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Why Aren’t We Afraid of Death?: The First Step Toward Defeating Aging – Article by Alex Kadet

Why Aren’t We Afraid of Death?: The First Step Toward Defeating Aging – Article by Alex Kadet

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Alex Kadet


The pain of those fighting to extend human life expectancy

Science articles frequently mention the search for the “elixir of eternal youth.” What a pleasant thought! While we are busy living our lives, the science of extending them is moving at a dizzying pace, and we need only to wait until the international science community plates the solution, ready to serve, right? This statement illustrates how perceptions of reality are skewed toward desired outcomes.

Ask any reputable scientist, activist, or entrepreneur interested in extending human life about the subject, however, and you will learn that the reality is very different. For instance, here is a quotation from Aubrey de Grey, founder of the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Research Foundation and pioneering researcher in the science of aging:

Aubrey de Grey

“. . . if I got a billion dollars today, we would probably bring forward the defeat of aging by about ten years. And it’s a lot of lives, maybe four hundred million.”

I suppose we all understand how insignificant one billion dollars is compared with the global annual expenditures on health care and science. The cost of health care in the United States alone exceeded 3.3 trillion dollars in 2016 and is growing rapidly.

What do these numbers mean? That, without a doubt, humanity is not even close to curing aging, even in the twenty-first century.

Longevity advocacy

At a glance, it seems odd that the idea of extending human life needs advocacy, but longevity scientists and advocates understand that the only obstacle to the development of a cure for aging is a lack of resources: time and money. The dollar has strong voting power, and human lifespan extension is not at the top of the ballot.

For some reason, not enough people are willing to do what objectively seems rational, to overcome the obstacles and diseases that aging causes. What appears to transhumanists, scientists, and researchers to be an undeniable benefit for humankind seems unimportant or even detrimental to others. Dying of old age seems dignified to some people, but in truth it is honorable only in the movies. Therefore, advocacy needs to be prioritized over seemingly more practical immediate problems.

Many people who work in the field of longevity studies are tormented by a fundamental question: If one acknowledges one’s mortality, isn’t working toward radical life extension a most rational use of one’s time? After all, millions of people, with trillions of dollars combined, have a nonzero chance of radically extending life expectancy within the next ten years.

A primary goal of longevity advocates is to attract investments and endorsements from international organizations, including scientific foundations and businesses, and increase the visibility and appeal of research on anti-aging therapy. We aim to market anti-aging science effectively, and raise the prestige of working in our industry to that of working for a venture-capital or tech startup.

Large-scale work must begin now, for a simple reason.

The population of the planet is rapidly aging.

The average age of the world populace is increasing at an alarming pace. Globally, the demographic comprising people aged sixty years or older is growing faster than any other group. If this trend continues, by 2050 the number of seniors in the world will more than double, from 962 million to 2.1 billion. Such a significant change in the composition of the population will inevitably affect economies and societies.

Throughout the history of humankind, aging has been viewed as an inevitable process, leading not so much to illness and suffering (which have always been treated as if separate from aging) but rather to physical death.

Let me draw your attention to the importance of distinguishing between improving the quality of life of the rapidly aging population and developing a treatment for aging.

It is also important to understand that when we talk about defeating aging, we do not put it as equal to immortality. Extending longevity will largely take the form of increasing productive life span and preventing suffering — not only fatigue, reduced physical strength, and impaired memory, but also the internal conflict of remaining young at heart and full of ambition in an aging body. Longevity specialists believe that victory over suffering is achievable and will be a victory over an absolute evil.

Why do we work so hard to treat the effects of aging while doing almost nothing to slow aging itself? Aging is literally a matter of life and death, and yet it commands almost no attention.

Life-Extension Myths

The vast majority of people and organizations (including the World Health Organization, billionaire entrepreneurs, the United Nations, and entire nations) do not include addressing the problems of aging in their short- or long-term agendas. They do not consider aging to be a real and distinct problem. Why not?

Maybe extending human life would be unnatural?

The answer is no.

  • Self-preservation is characteristic of all organisms and is one of the so-called “basic instincts” [1]. All organisms achieve self-preservation by purposefully reducing their own entropy (that is, using external resources to compensate for inevitable energy loss) and maintaining homeostasis (steady internal conditions).
  • People tend to consider aging and age-related diseases to be separate and distinct phenomena, as if aging is different from other abnormalities of the human body. Such thinking is fundamentally flawed. Most people do not have ethical problems with using medicine to treat suffering, but cognitive dissonance often produces ethical objections to therapies designed to treat aging, which is widely treated with dignity and respect, even viewed as sacred.
  • As the seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote in his Ethics, “The mind, both in so far as it has clear and distinct ideas, and also in so far as it has confused ideas, endeavors to persist in its being for an indefinite period, and of this endeavor it is conscious” [2]. It is human nature to attempt to survive as long as possible.

[For the interested reader: philosophical and ethical issues that inevitably arise in the fight against aging are discussed in detail in Steven Horrobin’s The Future of Aging, chapter three, “Towards Naturalistic Transcendence: The Value of Life and Life Extension to Persons as Conative Processes.”]

Perhaps the problem is that it is simply impossible to stop the human body from aging?

I don’t think so.

Gerontologists (people who study the science of aging) agree that slowing or preventing aging (that is, eliminating the faults of and repairing the accumulated damage to the body) is a purely technological problem and can be solved. Additionally, the existence of several animal species that are closely evolutionarily related to humans but live much longer than we do demonstrates that extended longevity is possible.

A “road map” for achieving longevity escape velocity has already been developed in the form of a series of specific steps and studies [4], [5]. We cannot predict which research will result in the elongation of the human life span, as there are multiple hypotheses to be tested, but if any current or future research yields actionable results, our most daring imaginings could be surpassed.

But what if we succeed in extending longevity and the resulting future is undesirable?

No, we will not die due to overpopulation.

  • The world’s human population has increased almost fourfold in the past one hundred years, and far from suffering as a result, we now live longer and enjoy greater quality of life than ever before. In fact, natural population decline is causing its own problems in several countries. In the 1970s, adherents of Thomas Malthus’s belief that unchecked population growth inevitably exhausts resources and yields poverty and degradation predicted a worldwide famine and demographic catastrophe by the year 2000. Their predictions did not come true, as they hadn’t taken into account the rapid expansion of agriculture and food production that did occur [6].

Decades will pass before the demographic consequences of victory over aging begin to impact our lives significantly. We will have enough time to adapt to the new circumstances [7].

No, the secret world elite cannot capture the “philosopher’s stone” and enslave the rest of us.

  • In the first years after antibiotics were discovered, they were available only to the rich. Similarly, today such complex and expensive medical interventions as organ transplantation are not widely available, but this is not a reason to ban them [7]. The treatment of aging will likely be very expensive initially, but as soon as the technology becomes known, endeavors to optimize it and expand its availability will inevitably begin. This is an axiom in modern society. It is already impossible (sometimes frighteningly) to keep significant information secret, and in the case of longevity studies, humanity will benefit.

In view of the preceding, we have no reason to doubt that victory over aging is achievable and will be favorable for humanity.

[For the interested reader: you can find more debunked myths here.]


Scientists and science advocates are working to dispel the above myths, but unfortunately their work has not yet produced the desired outcomes. Although it would seem that the possibility of a cure for aging would attract large amounts of resources and greatly impact human worldview and actions, we simply haven’t seen such an effect.

What if the motivation for our inaction doesn’t come from a rational place?

I believe that the general lack of interest in treating aging comes from a lack of fear of aging, as humans tend not to be consciously afraid of death. Where there is no fear of a phenomenon, there is no aim to eliminate it.

So, why aren’t we afraid of death?

  • Fear is a basic emotion based on the self-preservation instinct. It precipitates as a sudden cognitive and behavioral change stimulated by imminent danger [8].
  • Fear can reinforce social connections, such as when an escape for help calls for collective defense [9]. There are many threats in the world, and fear encourages us to change our behavior and unite in order to protect ourselves against them.

Cancer, terrorism, war, air crashes, environmental degradation, global climate change: these and many other dangers have been accounted for in the multibillion-dollar budgets of individual countries, international organizations, private foundations, and nonprofits. Aging is not on the list. I believe I know why.

In his Pulitzer Prize–winning book The Denial of Death, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker explored the hypothesis that civilization is based not on the suppression of sexuality, as Sigmund Freud believed, but on the suppression of the inherent human fear of death.

Becker argued that at one extreme, civilization is a way for humankind to contain the anxiety of death, and at the other extreme, an individual’s character can be viewed as a complex of defenses against fear of death. In other words, all of our motivation, the whole set of human cognitive attitudes and emotional experiences, is aimed at avoiding the awareness of our own mortality [10].

Despite the fact that we will die someday, few of us think about mortality on a regular basis. In one way or another we become acquainted with death while still children, but our psyche is unable to process the phenomenon fully. Consequently, according to Becker, the unconscious mind forms a complex of balances and defenses that prevent contact with the horror of death.

The existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom holds a similar point of view on the structure of the human psyche. In his book Existential Psychotherapy, he explores in detail how fear of death permeates the whole being, and how much of human activity implicitly results from this fear.

Mental defenses allow us to maintain mental health and keep from sliding into madness. On the other hand, the same defenses limit our freedom and program our reactions. Dependencies, workaholism, daily rituals, narcissism, anxiety, depression . . . The list of such defenses is long, and we utilize them to reduce our fear of death [11]. Becoming aware of one’s own defense strategies is the first step toward freedom from the limitations of the psyche and cognitive distortions.

Ernest Becker’s theory has been further developed and experimentally confirmed in the framework of terror management theory (TMT) [12]. For the first time in psychology, the horror of death has been studied as an experimental variable. In one study, researchers effected a horror of death in participants, activated their awareness of the inevitability of death, and studied the resulting defense mechanisms. Having experienced the anxiety of facing their own mortality, participants were asked to evaluate punishments for violators of cultural norms; these participants chose far more severe punishments than did the control group [13].

After thirty years of research, terror management theory maintains that the most basic reason death is upsetting and motivating is because it undermines the most basic motive of all, which is a prerequisite for all other need satisfaction — staying alive. More specifically, death is a unique motivator because (1) most of an organism’s biological systems function to keep the organism alive, thus averting death; (2) death must be avoided to enhance opportunities for reproduction and care of offspring, both of which are essential for gene perpetuation; (3) death is the only absolutely inevitable future event; and (4) death threatens to undermine all desires, whether for pleasure, belonging, certainty, meaning, control, competence, self-actualization, or growth [14]. I will discuss these facts in more detail in forthcoming articles.

Cultural worldview (religion, nationalism, etc.) and self-esteem are two common buffers that protect our unconscious from the anxiety of death. Almost every religion is predicated on a belief in an afterlife, thereby allowing adherents to control fear by ignoring or denying death. Also, self-esteem and culture fill life with value, helping us to surpass death symbolically by creating the illusion of continuing to exist through the contributions we make that will outlive us or because the community we identify with will continue to exist after our personal death [15].

Cognitive distortions, such as magical thinking or the denying to believe in our own mortality, push out existential questions from our conscious mind, gently urging us to concentrate on the less painful questions of being [12].

To begin truly active work on increasing human life expectancy and defeating age-related diseases, humankind needs to realize the finiteness of life.

Demystifying common defense mechanisms and the tricks our minds play to make us disregard our own mortality will be necessary in the fight against aging. Increasing awareness is often enough to motivate people to examine their defense mechanisms and resolve the cognitive distortions that make work on aging so unapproachable.

Right now, with modern science making possible technologies that had not even been imaginable before, it’s time to face our fear — to recognize the problem of human aging, and frame it not as a philosophical question of being but as an engineering challenge.

Readers of this article will probably not instantly become gerontologists (scientists specializing in the biology of aging) or sponsors of fundamental scientific research; however, an awareness that aging and death are real can only increase mindfulness for anyone who dares to face it, thus making them happier in the long run [16].

P.S.: Become a Radical Life Extension Hero! Support my research on the Patreon!

I am open to any discussion on the topic of longevity studies. Also, I am preparing a speech on the psychological effects of suppressing the fear of death. Experience shows that even a brief overview of this topic stimulates interest in the treatment of aging.

Furthermore, I am beginning research in the field of experimental social psychology and plan to use TMT techniques to identify optimal ways for delivering the message of longevity activists. If you are interested in collaboration of any kind, feel free to contact me here.

I’d like to thank Ekaterina Gorbacheva and Zachary Vigna for their editorial help.

Alex Kadet is a transhumanist, longevity activist, entrepreneur, and expert in death studies. He is also a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party.

Sources:

[1] Pavlov I. P. “Twenty years of experience in the objective research of the higher nervous activity.” Science, Moscow, 1973: p. 237.

[2] Spinoza, B. Ethics. Part 3, proposition 9. 1677.

[3] Vishnevsky, A. G. “Reproduction of the population and society.” Мoscow, 1982: p. 110.

[4https://www.lifespan.io/the-rejuvenation-roadmap/

[5https://www.ted.com/talks/aubrey_de_grey_says_we_can_avoid_aging

[6] Trewavas, A. “Malthus foiled again and again.” Nature, 418 (6898), September 2002: pp. 668–670

[7] Sethe, S. & de Magalhaes, J. P. “Ethical Perspectives in Biogerontology.” In: Ethics, Health Policy and (Anti-) Aging: Mixed Blessings, ed. Schermer, M. & Pinxten, W. Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2013: pp. 173–188.

[8] Izard, I. The Emotions of Humans. Мoscow, 1980: p. 52–71.

[9] Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. Ethology: The biology of behavior. Oxford, England, 1970

[10] Becker, E. The Denial of Death. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1973.

[11] Yalom, I. D. Existential Psychotherapy. Basic Books, New York”, 1980.

[12] Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T. & Solomon, S. “The causes and consequences of a need for self-esteem: A terror management theory.” In: Public Self and Private Self, ed. R. F. Baumeister. Springer-Verlag, New York, 1986: pp. 189–212.

[13] Rosenblatt, A., Greenberg, J., Solomon S., Pyszczynski, T. & Lyon, D. “Evidence for terror management theory: I. The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who violate or uphold cultural values.” J. Pers. Soc. Psychol., Vol. 57, 1989: pp. 681–90.

[14] Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & Greenberg, J. L. “Thirty Years of Terror Management Theory: From Genesis to Revelation.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 52, 2015: pp. 1–70.

[15] Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & Greenberg, J. L. (2015). Thirty Years of Terror Management Theory: From Genesis to Revelation. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 52, pp. 1–70): Psychological Mechanisms Through Which Thoughts of Death Affect Behavior

[16] Killingsworth, M. A. & Gilbert, D. T.. “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.” Science, Vol. 330, issue 6006, 2010: p. 932.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II Answers Common Interview Questions

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II Answers Common Interview Questions

Gennady Stolyarov II


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party and Chief Executive of the Nevada Transhumanist Party, answers questions posed by Francesco Sacco, which are representative of common points of inquiry regarding transhumanism and the Transhumanist Party:

1. What is Transhumanism and what inspired you to follow it?
2. What are the long-term goals of the Transhumanist party?
3. What are your thoughts on death and eternal life through technological enhancements?
4. Do you feel there are any disadvantages to having access to the cure for death? What advantages are there?

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our Membership Application Form here.

See Mr. Stolyarov’s presentation, “The U.S. Transhumanist Party: Pursuing a Peaceful Political Revolution for Longevity“.

International Team Publishes Roadmap to Enhance Radioresistance for Space Colonization – Press Release by Biogerontology Research Foundation

International Team Publishes Roadmap to Enhance Radioresistance for Space Colonization – Press Release by Biogerontology Research Foundation

Biogerontology Research Foundation


 

IMAGE: These are ways to reduce health risks from space radiation during deep space travels. Multiple approaches from medical selection of radioresistant individuals to gene therapy may be proposed.

Editor’s Note: Below is a press release by the Biogerontology Research Foundation which features a roadmap to enhance radioresistance for space exploration and colonization, published by an international team of scientists from NASA, Health Canada, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and many other organizations. This press release was originally published here.

~ Dinorah Delfin, Director of Admissions and Public Relations, U.S. Transhumanist Party, February 22, 2018

An international team of researchers from NASA Ames Research Center, Environmental and Radiation Health Sciences Directorate at Health Canada, Oxford University, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, Insilico Medicine, the Biogerontology Research Center, Boston University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Lethbridge, Ghent University, Center for Healthy Aging, and many others have published a roadmap toward enhancing human radioresistance for space exploration and colonization in the peer-reviewed journal Oncotarget.

“Our recent manuscript provides a comprehensive review of radioresistance for space radiation. Currently there is minimal research being done for radioresistance against HZE irradiation. The importance of these types of studies will be to reduce the associated health risks for long-term space exploration and allow for the development of potential countermeasures against space radiation. In addition, the synergy between understanding aging with radioresistance will allow for further benefits for humans in long-term space missions and allow for reduced health risk. This review sets the stage for the potential research the scientific community can do to allow for safe long term space exploration” said Afshin Beheshti, an author of the paper and a Bioinformatician at NASA Ames Research Center.

The roadmap outlines future research directions toward the goal of enhancing human radioresistance, including upregulation of endogenous repair and radioprotective mechanisms, possible leeways into gene therapy in order to enhance radioresistance via the translation of exogenous and engineered DNA repair and radioprotective mechanisms, the substitution of organic molecules with fortified isoforms, the coordination of regenerative and ablative technologies, and methods of slowing metabolic activity while preserving cognitive function. The paper concludes by presenting the known associations between radioresistance and longevity, and articulating the position that enhancing human radioresistance is likely to extend the healthspan of human spacefarers as well.

“This paper explores the foreseeable means by which human radioresistance could be biomedically enhanced for the purposes of space exploration and colonization. It also aims to elucidate the links between aging, longevity and radioresistance, and the ways in which research into enhancing human radioresistance could synergistically enable human healthspan extension, ultimately highlighting how ongoing research into the very well-funded sphere of aerospace research could galvanize progress in biomedical gerontology, a massively under-funded area of research despite the grave economic burden posed by demographic aging” said Franco Cortese, an author of the paper and Deputy Director of the Biogerontology Research Foundation.

The publication of the paper in Oncotarget this week is timely, given the test launch of the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s largest rocket to date, just last week. Interest into space exploration and even colonisation has been mounting for a number of years. Less than one year ago Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, unveiled a roadmap toward colonizing Mars, outlining the ambitious goal of placing a million people on Mars within the next 40 to 100 years. If interest in space colonization continues apace, research into methods of enhancing radioresistance to protect against the various forms of space radiation that spacefarers would be subjected to needs to be accelerated accordingly.

“In linking ageing and radioresistance and tying together research into enhancing the radioresistance of astronauts with the extension of healthy longevity, we hope to have shown how aerospace research could be used to leapfrog the massive funding deficit surrounding the clinical translation of healthspan-extending interventions, in order to brave the storm of the oncoming Silver Tsunami and prevent the looming economic crisis posed by demographic aging” said Dmitry Kaminskiy, an author of the paper and Managing Trustee of the Biogerontology Research Foundation.

The roadmap highlights the need to converge and accelerate research in radiobiology, biogerontology and AI to enable spacefarers to address both the healthcare challenges that we are already aware of, as well as those that we are not.

“Sooner or later we’ll have to do it – leave Earth and wander into deep space. Such travel, taking one or more years outside the Earth’s magnetosphere, would take a high toll on astronauts’ health due to exposure to cosmic radiation. So it’s better to start thinking now about how we are going to cope with that challenge. Luckily, current knowledge from such fields as radiobiology, aging research and biotechnology in general, with the wealth of recent advances in gene editing and regenerative medicine, allow for the drafting of conceptual roadmaps to enhance human resistance to cosmic radiation. This is exactly what this work is all about. It was fun and a pleasure to partake in this theoretical project with such a diverse international team. We were just throwing ideas on the table, some being quite ambitious and futuristic, and then examining them carefully for feasibility and assessing their potential. The work laid out several interesting directions and concepts that can eventually pay off. Last but not least, I think it is also very important to attract widespread attention and interest to this topic” said Dmitry Klokov, an author of the paper and Section Head of the Radiobiology & Health section at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.

Furthermore, given the massive amount of funding allocated to research into facilitating and optimizing space exploration and optimization, the researchers hope to have shown how research into enhancing radioresistance for space exploration could galvanize progress in human healthspan extension, an area of research that is still massively underfunded despite its potential to prevent the massive economic burden posed by the future healthcare costs associated with demographic aging.

“This roadmap sets the stage for enhancing human biology beyond our natural limits in ways that will confer not only longevity and disease resistance but will be essential for future space exploration” said João Pedro de Magalhães, an author of the paper and a Trustee of the Biogerontology Research Foundation.

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The paper, entitled “Vive la radiorésistance!: converging research in radiobiology and biogerontology to enhance human radioresistance for deep space exploration and colonization”, can be viewed on Oncotarget here.

Citation: Franco Cortese, Dmitry Klokov, Andreyan Osipov, Jakub Stefaniak, Alexey Moskalev, Jane Schastnaya, Charles Cantor, Alexander Aliper, Polina Mamoshina, Igor Ushakov, Alex Sapetsky, Quentin Vanhaelen, Irina Alchinova, Mikhail Karganov, Olga Kovalchuk, Ruth Wilkins, Andrey Shtemberg, Marjan Moreels, Sarah Baatout, Evgeny Izumchenko, João Pedro de Magalhães, Artem V. Artemov, Sylvain V. Costes, Afshin Beheshti, Xiao Wen Mao, Michael J. Pecaut, Dmitry Kaminskiy, Ivan V. Ozerov, Morten Scheibye-Knudsen and Alex Zhavoronkov. Vive la radiorésistance!: converging research in radiobiology and biogerontology to enhance human radioresistance for deep space exploration and colonization, Epub ahead of print. Published online 2018 February 09. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.24461

About the Biogerontology Research Foundation:

The Biogerontology Research Foundation is a UK non-profit research foundation and public policy center seeking to fill a gap within the research community, whereby the current scientific understanding of the ageing process is not yet being sufficiently exploited to produce effective medical interventions. The BGRF funds and conducts research which, building on the body of knowledge about how ageing happens, aims to develop biotechnological interventions to remediate the molecular and cellular deficits which accumulate with age and which underlie the ill-health of old age. Addressing ageing damage at this most fundamental level will provide an important opportunity to produce the effective, lasting treatments for the diseases and disabilities of ageing, required to improve quality of life in the elderly. The BGRF seeks to use the entire scope of modern biotechnology to attack the changes that take place in the course of ageing, and to address not just the symptoms of age-related diseases but also the mechanisms of those diseases.