Browsed by
Tag: obituary

Nathaniel Branden Remembered – Article by Edward Hudgins

Nathaniel Branden Remembered – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance Hat
Edward Hudgins
December 7, 2014

I first met Nathaniel Branden, who passed away on the morning of December 3, 2014, in fall 1983. I had successfully passed my Ph.D. oral defense of dissertation that morning, so except for shuffling paperwork, I was now “Doctor Hudgins.” I don’t know how others would mark such a milestone, but I was eager that evening to hear Branden’s talk on “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand [1].”

Discovering Ayn Rand [2] and Nathaniel Branden


I had discovered and loved the works of Rand a decade earlier. She presented a vision of a rational world of flourishing, self-actuated, self-confident, achievement-oriented individuals, in sharp contrast to the corrosive culture of whim-worshipping irrationality and self-abnegation of that time.

Nathaniel Branden, Edward Hudgins, and Barbara BrandenThe author with Nathaniel Branden (1930-2014) and Barbara Branden, 2007.

With Rand, of course, I encountered Nathaniel Branden. I knew he had been her philosophical heir-apparent, and that they had had an angry break. And I had heard rumors of their affair. But even though he was persona non grata in Objectivist circles, I eagerly read his post-Rand books, including The Psychology of Self-Esteem [3], Breaking Free, and The Disowned Self.

The latter two were especially important. The Objectivist world at the time had what some called cult-like qualities, which Branden himself later acknowledged he had helped create in his years with Rand. One simply was to assume that Ayn Rand [2] was right about everything, and as a “student of Objectivism [4]” your goal was simply to understand her philosophy. Ironically, independent thinking–a key Objectivist virtue–was frowned upon in practice.

Nathaniel Branden’s Breaking Free


While Branden in Breaking Free and The Disowned Self was not directly addressing the defects of the Objectivism [4] movement, he was dealing with self-alienation and other deep problems that held individuals back from being independent and flourishing. He was clearly drawing from the problems he had encountered in individuals who loved Rand’s vision but found the official Objectivist movement stifling.

So that evening in 1983 I listened to Branden address head-on the benefits and hazards of Rand’s philosophy. It was refreshing and liberating. Whether I agreed completely with his analysis or not, there was now a more open, adult conversation going on about the Rand and the philosophy.

Branden argued that Objectivism [4] indeed presented a radiant vision of, in Rand’s words, what the world can be and should be. But too many individuals who loved Rand’s vision saw themselves as so far removed from the heroes of her novels that they despaired. Too many would say “I’m no Roark or Galt, so I must be no good.”

Technology for Self-Esteem Pioneered by Nathaniel Branden


Branden defined his goal as creating the psychological technology to help individuals get from where they were to where they wanted to be.

Branden is often credited as being the father of the modern self-esteem movement. This is true, but misleading. Today, many see “self-esteem” as a lazy and vacuous glance in the mirror to say “I’m great!” Branden defined self-esteem as the recognition that one is worthy of happiness and capable of achieving it. But happiness and flourishing require effort.

In The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem [5] he identified the necessary practices to reach those goals as living consciously, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, living purposefully, and personal integrity. Branden was, in effect, operationalizing Rand’s dictum that “as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul.”

Over the decades that followed “Benefits and Hazards” I had many opportunities to attend and to host conferences with Branden, to discuss with him his insights about psychology and about Objectivism [4], and to see the benefits that his own work brought to many in this world.

To his wife, Leigh, and all his friends I pass along my condolences. Keep in your hearts and minds the good memories of him. He would have wanted it that way.




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

Leading from the Front to the Last – Article by Reason

Leading from the Front to the Last – Article by Reason

The New Renaissance Hat
December 5, 2014

I rarely write obituaries, because once you start where do you stop? Perhaps a hundred and fifty thousand lives are lost every day, most due to aging and its consequences, and it isn’t just the few people you happened to exchange emails with who are worthy of notice. Yet monuments are at root a selfish undertaking on behalf of the living, and we can easily bury ourselves in mourning and symbolism. Ultimately one has to ask: is this an initiative about death or is this an initiative about life? The world has too many thinly disguised death cults. Cruelly, even after yet another individual in one’s personal circle of vision succumbs to the frailty of age, all of our lives go on as before. We’re still here with the same old to-do list in front of us – or at least we will be until we are not. But that is rather the point: we want to eliminate this part of the human condition, build the medical technologies to repair the breakages that cause aging and thus prevent all of its attendant suffering and death.

I’ve long admired the oldest people in this community. They participate with no hope at all of benefiting personally from the technologies they support: that is true altruism. It will be, I’d think, twenty years under even the best of circumstances before comparatively crude first generation rejuvenation treatments as envisaged in the SENS proposals become available. If you are in later life it is vanishingly unlikely that you will survive for long enough to benefit meaningfully from present research. Yet that research must happen. Someone must be first to benefit, and someone must be last to miss out.

So we get to this news from the Gerontology Research Group (GRG), providing notice of the death of their founder and organizer in chief Stephen Coles, a researcher and advocate for longevity science. This had been expected, I think, given the details of his ongoing public battle with cancer. He took full advantage of having a rough timeline at the end to ensure a good cryopreservation:


Dr. Stephen Coles passed away in Scottsdale on December 3 of complications of pancreatic cancer and was cryopreserved. He was 73. Scottsdale is where Alcor is, and Steve had traveled there last week to be close to the cryonics foundation.

He tracked the oldest people in the world for over 20 years, and published the most recent five years of his research in the journal PLoS ONE. Dr. Coles performed autopsies on 12 “supercentenarians,” people who are 110 years old or older, more than any other pathologist, and determined TTR Amyloidosis as a predominant cause of death.

For as long as I’ve been involved in advocacy, Coles has networked with fellow researchers and gathered data on late age survival. With his connections as a hub the GRG mailing list became a cosmopolitan watering hole at which gerontologists, other researchers, and advocates with many varied views on aging and medicine debated points and rubbed shoulders. In recent years Coles’ own work helped to shape the SENS Research Foundation strategy of funding potential treatments for TTR amyloidosis, a condition in which misfolded transthyretin builds up in solid masses to clog blood vessels and organs. This condition may be a true final limiting factor on human life span, killing those who survive everything else. Or at least it will be until therapies exist, and the development of those therapies is presently underway – though, as always in matters related to aging, with too little funding for truly rapid progress.

Cryonics is the sensible choice for anyone finding themselves in Coles’ position. It is the only presently available shot at making death a hiatus rather than oblivion, and it is one slice of the grand self-destructive tragedy of the modern human condition that next to nobody chooses this path. Preservation of the fine structure of the brain means preservation of the mind, and given continued storage a patient can wait for as long as needed for future molecular nanotechnologies capable of restoring a cryopreserved individual. That isn’t impossible, just very hard. But instead all those lives, all those individuals, are lost.

To change this state of affairs many more respected people at the hub of their own networks of influence must make a very public choice to be cryopreserved. This is really no different than the sort of effective advocacy needed to change the present public disinterest in living longer lives through rejuvenation therapies. If we want to see a world without frailty and disease in aging then more people have to speak out and act accordingly: we don’t lack the ability to get to this goal, but rather lack the widespread will to do the job. Each of us can only be the one person in this parade, of course, but congratulations and thanks should pass to Coles for choosing to be that one on both fronts.

And that must stand in place for the numerous obituaries and mentions I could have written in recent years. As the community grows there are ever more older members and so more people vanishing over time from the mailing lists and blogs. But what can you do? Fifty years ago you could do nothing but wish. Today, however, you can make a material difference: support the research, support the organizations, help to speed our progress towards the day on which people stop suffering and dying of old age.

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

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