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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Who wants to live forever?

At my Live at Wembley CD, Freddie Mercury asks the public, right before singing the music of our title above:

Also, I suppose we’re not... We're not bad for four aging queens, are we?

Freddie was to die five years later, by a HIV induced pneumonia.

There are far too many sci-fi books, not to mention more serious literature, reflecting upon what would be a future without death. We look intent on making sci-fi real, as our attempts to cheat death get ever more serious and profitable, as witnessed by those sprawling biotech companies near Bret's home.

De Grey, our bearded main character in this last linked article, looks to believe that the first person who will live to be 1,000 years old has already been born:

"Oh absolutely, yeah,” de Grey assures me. “It’s highly likely.”

Or rather, he does not, as the other people working with him assure us:

"I have to tell you Aubrey has two hats,” she says, smiling. “One he wears for the public when he’s raising funds. The other hat is when he talks to a scientist like me, where he doesn’t really believe that anyone will live to 1,000 years old. No.”

Actually, Aubrey had in past raised the eyebrows of significant researchers in the field, who once wrote an article acusing him of selling pseudoscience:

In 2006, the magazine MIT Technology Review published a paper called “Life Extension Pseudoscience and the SENS Plan.” The nine co-authors, all senior gerontologists, took stern issue with de Grey’s position.

But happily we learn they worked it out, for the greater good of science. Or better yet, for the greater good of funding for science:

More than a decade later, Tissenbaum now sees SENS in a more positive light. “Kudos to Aubrey,” she says diplomatically. “The more people talking about aging research, the better. I give him a lot of credit for bringing attention and money to the field. When we wrote that paper, it was just him and his ideas, no research, nothing. But now they are doing a lot of basic, fundamental research, like any other lab.”

It may be that Aubrey was getting skepticism from an older generation of researchers who saw his popular proeminence with a bit of envy.

Or it may be that, as evidenced by Aubrey's alledged two hats, science these days is a lot more about funding than it is about truth. Has Aubrey's lab turned more "like any other lab", or has any other lab turned more like Aubrey's?

That's a good question for that one-thousand year friend of ours to ponder, in his centuries of boredom.


Bret said...

The number of Ph.D's awarded in the U.S. has grown by more than a factor of 10 since 1950. The amount of funding available hasn't grown nearly as fast. As a result, every year, researchers have to scramble harder and harder to find funding.

While I've never been one who's wished to live forever or even beyond a currently typical human lifespan, many do seem to dream of just that, and what better way to market your lab and procure funding than to promise immortality, even if far-fetched? Except, of course, for claiming that the world is "doomed, Doomed! DOOOOOMED, I tell you" unless the lab and research is funded (much like the approach of at least some climate researchers).

Ultimately, just like everything else, the best salesmen get to call the shots, not the best scientists.

Clovis e Adri said...


Ultimately, just like everything else, the best salesmen get to call the shots, not the best scientists.

It was not always thus. There was a time when making wildly unfounded claims, even if for a general public, would imply losing your credibility, hence funding.

At some point, that got inverted.

The illusion of knowledge may be worse, and far more dangerous, than ignorance. Sometimes I fear we are headed to such world.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "At some point, that got inverted."

Maybe. In artificial intelligence and robotics, it's been the same BS for 50 years. So when was this inversion? Sometime around Galileo's era? :-)

erp said...

... to paraphrase Clovis, the best grant writers get the research funds, not the most brilliant thinkers. It's no surprise that the major innovations of the past 25-30 years came from ordinary people working either literally or figuratively from their parents' garages.

People now and in the future won't be bored if they think outside the box aka inside their own heads and not look to be directed, amused and entertained from the outside.

The illusion of knowledge or as I call it, deliberate mis-information taught in our public schools and fostered in the media is far worse than ignorance.

Bret, speaking of climate control. What do you think of Trump pulling out of the accords - I can't remember what this new round of psuedo-scariness is called? I predict a new ice age is just around the corner.

Bret said...

erp asks: "What do you think of Trump pulling out of the accords...?"

I haven't been following it very closely and I don't even know what the accords are.

After researching climate change and writing this many years ago and concluding that concerns about climate change should NOT be addressed by governments, I stopped following the whole climate change debate very closely. Indeed, as far as I'm aware, no new information has come to light that would cause me to revise what I wrote or change my position on climate change.

erp said...

You're smart to not have followed it as it's a farce and if, as I hope, Trump pulls out, it will collapse because as in so many things, the whole show is being financed almost entirely by you and me and the rest of the U.S. taxpayers.

Bret said...

Probably relevant is the “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” hoax.

Peter said...

It's quaint that you clever boffins think the story here is that one of the elect may have compromised his virtue for gold and glory. Say it ain't so, Joe. Of much greater fascination is how and why so many talented, successful people have been persuaded to invest millions in pursuing such a loopy idea, and how our old pal, modern scientism, has succeeded in framing the matter as a technical problem-solving challenge and driven the attendant existential conundrums off the podium.

“I find it frustrating that people are so fixated on the longevity side effects,” de Grey says, clearly irritated. “And they’re constantly thinking about how society would change in the context of everyone being 1,000 years old or whatever. The single thing that makes people’s lives most miserable is chronic disease, staying sick and being sick. And I’m about alleviating suffering.”

Exactly! What a drag people can be, worrying about silly stuff like how society would change. Don't they understand that this is exactly the same as regular car maintenance? What we are talking about is alleviating suffering, dammit, so don't divert the spotlight by throwing out all these practical problems like how will these multi-centenarians support themselves. That's easy, robots will do all the work and everybody will share everything. Next question?

Even worse are those bores who think there may be psychological, philosophical and spiritual implications to extending life more than tenfold. Who apart from depressives and the religious right would doubt everyone could be fulfilled spending nine hundred plus years travelling around (and around and around and around) the world, growing organic vegetables in the backyard and babysitting the great-great-great-great-great, etc. grandchildren ("Sorry dear, but I don't think we can keep doing overnights. We're not six hundred years old anymore.")? Besides, this is about freedom and choice--those who want to exit early can be accommodated. But there really aren't that many of them, as was proven by our study showing that 99% of those polled answered no to the question "Would you like to die tomorrow?"

I'm a great admirer of the American can-do spirit, but is there anyway we can keep it out of California?

Bret said...

Well, this ummm, "boffin"?, focuses on the "virtue for gold" trade because man striving for immortality simply isn't new news (where is that damned fountain of youth anyway?) nor do I think immortality's imminence is a near or medium term worry. My guess is that if they can't cure balding where the hair follicles are perfectly alive and healthy and just need the tiniest of genetic nudges to do the hair growing thing once again, they won't be able to cure (most) cancer. And if they can't cure cancer, we won't be living for 1,000 years or anything like that.

And I've lived a life at the boundaries of where supposedly virtuous scientists traded away said virtue for a bit of wealth and/or a bit of fame, so that topic is just nearer and dearer to my heart.

But I don't disagree with Peter's assessment. I think civilization is already in a perilous state and if de Grey were to succeed it could easily be disastrous. Idle hands are the devil's workshop and all that, and if my hands were idle for much of a millennium, they might easily work up a planetload of deadly mischief and there are folks who are both far more evil an intelligent than I am. I just don't think there's much to worry about regarding virtual immortality at the current time.

Clovis e Adri said...


There are certainly too many interesting angles to that story.

I covered the supply side and left at it, since people tend to skip long posts. But I think the demand side is equally fascinating.

Dracula is not only about vampires, but also about the feudal system whereby a Count would suck the lives of the peasants as he wished.

Our modern Draculas are a bit more tanned and working under the auspices of Capitalism, as Peter Thiel's thirst for blood shows, where you no longer suck the peasants for free, but pays their fair market priced share for the tasty red commodity.

I also find it interesting how pursuing that 1000 years life tells much about you. I, for one, would hate to live long enough to see my children and grand-children die. And were I to let my rational side rein in unchecked, I am not sure I would still be here. But Mr. Thiel, I guess, can be happy enough all by himself, contemplating the world from his watchtower, while drinking his red juice. Do not ever ask him why.