Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, August 19, 2011

All Humans Are Mortal. Socrates Is Human. Therefore, Socrates Is Mortal.

Students have been learning the basics of logic through the re-iteration of this syllogism for centuries.

Everybody who has ever lived has died. Everybody dies. You're going to die. That you are going to die is part of what it has always meant to be human. If you didn't die, you wouldn't be living a legibly human life. But of course you are going to die so there is no reason to belabor the point, and to do so is probably just to indulge in pathetic panic-stricken distraction or denialism about it anyway.

And, sure, you really can go into denial about it if you don't want to face facts, you can stick your fingers in your ears screaming la!la!la!la! whenever you contemplate your curtain call, you can dwell on death so much that you manage to die in life even before you die if you really want to be pathetic about it, you can behave recklessly on cliff faces and in sports cars to show how invulnerable you are, you can pray to Baby Jeebus to give you a cozy cloud perch from which to observe the bad people burning in Hell, you can build a gold-plated poop pyramid a mile high with your name on it. Heck, you can get your brain frozen by sociopathic scam artists in the desert who promise you won't thaw for the centuries it takes for magic nanobots to "fix" you with the help of the Super Dad Robot God they are coding.

Many readers may think I am writing parodies when I speak of superlative futurological discourses and subcultures as a Robot Cult. Mike Treder, Managing Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (long-time readers may recall that I tend to call it "stealth Robot Cult outfit, IEET" and tend to call its high level muckety mucks as "Very Serious Futurologists" or, alternatively, "White Guys of 'The Future'"), asked the question in a post yesterday, Will You Die? (The answer, for you kids keeping score at home, is: "Yes, Mike, yes, you will die, as will every single person who reads these words.") Here's Mike:
The hope for transhumanists in 2011 is that the science of biogerontology—potentially combined with rapid progress in techniques for using smart ‘nanobots’ to clean out our arteries or fix our degraded cells—will soon lead to a new era of widely available radical life extension. IEET Fellow Aubrey de Grey, a leading expert in the field, has predicted that the first person to live to be 1000 years old will be born in the next twenty years. If that doesn’t happen quickly enough for you or me, then maybe we can have our bodies (or just our heads) cryonically “preserved” and possibly reanimated at some point in the future. Another hypothesized route to immortality is the idea of having your personality “uploaded” to a computer before you die, so that the essence of you will live on for centuries or for eons. You might, theoretically, be able to have your mind implanted into an advanced robot, giving you a superior body that can be upgraded and made to last for a very long time indeed.
It doesn't seem right to make fun of people this desperate and deluded and dumb, but, well, I say, go ahead. Especially rich for regular readers will be the robotic predictability with which Aubrey de Grey has apparently chosen the inevitable "twenty years from now" as the arrival date for the goods in "the field" in which he is "a leading expert," a futurological gesture also beloved -- and for far more than twenty years, let me tell you -- of experts heralding the arrival of Artificial Intelligence, Drexlerian Nanotech, Designer Babies, Clone Armies, Immersive VR, the Paperless Office, Energy Too Cheap to Meter, Orbital Space Hotels, the Cure for [insert disease], and the history-shattering Singularity when the Robot God inaugurates Tech-Heaven or eats the world for lunch (you decide). No less enjoyable is the accompanying illustration for the piece of drawing-board nanobots on graph paper backgrounds just like real engineers use and with orange arrows indicating the immortalization action, and also, too, the reference to cyber-immortalization via "uploading" presumably involving something called your "essence." Science!

No doubt about it. Socrates is dead.

24 comments:

jimf said...

> . . .rapid progress in techniques for using smart ‘nanobots’
> to clean out our arteries. . .

An irony of this post is its juxtaposition with the latest
issue of _Newsweek_, containing Sharon Begley's article
"One Word Can Save Your Life: No!"
http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/08/14/some-medical-tests-procedures-do-more-harm-than-good.html

------------
Some of the most disturbing examples involve cardiology.
At least five large, randomized controlled studies have
analyzed treatments for stable heart patients who have
nothing worse than mild chest pain. The studies compared
invasive procedures including angioplasty, in which a surgeon
mechanically widens a blocked blood vessel by crushing
the fatty deposits called plaques; stenting, or propping
open a vessel with wire mesh; and bypass surgery, grafting
a new blood vessel onto a blocked one. Every study found
that the surgical procedures didn’t improve survival rates
or quality of life more than noninvasive treatments
including drugs (beta blockers, cholesterol-lowering statins,
and aspirin), exercise, and a healthy diet. They were,
however, far more expensive: stenting costs Medicare more
than $1.6 billion a year.

If that finding makes you scratch your head -- how can propping
open a narrowed blood vessel not be wonderfully effective? --
you’re not alone. Many cardiologists had the same reaction when
these studies were published. It turns out that the big blockages
that show up on CT scans and other imaging, and that were long
assumed to cause heart attacks, usually don’t -- but treating
them can. That’s because when you disrupt these blockages
through surgery, you “spray a whole lot of debris down into
the tiny blood vessels, which can trigger a heart attack or stroke,”
says Nortin Hadler, a professor of medicine at the University
of North Carolina, whose book on overtreatment in the elderly,
_Rethinking Aging_, will be published next month. Many
of the 500,000 elective angioplasties (at least $50,000 each)
performed every year are done on patients who could benefit
more from drugs, exercise, and healthy eating.

New technology has sometimes made the problem more acute. Where
once arterial blockages were detected by chest X-ray, now doctors
can use cardiac CT angiography, which shows the heart and coronary
arteries in dramatic 3-D. When it was introduced a decade ago
to screen for cardiovascular disease, it seemed almost miraculous:
a 2005 cover of _Time_ trumpeted that it could “stop a heart attack
before it happens.” Difficult as it is to believe, however,
there can be such a thing as too much information, especially
from new imaging technology. “Our imaging and diagnostic tests are
so good, we can see things we couldn’t see before,” says
Lauer of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
“But our ability to understand what we’re seeing and to know
if we should intervene hasn’t kept up.” . . .

The Cleveland Clinic’s Nissen has seen firsthand what happens
when doctors, armed with too much information, perform what
turn out to be unnecessary procedures. In 2009 a 52-year-old woman
with chest pain underwent a cardiac CT at a community hospital.
Neither her LDL (bad) cholesterol nor her C-reactive protein
(another risk factor for heart disease) were elevated.
But since the CT showed several coronary plaques, her
physicians performed coronary angiography. Complications
ensued, and the woman wound up undergoing more procedures,
one of which tore an artery. She eventually went to the
Cleveland Clinic for a heart transplant -- not because she
had heart disease when it all started, says Nissen, but
because of the cascading interventions triggered by the CT.

Matt said...

Doubtless you've already been asked this question, but what if you're wrong? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mmskXXetcg

No, seriously.

Dale Carrico said...

what if you're wrong?

You mean, what if some humans have been immortals all along in some kind of stealthy demigod vampire Highlander scenario, and I just don't know about them?

What can I say? Until I receive evidence to the contrary, I wouldn't give the least consideration to the notion, except insofar as a good storyteller like Zelazny or Banks can weave an entertaining yarn around the premise.

what if you're wrong?

You mean, what if the Robot Cultists are right and manage to code their Sooper Dad Robot God who "uploads our brain-souls" into cyber-immortality in virtual reality treasure caves or into shiny sooper-sexy sooper-power robot bodies amidst nanobotic utility fog that makes Hogwarts magick real? And, then, presumably the sooper-geniuses in these Robot Cults also get seriously pissed off at me for making fun of them all these years so they program the Robot God to punish me by uploading me into an eternal pain amplifier type scenario?

What can I say? I'm not losing any sleep over the prospect any more than I do about the promises of heaven and threats of hell other fundamentalists like to throw around.

what if you're wrong?

I die anyway? You know, there are worse things than dying. Among them, I would include almost all killing, wasting time on nonsense (especially when it leads to unnecessary suffering), succumbing to peer-pressure and behaving dishonorably as a result, indulging snake-oil salesmen, or giving in to any faith-based form of True Belief.

Now, I do hope to live longer than not, since I rather like living, and to be healthier than not, since I rather like being healthy, and to be more mentally alert than not, since I rather like being mentally alert. I do approve of medicine, after all, and of science and of critical thinking (I teach these subjects to college students, you may as well know) as I also approve of citizens consenting in well-informed non-duressed ways to the terms of their lives in the context of sustainable secular multicultural democratic societies.

These are all reasons to have nothing to do either with the anti-democratic and irrationalist norms and forms of marketing, promotional, corporate-military developmentalist discourse and practice that suffuse our public life in this moment of unprecedented danger and promise, and certainly not to indulge the hyperbolic amplification of these norms and forms one finds at their transcendentalizing and sub(cult)ural edges in the superlative futurology of the Robot Cult archipelago.

Also, too, I am not wrong. Seriously.

jimf said...

> You mean, what if some humans have been immortals
> all along in some kind of stealthy demigod vampire
> Highlander scenario, and I just don't know about them?

My money's on Elves being real.

Tolkien sometimes wrote about them as if he
half-believed they were.

Matt said...

Well that was nice, having such a quick and thoughtful response to such a simple question : - ).

I have nothing much to disagree with, really. But:

"You know, there are worse things than dying."

Of course. I don't have much of a problem with death itself. And I agree it is inevitable, almost certainly.

"Also, too, I am not wrong. Seriously."

I'm curious, although I know you just meant superlative futurism what do make of the possibility that you are radically wrong about something, anything you really believe in?

Anyway, I am personally in the habit of seriously entertaining Robot Cultist ideas because they are so appealing. I tell myself "Well, nobody really knows for sure whether it's physically possible, so why not take it seriously?" I know religion really is comforting, yet I'm a secular humanist and materialist. So hyperbolic futurism is a much more palatable form of religion to me psychologically, and makes a nice substitute. David Pearce's ideas are particularly fascinating to me, they really made me feel better when I was depressed. (Summerspeaker got me into Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex too, which I am reading now.)

I am sure you find this problematic, but to me it's not much different from enjoying explicit speculative fiction, with the caveat that the authors really do believe in it and gullible me likes taking them seriously...

And I have to ask some more questions. ; - )
What do you think of the plausibility humans eventually inventing cheap/efficient solar power, nuclear fusion power, artificial wombs (course I'm thinking of this 'cause of Firestone), genetic enhancement, and Strong AI? Why?

Dale Carrico said...

I teach among other places at a century-old art school in San Francisco, and I am surrounded by appealing ideas and visions all the time. I take them enormously seriously. But I don't confuse science with aesthetics, or with morals, or with politics.

What we want from scientific beliefs is prediction and control, and the criteria on the basis of which such beliefs are warranted or not are well known (testability, substantiation, coherence, and so on). Helping you feel good is not one of these criteria, properly speaking, but it might well be a criterion for moral or for aesthetic belief without harm to the rationality of belief in that domain. I recommend you have a look at my pieces on pluralist reasonableness for more on this very large issue.

To the extent that Robot Cultists are just an sf fandom I have no problem with them at all -- I'm a big queergeek with plenty of odd enthusiasms myself. But style subcultures and literary fandoms are not scientific research programs, they are not serious policy making apparatuses and they are not political movements. Sure, they can try to be these things or palm themselves off as these things but terrible mischief results from these confusions.

You ask my opinion about the plausibility of any number of technodevelopmental outcomes -- but why, exactly? Do I seem like an expert in any of these fields? I am a scholar in science and technology studies, in the political theory of planetary networked formations, in discourse analysis, critical theory, and philosophy. Non-experts defer to experts. But even non-experts can know enough to know how to distinguish other non-experts from experts, especially when non-experts are up to mischief.

Notice how rarely the so-called "technical discussions" of superlative futurologists are taken seriously within the consensus of the relevant experts in the scientific fields on which they depend (not the made up sub-fields in which True Believers endlessly cite another). Laypeople can assess the state of the art by noting the degrees of figures touting marginal views, by noting just how many marginal views they seem inclined to hold forth on with their greatest energy, how many citations they have in refereed journals (also take a look to see whether these citations show marginal views actually being taken up and taken seriously by the mainstream when they are cited, or whether they are cited as foolish or extreme views against which serious scientists contrast their own views). I'm afraid you will discover soon enough that the luminaries of the Robot Cult are a rather motley bunch even at their most respectable, and were you actually to study enough to earn a degree in the relevant field you would find yourself ever more likely to view them much the same way, as I know from interactions with students and faculty at UC Berkeley, where I also teach, for example.

Now, once we are talking about the figurative gestures, topoi, frames, narrative citations employed by marginal viewpoints to peddle their views -- or once we are observing the sociocultural structures defensive marginal subcultures of True Belief deploy to gain attention and contributions -- well then we have arrived at subjects a scholar trained in rhetoric, philosophy, and cultural theory is very well suited to discuss.

And, as you can see from the texts archived at the side bar, I copiously do so.

As for the question about how I feel about being radically wrong about something... that has happened to me fairly regularly in my life. Being proved wrong about something or directed into a more judicious or capacious frame of mind, however momentarily annoying or even humiliating it has seemed in the midst of the confrontation, has never yet failed to leave me feeling a better and more fulfilled person. I welcome this, and regret how few seem to be up to the task, to be perfectly honest.

Matt said...

"You ask my opinion about the plausibility of any number of technodevelopmental outcomes -- but why, exactly? Do I seem like an expert in any of these fields?"

Well, no, although you do seem to be a well-educated person. I mainly asked that to see if you had an opinion. I am used to seeing people making authoritative statements one way or the other regardless of their credentials...

Anyway thanks again for the polite and very well-thought response. But I barely understand this part:

"Now, once we are talking about the figurative gestures, topoi, frames, narrative citations employed by marginal viewpoints to peddle their views -- or once we are observing the sociocultural structures defensive marginal subcultures of True Belief deploy to gain attention and contributions -- well then we have arrived at subjects a scholar trained in rhetoric, philosophy, and cultural theory is very well suited to discuss."

And I've always been a decent reader. : - (

Now about degrees, I will be starting college next week. Hopefully it will be better than high school...

Dale Carrico said...

I'm just saying that while I am not an expert in some of the actual fields Robot Cultists are presumably making their claims about, they are making their claims in the form of arguments that do not only consist of science. As a rhetorician trained in analyzing arguments and discourse as such, I might end up being enough of an expert to have something worth saying about these apparently scientific claims after all.

One of things I point to, indeed, is how little science is actually in them, and how often they rely on metaphors, appeals to emotion, obfuscations and so on. I would go so far as to say that futurology isn't really properly considered scientific at all, but a discourse (and sometimes a discourse with subcultures of adherents) opportunistically making use of the fears and hopes and confusions and authority that attaches to the scientific to achieve what are more properly viewed as moral, aesthetic, and political ends.

Good luck in college. Read twice as much as you are assigned to read, and pay special attention to people and writers who disagree with you for reasons they provide explicitly. College changed my life completely and I loved it so much I remained in college settings as a teacher just to have more of the experience of such change, in myself and in the lives of my students as well. There are few things more beautiful than the self-creation that arises from learning and sharing your learning with others. Again, the best of luck to you.

jimf said...

> I am personally in the habit of seriously entertaining
> Robot Cultist ideas because they are so appealing.

If you really are serious about getting a handle
on being able to smell the difference between
likely-serious-scholarship and likely-BS,
likely-science and likely-pseudoscience,
likely-candidate-for-truth and likely-candidate-for-quackery,
then "because they are so appealing" has got to
be a red flag for you.

"I'd like to believe it's true because it feels good"
(and not just to you but, at least ostensibly, to
all the promoters and cheerleaders and salespeople,
too) is **the** paramount reason for remaining skeptical
until you have plenty of evidence (besides "feels good") for
believing something.

Read a little Bertrand Russell. You know -- just
for fun.

Summerspeaker said...

Dale, your insistence on death as an essential and thus valuable aspect of human condition proves the worth of transhumanist cultural campaign for indefinite lifespans. Regardless of the technical details, considerable philosophical and psychological advantages stem from rejecting the inevitability of the grave. The revolutionary spirit centers on denying supposed givens and demanding fundamental transformation in this world. Claims of immutability serve reactionary ends. I will never accept horrors like capitalism, war, and physical degeneration as unchangeable. As long as I live I will struggle toward the radiant dream of freedom. Only in this process will I discover how far I can go.

Dale Carrico said...

Summerspeaker -- you have confused an essentially aesthetic attitude with a political one, with the usual result. Which is an especially hilarious mistake to make via the Robot Cultists.

I mean, I don't know if you've noticed, but the great example of "transhumanist aesthetics" is the terminally awful Natasha Vita-More, who really is a worse than third rate fraud, a kind of Ayn Rand meets tee vee infomercial model who does digi-daub soft porn that manages at its best to be completely unintentional and earnest camp (and given the rarity of laugh out loud camp in this age of cheap bubble-head cynicism I certainly appreciate it as that).

As for politics, the transhumanists are completely committed to uncritical hyper-consumerism amidst corporate-military developmentalism, whether they are loud-and-proud right-wing reactionaries or defensive lefty sellouts.

Pouting and stamping your foot at aging might not change the world, but you better believe it gets those phony skin cream jars flying off the shelves at forty bucks a pop.

Rebel Rebel, your pose is a joke, Rebel Rebel, your stuck in a cult, Rebel Rebel, how come you don't know? Hot mess, take your tired ass home.

This may seem harsh, but please don't take this reply as an invitation to further engagement. We've talked plenty in the past and you are clearly going nowhere fast. You're a bright fellow, but sparring with you is just giving you the illusion that you're onto something, it enables your self-indulgence in this cul-de-sac you're in. There's nothing I can say to help you, and you bore and annoy me. There's a good chance you'll figure out on your own that the futurologists are fraudsters at the extreme edge of the reactionary norms and forms of the corporate-military status quo you rightly abhor, and you'll come round eventually to a more congenially radical-left outlook. At that time, you might be worth having a conversation with. Right now, the kindest thing I can do is dismiss you, delete subsequent offerings in this vein, and nudge you into a serious re-assessment of your present stance.

Dale Carrico said...

My money's on Elves being real.

How else to explain Elizabeth Fraser?

jimf said...

> How else to explain Elizabeth Fraser?

Yeah, I have a weakness for those Celtic Revival
types (Enya preeminently, I suppose).

And also for pretty singing of lyrics
that don't mean anything at all. Like Lisa Gerrard
in the soundtrack of _Gladiator_.

Lisa Gerrard - Now we are free
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdVLi235gZQ

Elizabeth Fraser talks about her lyrics
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTx8VnZBvDc
---------------
"The lyrics are words that I found by going through books
and dictionaries written in languages I don't understand. . ."

"And then, put them all together?"

"Yeah, I mean the words don't have any meaning at all,
until they're sung, until I sing them."
---------------

Elizabeth Fraser-Lament for Gandalf (Lothlòrien)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enH3dR-pZB8

Elizabeth Fraser - Lament for Haldir (Lord Of The Rings)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2mDyky1cBk

Luke said...

I find it easy to believe that most forms of killing are worse than dying, but hard to believe that supporting snake oil is worse than dying (independently of that). Rather I think the reason to not support snake oil is the opportunity cost, which does kill people. People substitute snake oil for life-saving and suffering-alleviating treatments. Worse, it displaces and discourages research on more promising approaches to solve the problems.

Dale Carrico said...

Fraud isn't just wrong because of opportunity cost. It is wrong to deceive people, it is wrong to deceive yourself, it is wrong to deceive others while deceived yourself. But come what may, since we seem to be agreed that supporting snakeoil salesmen is wrong, and so it seems we agree on the main thing. I am afraid that many of the pseudo-scientific and otherwise marginal enthusiasms to which futurologists devote an unusual portion of their attention and advocacy amount in my opinion to snake oil -- from cryonics, to FAI, to general-purpose nano assemblers, to immersive VR, to SENS. "Uploading" and the "Singularity" are even worse than snakeoil, in my view -- they are straight up faith-based techno-transcendentalizing delusions, incoherent, opiates looking for masses, freighted with the usual authoritarian vulnerabilities of priestly religiosity.

Brian said...

Dale,
Thank you for linking to this discussion it's one of the more insightful and helps frame many earlier posts.

I find shades of grey missing from the debate. While we agree on many things, extension of human healthspan is not among them.

Decades of experimental evolution with drosphilia and a limited number of other species has shown lifespan to be fairly elastic. Calorie restriction is a good example of that elasticity. That evidence suggests a good posibility that strategies may exist that affect humans as well.

Biotechnology over the last decade has begun to understand some of the simpler problems in genomics and proteomics. The challenge has been more complex than expected and much of that time was spent making basic science and tools rather than clinical results, but results are slowly trickling out.

Are you confident that despite this small sample of advancements there is no possibility of medicine having a significant impact on lifespan?

It seems terribly likely that medicine will continue to improve average lifespan. With much of the tissue engineering that's being funded it seems quite possible that maximal lifespan will grow as well. The rest is a matter of degree and how success is measured.an

Summerspeaker said...

For amusement and show the pernicious elements of your thought, I've written a response on my blog. I know you'll probably delete this, but I feel notifying you is the ethical thing to do.

Dale Carrico said...

My reply, also posted on your blog:

"The Future" doesn't exist, so nobody knows "it." Futurity refers in my view to the openness inhering in the present in consequence of the ineradicable diversity of stakeholders collaborating in it and contesting for it. "The Future" of futurologists tends in my view to disavow that open futurity in the present in exchange for a greedy-fearful projection onto "tomorrow" of fetishized and amplified fears and wish-fulfillment fantasies. You feel differently, but I provide ample reasons for my views in my writing for those who want to investigate the critique.

What you champion as radical and imaginative I decry as reactionary and parochial. In practical terms, your futurological utopia amounts in my view to fraudulent evangelism peddling transcendence via consumer hyper-capitalism, and yes I do want to crush that ugly evil dream.

Recognizing mortality is not "exalting it" and denying mortality doesn't make you a "revolutionary," no matter how many times you rephrase the nonsense.

You declare me paternalistic for standing by my beliefs and offering reasons for my disagreements and then you declare anybody who doesn't sign onto your patently ridiculous Robot Cult program not to pass muster as a "true revolutionary" -- even a democratic socialist queer activist who is teaching peace and environmental justice to university students as I do. Patriarch, heal thyself! You are a fraud in my view and both the world, and probably you yourself, benefit from your exposure as such.

(I am broadly sympathetic to the political gesture of your pronoun choice but I do not adopt that intervention myself, since the likely benefit -- which I judge to be comparable to that of exponents of world peace via Esperanto -- I judge to be outweighed by the limited legibility of my arguments to general audiences. I don't say this because I am the killer of dreams, but because I think social struggle is about judging how best to translate available means into best, most sustainable, most equitable, most diverse results in the actual world. That you don't seem to care much about this sort of judgment is what makes you think you are a revolutionary and is what makes me think you are a reactionary or possibly just a fool.)

jimf said...

> Decades of experimental evolution with drosphilia
> and a limited number of other species has shown
> lifespan to be fairly elastic. Calorie restriction
> is a good example of that elasticity.

Lifespan is anything but elastic. It may be possible,
among humans, to further increase average life expectancies
of populations by reducing sources of mortality (infectious disease,
preeminently) among the young, so that more people
get the opportunity to reach their genetic potential
for maximum healthy lifespan.

It may be possible to postpone the onset of cancer
(from 50-something or 60-something to a decade or
two later) by browbeating people into not smoking
and eating a better diet.

But the possibility of getting lots of people to live past 100 without
the expected diseases of aging -- cancer and Alzheimer's --
is far from having been demonstrated.

A few people manage to reach 100 with their faculties
intact. A tiny handful (so tiny that they're individually newsworthy)
have reputedly (if the documentation is accurate) managed
to reach 120. Nobody, out of billions, has managed
to reach 140 (unless, as Dale points out, there are real
Highlanders or vampires or Elves out there).

That doesn't sound very "elastic" to me. It sounds more
like a brick wall somewhere between 80 and 120 (or more
realistically, between 80 and 100). Not much more than
the Biblical "threescore and ten". (Would Roy Walford
have made it to 150 on his starvation diet, if he hadn't
died of ALS first? We'll never know.)

That brick wall seems infinitely far away when you're twenty-something.
By the time you hit 60, you realize it's an eye-blink
away, and that you're heading for it at full speed.
Time to contemplate, as somebody put it to me recently,
the "end-game".

Dale Carrico said...

Brian, you refer to "decades of experimental evolution with drosphilia and a limited number of other species" -- and "decades" is what I would also emphasize. Always the same studies on fruit flies and calorie restriction trotted out by longevity quacks for DECADES now. These studies, you say, "ha[ve] shown lifespan to be fairly elastic" -- in humans? in ways that are susceptible of practical proximate intervention?

"That evidence suggests a good pos[s]ibility that strategies may exist that affect humans as well." Strategies may exist? Really? And you worry about the lack of shades of gray IN MY SKEPTICISM? Look at the futurological literature. Will You Die? Do You Want To Live Forever? Deny that these are the frames deployed incessantly, and not only by vapid media outlets. What on earth justifies these hyperbolic frames, the activation of these irrational passions? Where's the evidence? Quite apart from that, do you grasp how little we still know about life? Do you realize how fundamental our understanding of biology might be changed within the bounds of what we do know?

"Biotechnology over the last decade has begun to understand some of the simpler problems in genomics and proteomics." -- We'll see! -- "The challenge has been more complex than expected and much of that time was spent making basic science and tools rather than clinical results, but results are slowly trickling out." Listen to yourself! You were surprised reality is more complex than you wanted, results more ambivalent than hyperbolic press releases? You fail to learn that lesson and leap into True Belief despite all this? The reason is not science but the usual sources of True Belief.

Dale Carrico said...

To Brian, continued --

"Are you confident that despite this small sample of advancements there is no possibility of medicine having a significant impact on lifespan?" Hey, I'm an advocate of universal single payer healthcare and increasing medical research budgets. Do you think I advocate this because I have no confidence in consensus science and healthcare? Let us be clear, hucksters peddling pseudo-science and hyperbolizing medicine into religious wish-fulfillment fantasies for money and attention are not champions of science and healthcare but huckers and anti-science misinformation agents. I certainly see nothing in the actual science to justify "Who Wants To Live Forever" futurological hyperventilation, but I do indeed think that many will benefit from medical therapies connected to promising current research. These therapies might indeed increase global average lifespans -- if countervailing climate disruption, social instability, and emerging health risks of technosocieties do not increase sufficiently to eliminate those gains.

"It seems terribly likely that medicine will continue to improve average lifespan." Again, one can hope, while struggling to ensure costs, risks and benefits are more equitably distributed among planetary stakeholders to these developments, in their actual complexity and with their actual limitations always in view. But you do realize that these improvements, like lowering infant mortality, dealing with neglected but readily treatable conditions in overexploited regions of the world, are all increasing longevity as a statistical matter, but there remains no nontrivial increase in the upper bound of healthy human lifespan. Peddling lifespan elasticity and "indefinite healthspan" by recourse to such evidence is profoundly deceptive. Where it's privately self-deceptive I offer my pity, to the extent it's publicly deceptive I offer condemnation.

"With much of the tissue engineering that's being funded it seems quite possible that maximal lifespan will grow as well. The rest is a matter of degree and how success is measured." Yeah, yeah, you don't want to die, everything is in the pipeline, don't sweat the details, the inevitable future is barreling down, blah blah. Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining.

Athena Andreadis said...

It never ends, does it? I'm obliged to post a link to my article about longevity-by-miracle-methods... again: The Quantum Choice: You Can Have Either Sex or Immortality

Dale Carrico said...

It never ends, does it?

Except of course for each of them individually as, one by one, deny it relentlessly and hysterically though they may do, they die, one after another, each and every single one.

Birney said...

I've got one word for this discussion. Just, one, word. Telos. We've got a great future ahead of us because we have a telos.

In other words, ends allow for the means; not the other way around. As much as I'd like to live forever I cannot, in good conscience, do so until I answer, "To what end?"