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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
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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.

References

  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.

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The Role of Aging in Society – Article by Demian Zivkovic

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

The New Renaissance HatDemian Zivkovic
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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.
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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.
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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
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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).

Conclusion

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.

Bibliography

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.
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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.
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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
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Parrish, Elizabeth (2015). Liz Parrish speaks at People Unlimited on transcending the aging paradigm with gene therapy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87OUb8TBwX0
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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.

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The Immortals Among Us – Article by Reason

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

The New Renaissance Hat
Reason
November 26, 2015
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Let us define immortality as being a state of agelessness, which seems a common colloquial usage these days. More precisely this means that the risk of death due to intrinsic causes such as wear and tear damage of vital organs remains the same over time, perhaps due to advanced medical interventions. Falling pianos are still going to kill you, and a hypothetical biologically young immortal in a hypothetical environment maintaining today’s first world extrinsic mortality rate would have a half-life of 500 years or so, meaning that at any age, there is a 50% chance of evading a life-ending event for another 500 years. There are no human immortals by this criteria of a static intrinsic mortality rate, it seems, though for a while it looked like very old humans might have essentially flat but very high mortality rates in the same way as very old flies do. Immortality in a state of advanced frailty and coupled with a 90% or higher yearly mortality rate isn’t the sort of circumstance that most people would aspire to, of course. It barely improves on the actual circumstance that the oldest of people find themselves in, all too briefly.

However, let us think beyond the box. Consider the small horde of children that you’ll find playing and running in any junior schoolyard here and now. By the time the survivors of their cohorts reach a century of age, the 2100s will have arrived. If the current very slow trend in increasing adult life expectancy continues, adding a year of remaining life expectancy at 60 for every passing decade, then something like 25% of these present children will live to see that centenary. But I don’t for one moment believe that this trend will continue as it has in the past. Past increases in life expectancy were an incidental side-effect of general improvements in medicine across the board, coupled with increasing wealth and all the benefits that brings. Across all of that time, no-one was seriously trying to intervene in the aging process, to address the causes of aging, or to bring aging under medical control. Times are changing, and now many groups aiming to build some of the foundations needed to create exactly this outcome. You may even have donated to support some of them, such as the SENS Research Foundation. The trend in longevity in an age in which researchers are trying to treat the causes of aging will be very different from the trend in longevity in an age in which no such efforts are taking place.

You don’t have to dig very far into the state of the science to see that the first rejuvenation treatments are very close, their advent limited only by funding. If funding were no issue for senescent cell clearance, for example, it would absolutely, definitively be in clinics a decade from now. Other necessary technologies are more distant, but not that much more distant – the 2030s will be an exciting time for the medical sciences. For the occupants of today’s junior playground, it seems foolish to imagine that by age 60 they will not have access to rejuvenation treatments after the SENS model at various stages of maturity, many having having been refined for more than 30 years, at the height of their technology cycle, and just giving way to whatever radical new improvement happens next.

Take a moment for a sober look at the sweeping differences and expanded technological capabilities that exist between today, the 1960s, and the 1910s. So very much has been achieved, and that pace of progress is accelerating. Those junior playground athletes of today will live to see a world even more radically different and advanced than our present time is in comparison to the First World War era. These are the immortals among us. The majority of them will have the opportunity to attain actuarial escape velocity, to keep on using ever-improving versions of rejuvenation treatments until they are gaining life expectancy at a faster rate than they are aging. Their cellular damage, the wear and tear created by the normal operation of metabolism, will be repaired as fast as it is is generated. It is the rest of us, those of us who are no longer spring chickens, who are faced with much more of a race to the goal. The degree to which we can successfully fund and advocate the necessary research is the determinant of whether we can scrape by into the age of rejuvenation treatments, or whether we will gain modest benefits but still age to death – because we were born too soon, and because the rest of the world didn’t get its collective act together rapidly enough in what is now the very tractable matter of building a cure for aging.

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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Economic Growth Slashed Global Poverty to Historically Unprecedented Level – Article by Marian L. Tupy

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Categories: Economics, Technology, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatMarian L. Tupy
October 6, 2015
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According to the World Bank, for the first time in human history, “less than 10 percent of the world’s population will be living in extreme poverty by the end of 2015.” The bank has “used a new income figure of $1.90 per day to define extreme poverty, up from $1.25. It forecasts that the proportion of the world’s population in this category will fall from 12.8 percent in 2012 to 9.6 percent.”
Global poverty rate, official and baseline scenario, percent

As scholars have noted, historically speaking, grinding poverty was the norm for most ordinary people. Even in the most economically advanced parts of the world, life used to be miserable. To give one example, at the end of the 18th century, ten million of France’s twenty-three million people relied on some sort of public or private charity to survive and three million were full-time beggars.

Thanks to industrial revolution and trade, economic growth in the West accelerated to historically unprecedented levels. Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, real incomes in the West increased fifteen-fold. But the chasm that opened up as a result of the Western take-off is now closing.

Life expectancy at birth, West and the Rest, years

The rise of the non-Western world is, unambiguously, a result of economic growth spurred by the abandonment of central-planning and integration of many non-Western countries into the global economy. After economic liberalization in China in 1978, to give one example, real incomes rose thirteen-fold.

As Princeton University Professor Angus Deaton notes in his book The Great Escape, “[T]he rapid growth of average incomes, particularly in China and India, and particularly after 1975, did much to reduce extreme poverty in the world. In China most of all, but also in India, the escape of hundreds of millions from traditional and long established poverty qualifies as the greatest escape of all.”

Marian L. Tupy is the editor of HumanProgress.org and a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. He specializes in globalization and global wellbeing, and the political economy of Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. His articles have been published in the Financial Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The U.K. Spectator, Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy, Reason magazine, and various other outlets both in the United States and overseas. Tupy has appeared on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CNN International, BBC World, CNBC, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, and other channels. He has worked on the Council on Foreign Relations’ Commission on Angola, testified before the U.S. Congress on the economic situation in Zimbabwe, and briefed the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department on political developments in Central Europe. Tupy received his B.A. in international relations and classics from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and his Ph.D. in international relations from the University of St. Andrews in Great Britain.

This work by Cato Institute is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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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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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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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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Adam Alonzi Interviews G. Stolyarov II on Indefinite Life Extension and “Death is Wrong”

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II and Adam Alonzi
February 22, 2015
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Today I had a pleasant and erudite discussion with Adam Alonzi regarding the feasibility and desirability of attaining indefinite longevity in our lifetimes, as well as Death is Wrong and its impact.

References

Adam Alonzi’s YouTube Channel
Adam Alonzi Reads Death is Wrong

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The Plasticity of Aging and Longevity Continues – Article by Reason

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The New Renaissance Hat
Reason
December 4, 2014
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When looking at most of the past extension of human life since the 1700s the major causes were better sanitation and control of infectious disease, with the largest effects on life expectancy at birth arising from lowered childhood mortality, even though there was also a steady increase in adult life expectancy. When looking back at the late 20th and early 21st century period from a safe distance of a century or so, the similar high level summary of the drivers of life extension will probably focus on greatly increased control over cardiovascular disease and the resulting steep decline in late life mortality due to this cause. There are many other improvements in medicine that have occurred in the past fifty years, but this is the one that stands out if you look at the data.

This period of medical strategy and development is coming to an end, however, and the summary of the next age in medicine with regard to its effects on human longevity will be that this was the time in which researchers started to directly address the processes of aging and, separately, brought cancer largely under medical control. Progress in the future of life expectancy at this point in time is overwhelmingly a matter of success in intervening in the aging process, building biotechnologies to repair the cellular and molecular damage that causes aging and thus prevent or turn back age-related frailty and disease.

If aging is purely a matter of damage we should expect all improvements in long-term health to also extend life to some degree. If there is less damage then the machinery lasts longer – it really is that simple a concept, even though the machinery of our biology is very complex. Studies of changing life expectancy such as the one quoted below continue to find that aging appears to be plastic, and that present trends in reduced old age mortality are continuing in those regions with better access to medical technology. The only limits on life are imposed by a present inability to fix the problems that kill us, and that can be changed by funding the right research:

Quote:

In high-income countries, life expectancy at age 60 years has increased in recent decades. Falling tobacco use (for men only) and cardiovascular disease mortality (for both men and women) are the main factors contributing to this rise. In high-income countries, avoidable male mortality has fallen since 1980 because of decreases in avoidable cardiovascular deaths. For men in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and central Asia, and for women in all regions, avoidable mortality has changed little or increased since 1980. As yet, no evidence exists that the rate of improvement in older age mortality (60 years and older) is slowing down or that older age deaths are being compressed into a narrow age band as they approach a hypothesised upper limit to longevity.

Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60569-9

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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Eden is an Illusion (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published April 2, 2009
as Part of Issue CXCI of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 23, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CXCI of The Rational Argumentator on April 2, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 23, 2014
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Many Western and non-Western cultures alike are contaminated by a highly dangerous idea with destructive consequences – the idea of man’s “fall” from some “higher” state – an Eden, if you will. Different groups holding this idea give it different incarnations – but the implications are the same. The myth of the Fall is detrimental to human ambition, flourishing, and improvement; it stifles attempts to find creative solutions to the dreadful problems that have been plaguing humankind since its very beginnings. But beyond being destructive, the Eden myth is simply false. There never was a “better” state from which human beings have “descended.” We shall explore why the Fall is an illusion that ought to be abandoned.

The myth of the Fall is held by often mutually antagonistic groups, all of which pose considerable obstacles to the progress and flourishing of many individuals. On the one hand, fundamentalist religious conservatives see man as literally fallen from the Garden of Eden, where God had designed for him a “perfect” existence. I fail, of course, to see anything perfect about an existence where man had no technology, no love of learning, and no knowledge of good and evil. But this very existence is also embraced by people who claim to be on the opposite side of the political spectrum – radical left-wing environmentalists, who have their own vision of Eden.

Like the Eden of the religious conservatives, the Eden of the environmentalists involves no technology and no active, systematic progress of human knowledge and capacity. Rather, man’s “unity” with “Nature” is celebrated in this vision. According to the environmentalists, there was once a time – probably the pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer days – when man existed in “harmony” with this strange entity called Nature, which seems to encompass everything other than man. Allegedly, humans did not disturb the “balance” of ecosystems and took good care of the Earth in those days – whatever that means. Alas, there was never such a balance to begin with. We shall see that both the religious and environmentalist visions of Eden are plainly wrong.

Life for early man – far from being blissful or even remotely enjoyable – was, in Thomas Hobbes’s words, “nasty, brutish, and short.” Life expectancy in the Paleolithic period was anywhere from the mid-teens to the mid-twenties. Food was continually in short supply, as there was no guarantee of plentiful game to hunt or berries to forage. And if a plentiful catch did occur, there were scant safeguards to prevent the food from spoiling. Predators and disease were rampant; sanitation and health care were non-existent. Without a scientific method, a person with even the best of intentions often ended up hurting one’s fellow human beings while intending to help them.

Every conceivable vice, social problem, weakness, and fallibility of human beings today has always existed throughout human history; the only difference is the magnitude of such problems, which were most certainly greater in prior eras. Without the benefits of technology, education, and the relative safety and comfort of our times, people were far more prone to engage in violent conflicts over resources and to allow emotional clashes to escalate into bloodshed. Rape, slavery, female subjugation, ceaseless wars, adultery, substance abuse, murder, theft, and other detestable conduct were more common then than now – as there were fewer alternatives to such conduct, and fewer disincentives from it. Every problem facing mankind has always existed in some form – due to hostile natural forces or the irrationality and stupidity of many humans. But the solutions to many of these problems could only come in the form of technological and societal progress – a departure from the non-Eden of the past.

The Eden myth in all of its incarnations originates from the rather strange notion that there is something written in the cosmic laws of nature that the default state of human beings is to be happy, comfortable, justly treated, and in “harmony” with their surroundings. There is no natural law which guarantees this or even tends toward it. The term “comfort” did not even acquire its present usage until the 17th century, and what the ancients meant by “happiness” differs dramatically from prevailing modern views. To suggest that human beings are guaranteed anything good by God, Nature, or what have you, has no evidential support; indeed, all the evidence speaks to the contrary. Humans are faced with millions of perils, injustices, and vulnerabilities. Survival is far from guaranteed, and people of merit and virtue rarely get the rewards they deserve. When natural disasters, political oppression, and disease strike, they rarely discriminate between the good and the evil. There is no natural justice, goodness, or equilibrium, and 99.9% of all species ever existing are now extinct. There is no special protection given to humans from the forces that wiped out many of their distant relatives.

The Eden myth suggests that there is natural guarantee of happiness and justice given to humans, but humans have chosen to stray from the origins of that guarantee – God, Nature, or an analogous reified entity. Therefore, humans suffer – but not because suffering is the default state, but rather because humans did something wrong in rejecting the bliss of the default state. The Eden myth might state that humans deserve lifelong suffering for the sins of Adam and Eve or their ancestors or post-Renaissance Western civilization – but it is in some ways much less grim than reality. The appeal of the Eden myth to many people is that it suggests the existence of an underlying balance and goodness about the world as such – implying that somehow, beneath all that nastiness, everything is fundamentally all right. It is not.

There is nothing to suggest any guarantees given human beings with regard to anything pertaining to their survival, happiness, or fulfillment. There is no cosmic justice and no cosmic “balance.” Rather, whatever justice people wish to obtain, they must create the conditions for. Human technologies, social systems, and esthetic and intellectual accomplishments erect a fortress of civilization which enables us to somewhat resist the onslaught of the elements. The fortress is currently quite shabbily built – with numerous gaping holes and inadequate structural support. Moreover, it is far from complete; indeed, even its foundations have not yet been completely laid. Humanity is still in a state of general barbarism – unable to even figure out ways to prevent individual humans from dying and to prevent human social and political systems from degenerating into either tyranny or chaos. But for all of our massive problems, our ancestors had it worse.

If we are to overcome the extremely genuine and massive threats to our existence coming from virtually all directions, it is essential not to take comfort in the demotivating illusions of a cosmic balance. The longing for a fictitious past bliss leads many to stifle the ambitions of some humans to create a better future. The advocates of the Eden myth seek to thwart the advocates of technological and societal progress – seeing them as taking humankind even further away from its original bliss. But only progress can help us avoid the gruesome destruction and oblivion that are currently in store for every single living individual, unless human ingenuity can enable us to pursue a better path – one which we must follow to push back the hostile aspects of nature and humankind alike and create a safer, happier, more prosperous existence.

Read more articles in Issue CXCI of The Rational Argumentator.

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Healthy, Peaceful Death Does Not Exist – Article by Advocate of Negligible Senescence

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The New Renaissance Hat
Advocate of Negligible Senescence
May 26, 2014
Recommend this page.
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ANS_Saved_Near_Death

Most people want to die of in their sleep, in peace, of old age, without pain and surrounded by their family and loved ones after achieving success and after having done something worthwhile.But the facts suggest, that such a peaceful end is granted to very few people, while most people have to endure different disabilities and diseases associated with aging and terrible pain and decreased function, performance, and the lack of joy coming with it.The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project originated in 1990 in a collaboration between the World Health Organization, Harvard School of Public Health, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), and the World Bank.

The focus of the Global Burden of Disease Study is to provide a detailed statistical analysis of the impact of diseases leading to death and disability across various regions around the world. The purpose of the study is to reveal gaps between current and ideal health circumstances and develop strategies to reduce this gap.

The 2010 Global Burden of Disease study reveals a significant shift in the nature of disease worldwide. There has been a significant increase in chronic disease worldwide. This is due to demographics of aging, and the subsequent increase of age-related disease.

Worldwide, the contribution of different risk factors to disease burden has changed substantially, with a shift away from risks for communicable diseases in children towards those for non-communicable diseases in adults.

As life expectancy has increased, the number of healthy years lost to disability has also increased in most countries, consistent with the expansion of morbidity hypothesis, which has implications for health planning and health-care expenditure.One of the key findings reveals that we are living longer, but under an increased burden of chronic disease that impairs our quality of life.These results are distressing: men can expect to spend an average of 9.2 years and women 11.5 years with some form of a chronic disability. In other words, during the last decade of lives, on average, our quality of life might become significantly impaired by the presence of a chronic disease.

The paradox, then – the fact that people want to be actively saved if they are near or at the moment of death, but also want to die peacefully – seems to be rooted in a pretty profound medical illiteracy.

Healthy people don’t die in their sleep, “peacefully” or otherwise. You don’t hear about too many 25-year-olds dying suddenly of heart attacks or strokes during their nightly slumber.

When people in their twenties die, it’s usually considered tragic. When babies are found dead in their cribs, it’s referred to by a name (“Sudden Infant Death Syndrome”). But when elderly people die, in bed or otherwise, there tends to be a curious tone of, “Well, at least they went peacefully.”

The increase in life expectancy and the resulting growth of the elderly population are also thought to be driving up the number of elderly people with disabilities.

Typically in the case of dying in your sleep due to old age, an autopsy can determine exactly what went wrong, or what stopped working. For example, your heart could simply get tired and stop beating, because it’s been working hard for the past eighty or ninety years.

The phrase “natural causes” or dying “of old age” is a very strange one really. Ultimately what it means is that someone who dies of natural causes, dies of aging in a way that has not been given an additional name; so really it’s just a matter of terminology. The difference is between dying of “natural causes” and dying of some other specifically named thing that doesn’t really often affect young adults.

Searching for a cure for age-related ill health, a problem that kills more people than all other causes combined, is a moral imperative. The Advocate for Negligible Senescence publishes articles that discuss and educate the public about research to combat senescence. See the Advocate’s Facebook page.  
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