Aubrey de Grey - Do you want to live forever?
August 19, 2007 4:12 PM   Subscribe

Do You Want To Live Forever? [Google Video - Channel4 documentary] Aubrey de Grey is a genius, a weirdo and predicts the death of death. Don't miss his lectures and some interviews as well. Who is going to be the first immortal MeFite?
posted by homodigitalis (76 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
quonsar will be the first immortal mefite ... the secret of immortality is to keep a fish in your pants
posted by pyramid termite at 4:23 PM on August 19, 2007

Computer Oscar says "Naaiooouu."
posted by rob511 at 4:25 PM on August 19, 2007

Sorry, forgot his website:

SENS = Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence
posted by homodigitalis at 4:27 PM on August 19, 2007

You know who else was a genius and a weirdo?
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:30 PM on August 19, 2007


I'm in your Godwin, killin ur thread.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 4:34 PM on August 19, 2007

Who is going to be the first immortal MeFite?

How can you tell?
posted by Opposite George at 4:35 PM on August 19, 2007

Forever? He's found a way to prevent universal entropy? Nice job.
posted by parallax7d at 4:36 PM on August 19, 2007

parallax7d: That's just it. I don't think these people think this through, and that's just long term. What happens in 200 years when everything you know is almost ancient history?
posted by niles at 4:43 PM on August 19, 2007

Did either of you watch the video? It'd be better described as "working with universal entropy."
posted by basicchannel at 4:48 PM on August 19, 2007

I like the SENS overall categorization scheme. Although I'm not a biogerontogist, I was unable to come up with an eighth category for age-related disorders. However, it doesn't seem to have much in the way of a practical strategy - under those seven categories are scores, perhaps hundreds of problems. Aging is a death by a thousand cuts.

I don't see anything impossible about having a vastly extended lifespan, but for the life of me, I can't see how we'll get there, aside from waving my hands over and over, chanting "bioengineering, nanotechnology, bioengineering, nanotechnology!"

I suppose I'll find out how it all works when they unthaw my head and sew it into a fresh new body in five hundred years.
posted by adipocere at 4:55 PM on August 19, 2007

If I live forever, when will I be able to sleep?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:00 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Since every possible interaction always produces every possible outcome in some parallel universe, and all of us can, obviously, only exist in those universes in which we continue to exist, death is actually impossible.

We'll all just find ourselves, through an increasingly unlikely sequence of coincidences, always finding a way to survive, in some fashion or another. After all, consciousness is only a pattern, it can exist in any media.

Now whether anyone else survives in your universe, is an open question.
posted by empath at 5:04 PM on August 19, 2007

Who is going to be the first immortal MeFite?

Going to be!?

I see that the marketing arm of my mad evil supervillian empire has been utterly failing me. Again. Since when did marketing turn into a dread black voodoo science? Whatever happened to slapping up some simple posters to announce that you now owned their quaint little eastern European country outright, and that obedience was mandatory?

Anyway, doesn't matter. Like them - you're all doomed.

As a reward I've arranged for these half-witted hacks to be reunited with their families this Christmas. Which is fitting because I had them all kidnapped from Chiat/Day's no-offices last Christmas.

I do wonder, deeply, if they'll be able to manage with the fact I've mutated them all into abnormally large and ravenous Great White sharks. Who also happen to be ruthless IP and trademark lawyers.

I almost feel sorry for them. But they're marketers.


Huh? What!? Where the fuck!? Oh. Where was I? Ah, yes, immortality. Thanks, that reminds me.

I have an appointment with a bioreactor, a complete blood change and a pressurized oxygen atmosphere. Then I will have all my vital organs replaced with fresh, clean ones harvested from orphans, and then there's the fresh skin I'm having fitted. All baby bottoms. Terribly expensive, but so worth it.

What? I do this once a week, good fellow. Now get out of my way. There's nothing quite like that first double martini and a cigar through a brand new liver and lungs!

On preview:
Forever? He's found a way to prevent universal entropy? Nice job.


posted by loquacious at 5:05 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Here's another interesting scenario. Imagine that we find a way to end natural death, but only for people who haven't been born yet. Imagine the bitterness in THAT particular generation gap.
posted by empath at 5:06 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Who is going to be the first immortal MeFite?

posted by UbuRoivas at 5:08 PM on August 19, 2007

You can live forever once you get fame. But, fame costs, and this is where you start paying... in sweat.
posted by Eekacat at 5:12 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Forever? He's found a way to prevent universal entropy? Nice job.

(all of a sudden, loquacious has become Comic Book Guy in my head, which is unfortunate, because now I have to go & hide for a million years to try & avoid the wrath of his bombast)

posted by UbuRoivas at 5:14 PM on August 19, 2007

One of the biggest flaws in this whole discussion can be summed up by a segment in the video where the narrator asks Aubrey about overpopulation and Aubrey dismisses the question with a hand wave and a "we'll just pass a law..."

Talk about the grist of dystopian mills.
posted by basicchannel at 5:15 PM on August 19, 2007

the immortals living discreetly among us laugh at posts like this.
posted by bruce at 5:16 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

My girlfriend says she read somewhere that as of this year, anyone who's 40 years old or younger, just assume you're gonna live forever. Anyone over 40 years old, you might get your life extended but you won't live forever.

So she likes chiding me that I'm gonna outlive her and she's gonna die. She says this as if immortality is a curse and not a blessing. She'll be happy to be one of the last to die of old age like a real human being, while I'll find my brain encased in a jar or something a thousand years from now.

And I say well I just won't accept any of the medical crapola and die when I wanna die. She doesn't think we're gonna have a choice. By then the medical profession will make everyone live forever whether you wanna die or not. After all, the hypocratic oath is very specific. It's not quality of life that matters so much as just preserving human life, at any cost.

...does anyone have the phone number to Kevorkian's great grandson? Just in case.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:30 PM on August 19, 2007

"During those days men will seek death , but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them."

-Revelation 8:6

Hmm...ya never know.
posted by konolia at 5:36 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


Considering the future resource issues if, indeed, EVERYONE starts living forever, I suspect that no one will be ticked if some people decide to bow out early, so to speak. Still, that'd make a great dystopian novel, wouldn't it?
posted by Anduruna at 5:38 PM on August 19, 2007

basicchannel, I haven't watched it all yet but started thinking the same thing. But of course this won't be cheap or easy. The same inequalities that exist in health care and nutrition and economy won't go away when some people find a way to live for two three or a million times their 'natural' span. Personally, I wouldn't mind staying physically and mentally young and then dropping dead at 90. Regardless, the kind of maintenance he's going on about would cost a fortune. I'd rather find a way to run my mind on a non biological substrate in a simulated environment. More fun, too. Still, if this were available and affordable I'd sign up. I'm inclined to doubt him for his beard and the faith everyone except well funded research institutions seems to place in him but encouraged to trust him because he likes his beer. On the other hand, he'll put himself in cryogenic storage if he doesn't last long enough?
posted by Grod at 5:46 PM on August 19, 2007

All this means is that, statistically speaking, everybody will eventually die in some sort of horrifically painful, disfiguring, dismembering, disemboweling accident. Surely, they won't be able to put people back together after they've fallen victim to things like plane wrecks, suicide bombers or shark feeding frenzies?
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:49 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Still, that'd make a great dystopian novel, wouldn't it?"

Currently there are (approx) 6.73 billion people on the planet.

Some estimate say that number is increasing by three or four every second. This means there are more people being born every second currently than there are people dying.

However, I can't find on the Internet any place which actually says (or at least roughly estimates) just how many people are being born and how many are dying on average per second.

By dying, I'm saying by any means. From old age to a pipe bomb. From falling out of a rollercoaster to slipping on the soap in the tub. Plane crashes to domestic violence. This is a very deadly planet when you come to think of it, and members of the human race are constantly dreaming up new and more efficient ways of killing each other.

You'd think that population number would be going down, considering the circumstances. Must be a LOT of people out there gettin' jiggy wit it. I'm not one of them.

Let's say twenty humans are born per second, while only sixteen or seventeen people die. Every second. If people stopped dying a second from now, that three or four increase in global population would shoot up to twenty. Every second. That may not be noticieable immediately. You'd probably hear a report about it on the news the next day.

Let's say globally, two thousand babies are born in random places, and one thousand nine hundred and ninety-five people die, every second. If people stopped dying, that three or four increase in the global population would shoot up to two THOUSAND. That might be slightly more noticeable. Diaper companies wouldn't notice a change immediately, but forensic examiners, funeral directors, and the guys that do the footwork for newspaper obituaries would probably scratch their heads.

Has this planet EVER gone 72 hours without a single human soul biting the bullet? I don't think many would start freaking out until three days had passed, then you'd see'd humanity start to slowly lose its proverbial mind.

So I'd think it's mildly important to figure out just how many people die globally, so we can try to get this math right. Before we start writing that novel.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:11 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

The existence of this entire pitiful universe is only sustained by my conscience. You better hope I figure out a way to live forever, because if I die, you're all fucked.
posted by Krrrlson at 6:14 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

You only think the universe is sustained by your conscience Krrrlson, because I wanted you to think that.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:18 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

You'd like to think that, wouldn't you? You've beaten my giant, which means you're exceptionally strong, so you could've put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you've also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
posted by Krrrlson at 6:20 PM on August 19, 2007 [4 favorites]

Immortality is the last thing religion has over science. Once science can produce that, religion no longer matters. The Jesus freaks will freak.

Or will they? After all the catholic church has their 'culture of life' which requires everyone stay alive as much and as long as possible. So they should be for this. Interesting problem.
posted by delmoi at 6:30 PM on August 19, 2007

Flagged as needing tag and title fixed, for posterity, in case we live forever.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:30 PM on August 19, 2007

ZachsMind: I don't seriously expect most people imagine that death will be prevented for all people, after all many (a majority) can't even get treatment for malaria. This life-extension stuff won't be cheap, and probably only 1% will be able to afford it.
posted by delmoi at 6:32 PM on August 19, 2007

What is living forever? What is life? Somewhere I heard consciousness described like the pattern water makes as it flows around a rock. Consciousness, the self, is that pattern.

On a transcendental level, life extension is nothing more than the extension of that pattern and the preservation of the emergent phenomena of "self." This is what all the Kurzweilian brain uploading singularity simply flatters itself by heralding this as some big next step where in fact, it's simply a different manifestation of the same, what already exists in a crude form. An idea may live an abnormally long life, in the case of a book, for example. To call a great dead author immortal is flawed in a certain sense, but specific thoughts and patterns of thought were removed and continue to "live."

And so on.

Of course, any of these thoughts make me uncomfortable and as these things are realized in the technological/pragmatic sense, there will be a revulsion and examination of "things we never had to think about," that which existed only in the realm of the theoretical. In the end, it's just a reminder that the universe and everything in it is all made of the same stuff. Everything is in the arrangement.
posted by iamck at 6:34 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I normally come at immortality from the side of AI and suchlike, but the medical approach is interesting too. Two things:
1. I can't remember the precise figure, but I think that if all non-accidental forms of death were averted, the average lifespan of a first world person would be about 200 years. Assuming a 'worst' case where everyone remains fertile throughout extended life, this would probably lead to a hell of a population boom - but isn't it the case that rises in life expectancy historically cause a drop in the overall birth rate, with a time lag of a few years? It's hard to pick that effect apart from that of higher quality of life, but being fit and healthy indefinitely would surely count towards that.

2. Assuming the limit of our medical progress in the next century is to perfect a method of transplanting bodies, how long can a very rich and unethical man (i.e. one who can have a healthy young body any time he likes) expect to live before senility, if he doesn't fall prey to any neurological diseases? It doesn't seem particularly hard to imagine immunology and spinal cord treatment advancing to that level.
posted by topynate at 6:37 PM on August 19, 2007

I don't think you could ever really transplant a brain onto new spinal cord. You might be able to transplant everything else-- but the sheer number of connections and the fact that we don't even know if one person's brain could "speak" to another person's spinal cord would get in the way.

The brainstem (which is the top of the spinal cord, basically) has some pretty important functions in terms of mood and emotions and stress and I don't know if you'd be "you" with someone else's brainstem. If you keep the brainstem and attach to a new spinal cord, unless you grow that spinal cord with stem cells from the existing brain, I'm just not sure how well it would work. Maybe it could-- but there's little evolutionary reason for it to be able to.
posted by Maias at 6:52 PM on August 19, 2007

Jeesh, since I did pretty much fuck all this weekend I shudder at the thought of how incredibly lazy and unmotivated I'd be if I was immortal. I goof off enough as it is even with the specter of my eventual death getting closer by the day.
posted by bobo123 at 7:02 PM on August 19, 2007

Name your price Audrey, name your price.
posted by Senator at 7:13 PM on August 19, 2007

"That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die."
posted by Sailormom at 7:27 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

I have no evidence to support this theory. Like Mr. de Grey, I don't do testing, just concepts. But it seems to me that nature has it figured out well. Humans live long enough to mate, create a household, raise kids, then to support those kids in repeating the process. By the time the kids are old enough to mate, the parents are saggy and smelly enough to not be in sexual competition with them. Four generations at the cottage would mean the only job left for the first generation is to remind everyone how they did it better in the old days, and that would be tiresome, so when the grandkids reach reproductive age it's time for someone to die.

What a horrible place it would be if there were fewer children being born but many more old hippies writing magazine articles claiming that 95 is the new 40. We need youth around to experience the excitement of the world being viewed with fresh eyes.
posted by TimTypeZed at 7:37 PM on August 19, 2007

I don't seriously expect most people imagine that death will be prevented for all people, after all many (a majority) can't even get treatment for malaria. This life-extension stuff won't be cheap, and probably only 1% will be able to afford it.

Life can be really unequal but up until now in human history even the greatest king or billionaire will not live long past 100 - just like everyone else. It has been the great equalizer.

The really horrid and unequal part of human history is yet to come when what people are fighting for in their life is not a few extra dollars to buy a shiny new car but rather the ability to extend life itself. There will be much more at stake and in my cynical view, the consequences of that will be grim.
posted by vacapinta at 8:21 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

See also Technology Review.

The guy's a quack.
posted by Nelson at 8:39 PM on August 19, 2007

My godmother lived to 94 and never wanted to be that old. After taking care of my mom for 10 years & dealing with watching that progression... I'm just hoping for a nice heart attack in the night, preferably immediately before ceasing to be relevant, pain-free & independently functional. From what I've witnessed, there's probably little worse torture than suffering through old age in pain, totally dependent, and finding yourself completely useless to the world after a life of vibrancy.

Moral of the story: nope, no living forever for me, thank you.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:42 PM on August 19, 2007

The richest 1% will be effectively immortal. Interesting repurcussions: no more inheritance tax (but no more inheritance, either), long term financial planning takes on a whole new meaning, copyright becomes effectively forever, more and larger privately held companies (just a guess), term limits for politicians will be much more important.
Imagine if Rockefeller, Morgan and Carnegie were still alive, how would financial and political landscape be different? How much harder would it be for anyone else to get that rich?
posted by doctor_negative at 8:53 PM on August 19, 2007

Do you want to live forever?

Who waaants... to liiive... foreveeaar?


I can easily see those top 1% who either get tanked (brain -> computer) or constant organ renewals becoming the new overloards (I for one, blah blah) overseeing generations of serfs working for them - maybe all hoping to win a lottery for life-extension (but without money, what's good about living forever?).
posted by porpoise at 9:10 PM on August 19, 2007

Maybe all the billionaire immortals will get bored and start killing each other by decapitation.
posted by humanfont at 9:15 PM on August 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

My godmother lived to 94 and never wanted to be that old. After taking care of my mom for 10 years & dealing with watching that progression...

All of the life extension folks of course say that they will be extending the healthy years not the end years. How people spend their end-of-life is mainyl a crapshoot. My great-grandfather lived a happy active life up until maybe 6 months during which he was bedded before dying at 106. He used to cry with emotion at how wonderful it was that he lived to know his great-granchildren.

That said, his son, my grandfather is now 98 and seems to be suffering a bit. My grandmother, his wife, is doing ok though at 95. And my other grandmother is 97 and is doing very well, spending much of her time still cooking, reading, walking. (Yes, I may have longevity the old-fashioned way, in my genes...)
posted by vacapinta at 9:54 PM on August 19, 2007

I find it interesting that a lot of folks think widespread immortality would be so terrible because it would mean birth would have to essentially cease. Other people can die if they want, and I certainly love my kids, but surely existing life is more important than some hypothetical life than might come along.

I see no reason to sacrifice myself for the unborn who haven't even been conceived yet.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 9:58 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

There is no way immortality would ever be made universal. Longevity treatments will be prohibitively expensive and available to a tiny powerful ruling class, who will only get more powerful and sequestered from the rest of us.

Look at your Rupert Murdochs and Dick Cheneys and ask yourself if you really want these people in charge forever?

On the other hand, go to a Midwest rural-ish Wal-Mart SuperCenter. Look around. Do you really want those people hanging around indefinitely squandering the planet's resources on XXXL Tasmanian Devil T-shirts and WWWF Smackdown DVDs? Forever?
posted by sourwookie at 10:22 PM on August 19, 2007

I see no reason to sacrifice myself for the unborn who haven't even been conceived yet.

And yet I bet you're okay with frequently sacrificing millions of unborn who have not even been conceived yet for yourself.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:58 PM on August 19, 2007

I exist. They do not.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 11:11 PM on August 19, 2007

And yet I bet you're okay with frequently sacrificing millions of unborn who have not even been conceived yet for yourself.

Straight into the toilet with that tissue, thanks.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:19 PM on August 19, 2007

Eternal life isn't what people are really looking for. Eternal identity is. They want their memories and sense of self preserved.

But preserving a functioning body isn't the same thing as preserving a mind. In fact, supposing that damage to the brain is easier to incur than to heal (and it is, much more so than for the rest of your body), immortality could be a one-way journey to a very real and very interminable hell.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:57 PM on August 19, 2007

Oh, what a glorious world they promise, the de Greys and Kurzweils, the immortalists, futurists and transhumanists, the techno-optimist libertarians, the believers in the "Proactionary Principle", the Extropians and Singularitarians, who tell us that in the future we shall be immortal, that we shall conquer the stars, become like gods and achieve complete dominion over nature.

How thrilling it all is, the prospect that humankind shall conquer Death itself! Of course, there is the minor issue that, at least to start out, not everyone will be able to afford the privilege. A minor issue, of course, that the ranks of the new immortals shall be so overwhelmingly made up of those already blessed with wealth and power, for have they not earned it? And what gift could be greater for those (well represented already in the elite) who lust for power and control, dominion and imperium? For the power-hungry politician, for the ideologue ensconced on the Supreme Court? From eternal life shall follow eternal power, a new and undying aristocracy, and forever the values of the time of this great technological advance shall be sealed and unchanging.

Of course, it is not merely immortality the futurists strive for. Consider as well, the miracles promised by transhumanism- the wonders we may see with posthumanism. Our immortal aristocracy may well earn not only eternal life, but superhuman strength and brainpower to dwarf the wretched of the abused Earth beneath them. What use will it be, then, for those wretched to even contemplate change, before the supreme might and intelligence of their posthuman rulers? Before the march of scientific progress, even the idea of revolution shall pass forever into the dustbin of history.

Oh, what a glorious world they promise indeed! Not so long ago, there was a thoroughly loathsome political movement who had a slogan that, at that time, seemed a clear example of their loathsomeness. But now, faced with the prospect of this age to come, I find that slogan takes on a whole new meaning, a very literal one that could hardly even have been imagined then, and so now I too say, as they once did, but for a very different reason and goal, "Long live death!"

(I knew that one of these days I'd hear one thoughtlessly grandiose futurist claim too many and totally lose my shit, and I think it just happened...)
posted by a louis wain cat at 11:59 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Aubrey, does this mean I can live long enough to get a girlfriend?

And sweet jeebus, why did they use Mongolian throat singing as the soundtrack to the bit about the Cargo Cults at 57:00?
posted by snifty at 12:10 AM on August 20, 2007

This guy is nuts, not really credible - from what I hear. You can check him out on TED where he give some wild lecture.
posted by mateuslee at 12:42 AM on August 20, 2007

Eternal youth sounds quite nice. I don't really see all that much downside personally.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:59 AM on August 20, 2007

I'm undecided about my personal (im)mortality, but the really important thing seems to be how much scientific knowledge goes to waste with wise men's minds when they die or become senile. Like sourwookie, I would love to see term limits imposed on all positions of power, public and private, but where would we be if the great minds of the last century were still active today? A lifetime is barely enough to learn about one part of a narrow field of knowledge - I can only link to a qwantz comic and wish for my rocket car.
posted by Tzarius at 2:53 AM on August 20, 2007

The only thing that depresses me about my mortality is not knowing what wonders and horrors the future will bring. If I could see or know every amazing and disasterous development in the future of the planet, leading all the way to its destruction, I'd die a happy man.
posted by Devils Slide at 3:24 AM on August 20, 2007

My phylactery will be fashioned from the tears of newborn babes, the fears of an honest man, and bronze tempered in the blood of a two headed goat.

Despite all this, I'll probably end up whiling away my immortality playing Bomberman and watching Who's the Boss? reruns. After going through all that struggle, pain, and bloodshed to cheat death, you'd think I'd have the motivation to take over the world with my army of dread statues. Immortality has a way of taking procrastination to the next level.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:24 AM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

The bit that strikes me as improbable about De Grey's views is that this can be done in the next twenty-five years. Seems a mighty coincidence that a 43 year old man would come up with a number like that...
But I don't doubt that this will happen in the next hundred or two hundred years. My eternal grandchildren, will I envy them?
posted by greytape at 6:22 AM on August 20, 2007

Straight into the toilet with that tissue, thanks.

And I thought *my* joke wasn't subtle enough.
posted by Krrrlson at 7:40 AM on August 20, 2007

It strikes me that immortality will be no problem at all, because from the comments so far, precious few people even want it. Would it be churlish of me to try to hold you to that if and when it becomes an option? Purely in your own best interests, you understand.
posted by topynate at 7:45 AM on August 20, 2007

He needs to solve this aging thing, like soon, because I'm FUCKING RUNNING OUT OF TIME!
posted by gigbutt at 8:52 AM on August 20, 2007

@ greytape: might be a marketing thing, too. People are much more likely to pour money and effort into something which is within their grasp than to do so to make their grandchildren lives better (or in this case longer). One could make analogies with the global warming problem. The more immediate it seems, the more people wake up in a way that New York sinking via, say, 2150 does not.
posted by Anduruna at 9:16 AM on August 20, 2007

I hope de Grey lives long enough to see his silly facial hair outlawed, at least.

On the subject of immortality and methods, Halperin's novel "The First Immortal" is an entertaining bit of speculative fiction. He's apparently a Methuselah society enthusiast as well
posted by phearlez at 9:51 AM on August 20, 2007

Paging Enoch Root to the quicksilver-colored courtesy phone...

Enoch Root to the quicksilver-colored courtesy phone...
posted by sparkletone at 11:32 AM on August 20, 2007

The professor is on his third pint of bitter by quarter past ten in the morning. I have a feeling he won't be doing much meaningful research five years from now.
posted by MinPin at 1:40 PM on August 20, 2007

snifty, maybe it was an attempt to invoke the spirit (so to speak) of Richard Feynman (populariser of the notion of cargo cult science and student of Tuvan throat singing)?...
posted by gene_machine at 3:01 PM on August 20, 2007

Although I am amused by the quixotic ambition of the immortality-seekers, I sense a deep contradiction in their goals. First off, you can sense their deep fear of living in their terror of death. And what's their solution to calm their anxiety? Find a way to live longer! Much, much, longer! Maybe we can find a way to skip our deaths altogether. What's wrong with this immature, escapist notion? Well, it's the same old chestnut about light versus dark, pain vs pleasure, vegetables vs. ice cream. de Grey and his ilk are like a bunch of children who think that if they can find a way to eat only ice cream, that they'll be content. Boy, wouldn't that be great?! As many have pointed out, it's precisely the tension between broccoli and banana split that keeps life interesting. Death and life are a continuum that can't be split into two independent nodes anymore than you can remove the space from a house and have it still be a house.

Secondly, talk about an extravagant, self-centered outlook. It's not enough that, as privileged members of the 'first world' we use up far more than our share of natural resources, desperately clinging to our lives with mountains of pills and machinery, polluting the planet, while others starve. No, we deserve even more. Will we use our resources to help each other live better lives, or will we hoard them so that we can supernaturally maximize our lives, at the inevitable expense of others? The latter is the message I get here.

The vicious cycle that drives this quest goes like this: develop emotionally to a certain extent, then run into life's problems; feel at a loss to develop yourself any further; realize that time is running out; find anyway you can to escape. The error is not in enduring crises and being afraid of death, but in trying to escape them.

The student who's done well on an exam is ready to hand his blue book in when the bell rings. The student who's at a loss will find anyway he can to stall. And as a cranky teacher might say, "the extra time won't make any difference in your grade."
posted by pantufla at 3:38 PM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

No way. You can dream of the death of Death, but Death will kill your Dream.
posted by Tuwa at 4:28 PM on August 20, 2007

Both of my parents lived to their mid-80s, but were in pretty poor health for the last 10 years or so of their lives.
posted by mike3k at 6:07 PM on August 20, 2007

It's not enough that, as privileged members of the 'first world' we use up far more than our share of natural resources, desperately clinging to our lives with mountains of pills and machinery, polluting the planet, while others starve. No, we deserve even more.

There's merit to sustainable consumption of resources, but are you suggesting that we turn old people out of the cancer wards? At what age? After all, providing cancer treatment to one "privileged" American could feed dozens of children in Indonesia, right?

But, while we're on the subject of what people "deserve," do families in Indonesia really deserve to have six children? Does anyone deserve to have them on a planet that has billions more people than it can sustain at a first-world standard of living? I don't really see a strong argument why you should die, at any age, just so that your neighbor can have more children.
posted by kid ichorous at 6:46 PM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

(Though, pantufla, your first paragraph is a spot-on reading.)
posted by kid ichorous at 6:48 PM on August 20, 2007

You know, you're welcome to die at peace all you want, pantufla, but please don't presume to make that decision for the rest of us. Some of us happen to like existing, and would rather not stop just because some yokel thinks we should die for hypothetical future generations or for vague spiritual "circle of life" crap.

If the scientists in charge of this sort of thing don't get their act together and get this immortality thing figured out, I fully intend to go kicking and screaming and be extremely bitter about it.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 7:01 PM on August 20, 2007

kid: Good point. I had not taken my argument very deep into the details and I'm sure it deserves more ethical development. I am not suggesting that we turn anyone "out of the cancer wards". What I am criticizing is the attitude, which I believe is harmful, that death is some kind of aberration that one can, and might want to, indefinitely avoid.

Captain: I'm not making any decisions for anyone but myself, thanks. : ) I think running away from death harms the present generation, in a visceral way. If you think the 'circle of life' is vague crap, what do you think of the billions of living things that develop, reproduce, and then decay? Am I missing one that travels in more of an infinite, "straight line" of life?
posted by pantufla at 8:13 PM on August 20, 2007

If you think the 'circle of life' is vague crap, what do you think of the billions of living things that develop, reproduce, and then decay?

It's a process which is expedient to evolution. It's wildly successful like that. Doesn't mean I have to like it.

I'd like an indefinite lifespan. I'm not wildly optimistic that the technology will show up in time, but I'll keep an eye on things, and I'm very likely to sign up with Alcor at some point.

some links for people: Rational Longevity is a pretty good blog which regularly talks about the reasoning behind superlongevity, why we should try for it, and analyzing mainstream attitudes towards these things. It's written by Anne Corwin, who works with both the IEET (Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies) and the WTA (World Transhumanist Association).

For more skeptical types, who may be sympathetic to the basic ideas that radical technology advances are coming, and might be a good thing, depending on how society uses them and fights against the incumbency of the rich, there's Amor Mundi, written by Dale Carricio, who also works with IEET. He regularly argues quite persuasively against singularitarians and mainstream politics, and sees radical technology advances as something which needs to be and is starting to be embraced by progressive politics. The goal, in his view, is to bring increasing democratization to society, in order to fight against the increasing creation of a technological and wealthy elite. The tagline at the top is "Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All", which pretty much sums it up.

The IEET's website is a good resource for following ideas currently being talked about in tech-progressive circles, and where I initially saw this video.

James Hughes, a professor at Trinity College, runs Cyborg Democracy, another good general resource.

I don't know how things are going to go, but I find it generally likely that things are going to start changing, rather quickly, and I'm glad to be in for the ride, however long I have before I have to get off.
posted by Arturus at 9:21 PM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seems to me de Grey's got the the immortality bug real bad. Problem is that most of his theories rest on the _belief_ that the numerable problems with biological life extension will be solved and soon.

Working in the tech sector makes me biased toward a technological solution to life extension which considering the research rate in the sector seems more likely than a biological one. I want my brain tap now.
posted by creeptick at 9:38 AM on August 21, 2007

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