The Day Before Forever

Yesterday, I was discussing the possibilities concerning slowing, or reversing aging – why it’s obviously possible, although likely a hard engineering problem.  Why partial successes would be valuable,  why making use of the evolutionary theory of senescence should help, why we should look at whales and porcupines as well as Jeanne Calment, etc., etc.  I talked a long time – it’s a subject that has interested me for many years.

But there’s one big question: why are the powers that be utterly uninterested ?

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114 Responses to The Day Before Forever

  1. James Miller says:

    Have you considered cryonics as a way to preserve yourself until we do cure aging? I’m a member of cryonics provider Alcor.

    • minoritymagnet says:

      The body starts decaying the second you die. You would need to put someone into a liquid nitrogen tank the second he/she dies.

      • James Miller says:

        Alcor tries to do that.

        • Matthew M. Robare says:

          What about the whole, “freezing causes cells to rupture” problem, since water expands when frozen and cells are mostly made of it? What happens to living tissues when exposed to liquid nitrogen — shattering — makes me fairly confident that cryonics is not even wrong.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hence the DARPA project to halt the cell cycle. I guess the idea is to turn it off when someone is badly hurt, repair’em and then turn it back on… True suspended animation basically.

  2. Ron Pavellas says:

    Peter Thiel is interested: “Peter Thiel: Death Is A Problem That Can Be Solved”

  3. pyrrhus99 says:

    Somehow, it strikes me as unlikely that the process of entropy can be defeated by clever engineering.

    • gcochran9 says:

      In much the same way, it’s impossible to pick up a teenager’s room.

      Jokes aside, you can reduce (local) entropy with enthalpy. Your thermodynamic insight is dead wrong.

    • Anonymous says:

      Aging has nothing to do with entropy, it has to do with damage accumulating at a cellular level over time & compounding of the damage an organism has from just after conception. For example, in reference to the accumulation part of the equation, your liver and colon cells start to accumulate misfolded proteins and oxidized proteins (which aren’t necessarily misfolded but are still useless) at ages 20 and 30 respectively. If we could prevent THAT or just make the rate of deposition much slower we might really be on to something…

  4. From a socio perspective, one big query would be where the extra time is inserted. Are we talking supporting the aged for longer periods, or getting additional working life out of each person, or taking longer to grow up? Or some combination of the above?

    I have memories of reading in one of Asimov’s novels that extending lifespans beyond 110 years had caused societies to collapse repeatedly. I wonder if there was any basis for that claim…

    • gcochran9 says:

      There is no fundamental reason that you couldn’t reset to a physiological age of 25 and stay there.

    • gwern says:

      Are we talking supporting the aged for longer periods

      This would, in practice, be impossible. Remember what aging is: every system in your body falling apart simultaneously as your mortality rate and disease rates increase exponentially with each year forever*. I remember one demographer estimating that if we came up with a perfect cure for all cancers, that would increase life expectancy by perhaps 3 years, because that just means people will die a bit later of any of the other diseases or problems or accidents. You could never keep someone physiologically 120 alive for more than a few years. Life extension has to be by extending healthy periods of life.

      • there’s some debate about whether mortality rates stop increasing past 110 or so, but there’s so few survivors that old and the mortality rate has hit like 50% annually in that age range, that no conclusive answer is possible
      • Anonymous says:

        For example, since less people are dying of lung cancer as many people quit smoking over the past couple of decades, breast cancer and colon cancer are now killing more people. The really lucky people are the ones who don’t die of any cancers and live long enough to experience disease of protein misfolding writ large such as Alzheimer’s.
        One approach called the Reliability Theory postulates that since much of the damage that will do us in later occurs just after conception, during very early development, if we could eliminate that damage alone we might add years to life expectancy.

  5. Matthew M. Robare says:

    There’s Peter Thiel, Ray Kurzweil and I think I heard something about Google.

    I imagine institutions aren’t interested for reasons of cost, fear of being laughed at and a conventional wisdom that says it’s impossible. And that’s not even counting all the bad science fiction that involves a mad scientist doing something like that. Or it’s the powerful undertaker lobby.

    On the other hand, Robert Heinlein wrote a novel about a group of families endowed by a trust in the 19th century that encouraged people who seemed to have long-lived ancestors to marry, which isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Conventional wisdom is wrong – was bound to happen eventually.

      Right now total funding for anything directly related to longevity research might be as much as ten million a year. The California Raisins brought in something like 20 times that.

      • M says:

        ten million a year

        I believe you are way off with that estimate now, as Google’s Calico and AbbVie announced a partnership and a $500m R&D lab to fight age-related diseases, earlier this month.

        Calico is explicitly focused on human longevity — it basically looks like a bunch of rich tech guys pooling resources (both money and what they can find of extremely clever people) together to get eternal lives.

        • Anonymous says:

          They hired Cynthia Kenyon away from SF State, so they’re clearly looking at the genetic engineering side of longevity. One approach that we think will work is to take people with 2 working copies of the TOR1 gene (makes the mTOR protein kinase that seems to play a massive role in aging) and to cripple 1 copy, that is make it nonfunctional: this seems to play a role in making people much more likely to hit the 100 year mark in lifespan.
          There are already thousands of clinical trials underway around the world with mTOR suppressors being used to fight all sorts of aging-related diseases that we previously thought unrelated to each other… But fighting on the genetic level promises to produce massive gains in average life-expectancy.

  6. Gerard Mason says:

    Having also wondered about this in the past, I think they are uninterested because, all things being equal (e.g. if still compos mentis and of reasonable IQ), older people are harder to fool than younger people. Accumulated experience counts for a lot: it can make people more work efficiently, be less prone to being enthused by prospective short cuts (e.g. to ‘prosperity’), more likely to see the self-interest in other peoples’ suggestions — hence, more ornery and more ‘difficult’ to control.

    Another way of putting it: young people are more valuable to the powers that be than even healthy older people would be.

    • Gerard Mason says:

      Although if one were given to conspiracy theories, and speaking as someone who has to take seven pills a day to survive, older people who were medically dependent on the state, or at least on the existence of organised social structures, should be more easily controlled than inherently healthy younger people. Perhaps somewhere like Singapore might be the place to look for state sponsored gerontology?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Institutions can’t think, don’t feel, have no motives. The people who make them up do.

      You think that Senators embrace personal old age out of loyalty to their institution?

      I sure don’t.

      • Gerard Mason says:

        I think that institutions are, like everything else, a kind of machine, following rule-governed behaviour. Consciousness just doesn’t come into it. Just as with our selves and our cells, the rules that the institutions obey are not in general the ones that their members obey, though they clearly are a consequence of them.

        Politicians are a kind of consumer; what they consume is people’s gullibility. Eventually people run out of gullibility, and I’m sure politicians would quite like it if less gullible people were continually being replaced with [younger and] more gullible ones, so that the cycle can continue. As for their own mortality, I don’t think the average Senator or Congressman has the background, the temperament or the time horizon to worry themselves about even their own [very] long-term survival.

        • Gerard Mason says:

          Incidentally, as a Briton, I always find it strange (and to be honest suspicious) that the BBC can always find one of the great and good of the British establishment to rubbish the desirability of personal immortality, or even limited rejuvenation, whenever the topic arises, as it does periodically. I’m thinking of e.g. Mary Warnock, who has a strange ability to infuriate me with her negativity and judgementalism.

  7. Toad says:


    • Anonymous says:

      Nanoprobes are already being designed… the U of Central Florida for example has a biophysics group (composed of really smart physics PhDs from all over) designing “patches” to fix mitochondria with holes in them, which apparently plays some sort of role in producing premature apoptosis. The idea is that when a cell is damaged, it secretes certain chemicals. These guys tested the patch, and the patches seem to work, but they now have a technical problem: how to detect when a cell is in need of the patch!

  8. Because everyone burdened by aged relatives is against it, however much they’d be in favor of it for themselves. The current reality of aging is powerful against any hopefulness that we could do it well. When you see how things can go horribly wrong – as those of us who have watched long declines can attest – speculations that we can avoid those problems seem a bit wishful. Even if they are well founded, they are still going to seem not-quite-solid.

    Tolkien fans should notice that the wildly different lifespans of the races, and the consequences of that, is one of his interesting side-speculations. He seems to have thought about both the advantages and disadvantages quite a bit.

    • gcochran9 says:

      In much the same way, Elmer of Malmesbury’s fate was a potent argument against the possibility of flight. Except that we haven’t even tried.

      • Or those who were sailing to the New World in 1500. The hope was great, the evidence scant, the parents who had lost sons at sea might not be too interested in promises of wealth and adventure for the others.

        But those who knew those who died in such attempts could hardly be blamed for being suspicious. And when you multiply that by millions, there is reticence. Perhaps it will work out just fine if we extend life. At present, some systems are easier to extend than others, with pitiable results. Those are actuals, in the face of theoreticals. It takes a fair bit of evidence to hold onto in the dark hours to overcome that.

        As for not trying, we are doing so in a haphazard way now. Perhaps extended life is a good thing even now and will be a great thing. At present, it is mixed.

  9. dave chamberlin says:

    I have read the best discovery found so far to slow down the aging process is to consume far less calories than we normally do. Fat chance of that happening, the average American consumes somewhere around 800 more calories a day than they did back in 1960, and it shows.

    • Fintan says:

      You’re wrong, but then I’ve noticed from some of your replies here that you need to check your trendy assumptions better.

      Even some of the USDA’s laughably shoddy work doesn’t claim that Americans are eating 800 more calories a day than they were in the 60’s. Hell, we barely even PRODUCE 800 more calories per capita/day in foodstuffs since the green revolution and subsequent advances, and a hell of a lot of those produced calories are lost to waste/spoilage/cooking/preservation/etc.

      Here’s some real numbers for you — Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a study based on 9 National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys conducted by the CDC:

      In short, compared to the late 60’s and early 70’s, average American dietary intake has only gone up by about 240 cals, and has been on a downward trend over about the last decade.

      As a general insight unrelated to the above-mentioned study, trends in caloric intake and obesity in a number of nations don’t really correlate well — there’s something driving health outcomes, especially obesity, other than simple caloric intake. Such a realization should be obvious to anyone who knows the first things about metabolism.

      • Ron Pavellas says:

        The modern grains, processed foods, and carbonated drinks and fruit juices are a big part of the obesity problem, I say inexpertly. I eat no grains, drink nothing but water (+ occasional beer and wine), and eat no milk products. I eat all the animal protein I care to, as well. I am a healthy 77, weighing what I did in my 20s and 30s. I eat lots of antioxidant fruits/nuts(berries and such, also.

          • Craken says:

            To argue that obesity is primarily an hereditary disorder strikes me as analogous to calling the Flynn effect hereditary–in fact, both are caused by a variety of environmental factors and both can be prevented by altering the environment. Probably we could even prevent the first and reinforce the second. Obesity is only highly heritable in a highly pathogenic dietary environment.

          • JayMan says:


            Reread the page, Sherlock.

          • Ron Pavellas says:

            Touché. I have since read much of your stuff and see you are a ‘serious man’, as The Godfather said to Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo. I have read and pondered upon the ‘race’ issue and nowhere do I see a tight definition of ‘race’ by which one can easily assign any given person to, assuming no admixtures in the last significant number of generations. By this I mean by looking at skin color, physiognomy, body type, and other physical (not IQ) variables. Assuming one could do this, I suppose one could verify by measuring IQ, but then there would be some sort of circularity in the investigation. I’m trying to get to the root here: at some point people who were wise said ‘there are races of humans’. There must have been a practical reason for making the distinction, absent modern science. What is practical about assigning named ‘races’ to individuals and groups?

      • An important limitation of this study is the reliance on self-reported
        energy intakes, shown by the finding in Table 1, in which
        both the unadjusted and adjusted energy intakes for those with
        a BMI $30 were lower than energy intakes for overweight or
        healthy-weight subjects. Decreased reporting of energy intake
        and increased reporting of energy expenditure among the obese
        relative to actual levels has been well documented (19).

        This comment, on page 2 of the paper, shows some of the methodological limitations of self recall. I think that for a complete picture one of calorie intake one would need either controlled settings (prisons? health focused holiday camps?) orlonger term surveillance of target individuals. Hard to achieve.

        “If the studies are to mean anything, IQ, personality, sociological and occupational variables will have to enter the mix, and participants will probably have to be paid to stick to the course, and put up with random visits of inspectors looking in the fridge and the medicine cabinet. Count me out. So, although these correct and worthy researchers want controlled studies, they are not going to get them. Liberty will triumph over the food police.”

        • Anonymous says:

          People with higher than average IQs tend to live longer… But maybe that’s because if you’re a bright one you know that exercise is a good thing, and doctors, and eating decent food. Another idea, which Henry may have told me, is that if you’re poor you live in a low-quality environment so your genes take a lot more hits early in development, leaving you dumb AND unhealthy later in life.
          On the other hand, if you have the Klothos gene the gene itself might be why you live longer, and why you’re very bright. It likely alters something about metabolism in such a way that you use energy more efficiently than people who do not have the rarer variant.

          • JayMan says:


            “People with higher than average IQs tend to live longer… But maybe that’s because if you’re a bright one you know that exercise is a good thing, and doctors, and eating decent food.”

            Or maybe it has little to nothing to do with that?

            How Much Does Behavior Matter to Health? A Quickie | JayMan’s Blog

            “On the other hand, if you have the Klothos gene”

            That particular gene is almost certainly a false positive.

          • Anonymous says:

            Could be, but one could imagine a gene that would lower the rate of oxidative damage, and have the side-effect then of making the brain stay ‘good’ longer… ‘Good’ could be something such as making your brain do a better job cleaning out misfolded proteins while you sleep.
            Why do you supposed that people with higher IQs live longer: because they tend to be from wealthier backgrounds or?

          • Anonymous says:

            I am with you that there is virtually no link between longevity and behavior, it all pretty much comes down to genes and early nutrition as far as anyone can tell AND how well you did in the lottery of random damage assignation when you were but an embryo. Some people just have good genes and some people just have good genes and little damage early in life.

            • Steven C. says:

              It’s absurd to pretend that environment has no effect on longevity; do you mean to say that severe malnutrition or physical trauma has insignificant effect? But for a group of people experiencing approximately equal environmental circumstances; longevity is genetic. I seem to recall reading that life insurance actuaries have found that for the young; genetics and environment are equally important, but for the elderly genetic factors dominate.

  10. Cloudswrest says:

    Aubrey de Grey said something to the effect that he expects the first person to live 500 years will not be much younger (birth date) than the first person to live 150 years, given “Moore’s law” and all that.

  11. Cloudswrest says:

    There’s also the concept of anti-aging “escape velocity” where remaining expected lifespan is increasing faster than real time, e.g. remaining lifespan is increasing at two years per year.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Given the stridency of the war on women rhetoric among TPTB I would expect more support for the development of gynodiecy. Then would come sequential hermaphroditism and then the gripping hand.

  13. MawBTS says:

    What would it be like to be a 500 year old person? Imagine having 495 years of memories in your head. You’d think “20th century” and recall a smashed together mélange of facts, events, and trends (bell-bottoms, influenza, computers, flappers, hair metal, World War II…) that all blur together, without much context.

    You might find yourself pondering questions like “what was Adolf Hitler’s favourite grunge rock band?” or “what was Muhammad Ali’s fight record against Mike Tyson?” You might wonder if Al Qaeda had a role in bombing Pearl Harbor. You’d be the ultimate forgetful old man.

    If science gives us longer lives, I hope it also gives us better brains.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Logically, there must be an upper limit to human memory capacity. There’s no evidence that anyone has ever run into that limit – we don’t know what it is.

      Science fiction has addressed the question – one example is Poul Anderson’s World Without Stars.

      • MawBTS says:

        Logically, there must be an upper limit to human memory capacity. There’s no evidence that anyone has ever run into that limit – we don’t know what it is.

        I don’t know a thing about the subject, but isn’t the problem meant to be retrieving memories, not just storing them?

        The human memory might be analogous to a large bin full of unorganised paper files. It’s hard to judge when the bin is “full”. Even when it’s overflowing, you can compact it down and throw even more in. It’s only when you want to retrieve a file from the bin that you’re fucked.

        • Gerard Mason says:

          An important part of rejuvenative therapies will surely involve the more efficient and more complete killing of old cells that have accumulated errors [more than what already goes on in the body anyway, I mean] and that will be especially true inside the brain (whereas whole-organ replacement with mass-produced bio-compatible units will very likely be part of the solution for things like hearts, livers and kidneys, that’s not possible for obvious reasons with the organ that seats the personality) and their replacement with new cells grown from activated stem cells.

          So immortals will lose old memories as they go along, able to remember clearly only what happened in the last few decades, and perhaps never getting to the final ennui that so terrorises the Warnocks of this world because they never quite acquire the jadedness that we’ve attributed to the very old. I imagine that a new Ars Memoriae may arise, only this time concentrating on efficient summarising rather than total recall.

          • TWS says:

            I think that the peaks and valleys will be retained and the ‘muddy middle’ of life’s memories will just fade as they usually do. I don’t know what I cooked for dinner two weeks ago and I don’t care. I do remember the time my grandfather taught me to make cream of tomato soup from scratch 40 years ago and the time I made my grandmother’s homemade chicken and noodles for my coworkers 20 years ago.

            I can remember all my peaks and valleys from the time I really started remembering (at about three) years old and there’s a whole bunch of the middle that’s just faded away. I remember a kick to the groin in an MMA fight about 20 years ago but none of the other punches or kicks except when knocked the guy out. We probably have an infinite (or nearly so) capacity for important events because they are so rare.

            My guess is that if serious longevity does become possible it will be as rare and expensive as organ transplants (even if it is cheap and easy) and only those with serious money and influence will be able to benefit.

        • melendwyr says:

          The Greeks found the way around this with the “Method of Loci”, attributed to Simonides of Ceos, 556-468 BC. It’s possible to encode memories such that the exponential recall response doesn’t occur.

      • engleberg says:

        I just bought World Without Stars, hoping it’s the one about the immortal gunner who pines for his lost love on Earth. If not, it’s still an Anderson I don’t own- not many left.

        ‘why are the powers that be utterly uninterested?’ America’s post-60’s governing class can’t seem to get past sniffing out crimethink to any greater goal. But despair is a sin.
        What should we do to encourage research? Come, Dr Cochran, give a lead!

      • Lars Grobian says:

        Even if we assume the storage capacity costs us nothing, why would we have capacity nobody ever needed?

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        One would think that if you ran into the memory limits of your brain (say, a healthy 350 year old) that your more recent memories would start to over-write your earlier memories. That’s why it is said that when you are a 1,000, you will not remember the first 150 years of your life.

      • Kate says:

        “there must be an upper limit to human memory capacity. ”

        Is it this?

    • Anonymous says:

      If it’s an mTOR thing as many aging experts believe, than producing longer lives will have the bonus side-effect of keeping our brains at peak function. Mainly because accumulating misfolded proteins of various kinds seems to be the cause of the common dementias. By preventing aging at some physiological scale, we’ll likely be drastically slowing the accumulation of these clumps of proteins in our brains as well. In this case our brains won’t be better, but after a few hundred years of life they won’t have gotten any worse.

    • Anonymous says:

      Maybe these questions would seem unimportant ?

  14. ursiform says:

    At best, it’s a hard problem that will take a long time to solve. As the development period exceeds the lifetime of a political career, there is no benefit in supporting it.

  15. Hipster says:

    Are you taking personal measures to delay your ageing? Exercise, proper diet, supplementation, to begin with? Testosterone replacement therapy has been touted by many as giving them back that youthful feeling. Studies indeed suggest that testosterone has been dropping off in modern males at alarming rates, that not so long ago men had across-the-board higher levels.

    There are many personal accounts of men into their 40s and beyond who have made lifestyl, exercise and diet changes that have dramatically boosted their testosterone levels and, anecdotally, their quality of life.

    • gcochran9 says:

      No known method works.

      • Ilya says:

        @gcochran: Please let me understand better: are you saying that diet and exercise do not correlate with longevity and/or quality of life?

          • Ilya says:

            @JayMan: I’ve read your article, thanks.
            Interesting, somewhat depressing findings. This very post by Dr Cochran is a pretty sad reminder to me of how much still needs to get done by humanity and how unlikely it is that I, personally, will be a beneficiary of all that (if it ever gets done).
            Despite this: 10% attenuation is not a trivial number.
            l remain convinced that it’s possible to affect some of the quality of life issues as well as increase longevity (even if by a bit) by exercise, diet, not smoking etc.

          • JayMan says:


            “l remain convinced that it’s possible to affect some of the quality of life issues as well as increase longevity (even if by a bit) by exercise, diet, not smoking etc.”

            Good luck with that. 🙂

        • Anonymous says:

          They basically do NOT. Studies with massive, ridiculously large sample groups never find any commonalities that would lead to a treatment for extending average life-span. mTOR suppression via caloric restriction is great, but not if you want to actually burn lots of calories, say, chasing women or beating up other men.
          2 studies showed (much to my chagrin since I had predicted as much in my thesis proposal) that Olympic athletes die sooner than normal people. And at least for the last, say, 50 years one imagines Olympians to be exercising much more and eating much healthier than normal people. As it turns out, that prediction comes from the mitochondrial free radical theory of aging: some med. school students reasoned that athletes should die sooner because they’re generating an order of magnitude more free radicals over their adult life-span compared to non-athletes basically. They do die sooner and it’s because they’re “too” healthy.

    • MawBTS says:

      HRT/TRT is cool stuff. Lots of bodybuilders who run large amounts of anabolics/HGH/insulin often look youthful later in life…or at least the ones who don’t die.

      Studies indeed suggest that testosterone has been dropping off in modern males at alarming rates, that not so long ago men had across-the-board higher levels.

      in before Heartiste blog post blaming feminism.

      • Fintan says:

        Careful there, “feelings” and “looks” do not necessarily correlate well with reality.

        HGH could potentially fuel malignancies that may be present or may develop during the course of one’s use of the hormone. The body builders that like to use HGH bulk up may want engage in regular cancer screenings, especially paying attention to the potential formation of colorectal cancers. Everybody loves a colonoscopy, right? How about frequent ones? Then there’s Hodgkin’s…

        Then there’s every man’s favorite drug. Testosterone may damn well be required for life (and the good life as well), but testosterone replacement therapy has in the past been correlated with an increase in mortality, especially in individuals with a history of cardiovascular disease. Some newer studies seem to debunk that link, but the jury is out for the time being as there are a lot of fuzzy correlations that need to be teased out in more detail.

        Just because something is necessary for life doesn’t mean it’s not killing you. Further, needing something in order to function well and feel good likely means that any rebellious cells you have in your body need the same-exact to fuel their malignant revolution.

        Chances are there are going to be a lot of trade-offs with any life extension therapy, at least in the near term, with an intervention increasing some measures of health or youthfulness while also increasing mortality risks from other factors. Chances are interventions aimed at halting some elements of general degeneration would necessarily encourage the appearance of, and fuel the rapid growth of, any of a number of cancers.

        I wonder how much average life-span could be increased just by developing some treatment or therapy that promoted well-regulated cell senescence. We do have immortal human cell lines, it’s just that the best example of such I can think of off the top of my head is the offspring of a black woman’s cervical cancer. Finding a way to reliably combat various cancers may be an essential prerequisite, and if that is achieved, then rejuvenation at the cellular level might become immediately feasible. Or perhaps I have that backwards, and the latter would lead to the former.

      • lemmy caution says:

        lower than “not so long ago” maybe but probably not lower than “long ago”. Hunter gatherers have lower testosterone than western men.

  16. Steve Sailer says:

    Politicians look like they’re getting some quality anti-aging plastic surgery — e.g., Hillary had some good work done before her 2008 run.

    • gcochran9 says:

      That doesn’t extend lifespan, recondition your cardiovascular system, correct somatic mutations, extend telomeres, or do anything else useful. It’s just false advertising.

      Hillary has never been right about anything, and I don’t expect that getting older and slower is going to fix that.

      • IC says:

        Totally agree. Hillary is a classic drama queen, just a sightly better educated version of sarah palin.
        So called verbal skill here is to manipulate mind of people with average intelligence who have hard time differentiating opinion vs fact. These salemen have little effect on people with scholar IQ (>125).
        Politicians, salemen, lawyers, preachers are about manipulation of people’s mind. They are not good at finding truth or fact.

  17. Mass says:

    Longevity research is too controversial for US government support. I suspect there is a lot of private donor interest; obviously Thiel and his Methuselah foundation have been mentioned. I’m sure other private donors would fund this too if they were convinced there would be tangible progress and it wasn’t just a giant money hole. What are the low hanging fruit and suggested research targets?

    • Anonymous says:

      Suppressing the activity of mTOR at specific points in the insulin/mTOR pathway and NAD overexpression, or (as mentioned above by me) underexpression of the TOR1 gene, each seem to be the most likely to produce large increases in average life-span. mTOR offers the possibility of a pill (some diabetics apparently already take a very weak mTOR suppressor as a pill). The main NAD expert at Harvard Med. School has spoken about making a pill that would ramp up NAD activity in every cell in the body. No clue how far away that is… But we know that caffeine binds to mTOR and prevents the protein from doing anything. Apparently it’s also used to treat some bone cancers because the mTOR bind causes tumor cells to undergo apoptosis. So, drink more coffee! Slow your rate of aging 😉

  18. kai says:

    Shouldn’t one needs to look at birds and especially bats, even more than whales and porcupine? IIRC, they live much longer than their body size should explain, and at a high metabolic rate too…bats have a good immune system too, again if my memory is not failing already…..

    • Idribal says:

      There has been some research into the causes of naked mole rat longevity (lifespans of 30 years where a comparable rodent might live for three), though much of the buzz is about their particular resistance to cancer. Still, if we could keep our cells proliferating without them running amok, we might be more than halfway there…

    • Anonymous says:

      Birds and naked mole-rats both have special adaptations to prevent oxidative cell damage from causing other kinds of cell damage. Bats seem to have damn good immune systems, while birds just don’t age very quickly for other reasons.
      Naked mole-rats have some sort of special adaptations in their mTOR pathway. Rather than the TOR1 gene being underexpressed as was predicted, it turns out that mTOR activity is about 500% higher than for comparable sized rodents. So it might be that mTOR activity is high, and cell damage repair systems activity is high as well, to compensate.

  19. spandrell says:

    First gut instinct of people is that reversing aging is totally impossible. Everything decays and all that.

    If we had a lead, or something that hinted that we could make it, then it would be easier to get people excited. But we don’t.

    Do we?

    • Candide III says:

      No. Reversing aging doesn’t contradict known laws of physics — entropy can always be kept in check by expending enough free energy in clever enough ways — but with intricately structured macroscopic objects, such as humans, it’s too complicated for us to imagine. Putting Humpty-Dumpty back together is (or at least appears) ludicrously simple by comparison.

  20. magusjanus says:

    Greg, what do you think are the most promising specific leads for research into this? i.e. where the highest marginal return would be for a billionaire investing in this?

    Also, do you think Aubrey de Grey is a kook, or does his approach make sense if properly funded?

    • Anonymous says:

      De Grey is no kook, but he sure talks too much about halting aging when what he means is that specific projects should focus on halting particular types of aging one by one until we’ve figured all the major causes of aging out. We DO indeed know the fundamental symptoms of aging as he points out, so why not tackle them in rote? Seems easy enough.

  21. Cplusk says:

    I am banking on singularity. Sufficiently advanced ai can easily beat aging or maybe even resurrect. (if friendly)

  22. Matthew M. Robare says:

    One interesting avenue of research might be with Venetians. According to John Julius Norwich, even in the early Middle Ages, Venetians lived longer than average. Today I believe Veneto has one of the highest life-expectancies in the world (Italy is eighth overall). Not only do a number of the oldest families continue to survive to the present day, with good genealogical records, but the history of the city is fairly well-documented. Iceland (7th) would also be good for the same reason.

    I also wonder if Venice, with its mercantile interests and oligarchy, would provide a good comparison for your research on the Ashkenazim.

  23. Esso says:

    I don’t know any influential people, but I really can’t see the issue here either. Mortality that is; aging I can understand.

    People can make kids. Being a kid is awesome. They grow up to be people like us. Most likely they would be able to search events in greatgreatgreat grandfather’s videolog or whatever, with greater efficiency and accuracy than ggg-grandpa himself can attain through recall. And most importantly, young people are more curious and plastic. They can “forget and learn”, not remember the bad stuff.

    Immortality has the problem that immortal people might start acting more cautiously, barring any backups. They would make very poor conscripts, I am sure. Like terminal AIDS patients.

    Mind upload + suspension could be a more cost effective way to converse with people from the past, if that is desired.

  24. IC says:

    Sexual reproduction is mostly for the purpose of getting rid of mutation load through meiosis.

    Bacteria mitosis without sexual reproduction are basically immortal creatures who follow the simple rule of survival of the fittest. Any one with mutational load just die. There are always one out of million bacteria in one specie have perfect lottery with zero mutational load. This lucky bug serve as stem or ancestor for the future generation of bacteria. This is only possible because bacteria have far fewer genes than human. It is impossible to have any human being with zero mutational load.

    So the question is how to get rid of mutational load without reproduction. For any individual to survive accumulating mutational load (life time exposure to radiaton, chemical ect), recreating stem cells with little mutation loads is the only answer. With fresh supply of healthy stem cells, we basically can replacing any aging body parts (mutation, wearing, damaging) like automobile. This is true answer to longevity and immotality.

    • Ilya says:

      @IC: The question of aging has bothered me a lot since I was an early teenager. Nowadays, I am curious: so much money is being spent on NASA and cancer research. But a truly national focus on program for fundamental aging research is certainly lacking. From what I’ve gleaned, most funds are focused on particular diseases of aging, like Alzheimer’s.
      From just scanning news headlines over the years, it looks like the Japanese are taking such issues more seriously: maybe because of their higher cohesion that unifies them in facing the problem of aging society.
      Here is one such example of trying to use stem-cells for a practical benefit along the lines you suggested:

        • IC says:

          Yes, prion is aging related damage to neurons.
          So far human is trying slowing down the aging related damage.
          Only way to reverse it is through neuron stem cells which create brand new neuron like those in the baby. Only true way to fight aging related diseae like diabetis, alzheimer, is to use stem cell to create new tissue as fresh as newborn.

        • Anonymous says:

          So that’s even better than I thought! How do prions factor into the trials with AD phenotype mice given mTOR suppressors though? I thought those experiments showed, and some similar ones with Huntingtin’s and Parkinson’s, that the rate of accumulation of damage could be slowed. If it’s prions though rather than metabolic problems, that’s great news for medicine.

  25. Patrick L. Boyle says:

    Back when I evaluated government programs for a living I was scheduled to study a program on aging. So my employers sent me to take a gerontology program at UC Berkeley.

    The first class was memorable. This kid came in and walked to the front of the class. He looked to be about 18. But he had two doctorates – biology and gerontology. He was a full professor.

    We were all convinced that he was one of those secret immortals. The first thing he said at the first class was – ‘Some of you may never die’. It turned out that he collected the heads of friends and colleagues which he kept in a cryogenic facility.

  26. Erich Schwarz says:

    Actually, we probably know one protein that, if administered to humans via the bloodstream, would probably induce partial rejuvenation right now — GDF11. It’s likely to be slow to be applied to humans, but that’s for essentially emotional reasons (reflected in our cautious, go-slow, do-nothing law codes). And since it’s public knowledge, it can’t really be suppressed forever.


  27. Greying Wanderer says:

    “But there’s one big question: why are the powers that be utterly uninterested ?”

    Human nature being what it is that would mean either a) TPTB in the West are so totally immersed in the blank slate they can’t think outside it or b) they’re doing it in secret just for them.

    Either way it should start happening or already have started in places outside the PC zone e.g. Japan, China.

    “For any individual to survive accumulating mutational load (life time exposure to radiaton, chemical ect), recreating stem cells with little mutation loads is the only answer.”

    My gut feeling says there’s something in breast milk that repairs damage.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      The reason for thinking that – possibly bogus – is if you have dramatic growth e.g. brain size, in the early years doesn’t that mean a dramatic level of cell replication and thus risk of replication error?

      • IC says:

        Correct assumption.
        Tall people have slight lower life expectancy than small people for the same reason. But any particular organ larger might not be at risk since stem cells can be distributed unenvenly at embryal development. For example, some body might have less stem cell going to muscle than brain, who will develop into a person with large brain but weak muscle.

        If every thing is larger, then your assumption is correct that larger individual tend to have shorter life.

  28. Greying Wanderer says:

    Last bit of spamming

    500 years working on a production line.


  29. The whole thing sounds silly to me. Ever since Gilgamesh, nuts have been searching for the key to eternal life.

    • gcochran9 says:

      It’s perfectly possible. Not eternal, of course: long life.

    • Toad says:

      Elixir of life
      “Jiajing Emperor in the Ming Dynasty died from ingesting a lethal dosage of mercury in the supposed “Elixir of Life” conjured by alchemists. British historian Joseph Needham compiled a list of Chinese emperors whose deaths were likely due to elixir poisoning.”

      The mythological White Hare making the elixir of immortality on the Moon, from East Asian mythology.

      • Matthew M. Robare says:

        Given how European alchemists managed not to kill themselves or their employers working with much the same techniques and materials, I’ve always suspected the Chinese alchemists of deliberately poisoning emperors when they got too tyrannical, the classic example being the first one, Qin Shi Huang.

  30. Howard Holme says:

    Some researchers are working on slowing or reversing aging.
    Extend lifespan 5-fold in c. elegans by double mutation in daf- 2 (IGF-1 receptor) and rsks-2 (S6K). Chen and Li et. al. Cell Reports (2013),

    Cynthia Kenyon, UCSF.
    Podcast Kenyon’s TED Talk: From Roundworms to Humans, in Pursuit of a Vibrant, Longer Life (November 28, 2011)

    Stanford’s Stuart Kim.
    9 Minute Podcast at (ELT3 in c. Elegans)
    Stanford’s, now UCSF’s Saul Villeda, “Young blood reverses age-related impairments in cognitive function and synaptic plasticity in mice.” (cyclic AMP response element binding protein (Creb))

  31. Toad says:

    Cancer cells never age. Just induce every one of your cells to become cancerous. Then you’ll be an immortal, multi-ton homo-tumorus.

    Cancer cells ‘key to immortality’
    said cultures of cancer cells in laboratories across the world had been kept alive for decades. “They never die. They’ll go on forever,” he said.

  32. Janon says:

    I might want a long life if I knew I could accumulate enough savings and investments to avoid poverty and the dreadful necessity of living around dysfunctional, trashy lumpen. Unfortunately, it’s hard enough for an early middle-aged person to save for a middle class retirement assuming a normal lifespan. As I expect most well-compensated jobs to disappear from the U.S. within 20 to 50 years due to automation and labor arbitrage, avoiding a miserable life among the lumpen for 300 years seems impossible.

  33. Southfarthing says:

    The Bill Gateses of the world are uninterested because their “good causes” impulses are absorbed entirely by domestic and global inequality (i.e. HBD).

    Any other concern gets crowded out.

  34. dlr says:

    “But there’s one big question: why are the powers that be utterly uninterested ?”

    Yes, and it seems they are not just uninterested, but actually hostile to the idea. Many members of the elite seem to actively DISLIKE the idea, and in an immediate knee-jerk, sort of way, an immediate emotional response. They seem to be groping around after the fact looking for reasons to support their immediate negative emotional reaction.

    Since a lot of the knee-jerk haters also seem to be new age puritans, opposed to most other forms of personal, private, enjoyment (most especially amongst the masses), perhaps they regard it as (shudder), inherently selfish, allowing the masses to waste EVEN MORE RESOURCES by wasting EVEN LONGER lives in selfish, personal enjoyment and personal self-aggrandizement. No doubt they could be easily won over suggesting that the extension of life treatments be limited to those who would dedicate their extended life span to toiling selflessly for the greater good ‘of society’.

    Although the ‘anti humanity’ crowd is also horrified by the idea as well, for obvious reasons, since of course, their wish is for there to be fewer (or perhaps no) humans polluting the planet. Hard to see how one could win them over.

  35. Dale says:

    Exactly why the powers that be aren’t pouring money into the problem is not at all clear to me, but I expect that some asking around among people who know TPTB would turn up a lot of information.

    OTOH, here’s a community that deeply believes (on moderately good evidence) that individual “intelligence” is fixed by genetics. But it also believes (on no evidence that I can see) that large modifications to individual longevity can be obtained by simple medical interventions … to the point of wondering whether there are known techniques that are being kept secret for nefarious reasons. And yet, ageing seems to be a much more difficult problem in principle, you aren’t trying to modify only one physiological function (something like how fast your nerve cells work) but a zillion of then (since you die when the first subsystem stops working).

    There is evidence that there is considerable individual variation in ageing processes. E.g., But why do we assume that’s less fixed by genetics than intelligence?

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