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Nicola Bagalà Interviews Reason of the Fight Aging! Blog and Repair Biotechnologies

Nicola Bagalà Interviews Reason of the Fight Aging! Blog and Repair Biotechnologies

Reason
Nicola Bagalà


Editor’s note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guest Nicola Bagalà, originally published by our allies at the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on May 14th, 2018. In this article, Mr. Bagalà interviews Reason, an activist who has been helping scientists to cure age-related diseases and posting in-depth commentary on a blog dating back to the 2000s. Reason has helped multiple fundraisers and contributed much more to the progress of life-extension research. The topics of the interview range from a quick biography of Reason’s involvement in fighting age-related diseases, to a discussion of when aging will be defined as a disease by the FDA. The interview also covers Reason’s new company, called Repair Biotechnologies.

~Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, June 25, 2019

Most people interested in rejuvenation and life extension are familiar with Fight Aging!, one of the very first rejuvenation advocacy blogs dating back all the way to the early 2000s; if you’re one of them, then you certainly are familiar with Reason, the man behind FA!.

Over the years, Reason has been a patient yet relentless advocate, acting not only as an information provider for the public but also helping out innumerable organizations and companies in the field of rejuvenation biotechnology in financial and other ways. Back in the day when SRF didn’t exist yet, Reason was a volunteer for Methuselah Foundation; eventually, he helped fund companies such as Oisìn Biotechnologies, CellAge, and LysoCLEAR; and, earlier this month, Reason and Bill Cherman co-founded Repair Biotechnologies, a company focused on gene therapy for rejuvenation, as announced on FA!.

Bill Cherman is an investor in the rejuvenation community who, just like Reason, has contributed to development of many ventures in the field. He is a holder of a gold medal in the Brazilian Mathematics Olympiad, a BA in economics, and a candidate in the Master of Biotechnology Enterprise and Entrepreneurship program at Johns Hopkins. He founded Front Seat Capital, a venture capital firm looking to invest in startups with the potential to change the world.

Repair Biotechnologies, which is presently looking for a Chief Science Officer, will kickstart its activities with a project on thymic regeneration in partnership with Ichor Therapeutics—the creators of LysoCLEAR, Antoxerene, and RecombiPure. The goal of the company, as you can imagine, is to shorten the journey of rejuvenation therapies from the lab to the clinic.

It is extremely heartening to see more and more rejuvenation-focused companies and organizations sprouting and building up to the turning point when this emerging field of science will cease being fringe and become a hot topic not only in the relatively small circle of biogerontology (where it has been one for a while now) but also in business and public discourse. We’re very grateful to Reason and Bill for taking us yet another step closer to the finish line and for answering our questions.

We’d like to ask some details of your story as a rejuvenation advocate. When and under what circumstances did it become clear to you that aging is a problem?

While it would be delightful to claim that I am a rational entity who came to that conclusion through utilitarian thought, in fact, it was more of a bolt from the blue. For no apparent reason, it suddenly came to me one evening that I didn’t want to die – and not in the academic way that most people hold that conviction but a deep, visceral, adrenaline-laden realization of the sort in which one accepts immediately that something important in life has been done and determined, a corner turned. Before that happened, I was no more than passingly interested in aging as a topic, but afterwards… well, I woke up. Of course, that was a long time ago now, far prior to my present understanding of what is plausible and possible, and realization on its own achieves nothing. It took years to learn enough to progress any sort of understanding as to how a non-life-scientist could make a difference.

We have noticed that there has been a sea change in both progress and enthusiasm from the academic community for rejuvenation biotechnology and targeting aging directly to prevent age-related diseases. Have you observed a similar rise in support, and what factors, if any, do you think are driving this?

I think that these things progress in cycles, based on the timescale of human collaboration. It takes a few years to go from desire to setting up an organization, a few years for the organization to get somewhere, and a few years for others to be inspired to their ventures by the organization. Bootstrapping only looks smooth in hindsight. We have been transitioning from one business cycle to another these past few years, which looks like a big leap in enthusiasm as it occurs, but the roots of this were set down five to ten years ago. I would say those roots included the final tipping point studies for senolytics, the spin-off of the SENS Research Foundation from the Methuselah Foundation, the injection of funding for SENS around then, and a number of other, related items.

It we look around today, a bigger community is planting a larger crop of seeds that will come to fruition in the mid-2020s, and today’s seeds include startup biotechnology companies in the SENS space, new advocacy initiatives like LEAF hitting their stride, and so forth.

Thanks to the efforts of many advocates, yours included, public perception of rejuvenation is also shifting. How close do you think we are to widespread acceptance?

I don’t think acceptance matters – that might be the wrong term to focus on here. Acceptance will occur when the therapies are in the clinic. People will use them, and everyone will conveniently forget all the objections voiced. The most important thing is not acceptance but rather material support for development of therapies. The help of only a tiny fraction of the population is needed to fund the necessary research to a point of self-sustained development, and that is the important thing. Create beneficial change, and people will accept it. Yet, you cannot just go and ask a few people. Persuading many people is necessary because that is the path to obtaining the material support of the necessary few: people do not donate their time and funds to unpopular or unknown causes; rather, they tend to follow their social groups.

Last year, you talked about the importance of sustained advocacy being as important as supporting the research itself. You wrote about a number of approaches to advocacy, including ours. Have you noticed an improvement in the quality of advocacy since then, and do you still maintain that professional advocacy is as important to the cause as research is?

Fishing for compliments? I’m very pleased with the progression of LEAF and with advocacy in general in our space. People have come and gone over the years, but this latest group of advocates appears to have set up shop for the long term. That is important and a welcome change. I can’t keep writing Fight Aging! forever, if only because hands and schedules eventually give way under the accumulated burdens of the years. There must be far more voices doing this same sort of work, all in their own varied ways. Diversity and redundancy are both important aspects of advocacy – many people arguing in their own ways for a given point of view are needed in order to persuade the world at large.

Presently, rejuvenation is a relatively unknown topic; people who say they’re against this technology probably don’t think it’s a concrete possibility anyway. However, as more important milestones will be reached—for example, robust mouse rejuvenation—this might change. Do you think that these milestones will result in opponents changing their attitudes or becoming more entrenched?

Opposition to human rejuvenation therapies is almost entirely irrational; either (a) it’s a dismissal of an unfamiliar topic based on the heuristic that 95% of unfamiliar topics turn out to be not worth the effort when investigated further, or (b) it’s a rejection of anything that might result in sizable change in personal opinion, life, and plans, such as the acceptance of aging and death that people have struggled to attain. This sort of opposition isn’t based on an engagement with facts, so I think a sizable proportion of these folk will keep on being irrational in the face of just any scientific advance or other new factual presentation short of their physicians prescribing rejuvenation therapies to treat one or more of their current symptoms of aging.

On the other hand, there will be steady progress in winning people over in the sense of supporting rejuvenation in the same sense as supporting cancer research: they know nothing much about the details, but they know that near everyone supports cancer research, and cancer is generally agreed to be a bad thing, so they go along. Achieving this change is a bootstrapping progress of persuading opinion makers and broadcasters, people who are nodes in the network of society. Here, milestones and facts are much more helpful.

After years of financially supporting other rejuvenation startups, you’re now launching your own company focused on gene therapies relevant to rejuvenation. What drove your decision to do this?

In the course of funding companies, one learns a great deal about the bounds of what might be achieved and the sort of work that is needed: it isn’t uncommon for investors to become entrepreneurs and vice versa. There are large overlaps in the mental toolkits required, and it is a logical evolution seen from either side. Moreover, in the course of investing in startups, one meets people in the community, such as my cofounder Bill, who intend to both fund and run companies, and it turns out that we work together quite well. As in all such things, it has a lot more to do with happenstance leading to the right arrangements of people and much less to do with the technical landscape at the time.

Your company’s first objective is thymic regeneration. Why do you think the thymus is the ideal initial target for your work?

It is a very straightforward goal, with a lot of supporting evidence from the past few decades of research. It think it is important to set forth at the outset with something simple, direct, and focused, insofar as any biotechnology project can be said to have those attributes. This is a part of the SENS rejuvenation research agenda in the sense of cell atrophy: the core problem is loss of active thymic tissue, which leads to loss of T cell production and, consequently, immunodeficiency. However, the immune system is so core to the health of the individual that any form of restoration can beneficially affect a great many other systems. The many facets of the immune system don’t just kill off invading pathogens; they are also responsible for destroying problem cells (cancers, senescent cells), and they participate in tissue maintenance and function in many ways.

You are using gene therapy; why have you chosen this delivery method specifically and not, for example, a small-molecule approach?

If your aim is to raise or lower expression of a specific protein, and you don’t already have a small molecule that does pretty much what you want it to do without horrible side-effects, then you can pay $1-2M for a shot at finding a starting point in the standard drug discovery databases. That frequently doesn’t work, the odds of success are essentially unknown for any specific case, and the starting point then needs to be refined at further cost and odds of failure. This is, for example, the major sticking point for anyone wanting to build a small-molecule glucosepane breaker – the price of even starting to roll the dice is high, much larger than the funding any usual startup crew can obtain.

On the other hand, assuming you are working with a cell population that can be transduced by a gene therapy to a large enough degree to produce material effects, then $1-2M will fairly reliably get you all the way from the stage of two people in a room with an idea to the stage of having animal data sufficient enough to start the FDA approval process.

You are working with SRF spin-off company Ichor Therapeutics; what was the reason for choosing to work with Kelsey and the Ichor team?

Because they are great. Kelsey has achieved considerable success, bootstrapping from nothing but a plan, and has an excellent team. Their philosophy of development dovetails well with ours, both in terms of short-term development of a biotech startup and in the longer term of how we’d like to see this industry develop over the next 10-15 years.

Will your company focus on lab work, or do you plan to run human trials once a sufficiently advanced stage has been reached?

We’re absolutely signed up for the end-to-end path of getting a therapy into the clinic. That is the whole point of the exercise – to bring therapies into general availability. Of course, there will be a great deal of lab work to accomplish between here and there.

The FDA doesn’t recognize aging as a disease, so it won’t approve drugs to target it directly. Is this a problem for your company’s activities?

Remember that when talking to the FDA, one usually starts with just a small patient group with a single age-related condition, a fraction of everyone that might eventually be helped. This is done to control costs and ensure the best possible chance of a successful approval by narrowing the focus to a very clear, simple experiment. After this, one expands to larger patient groups and more expensive trials. As it happens, the effects of immunosenescence on health are so widespread and similar from individual to individual that it wouldn’t be hard to pick a clearly defined condition and patient population that covers near everyone in late life. Unfortunately, one would have to have very deep pockets indeed to pick that as the first option for entering the approval process – one has to work up to it.

What are Repair Biotechnologies’ possible future targets after thymic regeneration?

We’re looking into a couple of interesting options, guided by the SENS philosophy of damage repair, but it is very challenging to say at this stage which of them will prove the most advantageous to attempt. Obviously, at this stage, the primary focus has to be on success in our first venture.

What do you think are currently the most promising research avenues within each rejuvenation therapy subfield?

We have a challenge today in that we have the DNA of a patient advocacy community trying to get work to proceed at all. So, for fifteen years, our measure of success was “are people paying more attention to this?” Now, we have to start thinking like a development community, in which success revolves around “does this implementation actually work in humans, and how well does it work, and how much does it cost?”

In all too many cases, we don’t yet know the answers to these questions: the data isn’t there yet for senolytics, for example. So, you can look at senolytic efforts and know who has the most funding and attention but have no idea which of the therapeutic approaches actually represent the most significant progress at the end of the day. For all we know, dasatinib might turn out to be the most cost-effective of all of the current small-molecule approaches, with everything everyone has done since then coming in a poor second-best, and we won’t find this out for years, as no one has any incentive to run the necessary large-scale trials on an existing drug.

Dr. de Grey is hopeful, but not certain, that immunotherapy might make OncoSENS unnecessary. What do you think?

I have long thought that canonical OncoSENS – whole-body interdiction of lengthening of telomeres – might be rendered unnecessary by sufficiently advanced incremental progress in other areas of cancer research. That said, it should be so cost-effective that it is hard to imagine “sufficiently advanced incremental progress” not incorporating interference with telomeres in some way. People other than SENS-funded groups are working on it, after all.

If you think about it, restoring the immune system to youthful capacity should also help to achieve this goal; there is evidence to suggest that age-related immune dysfunction drives age-related cancer risk and that this correlates well with thymic decline. The world will still need highly effective, low-side-effect cancer therapies even if everyone has the cancer risk profile of a young adult, of course, but far less frequently.

What do you realistically expect might happen, over the next 25 years, in terms of rejuvenation research results, funding, clinical applications, and availability?

Well, that’s an essay in and of itself. I think my views on the technology itself are fairly widely known: I’ve written a few short essays on likely ordering of development. The funding will  continue to grow year-over-year to the degree that any success is achieved in the clinic. However, everything takes a very long time in medicine due to the way in which regulation works, no matter how fast the technology is running in the labs, and the pace of technological progress in biotechnology is accelerating. At some point, the system exemplified by the FDA will break because cheap and effective therapies coming out of the labs will be so far ahead of what is available in the clinic that they will leak out into some other form of commercial development. Who knows what that will look like? Perhaps it will be a network of overseas non-profits that run their own, lighter and faster, validations of trials and presentations of human data gathered from participating clinics. I think that next-generation gene therapies, evolutions of CRISPR, will likely precipitate this sort of reordering of the landscape.

Do you expect that aging might relatively soon be officially considered a disease, or a co-morbid syndrome, by WHO and the FDA?

No. Regulation typically lags behind reality by many years. What will probably take place is some sort of battle of wills and lawyers over widespread off-label use for rejuvenation therapies, most likely senolytics, that have only been narrowly approved for specific age-related conditions. That will go on for a while and, ultimately, generate sufficient critical press attention to induce regulators to back off from trying to suppress that off-label use and, instead, accept aging as an approved indication. This hypothetical scenario could run a decade or more from beginning to end.

The availability of rejuvenation therapies doesn’t depend only on their cost; it also depends on how they’re regulated in each specific country. Do you imagine “rejuvenation tourism” will exist for long, or at all, before these treatments are part of the standard medical toolkit everywhere?

The development of stem cell therapies is the example to look at here. These therapies were available via medical tourism for a decade prior to the first approved treatments in the US, and this continues to be the case even afterwards, as only a narrow slice of therapies have been approved. Medical regulation is slow-moving, and so medical tourism will be long-lasting. I think this will work exactly the same way for other broad classes of therapy, such as gene therapies.

What is, in your view, the biggest bottleneck to progress in aging research?

Either (a) the lack of funding for research and early-stage startup development or (b) the low number of entrepreneurs, one of the two. Probably funding, as money can be used to craft an 80/20 solution to the shortage of entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurs can only reliably solve the lack of funding problem if there are a lot of them. Almost every specific instance of things not moving forward that I’ve seen could be addressed by a well-thought-out application of funds to the situation.

The chasm between academic research and early-stage commercial development is also a sizable issue. The academic side does a terrible job of reaching out to find entrepreneurs and companies that can carry forward their research to benefit patients. The entire biotechnology industry (entrepreneurs, investors, bigger companies and funding entities) collectively does a terrible job of reaching back into the academic community to fund, encourage, and adopt the most promising research. So, projects that should move instead languish for years because no one is taking the obvious steps to improve on the situation.

Right now, there don’t seem to be any unexpected problems with the science that might jeopardize the development of rejuvenation. Do you think that any particular areas of research might run into difficulties down the road?

No. I think all the unexpected problems will be implementation details. It is perfectly possible to have the correct strategy and the wrong tactics, and this happens all the time in complex fields such as biotechnology – it doesn’t take much of an error in interpreting research results to derail the original plan and require a new direction. Most such challenges are short-term and can be worked around with some loss of time and money, but there are certainly past instances in which the company is lost because there is no viable way to salvage a better path.

This is what happened to one of the early AGE-breaker efforts, the development of ALT-711: removing AGEs still seems very much a correct approach to the age-related stiffening of tissues, but a drug that works in rodents will do nothing in people because the physiologically relevant AGEs are completely different. At that time, the researchers didn’t have that critical piece of information. We will no doubt see similar stories occur again in the future.

Caloric restriction and exercise may also potentially convey some small increase in life expectancy. Given that the goal is to reach longevity escape velocity, do you practice a particular diet or exercise program, and would you encourage people to consider such approaches?

I have always suggested that people look into the simple, reliable things they can do for better health. The way to look at this is through the lens of cost-effectiveness. Calorie restriction and exercise are cheap, easy, and highly reliable. They don’t adjust your life expectancy by decades, but since they are cheap, easy, and reliable, you should still look into it. There are many different ways to approach both, so just because an attempt fails or isn’t palatable, that’s no excuse to give up on the whole endeavor. At the end of the day, it is a personal choice, of course. We can always choose to be less healthy; that’s easy to do in the present environment.

You’ve written many articles on the topic of self-experimentation on FA. Can you summarize your views?

The current self-experimentation community – and here I include many disparate groups, only tenuously linked, with interests in nootropics, anti-aging, muscle building, and so forth – is woefully disorganized and ill-educated when it comes to the risks and scientific knowledge of the compounds they try. If one in twenty of the people who have tried dasatinib as a senolytic have (a) read the papers on pharmacokinetics in human volunteers, (b) recalculated likely human doses from the senolytic animal studies and compared them with human chemotherapy studies, or (c) actually tested the compound delivered by a supplier to ensure purity, I would be astoundingly surprised.

The bar for quality and safety in this community needs to be raised, and that is the primary purpose behind my writing articles on self-experimentation. Whatever I say, people are going to be out there trying senolytics – many of these compounds are cheap, easily available, and hyped. What they should be doing instead of rushing in is thinking for themselves and reading widely. If I can do a little to help make that happen, then all to the good.

What is your take-home message for our readers?

There is always a way to help accelerate the development of rejuvenation therapies – there is always something that one can do and feel good enough about doing to do it well. Don’t know what that something might be? Then talk with people in the community. Reach out, go to meetings, post online. Don’t force it. It will come to you in time.

Nicola Bagalà is a bit of a jack of all trades—a holder of an M.Sc. degree in mathematics; an amateur programmer; a hobbyist at novel writing, piano, and art; and, of course, a passionate life extensionist. After his interest in the science of undoing aging arose in 2011, he gradually shifted from quiet supporter to active advocate in 2015, first launching his advocacy blog Rejuvenaction before eventually joining LEAF. These years in the field sparked an interest in molecular biology, which he actively studies. Other subjects he loves to discuss to no end are cosmology, artificial intelligence, and many others—far too many for a currently normal lifespan, which is one of the reasons he’s into life extension.

Life Extension, Inequality, and Resource Scarcity: Dealing with Anti-Transhumanist Stereotypes – Article by Sarah Lim

Life Extension, Inequality, and Resource Scarcity: Dealing with Anti-Transhumanist Stereotypes – Article by Sarah Lim

Sarah Lim


One of the most major accusations the transhumanist movement faces is the charge of elitism. Journalists such as Alexander Thomas and Jessica Powell have claimed that the spread of transhumanist ideals could lead to the worsening of already severe income inequality in developed nations such as the U.S. With billionaires like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel being the most prominent investors in the immortality industry, liberal journalists have tended to paint the transhumanist movement as a vain pursuit for the wealthy.

This article is a message to my fellow transhumanists. While these charges might seem unreasonably derisive, we cannot leave them unanswered. It’s easy to dismiss our critics as luddites, “deathists”, or a group of unimaginative bioconservatives who are suffering from sour-grape syndrome. As I keep saying to my friend Hank Pellissier, “you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.” It may not be wise to alienate our critics by dismissing them as bitter have-nots or bioconservatives who are resistant to technological progress because they can’t imagine the potential benefits of having a triple-digit health span.

Anti-immortalist sentiment

The single greatest charge levied at immortalists is that we are inevitably going to exacerbate the existing problem of overpopulation and resource scarcity. In the last two centuries and a half, the world’s population has grown exponentially. In 1800, the global population stood at 1 billion; as of last year it was 7.6 billion. By the time we’re little way past the Singularity in 2050, the global population is projected to hit 11.2 billion. Most folks and most mainstream scientists argue that a double-digit lifespan is an absolute biological necessity to keep this number from exploding further. This is probably the greatest objection the mainstream public has to radical lifespan extension.

“Privilege” has unfortunately become a very hackneyed word in the last decade, but it’s one that mainstream liberal critics keep on bringing up in their objections of radical lifespan extension. Here comes That Eye Roll-Inducing Statement; in particular, liberal feminist journalists like to criticise that transhumanist movement for “being a movement made for cis straight white upper-middle class men with enough disposable income to benefit from the latest advancements in healthcare.”  Sanjana Varghese at The New Statesman forebodingly warns her readers that “the first men to conquer death will create a new social order – a terrifying one.” Varghese warns that the rich, able-bodied Caucasian men who will be the first to have access to immortality treatments will create a dystopian future where we have Elon living to be 500, while the have-nots live much shorter lives and are forced to deal with a declining global economy and increasingly unaffordable healthcare.

Anyone who isn’t a Tumblr native probably has their pupils in the backs of their skulls right now.

Nevertheless, we can’t let these criticisms go unanswered. We can’t just dismiss them as liberal whinging or bioconservative paranoia. Public intellectuals like Nassim Taleb, John Gray and Leon Kass have gained a lot of media traction for their impassioned criticisms of radical life extension. The perpetuation of the view of transhumanism as an elitist “cis, straight, rich, able-bodied white man’s” game is going to undermine the potential for transhumanism to be taken seriously.

There are ideas, and then there are ideas.

Transhumanists are aware that we are of a minority viewpoint and that we view human exceptionalism differently from both the world’s religious majority and from the mainstream scientific atheist community. We don’t view biological death and the termination of individual consciousness as facts of life that need to be accepted prima facie, and we don’t unquestioningly accept natural biological functions as being sacred and off-limits from deliberate technological alteration. However, we must acknowledge that much more PR work needs to be done to assuage the public’s hostilities towards the transhumanist movement’s long-term goals.

The fact that the transhumanist movement itself even exists is itself remarkable. Our movement is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and humanity’s inextinguishable desire for perpetual self-improvement, beyond biological determinism. But we must also constantly remind ourselves that radical shifts in social paradigms are long-term goals. Making transhumanism mainstream is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. Our paradise-engineering goals are noble, but we have to be realistic in our approximation of the time it will take to reach them.

Climate change is another hot-button issue closely related to overpopulation. Since the end of last year, scientists have become increasingly pessimistic about humanity’s ability to cope with environmental degradation in the decades to come.

While our individual opinions on this may vary, I applaud Gennady Stolyarov II for making a public statement declaring that the U.S. Transhumanist Party takes climate change seriously, as he states in this article here: “Ideas for Technological Solutions to Destructive Climate Change“. 

Critics of transhumanism, especially liberal journalists and online environmental activists, have often painted transhumanists as having our priorities wrongly arranged. Indefinite biological lifespan extension and cryonics won’t matter if society collapses due to resource scarcity, droughts, tornados, and food shortages, they retort. Again, proposing that the time is now right for biomedical and biotech fields in developed nations to pursue the goals of indefinite lifespan extension can appear to be utterly tone-deaf in the face of the oncoming ecological crisis. And rightly so.

The World Bank estimates that over 200 million people from the sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia could be driven into refugee status by 2045 – which is, coincidentally, Ray Kurzweil’s much-hyped appointed year of the Singularity. To give us an idea of how disruptive this is going to be, says David Wallace-Wells the 2015 Syrian migrant crisis in Europe was the result of just one hundred thousand refugees entering Europe; and look at the unprecedented level of political destabilization that followed it in just a span of 4 years.

Transhumanists cannot forget that the majority of us were lucky enough to be born into relatively favorable circumstances. Most of us live in developed nations, or at least developed cities, away from natural-disaster-prone, pandemic-prone, and conflict-prone areas. If we don’t have diabetes or heart disease and don’t smoke, we can reasonably expect to live until 75 (barring a freak accident). In contrast, the expectancy in some of the least developed parts of Africa is as low as 50 years flat. I was talking to my friend Hank, who runs the Brighter Brains Institute and who does humanitarian work in Kenya, was telling me that he’s often called the “really old man” by the Kenyan children he works with, because anyone who manages to survive past 60 is considered exceptionally long-lived in Kenya.

So what can be done about this?

How can we can dispel the negative stereotypes surrounding transhumanism and radical lifespan extension? The most immediate thing that comes to mind would be more public dialogues and conferences to engage a mainstream audience. The Methuselah Foundation’s CEO David Gobel has publicly stated in a CNBC interview that, “the vast majority of life-extension proponents don’t want things to be expensive,” and would rather make life extension affordable for the majority of the public. A fellow immortalist and Cosmist, Giovanni Santostasi like to use the analogy of mobile phones when they first came out in the 1980s. They were the size of bricks, had minimal connection, and cost a few thousand dollars each; but they became a major status symbol for rich Americans, anyway. Fast forward to 2019; literally everyone and their mother has a cell phone you can text on and take pictures with, i ncluding farmers living in rural Indonesia who are barely above the poverty line. Giovanni is optimistic that radical life extension treatments (and later mind-uploading services) will have a similar trajectory of development.

However, this leads us back to the overpopulation problem. If radical longevity becomes readily affordable to 70% of the public in developed nations, how will the world deal with a further exacerbation of the overpopulation problem? Perhaps what could be done is to hold a public forum specifically dedicated to addressing issues regarding the relationships between transhumanism, resource scarcity, and income inequality. Sociologists, economists, and humanitarian advocates in the transhumanist movement could mobilise to make such a forum a reality soon.

This article is dedicated to my fellow transhumanist humanitarian advocates, Dinorah Delfin and Hank Pellissier.

Disclaimer: If you don’t think that climate change and income inequality are major global concerns, and feel that I’m being a climate alarmist or preachy moralist who’s just delivering holier-than-thou declarations from my soap box, I won’t try to change your mind. If however, you’d like to rationally and politely debate the points I’ve raised in this article, you can PM me at Sarah Chowhugger on Facebook.

Sarah Lim is a fourth-year political science major at the National University of Singapore. She is a proud supporter of the transhumanist movement and aims to do her best to promote transhumanism and progress towards the Singularity.

Why Non-Existence is Suffering, and Why We Shouldn’t Accept It as a Given – Article by Sarah Lim

Why Non-Existence is Suffering, and Why We Shouldn’t Accept It as a Given – Article by Sarah Lim

Sarah Lim


My friend Alexey Turchin, a fellow supporter of the mass technological resurrection, has made an eyebrow-raising claim in one of his recent presentations: non-existence is a form of suffering. That in itself appears to be an oxymoronic claim. How can an individual suffer when they have no conscious experiences at all, since personal consciousness is permanently annihilated forever upon bodily death? Philosophically speaking, this is impossible. You need to be conscious to be able to experience either pain or pleasure. However, Alexey argues that the permanent cessation of consciousness can be considered the ultimate form of suffering because it means that the individual will forever be deprived of any further opportunities to experience the physical world. This means literally never existing ever again; which makes it doubly worse if you happened to get an unfortunate lot in this current life. This is a grim reality that atheists across the entire world must contend with.

Being an atheist in the late modern period is a very unique experience in its own ways, especially for those who fell out of the womb into religious abodes. The Richard Dawkinses of the world can attest to the extent of the cognitive dissonance that comes with a life trajectory of being repeatedly told that an all-loving, all-powerful deity exists and that everything your religious tradition says is truth that must be accepted at face value — only to go to a secular public school and receive a proper education in history, critical thinking, and good ol’ science.

The shattering of your entire worldview and belief system can be likened to coming home at the end of the day to find your wife in bed with a Mickey Mouse impersonator who works at Disneyland, while he’s still fully clad in the Mickey suit. The realization of absurdity that comes with an overhauling of one’s worldview this radical can range from breeding quiet cynicism, to full-blown distress and an existentialist crisis. This depends on the degree to which your previously held religious convictions held sway over your life. Both Michael Shermer and I went down this same route (although I was fortunate enough to have my transformative moment at a considerably younger age than Shermer). Shermer was previously in pursuit of a PhD in theology when he lost his faith; I was cajoled into a far-right radical Calvinist sect when I was 13, by an online friend who had convinced me that if I didn’t proselytize my faith to everybody else in Singapore, God would force me to watch my family get repeatedly eviscerated with hot iron blades for all of eternity. My church strongly discouraged women from pursuing higher education and regularly reminded its female parishoners that God would like them to obey their husbands. When I was 16, I was propositioned by a 21-year-old male youth group member who strongly hinted that I was at the appropriate age where he could ask me to become his wife.

And then when I was 17, I studied enough philosophy to find out that the whole damn thing was made up by a bunch of people as they were going along and that Heaven wasn’t real. And that every single human being who is born will naturally be destined to spend all of eternity in an empty, dark void once each of our individual brains cease all neural function. Needless to say, I didn’t take to this revelation well.

Understandably, most atheists aren’t chuffed about the idea of spending the next 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years being unable to see, hear, feel, smell, or think anything at all. But most of us still consider that a veritable improvement from spending the next 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years being fully conscious while being boiled in a pit of sulfur as punishment for not tithing or sharing a kiss with someone of the same biological sex. The choice between eternal oblivion and eternal torture isn’t a hard one to make. But it still doesn’t make it all that easy for atheists to accept their permanent annihilation. While some psychological studies claim that atheists apparently fear death considerably less than their religious counterparts, I’d also say that atheists tend to be more frank with themselves in openly discussing their fear of eternal oblivion. It’s only been very recently that I’ve begun visiting online atheist forums and was surprised to find that “how do I cope with my fear of non-existence?” is an exceedingly common question.

The typical suggestions given to deal with this extreme existentialist dread are, more often than not, “you were dead for 13 billion years before you were born, so it shouldn’t bother you that you’ll be dead for the next 13 billion years after you’re dead (again).” Or trying to convince the original poster that death is no different from being under general anesthesia for all of eternity (“if you’ve already undergone surgery, you have nothing to fear!”) Or just plain ol’, “suck it up; the entire universe is going to perish in heat death, anyway, and it’s taking all of us with it.” While I applaud my fellow atheists for being thoroughly honest with themselves in facing the most terrible prospect all of humanity has ever faced, I can’t help but feel that this is a form of very pained resignation. I’ve met numerous other atheists who have had to undergo cognitive-behavioral therapy and take psychiatric medication because their thanatophobia (fear of death) is so severe that they’re terrified to leave their own houses on a daily basis and that they’ve developed severe insomnia because they can’t fall asleep regularly without having panic attacks.

How should the atheist community cope with the biggest question any human being will ever face? Should the acceptance of the permanent annihilation of consciousness continue to be the modus operandi for the atheist and scientific community for the rest of humanity’s existence?

Or should we dare to stick our necks out and consider the very far out possibility of a third alternative, that is neither the acceptance of eternal oblivion nor delusional faith in the promises of a spiritual life in a castle in the sky?

What if we reconceptualized the way we see non-existence? What if this is the next great paradigm shift that humanity will eventually come face-to-face with?

Up till the very recent modern period in human history, slavery and wife-beating were seen as perfectly normal facts of life that just had to be accepted. It was considered a given fact that some men (and the overwhelming majority of women) were effectively going to be someone else’s property and could be completely at their mercy. Try holding a similar attitude today in a developed nation. Try, in 2019 A.D., to stand on a soap box in the middle of California and scream at the top of your lungs that women should be denuded of all their political rights and that the government should make it legal for you to sell your teenaged daughter into prostitution so that you can pay off your mortgage.

“BECAUSE THAT’S HOW IT’S ALWAYS BEEN DONE.”

Try yelling at the top of your voice that slavery should be re-institutionalized and that Caucasian Americans should be granted the legal right to forcibly capture their African-American, Native American and Latino neighbours, have them shackled in chains and put them up for auction in a human market.

“THIS IS HOW IT’S BEEN GOING ON FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, SO THERE’S NO REASON FOR US TO BREAK THE HABIT.”

Everyone can obviously guess how that’s going to go down. Good night, and good luck, to whomsoever endeavors to try this out.

Given that modern human civilization is approximately 10,000 years old, the shifts in moral attitudes that have occurred over the last 200 years can be considered astronomical in every sense of the word. And if technological progress continues to press forth, who knows what on earth our descendants will think of us at present?

I personally had never remotely considered reconceptualizing the way I view death and aging until I was first introduced to the transhumanist movement when I watched a documentary on it, featuring Ben Goertzel.

So said Ben, “one day, our descendants are going to look back at us and be unable to believe that we let our elderly folks die of aging and accepted it as being natural. They’re going to think it’s absolutely barbaric that we accepted death so unquestioningly. It’s going to be how we now look at our forebears and remember that they thought rape and murder were pretty much okay.” Needless to say, I was pretty flabbergasted when I first heard this. It’s taken me some time to really think over the implications of what death really is, and just how great the potential for human society to shift its values and conceptions of the world is.

And funnily enough? The exact same thing can be said for the entire atheist movement. It isn’t much of a miraculous coincidence that religious “nones” are the fastest-growing worldview demographic in contemporary developed nations which place a premium on the scientific enterprise. Understandably, all the way up till the industrial revolution, people didn’t really think too hard about whether or not God really existed and if we really did evolve from monkeys, because most people were too busy trying to survive and feed their eight children (six of whom most likely wouldn’t survive till adulthood). Famines, plagues and warfare were a norm rather than exceptions that remain unimaginable to most of us living in developed nations today.

“No afterlife, no problem,” is an attitude that has only developed amongst modern atheists in very recent times. You can tell people to be content with just having one shot at an 80-year-long life, because that option is actually available to them now. If you have the good fortune to be born into a middle-class family without any significant disabilities or health issues, and you stand a fairly good chance of living a happy, fulfilling life without any significant hardships. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for the better part of the last 9900 years of human civilizational history. Wishing very badly that something could be true doesn’t make it true, of course. But we should at least be able to sympathize with the reasons our forebears had, and many people currently living in hardship still have, for clinging on fervently to the hope of a second chance in an afterlife.

Nevertheless, atheists today should begin to see humanity’s dreams of immortality not as a slice of pie in the sky; we should see it as a challenge and a goal post we will eventually cross with the aid of science. It’s a big dream and one that may seem impossible at the moment. But that hasn’t stopped humanity before. Transcending our biological limitations and striving for a better world than the one we currently live in has been the whole narrative of the human story. Our dreams of greater things will always seem absurd, until available technological advancements arrive to deliver them. But those dreams are what keep us pressing forward.

This essay is dedicated to Nick Bostrom and Giulio Prisco, who are my philosophical inspirations.

Due to space constraints, this essay has not dealt with the issue of overpopulation and resource depletion which are alleged by some come with indefinite lifespan extension. Other transhumanists such as Gennady Stolyarov II have addressed such concerns in other writings and videos.

Sarah Lim is a fourth-year political science major at the National University of Singapore. She is a proud supporter of the transhumanist movement and aims to do her best to promote transhumanism and progress towards the Singularity.

In Defense of Human Exceptionalism and Immortalism – Article by Sarah Lim

In Defense of Human Exceptionalism and Immortalism – Article by Sarah Lim

Sarah Lim


This essay will be attempting to rebut some of the main objections raised to indefinite lifespan extension, technological immortality, and technological resurrection. The overwhelming majority of the objections to immortalism are based on arguments from naturalism. Devotees of religious traditionalism argue that death is a doorway to an afterlife or reunion with a higher deity in the spirit world. Some atheists argue that death is unavoidable because the limit of the human lifespan is the result of natural selection, and should thus be unquestioningly accepted. However, what if a different perspective were taken on death and the natural limits of the human lifespan?

This essay will primarily attempt to go toe-to-toe with scientifically-based objections against immortalism raised by prominent atheists like Massimo Pigliucci and Michael Shermer. As an atheist myself, I think that the objections to the claims of religious traditionalists that a spiritual afterlife exist are already well-worn and solidly established. Modern neuroscience has solidly established the fact that consciousness is wholly generated by the brain and that there is no empirical evidence to substantiate the claim that immaterial souls exist. Nearly the entire atheist and scientific community accepts this as having been conclusively proven time and again (in spite of this, those who believe in the existence of a spiritual afterlife still make up the vast majority of the world’s population).

One of the major scientifically-based objections to immortalism is the charge that human beings should not be spared from death because we’re not God’s special people, but merely a bunch of apes that were lucky enough to get smart. This is the argument against human exceptionalism or anthropocentrism. There are plenty of other natural entities that have far longer lifespans than human beings do. The turritopsis dohrnii, the famous immortal jellyfish, is known for being able to naturally live indefinitely. Bristlecone pine trees are known to live up to 5000 years old. To quote Michael Shermer, “even stars die,” although they can live for billions of years. But what separates you from the turritopsis dohrnii, or a star? Well, for one thing, the turritopsis dohrnii can’t create self-driving cars and pioneer the practice of modern dentistry. Stars, including our own sun, are wonderful and all, but they can’t do the mathematics and quantum physics necessary to give a full account of the Big Bang theory and the Planck epoch. Human exceptionalism exists because of the sheer degree of human intelligence, compared to every other existing organism in our solar system. There might ostensibly be highly advanced alien civilizations far more intelligent than us residing somewhere in the Milky Way, or in any other of the 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, but we can at least pat ourselves on the backs for being the smartest meat robots in our own solar system.

As Ernest Becker and pretty much everyone else in the history of modern homo sapiens has realised, two things set human beings apart from every single other species that has ever existed. These are the ability to question the story of our origin, and the ability to be cognizant of the termination of our own consciousnesses. Unless, of course, one day zoologists devise a way to read the minds of animals with perfect accuracy and will be surprised to find out that penguins and dolphins believe in heaven, hell, and reincarnation. But with that particularly odd possibility off of the table, homo sapiens are the only known creatures to be actively cognizant of the Eternal Oblivion all of us must face when our consciousnesses are terminated at bodily death. This is the basis of Becker’s arguments regarding terror management theory, and the basis of every single afterlife belief in every single culture throughout human history. Human beings have attained such a developed state of cognitive function that we can actually comprehend the concept of eternity; and we can comprehend the horrors of ceasing to exist for all of the rest of it.

But we shouldn’t think we’re special, the nihilistic atheists argue. We shouldn’t think we’re special because we’re just insignificant specks of protein within an extremely vast, indifferent universe that doesn’t give a rat’s hide about whether we exist or go extinct. Nothing human beings do matters, because we’re so ridiculously insignificant in the grand cosmological scheme. If that argument were taken to its logical conclusion, I can tell you about something else we can stop giving a damn about: the whole of the scientific enterprise. If nothing we do matters, all of us can happily abandon the scientific method and go back to believing that the Earth was made 6000 years ago, in seven days. If nothing we do matters, we can all happily wrap up our efforts to combat global warming and to prevent the utilization of nuclear weapons. For all intents and purposes, I’ve yet to actually meet a nihilist who will willingly let themselves and their family members stand directly in front of an oncoming truck.

I know some atheists who will respond to this with the retort that, “the universe doesn’t owe you a significantly longer lifespan just because human beings wish for it.” Well, the universe doesn’t theoretically owe us effective root-canal treatments, general anaesthesia, Reebok sneakers, hearing aids, or iPhones, but here we are, anyway. The universe may not owe any particular aforementioned desirable to human beings, but that shouldn’t in any way stop us from trying to attain it through our own ingenuity.

Death and a lifespan under three digits might be natural, but guess what else is? Giving birth without epidural. And cancerous tumors. And dying prematurely from various diseases in the absence of medical care. And spending your life stumbling about and squinting if you’re short-sighted but aren’t fortunate enough to have access to laser eye surgery or spectacles.

And plenty of our forebears accepted those aforementioned ailments as such. In every single pre-modern culture, a whole crapbundle of ailments we now have readily available medical treatment for were seen as “God’s will”. The agonizing pain of natural childbirth was, up till very recently, seen as the “curse of Eve” and a burden all women had to suck up and bear as punishment for being women. And then came epidural, and that long-held belief went right out the window. Ostensibly, cancer and viral infections are great ways for the forces of natural selection to keep human population in steady state; but that still hasn’t stopped us from inventing anti-viral medication and chemotherapy.

To quote Alan Harrington, “We must never forget that we are cosmic revolutionaries, not stooges conscripted to advance a natural order that kills everybody.”

Sarah Lim is a fourth-year political science major at the National University of Singapore. She is a proud supporter of the transhumanist movement and aims to do her best to promote transhumanism and progress towards the Singularity.