The word ‘ageing’ is a good example of what I’m talking about. The first, obvious meaning of the word is that of the passing of time; if you don’t age chronologically, then you cannot possibly age in any other way. The second meaning is the process of physical decay that nearly every living and non-living thing undergoes to some extent. I wonder, though, how many people have been (and still are) thrown off by the word and led to believe that the reason our bodies fall apart as time goes by is exactly the fact time goes by.
Arguably, not many people in the world know that there’s an ongoing process of damage creation and accumulation going on in their bodies all the time. Most people seem to just be used to the fact they’re going to look and feel worse later in life, and the explanation they can provide for this phenomenon is often not much more detailed than ‘they’ve grown old.’ After all, it’s only fairly recently that we found out what ageing really is about; when the term was first adopted, there was no apparent cause of ageing, and people were probably forced to conclude that ageing simply happens with, and possibly because of, time. I wouldn’t be surprised if on some level people actually believed that the passing of time is the cause of ageing; the process of biological ageing is habitually referred to with a plethora of time-themed metaphores, such as ‘the injuries of time’, so it’s quite possible that people passively learnt that what causes the functional decline of their bodies later in life is time. As a consequence, people might well think that the idea of ending ageing is ridiculous, since it would necessarily imply stopping the passing of time.
I have been thinking for a while that biological ageing might need a proper disease-like name, which it will hopefully get when it will be added to the WHO’s list of recognised diseases. However, there are more terms that I think are misleading; ‘life extension’ is one of them. While it is true that the medical interventions we refer to are meant to extend life, this expression can cause several misunderstandings.
First, ‘life extension’ generally pushes people to commit the Tithonus error: They’ think we’re going to extend our lifespans without extending our healthspans. This is of course impossible, but you’d be surprised how many people actually associate ‘life extension’ with ‘living longer in a decrepit state’.
The second, and perhaps worse, side-effect of the term ‘life extension’ is that it may fuel the idea that life has a predefined, ‘right’ length, and that trying to push its length beyond that limit is wrong. There is, of course, no such thing as a predefined length for your life: You’re going to be alive as long as you’re healthy enough to be alive. Still, countless times I’ve had the distinct feeling that people think there are two kinds of death: death by ageing—the ‘natural’ end of your life, which will happen regardless of anything, unless you die ‘prematurely’ of something else—and death that occurs in whatever way before the ‘natural’ one.
It’s a bit as if life was an outdoor show: If it rains it will finish earlier, but the show will come to a conclusion anyway, eventually.
Needless to say, there is only one type of death, which occours if and only if you’re not healthy enough to be alive, be it because of age-related diseases, infectious diseases, or because you’ve been shot in the head. The goal of nearly any kind of medical intervention is to prevent your health from becoming so compromised that you would die, whatever the cause may be. The same is true of rejuvenation biotechnologies: far from trying to push life’s non-existent predefined length beyond a non-existent ‘natural limit’, their goal is no different from that of the rest of medicine: save your life.
If you’ll have a look at this article, you’ll find out that doctors and researchers are trying to get a supposedly ageing-delaying drug to be approved approved for clinical trials. Forget about the science for a moment: it doesn’t matter if it’s about just delaying ageing or reversing it, or if it’ll work or not. I would like to focus on two other aspects of this instead.
The first aspect is indubitably positive: as the researchers themselves put it, it’s as clear as the day that “current treatments for diseases related to ageing ‘just exchange one disease for another'” and that the best way of avoiding age-related diseases is to avoid biological ageing altogether. You can’t have the latter without the former, and it’s about time that people got over this. Therefore, pushing for ageing to be finally officially recognized for what it is—a collection of diseases amenable to medical intervention—will most definitely help to break through the wall of ignorance and prejudice that is thus far hindering the development of anti-ageing medicine. People don’t think that ageing is a disease because they’re used to think it’s just a stage of life, and will only start to finally accept that this is not the case only when a sufficiently large number of other people, scientists and organizations will come out and say it out loud.
That’s one sad truth: people get used to things way sooner than they understand them, and if, at some point, news from the anti-ageing world will populate often enough their TV screens, social media feeds, newspaper articles and even casual talks, they will be more keen on stopping ignoring the problem of ageing and opposing its resolution. Nobody likes to advocate for an unpopular cause: it doesn’t feel nice to be the only person in a group to support a certain claim and being fiercely opposed by all the others, but it does feel nice to be on the winning side of an argument. That’s why most people with whom you’ll discuss about rejuvenation will be against it right off the bat. They’ll feel there’s safety in numbers and tell themselves that if the cause isn’t that popular there must be a good reason; in order to resolve their own cognitive dissonance and to spare themselves the trouble of thinking, they’ll choose to dismiss the whole issue as something that isn’t worth any attention.
However, when the number of supporters of anti-ageing therapies will be large enough, hiding in the crowd of the opposers won’t be so easy anymore. The subset of people who, in a group discussing the matter, nods approvingly at the stereopyped and long-dismantled arguments against anti-ageing medicine won’t be big enough to easily put an end at the discussion by sheer whim of the majority, and at that point people will be forced to finally think about the problem before deciding which side they really stand on. As the number of supporters grows even larger, the roles will reverse: opposing anti-ageing will become the unpopular viewpoint, and this very reason alone will be enough for some people to abandon it—eventually one day they will understand the real reasons to abandon it, but for the time being we’ll be content enough with their non-opposing.
The second aspect is still something I’m debating about. With the exception of SENS Foundation and a few others, researchers of the field are quite hesitant about their goals. It clearly shows in the linked article, from which I quote the following paragraph:
Barzilai and his colleagues eschew claims of a quest for immortality, because they think that such assertions have led to a perception that the field is frivolous and irresponsible. “The perception is that we are all looking for a fountain of youth,” says Stephanie Lederman, executive director of the American Federation for Aging Research in New York. “We want to avoid that; what we’re trying to do is increase health span, not look for eternal life.”
Sure enough, this isn’t about immortality: immortality means zero risk of death from all possible causes, and curing ageing doesn’t make you immune to shotguns. Still, I don’t see anything wrong with looking for a “fountain of youth”. Actually, I don’t see how can you want to just “increase health span” without looking for a fountain of youth or eternal life. If they want to increase the current health span it’s clearly because they think that the current one isn’t enough. So they’re not okay with getting sick of the diseases of old age at 80. Now just how much do they want to increase this health span? Till you’re 100? 120? When is it okay to get age-related diseases? Unless you increase health-span indefinitely, at some point you are going to get age-related diseases, and they will kill you. And say that one day they manage to extend health span so that you don’t start experiencing age-related decay until you’re 120. Then some other researchers come along and say that “they just want to extend health span” so that ARDs are delayed until you’re 140. Are we saying no to that? Extending your health span up to when you’re 120 is fine but up to when you’re 140 is not? Why? You do understand that this game is rather silly, particularly when you think about the obvious fact that unless you have a health problem of some sort, you do not die: yes, being shot, poisoned, electrocuted, eaten by a shark and whatever violent death you can think of counts too, because they all cause you health issues that eventually (rather fast, in fact) kill you. So, if you’re not looking for eternal life, it means you’re explicitly and intentionally leaving around some health problem of which people can die. In the case of age-related diseases, which ones should we leave around? What ARDs are okay to die of? Alzheimer’s? Cancer? Cardiovascular disease? Make your pick—I’m okay without any of those, thank you.
I’m willing to concede that, perhaps, the researchers are playing it safe: they know that, if you dare saying that you want to get rid of biological ageing altogether, people will jump down your throat and thus it’s better to slowly get them used to anti-ageing research before making bolder claims. However, I disagree: curing ageing is an urgent humanitarian problem, and there’s no time to fool around to please the masses. We need to educate people, get them understand that curing ageing and immortality aren’t the same thing at all, that age-related diseases are an extremely serious and compelling problem that needs to be addressed right now, before it gets from bad to worse, and that all the objections to the defeat of ageing make no sense whatsoever.
Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva Sciences, gives an interesting talk on how her company plans to put an end to ageing: engineered genomics. I seem to understand that there were other talks at the same event, I think at least one held by Bill Andrews and possibly Aubrey de Grey; I will post them if I find them.
Yesterday I was looking for a short video of dr. de Grey to serve as a quick introduction for newbies, but I couldn’t find any that was very short, so I had to be content with what I published. As per usual, when you look for something you don’t find it, and when you don’t look for it, you bump into it! Not one, but two short videos: SENS and de Grey hitting the news on CCTV.
Hello everyone – new and old rejuvenation advocates and future ones alike!
This post is only meant to inaugurate the blog and welcome everyone on board; at the moment I haven’t much else to add to it, but I follow quite attentively what happens in the world of rejuvenation, so stay tuned because updates are bound to happen.
I would just like to briefly explain why, as you may have noticed, you can’t leave comments anywhere on the site. I’m not trying to censor anyone, neither am I afraid of debate; quite the opposite, I hope to get people to discuss the topic of rejuvenation at length. This website, however, isn’t meant as a discussion space: it’s meant exclusively to inform people and give them food for thought. Other websites that I linked in the Resources section give this possibility, for example Fight Aging! or the SENS subreddit. In all honesty I would have the neither time nor the will to manage the discussions that would inevitably result from allowing comments, and particularly, I really don’t want to put up with trolls and spammers, who I fear would be plenty.
If you want to get in touch with me, though, you can; just click the Contact me link on the horizontal menu.
Enjoy your stay 🙂