Browsed by
Tag: gene therapy

G. Stolyarov II Interviews Demian Zivkovic Regarding the D.N.A. – Gene Therapies Congress

G. Stolyarov II Interviews Demian Zivkovic Regarding the D.N.A. – Gene Therapies Congress

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II and Demian Zivkovic
******************************

Mr. Stolyarov invited Demian Zivkovic, President of the Institute of Exponential Sciences (IES), to discuss the forthcoming Designing New Advances (D.N.A.) Gene Therapies Congress in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

The interview took place on Sunday, June 19, 2016, at 11 a.m. US Pacific Time. Watch the recording here.

The D.N.A. Congress is scheduled to occur on July 9, 2016, and will feature speakers such as Oliver Medvedik, Aubrey de Grey, Elizabeth Parrish, Keith Comito, and Tatjana Kochetkova. This event receives the strong endorsement of both The Rational Argumentator and the Nevada Transhumanist Party.

Read the announcement of the D. N. A. Congress here.

Contribute to the fundraiser for the D. N. A. Congress on Indiegogo  and Generosity.

DNA_Interview_CoverDemian Zivkovic is the president of the Institute of Exponential Sciences  (Facebook  / Meetup) – an international transhumanist think tank / education institute comprised of a group of transhumanism-oriented scientists, professionals, students, journalists, and entrepreneurs interested in the interdisciplinary approach to advancing exponential technologies and promoting techno-positive thought. He is also an entrepreneur and student of artificial intelligence and innovation sciences and management at the University of Utrecht.

Demian and the IES have been involved in several endeavors, such as organizing lectures on exponential sciences, interviewing experts such as Aubrey de Grey, joining several of Mr. Stolyarov’s futurism panels, and spreading Death is Wrong – Mr. Stolyarov’s illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension – in The Netherlands.

Demian Zivkovic is a strong proponent of healthy life extension and cognitive augmentation. His interests include hyperreality, morphological freedom advocacy, postgenderism, and hypermodernism. He is currently working on his ambition of raising enough capital to make a real difference in life extension and transhumanist thought.

D.N.A. Congress Announcement by the Institute of Exponential Sciences

D.N.A. Congress Announcement by the Institute of Exponential Sciences

The New Renaissance HatInstitute of Exponential Sciences
******************************
 

Editor’s Note: The forthcoming D.N.A. Congress in Utrecht, The Netherlands, hosted by the Institute of Exponential Sciences, devoted to discussions of gene therapies, receives the strong endorsement of both The Rational Argumentator and the Nevada Transhumanist Party. The D.N.A. Congress offers a promising venue to discuss the potential for gene therapies to cure diseases, lengthen lifespans, and improve quality of life for millions of people in the coming years and decades.

~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator, June 5, 2016

D.N.A CONGRESS PRESS RELEASE:

The Institute of Exponential Sciences (IES) has a large announcement to make. We are organising D.N.A – The largest European congress on human gene therapies, featuring speakers such as Aubrey de Grey, Liz Parrish, Oliver Medvedik and others.

Our event has been endorsed by LEAF, Heales VZW, BioViva, SENS Research Foundation, Singularity Network, People Unlimited, The Rational Argumentator, and many others. The event will be covered by national media and will be broadcasted online.

To make this vision a reality, we need your support. Share this message and donate today. Thank you!

IES needs your support to help make this vision a reality. Click here to donate to our crowdfunding campaign.

D.N.A – Designing New Advances: The second large Institute of Exponential Sciences event is coming to Utrecht

 

DNADemian Zivkovic

Utrecht – After a successful event last year in May, the grand congress is ready for a second edition. With a new name, we hope to make exponential sciences more approachable to the general public and bring people in the field closer together. The Institute of Exponential Sciences congress 2016 will be held at RASA podium on the 9th of July. The main theme of the event is gene therapies and cutting-edge applications of such therapies, such as health extension and interventions against human aging. To guarantee a great event, we have invited some of the biggest names in the field. Our guest speakers will be as follows:

Opening the event will be Oliver Medvedik, Ph.D, director of scientific programs at Genspace. Dr. Medvedik has earned his Ph.D at Harvard Medical school in the biomedical and biological sciences program. Since graduating from Harvard, he has worked as a biotechnology consultant, taught molecular biology to numerous undergraduates at Harvard, and mentored two of Harvard’s teams for the international genetically engineered machines competition (IGEM) held annually at M.I.T.

Our second speaker is Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey, Ph.D, an English author, Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation, and editor-in-chief of the academic journal Rejuvenation Research. Aubrey de Grey is well known for his focus on regenerative medicine and views on human aging. He will take the stage talking about the applications of current and upcoming technologies and studies which hold the potential to greatly extend our healthy lifespan.

Our third speaker is Tatjana Kochetkova, Ph.D, who is a fellow of the Institute of Exponential Sciences and a bioethicist. Dr. Kochetkova will follow up discussing the ethical and philosophical side of the technology and will address questions of what exponential technologies in biotech mean for society.

Our fourth speaker is Elizabeth Parrish, a fellow of the Institute of Exponential Sciences and the Founder and CEO of BioViva Sciences Inc, a Delaware corporation based in Seattle, WA, with labs and participating clinics in South/Central America where the majority of practical work is carried out. BioViva has been noted for being the first corporation in the world to treat a patient with gene therapy to reverse aging. The woman who wants to genetically engineer you will cover the basics of BioViva’s approach and vision for the the future, as well as the potential that gene therapies hold for radically improving our health and lives in the future.

Our fifth speaker will be Keith Comito, who is the founder and president of the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and a partner of the Institute of Exponential Sciences. Through LEAF, he operates the crowdfunding platform Lifespan.io, which supports biomedical research aimed at extending healthy human lifespan. He also serves as policy coordinator for the Global Healthspan Policy Institute, which facilitates relationships between researchers and government to advance initiatives in support of healthy life extension.

About Institute of Exponential Sciences

The Institute of Exponential Sciences is an international innovation-oriented think tank, outreach organisation, and networking platform based in the Netherlands, in the city of Utrecht. Its main activities include organising lectures and conferences, providing quality consultancy on innovation and exponential technologies, and collaborating with student organisations and universities in educating the public on the importance of exponential technologies.

It was founded by members of its predecessor, the Arma’thwynn society, which was a student group of like-minded young academics in the Netherlands. After organising events and attracting a very diverse and professional team of entrepreneurs, academics, and journalists, the society decided to move past student politics and make the move towards professionalism.

The Institute of Exponential Sciences is the result of that decision. After organising successful events (the largest of which was their symposium in April, 2015), the Institute of Exponential Sciences formalised its mission and reached out towards a process of international collaboration with other entities which share a techno-positive vision. The institute strives towards excellence in providing the best information and resources related to the issues relevant in the rapidly advancing technological society we live in.

The IES approach is focused on providing interdisciplinary education in the fields of exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence, bio-informatics, gene therapies, 3D-printing, augmented reality, and neural interfacing. We also provide a networking platform which allows entrepreneurs, scientists, journalists, and students to get in touch with others with similar ideas so that they may create the technologies of tomorrow. The IES strives not only to improve the speed of development of these technologies, but also to show the public the amazing possibilities technology provides for society.

IES and the IES logo are either registered trademarks or trademarks of IES Foundation in the Netherlands and/or other countries. All other products and/or services referenced are trademarks of their respective entities.

The Two Faces of Aging: Cancer and Cellular Senescence – Article by Adam Alonzi

The Two Faces of Aging: Cancer and Cellular Senescence – Article by Adam Alonzi

The New Renaissance Hat
Adam Alonzi
******************************

This article is republished with the author’s permission. It was originally posted on Radical Science News.

hELA-400x300Multiphoton fluorescence image of HeLa cells.

Aging, inflammation, cancer, and cellular senescence are all intimately interconnected. Deciphering the nature of each thread is a tremendous task, but must be done if preventative and geriatric medicine ever hope to advance. A one-dimensional analysis simply will not suffice. Without a strong understanding of the genetic, epigenetic, intercellular, and intracellular factors at work, only an incomplete picture can be formed. However, even with an incomplete picture, useful therapeutics can be and are being developed. One face is cancer, in reality a number of diseases characterized by uncontrolled cell division. The other is degradation, which causes a slue of degenerative disorders stemming from deterioration in regenerative capacity.

Now there is a new focus on making geroprotectors, which are a diverse and growing family of compounds that assist in preventing and reversing the unwanted side effects of aging. Senolytics, a subset of this broad group, accomplish this feat by encouraging the removal of decrepit cells. A few examples include dasatinib, quercetin, and ABT263. Although more research must be done, there are a precious handful of studies accessible to anyone with the inclination to scroll to the works cited section of this article. Those within the life-extension community and a few enlightened souls outside of it already know this, but it bears repeating: in the developed world all major diseases are the direct result of the aging process. Accepting this rather simple premise, and you really ought to, should stoke your enthusiasm for the first generation of anti-aging elixirs and treatments. Before diving into the details of these promising new pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, and gene therapies we must ask what is cellular senescence? What causes it? What purpose does it serve?

Depending on the context in which it is operating, a single gene can have positive or negative effects on an organism’s phenotype. Often the gene is exerting both desirable and undesirable influences at the same time. This is called antagonistic pleiotropy. For example, high levels of testosterone can confer several reproductive advantages in youth, but in elderly men can increase their likelihood of developing prostate cancer. Cellular senescence is a protective measure; it is a response to damage that could potentially turn a healthy cell into a malignant one. Understandably, this becomes considerably more complex when one is examining multiple genes and multiple pathways. Identifying all of the players involved is difficult enough. Conboy’s famous parabiosis experiment, where a young mouse’s system revived an old ones, shows that alterations in the microenviornment, in this case identified and unidentified factors in the blood of young mice, can be very beneficial to their elders. Conversely, there is a solid body of evidence that shows senescent cells can have a bad influence on their neighbors. How can something similar be achieved in humans without having to surgically attach a senior citizen to a college freshman?

By halting its own division, a senescent cell removes itself as an immediate tumorigenic threat. Yet the accumulation of nondividing cells is implicated in a host of pathologies, including, somewhat paradoxically, cancer, which, as any life actuary’s mortality table will show, is yet another bedfellow of the second half of life. The single greatest risk factor for developing cancer is age. The Hayflick Limit is well known to most people who have ever excitedly watched the drama of a freshly inoculated petri dish. After exhausting their telomeres, cells stop dividing. Hayflick et al. astutely noted that “the [cessation of cell growth] in culture may be related to senescence in vivo.” Although cellular senescnece is considered irreversible, a select few cells can resume normal growth after the inactivation of the p53 tumor suppressor. The removal of p16, a related gene, resulted in the elimination of the progeroid phenotype in mice. There are several important p’s at play here, but two are enough for now.

Our bodies are bombarded by insults to their resilient but woefully vincible microscopic machinery. Oxidative stress, DNA damage, telomeric dysfunction, carcinogens, assorted mutations from assorted causes, necessary or unnecessary immunological responses to internal or external factors, all take their toll. In response cells may repair themselves, they may activate an apoptotic pathway to kill themselves, or just stop proliferating. After suffering these slings and arrows, p53 is activated. Not surprisingly, mice carrying a hyperactive form of p53 display high levels of cellular senescence. To quote Campisi, abnormalities in p53 and p15 are found in “most, if not all, cancers.” Knocking p53 out altogether produced mice unusually free of tumors, but those mice find themselves prematurely past their prime. There is a clear trade-off here.

In a later experiment Garcia-Cao modified p53 to only express itself when activated. The mice exhibited normal longevity as well as an“unusual resistance to cancer.” Though it may seem so, these two cellular states are most certainly not opposing fates. As it is with oxidative stress and nutrient sensing, two other components of senescence or lack thereof, the goal is not to increase or decrease one side disproportionately, but to find the correct balance between many competing entities to maintain healthy homeostasis. As mentioned earlier, telomeres play an important role in geroconversion, the transformation of quiescent cells into senescent ones. Meta-analyses have shown a strong relationship between short telomeres and mortality risk, especially in younger people. Although cancer cells activate telomerase to overcome the Hayflick Limit, it is not entirely certain if the activation of telomerase is oncogenic.

majormouse

SASP (senescence-associated secretory phenotype) is associated with chronic inflammation, which itself is implicated in a growing list of common infirmities. Many SASP factors are known to stimulate phenotypes similar to those displayed by aggressive cancer cells. The simultaneous injection of senescent fibroblasts with premalignant epithelial cells into mice results in malignancy. On the other hand, senescent human melanocytes secrete a protein that induces replicative arrest in a fair percentage of melanoma cells. In all experiments tissue types must be taken into account, of course. Some of the hallmarks of inflammation are elevated levels of IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α. Inflammatory oxidative damage is carcinogenic and an inflammatory microenvironment is a good breeding ground for malignancies.

Caloric restriction extends lifespan in part by inhibiting TOR/mTOR (target of rapamycin/mechanistic target of rapamycin, also called  the mammalian target of rapamycin). TOR is a sort of metabolic manager, it receives inputs regarding the availability of nutrients and stress levels and then acts accordingly. Metformin is also a TOR inhibitor, which is why it is being investigated as a cancer shield and a longevity aid. Rapamycin has extended average lifespans in all species tested thus far and reduces geroconversion. It also restores the self-renewal and differentiation capacities of haemopoietic stem cells. For these reasons the Major Mouse Testing Program is using rapamycin as its positive control. mTOR and p53 dance (or battle) with each other beautifully in what Hasty calls the “Clash of the Gods.” While p53 inhibits mTOR1 activity, mTOR1 increases p53 activity. Since neither metformin nor rapamycin are without their share of unwanted side effects, more senolytics must be explored in greater detail.

Starting with a simple premise, namely that senescent cells rely on anti-apoptotic and pro-survival defenses more than their actively replicating counterparts, Campisi and her colleagues created a series of experiments to find the “Achilles’ Heel” of senescent cells. After comparing the two different cell states, they designed senolytic siRNAs. 39 transcripts were selected for knockdown by siRNA transfection, and 17 affected the viability of their target more than healthy cells. Dasatinib, a cancer drug, and quercitin, a common flavonoid found in common foods, have senolytic properties. The former has a proven proclivity for fat-cell progenitors, and the latter is more effective against endothelial cells. Delivered together, they they remove senescent mouse embryonic fibroblasts. Administration into elderly mice resulted in favorable changes in SA-BetaGAL (a molecule closely associated with SASP) and reduced p16 RNA. Single doses of D+Q together resulted in significant improvements in progeroid mice.

If you are not titillated yet, please embark on your own journey through the gallery of encroaching options for those who would prefer not to become chronically ill, suffer immensely, and, of course, die miserably in a hospital bed soaked with several types of their own excretions―presumably, hopefully, those who claim to be unafraid of death have never seen this image or naively assume they will never be the star of such a dismal and lamentably “normal” final act. There is nothing vain about wanting to avoid all the complications that come with time. This research is quickly becoming an economic and humanitarian necessity. The trailblazers who move this research forward will not only find wealth at the end of their path, but the undying gratitude of all life on earth.

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels “A Plank in Reason” and “Praying for Death: Mocking the Apocalypse”. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.

References

Blagosklonny, M. V. (2013). Rapamycin extends life-and health span because it slows aging. Aging (Albany NY), 5(8), 592.

Campisi, Judith, and Fabrizio d’Adda di Fagagna. “Cellular senescence: when bad things happen to good cells.” Nature reviews Molecular cell biology 8.9 (2007): 729-740.

Campisi, Judith. “Aging, cellular senescence, and cancer.” Annual review of physiology 75 (2013): 685.

Hasty, Paul, et al. “mTORC1 and p53: clash of the gods?.” Cell Cycle 12.1 (2013): 20-25.

Kirkland, James L. “Translating advances from the basic biology of aging into clinical application.” Experimental gerontology 48.1 (2013): 1-5.

Lamming, Dudley W., et al. “Rapamycin-induced insulin resistance is mediated by mTORC2 loss and uncoupled from longevity.” Science 335.6076 (2012): 1638-1643.

LaPak, Kyle M., and Christin E. Burd. “The molecular balancing act of p16INK4a in cancer and aging.” Molecular Cancer Research 12.2 (2014): 167-183.

Malavolta, Marco, et al. “Pleiotropic effects of tocotrienols and quercetin on cellular senescence: introducing the perspective of senolytic effects of phytochemicals.” Current drug targets (2015).

Rodier, Francis, Judith Campisi, and Dipa Bhaumik. “Two faces of p53: aging and tumor suppression.” Nucleic acids research 35.22 (2007): 7475-7484.

Rodier, Francis, and Judith Campisi. “Four faces of cellular senescence.” The Journal of cell biology 192.4 (2011): 547-556.

Salama, Rafik, et al. “Cellular senescence and its effector programs.” Genes & development 28.2 (2014): 99-114.

Tchkonia, Tamara, et al. “Cellular senescence and the senescent secretory phenotype: therapeutic opportunities.” The Journal of clinical investigation 123.123 (3) (2013): 966-972.

Zhu, Yi, et al. “The Achilles’ heel of senescent cells: from transcriptome to senolytic drugs.” Aging cell (2015).

 

BioViva Treats First Patient with Gene Therapy to Reverse Aging – Press Release by Elizabeth Parrish

BioViva Treats First Patient with Gene Therapy to Reverse Aging – Press Release by Elizabeth Parrish

The New Renaissance HatElizabeth Parrish
October 3, 2015
******************************

BioViva USA, Inc. has become the first company to treat a person with gene therapy to reverse biological aging, using a combination of two therapies developed and applied outside the United States of America. Testing and research on these therapies is continuing in BioViva’s affiliated labs worldwide.

BioViva CEO Elizabeth Parrish announced that the subject is doing well and has resumed regular activities. Preliminary results will be evaluated at 5 and 8 months with full outcome expected at 12 months. The patient will then be monitored every year for 8 years.

Gene therapy allows doctors to treat disease at the cellular level by inserting a gene into a patient’s cells instead of using the regular modalities of oral drugs or surgery. BioViva is testing several approaches to age reversal, including using gene therapy to introduce genes into the body.

Although not generally considered a disease, cellular aging is the leading cause of death in the developed world. Side effects like muscle wasting (sarcopenia), grey hair and memory loss are the well-known hallmarks.

And the aging cell is also responsible for the diseases of aging, including Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and cancer. BioViva is leading the charge to treat the aging cell and reverse aging. “The aging cell is a key factor that has been overlooked for too long. Companies have put millions of dollars into treating the diseases of aging, such as dementia, frailty, kidney failure and Parkinson’s disease, and we still do not have a cure,” says Parrish.

Until now, no company had tried multiple gene therapies in one person. When asked why BioViva has done so, Parrish says, “Aging involves multiple pathways. We wanted to target more than one for a better outcome.”

Contact
Elizabeth Parrish
lparrish(at)BioVivaSciences(dot)com
http://www.biovivasciences.com

Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva, is a humanitarian, entrepreneur, and innovator, and is a leading voice for genetic cures. As a strong proponent of progress and education for the advancement of regenerative medicine modalities, she serves as a motivational speaker to the public at large for the life sciences. She is actively involved in international educational media outreach and sits on the board of the International Longevity Alliance (ILA). She is an affiliated member of the Complex Biological Systems Alliance (CBSA), which is a unique platform for Mensa-based, highly gifted persons who advance scientific discourse and discovery.

The mission of the CBSA is to further scientific understanding of biological complexity and the nature and origins of human disease. Elizabeth is the founder of BioTrove Investments LLC and the BioTrove Podcasts, which is committed to offering a meaningful way for people to learn about and fund research in regenerative medicine.  She is also the Secretary of The American Longevity Alliance (ALA), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit trade association that brings together individuals, companies, and organizations who work in advancing the emerging field of cellular and regenerative medicine.

Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Parrish also made the announcement of this promising human trial at the October 1, 2015, Movement for Indefinite Life Extension (MILE) panel discussion “How Can Life Extension Become as Popular as the War on Cancer?” Watch the discussion here.

~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator, October 3, 2015

Longevity Alliance Contest Entry – Video by Adam Alonzi

Longevity Alliance Contest Entry – Video by Adam Alonzi

The New Renaissance Hat
Adam Alonzi
September 24, 2015
******************************

This is Adam Alonzi’s entry for a contest sponsored by the Longevity Alliance – http://longevityalliance.org. Narration, script, and video are by Adam Alonzi. The score is by Leslee Frost.

This video includes a reference to Death is Wrong, the children’s book on indefinite life extension. Find out more about Death is Wrong, and get free PDF downloads in four languages, here.

Adam Alonzi is the author of Praying for Death and A Plank in Reason. He is also a futurist, inventor, DIY enthusiast, biotechnologist, programmer, molecular gastronomist, consummate dilletante and columnist at The Indian Economist. Read his blog here. Listen to his podcasts at http://adamalonzi.libsyn.com.

Adam Alonzi’s Interviews
Elizabeth Parrish – BioViva
Alex Zhavoroknov – InSilico Medicine
Maria Konovalenko – Science for Life Extension Foundation and Longevity Cookbook
Luis Arana – Robots Without Borders

Japan Liberalizes Gene Therapy and Regenerative Medicine – Article by Alex Tabarrok

Japan Liberalizes Gene Therapy and Regenerative Medicine – Article by Alex Tabarrok

The New Renaissance HatAlex Tabarrok
September 17, 2015
******************************

Japan is liberalizing its approval process for regenerative medicine:

Regenerative medicines in Japan can now get conditional marketing approval based on results from mid-stage, or Phase II, human trials that demonstrate safety and probable efficacy.

Once lagging behind the United States and the European Union on approval times, there is now an approximately three-year trajectory for approvals, according to Frost’s Kumar. That compares with seven to 10 years before. …

Around the world, companies have also faced setbacks while pushing such treatments. In the U.S., Geron Corp., which started the first nation-approved trial of human embryonic stem cells, ended the program in 2011, citing research costs and regulatory complexities. …

While scientists globally have worked for years in this field, treatments have been slow to come to market. But there is hope in Japan that without the political red tape, promising therapies will emerge faster and there will be speedier rewards.

Japan is liberalizing because with their aging population treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are in high demand.

Under the new system, a firm with a gene or regenerative therapy (e.g. stem cells) can get conditional approval with a small trial. Conditional approval means that the firm will be able to sell its procedure while continuing to gather data on efficacy for a period of up to seven years. At the end of the seven-year period, the firm must either apply for final marketing approval or withdraw the product.

The system is thus similar to what Bart Madden proposed for pharmaceuticals in Free to Choose Medicine.*

Due to its size and lack of price controls, the US pharmaceutical market is the most lucrative pharmaceutical market in the world.

Unfortunately, this also means that the US FDA has an outsize influence on total world investment. The Japanese market is large enough, however, that a liberalized approval process if combined with a liberalized payment model could increase total world R&D.

Breakthroughs made in Japan will be available for the entire world so we should all applaud this important liberalization.

This post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

* Editor’s note from the Foundation for Economic Education: There may well by a direct connection here. According to Madden, an early version of his proposal in Free to Choose Medicine was published in a booklet by the Heartland Institute, which was then translated and distributed in Japan by a Japanese free-market think tank.

For more on free markets in medicine, see Bart Madden’s article “The Pathway to Faster Cures” in the autumn print edition of the Freeman and on The Rational Argumentator.

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen. 

G. Stolyarov II Interviews Adam Alonzi Regarding Emerging Biotech Research

G. Stolyarov II Interviews Adam Alonzi Regarding Emerging Biotech Research

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II and Adam Alonzi
August 28, 2015
******************************

On August 23, 2015, Mr. Stolyarov invited Adam Alonzi to share the insights he was able to glean from many recent discussions with biotechnology entrepreneurs and researchers. Mr. Alonzi was able to subsequently edit some of his remarks to remedy the technical issues with audio quality during the broadcast. His edited version appears below.

See the original interview recording:

Adam Alonzi is the author of Praying for Death and A Plank in Reason. He is also a futurist, inventor, DIY enthusiast, biotechnologist, programmer, molecular gastronomist, consummate dilletante and columnist at The Indian Economist. Read his blog here. Listen to his podcasts at http://adamalonzi.libsyn.com.

Adam Alonzi’s Interviews
Elizabeth Parrish – BioViva
Alex Zhavoroknov – InSilico Medicine
Maria Konovalenko – Science for Life Extension Foundation and Longevity Cookbook
Luis Arana – Robots Without Borders

Refutation of RockingMrE’s “Transhuman Megalomania” Video – Essay and Video by G. Stolyarov II

Refutation of RockingMrE’s “Transhuman Megalomania” Video – Essay and Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
August 11, 2013
******************************

Video

Essay

As a libertarian transhumanist, I was rather baffled to see the “Transhuman Megalomania” video on the Rocking Philosophy YouTube channel of one, RockingMrE. Rocking Philosophy appears to have much in common with my rational individualist outlook in terms of general principles, though in not in terms of some specific positions – such as RockingMrE’s opposition to LGBT rights. The channel’s description states that “Above all Rocking Philosophy promotes individualism and a culture free of coercion. Views are based on the non-aggression principle, realism, and a respect for rationality.” I agree with all of these basic principles – hence my bewilderment that RockingMrE would attempt to assail transhumanism in extremely harsh terms – going so far as to call transhumanism “a mad delusion” and a “threat looming over humanity” – rather than embrace or promote it. Such characterizations could not be more mistaken.

In essays and videos such as “Liberty Through Long Life” and “Libertarian Life-Extension Reforms”, I explain that  libertarianism and transhumanism are natural corollaries and would reinforce one another through a virtuous cycle of positive feedback. If people are indeed free as individuals to innovate and to enter the economic and societal arrangements that they consider most beneficial, what do you think would happen to the rate of technological progress? If you think that the result would not be a skyrocketing acceleration of new inventions and their applications to all areas of life, would that position not presuppose a view that freedom would somehow breed stagnation or lead to sub-optimal utilization of human creative faculties? In other words, would not the view of libertarianism as being opposed to transhumanism essentially be a view that liberty would hold people back from transcending the limitations involuntarily imposed on them by the circumstances in which they and their ancestors found themselves? How could such a view be reconcilable with the whole point of liberty, which is to expand and – as the term suggests – liberate human potential, instead of constricting it?

RockingMrE criticizes transhumanists for attempting to reshape the “natural” condition of humanity and to render such a condition obsolete. Yet this overlooks the essence of human behavior over the past twelve millennia at least. Through the use of technology – from rudimentary hunting and farming implements to airplanes, computers, scientific medicine, and spacecraft – we have already greatly departed from the nasty, brutish, and short “natural” lives of our Paleolithic ancestors. Furthermore, RockingMrE falls prey to the naturalistic fallacy – that the “natural”, defined arbitrarily as that which has not been shaped by deliberate human influence, is somehow optimal or good, when in fact we know that “nature”, apart from human influence, is callously indifferent at best, and viciously cruel in most circumstances, having  brought about the immense suffering and demise of most humans who have ever lived and the extinction of 99.9% of species that have ever existed, the vast majority of those occurring without any human intervention.

RockingMrE characterizes transhumanism as a so-called “evil” that presents itself as a “morally relativist and benign force, where any action can be justified for the greater good.” I see neither moral relativism nor any greater-good justifications in transhumanism. Transhumanism can be justified from an entirely individualistic standpoint. Furthermore, it can be justified from the morally objective value of each individual’s life and the continuation of such life. I, as an individual, do not wish to die and wish to accomplish more than my current  bodily and mental faculties, as well as the current limitations of human societies and the present state of technology, would allow me to accomplish today. I exist objectively and I recognize that my existence requires objective physical prerequisites, such as the continuation of the functions of my biological body and biological mind. Therefore, I support advances in medicine, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, computing, education, transportation, and human settlement which would enable these limitations to be progressively lifted and would improve my chances of seeing a much remoter future than my current rate of biological senescence would allow. As an ethically principled individual, I recognize that all beings with the same essential faculties that I have, ought also to have the right to pursue these aspirations in an entirely voluntary, non-coercive manner. In other words, individualist transhumanism would indeed lead to the good of all because its principles and achievements would be universalizable – but the always vaguely defined notion of the “greater good” does not serve as the justification for transhumanism; the good of every individual does. The good of every individual is equivalent to the good for all individuals, which is the only defensible notion of a “greater good”.

RockingMrE states that some of the technologies advocated by transhumanists are “less dangerous than others, and some are even useful.” Interestingly enough, he includes cryopreservation in the category of less dangerous technologies, because a cryopreserved human who is revived will still have the same attributes he or she had prior to preservation. Life extension is the most fundamental transhumanist aim, the one that makes all the other aims feasible. As such, I am quite surprised that RockingMrE did not devote far more time in his video to technologies of radical life extension. Cryonics is one such approach, which attempts to place a physically damaged organism in stasis after that organism reaches clinical death by today’s definition. In the future, what is today considered death may become reversible, giving that individual another chance at life. There are other life-extension approaches, however, which would not even require stasis. Aubrey de Grey’s SENS approach involves the periodic repair of seven kinds of damage that contribute to senescence and eventual death. A person who is relatively healthy when he begins to undergo the therapies envisioned by SENS might not ever need to get to the stage where cryopreservation would be the only possible way of saving that person. What does RockingMrE think of that kind of technology? What about the integration of nanotechnology into human bodily repair systems, to allow for ongoing maintenance of cells and tissues? If a person still looks, talks, and thinks like many humans do today, but lives indefinitely and remains indefinitely young, would this be acceptable to RockingMrE, or would it be a “megalomaniacal” and “evil” violation of human nature?  Considering that indefinite life extension is the core of transhumanism, the short shrift given to it in RockingMrE’s video underscores the severe deficiencies of his critique.

RockingMrE further supports megascale engineering – including the creation of giant spacecraft and space elevators – as a type of technology that “would enhance, rather than alter, what it means to be human.” He also clearly states his view that the Internet enhances our lives and allows the communication of ideas in a manner that would never have been possible previously. We agree here. I wonder, though, if a strict boundary between enhancing and altering can be drawn. Our human experience today differs radically from that of our Paleolithic and Neolithic ancestors – in terms of how much of the world we are able to see, what information is available to us, the patterns in which we lead our lives, and most especially the lengths of those lives. Many of our distant ancestors would probably consider us magicians or demigods, rather than the humans with whom they were familiar. If we are able to create giant structures on Earth and in space, this would surely broaden our range of possible experiences, as well as the resources of the universe that are accessible to us. A multiplanetary species, with the possibility of easy and fast travel among places of habitation, would be fundamentally different from today’s humanity in terms of possible lifestyles and protections from extinction, even while retaining some of the same biological and intellectual characteristics.   As for the Internet, there are already studies suggesting that the abundance of information available online is altering the structure of many humans’ thinking and interactions with that information, as well as with one another. Is this any less human, or just human with a different flavor? If it is just human with a different flavor, might not the other transhumanist technologies criticized by RockingMrE also be characterized this way?

RockingMrE does not even see any significant issues with virtual reality and mind uploading, aside from asking the legitimate question of whether a copy of a person’s mind is still that person. This is a question which has been considerably explored and debated in transhumanist circles, and there is some disagreement as to the answer. My own position, expressed in my essay “Transhumanism and Mind Uploading Are Not the Same”,  is that a copy would indeed not be the same as the individual, but a process of gradual replacement of biological neurons with artificial neurons might preserve a person’s “I-ness” as long as certain rather challenging prerequisites could be met. RockingMrE’s skepticism in this area is understandable, but it does not constitute an argument against transhumanism at all, since transhumanism does not require advocacy of mind uploading generally, or of any particular approach to mind uploading. Moreover, RockingMrE does not see virtual copies of minds as posing a moral problem. In his view, this is because “a program is not an organic life.” We can agree that there is no moral problem posed by non-destructively creating virtual copies of biological minds.

Still, in light of all of the technologies that RockingMrE does not consider to be highly concerning, why in the world does he characterize transhumanism so harshly, after spending the first 40% of his video essentially clarifying that he does not take issue with the actualization of many of the common goals of transhumanists? Perhaps it is because he misunderstands what transhumanism is all about. For the technologies that RockingMrE finds more alarming, he appears to think that they would allow “a level of social engineering that totalitarians could only dream of during the 20th century.” No transhumanist I know of would advocate such centrally planned social engineering. RockingMrE aims his critique at technologies that have “the potential to create human life” – such as gene therapy, which can, in RockingMrE’s words, “dictate the characteristics of life to such an extent that those making the decisions have complete control over how this forms”. This argument appears to presuppose a form of genetic determinism and a denial of human free will, even though RockingMrE would affirm his view that free will exists. Suppose it were possible to make a person five centimeters taller through genetic engineering. Does that have any bearing over how that person will actually choose to lead his life? Perhaps he could become a better basketball player than otherwise, but it is just as possible that basketball would not interest him at all, and he would rather be a taller-than-average chemist, accountant, or painter. This choice would still be up to him, and not the doctors who altered his genome or the parents who paid for the alteration. Alteration of any genes that might influence the brain would have even less of a predetermined or even determinable impact. If parents who are influenced by the faulty view of genetic determinism try everything in their power to alter their child’s genome in order to create a super-genius (in their view), who is to say that this child would necessarily act out the parents’ ideal? A true super-genius with a will of his own is probably the most autonomous possible human; he or she would develop a set of tastes, talents, and aspirations that nobody could anticipate or manage, and would run circles around any design to control or limit his or her life. What genetic engineering could achieve, though, is to remove the obstacles to an individual’s self-determination by eliminating genetic sub-optimalities: diseases, weaknesses of organs, and inhibitions to clear self-directed brain function. This is no qualitatively different from helping a child develop intellectually by taking the child out of a violent slum and putting him or her into a peaceful, nurturing, and prosperous setting.

RockingMrE fears that gene therapy would allow “ideologues to suppress certain human characteristics”. While this cannot be ruled out, any such development would be a political problem, not a technological one, and could be addressed only through reforms protecting individual freedom, not through abolition of any techniques of genetic engineering. The vicious eugenics movement of the early 20th century, to which RockingMrE wrongly compares transhumanism, attempted to suppress the characteristics of whole populations of humans using very primitive technologies by today’s standards. The solution to such misguided ideological movements is to maximize the scope for individual liberty, so as to allow the characteristics that individuals consider good or neutral to be preserved and for individual wishes to be protected by law, despite what some eugenicist somewhere might think.

Transhumanism is about giving each person the power to control his or her own destiny, including his or her genotype; transhumanism is certainly not about ceding that control to others. Even a child who was genetically engineered prior to birth would, with sufficient technological advances, be able to choose to alter his or her genotype upon becoming an adult. Just as parental upbringing can influence a child but does not determine a person’s entire future, so can genetic-engineering decisions by parents be routed around, overcome, ignored, or utilized by the child in a way far different from the parents’ intentions. Furthermore, because parents differ considerably in their views of what the best traits would be, engineering at the wishes of parents  would in no way diminish the diversity of human characteristics and would, on the contrary, enhance such diversity by introducing new mixes of traits in addition to those already extant. This is why it is unfounded to fear, as RockingMrE does, that a transhumanist society which embraces genetic engineering would turn into the society of the 1997 film Gattaca, where the non-engineered humans were excluded from non-menial work. Just as today there is no one hierarchy of genotypes and phenotypes, neither would there be such a hierarchy in a society where genetic engineering is practiced. An even greater diversity of people would mean that an even greater diversity of opportunities would be open to all. Indeed, even Gattaca could be seen as a refutation of RockingMrE’s feared scenario that genetic modification would render un-modified humans unable to compete. The protagonist in Gattaca was able to overcome the prejudices of his society through willpower and ingenuity, which would remain open to all. While the society of Gattaca relied on coercion to restrict un-modified individuals from competing, a libertarian transhumanist society would have no such restrictions and would allow individuals to rise on the basis of merit alone, rather than on the basis of genetics.

RockingMrE further expresses concern that the unintended consequences of genetic manipulation would result in viruses that reproduce out of control and “infect” humans who were not the intended targets of genetic engineering. This is not a philosophical argument against transhumanism. If such a possibility even exists (and I do not know that it does, as I am not a biologist), it could be mitigated or eliminated through careful controls in the laboratories and clinics where genetic engineering is performed. Certainly, the existence of such a possibility would not justify banning genetic manipulation, since a ban does not mean that the practice being banned goes away. Under a ban, genetic engineering would continue on the black market, where there would be far fewer safeguards in place against unintended negative consequences. It is much safer for technological innovation to proceed in the open, under a legal system that respects liberty and progress while ensuring that the rights of all are protected. Certainly, it would be justified for the legal system to protect the rights of people who do not wish to undergo certain medical treatments; such people should neither be forced into those treatments, nor have the side effects of those treatments, when they are performed on others, affect their own biology. But libertarian transhumanists would certainly agree with that point of view and would hold it consistently with regard to any technology that could conceivably impose negative external effects on non-consenting parties.

RockingMrE thinks that “it is essential that the creation and destruction of life be protected by a code of morality that respects and recognizes natural law – natural law being values derived from nature.” He describes one tier of this natural system as comprised of relationships of trade, “where all individuals have unalienable rights derived from natural action, but free of coercion and the initiation of force, voluntarily associating with one another for mutual gain.” He then says that “only this sort of philosophy can truly prevent nihilists from justifying their evil intentions to play God and […] destroy or alienate any individual that doesn’t adhere to a rigid set of socially engineered parameters.”  The latter statement is a severe misrepresentation of the aims of transhumanists, who do not support centrally planned social engineering and who are certainly not nihilists. Indeed, transhumanist technological progress is the very outcome of voluntary individual association that is free from coercion and the initiation of force. I wonder whether the “fierce defense” envisioned by RockingMrE would involve the initiation of force against innovators who attempt to improve the human genome in order to cure certain diseases, enhance certain human faculties, and lengthen the human lifespan. It is not clear whether RockingMrE advocates such coercion, but if he does, then his opposition to the emergence of these technologies would be inimical to his own stated libertarian philosophy. In other words, his conclusions are completely incompatible with his premises.

Toward the end of his video, RockingMrE uses the example of three-person in vitro fertilization (IVF) as an illustration “of how far down the road of transhumanism we are”. What, dare I ask, is wrong with three-person IVF? RockingMrE believes that it is a contributor to “gradually destroying the natural definition of parenting” – yet parenting is a set of actions to raise a child, not a method of originating that child. If RockingMrE has any problems with children who are brought into this world using three-person IVF, then what about children who are adopted and raised by parents who had no part in their conception? Is that not even more removed from parents who contributed at least some of their genetic material? Furthermore, IVF has been available in some form since the birth of Louise Brown in 1978 – 35 years ago. Since then, approximately 5 million people have been created using IVF. Are they any less human than the rest of us? Have we, as a species, lost some fraction of our humanity as a result? Surely not! And if similar consequences to what has already happened are what RockingMrE fears, then I submit that there is no basis for fear at all. New techniques for creating life and enhancing human potential may not be in line with what RockingMrE considers “natural”, but perhaps his view equates the “unnatural” to the “unfamiliar to RockingMrE”. But he does not have to personally embrace any method of genetic engineering or medically assisted creation of life; he is free to abstain from such techniques himself. What he ought to do, though, as a self-professed libertarian and individualist, is to allow the rest of us, as individuals, the same prerogative to choose to use or to abstain from using these technologies as they become available. The shape that the resulting future takes, as long as it is based on these freedom-respecting principles, is not for RockingMrE to decide or limit.