September 23, 2007
Aubrey de Grey: Ending Aging - First Part Review

Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey and assistant Michael Rae have a new book out on how aging can be stopped and reversed entitled Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging In Our Lifetime. I'm only on page 18 but it is pretty good so far. I'm going to write a series of posts about it as I read through the book.

In chapter 2 Aubrey discusses why people accept aging as inevitable and for the most part resist hearing arguments for why aging is defeatable.

There is a very simple reason why so many people defend aging so strongly - a reason that is now invalid, but until quite recently was entirely reasonable. Until recently, no one has had any coherent idea how to defeat aging, so it has been effectively inevitable. And when one is faced with a fate that is as ghastly as aging and about which one can do absolutely nothing, either for oneself or even for others, it makes perfect psychological sense to put it out of one's mind - to make one's peace with it, you might say - rather than to spend one's miserably short life preoccupied by it. The fact that, in order to sustain this state of mind, one has to abandon all semblance of rationality on the subject - and, inevitably, to engage in embarrassingly unreasonable conversational tactics to shore up that irrationality - is a small price to pay.

Most of us do need peace of mind. But watching people decay from aging does not give me peace of mind. Just how much aging causes pain and suffering is not something that most people appreciate. Do you know people who have daily pain from osteoarthritis? I do. Since friends know I follow things medical and biological I get requests from friends to look up on the internet info about side effects of pain killers and the like. Start taking note of people around you who use pain killers. You might be surprised at what you tally up.

Then there are the various infirmities and disablements. Know men who can't go far between toilet stops? Women who wake in the middle of the night from hot flashes that last for years? How about decaying eyes that need more kinds of corrective glasses for more reasons? The list goes on. Walk through a store and you'll see lots of people with lots of infirmities. The older they look the more problems you should suspect they have.

Some people say that aging is a graceful process that has dignity. Ever helped a person or a dog die from cancer? I've done both. Nothing graceful about it. Not dignified about it. I hate to recall the images of what I saw.

Aubrey calls on us to wake up out of our "aging is inevitable" trance. I'm hearing a variation on John Lennon in my mind: "Imagine there's no aging, It's easy if you try".

I've told you that we've recently reached the point where we can engage in the rational design of therapies to defeat aging: most of the rest of this book is an account of my favored approach to that design. But in order to ensure that you can read that account with an open mind, I need to dispose beforehand of a particularly insidious aspect of the pro-aging trance: the fact that most people already know, in their heart of hearts, that there is a possibility that aging will eventually be defeated.

Why is this a problem? Indeed, at first sight you might think that it would make my job easier, since surely it means that the pro-aging trance is not particularly deep. Unfortunately, however, self-sustained delusions don't work like that. Just as it's rational to be irrational about the desirability of aging in order to make your peace with it, it's also rational to be irrational about the feasibility of defeating aging while the chance of defeating it any time soon remains low. If you think there's even a 1 percent chance of defeating aging within your lifetime (or within the lifetime of someone you love), that sliver of hope will prey on your mind and keep your pro-aging trance uncomfortably fragile, however hard you've worked to convince yourself that aging is actually not such a bad thing after all. If you're completely convinced that aging is immutable, by contrast, you can sleep more soundly.

Aubrey argues that the chance of defeating aging within our lifetimes is a lot higher than 1% and on that I agree. Scientists are making advances in development of the tools we'll need to defeat aging. Impressive results are getting reported on stem cell therapies, growth of replacement organs in labs, and other pieces of the puzzle. We are looking at a scale of time that is on the order of decades, not centuries.

Anyway, the book is a good read so far. I recommend it.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 September 23 09:05 AM  Aging Debate

David Govett said at September 23, 2007 10:20 PM:

Defeating aging will entail maintaining a vastly complex system of trillions of cells, rather like juggling thousands of balls at once. What we need is a complete biosystemic redesign. Homo sapiens 2.0.

bright said at September 24, 2007 12:59 PM:

actually, there's another reason to be against eternal life. that sounds weird doesn't it? how can anyone be against living forever? well, i hadn't thought about living forever much until i attended the singularity summit last year. at the end, the subject came up for i think, bill joy and kurzweil. and i was unnerved because the discussion started by observing that we'd have an overcrowding problem. and you'd definitely have to do something to limit birthrates if we're all living forever. and as small as that sounds, it scares me. that's true selfishness, when you cannot imagine sharing with younger generations. i think it is imminently possible, and i think it would drastically change everything about our behavior, if we no longer started out valuing a future because it wasn't ours. would that make us more responsible with resources? or more trusting in our own cleverness?

i don't take peace of mind watching people age. i see nothing beautiful or worth preserving about death. however, i'm also pretty sure the world would not benefit from an infinite amount of arlen specter. death serves at least the purpose, of freeing children from the assumptions of their stupid ass parents.

Iain said at October 1, 2007 5:01 AM:

No, there would be no population problem, IMO.
Birthrate would slow as the rate of aging slows.
Most people have kids between 16 and 45, because of the aging process.
This window would be infinitely wide, without aging.
People would have kids over longer intervals.

Matt@Occidentalism said at October 1, 2007 8:38 AM:

The end of aging would destroy our social system, and the elites would be denied their power. Even if such a thing were possible, I cannot see the technology being extended to people outside elite circles.

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