Laura Katrin Weston
Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party is pleased to feature this interview with Dr. Laura Katrin Weston, one of our strongest supporters, by Nicola Bagalà of the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation. We are particularly thrilled that Dr. Weston cited the U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Art and Transhumanism as one of her major inspirations for taking her artistic endeavors to the next level: “I have always wanted to create a place where others could also allow their logical and creative worlds to collide; this is often reflected in a lot of transhumanist philosophy. The idea was solidified after I took part in a discussion on art and transhumanism as part of the US Transhumanist Party panel. I was greatly inspired by the amazing individuals around me and wanted to potentiate those ideals.” This article was originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF).
~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, U.S. Transhumanist Party, June 15, 2018
The belief that science and art run on parallel tracks is largely unsubstantiated, and Dr. Laura Weston—a scientist, an artist, and a LEAF volunteer—is a great example of this. Dr. Weston is both a molecular pathologist and a painter, and she has recently launched her own art gallery. Being a passionate life extensionist and, more generally, a transhumanist, Laura undertook this project because of her belief that art can and should take part in shaping a better future for everyone; art hosted in her gallery will certainly do this in the traditional way of conveying a message but also more directly, since part of the proceeds from sales will be destined for conservation charities, medical research, and even LEAF—which we are all most grateful for.
Artists and art enthusiasts who want to make a difference for important causes, including life extension, now have their chance to do so by contributing their own art or buying their favorite works. Pieces hosted at Katrin Brunier—Laura’s nom de plume—are examples of abstract works inspired by transhumanist themes; you can admire a sample below or visit the gallery’s Instagram page.
For the occasion, we decided to ask Laura a few questions about herself, her work, and, of course, her views on aging and life extension.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am Dr. Laura Weston, M.D. with a specialty in pathology: molecular and biochemical diagnostics to be more specific. I’m also a professional singer, a professional artist for over 15 years, a medical researcher, and a transhumanist. I also go by the name Katrin Brunier for my artistic endeavors.
Originally, you trained as a painter and singer; later on, you pursued a career as a molecular pathologist, albeit without abandoning your art. Was this something you had planned, or did something happen that led you to science?
I was always torn between the creative and logical worlds; I have dual-sided brain dominance, which is quite unusual. I was described as a child as a polymath with no solid direction. I was also born with synesthesia, so I process all information from music to mathematical concepts in shape and color. I went to art school while my mother was terminally ill as a form of respite; however, the more I learned about her illness, the more I became enamored with the human body and molecular mechanisms at the smallest level. I guess you could say that I fell into it as a career path. I also wanted to try to help others to never have to experience the kind of loss my family did by being able to have the power to change things. I also suffer from a very rare genetic disease myself, that I continually seek to learn more about in order to help others.
Your art is inspired by transhumanist themes. What are the ones you care about the most?
Fundamentally, I believe in unifying humanity as a race by eliminating chronic illnesses that now affect, I believe, the majority of the population. Nearly all chronic disease stems from the same molecular mechanism, and by fully understanding this, we could eliminate cancers, age-related degeneration, Alzheimer’s, and thousands of other conditions that destroy our quality of life and take our loved ones away too soon.
As stated on your art gallery’s website, you host works of art focused on “themes of human advancements in pioneering knowledge, trans-humanism, unconditionality, our place in the universe, sensory perception and the neo-renaissance.” How was this idea born, and how well has it been received thus far?
This idea is essentially an outward expression of the creative and logical duality that I always carried around. Often, people are pressured to pick one; however, the biggest discoveries and advancements have often come from a fusion of both of those systems working synergistically. I have always wanted to create a place where others could also allow their logical and creative worlds to collide; this is often reflected in a lot of transhumanist philosophy. Thea idea was solidified after I took part in a discussion on art and transhumanism as part of the US Transhumanist Party panel. I was greatly inspired by the amazing individuals around me and wanted to potentiate those ideals. So far, I have had enquiries from major art bodies to host works, contact from other talented transhumanists who want to donate their work to raise money for medical research, and, best of all, a few commissions already that will allow me to donate to the wonderful people who do the hard work and research that will benefit us all.
Transhumanists range from those who wish to upload their minds to machines to far more moderate ones who support the use of technology to improve human health, society, the ecosystem and other scientific endeavors. Where do you fall on this spectrum, and what is transhumanism to you?
I don’t think we should run before we can walk. While the more extravagant ideas of transhumanism appeal to me in terms of furthering human knowledge – the most powerful force in the world – I believe that we need to tackle the huge chronic illness crisis that is pushing our health systems to the breaking point and ruining people’s lives. The gift of being able to eliminate the decay of our bodies should be used to stabilize our situation, our well being, and the population and to stop overusing the resources we have on this planet, first and foremost. Applied transhumanism could achieve the elimination of human suffering and may even be the next step in our evolution and development as a species.
A recurring theme in the transhumanist and futurist community is that, within the next thirty or forty years, the world will go through radically transformative changes because of AI, biotechnology, etc. Is this something you too expect?
It’s already happening around us – in the field of molecular and quantum biology/pathology, we are already implementing AI to work out problems that it would take months to solve manually. I can find errors in your genome and diagnose diseases before they have even begun to manifest. This also has applications for every industry and even the conservation of our beautiful planet. Given time, I hope that it will seep into other parts of society, and I am so excited to see the positive changes it could bring to the world. Look how far we have come in the last twenty years; imagine what it will be like in just ten years from now.
American biologist Edward Wilson said, “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology.” However, he also said, “This planet can be a paradise in the 22nd century.” Do you think that we can actually achieve this, despite the issues mentioned in his first quote?
Let’s go down a little rabbit hole here: there is a metaphorical concept in Hermetic philosophy that humans will master the world around them; however, the payoff will be that they will not master themselves. Unless this is balanced, we are still at the whim of everything around us. Indeed, this planet, our society, our race could indeed create a utopian environment IF we accept how we actually function as creatures. Knowledge of the self, in terms of the human body and brain, allows our consciousness to control it. If we all had better self-awareness, open access to knowledge and consequent self-control, then the medieval paradigms would fall away, because with this knowledge, they would become archaic and useless. Only when that shift has taken place, and humanity views itself as a race and a whole, can that vision be realized. The technology exists; we just need to catch up.
When did you realize that aging is a problem in which we should intervene?
The molecular and biological process of aging holds the secrets and blueprints to the cause of nearly all non-pathogen-related disease in human beings. I developed these ideas as I gained more knowledge on the subject. When you have the blueprint, you can find a way to manipulate it. On a more personal level, my work as a doctor has exposed me to the worst forms of human suffering. If there is a way to prevent it from happening, count me in.
What was your attitude towards aging before then?
I naturally tend to think very abstractly; it was never a concept that seemed to be an automatic given. Rather, it always seemed to be a result of a very primitive blueprint being affected by degenerative forces around it. It was always a process that fascinated me and something that I felt could be deconstructed and explored. Of course it is part of the current natural balance, epigenetic factors and current standards of human living; however, I never understood why, given how much it degrades our quality of existence, it wasn’t given more focus. Surely, it makes more sense to find the root of a problem rather than temporarily suppressing the symptoms?
You’re a medical doctor. As such, do you agree with the view of aging as a disease or, more specifically, a co-morbid syndrome, and why is this?
If one takes the current model of medical nomenclature, technically, you could classify aging as a co-morbid syndrome. I’m not saying that this is absolute; we do not have enough evidence, nor may we ever. However, if we choose to look at it this way, it could be an excellent model for scientific exploration and maybe even total intervention. It would be foolish to draw a line just yet, but we would be just as foolish to not explore that possibility.
Where do you think we are in terms of bringing newly developed therapies and ways of thinking into clinical practice, and why?
We are on the verge of a huge change in medical systems. Research and clinical trials are translating into treatments and protocols faster than ever before. However, in my opinion, this is not happening fast enough because our priorities are all in the wrong place. This is actually an issue that I will be tackling in a book that I am currently working on and will hopefully publish next year; it explains the benefits of applying transhumanism to current clinical practice and systems for the management of chronic illness.
What can be done to bridge the gap between the people developing these new technologies and the people on the front line using them?
Fundamentally, it unfortunately all comes down to money. Raising money to get this research initiated in the first place is our biggest issue. Our systems of implementation within the evidence-based medicine world are very good; however, there is a disconnect when it comes to clinical practice. This is down to severe underfunding in areas that actually allow the data to be processed into a protocol to apply these new technologies and compounds in the safest way possible for patients.
Some people think that it’s premature to give estimates, however rough, as to when we will have defeated aging; others say that it’s gerontologists’ duty to give the public their best guesstimates in order to catalyze progress. What do you think?
Guesstimates can be good and bad. Once again, however, they can be used to create models for scientific exploration to actually give us a more reliable forecast. I think that the best way to summarize this is that when in unknown territory, join the dots as best you can, but do not heed it as gospel.
Do you think that two to three decades might be enough to have proof of working rejuvenation therapies, or do you expect that more time will be necessary?
It is an absolute possibility, given our current exponential trajectory and the developments that are linking the quantum and molecular world to the biological. Ten years ago, we couldn’t get our genomes screened from the comfort of our own homes; now, we can. The data that we are able to collect, store and analyze is exponentially growing every year. Even if we don’t have a reliable therapy, we will have a far better understanding of the root cause and be able to make a start at stabilizing those processes.
What is the biggest bottleneck to progress in research to end age-related diseases?
Lack of funding and lack of accessibility to education. We need open science and to educate people to allow them to come to their own conclusions as to what aging actually is, not the societal view we currently have. As a race, we need to re-prioritize our resources and enable everyone to have the right to knowledge.
Do you have a take-home message for our readers?
First, thank you for allowing me this opportunity, and an even bigger thanks to those who have taken the time to engage with me on these topics.
If anything I have spoken about resonates with you, I encourage you to support charities like LEAF that allow these changes to happen in the world. Even a tiny contribution makes a big impact. This is something that we can only achieve by working together and supporting each other.
We’re grateful to Laura for her time and for her generosity in supporting LEAF’s work, both through her volunteer efforts and her gallery’s donations. We wish her the best of luck with her endeavors.
About Nicola Bagalà
Nicola Bagalà has been an enthusiastic supporter and advocate of rejuvenation science since 2011. Although his preferred approach to treating age related diseases is Aubrey de Grey’s suggested SENS platform, he is very interested in any other potential approach as well. In 2015, he launched the blog Rejuvenaction to advocate for rejuvenation and to answer common concerns that generally come with the prospect of vastly extended healthy lifespans. Originally a mathematician graduated from Helsinki University, his scientific interests range from cosmology to AI, from drawing and writing to music, and he always complains he doesn’t have enough time to dedicate to all of them which is one of the reasons he’s into life extension. He’s also a computer programmer and web developer. All the years spent learning about the science of rejuvenation have sparked his interest in biology, in which he’s planning to get a university degree.
About LIFE EXTENSION ADVOCACY FOUNDATION (LEAF)
In 2014, the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation was established as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting increased healthy human lifespan through fiscally sponsoring longevity research projects and raising awareness regarding the societal benefits of life extension. In 2015 they launched Lifespan.io, the first nonprofit crowdfunding platform focused on the biomedical research of aging.
They believe that this will enable the general public to influence the pace of research directly. To date they have successfully supported four research projects aimed at investigating different processes of aging and developing therapies to treat age-related diseases.
The LEAF team organizes educational events, takes part in different public and scientific conferences, and actively engages with the public on social media in order to help disseminate this crucial information. They initiate public dialogue aimed at regulatory improvement in the fields related to rejuvenation biotechnology.