My buddy Aubrey de Grey—the anti-aging crusader—is featured in an admiring profile in today's Washington Post. De Grey is the head of the Methuselah Foundation which is offering a cash prize for therapies that can dramatically extend the lives of mice. The idea is that doubling the lifespans of vermin will encourage similar research on human anti-aging therapies. De Grey proposes what he calls Strategies for Engineering Negligible Senescence (SENS) and has held a couple of international conferences on the topic.
De Grey details the challenges and opportunties of the SENS program in his intriguing new book, Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime.
Here's how De Grey described to the Post how the world in which people live for hundreds of years will look:
"If we want to hit the high points, number one is, there will not be any frail elderly people. Which means we won't be spending all this unbelievable amount of money keeping all those frail elderly people alive for like one extra year the way we do at the moment. That money will be available to spend on important things like, well, obviously, providing the health care to keep us that way, but that won't be anything like so expensive. Secondly, just doing the things we can't afford now, giving people proper education and not just when they're kids, but also proper adult education and retraining and so on.
"Another thing that's going to have to change completely is retirement. For the moment, when you retire, you retire forever. We're sorry for old people because they're going downhill. There will be no real moral or sociological requirement to do that. Sure, there is going to be a need for Social Security as a safety net just as there is now. But retirement will be a periodic thing. You'll be a journalist for 40 years or whatever and then you'll be sick of it and you'll retire on your savings or on a state pension, depending on what the system is. So after 20 years, golf will have lost its novelty value, and you'll want to do something else with your life. You'll get more retraining and education, and go and be a rock star for 40 years, and then retire again and so on."
Cannily the the Post reporter asked De Grey:
Why is it, when you bring up the idea of living forever—even if robust and healthy, not drooling on your shoes—some people just recoil viscerally?
"It's probably the majority that recoils viscerally," de Grey says. "It's what I call the pro-aging trance.
"Since the beginning of civilization, we have been aware that aging is ghastly and that aging is utterly inevitable. . . . So we have two choices. Either we spend our lives being preoccupied by this ghastly future or we find some way to get on with our miserably short lives and make the best of it.
"If we do that second thing, which is obviously the right thing to do, then it doesn't matter how irrational that rationalization might be. . . . It could be, well, we're all going to go to heaven. Or it could be, we're going to have overpopulation. Or it could be, it will be boring. Or, dictators will live forever.
"It doesn't matter what the answers are. It's so important for them to maintain their belief that aging is actually not such a bad thing, that they completely suspend any normal rational sense of proportion."
But if people don't die, won't we indeed fill the planet shoulder to shoulder?
"The birthrate is going to have to go down by an order of magnitude," de Grey acknowledges. "But even if that is going to be a severe problem, the question is not, do problems exist? The question is, are they serious enough to outweigh the benefits of saving 100,000 lives a day? That's the fundamental question. If you haven't got an argument that says that it's that serious that we shouldn't save 30 [bleeping] World Trade Centers every [bleeping] day, don't waste my time. It's a sense of proportion thing."
Whole Post De Grey profile here.
Take a look at my article, Forever Young, here.