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Bloggingheads 12-13-2008 09:43 AM

Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 

Titstorm 12-13-2008 10:41 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
the "details of growing old" section was fantastic. thanks, Aubrey!
and thanks for not being insanely cocky while contributing zero substance like that AI dreadlocks guy Eliezer was paired with last time.

Anyuser 12-13-2008 01:45 PM

Is fear of death an evolutionary adaptation?
 
I agree with the likes of Ernest Becker, Robert Lifton, Julian Barnes, and Philip Larkin that fear of death is universal and innate among humans. Itís not learned; Iíve observed fear of death in little kids. By ďfear of deathĒ I mean the fear of being dead, fear of oblivion, as distinguished from fear of dying, that is, causes of death. I posit that fear of oblivion is unique to humans, because it entails abilities that no other species possesses: an ability for abstract thought, that is, an ability to consciously process the meaning of oblivion; and an ability for foresight, that is, to foresee and think about the future, to grasp ďinevitability.Ē A chimpanzee is innately afraid of things that might harm itósnakes, fire, leopards, etcóbut itís not capable of thinking, holy shit, someday Iím going to die and thereís not a thing I can do about it.

If the fear of death is universal and innate among humans, it must be a product of evolution, right? And if so, it must have evolved as human cognition evolved, right? That is, fear of death couldnít exist without human cognition. Well then, why did it evolve? Other innate emotions (jealousy, love of babies) are more readily explicable in evolutionary terms. A fear of snakes evolved, before human cognition, because hominids reflexively afraid of snakes had an increased chance of surviving and reproducing. Even fear of aging is explicable in evolutionary terms, because aging denotes diminished sexual attractiveness and ability to compete for status. Exactly how would an evolutionary advantage of a fear of the inevitability of death work itself out? How would fear of oblivion confer evolutionary advantage additional to fear of being attacked, aversion to pain, etc? Why is it so extensive and durable? Fear of death exists before and after even the ultimate evolutionary mojo itself, sexual desire.

It seems to me fear of death is too powerful and pervasive and just unreasonable to be an incidental by-product, a pandaís ďthumb,Ē of evolutionarily explicable human consciousness and intelligence, like the ability to read. If it were merely a by-product, the logic would be: given human consciousness and intelligence a fear of oblivion just happens, inevitably, and such fear doesnít need to be rational or evolutionarily useful. Itís irrelevant and futile to argue that fear of oblivion after dying is no more rational than retrospective fear of oblivion before birth. Itís a disease of human consciousness. Does that seem right? Does that feel right?

Just wondering. It seems to me that fear of death shares a weird oddness with life itself: they're each contingent, that is, neither must exist (life doesnít exist anywhere else that we know of, fear of death canít exist in species without humansí cognitive capacity), yet and each does, stubbornly. Itís as if while humans evolved, fear of death was waiting to greet them.

Take it away, Bob Wright.

JoeK 12-13-2008 02:19 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
Can't resist asking, is Aubrey related to Gandalf Da Gray?
Looking forward to listening to him and Eliezer.

BeachFrontView 12-13-2008 02:37 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
Aubrey De Grey on aging @ TED

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/a...oid_aging.html

Jyminee 12-13-2008 02:39 PM

Re: Is fear of death an evolutionary adaptation?
 
I think you're overanalyzing this, Anyuser, when a simple evo-psych answer is obvious: once you are dead, you can no longer reproduce. An aversion to death, and doing things that will result in death, is good for spreading one's genes.

Jyminee 12-13-2008 03:21 PM

One good thing about death
 
This reminded me of this clip from a Free Will earlier this year. The more old people there are in a culture, the harder it is for that culture to improve. Most people who support gay marriage (such as myself) are looking forward to 10 or 15 years from now when the old voters will "clear out" and make way for young people who aren't scared of gays and lesbians. Imagine if those old fogies kept on living, and voting, forever--scary thought!

JoeK 12-13-2008 03:36 PM

Re: One good thing about death
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Jyminee (Post 99191)
The more old people there are in a culture, the harder it is for that culture to improve. Most people who support gay marriage (such as myself) are looking forward to 10 or 15 years from now when the old voters will "clear out" and make way for young people who aren't scared of gays and lesbians. Imagine if those old fogies kept on living, and voting, forever--scary thought!

And if the sixties generation of the young people had their way, we could have had reeducation camps and killing fields here in America. How sad what the wonderful experience our nation missed.

Jyminee 12-13-2008 03:46 PM

Re: One good thing about death
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by JoeK (Post 99193)
And if the sixties generation of the young people had their way, we could have had reeducation camps and killing fields here in America. How sad what the wonderful experience our nation missed.

Well, obviously I would not want nineteen-year olds running the world. (Although the people who came of age in the 60's are running the world now, and doing a semi-crappy job of it.) But listen to that clip from Kerry and Will--old people have their own interests and beliefs that are often harmful to the rest of us.

JoeK 12-13-2008 04:05 PM

Re: One good thing about death
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Jyminee (Post 99194)
Well, obviously I would not want nineteen-year olds running the world. (Although the people who came of age in the 60's are running the world now, and doing a semi-crappy job of it.) But listen to that clip from Kerry and Will--old people have their own interests and beliefs that are often harmful to the rest of us.

God forbid the country should exercise some prudence in its immigration policy.
What about the poor people? I betcha poor people, even more than old folks, have some interests and beliefs that are harmful to the rest of us.

Titstorm 12-13-2008 04:08 PM

Re: One good thing about death
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by JoeK (Post 99193)
And if the sixties generation of the young people had their way, we could have had reeducation camps and killing fields here in America. How sad what the wonderful experience our nation missed.

I know! I'm glad people who like to start unnecessary wars won out so we can enjoy their ideology instead. All hippies did was tackle civil rights, environmentalism, protest unnecessary wars (again, worthless), and womens rights. what a bunch of losers! they should've done what you stand for instead.

BornAgainDemocrat 12-13-2008 04:23 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
Life, a sexually transmitted disease that is always fatal. My oncologist said that.

JoeK 12-13-2008 04:30 PM

Re: One good thing about death
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Titstorm (Post 99198)
I know! I'm glad people who like to start unnecessary wars won out so we can enjoy their ideology instead. All hippies did was tackle civil rights, environmentalism, protest unnecessary wars (again, worthless), and womens rights. what a bunch of losers! they should've done what you stand for instead.

Well, we saw what happened in other countries in which fascistic youth movements, such as sixties New Left, prevailed. It wasn't nice. Fortunatelly, in American democracy, their ideas were offset by whatever opinion old geezers held on issues at stake and, on balance, everything turned out well.

Titstorm 12-13-2008 04:44 PM

Re: One good thing about death
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by JoeK (Post 99202)
Well, we saw what happened in other countries in which fascistic youth movements, such as sixties New Left, prevailed. It wasn't nice. Fortunatelly, in American democracy, their ideas were offset by whatever opinion old geezers held on issues at stake and, on balance, everything turned out well.

we're doing well now? pretty low standards

Wonderment 12-13-2008 08:08 PM

Demographics
 
Neither of the speakers discussed demographics.

How would a vastly increased population of healthy 120-year-olds be sustainable?

Curing aging would have an enormous impact on civilization and human ecology; so it is not a given that an enhanced lifespan would necessarily be as marvelous for humanity as Aubrey and Eliezer suggest.

It might be smart to at least ask the question: How long does a person have the right to live? It is not self-evident that the answer is "forever."

bjkeefe 12-13-2008 08:26 PM

Re: Is fear of death an evolutionary adaptation?
 
I agree with Jyminee in that you may be overanalyzing this. I also think you might be making too much of a distinction between basic survival instinct and simple joie de vivre, and the fear that comes from contemplating what (if anything) happens after death.

I also question a key assumption that you seem to be making, that the fear of death is greater than the fear of dying. I don't know how representative I am of our species, but I can say without a doubt (possibly contra the authors you cited) that I am far more afraid of dying than of being dead, because I believe that when I'm dead, I will be beyond caring.

I do think there is something to your view that humans appear unique in fearing the thought of being dead and/or what happens to oneself after death. This, of course, is part of why we have developed religions.

bjkeefe 12-13-2008 08:41 PM

Re: Demographics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Wonderment (Post 99226)
It might be smart to at least ask the question: How long does a person have the right to live? It is not self-evident that the answer is "forever."

That was my instinctive reaction at the beginning of this diavlog, too, but the more I thought about it, the more I wasn't happy with it.

We already do a lot to stave off both dying and the onset of age-related frailty. Some of what we do might be called "natural; e.g., eating properly, exercising, limiting intake of substances with toxic side effects, and so on. But we also do a lot more than that. Think about the various medications that many people take to, say, manage their cholesterol levels, mitigate calcium depletion, control blood pressure, keep their hearts operating normally, and so on. Think about younger people, too, who may need regular insulin injections or whatever it is one takes if one has a faulty thyroid. The list, I'm sure, could be made quite long.

How are these people doing anything but, at base, insisting upon a right to live a long life?

I agree that suddenly coming up with a way to keep people healthy for much longer than we live now would have all manner of societal effects, some of which could be viewed as problems.

bjkeefe 12-13-2008 08:49 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by mvantony (Post 99179)
Great diavlog. Thanks to BhTV for bringing in Aubrey de Grey.

Second that. And a great job of interviewing by Eliezer.

bjkeefe 12-13-2008 08:55 PM

Re: One good thing about death
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by JoeK (Post 99202)
... fascistic youth movements, such as sixties New Left, ...

Look, I know the whole "Commie" tag hasn't been working for you wingnuts lately, but really, just because a pseudo-intellectual creature of nepotism who eats too many Cheetos farts out a book that claims it, it isn't automatically true that liberals are fascists.

Here's five cents. Go buy yourself another buzzword.

AemJeff 12-13-2008 08:59 PM

Re: Demographics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by bjkeefe (Post 99229)
... some of which could be viewed as problems.

Yup. Just like the effects of every other significant advance: Automobiles, energy, communications, etc... And we've already doubled average lifespan, at least compared to nature, so really what we're talking about now is incremental. The question ought not be "Should we do it?" - I think the only answer to that is yes - rather, we should ask: "How do we deal with its effects?"

bjkeefe 12-13-2008 09:00 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by JoeK (Post 99184)
Can't resist asking, is Aubrey related to Gandalf Da Gray?

I was more immediately made to think of Lazarus Long.

bjkeefe 12-13-2008 09:10 PM

Re: Demographics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by AemJeff (Post 99233)
Yup. Just like the effects of every other significant advance: Automobiles, energy, communications, etc... And we've already doubled average lifespan, at least compared to nature, so really what we're talking about now is incremental. The question ought not be "Should we do it?" - I think the only answer to that is yes - rather, we should ask: "How do we deal with its effects?"

We're on the same page except maybe for one part. I am not at all convinced we "should do it" in the sense of a large-scale shift of resources toward that problem. I'd have to hear about where the money was coming from, and hence not going to, first. For example, if research into staving off aging means less money would be spent on, say, pre- and post-natal care, figuring out how get a handle on malaria, or curing AIDS, I'd vote no.

I am not against the research the Aubrey advocates per se, but I still do worry that this is likely to be just another area where a comparative few, who already have a lot, benefit at the expense of many more who have less. So, I would probably be against making this part of publicly-funded research, unless I could be persuaded that there were likely to be spin-offs that would benefit a larger group.

AemJeff 12-13-2008 09:20 PM

Re: Demographics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by bjkeefe (Post 99235)
We're on the same page except maybe for one part. I am not at all convinced we "should do it" in the sense of a large-scale shift of resources toward that problem. I'd have to hear about where the money was coming from, and hence not going to, first. For example, if research into staving off aging means less money would be spent on, say, pre- and post-natal care, figuring out how get a handle on malaria, or curing AIDS, I'd vote no.

I am not against the research the Aubrey advocates per se, but I still do worry that this is likely to be just another area where a comparative few, who already have a lot, benefit at the expense of many more who have less. So, I would probably be against making this part of publicly-funded research, unless I could be persuaded that there were likely to be spin-offs that would benefit a larger group.

I wouldn't call the hundred million dollar figure Aubrey blue-skied in response to Eliezer's question a major shift of resources; certainly not in the context of HIV or cancer research. I'm also not sure that elites would necessarily be the primary beneficiaries (that would depend on what the treatments would entail) - but even if that were initially the case, medical advances don't seem to skew that way for long. Plenty of regular folks have open-heart surgery or complex cancer treatments, these days.

Wonderment 12-13-2008 09:57 PM

Re: Demographics
 
Quote:

We're on the same page except maybe for one part. I am not at all convinced we "should do it" in the sense of a large-scale shift of resources toward that problem. I'd have to hear about where the money was coming from, and hence not going to, first. For example, if research into staving off aging means less money would be spent on, say, pre- and post-natal care, figuring out how get a handle on malaria, or curing AIDS, I'd vote no.
That would certainly be one of my concerns.

The problem is that when you have scientists and writers like Eliezer and Aubrey advocating for cryonics and 150-year lifespans, you run the risk of treating skeptics as anti-scientific, hopelessly uninformed and irrational. Eliezer suggested that older people didn't get the big picture because they were technologically out-of-touch meanies, sort of like Ted Stevens and the Internet tubes.

Biomedical science has plenty of ethicists who analyze and debate the implications of dramatically increased lifespans and resuscitation. It would be good to hear from them on Science Saturday as well.

Cryonics, for example, seems to raise some interesting questions about the rights of future inhabitants of the planet. How would we of 2008 feel if we were suddenly contractually obliged by our ancestors to revive a few hundred million people from the year 900?

bjkeefe 12-13-2008 09:58 PM

Re: Demographics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by AemJeff (Post 99237)
I wouldn't call the hundred million dollar figure Aubrey blue-skied in response to Eliezer's question a major shift of resources; certainly not in the context of HIV or cancer research. I'm also not sure that elites would necessarily be the primary beneficiaries (that would depend on what the treatments would entail) - but even if that were initially the case, medical advances don't seem to skew that way for long. Plenty of regular folks have open-heart surgery or complex cancer treatments, these days.

Good points.

One quibble: while I agree that for certain programs, $100 million is a relatively small fraction, I suspect that I could easily find places where I'd rather spend this kind of public money than on anti-aging research.

But, if you could come up with that money by, say, building one fewer F-22, I'd be happy to let you give the whole wad to Aubrey.

bjkeefe 12-13-2008 10:04 PM

Re: Demographics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Wonderment (Post 99239)
[...]

Agree that cryonics opens a whole 'nother can of ethical worms. I haven't thought about it deeply, but my usual first reaction is that there's something awfully dubious about inventing another way to dump our problems on our (great-*)-grandchildren.

Any comments on my "rights" response?

Wonderment 12-13-2008 11:58 PM

Re: Demographics
 
Quote:

Any comments on my "rights" response?
I tend to agree with you pragmatically for the following reasons: A system which errs on the side of patients' (citizens/consumers) rights is surely best. "Curing" aging is probably not qualitatively different from curing cancer (something everyone agrees is a good idea). And as Jeff suggests, medical advances usually do trickle down to everyone sooner or later.

I think ultimately, however, the rights question is best expressed this way: Do I have a right to zero-sum healthcare? In other words, if we have finite healthcare dollars, do I still have an unconditional right to life extension, when providing services to me means underserving someone else (the child with Malaria, for example).

There are a lot of end-of-life rights issues that we're already grappling with: Should your health insurance cover an expensive drug that will only increase life span an average of 90 days? Can we ever pull the plug on comatose people without their prior consent? Should there be a free market to buy and sell vital organs?

My main concern with life extension, however, is population. We didn't do very well in anticipating the problems of a projected 10 billion people on the planet, so I'm not persuaded that we would necessarily be better off if we could suddenly double the human life span.

Population "control" (aka family planning) is always tricky, and in the world Eliezer and Aubrey envision it would get a whole lot trickier.

bjkeefe 12-14-2008 12:35 AM

Re: Demographics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Wonderment (Post 99243)
[...]

Thanks for clarifying. Nothing to dispute there.

I will say, though, that this is a perfect example of why it drives me bananas when people talk about health care as a "right."

Nate 12-14-2008 12:44 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
Awesome interview! This is probably my favorite guest so far on Science Saturday. Aubrey de Grey, PhD has some really interesting ideas.

Nate 12-14-2008 03:55 AM

Aubrey addresses Michael Brooks' concerns
 
When talking about his "7 Deadly Sins of Aging", de Grey pretty well put to rest the concerns that Michael Brooks had about cancer in his diavlog with John Horgan, which mentioned Aubrey specifically.

bjkeefe 12-14-2008 04:53 AM

Re: One good thing about death
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by JoeK (Post 99193)
And if the sixties generation of the young people had their way, we could have had reeducation camps ... How sad what the wonderful experience our nation missed.

Not to worry -- the wingnuts have got you covered (emph. orig):

Quote:

Pastor Steven Kern, husband of notorious Oklahoma state legislator Sally Kern, told a fellow he thought was an anti-gay ally,

Quote:

We have to get rid of that and start curing those sinners. It's past time that this nation stopped placating sin and start putting them in education programs. Courts can force drug offenders into treatment centers and violent people into anger management. There's no reason our courts can't do that with homos.


EliezerYudkowsky 12-14-2008 05:56 AM

Re: Demographics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Wonderment (Post 99239)
Eliezer suggested that older people didn't get the big picture because they were technologically out-of-touch meanies, sort of like Ted Stevens and the Internet tubes.

Biomedical science has plenty of ethicists who analyze and debate the implications of dramatically increased lifespans and resuscitation. It would be good to hear from them on Science Saturday as well.

I was actually supposed to interview a well-known bioconservative ethicist for BHTV, before the de Grey thing even came up.

And we did the interview. But, right at the end, his video recording program (which he hadn't used before) crashed, and we lost the whole interview.

I swear to the Flying Spaghetti Monster I am not making this up.

Francoamerican 12-14-2008 07:22 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
I was reminded of a line from Beckett (Endgame?) while listening to this dialogue: "You're on earth now, there's no cure for that."

The search for the fountain of youth, the desire to "conquer" death by postponing it, has taken many forms through the ages---religion, philosophy and quackery have all made their contributions---but only in recent times has it taken the form of pseudo-science. I say "pseudo" because, as far as I can see, thanatology hasn't progressed much beyond the identification of the causal processes that lead inexorably to death. Mr. de Grey had little or nothing to say about what kind of research would be necessary to stall or reverse those processes. Could this be because his science is akin to the quest of alchemists to trasmute lead into gold?

I suppose it would be nice to stay youthful as long as possible. Eternal life, though, would have its drawbacks (cf. Swift and the Struldbruggs). I prefer the wisdom of the Stoics and Montaigne: The premeditation of death is the premeditation of freedom. Learning how to die is learning how to live well.

bohead 12-14-2008 10:16 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Francoamerican (Post 99249)
I was reminded of a line from Beckett (Endgame?) while listening to this dialogue: "You're on earth now, there's no cure for that."

The search for the fountain of youth, the desire to "conquer" death by postponing it, has taken many forms through the ages---religion, philosophy and quackery have all made their contributions---but only in recent times has it taken the form of pseudo-science. I say "pseudo" because, as far as I can see, thanatology hasn't progressed much beyond the identification of the causal processes that lead inexorably to death. Mr. de Grey had little or nothing to say about what kind of research would be necessary to stall or reverse those processes. Could this be because his science is akin to the quest of alchemists to trasmute lead into gold?

I suppose it would be nice to stay youthful as long as possible. Eternal life, though, would have its drawbacks (cf. Swift and the Struldbruggs). I prefer the wisdom of the Stoics and Montaigne: The premeditation of death is the premeditation of freedom. Learning how to die is learning how to live well.

Do you think immortality is impossible or that it's undesirable or that it's both? Do you think these are distinct questions? If immortality is impossible, isn't its desirability a non-issue?

Wonderment 12-14-2008 03:26 PM

Re: Demographics
 
Quote:

I swear to the Flying Spaghetti Monster I am not making this up.
I believe you (like the white socks).

Don't fret though. Although I'm sure the original talk with the ethicist would have hastened the coming of the Singularity, you can always re-record.

Thanks for your appearances on Bheads. I've watched them all with great interest.

Francoamerican 12-15-2008 05:37 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by bohead (Post 99252)
Do you think immortality is impossible or that it's undesirable or that it's both? Do you think these are distinct questions? If immortality is impossible, isn't its desirability a non-issue?

Your third question answers itself. Are the two questions distinct? Yes, of course, but no one can answer the question of possibility since we would have to have knowledge of a "substantial" soul that could exist apart from its physical embodiment and its awareness of the passage of time. Self-consciousness, which is all we know about ourselves, is inconceivable outside space and time.

So that leaves a purely hypothetical question: If the "soul" were immortal, would such a state be desirable? Only if you could somehow escape the boredom, the ennui, the taedium vitae, which, as Beckett knew better than anyone, is THE problem of self-consciousness and its awareness of the passage of time.

Corvid 12-15-2008 05:47 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
Eliezer uses the word 'I' too much.

mansfeild 12-15-2008 08:33 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Frontiers of Gerontology
 
I am not sure why Arthur hasn't provided a link to the Methuselah foundation next to the link to Aubrey's book,
here is the link to the foundation for people who would like to learn more what it is currently doing.

http://methuselahfoundation.com/


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