Immortality Distracts

A recent NYT book review:

In his new book, “Long for This World,” Weiner makes similar use of another brilliant theoretical scientist, the English gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, a tireless proselytizer for radical life extension. … The inspiration for de Grey’s scientific quest for immortality came in a flash one sleepless night: “What these [aging] troubles all have in common is that they fill the aging body with junk. Maybe we can just clean up all the scree and rubble that gathers in our aging bodies.” The beauty of this view is that “curing” aging requires no special knowledge of design, or any understanding of just how the cellular junk got there in the first place. It only requires that we get rid of it. As de Grey sees it, there are seven types of cellular junk. … De Grey’s dream of conquering death may seem far-fetched and unreal, but Big Pharma is already at work on some of these ideas. …

As Weiner points out, there is a big problem with immortality. Traditionally, we have viewed our lives as unfolding in stages: … Immortality could wind up being a terrible stasis. “A huge part of the action and the drama in the seven ages comes from the sense of an ending, the knowledge that all these ages must have an end,” Weiner writes. We might live forever in a state of unending boredom. And the technology might benefit the wrong people: … Mao Zedong might still be alive.” … My patients were dying young and felt cheated out of their best years. They did not want immortality, just the chance to live the life span that their peers could expect. What de Grey and other immortalists seem to have lost sight of is that simply living a full life span is a laudable goal.

As with cryonics, a proposal to extend life substantially is greeted with bizarre concerns about living too long, or the wrong people living longer. Why not apply such complaints to ordinary medical gains?

A big part of the problem, I think, is that talk of “immortality” invokes an extremely far view. But finite increases in lifespan really have little to do with immortality. Immortality means you never die, ever. But forever is a really really long time! In fact, nothing you can imagine is remotely as long.

De Grey seems to be part of the problem here. Some times he say things like:

I have a lot of problems with the use of the word immortality to describe what I do because it’s taken by religion. Immortality means inability to die; it means inability to actually be killed by anything, and I don’t work on that. I work on stopping people from getting sick. I do not work on stopping people from being hit by trucks.

But if you search for his name and “immortality” you will find he is associated with that word quite often, including in the title of many interviews of him.  He’s even listed as an advisor to the Immortality Institute. And you’ll find things like:

De Grey says he is talking about the “indefinite extension of longevity.” “Average life spans would be in the region of 1,000 years,” he says. “Seriously.” … So humans will be just as spry at 500 as we were at 25? “If you have difficultly imaging this, think about the situation with houses. With moderate maintenance they stay up, they stay intact, inhabitable more or less forever. It’s just that we have to do a bit of maintenance to keep them going. And it’s going to be the same with us,” says de Grey. …

“The first generation [of new med tech] will give us maybe 30 extra years of healthy lifespan,” says de Grey. “So, beneficiaries of those first therapies will still be around to benefit from improved therapies that will give them another 30 or 50 years and so on. So this is basically staying one step ahead of the problem.” … De Grey acknowledges that immortality will not be cheap. “We are talking about serious expenditure here.”

Are houses immortal? Very few (no?) thousand year old houses still function, and maintenance costs probably makes them cost more overall than just building a new house. Old houses are even more expensive if you want to retrofit them with modern conveniences, such as lights or air conditioning, or if you consider the opportunity cost of the land on which they sit. And even if, with sufficient expenditure, houses could last a thousand years, that should be little comfort to those who can’t possibly afford such expense. Furthermore, lasting a thousand years is nothing like being immortal!

A thousand year lifespan would be fantastic, relative to our lifespan. I want it! But it is nothing like immortality. It would have clear stages, and a very real end to anticipate. Anyone with a halfway decent imagination couldn’t remotely run out of new interesting things to do, places to visit, people to see, etc. Yes they’d have time for twenty times as many careers, hobbies, marriages, and vacations as we do now, but it should only take a moment’s reflection to realize you there are far more than twenty times as many things to do than we manage in our lives. For example, any decent library holds twenty times more books than you’ve ever read.

Yes it may be logically possible to live forever, and yes you can’t do that if you die now, so not dying now keeps open that logical possibility. But I expect each new scale of lifespan to offer new novel, difficult, and expensive obstacles to living that long.  If you agree, you should seriously doubt your ability to keep beating such odds forever.

Yes, keep trying to live if you love life, and rage, rage against the dying of the light. Do better; live longer. But why confuse everyone by talking as if you expect to achieve the literally infinite success of “immortality”? It is fine to say “let’s extend lives as much as we can.” But must you really talk as if nothing less than infinite success will do?  Can’t you see that makes you sound rather crazy?

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,
Trackback URL:
  • Neal W.

    The probability is low, but that won’t stop me from escaping the heat death by traveling to another universe that has yet to reach maximum entropy.

  • candy

    Even if we really do get bored living extremely long lives, it’s still a tragedy that all of our knowledge and experience is erased once we’re gone. I want to at least live long enough that my memory can be stored in a useful format, or perhaps even broken into component beings who can access my knowledge and skills.

  • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

    You quoted a journalist using the word immortality, then blamed Aubrey for saying it.

    • Jess Riedel

      Robin Hanson surprised me here too. Blaming someone for search results is equally silly. (Googling “immortality Aubrey de Grey” get ~15k results, but “life extension Aubrey de Grey” gets ~237k results. And “immortality” is a much sexier word.) Do we expect him to refuse interviews unless the editor agrees to not put “immortality” in the title? Or to not associate with institutions with overly romantic names?

  • Matthew

    guilty by association.

  • Curt Adams

    Part of the problem is how far out even indefinite lifespan is, never mind immortality. For indefinite lifespan, you have to cure cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and damage to non-repairing tissues like ligaments, among many other problems. Proponents of immortality research don’t have very plausible solutions to these smaller (but still extremely tough) sub-issues so the general public unsurprisingly ignores them.

    • Fructose

      Cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s are caused by De Grey’s seven causes of senescence. (At least De Grey thinks they are.)

      Cancer is caused by accumulation of mutations, and would be addressed by what De Grey called OncoSENS and MitoSENS. Heart Disease would be addressed by “RepleniSENS”. Alzheimer’s would be addressed by “AmyloSENS” (getting rid of extracellular junk).

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        The approaches that Aubrey de Grey advocates in SENS are hopelessly naive. Each and every one of the symptoms that de Grey attributes aging to are symptoms of insufficient ATP. Everything takes ATP, clearing out the trash takes ATP. If you don’t have enough ATP, taking out the trash is pretty low on the list of things to do. If you don’t take it out, it accumulates. The accumulation is not the cause, it is the symptom of not enough ATP.

        Senescence is not a bug, it is a feature. The key to physiology is resource allocation. Everything depends on that. There are ~5 critical physiological functions that an organism must do, and these are arranged in a priority hierarchy. If we neglect growth and reproduction, then the three most important pathways are survival (i.e. operation of life-critical systems), then repair of damaged life-critical systems, then repair of repair systems.

        Repair of repair systems always has lower priority than use of those repair systems to repair life-critical systems, which always has lower priority than operating life-critical systems.

        The most important resource in physiology is ATP. Cells use ATP for virtually everything. What do cells do when there is not enough ATP? They can either make more or use less. The first pathways to be turned off are those pathways with the longest time constant for bad stuff to happen without them; the first pathways to be turned off are repair of repair pathways. When you need to run from a bear, physiology will turn off repair to give you more molecules of ATP so you can escape. Physiology will let you run yourself to death to try and escape from a bear. It isn’t that running yourself to death is advantageous, but a physiology that can support running itself to death can escape from more bears than one which cannot. This is why all organisms exhibit senescence.

        This is how physiology is configured. This is how it evolved. This is why each and every organism exhibits senescence. It is a feature inextricably linked to allocation of ATP between pathways. These pathways are from deep, deep evolutionary time. ATP was probably the first physiological parameter that was regulated. The hierarchical allocation of ATP is built into those pathways which are all coupled together and are all non-linear, hundreds of thousands of them. You can’t sprinkle something on them to change them.

        I think effective immortality (indefinite lifespan) is possible, but it will require designing organisms “from scratch”. From the most fundamental ATP-protein interactions that regulate the intimate details of physiology. We are no where near being able to do that and won’t for a very long time (I think centuries).

      • Mitchell Porter

        “the first pathways to be turned off are repair of repair pathways”

        Is that a fact or just a guess?

        Anyway, even if your picture is correct – it’s a *logical* picture, but reality can be tricky – it says nothing about the practicality or desirability of de Grey’s strategy. SENS is supposed to reverse ageing in existing human beings, not alter them so it won’t happen again.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        In my experience reality is always logical; but that logic may be quite complex and may not follow the path our intuition wants it to follow, is usually only obvious with hindsight and sometimes not even then unless we modify our intuition to conform to reality (something most people don’t do).

        SENS will only work if there is no relative allocation of resources according to a hierarchy of needs. We know that there is such an allocation; during ischemic preconditioning, physiology temporarily changes to reduce ATP consumption. We know the ischemic preconditioned state can only be temporary, otherwise organisms would permanently reduce ATP consumption so as to divert more ATP into reproduction. They have not done that over evolutionary time; the ischemic preconditioned state can only be temporary.

        Bruce Ames has a similar idea of senescence, that of “nutrient triage”. I think he is correct as far as he goes; the equivalent of ATP triage is something I think is even more important. His work does suggest that repair of repair pathways does have the lowest priority. The priority allocation doesn’t have to be absolutely precise. If even a single repair of repair pathway has a lower priority, then at some level of metabolic stress it will degrade, and that degradation will be cumulative and irreversible.

        Reversing senescence has a much higher degree of difficulty than stopping senescence because some steps in senescence are irreversible (i.e. loss of DNA fidelity) without massive and individualized (individualized on a per cell basis) restoration of that lost DNA. I am not saying it is logically impossible, just that it has a very high (and as yet unknown) degree of difficulty. Those who say it is easy without saying how to do it are (in my opinion) selling vapor ware.

      • Luke

        @dadelus2u You almost make it sound like all we need are ATP injections to live forever. :P

        (*Joking about the forever part, of course.)

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        Luke, in a sense that is correct; a reasonable definition of “life” is when a cell stops being able to maintain its ATP level.

        In eukaryotes that always ends in cell death, either via necrosis if the ATP stoppage is abrupt, or by apoptosis if the ATP decline is more gradual.

        Of course you have to “inject” the right amount of ATP into each cell independently, and at the right time and in the right sub-cellular location and you have to take away the ADP and P too. Perhaps with Mr. Scott’s transporter you could do it, not sure anything else would work.

      • Luke

        I’m not quite sure I understand why the contents of the senescent cell can’t be replaced with those of a healthy young one. Or even the cell itself replaced. Don’t stem cells naturally replace senescent cells? I understand that addressing the fine detail of the ATP mechanism breakdown is impossible within a century of easily envisioned advances, but why not just replace the mechanisms if they are such a complicated mess?

      • Belisarius

        For demonstrative purposes, I have replaced every instance of the initialism ‘ATP’ with the word ‘water’ in daedalus2u’s opening comment. Observe that none of the truth-values of any of the sentences are altered by this substitution.

        “The approaches that Aubrey de Grey advocates in SENS are hopelessly naive. Each and every one of the symptoms that de Grey attributes aging to are symptoms of insufficient water. Everything takes water, clearing out the trash takes water. If you don’t have enough water, taking out the trash is pretty low on the list of things to do. If you don’t take it out, it accumulates. The accumulation is not the cause, it is the symptom of not enough water.
        Senescence is not a bug, it is a feature. The key to physiology is resource allocation. Everything depends on that. There are ~5 critical physiological functions that an organism must do, and these are arranged in a priority hierarchy. If we neglect growth and reproduction, then the three most important pathways are survival (i.e. operation of life-critical systems), then repair of damaged life-critical systems, then repair of repair systems.
        Repair of repair systems always has lower priority than use of those repair systems to repair life-critical systems, which always has lower priority than operating life-critical systems.
        The most important resource in physiology is water. Cells use water for virtually everything. What do cells do when there is not enough water? They can either make more or use less. The first pathways to be turned off are those pathways with the longest time constant for bad stuff to happen without them; the first pathways to be turned off are repair of repair pathways. When you need to run from a bear, physiology will turn off repair to give you more molecules of water so you can escape. Physiology will let you run yourself to death to try and escape from a bear. It isn’t that running yourself to death is advantageous, but a physiology that can support running itself to death can escape from more bears than one which cannot. This is why all organisms exhibit senescence.
        This is how physiology is configured. This is how it evolved. This is why each and every organism exhibits senescence. It is a feature inextricably linked to allocation of water between pathways. These pathways are from deep, deep evolutionary time. Water was probably the first physiological parameter that was regulated. The hierarchical allocation of water is built into those pathways which are all coupled together and are all non-linear, hundreds of thousands of them. You can’t sprinkle something on them to change them.
        I think effective immortality (indefinite lifespan) is possible, but it will require designing organisms “from scratch”. From the most fundamental water-protein interactions that regulate the intimate details of physiology. We are no where near being able to do that and won’t for a very long time (I think centuries).”

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        Luke, if you had Mr. Scott’s transporter, then perhaps you could replace the insides of those senescent cells with fresh and new non-senescent insides. Without Mr. Scott’s transporter technology, how do you propose to do it? How do you maintain the regulation of cells with each other in a common tissue compartment while you are swapping out their insides?

        When you want to upgrade your computer, why do you replace the whole thing? Why not just replace the processor? Why not just replace the memory? Why not just replace the case? The reason is, all of the components work together. They have to work “in sync” or they won’t work at all. Physiology is many orders of magnitude more complicated than any computer. You can’t just replace components and expect them to work together in sync.

        No Belisarius, replacing [ATP] with [water] does not result in true statements. Changes in allocation of water are not necessary to run from a bear.

        All muscle activity requires ATP. Heart muscle has the capacity to increase its ATP production rate by more than an order of magnitude. Muscle can run itself to death; that is you can volitionally operate muscle until it dies from lack of ATP. You can do that, but it hurts like hell until the endorphins kick in, or until the nerves stop transmitting pain. That is what physiology allows you to do when you are running from a bear because escaping with a damaged muscle that has dead spots in it is infinitely better than being caught.

        That is what your heart does if you have an ischemic infarct. The blockage causes ATP depletion because the supply of substrates to make ATP (O2 and glucose) has been interrupted. Your heart continues to beat, even as it runs itself to death through ATP depletion trying to maintain blood circulation to the brain. Why? Because a living brain and a heart with dead spots is infinitely better than a dead brain and a heart without dead spots.

        Keeping you alive is what your physiology evolved to do. Maybe you could over-ride the control paradigms that physiology uses (if we knew what all of them were, but we don’t), so then you could put your heart in hibernate mode when it doesn’t have enough ATP. That would greatly improve the survival of your heart in the event of an ischemic infarct. Your heart could probably survive an hour or more of ischemia if it wasn’t beating. Your brain? Not so much.

      • Luke

        What I had in mind was destroying any irreversibly senescent bits, supplying the raw materials needed, and letting the cell recreate itself from the DNA. It’s not like cells aren’t constantly doing this anyway. They must have some ATP otherwise they’d be dead. You could destroy (or disable) all the non-repair-oriented machinery to give the cell enough energy to spare for rejuvenation.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        Luke, cells are doing that all the time. If you want to do something counter to the normal control system, you have to over-ride the normal control system, or it will seek to counter what you are trying to do.

        For example this is the problem with trying to use supplemental antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress. It doesn’t work long term. A state of oxidative stress is a powerful control parameter. Cells use that to change their physiology into a different metabolic state so to accomplish different things. Stress is a state of oxidative stress because a state of oxidative stress triggers compensatory pathways to deal with the stress. When there is insufficient ATP, cells trigger oxidative stress to increase ATP production rates and to turn off non-essential ATP consuming pathways. This is what happens during ischemic preconditioning. Oxidative stress triggers ischemic preconditioning largely by lowering the basal NO level (what I am doing research is on). An important pathway is disinhibitiion of cytochrome c oxidase to maximize reduction of O2, to maximize aerobic ATP production (something you will probably need if you are under stress). NO inhibits the binding of O2 to cytochrome c oxidase, to increase O2 reduction, that NO must be removed. That is what the superoxide that mitochondria produce does, that superoxide is a necessary control parameter to regulate mitochondria O2 reduction.

        Every large, long term, placebo controlled double blind study of supplemental antioxidants has shown no benefit. Most show slight detriment effects of supplemental antioxidants. I think that is because the supplemental antioxidants are in excess of what physiology needs to regulate the state of oxidative stress it is trying to achieve. Physiology has unlimited capacity to generate superoxide and so destroy excess antioxidants. Free radicals are extremely important signaling molecules which physiology uses for many life-critical signaling pathways. Using free radicals as signaling molecules requires the proper background of antioxidants. Increasing the background may not be compatible with what physiology is trying to do. I think the observed slight decrement in health associated with supplemental antioxidants is from physiology generating more free radicals to destroy the excess antioxidants.

        I think a major control parameter of the balance between turning on repair and turning off repair to save ATP is the state of oxidative stress. High oxidative stress is necessarily a low NO state, and many of the effects of oxidative stress are mediated by low NO. High NO raises ATP levels and (I think) upregulates repair pathways. I think that is why NO levels are higher during sleep, to periodically upregulate repair during times of low ATP demand by other pathways. Essentially all the disorders that are made worse by stress are also characterized by insomnia, and are also disorders of degeneration. I think they all have a final common pathway of low basal NO.

    • LivaN

      For indefinite lifespan, you have to cure cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and damage to non-repairing tissues like ligaments, among many other problems.

      I believe Aubrey de Grey has provided a likely cure for cancer as part of snes.

      Heart disease should not be a problem (Scientists discover new method for regenerating heart muscle by direct reprogramming A strategy to fix a broken heart Also search for “total artificial heart”)

      Damage to non-reparing tissue is a mute point if they are able to repair a heart (it’s super non-reparing itself). About here I’ll also throw in stemcell research wich can be used to repair “non-repairing tissues”.

  • Abelard Lindsey

    This is the reason why I dislike using the word “immortality”. I prefer to use “post-mortality” to describe what we want to become. Being postmortal means that you do not grow old, but that you can still die in a plane crash or even infectious disease.

    • http://timtyler.org/ Tim Tyler

      If you don’t age, you are still “mortal”. Being “post-mortal” means that you are dead.

      • Abelard Lindsey

        OK, then whatever word that describes where you do not age, but can still die due to accidents or infectious agents and what not. Possible terms include: ageless, emmortal, agefree.

      • Abelard Lindsey

        I have the word for it: amortal. What we want to become is amortal.

  • Abelard Lindsey

    I don’t believe in the concept of life stages. I believe in complete functionality and openness. The number on my birth certificate should have no relevance, whatsoever, with either my choice of activities for the day or my long term dreams and goals.

    • mjgeddes

      Agreed, the number of our birth certificate should have no relevance, unfortunately it does. Research on the okcupid dating site charts degree of interest with age. Interest in woman peaks at 21 then declines sharpely thereafter, interest in men declines more slowly, but still peaks around 30 and declines sharply thereafter. There is no actual objective reason for this, since the decline in objective looks and status is actually far slower. (For instance research shows someone at 35 often doesn’t look that much different than they did at 25). It’s pure agism.

      http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/the-case-for-an-older-woman/

      I’ve taken to declaring my age to be 27, and by staying shape, diet, products etc. I believe I can maintain the outward appearance of a 27 year old for a long long time. From now on I am eternally 27 ;)

      • Joe Unlie

        This is flawed in two ways, however. OKCupid, as a dating site, is heavily driven by appearances, and to a lesser extent, writing ability. The two factors that make men the most attractive to women, in my experience- confidence and income- are not a factor on OKCupid, as openly advertising your income is frowned upon in American society, and confidence can’t really be determined from a written profile. Yet both of these factors are generally higher in men over 30. Many men I know didn’t find that women were very attracted to them until they were around 35+, established in their careers and making significant amounts of money.

        likewise, in some cultures, older men are considered more attractive than younger ones, not only for financial reasons, but due to cultural perceptions and beliefs. This is especially true in Asia, where younger women frequently date and marry significantly older men who are not necessarily “rich”.

  • mjgeddes

    I agree new challenges would likely appear with each new advance and major extension in lifespan.

    But the sum of infinite series can be convergent
    (have a finite limit). If the probability of death can be continuously reduced over time fast enough, the infinite series need never exceed a finite limit. Mathematically, it is possible for the probability of death to never exceed this limit even for infinite time.

    Whether immortality is truly possible depends on whether information processing in the universe can continue forever. That depends on the nature of dark matter and dark energy, for which there is as yet no causal explanation. So the question is still open.

    It’s far too late to worry about sounding ‘crazy’ now, everyone thinks transhumanists are all nuts anyway ;)

  • Robert Koslover

    Although aging and illness are the major causes of death, they are by no means the only causes. Collectively, accidents, suicides, homicides, attacks by animals, famine (whether natural or politically imposed), natural disasters, and war and its variants account for a great deal of death. Now, I haven’t done the math in detail, but perhaps someone here (ideally, an actuary) would be kind enough to work out some human lifetime projections, based on current statistics of the causes of death, when only all illnesses and aging are excluded. I’m guessing that the mean human lifetime of a human under such circumstances is roughly a few thousand years. That’s a huge improvement over our present lifespans, but hardly an eternity. Call me a pessimist, but I fear that extending human lifespans to much longer than that, may prove harder than solving the again problem. After all, aging is merely biology, chemistry, and physics, all of which are genuine sciences which may be advanced to cure aging. Many of the other causes of death are social/political. And those are much, much more difficult for humans to master!

    • Robert Koslover

      Clarification: “again problem” should have been “aging problem.”

  • Fructose

    I’m not convinced that “immortal” is a bad term to use for what folks like De Grey want. People frequently refer to Tolkien’s elves as “immortal” although they can be murdered, die in natural disasters, or “die of grief”. This is really just a hair-splitting semantic point.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    de Grey doesn’t seem so blameworthy. Houses seem like a sensible analogy for his more realistic approach, and its others who make broader inferences.

    Plus, a major reason why we don’t bother maintaining houses for thousands of years is that we have the option of moving to newer houses.You missed an opportunity to mention uploads!

  • Hyena

    Imagination nothing. I could spend a 1,000 years just playing video games if I wanted, not much imagination required.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Overcoming Bias : Immortality Distracts -- Topsy.com

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    I too flinch when I hear people talking about immortality. It seems to me most likely that the heat death of the Universe puts an absolutely unavoidable cap on how long we can live. Perhaps we need a new short phrase to refer to very long finite lifespans – teralongevity?

    • http://timtyler.org/ Tim Tyler

      “Absolutely unavoidable”? That doesn’t sound very Bayesian!

      • Adam

        Why not? He said “It seems to me most likely”, implying the “absolutely unavoidable” is a statement of qualified belief in a hard physical limit, not a statement of absolute confidence.

  • Aron

    Vampires are immortal. They die by sun or stake. Highlanders are immortal and they try not to lose their head about these things. Perhaps it is that variety of immortal we are talking about.

    Language has amorphous bounds particularly when facing concepts that are rather new and shadowy themselves. It is a common tactic to use a strict interpretation of a word like this when it demeans the speaker.

  • Randall Randall

    “But it is nothing like immortality.”

    Well, of course it is. It’s extremely like immortality for the first few hundred years, if 1000 were a limit rather than an average, in the same way that a 100 year lifespan is very like immortality for an 18-year-old. If the consequences of aging aren’t going to happen in the next few decades, they might as well be infinitely far off, for most people.

  • Luke

    Longevity is like immortality in that it is a way of living longer. It may even be an appropriate term given the fictional precedents of vampires and other killable finite beings termed “immortal”. However the point Robin makes is valid, which is that the criticism of immortality being used in this context has nothing whatsoever to do with that kind of nominal immortality. Talk of living literally forever, or even comparatively modest notions like surviving the heat death of the universe, are just that — talk. They have nothing to do with the goal of curing aging. Ending death is a notion that journalists have every right to ridicule at this point. Ending aging (and all other naturally occurring disease) is not.

  • James D. Miller

    ” Can’t you see that makes you sound rather crazy?”

    By this “sound rather crazy” logic shouldn’t supporters of cryonics not talk about preserving just the brain, or revival through being downloaded to a computer and instead just discuss how a frozen body could be fixed?

    • Luke

      Too much focus on specific scenarios is not helpful. Living forever is a specific scenario, and being downloaded is a specific scenario. Replacing it with another less plausible and more specific scenario isn’t the answer.

      General scenarios are more likely than specific ones… According to the laws of logic, “Linda is a bank teller” is more probable than “Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement.” But it doesn’t sound more probable — most people instinctively rate it as less probable.

      “I will live to be 1000 years old” is significantly more probable than “I will live forever”. “I will get a good cryonic stabilization” is more likely than “I will get a perfect cryonic stabilization and see how well it works in animal tests before I die.” “My brain will get a good cryonic stabilization” is more likely still.

  • Passingby

    If someone else pointed this out, sorry. My thought regarding ageless bodies (or even very slowly aging, relative to current bodies), but still human bodies that are as subject to injury-caused death is that it changes things in at least one pernicious way: would I still ski, climb, race or do any of the high-risk sports activities I love if instead of, say, 40-50 years of life I am risking another 400-500 years? 4,000-5,000? 40,000-50,000? Etc.

    To really enjoy some things in life, you must accept the risk of dying while pursuing those activities. Would you risk death, where the loss is so much greater?

    • Luke

      That’s a good question. However, having 4,000-5,000 more years to risk doesn’t seem like a disadvantage in that context; if it were a disadvantage you’d be motivated to risk it. If you were to argue that aging shouldn’t be cured on grounds that thousands of years are too big of an asset to risk, it just makes no sense. It is a self defeating argument.

      Another answer is that safety tech can advance such that these activities are less risky. Of course if you do that, you lose the real risk in trade for fake risk… But don’t we do that anyway when we don huge amounts of safety equipment?

      Perhaps in the long run people will seek an ideal balance, where the risk level is right at the point where it has a significant, but not particularly high impact on your lifespan. The catch is to maintain this balance you would have to do more risky things (i.e. less protected) less frequently. I suspect the trend would be to favor things that feel risky but aren’t.

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      Quoth Randall Randall:

      “in the same way that a 100 year lifespan is very like immortality for an 18-year-old”

      If the evidence of teenagers’ lifestyles is an indication, people with ageless bodies might be less risk-averse than the length of life risked would suggest.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      Things that feel enjoyable are not necessarily good for us in the long term (or even short term). Auto-erotic asphyxiation is practiced because it is enjoyable, even though it carries a high risk of death. Similarly self-injected drug users will use needles they know are likely infected with fatal diseases.

      My hypothesis is that the utility function of humans depends on their metabolic state, and that a state of near death metabolic stress induces a state of euphoria. I think this evolved so that organisms would be able to run themselves to death while escaping from a predator.

      Organisms can run themselves to death. To be caught by a predator is near certain death, any damage short of death is acceptable if it allows escape from a predator. To allow an organism to run itself to death, a state of euphoria must be induced by physiology. My hypothesis is that the euphoria of near death metabolic stress is the final common pathway of the euphoria of autoerotic asphyxiation, of stimulant drugs of abuse, the runner’s high, the euphoria of drowning, solvent huffing, and the near death experience of “going toward the light”.

      People running marathons do exhibit cardiac damage following the race. Overuse injury is not uncommon because people in a high aerobic metabolic output state are not always cognizant of the damage they are doing to their bodies. This state is necessary to escape from a predator. You can’t stop because you are tired, or because your muscles hurt when you are being chased by a bear. You can only stop after you have escaped, or when you are forced to stop because your muscles have necrosed, after you have depleted their ATP supply trying to escape.

      Extending life indefinitely will require changing the control paradigm of ATP allocation and the human utility function so that a near death metabolic state is not euphoric. When that is done, a risk of death won’t produce a thrill of euphoria.

      • Luke

        “Extending life indefinitely will require changing the control paradigm of ATP allocation and the human utility function so that a near death metabolic state is not euphoric. When that is done, a risk of death won’t produce a thrill of euphoria.”

        You seem to have skipped a few logical steps there… Repairing the body such that it is exactly like an 18 year old would mean restoring whatever it is that makes an 18 year old take risks (and makes them better able to escape risky situations).

        If I hear you right you’re saying the simplest life extension method is to reconfigure the ATP control mechanism somehow. I don’t know enough cellular biology to usefully critique that, but it sounds to me like one of many possible approaches you could take to curing aging. Even if you are right, it doesn’t seem like it would need to apply indefinitely — only until we figure out how to fix it so we are like 18 year olds again.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        Luke, one of the reasons that teenagers take risks is because the have the capacity to tolerate more damage because they are still young. If you want to live forever, you can’t tolerate any damage because all damage is (to some extent) cumulative.

        I think that transitions in NO levels are what modulate various life stages and program things like the utility function. When you are young and have a high NO level, you can afford to be reckless because you have a high capacity for repair. After that capacity is degraded, the level of ROS goes up, the NO level goes down, and the human utility function is skewed to a more risk-averse mind set.

        Fixing the damage is a lot higher degree of difficulty (by many orders of magnitude) than preventing the damage from happening in the first place. I think you can slow the rate of damage down a lot simply by increasing NO levels. This is what people are trying to do by taking antioxidants (even if they don’t realize it) because a high ROS state is necessarily a low NO state and it is low NO that triggers most of the degenerative pathways (not ROS). A high NO state is what you want and is not the same as a low ROS state (but a high NO state is always a low ROS state). Low ROS doesn’t give you the high NO signaling pathways you need to turn on repair and keep it at a high level. Once you start to get damage, that shows up as increased ROS which lowers NO levels.

  • Luke

    It seems to me that the central dilemma is that specific cases are perceived as less likely than general cases, even though general cases are inclusive and thus are more probable. So the general case “we will defeat aging as a cause of death” comes across as a less concrete (and therefore less likely), idea than “we will find a way to live forever”.

    It’s kind of obvious that being able to live forever is (by definition!) less probable than living to any finite period of time. But mental shortcuts make it easier to process than all those billions of other lifespan possibilities, and it has the advantage of being both specific and ideal. So the notion of eternal life gets promoted endlessly whereas the strictly more reasonable notion of generally ranged senescence-free lifespan doesn’t catch much press.

  • Linda Seebach

    Woody Allen said, “Eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end.”

  • jcm

    Thitonius

  • Ramblingirl

    I’ve been spending time by my 87 year old mother’s bedside. No one wants to live forever.

    • http://essentialmeat.blogspot.com/ Luke

      “No one wants to live forever.”

      No one can imagine living forever. 87 is not much older than 18 in terms of forever. As Robin has said, living literally forever is simply not the topic of conversation. Replace the term “forever” with a specific number like “1000 years” and it just doesn’t make sense. Who specifically doesn’t want to live 1000 years? Or a hundred for that matter?

      If you are going to argue that living longer while your body breaks down from aging is undesirable, please bear in mind that that is not what anyone has actually suggested. It’s not even plausible; the longer you spend in an elderly condition, the more likely you are to die. The only way to live longer is to restore a person’s youth.

      My condolences on your mother’s condition. It is not reversible with current technology, but if she is given cryonic stabilization I see no reason to doubt that she might one day be cured of her aging and other illnesses. The cellular damage of aging is not greater then the cellular damage of cryonic preservation. Immense progress needs to be made to reverse both kinds of damage, but that’s no reason to think it won’t happen ever.

    • Louis

      A typical post from someone who doesn’t understand what indefinite life extension means. Does your grandmother have the body of a 27 year old? I’m making the assumption here that she doesn’t want to live because she has the body of an 87 year old, hence your comment. If she did have the body of a 27 year old things might be different.

  • Calvin Dodge

    Immortality is long. Really long. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly long it is. I mean you may think it’s a long time until the next millennium, but that’s just peanuts to immortality!

  • http://imminst.org Eric Portal

    Theres an understandable misunderstanding going around. Those that support the movement for indefinite life extension that use the word immortality are generally either mispeaking, or they think that everybody else gets that they really mean biological immortality. In general though, it is true, it is best to avoid confusion by avoiding the word Immortality. I work at the Immortality Institute. The name was created back in the day when the cause was still brand spanking new and naive in many regards as it built itself. We are now in the process of creating a second name for the organization. “Immortality Institute” may remain for iconic reasons, it may catch on in the same way that we know that Amazon.com is not about a river, or it may phase out. All in all, in the end, nobody thinks we are going to become like the highlanders and the greek gods, we all work for indefinite life extension. Interesting article youve written here. I hope this clears some things up.

  • Dave

    Different animals have different lifespans. I think a rat lives 2 years. I have a dog 17 years old. He is old and will soon die. A human also has a certain lifespan. It looks like this is about 85 or 90. Illness can shorten lifespan aging is not prevented by eliminating disease . I don’t think anyone’s theories explain the different lifespans. Aging may be programed. Perhaps telomere length is part of it. Semi starvation can extend life some but is it worth it? From an evolutionary point of view , there just doesn’t seem to be any reason for 20 year old rats, 90 year old dogs or 500 year old humans. We are probably supposed to die and have mechanisms to assure this.

  • http://www.drjohnty.com Dr Johnty

    Jonathan Weiners book was a great read on the beach at Long Beach in California. It is a first class introduction to the subject and a stress free read. As far as aging itself there are various routes being pursued that will eventually achieve the goal of radical life extension. Personally I am very confident that the SENS project will come to fruition and that Aubrey de Grey is very much on the right track. The compelling piece of proof to support Aubrey’s theory is that our risk of dying doubles every 8 years although there is some argument as to whether this is every 7, 8 or 9 years, regardless lets call it 8 and take as an example the fact that your risk of death within a year at age 14 is 1 in 2000 but it increases exponentially so that at 22 it is double what it was at 14 and at 30 double what it was at 22. This doubling every eight years does not become a major problem until you reach early middle age because it starts off at such a low level but the rate of increase is exponential as opposed to linear so it accelerates rapidly with increasing age. What is abundantly clear is that the only likely cause for this increasing risk of mortality is the accumulation of junk in the body and the genetic damage to our DNA which builds up over time. Aubrey’s theory that if we intervened and removed some of the damage we would make a person biologically younger certainly makes sense. The vital thing is that If it were to turn out that the Aubrey de Grey theory was wrong (or partially wrong) or that we had overlooked something vital then great promise is still beckoning as he acknowledges himself via other breakthroughs in biotechnology and nanotechnology. I am confident that the biotec revolution will yield significant increases in lifespan regardless, the key factor is that Aubrey’s role is vital because he is the catalyst that is driving things forward and encouraging people in unrelated fields to work together. I cover quite a lot of areas regarding Aubrey de Grey and other people and organisations involved in combating aging on one of my websites at http://drjohnty.com/ In ending I have to say that the thing that never fails to amaze me is Aubrey’s focus and determination to succeed. Personally I feel that if anyone can pull scientists together from all these different areas of research and end up saving 100,000 lives per day it is Dr Aubrey de Grey. You can check out the latest information at http://www.sens.org/