si vous avez déjà pensé que la mort était injuste et qu’elle devrait être vaincue, sachez que vous n’êtes pas seul. Lisez ce livre et prenez part à la plus importante quête de l’histoire de l’humanité.

Ce livre a été écrit par le philosophe et futuriste Gennady Stolyarov II et illustré par l’artiste Wendy Stolyarov. Ici, il vous sera démontré que, peu importe qui vous êtes et peu importe vos habiletés, il vous est toujours possible d’aider l’humanité dans sa lutte contre la mort.

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Tomorrow Will Be Different From Today – Article by Reason

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Categories: Culture, Self-Improvement, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Reason
April 16, 2015
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We live in an era of very rapid change driven by technological progress. Today’s world is enormously different from that of three or four decades past: consider the pervasive effects of the revolution in communications and computing technologies that has taken place over that time. Yet, human nature being what it is, most of the people who lived through this profound shift in capabilities and culture are nonetheless very skeptical of claims that the future will look radically different from today in any important aspect. It is strange.

In particular the concept of actuarial escape velocity leading to thousand-year life spans is a very hard sell. People look at the large number that is very different from today’s maximum life span and immediately reject it out of hand, no matter the reasonable argument behind it. Any medical technology that produces some rejuvenation in old patients buys extra time to develop better means of rejuvenation. At some point the first pass at rejuvenation treatments will improve such that remaining healthy life expectancy grows at more than a year with each passing year. At that point life spans will become indefinite, limited only by accident or rare medical conditions not yet solved.

It doesn’t help that most of the public has very little knowledge of the present state of medical research in any field, never mind the specific details of how aging might be treated and brought under medical control. The only solution to that issue is to keep on talking: educate, advocate, and spread the word.

Quote:

It is likely the first person who will live to be 1,000 years old is already alive today. This is according to a growing regiment of researchers who believe a biological revolution enabling humans to experience everlasting youthfulness is just around the corner. At the epicentre of the research is Aubrey de Grey, co-founder or the California-based Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) Research Foundation.

“The first thing I want to do is get rid of the use of this word immortality, because it’s enormously damaging, it is not just wrong, it is damaging. It means zero risk of death from any cause – whereas I just work on one particular cause of death, namely ageing.” de Grey said his research aims to undo the damage done by the wear and tear of life, as opposed to stopping the ageing process altogether. “If we ask the question: ‘Has the person been born who will be able to escape the ill health of old age indefinitely?’ Then I would say the chances of that are very high. Probably about 80 per cent.”

“The therapies that we are working on at the moment are not going to be perfect. These therapies are going to be good enough to take middle age people, say people aged 60, and rejuvenate them thoroughly enough so they won’t be biologically 60 again until they are chronologically 90. That means we have essentially bought 30 years of time to figure out how to re-rejuvenate them when they are chronologically 90 so they won’t be biologically 60 for a third time until they are 120 or 150. I believe that 30 years is going to be very easily enough time to do that.”

Link: http://www.news.com.au/technology/science/researchers-believe-a-biological-revolution-enabling-hu

Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries. 
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This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license. It was originally published on FightAging.org.

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Peter Thiel on Longevity Research and the Defeat of Aging – Article by Reason

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The New Renaissance Hat
Reason
April 4, 2015
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It has always been the case that the cause of serious rejuvenation research needs more well-regarded individuals to stand up and talk in public about the road ahead, the prospects for success, and the righteousness of the goal. Just lay out the situation as it is, no need for salesmanship: it is simply the need for this to be a topic not left on the edge of polite society. Aging is by far the greatest cause of suffering and death in the world, and we should all be doing more than we are to help bring an end to all of that pain, disease, and loss. For that to happen, the vast majority of people who never think about aging and rarely think about medical research need to give the topic at least as much thought and approval as presently goes towards the cancer research community.

We find ourselves in a peculiar time. Technological barriers to the successful treatment of aging are next to non-existent; progress is falling out of the woodwork even at low levels of funding and interest; this is an age of revolutionary gains in the tools of biotechnology, and that drives the pace of medicine while the cost of meaningful research plummets. This isn’t a space race situation in which the brute force of vast expenditure was used to wrest a chunk of the 21st century into the 20th and land men on the moon. If following the SENS program aimed at repair of the causes of aging, the cost of implementing the first prototype, working rejuvenation treatments in old mice would by current estimates be only 1-2% of the Apollo Program budget. There was vast popular approval for the space race to match the vast expense. The path to human rejuvenation is in exactly the opposite situation: there is very little support for the goal of treating aging as medical condition, but the costs of doing so successfully are so small that given even a minority of the public in favor those funds would be raised.

This is why advocacy is so very important. This is why people with large soapboxes can help greatly simply by talking on the topic. Investor and philanthropist Peter Thiel has been supporting scientific programs such as SENS and related areas in biotechnology for a decade now, but I notice that he is more vocal and direct in public about this cause now that other organizations such as Google Ventures are making large investments. This is all good; we need a sea change in the level of public support for rejuvenation research, and their understanding of the prospects for the future. Aging is far from set in stone, and a range of the biotechnologies needed to treat aging and bring it under medical control are on the verge of breaking out into commercial development, or just a few years away from that point. All it takes to turn the stream into a rapids is a little more rain.

Peter Thiel’s quest to find the key to eternal life – Washington Post

Quote:

WP: Why aging?

Thiel: I’ve always had this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing. I think that’s somewhat unusual. Most people end up compartmentalizing, and they are in some weird mode of denial and acceptance about death, but they both have the result of making you very passive. I prefer to fight it. Almost every major disease is linked to aging. One in a thousand get cancer after age 30. Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971, and there has been frustratingly slow progress. One-third of people age 85 and older have Alzheimer’s or dementia, and we’re not even motivated to start a war on Alzheimer’s. At the end of the day, we need to do more.

WP: All your philanthropic projects are founded on the idea that there’s something wrong with the way the current system works. What are the challenges you see in biomedical research?

Thiel: I worry the FDA is too restrictive. Pharmaceutical companies are way too bureaucratic. A tiny fraction of a fraction of a fraction of NIH [National Institutes of Health] spending goes to genuine anti-aging research. The whole thing gets treated like a lottery ticket. Part of the problem is that aging research doesn’t always lend itself to being a great for-profit business, but it’s a very important area for a philanthropic investment. NIH grant-making decisions end up being consensus-oriented, focused on doing things that a peer review committee thinks makes sense. So you end up with a very conservative bias in terms of what gets done. [On the other hand,] the original DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] was phenomenally successful. You had a guy running it, and he just gave out the money. It was more focused on substance and less on the grant-writing process. That’s the direction we should go. I worry that right now, we have people who are very nimble in the art of writing grants who have squeezed out the more creative.

WP: You’re currently funding Cynthia Kenyon, Aubrey de Grey and a number of other researchers on anti-aging. What was it about these individuals and their work that got your attention?

Thiel: They think far outside the conventional wisdom and are far more optimistic about what can be done. I think that’s important to motivate the research.

WP: How long is long enough? Is there an optimal human life span?

Thiel: I believe if we could enable people to live forever, we should do that. I think this is absolute. There are many people who stop trying because they think they don’t have enough time. Because they are 85. But that 85-year-old could have gotten four PhDs from 65 to 85, but he didn’t do it because he didn’t think he had enough time. If it’s natural for your teeth to start falling out, then you shouldn’t get cavities replaced? In the 19th century, people made the argument that it was natural for childbirth to be painful for women and therefore you shouldn’t have pain medication. I think the nature argument tends to go very wrong. . . . I think it is against human nature not to fight death.

WP: Assuming the breakthrough in eternal life doesn’t come in our lifetime, what do you hope to have achieved through your philanthropy before you die? What would you like to be remembered for?

Thiel: I think if we made some real progress on the aging thing, I think that would be an incredible legacy to have. I have been fortunate with my business successes, so I would like to encourage, coordinate and help finance the many great scientists and entrepreneurs that will help bring about the technological future. It’s sort of not important for me to get credit for the specific discoveries, but if I can act as a supporter, mentor and financier, I think that feels like the right thing.

Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries. 
 ***

This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license. It was originally published on FightAging.org.

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James Blish’s “At Death’s End”: An Early View of the Prospects for Indefinite Life Extension – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Fiction, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 14, 2015
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At-Deaths-End-ASF-May-1954-900

                “At Death’s End”, written by James Blish (1921-1975), was published in the May 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine. Surprisingly, this short story is still only accessible in hard copy, within the original Astounding Science Fiction edition. Apart from a brief review by Robert W. Franson, who introduced me to this work, there is today surprisingly little literary analysis devoted to “At Death’s End” – even though it offers a fascinating glimpse into how a science-fiction writer from an earlier era perceived the prospects for indefinite human longevity, from the vantage point of the scientific knowledge available at the time. The world portrayed by Blish is, in some respects, surprisingly like our own. In others, however, it overlooks the complexity of the treatments that would be necessary to achieve actual radical life extension.

                The future (shortly after 2000) that Blish depicts is one where national governments are obsessed with “security” and “defense” – much like the United States today. It appears that the Cold War is still underway in this world (and it could be said that it has been resurrected in ours as well); however, space travel and space colonies are also prominent. The protagonist, Colonel Paige Russell, is himself a spacefarer who begins the story by journeying to the headquarters of pharmaceutical firm Jno. Pfitzner & Sons, Inc., to bring back soil samples from Ganymede and Callisto. In the midst of a society where an entrenched military-industrial complex has taken hold (even to the point of top positions – such as head of the FBI – becoming hereditary), a fundamentalist religious revival has also emerged, though the religionists often use machines to preach in their stead. This development, too, bears striking similarities to the rise of televangelism and the fundamentalist “religious right” in the United States during the late 1970s and 1980s. The overall society depicted by Blish is more permeated with religion than our own, as the alternative to the preachy fundamentalist religiosity of the Believers is portrayed as being a more subdued but still inextricable personal faith. Paige claims,

I’ve no religion of my own, but I think that when the experts talk about ‘faith’ they mean something different than the shouting kind, the kind the Believers have. […] Real faith is so much a part of the world you live in that you seldom notice it, and it isn’t always religious in the formal sense. Mathematics is based on faith, for instance, for those who know it. (17-18)

Even many religious individuals today would disagree with the notion that mathematics is based on faith – and certainly the many atheists and agnostics who are fond of mathematics and of the scientific method would rightly recognize that these logic-based and evidence-based approaches are as far from faith as one can get. And yet Blish intends Paige’s position to be the level-headed, sensible, rational one, compared to the alternative – showing that Blish did not foresee the extent to which skepticism of religious faith would become a widespread, though still a minority, position.

                Blish’s extrapolation of medical progress is remarkably prescient in certain respects. Paige learns of the history of medicine from Anne Abbott, the daughter of Pfitzner’s leading researcher:

In between 1940 and 1960, a big change came in in Western medicine. Before 1940 – in the early part of the century – the infectious diseases were major killers. By 1960 they were all but knocked out of the running. […] In the 1950s, for instance, malaria was the world’s greatest killer. Now it’s as rare as diphtheria. We still have both diseases with us – but how long has it been since you heard of a case of either? […] Life insurance companies, and other people who kept records, began to be alarmed at the way the degenerative diseases were coming to the fore. Those are such ailments as hardening of the arteries, coronary heart disease, the rheumatic diseases, and almost all the many forms of cancer – diseases where one or another body mechanism suddenly goes haywire, without any visible cause. (20-21)

The shift from infectious diseases being the primary killers, to the vast majority of people dying from the degenerative diseases of “old age”, is precisely what happened during the latter half of the twentieth century, throughout the world. The top killers in the early 20th century were infectious diseases that have been virtually wiped out today, as this chart from the Carolina Population Center shows. (For more details, see “Mortality and Cause of Death, 1900 v. 2010” by Rebeca Tippett.) Additional major progress is evident in the 54% absolute decline in mortality from all causes during the time period between 1900 and 2010.

                Blish was foresighted enough to attempt a conceptual decoupling of chronological and biological age. Anne Abbott explains to Paige that “Old age is just the age; it’s not a thing in itself, it’s just the time of life when most degenerative diseases strike” (21). She recounts that “When the actuaries first began to notice that the degenerative diseases were on the rise, they thought that it was just a sort of side-effect of the decline of the infectious diseases. They thought that cancer was increasing because more people were living long enough to come down with it” (21). Anne then proceeds to discuss findings that some cancers are caused by viruses – which is actually the case for a minority of cancers (approximately 17.8% of cancers in 2002, as estimated by the World Health Organization). In the world portrayed by Blish, a rising incidence of degenerative diseases caused by viral infections led the National Health Service to fund research efforts by companies like Pfitzner, in an effort to address the threat.

                Incidentally, Blish also foresaw the rise in major government expenditures on medical research. Anne explains that “the result of [the first world congress on degenerative diseases] was that the United States Department of Health, Welfare and Security somehow got a billion-dollar appropriation for a real mass attack on the degenerative diseases” (22). Of course, in our world, major scientific conventions on degenerative diseases – both governmental and private – are far more routine. Indeed, a small but dynamic private organization – the SENS Research Foundation – has itself hosted six world-class conferences on rejuvenation biotechnology to date. In the United States, billions of dollars each year are indeed spent on research into degenerative diseases. The budget of the National Institute on Aging exceeds $1 billion annually (it amounts to $1,170,880,000 for Fiscal Year 2015). Unfortunately, in practice, even this level of funding – from both private and governmental sources – has thus far proven wholly insufficient to comprehensively reverse biological senescence and defeat all degenerative diseases.

                In Blish’s imagined future, the battle against senescence could be won far more easily than in our present. Pfitzner’s key project is a sweeping solution to all lifespan-limiting ailments – a broad-range “antitoxin against the aging toxin of humans” (36). In this world, Paige, who later becomes trained in Pfitzner’s research techniques, can pronounce that “We know that the aging toxin exists in all animals; we know it’s a single, specific substance, quite distinct from the ones that cause the degenerative diseases, and that it can be neutralized. […] So what you’re looking for now is not an antibiotic – an anti-life drug – but an anti-agathic, an anti-death drug” (36). If only it were that simple! Today, even the most ambitious engineering-based approach toward defeating senescence, Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s SENS program, recognizes not one but seven distinct types of aging-related damage that accumulate in the organism. Dr. de Grey’s strategy of periodically reversing the damage is more straightforward than the alternative approach of re-engineering the tremendously complex metabolic processes of the body that malfunction over time, and which are still quite incompletely understood. In Blish’s world, a single company, working covertly, with relatively modest funding (compared to the funds available to research organizations in our world), can develop an “anti-agathic” drug that does for senescence what antibiotics did for deadly infectious disease.

                Without spoiling the ending, I will only mention that it is friendly to the prospects of radical life extension and portrays it in a positive light – one additional reason for recommending that “At Death’s End” be included within the canon of proto-transhumanist and life-extensionist literary works. Furthermore, the viability of indefinite life extension in Blish’s vision is closely intertwined with humanity’s future as a spacefaring species – another progress-friendly position. Blish comes across as a thoughtful, scientifically literate (for his era) writer, who extrapolated the world-changing trends of his time to arrive at a tense, conflict-ridden, but still eminently hopeful vision for the future, where the best of human intellect and aspiration are able to overcome the perils of militarism, fundamentalism, decay, and death.

              The author of “At Death’s End” himself succumbed to death at the age of 54, on July 30, 1975. He did not live to see the world of 2000 and compare it to his prognosis. Unfortunately, Blish seems to have disregarded the tremendous harms of tobacco smoke and was even employed by the Tobacco Institute from 1962 to 1968. A genealogical profile lists Blish’s cause of death as “Recurrent cancer per smoking, metastasized.” This brilliant, forward-thinking mind unfortunately could not escape one of the most common collective delusions of his time – the fascination with and normalization of one of the least healthy habits imaginable, one that is the most statistically likely to lower life expectancy (by about 10 years). This is quite sad, as it would have been fascinating to learn how Blish’s projections for the future would have been affected by additional decades of his experience of societal and technological changes. One of the major trends in longevity improvement over the past several decades has been a major decline in the smoking rate, which decreased to an all-time low in the United States in 2013 (the latest year for which statistics are currently available). Surely, to come closer to death’s end, as many humans as possible should abandon what are now known to be obviously life-shortening habits.

              While an anti-agathic drug is not in our future, James Blish’s vision of the defeat of senescence can still serve to inspire those who endeavor to solve this colossal problem in our world, during our lifetimes. Let us hope that, through the efforts of longevity researchers and through increases in funding and public attitudinal support for their projects, we will arrive at death’s end before death ends us.

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