Justin Loew of LongeCity recently interviewed me and my wife Wendy Stolyarov regarding our illustrated children’s book Death is Wrong and our Indiegogo campaign to spread this book to 1000 children, free of cost to them. The audio broadcast of our excellent conversation has been posted on this thread on the LongeCity forum. Here is a link to the MP3 file: http://www.longecity.org/media/LongeCityPodcast_Stolyarov2014_A01.mp3.
Death is wrong, and it can be defeated. Gennady Stolyarov’s new book, Death is Wrong, makes this powerful idea accessible to everyone. Now that you have seen the phrase in print, it should not seem odd to you; the vincible visage of the Grim Reaper should seem less frightening. It is a primitive spectre, a monster to be unmasked in the venerable tradition of Scooby Doo. There is no more reason to believe in its inevitability than there is to believe in the Easter Bunny. This strange, wonderful and intoxicating idea should begin to sink into our brains, not because it is pleasant, but because it is true. Please support his Indiegogo campaign here.
Death can be cured. Let this sink into your brain, not because it is comforting, but because it is true. Even obvious truths will not gain acceptance unless we vigorously campaign against the falsehoods Death is not something to embrace, and it is not something to ignore. To turn it into a matter of metaphysics or “bioethics” is insulting to those who, by no fault of their own, are burdened by the ailments of old age. There are many extraordinary men and women who could go on working for hundreds of years if their stars were not designed to dim so soon.
What do you want to do with your life? This is the question Mr. Stolyarov poses to his readers. Whatever you wish to do is restricted by the time you have on this earth. This is restricted largely by your genes, even if you do all you can to mitigate the hand chance and meiosis have dealt you. The fountain of youth now is not far off. We no longer need to deceive ourselves with lofty philosophical discourses of dreams of a world after this one. Conventional “wear and tear” theories claim the body has a finite amount of repair resources, yet if this was true, exercise should greatly decrease one’s lifespan. As far as we can tell, moderate exercise fights aging as well as or better than anything in our still inadequate arsenal.
If the process is the result of unavoidable changes we should not expect to find animals which undergo negligible senescence. We should also expect animals of the same basic shape, type and size to age at approximately the same rates. American crows normally die before their eigth birthday; Kakapo parrots can live well into their nineties. Post-reproductive suicide may be viewed as a peculiarity of some species, but it also graphically illustrates the control genes have over the aging process. The goal of the Transhumanist movement now should be to convince as many people as possible of the viability of this research. Arcane mathematical tidbits from evolutionary biology, although more cogent, are less convincing than masses of salmon carcasses floating downstream or lowly tortoises who, for no obvious reason, live for centuries.
Knowing our quality of life is doomed to decay with each passing year, we do not always take full advantage of the opportunities available to us. Why play the guitar? Some people have been playing it since they were 12. It would be impossible to schedule it in between shifts at the lab and carting the kids around. An ambition is forsaken for lack of time. It is often irrational, as late is better than never, but humans are not always rational animals. The creeping fear of time is partially justified. Anger is more than justified. There is no reason we should not have more quality time to fulfill our aspirations. Paradoxically, coming to terms with the shortness of life can be more paralyzing than invigorating. Like so many falsehoods, carpe diem stems from deep but forgivable denial.
People, including history’s greatest minds, have tried to find ways in which they or their creations were eternal. These efforts amount mostly to confabulations. As much as this statement will be contested, I must make it: death makes life meaningless. If you cannot agree with this, at least concede that aging can make life intolerable. Before you dismiss this, keep in mind it is easy to pontificate about the value of old age when one is young. Creaking joints and failing organs may change your views. Our finest moments are when we feel eternal, yet feeling eternal is quite different from being eternal. Freud called it the oceanic sensation; the expansion of the self into the wider world. When someone knows with certainly they may live hundreds or thousands of years, these otherwise momentary delusions find firm ground on which to stand.
In the end our efforts are all for naught. From a cosmic perspective this may be so, and a pugnacious devil’s advocate may ask if there is such a thing as a “good” age to die, but one can forcefully and effectively argue that 75 is too young. 35 is far too young to begin losing one’s faculties, as many professions today require years of training. A man in the prime of his career should also be in the prime of his life. 20 is universally considered too young to die. So are 30, 40, and 50. Before we can even begin to enjoy the fruits of our labors, we are already declining. Before we can begin to understand a portion of the world’s treasures, we are growing old and tired. What a sad state of affairs! We desire lasting rewards, yet we cannot have them. The productions of an entire lifetime do not last, because the enjoyer of those productions and the accolades they have won eventually perishes. With his body, presumably, his consciousness also disappears into nothingness. Deadlines tend to force a person to work in a state of fear. Death is the ultimate deadline.
What of knowledge and talents? Why acquire knowledge when it can only be imperfectly transmitted to the next generation? Preserved in books, but there are already so many books. Immortality may not be necessary for society’s continued progress now, but with the constant expansion of information and the sprawling interconnectedness of different disciplines, it is reasonable to wonder if hyperspecialization is our salvation. Immortality and intelligence amplification will allow us all, to some extent, to become generalists capable of making sane and sound decisions for ourselves and society. Why invest in higher pleasures when the lower ones deliver immediate gratification?
Living for each day devolves into hedonistic stupidity. Why should we care about the consequences of our actions when, regardless of what happens to us, our stories all end in the same way? What was once a psychological necessity is now a hindrance to the greater good. What was once a rational position is now an effrontery to a sane approach to medicine. This is not say that research efforts dedicated to the cell cycle or the precipitating factors involved in autoimmune disorders are worthless – far from it! Rather it means that life extension in its own right ought to be a major area of inquiry. The totem must be smashed and the taboo crushed.
Yet whose decree are we following and why? Disease is our oldest foe. We are not complacent about hereditary illnesses that will only be cured after the perfection of in vivo gene therapy. Yet a lifespan of less than a century is blindly accepted as a physical limit by, according to polls taken by Theodore Goldsmith, a shocking number of scientists and laymen alike. Death is literally our mortal foe, but the amount of energy we have spent fighting it directly would not lead one to this conclusion. The biochemical changes associated with aging are the primary risk factors for diabetes, atherosclerosis, arthritis, and cancer. Yet, in spite of the undeniable correlation between aging and these diseases, research effort is directed mostly at treating them individually instead of addressing their underlying cause.
This is rooted not in a scientific sentiment, but in the unfounded assumption that death is inevitable. This stems less from skepticism towards modern medicine and more from historical superstitions that allowed our ancestors to cope with the mysterious and inhospitable universe in which they found themselves. Worse, there are throngs of secular and religious nihilists alike who actively spread the gospel of death. They erect altars to petty Molochs to distract themselves from their own worst enemy. It will be difficult to battle the most entrenched notion of all, but nothing worth having is easy to obtain. The end of suffering is the highest ideal. Why should we worship false idols any longer?
Should Transhumanism take precedence over the fight against Creationism? The answer seems painfully obvious. I do not care if a pig farmer in Alabama believes the Neolithic era was populated by dinosaurs. His ignorance has no dreadful ramifications for humankind. As an academic and popular movement, anti-aging should be the first and foremost topic of scientific discussion. The secular and sane world accepts Darwinism. There is no reason to suppose converting the remaining holdouts will benefit society in the least. The sane and secular world, however, is still largely unaware of the strides science is making toward biological immortality. Moreover, a small bit about intelligent design in a science textbook, while objectionable on moral grounds, will not do much more damage to an already broken school system.
Mentioning intelligent design in passing will do nothing to dumb down an already doltish student body. Advocates of evolution would be more helpful if they turned their energies to spreading numeracy and basic literacy. Both are in short supply. To spend a lifetime fighting against hopeless ignoramuses makes one an imbecile of the highest order. Let the ignorant tend to their own business while we welcome the age of wonders. Let this be a call to arms. Let this be a call to awaken and accept the foolishness of how humanity uses its resources. Rage against the dying of the light. Do not go gentle into that good night.