Life Extension

Wednesday, January 19th, 2000

YOU ARE CURRENTLY SEEING BLOG POSTS IN PROPER CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER. While in this mode, the links at the bottom and top of each page are not correctly labeled. However, the left pointing arrow always advances forward in time, and the right pointing arrow retreats.

Physical immortality

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

I also wanted to mention that I’ve been chatting a bit with some folks who believe that it is possible to achieve physical immortality.  Most of these aren’t scientific types — Stephen wouldn’t approve — but it’s interesting that so many people are focused on it.

My direct conversations have been with Dr. Janni Lloyd, a former MD who is a spiritually-inclined advocate for achieving physical immortality.  She leads an amazingly popular blog on, and has done a number of interviews online, including this one.

Here are some similar sites.

Here’s one that seems to be scientific rather than spiritual, quite up Stephen’s line: Immortality Institute

I hadn’t realized there were so many of these! — Kate

Supplements for life extension

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

It’s exciting how active our readership has become! Yet another good question has come my way.

Reader “Iamhealthyever” asks, “What does your research tell you are the best supplements for extending life, health and strengthening immunity?”

It’s true this is something I’ve researched extensively. I am particularly persuaded that a combination of Rodiola rosea, Andrographis paniculata and common marigold will do more than anything else to slow the aging process. I also Chi kung exercises of the western school. But here is not the place for a long discussion on the practicalities of life extension. I’ll email you separately — Glenn

Reaching the “singularity” before time runs out

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

As I continue to research Aubrey de Grey, I am struck by the one significant difference between his quest and ours: Dr. de Grey is looking for something incremental, whereas we are in search of a single definitive step.

No doubt, his approach is the more practical. In the ordinary course of things, medicine will take progressive steps toward immortality.  Organs will be replaced by machines, or by artificially grown organs. Degenerative diseases will be slowed. The aging process in general will be analyzed and disrupted. It’s inevitable that, eventually, what de Grey calls “actuarial escape velocity” will be achieved. Whomever survives until that point will live forever.

However, many of us will not survive until that point, as we are already too ill or too old. It is for this reason that our discovery of actual, real life immortal human beings is so exciting. It seems likely that such people possess a mutation or a set of mutations that slows or stops the aging clock. If we could obtain even a small sample of his or her tissue, we could identify the altered genes, and proceed via genetic engineering to alter our own genomes to match. This would bring back the moment of permanent escape from death into the near present.

It is out of desire to pass through this “singularity” that we undertake the many risks involved in publishing this site.

I can only imagine that Glenn has similar intentions in undertaking the great risks of his current quest. — Stephen

Show on NPR: Don’t they have any idea what this all means?

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Flyss here.  Strattera and I are heading home. Not sure what all we’ve learned, but maybe we’ll figure it out after a rest. BTW, I know there are a lot of questions from readers waiting to be answered. We’ll get to them soon. Glenn would want us to.

I wanted to mention one particular thing that happened while we were here, though it had nothing to do with being here, actually  It was a show on NPR about physical immortality that just played. (Aubrey de Grey came up.) Here’s what got to me: Everyone on the show seemed to (a) take it for granted that pretty soon we’re going to live practically forever, and, (b) this is a good thing.

What, are they all crazy? I mean, yes, (a) is correct:  We are all going to live practically forever. But how exactly is this a good thing? Can’t they see the consequences?

If people don’t die, earth’s population goes through the roof.  If you live forever, even a one-child policy like China has leads to crazy overpopulation. So what are we going to do, talk the whole world into not having kids? Never going to happen.  Will we just run out of resources so that everyone starves? Not going to happen either. The super rich and the super connected are going to get immortality first. And then they’re going to take control and make sure they and their family and their friends have whatever they need. Whatever it takes.

It’s a nightmare. And it’s coming. — Flyss

[This thread continues here.]

Private vs. Public Good

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

What Flyss says is a special case of the larger principle: that the public good and the private do not always line up. (Perhaps it is more surprising that they ever do.)

For example: As an individual, it may be best to take antibiotics with every cold, as there is almost no downside and some upside (eg., the rare case where a bacterial infection is involved.) (NOTE: My biologist friends assure me that virtually all the problem with antibiotic resistance occurs in the community, not on the person of the individual. In any case, let us take that as true for the sake of argument.) For the public at large, however, broad scale use of antibiotics leads to bacterial resistance. Eventually, this harms the individual too, but in the present, taking an antibiotic is still better for that individual than not taking it.

For a much more poignant example, consider infant mortality: There can be no more charitable act than to save infant lives — or so it would seem. Actually, if one looks at the demographics, almost the entire cause of the twice doubling of world population in the last century is due to the reduction in infant mortality. That’s the cause: not lengthened mortality or reduced death from infection. It’s saving babies. This, in turn, has led to a whole range of terrible problems, including global warming.

But does this mean one shouldn’t save infants? It’s hard to believe that. On a personal level, this is an unambiguous good. But looked at from a public perspective, reducing infant mortality was an act of incredible risk-taking, as it directly led to a massive increase in population, and this in turn may lead to terrible harm.

The case of physical immortality is similar in every respect but one, and that difference only makes things worse.

As I have an opportunity to briefly access the Internet now, I will post what I have written so far. (To be continued.)  – Stephen

The greatest good for the individual ?= the greatest harm for all

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

In my last post, I pointed out that an apparently unambiguous good (reducing infant mortality)was the primary cause of an arguably unambiguous harm: the last century’s massive increase in world population. Much the same applies to ending aging. (Though with an additional twist as pointed out by Flyss. We’ll get to that.)

For an individual personally, as well as those that individual cares about, ending the “symptoms” of aging and greatly postponing death will almost always be received as a good. Certainly, we would have given a great deal to save Glenn’s life. But this local good is a global harm; for the world at large, the consequences of significant life extension would be dire.

More precisely: Will be dire. Because this will happen. Death and aging are surely on their way out, whether slowly or quickly.

This could be described as a sort of equation not universally applicable but of considerable validity in certain goods conflicts, in particular this one.

The greatest good for the individual (not dying) ≡ The greatest harm for all (far, far too many people)

Contrary to the impression left by the piece on NPR Flyss listened to, Aubrey de Grey is not at all naive with respect to this. I read a very interesting article by him on this very subject, and I would post a link to it if  it were not that my Internet access is too limited while I am in hiding to perform a Google search.* But, as I recall, his considerations, while extensive, do not fully extend to the issues of power and class that Flyss brings to the fore. What she has to say is powerful, important, and truly frightening.

(continued in the next post) — Stephen

*Note the constant recurrence of Google. Strattera is right: they represent an entirely new but supremely great power.

Battle Royal

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

As I mentioned at the end of  my last post, there is a sense in which ending aging and death presents even a greater conflict of goods than reducing infant mortality. I am referring to what Flyss pointed out.

Flyss is of the post- postmodernist generation, for whose members a class- and power-based analysis of history is as natural as breathing. And the images that this perspective have brought to light are truly chilling.

I have always accepted that when anti-aging technology becomes available, it will be made available first for the wealthy and the powerful. That is only to be expected. But what I had not considered prior to is that these early adopters will do their best to keep the technology away from others. Worse, if they fail to prevent widespread life extension, or even if they anticipate failure, they will seek by all possible other means to save themselves and their friends and family from the dire consequences of exponential population growth. They will use everything they have: their money, their power, and their new longevity.

One might object that the powerful and the super-rich are not currently able to have their own way. But once immortality is an option, the stakes rise asymptotically upward. For when we take risks, we risk only a mortal lifespan; for an immortal, infinity is in the balance. It is plausible to suppose that there is nothing a person would not do to preserve an eternal life. (See this post for a quasi-theoretic analysis of the stake change.)

Thus, we can expect a massive amplification of eternal quest by the privilege to preserve their privilege. If they win, they will enjoy infinity. If they lose, infinity will be snatched from them. With stakes like that, it will be truly a battle royal.

However, now another thought strikes me:The current Immortals would have the same concerns and desires. They may already be at war with us.

– Stephen

[Portion of this thread continued in this post.]

Powerful quote!

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Whoah! What a powerful quote on one of the the subjects of this thread. From our reader “humanspybot:”

Forget the internal combustion engine: saving babies was the greatest act of war on the planet ever committed!!

What a brilliant and horrible way to say it! Now I suppose ending aging may be even worse. And what Stephen got out of my idea is even more staggering. Battle Royal! Holy sh-it. — Flyss

[thread continues here, with an interesting note here.]

FYI: Humanspybot is the one who figured out the meaning of the mirrored room.
Brilliant guy or gal that one is.

Life expectancy is way up. But that doesn’t mean we’re living longer!

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Stephen asked me to look up some data relevant to our recent discussion and report it here. (He’s still on the run, and his Internet access is limited.)

He wants me to point out a common misconception about advances in life expectancy. What he said surprised me. I had the same misconception as everyone else. I thought since life expectancy has gone up, it must mean that we’re all living longer. But it turns out that it isn’t true. Even though life expectancy has gone up dramatically, people aren’t living very much longer at all nowadays than they were a century ago.

I know that sounds like a paradox. But Stephen turned out to be right. He pretty much had the numbers in his head, but I looked up some published statistics so I could report facts rather than information from his encyclopedic brain. I’m using data from the US to create this report. World data is even more dramatic, but it’s harder to pin down.

First, look at life expectancy at birth:

  • 1890:  42 expected years at birth
  • 1990: 72 expected years at birth

This is an amazing increase of 30 years of life per individual! But does in mean we’re living longer? Actually, no. Look at life expectancy at age 60.

  • 1890: 14.7 expected years at age 60
  • 1990: 18.7 expected years at age 60

This is an increase of only 3 life years per person! In other words, though fewer people made it to 60 in the past, once they did they lived basically as long as we do today.

I had no idea. — Strattera

A major difference

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

I do want to clarify: though I love that quotation too, I don’t seriously think anyone is guilty for causing the world’s population explosion by reducing infant mortality. *

However, no one intended to heat the earth either, and yet it is happening. And there is one major difference to keep in mind: We are setting out deliberately to extend life span. Therefore, we have a responsibility to look at the consequences.– Stephen

*FYI, infant mortality was primarily impacted by increases in food supply. Sanitation was also important. Vaccinations were a distant third, and all the other efforts of doctors and public health officials have scarcely made any impact on world population levels at all. This, though, may begin to change, as “indefinite life extension” becomes a reality.

Nature is a seriously mean bitch who conspires against us all

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

I’ve been looking back on our trip to San Francisco. Not a total waste of time. Wee did find evidence that there was once a connection between the Immortal Illuminati and the San Francisco Veteran’s War Memorial, but that recently the immortals left. Which is all very interesting.

But not to the point. Because the Immortals didn’t conspire to kill Glenn! Like Kate said, it was nature who killed him. Nature is a seriously mean bitch who conspires against us all, damn her!

And so, yes, life extension might be bad. But I sure as heck want it anyway. — Flyss

Step 1 in the revolution

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Continuing from my last post.

Among the purely biological, non-supernatural approaches to attaining indefinite life extension, the best known and most worked out is that of Aubrey de Grey. The name of his approach captures its flavor: Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS)

These are “strategies,” or lines of research, not guaranteed methods. The technique involved engineering, that least idealized of all branches of science. The aim is not immortality but greatly reduced aging.

One can take issue with certain of these strategies, and I intend to. But, broadly speaking, this is clearly the approach most likely to succeed.  It will be incremental, not sudden, and come in pieces not as a whole. As a thought experiment, imagine this scenario:

(1) It becomes possible via stem cells, to maintain the elastin in skin, thus eliminating the laxity that leads to wrinkles.  This is combined with methods for reversing sun damage leading to eternally youthful appearance.

(2) Similar methods (stem cells to restore joint fluid and cartilage) are used to reverse osteoarthritis, eliminating the joint pain that cripples so many and irritates most. Bone thinning is also stopped. (This is possible with currently available medications.)

(3) Age related mental decline is stopped by preventing the mini-strokes that lead to the most common cause of memory and cognitive deficits in seniors; Alzheimer’s disease is successfully overcome via an approach yet to be determined.

(4) Vision loss is entirely stopped through a combination of biological and technological fixes; hearing loss is reversed via cochlear implants (possible today, though expensive)

These together would lead to seniors who look young, have no joint pain, maintain full mental function, and can see and hear clearly. All of these are within reach. This is most likely the first step in the revolution.

Note that these “cosmetic changes” will have life extension consequences, as much of aging involves the sequellae of mental confusion, loss of hearing and vision, and difficulty in maintaining physical activity. But, in general, this is an anti-aging strategy, not a life extension one. For that, we need to consider some more dramatic methods. (Continued in my next post) — Stephen

Engineering the body

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Continued from my last post.

I had mentioned Aubrey de Grey’s Strategies for Delayed Senescence, or SENS. These consist of a set of seven research approaches, about which the SENS foundation says the following:

It is important to understand that these seven ‘planks’ are a description of SENS, rather than a definition, and could, in theory, change or grow as we progress in our research efforts and deepen our understanding of the challenges which face us, and their solutions.”

I would prefer to address SENS on these terms. However, one must deal with the fact that within the SENS foundation there is a strong tendency to fall into habits of guru worship and doctrinal certainty.  This is a natural human temptation, but it is unfortunate as it weakens a very strong underlying argument.

Keeping this in mind, the seven planks of SENS may be summarized and critiqued in very simplified form as follows:

(1) OncoSens: To delay death, cancer must be prevented. This is probably the most difficult aspect of the program. The specific techniques of interest to the SENSF may or may not be the most fruitful for dealing with cancer. Ultimately, this set of diseases involved mistakes in the copying of information when cells divide, and, as such, is a hard problem to solve from scratch.  The body itself uses a variety of ad hoc methods to address the problem; we may need to augment them.

(2) MitoSens: This component of SENS is truly staggering and original. The mitochondria are, in a sense, cells within our cells, the remnants of ancient more primeval life forms that our own single-celled ancestors gobbled up and kept alive. (This is not controversial in mainstream science.) However, the DNA in the mitochondria is less protected from damage than the DNA in the cell nucleus. Since gradual decay of mitochondria may play a major role in aging, why not move mitochondrial DNA to the cell nucleus? This could be accomplished via therapeutic retroviruses, for example.

(3) LysoSens: This approach is based on the notion that many problems come from accumulated “junk: within cells. Some planks of this theory may be currently falling apart, but there is no doubt some truth to it. It may be possible to introduce external processes to remove this junk.

(4) AmyloSens: A similar problem occurs with accumulations outside cells, and similar critiques and solutions apply.

(5) RepleniSens: There is very little doubt that many aspects of aging are caused by loss of entire cell lines. Treatment for this is probably not far from the realm of currently known science, and could lead, among other things, to the benefits I described in this post.

(6) ApoptoSens: Certain cells are meant to die, to “apoptose.” When they do not, they may need help with their sepuku. There are numerous means proposed for accomplishing this.

(7) GlycoSens: Cells may become entangled with each other, leading to brittleness and other problems. This too is amenable to an engineering fix. (To be continued.) — Stephen

Conclusion: We can and will do this

Friday, July 9th, 2010

In my last post, I described the seven planks of Aubrey de Grey’s approach to achieving indefinite life span. I also suggested that many of the specifics in these approaches may be incorrect. It is very easy to be overconfident about what we know about the body; the entire history of medicine could be described as a narrative of such overconfidence. Thus, I do not necessarily believe that these seven planks are in fact precisely the way forward. What they are instead is a means of looking at the problem as solvable. Dr. de Grey is telling us is, “Don’t just explore. Aim at accomplishing!”

One might therefore compare him to Francis Bacon: In his Novum Organum, Bacon laid out the general direction that science would take for the next several centuries, and opened up the vistas in which it would succeed. He was writing in 1620, and got many details wrong. But his fundamental perspective was entirely right.

Thus, various specific components of SENS may include errors: e.g, telomere shortening, amyloid accumulation and mitochondrial free radical damage may all be red herrings. But the overall drive is undoubtedly correct: We can and will do this. — Stephen

Living in the real world instead of a fictional universe

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

This is something of an aside, but as there seems to be a lull now before Flyss and Stattera start their next project, I thought I might take the opportunity to get on my soapbox.

As you may know, I’ve been dialoging with members of the SENS foundation, the major science-based life extension organization dedicated to achieving indefinite lifespan, and I must say it has been a disappointing experience. Here on, we live in the real world, where people have emotions, desires and passions, can be selfish and erratic and may lash out under stress. People associated with the SENS foundation, in contrast, seems to live in an alternate fictional universe where everyone is rational and nice, and all problems can be solved without pain. (Or, at least, without pain to anyone other than inferior people.)

They remind me considerably of some engineering students I knew in college who pretty much thought the world would be made a perfect place if only everyone would behave more like engineers. Not that these engineers behaved any better or more rationally than anyone else.  They were fully as arrogant, self-centered and inclined to getting drunk as my fellow mathematicians, or my friends in the English department for that matter. It was just that they truly believed that they were rational beings, and that everyone in the world ought to be too.

That seems to be the SENS foundation in a nutshell. (continued in my next post.) — Stephen

On Aubrey de Grey

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

In my last post, I continued my discussion of the SENSF (the leading scientific force for physical immortality), in particular my disappointment with the level of discourse present in their community. In that post, I mentioned that Aubrey de Grey, the moving force of SENS, is somewhat different.

But his difference may be as much of a problem as it is a benefit. It is this subject that I will begin to discuss here.

Aubrey de Grey is clearly a genius.  But he also plays the genius, and at least allows if not actively encourages guru-worship among his followers. Cults of person like these are inherently problematic.  One adverse consequence is that his ideas, such as the seven elements of SENS, are taken as doctrinal truths. While such fixation on the words of the master is de rigueur for religions and cults, it is only an obstacle to scientific progress.

It also typically damages the master a swell, swelling his ego and making him think of himself as universal rather than a particular genius.  Something of the kind seems to have happened to Aubrey de Grey, for has he turned to pronouncing on subjects where he is not only markedly less than a genius, he is little more than a talker.

For example: I have recently been thinking about one particular consequence of life extension, that it will inevitably lead to the end of children (or, at least, their conversion to rarities in a world of immortal adults.) To me, this has huge emotional consequences for humanity. (I hope to explore these consequences in a piece of fiction.) When I mentioned this subject on the SENSF site, I received such edifying responses as, “Nonsense, the world can support a hundred billion people easily, but anyway we’ll go to other planets or dimensions,” or, conversely, “Countries that still have children will just starve, and it will serve them right.”

As it happens, when it comes to this subject de Grey operates at a somewhat  higher level than his community. In this published article, he bluntly admits the premise. I quote:

The choice that humanity will face once aging has become optional is, therefore, every bit as stark as those who raise overpopulation as an objection to curing aging claim it is. We will have to choose between a high death rate or a low birth rate – it’s as simple as that.

This is bracingly forthcoming!

However, from there, his argument takes a downward turn, culminating in a conclusion that, while grand in tone, is pure sophistry in content. (continued in my next post) — Stephen

Aubrey de Grey, continued

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

As I mentioned in my last post, Aubrey de Grey, the public face of physical immortality, seems to be succumbing to the guru worship that he has allowed to grow up around him.  Among the symptoms of this descent is a tendency to believe himself a universal genius, fit to pronounce not only on mitochondria but on moral philosophy. I have some doubts about his mitochondrial opinions, but of his moral philosophy I am certain: it is nonsense.

In my previous post, I introduced de Grey’s essay on one of the consequences of life extension: the inevitable need to reduce birth rate to near zero. The title of this essay is, “Aging, Childlessness or Overpopulation: the Future’s Right to Choose.” In its conclusion, de Grey deploys what might seem to be a  virtuosic thrust. Invoking the cherished principle of autonomy, he upends the subject under discussion by claiming that we have an ethical duty not to consider these consequences of our present choices. I quote:

But is it better to have a hard choice to make, or to have it made for one? … Future humanity has just as much right to make its own choices as we do. Just as parents have a duty to give their children guidance in childhood but freedom thereafter, so we have a clear, indisputable duty to give future humanity the opportunity to choose. And the sooner we cure aging, the more people will have that opportunity. That opportunity, that choice, is their right; conversely, it is our duty to give them it.

These ringing words are purest sophistry, presenting as they do an argument brilliant on its face and nonsensical at its core. Among the many logical objections to this shimmering conclusion, I shall state just this one: Using the same reasoning, one can conclude that we have a duty to encourage birth rate to rise, since that too will give more people the opportunity to make all kinds of choices.

The reader, I am sure, can think of innumerable other ways to dissect the paragraph quoted above.  However, I would like to add another critique beyond that of its sophistry.

In making his argument, de Grey betrays a fundamental lack of comprehension of human nature. For, of course, people as a whole will not simply decide not to have children, or at least they won’t so decide quickly. For, humans are not purely rational. Rather the opposite: We are driven by passion and instincts far more than by reason. And once all those children are here by the billions, we can’t just say, “whoops, made a mistake. Let’s take them back.” — Stephen

P.S. I want to reiterate: I believe that life extension is coming. I’m greatly in favor of it, too. But I believe in seeing the consequences with open eyes, rather than pretending them away.

[Thread continued by Kate here.]

Why we don’t just get along

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Stephen asked me to write a brief post explaining why my guys don’t get along with their guys (nor my gals with their gals, etc.), as it’s a subject in the background recently.

Basically, high minded as we try to be, Hafeems and True Immortals bump each other on the chins.  Not one-on-one. It’s happened a lot that a young True Immortal gets mentored by a Hafeem. But once True Immortals get pretty old they usually find us irritating pretenders; and we don’t like them much either because they never get wrinkles or nose hairs.

Not to be so flip, I’m in favor of physical immortality for all, they’re not and hence the problem. I’m doing some things to to get there the SENS foundation never dreamed of, and the upshot is that  I’m racing toward a head on collision with the Trueimms (God, they’d hate to be -called that, but a reader suggested it and I approve) when they step athwart my plans. This fall or winter at the latest the showdown starts.

Now, about a delicate subject: The Eldest, (blessed She) has not taken sides. To use her own words, she chooses to “hold the powers equal and let chance decide.” The one power is my group, the other power is Antipollus and his True Immortal Illuminati (with Sollaya and the Blue&blacks and bunches of others.) Truth be told, Antipollus is a hell of a lot stronger than me. (Smarter too, richer, wiser, cleverer, more perceptive … but I’m twice as handsome.) If he stepped in with all his might I’d be boot polish.

But the Eldest (blessed She) is stronger than either of us, and she’s holding us apart. In the mean time, we’re getting closer and close, and the pressure is building, and if she decides to stop maintaining the peace we will snap-to at war, with the hounds of hell baying and sniffing each other’s butts, and the cats of hell massing into vast cat herds, and also lots of shouting. And killing, and guns and nasty comments so hurtful they can never be taken back. Or worse. — Oxadrenals

Immortality is all thirsts rolled into one

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Installment 5 of The Hanger-On, titled Under the Canopy is now up. We’re under the redwood canopy for the first (but undoubtedly not the last) time in these narratives.

Menniss says something early on in this narrative that I think captures the essence of the whole process: It doesn’t matter whether immortality is a good thing or not. The desire for it is ineradicable, greater than the thirst for water. It is the desire to live: the essence of all thirsts rolled into one. — Stephen

For new readers: The Hanger-On is Narrative 4 of the chronicles of the Immortality Project. These narratives detail the events leading up to the current conflict between the Hafeems behind the project (Oxadrenals foremost) and the Immortal Illuminati who wish to suppress it. Though the narratives currently detail events that occurred early in 2010, they will soon converge on the present.