Today, we would like to let you know about a Lifespan X event being held in the Netherlands in order to support Lifespan.io and raise awareness about aging research in general.
A Cure for Aging: Where do we stand today? is being organized by philosopher and bioethicist Tatjana Kochetkova at the Leiden University Sports Centre, Leiden, Netherlands on September 29th, 2018.
The event will feature a number of interesting topics, including:
- What is aging, and how did scientists find out that it is possible to control it?
- Why does addressing aging itself involve extending the healthy and youthful period of life?
- What are the most promising therapies in development right now? When can we expect them to be completed and available?
- How do we ensure that rejuvenation treatments are equally distributed? What can public activists do to help that happen?
- What can we do now to live long enough to have rejuvenation therapies grant us a second youth?
We had a chance to ask Tatjana a few things about the event and why she wanted to organize it through the Lifespan X program.
Can you explain what first convinced you that aging was a problem?
Well, I never was satisfied with the fact that death exists. Since my grandma told me that people die, I did not like it. Try to explain to any 4 year old that they and all their relatives and friends must disappear, and they will start crying.
But I did not know that something can be done about it until 2005, when, at a conference, I heard about Ray Kurzweil, who hopes to live forever. I was impressed, got his book Live long enough to live forever, and liked it a lot. The point is that who of us wants to die? Nobody, as long as we feel good.
Death has been hated by people since the most ancient times.
I never thought positively about aging, but I did not know that it was manageable. This is an amazing discovery that I am enthusiastic about. I am not an exception.
Once you realized that, how has it shaped your actions since?
I started to read literature on anti-aging research and came to the conclusion that it is indeed possible. I adjusted my personal lifestyle to, more or less, follow the recommendations of Kurzweil (even though I don’t take dozens of pills every day :-), but I adjusted my diet and increased exercise.
I also oriented myself on the transhumanist movement because a socio-political agreement is necessary to defeat aging, as it is also a political issue. It must be legal, and it is necessary to finance anti-aging research so that the solution arrives more quickly.
Do you think some historical poets or philosophers shared our desire for the defeat of aging?
The first historical evidence is in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is about a king who wanted to find a remedy to bring his dead friend back to life. However, this is a legend.
Historically speaking, immortality was a chief goal of one trend in Taoism in medieval China. Its practitioners experimented a lot with remedies, and they built a lifestyle dedicated to anti-aging while believing in the possibility of achieving immortality through a combination of various practices: tai-chi, qi-gong, martial arts, herbal remedies, and meditation. Indeed, they founded great exercise systems, which do allow you to stay younger for a longer time. This is not enough, of course, but they did a lot.
Also, yoga, as a system of asanas, pranayamas, and purifying practices, was directed at keeping physical body in a perfect state as long as possible. Yoga strived to assume full control of one’s body, including aging.
Romantic poet Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900) created a line of argument for why people should live forever in an embodied state. He claimed that every person has a higher potential, which is visible only to those who passionately love that person. Infinite life in a physical body is necessary to open this potential.
He called death the biggest of all evils. He wrote a beautiful essay, The meaning of love, in which he claimed that romantic love requires personal immortality, by which he meant embodied immortality. He was a 19th-century poet and a true Romantic. He also believed that personal, embodied immortality is possible, even though in the 19th century, that seemed to be totally unrealistic.
His argument is that interpersonal, romantic love requires the immortality of a loved one. This person has a core, which is usually hidden and has an infinite potential.
Why do you think some people try to rationalize aging and talk about it in a positive way?
It is a mental painkiller. A form of self-deceit.
They don’t know about the possibility of living forever, and they don’t want to suffer the meaninglessness of being-towards-death every day. The horror of human mortality was, by the way, beautifully described by Tolstoy in his “Confession”. He felt like he was hanging on a rope above a gap, and two mice, white and black, were eating his rope each day and night. This hanging above a gap, this existential uncertainty, is what every person feels deeply inside, but we usually suppress this feeling.
They don’t want to think about the tragic character of the human condition – being mortal – hence, they try to desensitize themselves to this issue.
There are some bioethicists who argue fiercely against the idea of healthy life extension, claiming that it is unethical. Some argue that life is like a story and that it has a beginning, a middle and an end. What do you think of this suggestion?
The opposite of life extension is letting people die. It is unethical to have the possibility of saving people and then do nothing. To not extend life, to not do research that can save lives, is like letting people die. If you can prevent someone’s death but still do nothing, this is unethical.
Yes, life is like a story, and it can be like a collection of stories like a library. As Buddhists believe in reincarnation, they also imagine life as a collection of stories.
Some bioethicists claim that there would be cultural stagnation if we lived longer lives and that society and evolution depend on constant change and reinvention. What do you think of this?
The conservatism of old people is caused by their aging. If people stay young, they will keep changing. Besides, I think that outer space colonization and the cosmic expansion of humankind will allow groups of people to lead the kind of lives that they freely choose. It will allow a diversification of human cultures, some of which may be more conservative, while others will change more rapidly.
Some people consider professional bioethics to be holding up progress, particularly those who oppose life extension and who have used regulation to slow progress in areas such as stem cell research, which was set back for a decade in part due to bioethicists. How can bioethics become a force for good like the field of medical ethics that it is borrowed from?
Unfortunately, this is true. Many professional bioethicists are hired by governmental institutions. They tend to play safe and reinforce the official policy.
Bioethics can become a force for good if it is independent from the state. It can explain that more people die from the lack of medical research and lack of knowledge than from medical mistakes. It can make the case for making healthy life extension a priority for public policy.
What motivated you to create this event?
The majority of people don’t know that aging can be stopped or that it is possible to achieve an indefinite lifespan. That’s why they are passive. If they become fully aware of such a possibility, they are more likely to take action, so informing them is currently necessary.
The second reason is that public awareness and public support are necessary for placing anti-aging technology into a positive legal and political framework. Life extension research should be sufficiently financed, and its results should be made accessible to everybody willing to use them.
We need a legislative lobby, and we need a societal consensus to create this technology and to deliver it to users as soon as possible.
Can you tell us a bit more about the event and the day you have planned for the people attending?
The event is on Saturday in the early afternoon so that everybody interested can come. It will include an informative portion about the current state of anti-aging research and a discussion that includes brainstorming on achieving public consensus around life extension.
Finally, do you have a take-home message for our readers?
- Stay informed about breakthroughs in life extension technology,
- Responsibly and wisely apply everything that you can apply as soon as it is available.
- Keep updating your personal lifestyle according to biomedical discoveries.
- Form political groups and demand your governments to make anti-aging research a priority of its current scientific agenda.
- Publicly advocate for removing legal obstacles to its implementation.
We would like to thank Tatjana for setting up this event and talking with us today.