Tag Archives: Leon Kass


It’s Time to Postpone Your Appointment with the Grim Reaper – Article by Gerrard Jayaratnam

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

The New Renaissance HatGerrard Jayaratnam

How long would you like to live for? Is there a limit to how long we can live for? These are not questions you hear often, but do not be surprised if they are repeated more frequently in the future. The reason? Life extension. It is the concept of living well beyond the average lifespan. [1]

Humans are already living longer due to vaccines and improvements in sanitation. [2] The World Health Organization reported that the average life expectancy at birth increased from 48 years in 1955 to 65 years in 1995, and is projected to rise to 73 years by 2025. [3] As medical techniques continue to improve, we are more inclined than ever to pursue life extension. [1] Indeed, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to China’s First Emperor, prolonging life has been an ever-present thought in society. [4, 5] Both individuals failed to escape death, but the idea of life extension ironically lives on. Even so, is it truly possible and what should upcoming doctors and scientists consider if they are to join the most ambitious of quests?

The “Horcruxes” of reality 

In the fictional Harry Potter series, “Horcruxes” were objects where people could hide a fragment of their soul in an attempt to take one step towards immortality. [6] Of course, humans cannot split their souls and hide them in objects, but there are several proposed means by which life extension may be achieved. [1] This is a testimony to the progress within the life extension field, but there remains much room for improvement.

Eat less, live more

Caloric restriction (CR) is one proposed method for life extension. [1] In the CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of Long term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy) trial, 218 non-obese humans were randomised to either a control group or an intervention group. The latter aimed for a 25% reduction from baseline energy intake. At the end of the 2-year study period, the intervention group had significantly greater reductions in circulating levels of TNF-α – an inflammatory marker involved in many age-related diseases. [7] Dr Alexander Miras, winner of the 2014 Nutrition Society Cuthbertson Medal for his research on bariatric surgery, acknowledges that the study was a “good first step,” but argues that “the evidence in humans is lacking.” “A definitive RCT (randomised controlled trial),” Dr Miras continues, “would be very hard, if not impossible.” He also spots a glaring consequence of CR. “My personal approach is to avoid caloric restriction as this leads to hunger which is an unpleasant feeling. I would rather live a shorter life, but enjoy my food.”

Manipulating telomerase

One alternative is modulating telomerase activity – as attempted with the anti-ageing TA-65MD® supplement. [8] Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes [9]; they resemble the aglets on the ends of shoelaces. Just as shoelaces would unravel without the aglet, chromosomes would lose vital DNA sequences in the absence of telomeres. [9] Our cells divide over time, causing telomeres to shorten. Once the telomere becomes too short, cell division ceases, and short telomeres correlate with cellular ageing. [10] Telomerase is an enzyme that can oppose telomere shortening [10] – it was what Hamlet was to King Claudius; what exercise is to obesity; and what junior doctors, in England, will be to Jeremy Hunt.

Reactivating telomerase in telomerase-deficient mice reversed both neurodegeneration and degeneration of other organs. [11] This proved the concept that boosting telomerase activity could have anti-ageing effects, but there is little proof that this occurs in humans. While the mice were telomerase-deficient, humans normally have some telomerase activity. It is like giving food to someone who has been fasting for hours and to someone who has just eaten a three-course meal – the starved individual would unquestionably benefit more. A 12-month long RCT, involving 117 relatively healthy individuals (age range: 53-87), found that low-dose TA-65 significantly increased telomere length when compared to placebo. High-dose TA-65, however, failed to do so. [12]

Dancing with the devil

What is more worrying than treatments that may be ineffective? Side effects. Telomerase is a double-edged sword and by reducing telomere attrition, it can promote unlimited cell division and cancer. [9] Elizabeth Blackburn, co-winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her role in the discovery of telomerase, has doubts about exploiting the enzyme. Speaking to TIME magazine, she said, “Cancers love telomerase, and a number of cancers up-regulate it like crazy. . . . My feeling would be that if I take anything that would push my telomerase up, I’m playing with fire.” [13]

A cauldron of rewards

CR and boosting telomerase activity are just a small sample of life extending techniques, yet there is the notion that such techniques will be intertwined with risks. However, risks are always weighed against rewards, and Gennady Stolyarov, editor-in-chief of The Rational Argumentator and Chief Executive of the Nevada Transhumanist Party, believes life extension would bring “immense and multifaceted” rewards. “The greatest benefit is the continued existence of the individual who remains alive. Each individual has incalculable moral value and is a universe of ideas, experiences, emotions, and memories. When a person dies, that entire universe is extinguished . . . This is the greatest possible loss, and should be averted if at all possible.” Stolyarov also envisages “major savings to healthcare systems” and that “the achievement of significant life extension would inspire many intelligent people to try to solve other age-old problems.”

Former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass, disagrees with this view and argues that mortality is necessary for “treasuring and appreciating all that life brings.” [14] Hence, increased longevity could lead to an overall reduction in productivity over one’s lifetime. Perhaps Kass is correct, but the array of potential benefits makes it seem unwise to prematurely dismiss life extension. In fact, a survey, which examined the opinions of 605 Australians on life extension, highlighted further benefits – 23% of participants said they could “spend more time with family” and 4% cited the opportunity to experience future societies. [15]

Learning from our mistakes

Conversely, life extension may result in people enduring poor health for longer periods. 28% of participants in the Australian survey highlighted this concern. [15] Current trends in life expectancy reinforce their fears. Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, explains, “Currently, in most countries in the developed world, life expectancy is increasing at approximately 2 years per decade, but healthspan (the years spent in good health) is only increasing at 1.7 years. This has major consequences . . . as more of later life is spent in poor health.” This is a consequence of treating “killer diseases” – according to Dr Felipe Sierra, director of the Division of Aging Biology at the National Institute on Aging. “The current model in biomedicine,” says Dr Sierra, “is to treat one disease at a time. Let’s imagine you have arthritis; cancer; and are starting to develop Alzheimer’s disease. So what do we do? We treat you for cancer. You now live longer with Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis.” A better approach is clear to Dr Sierra who stresses the importance of compression of morbidity – “the goal is to live longer with less time spent being sick.”

Learning from our successes

Even with Dr Sierra’s approach, individual boredom and social implications, including overpopulation, would still be problems.[16] According to Stolyarov, the boredom argument does not hold up when facing “human creativity and discovery.” He believes humans could never truly be bored as “the number of possible pursuits increases far faster than the ability of any individual to pursue.”

In his novel Death is Wrong, Stolyarov explained that the idea that society could not cope with a rapidly expanding population was historically inaccurate. The current population “is the highest it has ever been, and most people live far longer, healthier, prosperous lives than their ancestors did when the Earth’s population was hundreds of times smaller.” [16] If it has been achieved in the past, who is to say our own society – one far more advanced than any before it – cannot adapt?

The verdict

Life extension research is quietly progressing, and there is a good chance that it will eventually come to fruition. Although there are doubts about current techniques, Dr Sierra draws attention to novel interventions, such as rapamycin, which “delay ageing in mice.” He concludes that the next challenge is to “develop measures than can predict whether an intervention works in a short-term assay.” Such measures would provide the scaffolding for future clinical trials that test life extension techniques.

Given what may be gained, it is no surprise that artificially prolonging life is exciting some in the same way the Tree of Knowledge tempted Eve. The impact on society? Impossible to predict. It would undoubtedly be a big risk, but perhaps in this complex and uncertain scenario, we ought to remember the words of the poet Thomas Stearns Eliot: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” [17]

Gerrard Jayaratnam is a student of Biomedical Science at Imperial College London.


  1. Stambler I. A History of Life-Extensionism in the Twentieth Century. Ramat Gan: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2014.
  2. National Institute on Aging. Living Longer. 2011. https://www.nia.nih.gov/research/publication/global-health-and-aging/living-longer.
  3. World Health Organization. 50 Facts: Global Health situation and trends 1955-2025. 2013. http://www.who.int/whr/1998/media_centre/50facts/en/.
  4. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Epic of Gilgamesh. 2016. http://www.britannica.com/topic/Epic-of-Gilgamesh.
  5. Lloyd DF. The Man Who Would Cheat Death and Rule the Universe. Vision. 2008. http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/history-shi-huang-emperor-china/5818.aspx.
  6. Rowling JK. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury Publishing; 2005.
  7. Ravussin E, Redman LM, Rochon J, et al. A 2-Year Randomized Controlled Trial of Human Caloric Restriction: Feasibility and Effects on Predictors of Health Span and Longevity. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2015;70:1097-1104.
  8. A. Sciences. What is TA-65®? (n.d.) [Accessed 3rd April 2016]. https://www.tasciences.com/what-is-ta-65/.
  9. De Jesus BB, Blasco MA. Telomerase at the intersection of cancer and aging. Trends Genet 2013;29:513-520.
  10. A. Sciences. Telomeres and Cellular Aging. (n.d.) [Accessed 3rd April 2016]. https://www.tasciences.com/telomeres-and-cellular-aging/.
  11. Jaskelioff M, Muller FL, Paik JH, et al. Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase deficient mice. Nature 2011;469:102-106.
  12. Salvador L, Singaravelu G, Harley CB, et al. A Natural Product Telomerase Activator Lengthens Telomeres in Humans: A Randomized, Double Blind, and Placebo Controlled Study. Rejuvenation Res 2016; ahead of print. doi:10.1089/rej.2015.1793.
  13. Kluger J. The antiaging power of a positive attitude. TIME. 2015.
  14. Than K. The Psychological Strain of Living Forever. Live Science. 2006. http://www.livescience.com/10469-psychological-strain-living.html.
  15. Partridge B, Lucke J, Bartlett H, et al. Ethical, social, and personal implications of extended human lifespan identified by members of the public. Rejuvenation Res 2009;12:351-357.
  16. Stolyarov II G. Death is Wrong. 2nd ed. Carson City, Nevada: Rational Argumentator Press; 2013.
  17. The Huffington Post. 11 Beautiful T.S. Eliot Quotes. 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/26/ts-eliot-quotes_n_3996010.html.


The Role of Aging in Society – Article by Demian Zivkovic

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

The New Renaissance HatDemian Zivkovic
Take the following situation. We discover an extremely contagious virus. It infects you and your loved ones, and quickly propagates through all of mankind. As a result, 150,000 people die every day. It kills more than twice the number killed in the Holocaust every three months, and in 30 years, it will have killed 1.5 billion, around one in six people. How high would this score on a list of global priorities? There’s no doubt the situation would be grave. Most people would demand immediate action.
But that’s just a thought experiment, right? Not really. Every day, 150,000 people do die from age-related disease. Not only the cost in lives is monumental; societal and economic costs are also on the rise. According to the Dutch Statistics Authority (the CBS), the amount of people older than 65 (retirement age) will have increased to 27% in 2040, from the current 19%. As more people are born, this also means more people die from age-related disease, taking all their knowledge, expertise, and productivity with them. In short: If we don’t do anything about the consequences of our aging population, we face severe consequences.

So what is the best way to deal with the problem of our society aging?

There is no simple solution. More conventional healthcare barely improves quality of life, while just letting people die is not an ethical option. Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian and philosopher, argues for thinking more radically about solutions to societal problems. According to his essay “Een pleidooi voor de utopie” (A plea for utopia) in the Dutch magazine “De groene Amsterdammer”, we have lost the ability to think in such a way; We only look at marginal improvements, instead of looking at changes that could radically improve and change our society. So if we do explore more radical solutions, what can we do?

Professor Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D. in biology, Chief Science Officer of the prestigious SENS Research Foundation, and partner at the Gerontological Society of America, argues that we could look at a radical intervention in human aging. According to de Grey, the best way of solving many of these problems is to cure aging at its source. De Grey is not the only one who holds that opinion. Alphabet, Inc.‘s biotechnology subsidiary (Calico) also views the problem from this position. This point of view obviously raises quite a few questions. Critics claim that de Grey’s vision is impossible or undesirable. Proponents point to the massive advantages of curing age-related disease.

One of the arguments put forward is that short-term thinking causes many economical and societal problems. Economist Joseph Stiglitz speaks about rent-seeking (“Rent-Seeking and the Making of an Unequal Society”, 2014), economically destructive behaviour in which an individual or business enriches itself while harming the entire economy in the process. Environmental concerns are also a very large issue. Since people (if they are lucky) don’t get to live much longer than a hundred years old, many people find it very uninteresting to think about what our behaviour is doing to the environment on the long term. But what will it mean for these problems if we have to let go of short-term thinking, because we live for a much longer time? One thing is for sure: If de Grey’s vision becomes reality, a lot will change in our society.

Economy, Environment, and Overpopulation

Short-term thinking has a catastrophic effect on our economy and environment.

The previously mentioned economist Joseph Stiglitz claims in his article that our economy is suffering serious problems, since rent-seeking is causing society-wide destruction and inequality. For centuries, economists, philosophers, and ethicists have been considering how to stop such unethical behavior. Usually, they looked at different moral developments, better regulations, or restructuring society as solutions.

In his work “The Power of Context”, Malcolm Gladwell makes the claim that the environment and the context we live in have a large impact on our behaviour. Human life knows a few certainties; one of them is that you will die within a century. One may have children or grandchildren, but very few people are concerned about the fate of their heir several hundred generations down the road. In my interview with him (2014, Nakedbutsafe magazine), Professor de Grey argues that many people would be much more concerned with the long term if they knew they would still be around in several centuries, and there’s a lot to be said about that. Instead of waging a fruitless and hopeless war on selfishness, it may be more prudent to use it to improve the world.

De Grey’s solution essentially means inventing the fountain of youth through advanced biotechnology. He wants to do this through a method called “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence” or SENS. SENS essentially involves periodically repairing accumulated damage from aging, so it never reaches a critical point where it turns into a specific illness. De Grey is not the only one who is looking for a solution for aging: Google Ventures heavily invests in such technology.

In 2013, Google founded a company called Calico, which entered a partnership with AbbVie. With a record investment of two billion dollars, most money ever put into a start-up, the ambitious firm wants to create a fundamental understanding of aging and use said understanding to eventually cure said aging. Bill Maris, president of Google Ventures, has already made the famous claim we will be able to have technology to live 500 years within our lifetimes. Another actor in the corporate sector is BioViva, whose CEO, Elizabeth Parrish, has become the first human on the planet to get treated with a combination of in vivo gene therapies to slow down aging.

The approaches of Calico, SENS, and BioViva look at the problem from different angles, but they have one thing in common: they are not looking at ways to extend the lives of sick, disabled seniors. Instead, they are looking at a method to not simply extend life, but to extend health. They are looking at methods to stop this biological aging from happening. Life extension is merely a side effect. After all, if a 200-year-old has the vitality of a 40-year-old, why would an aging population be a problem? Even though the population will age, the percentage of “elderly” people will decrease, and so will age-related suffering and related economic pressure.

However, not everyone is optimistic about these changes. Critics are concerned about what a radically extended life will mean for overpopulation. They argue that if nobody dies, we will have so many people that we will either have to kill people, or make reproduction illegal. While such a top-down approach may seem like “common sense”, there’s a lot to be said about why such drastic top-down measures will be unnecessary. Steven Johnson, a best-selling popular science author and media theorist, introduces the concept of emergence (Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, 2001). Emergence refers to patterns in complex systems which can’t be reduced to the properties or behaviours of an individual element of the system. Johnson uses the ant colony as an example: while no single ant coordinates the behaviour of the colony, the entire system is self-organizing and thus functions perfectly. An ant colony, but even more so human society, is a good example of an emergent system.

A simple example of this self-organization is the distribution of bread. There is no central authority that plants where bakeries should be located, how much grain should be produced, what logistic solutions should be used for bread transport to people’s homes, or what bread prices ought to be. In fact, such central planning has been tried several times in history. In communist dictatorships such as the Soviet Union and North Korea, centralized attempts at steer society have had catastrophic results. However, if emergence of self-organisation does its job, a society flourishes. We can see this same effect work on overpopulation and birth rates. According to the World Health Organisation, the fertility rates plummet as life expectancy skyrockets. Countries that have the highest life expectancies have the lowest birth rates. Japan, which has one of the highest life expectancies has a negative birth rate; its population is in decline, even though no central planning has intervened in any way.

This hypothesis is also supported by virtually all historic trends. Every widespread average life-expectancy spike was met with a plummet in birth rates. When our life expectancy went up because of the invention of antibiotics, our birth rates hit historic lows. We see the opposite in countries where life expectancy is very low. The country with the highest birth rate is Nigeria, while it’s one of the poorest countries in the world. The average life expectancy in Nigeria is below 55. According to the United Nations, countries with low life expectancy have by far the largest effect on overpopulation.

Regulation of population is therefore unnecessary; a complex system such as modern society self-regulates and corrects itself. This idea is in line with Gladwell’s theory of context-dependent behavior; the context largely defines our behavior. And as a self-organizing system, society demonstrably changes the context to steer our behavior in effective patterns. A dystopia where government has to regulate reproduction or death is very unlikely.

Philosophical Arguments

If Gladwell is right about context as catalyst of behaviour, what will the effects of a society devoid of biological aging be on our humanity? Not all arguments against radical life extension are pragmatic in nature. The conservative bioethicist Leon Kass is one of the opponents of radical life extension pondering this question. He argues that indefinite life extension is unnatural and thus undesirable. Kass also claims that we won’t appreciate life if we life “forever.”

“Time is a gift, but the perception of endless time or of time without bound in fact has the possibility of undermining the degree to which we take time seriously and make it count.”

~ Leon Kass (Aging Research, 2004).

Kass makes a comparison with the ancient Greek gods to argument why life’s shortness gives it purpose.

Homer in The Iliad and The Odyssey presents human beings whom he names as mortals. That is their definition in contrast to the immortals. And the immortals for their agelessness and their beauty live sort of shallow and frivolous lives. Indeed, they depend for their entertainment on watching the mortals who, precisely because they know that their time is limited, and that they go around only once, are inclined to make time matter and to aspire to something great for themselves.

~ Leon Kass (Aging Research, 2004)

While these arguments may seem somewhat of a philosophical take on many common criticisms, they are easily debunked. Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva and a pioneering entrepreneur in the field of gene therapy, argues against the idea that we should accept something because it’s considered “normal.” (“Liz Parrish speaks at People Unlimited on transcending the aging paradigm with gene therapy”, 2015). She argues that “normal” is a situational opinion which constantly changed throughout the entirety of history. In 1665, dying of infectious disease was normal. During this time only one percent of all humans died from aging: Infectious diseases were responsible for more than three quarters of all deaths before we developed the first immunization therapies – the development of which is similar to the process to defeat aging with gene therapy today. Just like today, there was criticism of the development of vaccines and antibiotics, even though lifespans and health were greatly improved by the use of these advancements – and the arguments have stayed very much the same.

Parrish is not the only one who provides a strong argument against the vision of Kass. Reason, creator of the Fight Aging! blog, is another intellectual who is very skeptical about Kass’s position. In his rebuttal of Kass (“Leon Kass, Mystic” by Reason, 2004), he compares Kass with an alchemist, a modern mystic:

“The alchemists of old stood atop what little knowledge of chemistry they had and built a speculative religion of hermetic magic, transient wishes, celestial signs and hidden gold. Leon Kass stands atop what little biotechnology we have today (and seems to have a good grasp thereof), building his own structures of fanciful thought, equally disconnected from the real world. 

All of Kass’ arguments against longer, healthier lives are essentially mystical and devoid of real substance.”

In “Leon Kass, Mystic” (2004), Reason wonders if Kass’s philosophical musings are enough of a reason to condemn billions of people to a slow and painful death. Just like the alchemists, Reason argues, Kass’s vision is based upon ancient texts and his own subjective knee-jerk reactions, instead of researching the world around him. Reason postulates that this is the fundamental difference between a mystic and a scientist: The mystic is immune to impractical facts, consequences, and reality.

De Grey also argues against the bioconservative position. He rejects the idea that longer lives will somehow lower our appreciation of life. We will be able to start a new major when we are fifty years old, or a new career when we’re a hundred and fifty. The very fact that we have so little time causes us to experience “lock-in” in our careers and choices. This causes boredom and stress. The amount of time we lose switching to doing something we may enjoy a lot more is too radical, because we have so little time to begin with. Radical life extension seems more likely to actually cure the problems its critics claim it will cause (such as boredom, stress, or disenchantment with life).


Treatments for age-related diseases are on their way, and curing aging is big business. The first people are already getting early treatments, and the prognoses are positive. Society will have to adapt to the changes that come with these treatments. It is very important to explore options for adequately engaging public opinion in favor of curing age-related disease, to mitigate massive economic and human losses that these diseases currently cause, and to create the legislation and framework needed to implement these technologies in a fair, responsible, and sane way.


Bregman, Rutger (2013). Dromen is niet eng; Essay Pleidooi voor de utopie. De Groene Amsterdammer, jaar 137, week 20. https://www.groene.nl/artikel/pleidooi-voor-de-utopie.

Gladwell, Malcolm (2000). The Power of Context. In R.E. Miller & Spellmeyer (Eds.), The New Humanities Reader (Fifth Edition, pp. 148-167). Print.
Stiglitz, J. E. (2012). Rent Seeking and the Making of an Unequal Society. In R.E. Miller & Spellmeyer (Eds.), The New Humanities Reader (Fifth Edition, pp. 148-167). Print.

Johnson, Steven. ‘Emergence: The connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software’, 2001. In ‘The New Humanities Reader’, Richard E. Miller, Kurt Spellmeyer, Wadsworth, 2011, pp. 151 – 165

De Grey, Aubrey D. N. J. (2005). Resistance to debate on how to postpone ageing is delaying progress and costing lives. EMBO Reports, 6(Suppl 1), S49–S53. http://doi.org/10.1038/sj.embor.7400399

Kass, Leon (2004). Aging Research.  http://agingresearch.org/sage/Default.aspx?tabid=60

Reason (2004). Leon Kass, Mystic. FightAging.org. https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2004/04/leon-kass-mysti.php
Parrish, Elizabeth (2015). Liz Parrish speaks at People Unlimited on transcending the aging paradigm with gene therapy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87OUb8TBwX0

Demian 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.


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

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.


Who Are the True “Deathists”? – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 24, 2013
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On a recent Immortal Life debate/discussion thread, I was asked to participate in a conversation about whether advocates of indefinite life extension should call their opponents “deathists” or whether such a label is counterproductive. Another question on that thread concerned the use of the designation “immortalist” to refer to an advocate of indefinite longevity.

My view on this matter is a nuanced one. It is crucial to make a distinction between (i) people who simply hold the common “tragic worldview” – who accept their mortality as inevitable and try to “make peace” with it and (ii) people who actively work to stop life-extension technologies. The former are simply mistaken and can be reasoned with, persuaded, or at least led to gradually become more comfortable with life extension as it becomes ever more real. The latter, however, might not be open to persuasion and might pursue legislative action (or worse) to stop life-extension research. Every person’s arguments should be addressed civilly and intelligently. The label “deathist” is not uncivil per se, however, and has its place with regard to people who cannot be swayed by argument or evidence from a position that is actively hostile to life extension. These are not your rank-and-file skeptics of radical life extension, but rather people such as Leon Kass, Sherwin Nuland, Daniel Callahan, John Gray, and Nassim Taleb, who will not be shifted from their anti-life-extension views and who have made considerable amounts of money out of attacking pro-longevity ideas. Calling these people “deathists” is not aimed at persuading them, but rather at alerting possibly more objective third parties of the dangers of their views. If there is still the opportunity to persuade someone, then labels of this sort should not be directed at that person.

As for positive labels, I can proudly attribute the term “immortalist” to myself – not because I think that indefinite life extension will by itself bring immortality (it will not), but rather because I think that any condition that more closely approaches immortality is a desirable one. Thus, I support not only the lifting of upper limits on lifespans, but also major improvements in protection against asteroids, earthquakes, weather events, vehicle accidents, infectious diseases, and manmade conflicts. I oppose anything that can destroy an innocent human life.