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Are Anti-SENS Arguments Dumb?

Biogerontologists' Duty to Discuss Timescales Publicly by Aubrey de Grey:
... the prevalence of comments from laypeople along the lines of “Who would want to spend all that time being old?”, “Wouldn’t we get terribly bored?” or “How would we pay for all those pensions?” fills many of us with such awe at their breathtaking stupidity that any ardour to persist in a patient explanation of what success in this endeavour would actually mean is rapidly sapped. But this is not a legitimate reaction to such inanity, in my view. To put it simply, it is just not plausible that people are really that dumb. Hence, before we abandon our fellow man to his misconception, we as biogerontologists are duty bound to seek a more satisfactory basis for the persistence of these extraordinarily transparently flawed opinions.

On doing so we are forced, it seems to me, to acknowledge that one very simple reason fits the facts: denial.
But in Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime by Aubrey de Grey:
... the prospect of eventually being able to combat aging as well as we can currently combat most infectious diseases—essentially to eliminate aging as a cause of death, in other words—strikes terror into most people: Their immediate (and, I must point out, often high-pitched) reaction is to raise the specter of uncontrollable overpopulation, or of dictators living forever, or of only a wealthy elite benefiting, or any of a dozen other concerns.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that these objections are dumb—not at all. We should indeed be considering them as dangers that we should work to preempt by appropriately careful forward planning.
Previously (2003), Aubrey de Grey said these objections are dumb, inane, and breathtakingly stupid. Later (2007), he says they certainly aren't dumb. These statements contradict. Which is it – and why?

Previously he attacked these sorts of objections, but condescendingly defended the speakers as rationalizing not arguing. Rather than address the issues, he focused on ad hominem claims about the psychology of people who disagree with him. But four years later he says the objections are reasonable concerns which should be considered and dealt with by careful planning.
I consider it highly likely that within ten years from now, if the rather modest necessary funding is forthcoming, we will have the ability to take a mouse cohort with a three-year life expectancy, when it is already two years old, and treble its remaining life expectancy (that is, give it a total life expectancy of five years). I also consider it highly likely that the announcement of that degree of control over mouse aging will almost instantly overturn society’s prevailing fatalism concerning any chance of personal benefit from real anti-aging medicine.
The objections won't all instantly melt away because they are not just meaningless emotional irrationality. It's so condescending to think there's no real objections. It's going to take patient discussions to create agreement with the many people who currently disagree (and it should not be assumed they are wrong about everything – rational discussions must be approached without assuming the conclusions in advance). It'd be better to begin that process today, rather than expect a shortcut will work.

Improved technology simply won't answer concerns about boredom, dictators or overpopulation. Nor will the objections be addressed by calling them dumb and then commenting negatively about the objectors, rather than discussing the issues to find win/win solutions. Condescendingly calling others irrational is itself an irrational way to deal with intellectual issues.

Elliot Temple on October 9, 2014

Comments (5)

Re: Are Anti-SENS Arguments Dumb?

Hi Elliot,

I feel you're being a little unfair here. First, the specific sets of objections I listed in the two quotes are disjoint, and I would certainly argue that those in the first quote are less legitimate (i.e., amenable to more crushing refutations) than those in the second. But more importantly, I say three types of thing in response to concerns about the prospect that solving the problem of aging would create this or that new problem:

1) It very probably won't;

2) Even if it does, the new problem will very probably be tiny when compared to the immense problem of aging that we are solving;

3) Even if it might be bigger, that's for humanity of the future to decide on the basis of the information available to it at the time; it is immoral for us to deny our descendents that choice by our inaction today.

Essentially my position is that disagreeing with me on (1) is not dumb, and thus I advocate appropriately careful forward planning, but that disagreeing with me on (2) and (3) is not only unjustifiable, it is so obviously unjustifiable that calling it inane is not an exaggeration. Saying that, though, I can't deny that over the years I have tended to tone down my language, but that's for diplomatic reasons rather than because my views have changed.

Cheers, Aubrey

Aubrey de Grey at 1:56 PM on October 10, 2014 | #2396

Aging is something that must be conquered as a priority

What Aubrey de Grey proposes makes a great deal of sense and I have followed his work for many years. I am glad the SENS foundation is attracting more and more support but it's never going to be enough and funding is vital to get the job done within the shortest possible timeframe unless we all play a part through spreading the word or donating to the SENS foundation directly. Fortunately SENS is not alone and companies such as Google Calico are also joining the battle. Never forget though that without Aubrey we would never be at the point we are now.

Frankly it's amazing that people often see the diseases of aging and by extension aging itself as something set in stone because it's the way it's always been but the reality is that we are in all probability on the brink of developing the first generation therapies which will bring the disease of aging such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, Alzheimer's and cancer under a decisive level of clinical control.

Dr John Andersen at 7:36 AM on October 11, 2014 | #2400
To be clear:

I like SENS.

Criticism is a gift, which can help SENS.

Elliot Temple at 8:06 AM on October 11, 2014 | #2401

Faith = Stupidity

The unmentioned elephant in the living room here is the brainwashing that defines faith-based worldviews, and their hypocritical promotion from the highest levels. Even the most backward atheist will quickly get over their initial resistance to the SENS approach, simply because it is sensible. The real problem is the hordes who have been convinced (at least on the surface) that death brings salvation. For them, a core belief must either be disengaged or rationalized in order to accept indefinite lifespan as positive. Likewise, such dupes cannot even see the obvious way to exit if they get "bored."

Regarding the social problems, one can dream that criminality, injustice, war and poverty will be obviated by technical progress, but I've yet to hear a plausible theoretical basis for that speculation, and much less, an example, despite the fact that the technology for general abundance has been with us for at least 100 years. Speaking of brainwashing (and denial), there is no theory that shows capitalism providing material freedom for all. Period. There is only a global socialist solution for rational humanitarians. This is the big (and often willful) blind spot in the average life extensionists' vision. The weak-kneed are afraid of alienating religionists and rich jackals, but this approach is doomed to backfire. Letting the fox into the chicken coop is incompatible with chicken liberation.

Walter Crompton at 8:58 PM on October 21, 2014 | #2403
What about the brainwashing that defines radical leftist atheist worldviews?

The concept that literally every atheist will quickly get on board with SENS is ridiculous and demonstrably false. SENS would have plenty of funding from atheists alone if it was that easy.

You know it's leftist atheists, more than religious people, who favor population control? Like China's one child brutality. I'm deeply skeptical of your ability (or anyone's) to convince the population controllers of SENS.

Regarding criminality, etc, I agree it cannot be obviated by technical progress. That will take moral progress.

Regarding capitalism and socialism, we disagree. Is that something you're interested in discussing in detail to a conclusion?

I agree with you that people shouldn't fear alienating those with contrary ideas. Advocate what you think is true, openly and proudly!! It does work out better overall.

Elliot Temple at 10:34 PM on October 21, 2014 | #2404

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)