[Paleopsych] Tech. Rev.: (de Grey) Do You Want to Live Forever? (w. replies)

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Do You Want to Live Forever?
By Sherwin Nuland Febuary 2005

[replies beneath, including one by de Grey himself]

    Wandering through the quadrangles and medieval
    bastions of learning at the University of Cambridge one overcast
    Sunday afternoon a few months ago, I found myself ruminating on how
    this venerable place had been a crucible for the scientific revolution
    that changed humankinds perceptions of itself and of the world. The
    notion of Cambridge as a source of grand transformative concepts was
    very much on my mind that day, because I had traveled to England to
    meet a contemporary Cantabrigian who aspires to a historical role
    similar to those enjoyed by Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and William
    Harvey. Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey is convinced that he has
    formulated the theoretical means by which human beings might live
    thousands of yearsindefinitely, in fact.

    Perhaps theoretical is too small a word. De Grey has mapped out his
    proposed course in such detail that he believes it may be possible for
    his objective to be achieved within as short a period as 25 years, in
    time for many readers of Technology Review to avail themselves of its
    formulationsand, not incidentally, in time for his 41-year-old self as
    well. Like Bacon, de Grey has never stationed himself at a laboratory
    bench to attempt a single hands-on experiment, at least not in human
    biology. He is without qualifications for that, and makes no
    pretensions to being anything other than what he is, a computer
    scientist who has taught himself natural science. Aubrey de Grey is a
    man of ideas, and he has set himself toward the goal of transforming
    the basis of what it means to be human.

    For reasons that his memory cannot now retrieve, de Grey has been
    convinced since childhood that aging is, in his words, something we
    need to fix. Having become interested in biology after marrying a
    geneticist in 1991, he began poring over texts, and autodidacted until
    he had mastered the subject. The more he learned, the more he became
    convinced that the postponement of death was a problem that could very
    well have real solutions and that he might be just the person to find
    them. As he reviewed the possible reasons why so little progress had
    been made in spite of the remarkable molecular and cellular
    discoveries of recent decades, he came to the conclusion that the
    problem might be far less difficult to solve than some thought; it
    seemed to him related to a factor too often brushed under the table
    when the motivations of scientists are discussed, namely the small
    likelihood of achieving promising results within the period required
    for academic advancementcareerism, in a word. As he puts it, High-risk
    fields are not the most conducive to getting promoted quickly.

    De Grey began reading the relevant literature in late 1995 and after
    only a few months had learned so much that he was able to explain
    previously unidentified influences affecting mutations in
    mitochondria, the intracellular structures that release energy from
    certain chemical processes necessary to cell function. Having
    contacted an expert in this area of research who told him that he had
    indeed made a new discovery, he published his first biological
    research paper in 1997, in the peer-reviewed journal BioEssays (A
    Proposed Refinement of the Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging,
    de Grey, ADNJ, BioEssays 19(2)161166, 1997). By July 2000, further
    assiduous application had brought him to what some have called his
    eureka moment, the insight he speaks of as his realization that aging
    could be described as a reasonably small set of accumulating and
    eventually pathogenic molecular and cellular changes in our bodies,
    each of which is potentially amenable to repair. This concept became
    the theme of all the theoretical investigation he would do from that
    moment on; it became the leitmotif of his life. He determined to
    approach longevity as what can only be called a problem in
    engineering. If it is possible to know all the components of the
    variety of processes that cause animal tissues to age, he reasoned, it
    might also be possible to design remedies for each of them.

    All along the way, de Grey would be continually surprised at the
    relative ease with which the necessary knowledge could be masteredor
    at least, the ease with which he himself could master it. Here I must
    issue a caveat, a variant of those seen in television commercials
    featuring daredevilish stunts: Do not attempt this on your own. It is
    extremely hazardous and requires special abilities. For if you can
    take a single impression away from spending even a modicum of time
    with Aubrey de Grey, it is that he is the possessor of special

    As he surveyed the literature, de Grey reached the conclusion that
    there are seven distinct ingredients in the aging process, and that
    emerging understanding of molecular biology shows promise of one day
    providing appropriate technologies by which each of them might be
    manipulatedperturbed, in the jargon of biologists. He bases his
    certainty that there are only seven such factors on the fact that no
    new factor has been discovered in some twenty years, despite the
    flourishing state of research in the field known as biogerontology,
    the science of aging; his certainty that he is the man to lead the
    crusade for endless life is based on his conception that the
    qualification needed to accomplish it is the mindset he brings to the
    problem: the goal-driven orientation of an engineer rather than the
    curiosity-driven orientation of the basic scientists who have made and
    will continue to make the laboratory discoveries that he intends to
    employ. He sees himself as the applied scientist who will bring the
    benisons of molecular biology to practical use. In the analogous
    terminology often used by historians of medicine, he is the clinician
    who will bring the laboratory to the bedside.

    And so, in order to achieve his goal of transforming our society, de
    Grey has transformed himself. His day job, as he calls it, is
    relatively modest; he is the computer support for a genetics research
    team, and his entire official working space occupies a corner of its
    small lab. And yet he has achieved international renown and more than
    a little notoriety in the field of aging, not only for the boldness of
    his theories, but also because of the forcefulness of his
    proselytizing on their behalf. His stature has become such that he is
    a factor to be dealt with in any serious discussion of the topic. De
    Grey has documented his contributions in the scientific literature,
    publishing scores of articles in an impressive array of journals,
    including those of the quality of Trends in Biotechnology and Annals
    of the New York Academy of Sciences, as well as contributing
    commentary and letters to other publications like Science and

    De Grey has been indefatigable as a missionary in his own cause,
    joining the appropriate professional societies and evangelizing in
    every medium available to him, including sponsoring his own
    international symposium. Though he and his ideas may be sui generis,
    he is hardly an isolated monkish figure content to harangue the
    heavens and desert winds with his lonely philosophy. In addition to
    everything else, he has a remarkable talent for organization and even
    for his own unique brand of fellowship. The sheer output of his pen
    and tongue is staggering, and every line of that bumper crop, whether
    intended for the most scientifically sophisticated or for the general
    reader, is delivered in the same linear, lucid, point-by-point style
    that characterizes all his writings on life prolongation. Like a
    skilled debater, he replies to arguments before they arise and hammers
    at his opposition with a forceful rhetoric that has just enough
    dismissivenessand sometimes even castigationto betray his impatience
    with stragglers in the march toward extreme longevity.

    De Grey is a familiar figure at meetings of scientific societies,
    where he has earned the respect of many gerontologists and that new
    variety of theoreticians known as futurists. Not only has his work put
    him at the forefront of a field that might best be called theoretical
    biogerontology, but he swims close enough to the mainstream that some
    of its foremost researchers have agreed to add their names to his
    papers and letters as coauthors, although they may not agree with the
    full range of his thinking. Among the most prominent are such highly
    regarded figures as Bruce Ames of the University of California and the
    University of Chicagos Leonid Gavrilov and S. Jay Olshansky. Their
    attitude toward de Grey is perhaps best expressed by Olshansky, who is
    a senior research scientist in epidemiology and biostatistics: Im a
    big fan of Aubrey; I love debating him. We need him. He challenges us
    and makes us expand our way of thinking. I disagree with his
    conclusions, but in science thats okay. Thats what advances the field.
    De Grey has by his vigorous efforts brought together a cohort of
    responsible scientists who see just enough theoretical value in his
    work to justify not only their engagement but also their cautious
    encouragement. As Gregory Stock, a futurist of biologic technology
    currently at UCLA, pointed out to me, de Greys proposals create
    scientific and public interest in every aspect of the biology of
    aging. Stock, too, has lent his name to several of de Greys papers.

    De Grey enjoys increasing fame as well. He is often called upon when
    journalists need a quote on antiaging science, and he has been the
    subject of profiles in publications as varied as Fortune, Popular
    Science, and Londons Daily Mail. His tireless efforts at thrusting
    himself and his theories into the vanguard of a movement in pursuit of
    a goal of eternal fascination to the human mind have put him among the
    most prominent proponents of antiaging science in the world. His
    timing is perfect. As the baby boomersperhaps the most determinedly
    self-improving (and self-absorbed) generation in historyare now
    approaching or have reached their early 60s, there is a plenitude of
    eager seekers after the death-defiant panaceas he promises. De Grey
    has become more than a man; he is a movement.

    I should declare here that I have no desire to live beyond the life
    span that nature has granted to our species. For reasons that are
    pragmatic, scientific, demographic, economic, political, social,
    emotional, and secularly spiritual, I am committed to the notion that
    both individual fulfillment and the ecological balance of life on this
    planet are best served by dying when our inherent biology decrees that
    we do. I am equally committed to making that age as close to our
    biologically probable maximum of approximately 120 years as modern
    biomedicine can achieve, and also to efforts at decreasing and
    compressing the years of morbidity and disabilities now attendant on
    extreme old age. But I cannot imagine that the consequences of doing a
    single thing beyond these efforts will be anything but baleful, not
    only for each of us as an individual, but for every other living
    creature in our world. Another action I cannot imagine is enrolling
    myselfas de Grey haswith Alcor, the cryonics company that will, for a
    price, preserve a customers brain or more until that hoped-for day
    when it can be brought back to some form of life.

    With this worldview, is it any wonder that I would be intrigued by an
    Aubrey de Grey? What would it be like to come face to face with such a
    man? Not to debate hima task for which, as a clinical surgeon, I would
    in any case be scientifically unqualifiedbut just to sound him out, to
    see how he behaves in an ordinary situation, to speak of my concerns
    and his responsesto take his measure. To me, his philosophies are
    outlandish. To him, mine would seem equally so.

    With all of this in mind, I contacted de Grey via e-mail this past
    fall, and received a response that was both gracious and welcoming.
    Addressing me by first name, he not only had no hesitation in offering
    to give up the better part of two days to speak with me, but moreover
    suggested that we spend them close to the lubricating effects of
    invigorating fluids, as follows:

      I hope you like a good English beer, as that is one of the main
      (open) secrets of my boundless energy as well as a good part of my
      intellectual creativity (or so I like to think...). A good plan (by
      which I mean a plan that has been well tested over the years!) is
      to meet at 11:00 a.m. Monday 18th in the Eagle, the most famous pub
      in Cambridge for a variety of reasons which I can point out to you.
      From there we may (weather permitting) be able to go punting on the
      Cam, an activity with which I fell in love at first sight on
      arriving here in 1982 and which all visitors seem to find
      unforgettable. We will be able to talk for as long as you like, and
      if there is reason to meet again on the Tuesday I can arrange that

    The message would prove to be characteristic, including its hint of
    immodesty. And in a similar vintage was his response when I expressed
    hesitation about punting, based on friends tales of falling into the
    Cam on a chilly autumnal day: Evidently, your friends did it without
    expert guidance. As I learned, de Grey is not a man who allows himself
    to be less than expert at anything to which he decides to devote those
    prodigious energies so enthusiastically trumpeted in the e-mail, nor
    does he allow himself to hide his expertness under a bushel.

    Of course, to conceive of oneself as the herald and instrument of the
    transformation of death and aging requires a supreme self-confidence,
    and de Grey is the most unabashedly self-confident of men. Soon after
    we met, this unexampled man told me that One must have a somewhat
    inflated opinion of oneself if success is to crown such great
    endeavors. I have that! he added emphatically. By the time he and I
    had said our good-byes after a total of 10 hours together over a
    period of two days, I was certain many would accept his self-estimate.
    Whether one chooses to believe that he is a brilliant and prophetic
    architect of futuristic biology or merely a misguided and nutty
    theorist, there can be no doubt about the astonishing magnitude of his

    De Grey calls his program Strategies for Engineered Negligible
    Senescence, which permits him to say that it makes SENS to embark upon
    it. Here, in no particular order, follow his seven horsemen of death
    and the formulations for the breaking of each animal and its rider.
    (Those seeking more detailed information might wish to consult de
    Greys website: http://www.gen.cam.ac.uk/sens/index.html.)

    1. Loss and atrophy or degeneration of cells. This element of aging is
    particularly important in tissues where cells cannot replace
    themselves as they die, such as the heart and brain. De Grey would
    treat it primarily by the introduction of growth factors to stimulate
    cell division or by periodic transfusion of stem cells specifically
    engineered to replace the types that have been lost.

    2. Accumulation of cells that are not wanted. These are (a) fat cells,
    which tend to proliferate and not only replace muscle but also lead to
    diabetes by diminishing the bodys ability to respond to the pancreatic
    hormone insulin, and (b) cells that have become senescent, which
    accumulate in the cartilage of our joints. Receptors on the surface of
    such cells are susceptible to immune bodies that de Grey believes
    scientists will in time learn how to generate, or to other compounds
    that may make the cells destroy themselves without affecting others
    that do not have those distinctive receptors.

    3. Mutations in chromosomes. The most damaging consequence of cell
    mutation is the development of cancer. The immortality of cancer cells
    is related to the behavior of the telomere, the caplike structure
    found on the end of every chromosome, which decreases in length each
    time the cell divides and therefore seems to be involved with the
    cells mortality. If we could eliminate the gene that makes
    telomerasethe enzyme that maintains and lengthens telomeresthe cancer
    cell would die. De Greys solution for this problem is to replace a
    persons stem cells every 10 or so years with ones engineered not to
    carry that gene.

    4. Mutations in mitochondria. Mitochondria are the micromachines that
    produce energy for the cells activities. They contain small amounts of
    DNA, which are particularly susceptible to mutations since they are
    not housed in the chromosomes of the nucleus. De Grey proposes copying
    the genes (of which there are 13) from the mitochondrial DNA and then
    putting those copies into the DNA of the nucleus, where they will be
    far safer from mutation-causing influences.

    5. The accumulation of junk within the cell. The junk in question is a
    collection of complex material that results from the cells breakdown
    of large molecules.  Intracellular structures called lysosomes are the
    primary microchambers for such breakdown; the junk tends to collect in
    them, causing problems in the function of certain types of cells.
    Atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, is the biggest
    manifestation of these complications. To solve this difficulty, de
    Grey proposes to provide the lysosomes with genes to produce the extra
    enzymes required to digest the unwelcome material. The source of these
    genes will be certain soil bacteria, an innovation based on the
    observation that ground that contains buried animal flesh does not
    show accumulation of degraded junk.

    6. The accumulation of junk outside the cell. The fluid in which all
    cells are bathedcalled extracellular fluidmay come to contain
    aggregates of protein material that it is incapable of breaking down.
    The result is the formation of a substance called amyloid, which is
    the material found in the brains of people with Alzheimers disease. To
    counter this, de Grey proposes vaccination with an as-yet undeveloped
    substance that might stimulate the immune system to produce cells to
    engulf and eat the offending material.

    7. Cross-links in proteins outside the cell. The extracellular fluid
    contains many flexible protein molecules that exist unchanged for long
    periods of time, whose function is to give certain tissues such
    qualities as elasticity, transparence, or high tensile strength. Over
    a lifetime, occasional chemical reactions gradually affect these
    molecules in ways that change their physical and/or chemical
    qualities. Among these changes is the development of chemical bonds
    called cross-links between molecules that had previously moved
    independently of one another. The result is a loss of elasticity or a
    thickening of the involved tissue. If the tissue is the wall of an
    artery, for example, the loss of distensibility may lead to high blood
    pressure. De Greys solution to this problem is to attempt to identify
    chemicals or enzymes capable of breaking cross-links without injuring
    anything else.

    It must be obvious that, even condensed and simplified as they are
    here, these seven factors are enormously complex biological problems
    with even more complex proposed solutions. At least some of those
    solutions may prove inadequate, and others may be impossible to
    implement. Moreover, de Greys descriptions are sprinkled with such
    vague phrases as growth factors and stimulate the immune system, which
    might prove to be little more than slogans, as when he invokes
    yet-to-be-discovered chemicals or enzymes capable of breaking
    cross-links without injuring anything else. In addition, it must be
    emphasized that researchers have not come close to solving a single
    one of the seven problems. In the case of several, there have been
    promising results. Indeed, research on extracellular cross-links has
    already yielded several drug candidates: a company called Alteon, in
    Parsippany, NY, has begun clinical trials of molecules that it says
    can reverse the effects of some conditions associated with age. In the
    cases of some of the other problems de Grey identifies, howeversuch as
    the prevention of telomere lengthening or the transfer of
    mitochondrial DNA to the nucleusit is fair to say that molecular
    biologists can only speculate about the day, if ever, when these
    attempts will come to fruition.

    But de Grey is unfazed by this incompleteness. It is his thesis that
    time is being lost, and nothing is accomplished by pessimism about
    possibilities. For de Grey, pie in the sky, as one biogerontologist I
    consulted called his formulations, is a tasty delicacy whose promise
    already nourishes his soul.

    But others can challenge de Greys science. My purpose was something
    else entirely. I found myself wondering what sort of man would devote
    the labors of an incandescently brilliant mind and a seemingly
    indefatigable constitution to such a project. Not only does the
    science seem more than a little speculative, but even more speculative
    is the assumption on which the entire undertaking is basednamely, that
    it is a good thing for the men and women now populating the earth to
    have the means to live indefinitely.

    I arrived at the Eagle a few minutes early on the appointed day, which
    gave me time to record some of the words on the memorial plaque near
    the entryway, which read An inn has existed at this site since 1667,
    called Eagle and Child....During their research in the early 1950s,
    Watson and Crick used the Eagle as a place to relax and discuss their
    theories whilst refreshing themselves with ale.

    Thus properly steeped in history and atmosphere, I entered the pub
    just in time to see de Grey through the window, parking his ancient
    bicycle across the narrow street. Narrow, in fact, precisely describes
    the man himself, who stands six feet tall, weighs 147 pounds. His
    spareness is accentuated by a mountain-man chestnut beard extending
    down to mid-thorax that seems never to have seen a comb or brush. He
    was dressed like an unkempt graduate student, uncaring of tailoring
    considerations of any sort, wearing a hip-length black mackinaw-type
    coat that was borderline shabby. Adorning his head was a knitted
    woolen hat of a half-dozen striped transverse colors, which he told me
    had been crafted by his wife 14 years ago. As if to prove its age, the
    frazzled headgear (which was knitted with straplike extensions that
    tied under the chin) was not without a few holes. When he removed it,
    I saw that de Greys long straight hair was held in a ponytail by a
    circular band of bright red wool. But in spite of the visual gestalt,
    de Grey cannot disguise the fact that he is a boyishly handsome man.
    As for his voice, being the product of a private school followed by
    Harrow and then Cambridge, it hardly needs to be described. To an
    American, he is of rare fauna, and his distinctiveness was
    catch-your-eye apparent even among his Cambridge colleagues.

    Having seen a photo of de Grey on his website, I was prepared for his
    beard, spareness, and even his laissez-faire attitude toward
    externals. But I was not prepared for the intensity of those keen
    blue-gray eyes, nor for the pallor of the face in which they are so
    gleamingly set. His expression was one of concentrated zeal, even
    evangelism, and it never let up during our subsequent six hours of
    nonstop conversation across the narrow pub table that separated us. In
    the photo, his eyes are so gently warm that I had commented on them in
    one of my e-mails. But I would see none of that warmth during the 10
    hours we spent together, though it reappeared in the 15 minutes during
    which we chatted with Adelaide de Grey in a courtyard between
    laboratory buildings after our Monday session at the Eagle.

    Adelaide de Grey (née Carpenter) is a highly accomplished American
    geneticist and an expert electron microscopist who, at 60, is 19 years
    older than her husband. They met early in 1990, midway through her
    Cambridge sabbatical from a faculty position at the University of
    California, San Diego, and were married in April 1991. Neither of them
    has ever wanted to have children. There are already lots of people who
    are very good at that, explained Aubrey when the subject came up. Its
    either that or do a lot of stuff you wouldnt do if you had children,
    because you wouldnt have the time. Raised as the only child of an
    artistic and somewhat eccentric single mother, already at the age of
    eight or nine he had determined to do something with his life that
    would make a difference, something that he and perhaps no one else was
    equipped to accomplish. Why fritter away resources in directions that
    others might pursue just as well or better? With that in mind no less
    now than when he was a child, de Grey has trimmed from his days and
    thoughts any activity he deems superfluous or distracting from the
    goals he sets for himself. He and Adelaide are two highly focusedsome
    would say drivenpeople of such apparent similarity of motivation and
    goals that their work is the overwhelming catalytic force of their

    And yet, each member of this uncommon pair is touchingly tender with
    the other. Even my brief 15 minutes with them was sufficient to
    observe the softness that comes into de Greys otherwise determined
    visage when Adelaide is near, and her similar response. I suspect that
    his website photo was taken while he was either looking at or thinking
    of her.
    Adelaide, although at five foot two much shorter than her husband,
    looks his perfect sartorial partner: she dresses in a similar way and
    is apparently just as uncaring about her appearance or grooming. One
    can easily imagine them on one of their dates, as described by Aubrey.
    Walking from the small flat where they have lived since they married
    almost 14 years ago, entering the local laundromat, talking science as
    the machines beat up on their well-worn clothes. They are hardly bons
    vivants, nor would they want to be; they quite obviously like things
    just the way they are. They appear to care not at all for the usual
    getting and spending, nor even for some of the normative emotional
    rewards of living in our worldall at a time when the name of Aubrey de
    Grey has become associated with changing that world in unimaginable

    But six uninterrupted hours of compelling talk (most of it pouring out
    of him in floods of volubility let loose by intermittent questions or
    comments) and the consumption of numerous pints of Abbots ale still
    awaited us before I would meet Adelaide and be taken to the laboratory
    where de Grey performs the duties of his day job. Very soon after we
    began speaking, an hour before noon on that first day, I asked him why
    his proposals raise the hackles of so many gerontologists. And right
    there, at the very outset of our discussions, he replied with the
    dismissive impatience that would reappear whenever I brought up one or
    another of the many objections that either a specialist or layperson
    might have regarding the notion of extending life for millennia.
    Pretty much invariably, he curtly told me, their objections are based
    on simple ignorance. Among the bands of that spectrum that de Grey
    will not confine to a bushel is his feeling that his is one of the few
    minds capable of comprehending the biology of his formulations, the
    scientific and societal logic upon which they are based, and the
    vastness of their potential benefits to our species.

    I wanted de Grey to justify his conviction that living for thousands
    of years is a good thing. Certainly, if one can accept such a
    viewpoint, everything else follows from it: the push to research
    beyond the elucidation of the aging process; the gigantic investment
    of talent and money to accomplish and apply such research; the
    transformation of a culture based on the expectation of a finite and
    relatively short lifetime to one without horizons; the odd fact that
    every adult human being would be physiologically the same age (because
    rejuvenation would be the inevitable result of de Greys proposals);
    the effects on family relationshipsit goes on and on.

    De Greys response to such a challenge comes in the perfectly formed
    and articulated sentences that he uses in all his writings. He has the
    gift of expressing himself both verbally and in print with such
    clarity and completeness that a listener finds himself entranced by
    the flow of seemingly logical statements following one after the
    other. In speech as in his directed life, de Grey never rambles.
    Everything he says is pertinent to his argument, and so well
    constructed that one becomes fascinated with the edifice being formed
    before ones eyes. So true is this that I could not but fix my full
    attention on him as he spoke. Though many possible distractions arose
    during the hours in which we confronted each other across that pub
    table, as people came and went, ate and drank, talked and laughed, and
    smoked and coughed, I never once found myself looking anywhere but
    directly at him, except when going to fetch fooda full lunch for me
    and only potato chips for himor another pint. It was only when
    reflecting upon the assumptions on which his argument is based that a
    listener discovers that he must insert the word seemingly before
    logical in the second sentence of the present paragraph. Here follows
    an aliquot of de Greys reasoning:

      The reason we have an imperative, we have a duty, to develop these
      therapies as soon as possible is to give future generations the
      choice. People are entitled, have a human right, to live as long as
      they can; people have a duty to give people the opportunity to live
      as long as they want to. I think its just a straightforward
      extension of the duty-of-care concept. People are entitled to
      expect to be treated as they would treat themselves.

      It follows directly and irrevocably as an extension of the golden
      rule. If we hesitate and vacillate in developing life-extension
      therapy, there will be some cohort to whom we will deny the option
      to live much longer than we do. We have a duty not to deny people
      that option.

    When I raised the question of ethical or moral objections to the
    extreme extension of life, the reply was similarly seemingly logical
    and to the point:

      If there were such objections, they would certainly count in this
      argument. What does count is that the right to live as long as you
      choose is the worlds most fundamental right. And this is not
      something Im ordaining. This seems to be something that all moral
      codes, religious or secular, seem to agree on: that the right to
      life is the most important right.

    And then, to what would seem the obvious objection that such moral
    codes assume our current life span and not one lasting thousands of

      Its an incremental thing. Its not a question of how long life
      should be, but whether the end of life should be hastened by action
      or inaction.

    And there it isthe ultimate leap of ingenious argumentation that would
    do a sophist proud: by our inaction in not pursuing the possible
    opportunity of extending life for thousands of years, we are hastening

    No word of the foregoing quotes has been
    edited or changed in any way. De Grey speaks in formed paragraphs and
    pages. Many readers of Technology Review are all too familiar with how
    garbled we often sound when quoted directly. Not so de Grey, who
    speaks with the same precision with which he writes. Admittedly, some
    may consider his responses to have the sound of a carefully prepared
    sermon or sales pitch because he has answered similar questions many
    times before, but all thought of such considerations disappears when
    one spends a bit of time with him and realizes that he pours forth
    every statement in much the same way, whether responding to some
    problem he has faced a dozen times before or giving a tour of the
    genetics lab where he works. His every thought comes out perfectly
    shaped, to the amazement of the bemused observer.

    De Grey does not fool himself about the vastness of the efforts that
    will be required to make the advances in science and technology
    necessary to attain his objective. But equally, he does not seem fazed
    by my suggestion that his optimism might simply be based on the fact
    that, having never worked as a bench researcher in biology, he may not
    appreciate or even understand the nature of complex biological
    systems, nor fully take into account the possible consequences of
    tinkering with what he sees as individual components in a machine.
    Unlike engineers, the adoption of whose methodology de Grey considers
    his main conceptual contribution to solving the problems of aging,
    biologists do not approach physiological events as distinct entities
    that have no effect on any others. Each of de Greys interventions will
    very likely result in unpredictable and incalculable responses in the
    biochemistry and physics of the cells he is treating, not to mention
    their extracellular milieu and the tissues and organs of which they
    are a part. In biology, everything is interdependent; everything is
    affected by everything else. Though we study phenomena in isolation to
    avoid complicating factors, those factors come into play with a
    vengeance when in vitro becomes in vivo. The fearsome concerns are
    many: a little lengthening of the telomere here, a bit of genetic
    material from a soil bacterium there, a fistful of stem cellsthe next
    thing you know, it all explodes in your face.

    He replied to all this as to so much else, whether it be the threat of
    overpopulation, the effect on relationships within families and whole
    societies, or the need to find employment for vibrantly healthy people
    who are a thousand years old: we will deal with these problems as they
    come up. We will make the necessary adjustments, whether in the realm
    of potential cellular havoc or of the tortuosities of economic
    necessity. He believes that each problem can be retouched and remedied
    as it becomes recognized.

    De Grey has some interesting notions of human nature. He insists that,
    on the one hand, it is basic to humankind to want to live forever
    regardless of consequences, while on the other it is not basic to want
    to have children. When I protested that the two most formative
    instincts of all living things are to survive and to pass on their
    DNA, he quickly made good use of the one and denied the existence of
    the other. Bolstering his argument with the observation that many
    peoplelike Adelaide and himselfchoose not to have children, he
    replied, not without a hint of petulance and some small bit of excited
    waving of his hands,

      Your precept is that we all have the fundamental impulse to
      reproduce. The incidence of voluntary childlessness is exploding.
      Therefore the imperative to reproduce is not actually so deep
      seated as psychologists would have us believe. It may simply be
      that it was the thing to dothe more traditional thing. My point of
      view is that a large part of it may simply be indoctrination....Im
      not in favor of giving young girls dolls to play with, because it
      may perpetuate the urge to motherhood.

    De Grey has commented in several fora on his conviction that, given
    the choice, the great majority of people would choose life extension
    over having children and the usual norms of family life. This being
    so, he says, far fewer children would be born. He did not hesitate to
    say the same to me:

      We will realize there is an overpopulation problem, and if we have
      the sense well decide to fix it [by not reproducing] sooner rather
      than later, because the sooner we fix it the more choice well have
      about how we live and where we live and how much space we will have
      and all that. Therefore, the question is, what will we do? Will we
      decide to live a long time and have fewer children, or will we
      decide to reject these rejuvenation therapies in order that we can
      have children? It seems pretty damn clear to me that well take the
      former option, but the point is that I dont know and I dont need to

    Of course, de Greys reason for not needing to know is that same
    familiar imperative he keeps returning to, the imperative that
    everyone is entitled to choice regardless of the possible
    consequences. What we need to know, he argues, can be found out after
    the fact and dealt with when it appears. Without giving humankind the
    choice, however, we deprive it of its most basic liberty. It should
    not be surprising that a man as insistently individualisticand as
    uncommon a sortas he would emphasize freedom of personal choice far
    more than the potentially toxic harvest that might result from
    cultivating that dangerous seed in isolation. As with every other of
    his formulations, this onethe concept of untrammeled freedom of choice
    for the individualis taken out of the context of its biological and
    societal surroundings. Like everything else, it is treated in vitro
    rather than in vivo.

    In campaigns that occur across the length of several continents, de
    Greys purpose is only secondarily to overcome resistance to his
    theories. His primary aim is to publicize himself and his formulations
    as widely as possible, not for the sake of personal glory but as a
    potential means of raising the considerable funding that will be
    necessary to carry out the research that needs to be done if his plans
    are to stand any chance of so much as partial success. He has laid out
    a schedule projecting the timeline on which he would like to see
    certain milestones reached.

    The first of these milestones would be to rejuvenate mice. De Grey
    would extend the life span of a two-year-old mouse that might
    ordinarily live one more year by three years. He believes funding of
    around $100 million a year will make this feasible 10 years from now;
    almost certainly not as soon as seven years; but very likely...less
    than 20 years. Such an accomplishment, de Grey believes, will
    kick-start a war on aging and be the trigger for enormous social
    upheaval. In an article for the Annals of the New York Academy of
    Sciences [de Grey et al., 959: 452462, 2002], which lists seven
    coauthors after his own name, de Grey writes, We contend that the
    impact on public opinion and (inevitably) public policy of unambiguous
    aging-reversal in mice would be so great that whatever work remained
    necessary at that time to achieve adequate somatic gene therapy would
    be hugely accelerated. Not only that, he asserts, but the public
    enthusiasm following upon such a feat will cause many people to begin
    making life choices based on the probability that they, too, will
    reach a proportional number of years. Moreover, when death from a
    disease like influenza, for example, is considered premature at the
    age of 200, the urgent need to solve the problems of infectious
    disease will massively increase government and drug company funding in
    that area.

    In addition to accelerating demand for research, the tripling of a
    middle-aged mouses remaining life span would bring in entirely new
    sources of funding. Because governments and drug companies tend to
    favor research that promises useful results in a relatively short
    time, de Grey is not counting on them as a source. He is relying on an
    infusion of private money to supply the funds (significantly more than
    the cost of reversing aging in mice) that it will take to successfully
    fight his war against aging in humans. De Grey believes that once
    aging has been reversed in mice, billionaires will come forward,
    intent on living as long as possible.

    Is it likely that the photograph of a long-lived mouse on the front
    page of every newspaper in the world would be greeted with the
    unalloyed enthusiasm of a unanimous public? I doubt it. More probably,
    acclaim would be balanced by horror. Ethicists, economists,
    sociologists, members of the clergy, and many worried scientists could
    be counted on to join huge numbers of thoughtful citizens in a
    counterreaction. But of course, if we are to accept de Greys first
    principle, that the desire to live forever trumps every other factor
    in human decision-making, then self-interestor what some might call
    narcissismwill win out in the end.

    De Grey projects that 15 years after we have rejuvenated mice we might
    begin to reverse aging in humans. Early, limited success in extending
    the human life span will be followed by successive, more dramatic
    breakthroughs, so that humans now living could reach what de Grey
    calls life extension escape velocity. De Grey concedes that it might
    be 100 years before we begin to significantly extend human life. What
    he does not concede is that it is more likely not to happen at all. He
    cannot seem to imagine that the odds are heavily against him. And he
    cannot imagine that not only the odds but society itself may be
    against him. He will provide any listener or reader with a string of
    reasons that are really rationalizations to explain why most
    mainstream gerontologists remain so conspicuously absent from the
    ranks of those cheering him on. He has safeguarded himself against the
    informed criticism that should give him cause to rethink some of his
    proposals. He has accomplished this self-protection by constructing a
    personal worldview in which he is inviolate. He refuses to budge a
    millimeter; he will not give ground to the possibility that any of the
    barriers to his success may prove insuperable.

    All this makes de Grey sound unlikable. But a major factor behind his
    success at attracting a following has less to do with his science than
    with himself. As I discovered during our two sessions at the Eagle, it
    is impossible not to like de Grey. Despite his unhesitant verbal
    trashing of those who disagree with him, there is a certain untouched
    sweetness in the man, which, combined with his lack of care for
    outward appearance and the sincerity of his commitment to the goals
    that animate his life, are so disarming that the entire picture is one
    of the disingenuousness of genius, rather than of the self-promotion
    of the remote, false messiah. His likability was pointed out even by
    his detractors. It is a quality not to be expected in such an
    obviously odd and driven duck.

    But the most likable of eccentrics are sometimes the most dangerous.
    Many decades ago in my naïveté and ignorance, I thought that the
    ultimate destruction of our planet would be by the neutral power of
    celestial catastrophe: collision with a gigantic meteor, the burning
    out of the sunthat sort of thing. In time, I came to believe that the
    end of days would be ushered in by the malevolence of a mad dictator
    who would unleash an arsenal of explosive or biological weaponry:
    nuclear bombs, engineered microörganismsthat sort of thing. But my
    notion of that sort of thing has been changing. If we are to be
    destroyed, I am now convinced that it will not be a neutral or
    malevolent force that will do us in, but one that is benevolent in the
    extreme, one whose only motivation is to improve us and better our
    civilization. If we are ever immolated, it will be by the efforts of
    well-meaning scientists who are convinced that they have our best
    interests at heart. We already know who they are. They are the DNA
    tweakers who would enhance us by allowing parents to choose the
    genetic makeup of their descendants unto every succeeding generation
    ad infinitum, heedless of the possibility that breeding out variety
    may alter factors necessary for the survival of our species and the
    health of its relationship to every form of life on earth; they are
    the biogerontologists who study caloric restriction in mice and
    promise us the extension by 20 percent of a peculiarly nourished
    existence; they are those other biogerontologists who emerge from
    their laboratories of molecular science every evening optimistic that
    they have come just a bit closer to their goal of having us live much
    longer, downplaying the unanticipated havoc at both the cellular and
    societal level that might be wrought by their proposed manipulations.
    And finally, it is the unique and strangely alluring figure of Aubrey
    de Grey, who, orating, writing, and striding tirelessly through our
    midst with his less than fully convinced sympathizers, proclaims like
    the disheveled herald of a new-begotten future that our most
    inalienable right is to have the choice of living as long as we wish.
    With the passion of a single-minded zealot crusading against time, he
    has issued the ultimate challenge, I believe, to our entire concept of
    the meaning of humanness.

    Paradoxically, his clarion call to action is the message neither of a
    madman nor a bad man, but of a brilliant, beneficent man of goodwill,
    who wants only for civilization to fulfill the highest hopes he has
    for its future. It is a good thing that his grand design will almost
    certainly not succeed. Were it otherwise, he would surely destroy us
    in attempting to preserve us.

    Sherwin Nuland is clinical professor of surgery at Yale Universitys
    School of Medicine and teaches bioethics. He is the author of How We
    Die, which won the National Book Award in 1994, and Leonardo da Vinci.
    He has written for many magazines, including the New Yorker. Over
    three decades, he has cared for around 10,000 patients.


Aubrey de Grey Responds
By Aubrey de Grey January 18, 2005

[Several e-messages added beneath.]

                                                          From the Forums:

      There has been [3]a long discussion about Technology Review's column
     by Editor-in-Chief Jason Pontin. You can also view his open letter to
                            those who objected to the coverage of de Grey.
                                                          Related Stories:

    Jason Pontin, Technology Review's Editor-in-Chief, and Brad
    King, Technology Review's Web editor, have invited me to respond to
    the trio of articles about me and my work that appear in the February
    2005 issue of Technology Review with this online-only piece, in
    addition to a short "letter to the editor" from me that will appear in
    the print edition.

    Dr. Sherwin Nuland's article covers three topics: (a) me, (b) the
    desirability of greatly postponing aging, and (c) the feasibility of
    doing so. In the time he and I spent together we discussed (c) very
    little indeed, not least because, as a physician rather than a
    biologist, Nuland well appreciated that he is not equipped to evaluate
    the difficulty of developing technologies that even I do not expect to
    be available to humans for at least 20 years. He notes this as

      "But others can challenge de Grey's science. My purpose was
      something else entirely.".

    For reasons that remain obscure, however, Nuland later changes his
    mind and takes it upon himself to give a reason (not mentioned during
    our discussions, needless to say) why we will probably never postpone
    aging much:

      "Unlike engineers, the adoption of whose methodology de Grey
      considers his main conceptual contribution to solving the problems
      of aging, biologists do not approach physiological events as
      distinct entities that have no effect on any others. Each of de
      Grey's interventions will very likely result in unpredictable and
      incalculable responses the next thing you know, it all explodes in
      your face."

    Engineers reading his article may beg to differ concerning whether
    they can successfully manipulate systems consisting of mutually
    interacting subsystems, and the briefest consultation of my
    publications will reveal that it is precisely the management of those
    interactions, by the judicious choice of which places to intervene,
    that defines my approach.

    Most upmarket writers, having hit belatedly on a new reason why their
    subject is deluded, might have thought to raise it with that subject
    before risking committing such a serious error -- by some way the
    worst in his article, overshadowing a variety of overstatements of how
    far we currently are from developing some of the components of my SENS

    Or if not the writer, at least the magazine's staff. By contrast, the
    Technology Review staff instead chose to use this offhand evaluation
    as the foundation for a commentary piece. They first compliment
    Nuland's ability to judge my science even more effusively than Nuland
    compliments my intellect:

      "Sherwin Nuland would not be satisfied by anything less than
      rigorous scientific reasoning and evidence. Indeed, it's hard to
      imagine a writer more qualified to profile the eccentric de Grey."

    And then, overlooking the facts that Nuland noted just the opposite
    (see above) and that his article duly offers no specifics whatsoever
    to back up his view that aging is essentially immutable, they buy his
    assertion of the impossibility of major life extension as uncritically
    as a child buys an ice cream -- not quite what one would expect from
    the staff of a serious technology publication.

    Nuland is amply qualified, however, to comment on the desirability of
    defeating aging -- but, curiously, he doesn't do so. He notes that he
    raised most of the usual concerns with me, but rather than provide or
    comment on my responses (which the reader can find [5]here) he merely
    describes the style in which I deliver them.

    The only aspect of my views on this that appears in the article is the
    ethical one (we have a duty to save lives). He makes only two errors
    in this part of the article (I, in fact, regard the choice of future
    global society, not the individual, as paramount and I view the role
    of philanthropy in advancing this work as relevant mainly to research
    on mice); thus, his only major failure is to recognize the
    contradictions inherent in his own position.

    Here is a telling quote:

      "I am committed to the notion that both individual fulfillment and
      the ecological balance of life on this planet are best served by
      dying when our inherent biology decrees that we do. I am equally
      committed to making that age as close to our biologically probable
      maximum of approximately 120 years as modern biomedicine can
      achieve, and also to efforts at decreasing and compressing the
      years of morbidity and disabilities now attendant on extreme old

      "But I cannot imagine that the consequences of doing a single thing
      beyond these efforts will be anything but baleful, not only for
      each of us as an individual, but for every other living creature in
      our world."

    I trust that if Nuland's goals are achieved soon enough for him, such
    that he reaches the age of 119 in the same fine shape that he is in
    today, he will not mysteriously forget to buy that cyanide pill to
    place at his bedside for the fateful moment when he wakes to find
    himself transformed, Cinderella-like, into a 120-year old and thus a
    burden on society and on himself -- but I'm not holding my breath.

    Comment on February's editorial is superfluous. Pontin is as desperate
    as Nuland and the Technology Review staff are to put the real issues
    out of his mind, but unlike them he does not take the trouble to cloak
    this in careful words; the editorial speaks for itself all too well.

    What can we conclude, observing three such egregious departures from
    normal logical standards by educated adults?

    I can identify only one explanation: most of society is in a pro-aging
    trance. This is no surprise: after all, aging is extremely horrible
    and until a few years ago could indeed be regarded as probably
    immutable for a very long time indeed. Hence, a reasonable tactic was
    to put its horror out of one's mind, however absurd the logical
    contortions required.

    Just as stage hypnotists' subjects provide sincere and lucid
    justifications for any false statement that they have been instructed
    is true, so most of us (not having dared to consider in detail whether
    aging might recently have come within our technological range)
    energetically defend the indefinite perpetuation of what it is in fact
    humanity's primary duty to eliminate as soon as possible.

    Some people find stage hypnotists highly entertaining. I don't -- not
    any more, at least.


    3. http://www.technologyreview.com/forums/forum.asp?forumid=1001


    Against Transcendence

    When technology appropriates the transcendental it becomes science
    fiction. Technology is most useful when it is most human.

    Posted 1/21/2005 7:12:43 AM by [33]C Wade
      Subject: Disappointed
      After reading your editorial, and your apology where yet again you
    haven't got your facts right re de Gray, I'm seriously questioning the
    credibility of this publication. If you are so free to make claims
    that are monumentally incorrect (several times!) or have nothing to do
    with the agenda of this publication how can you possibly guarantee
    that other articles etc are not bias or factually flawed.
    Readers like myself rely on publications such as Technology Review to
    provide them an accurate insight into a world I don't have time to
    research. That's why I pay Tech Review a subscription. I don't pay for
    such crass bias, and I don't pay for personal attacks or conjecture.
    I must concur with an earlier post in this Forum... I suggest (Jason
    Pontin) you resign.
    Perhaps a Tabloid, or the Fox Network will pick you up.

    Posted 1/16/2005 8:32:38 AM by [34]Aubrey de Grey
      Subject: Some corrections
      Jason Pontin writes:
    > 3. Finally, and I write this with a little trepidation, many
    > of your posts reveal a degree of misinformation about
    > Mr. de Grey's accomplishments and publications.
    His trepidation is justified. For the record:
    - My Ph.D. (yes, I do have one) was awarded for my
    biogerontology work.
    - Both my articles in Trends in Biotechnology, like all
    papers in that journal, were peer-reviewed by any
    - My role at Genetics is 40% computer support, 60%
    gerontologist, as is described in more detail at http://
    For my view of the care with which Mr. Pontin, Dr. Nuland
    and TR staff have reached their conclusions regarding my
    scientific views, I refer readers to the piece Mr. Pontin
    mentions at the top of his letter, as I see he says it will
    appear shortly. Further comment from me on the rest of
    Mr. Pontin's editorial and open letter is clearly unnecessary.
    Aubrey de Grey

    Posted 1/16/2005 3:37:56 AM by [35]Samuel H. Kenyon
      Subject: aging doesn't just happen
      Mr. Pontin's quick response and apparently serious reply is
    appreciated. I just want to say (and I'm not making a personal attack,
    this just glared out at me) his opinion that human cellular aging can
    not be reversed is best summarized by this quote in his letter: "All
    organisms--indeed, all things in creation--age." This is stubborn
    traditional thinking about life and aging as something mysterious or
    divine. It is no longer a mystery, it is a problem to be solved. All
    things in "creation" (whatever that word may mean to you) do not
    age--they change over time. The entities that do age can be changed to
    not age. The concept is not that difficult. Even if biogerontologists
    don't get positive results, even if Aubrey de Grey has missed
    important pieces of the problem definition, there are other potential
    technologies for life extension and immortality of humans; really I
    just see it as a matter of time and funding.

    Posted 1/16/2005 12:52:06 AM by [36]adam parker
      Subject: re: current editorial
      Dear Sir,
    I speak with brevity, as others have already made the salient
    points regards ad hominem attacks. I simply propose an
    appropriate, honorable course of action for you.
    Resign forthwith. Such attacks are unacceptable in any
    publication, least of all from the editorial.
    Adam Parker
    RMIT University

    Posted 1/16/2005 12:24:22 AM by [37]Harold Brenner
      Subject: Dr. de Grey
      Despite the welcome acknowledgment of your failure to properly
    communicate with your readers, once more Mr. Pontin, you are
    motivated to cast a dubious shadow on Dr. de Grey's career and
    consequently further sink the reputation of your magazine in the
    quagmire of sensationalist and ill-founded standing.
    1. Most who are familiar with Dr. de Grey's publications and
    activities recognise him to be a theoretical biologist focused on
    biogerontology. You have also failed to mention that he is the
    editor of the Mary Ann Liebert published, peer reviewed
    academic journal, Rejuvenation Research (formerly journal of
    Anti-Aging Research).
    2. You would do well to know that not all biological discovery is
    practiced using agarose gels and bacterial plasmids.
    3. One cannot help but think that following your feature on de
    Grey (particularly the caption and photo on your front cover) you
    are setting him up to be either an unintended fraud or a fool -
    either of which had you the foresight to directly communicate
    with him you would discover he is not.
    4. All those who have been disgusted by the position of your
    editorial are not necessarily "transhumanists". I do not consider
    myself a "transhumanist", but the privilege of my education and
    professional experience indicate to me that the aging process
    has a biological solution.
    4. Finally, attack the science if you must and if you can - not the
    man. You are clearly not scientifically qualified, nor have you
    been properly briefed to determine the validity of the science
    behind de Grey's assertions.
    I and my colleagues will be closely watching for a response of
    more substance in your following issue prior to making a
    decision as to the standing of your publication.

    Posted 1/15/2005 10:03:36 PM by [38]Jason Pontin
      Subject: A Open Letter to the Transhumanists
      Dear transhumanists,
    Thank you for your posts to the technologyreview.com site. I've
    read them all with great interest. You're a passionate group!
    Let me begin by writing: as many of you suggested, we will
    invite Aubrey de Grey to reply to Dr. Nuland's article, the leader
    "Be Sane about Anti-Aging Science," and my editorial "Against
    Transcendence." You can read Mr. de Grey on
    www.technologyreview.com early next week.
    That said, when an editor so completely fails to express his
    meaning to his readers, he may be tempted to try again. A few
    notes to that end.
    1. I recognize the anger in many of your posts, and apologize if I
    have offended any of you.
    When I called Mr. de Grey a "troll" it was of course a literary
    device: a reference to a line earlier in my editorial where I
    quoted the writer Bruce Stirling about the paradox that those
    who were most intersted in using technology to transcend
    human nature often lived circumscribed lives that seemed
    anything but transcendent when viewed from the outside.
    Stirling says that people who take transcendence seriously "end
    up turning into trolls." This is my personal view. However,
    neither Dr. Nuland's article, which I commissioned, nor our
    leader on anti-aging, which I edited, made this point.
    2. My list of the ways that Mr. de Grey seemed circumscribed by
    his humanity was not intended as an ad hominem attack on de
    Grey. An hominem attack seeks to discredit an argument by
    attacking the person who makes it. As many of you noted, I did
    not seriously grapple with Mr. de Grey's views in my editorial.
    This is because my editorial was written as an introduction, by
    the editor-in-chief, to the print edition of Technology Review.
    An exhaustive list of all the reasons why I think de Grey
    mistaken in his confidence that human cellular aging can be
    reversed would have been redundant. The two other articles on
    biogerontology, in addition to a synopsis of a scholarly
    publication on the role of mitochondria in the diseases of aging,
    expressed all I believe about biogerontology.
    Those views, in short, are as follows: while I am fascinated by
    the study of how and why human tissues age, I think it
    exceedingly unlikely that human aging can be "defeated" in any
    meaningful sense. All organisms--indeed, all things in
    creation--age. I think it possible that we might one day extend
    human lifespan significantly, and I am reasonably sure that in
    the next 50 years we will "compress the morbidity" of the elderly
    to a brief period before death. I have to note that most serious,
    working, responsible biogerontologists published regularly by
    peer review journals would agree with me--with the possible
    exception of Cynthia Kenyon at UCSF, who entertains dramatic
    hopes for human life extension, and who has significantly
    extended the life span of nemotodes.
    My editorial was about what it said it was about: it was written
    "against transcendence." It was not written about Aubrey de
    3. Finally, and I write this with a little trepidation, many of your
    posts reveal a degree of misinformation about Mr. de Grey's
    accomplishments and publications.
    I would not accuse Mr. de Grey, whom I have never met, of
    being a charlatan. But there is a certain vaguness in the
    transhumanist community about his role in the Department of
    Genetics at Cambridge University. Mr. de Grey is not an
    academic biogerontologist. He is the computer support
    for a research team in Cambridge's Genetics Department. His
    formal academic background is in computer science. If you
    consult Mr. de Grey's publications in a resource like PubMed,
    you will see they vary more than glowing profiles of de Grey
    sometimes imply. For instance, his contributions to Science and
    Biogerontology are commentary and letters. His publications in
    Tends in Biotechnology and Annals of the New York Academy of
    Sciences were not, strictly speaking, peer reviewed.
    That said, Mr de Grey's paper, "A Proposed Refinement of the
    Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging," (de Grey, ADNJ,
    BioEssays 19(2) 161-166, 1997) is, I am told, genuinely original,
    and he is, obviously, a fascinating, charismatic, and provocative
    My assessment of Aubrey de Grey would be that of the
    biogerontologist Jay Olshansky: "I am a big fan of Aubrey. We
    need him. I disagree with some of his conclusions, but in science
    that's OK. That's what advances the field."
    In sorrow and contrition,
    Jason Pontin
    Technology Review

    Posted 1/15/2005 7:49:54 PM by Andrew
      Subject: Mr. Pontin
      Attacking a respected and reputable biogerontolgist for not having
    kids and actively pursuing a goal shows how narrow-minded and void of
    imagination Mr. Pontin is, not to mention venomous towards those who
    choose not to slowly shuffle along the road of uniformity to the
    slaughterhouse of involuntary death.

    Posted 1/15/2005 6:03:47 PM by [39]Harold Brenner
      Subject: Pro Longevity
      It is the year 2005 and the respected science technology
    magazine, Technology Review viciously attacks a peer respected
    and numerously published biogerontologist.
    The basis for the attack:
    - dress style
    - beard
    - no children
    - dedicated to his profession
    - drinks too much beer
    - at 41, is looking old in the face
    I am concerned for the future of your magazine if such absurd
    and inane drivel can bypass your editorial process since it
    irrevocably compromises the integrity of all other articles
    Dr. de Grey, and your readers deserve an apology from your
    magazine and its editorial contributor, Jason Pontin.

    Posted 1/15/2005 4:34:17 AM by Vadim Antonov
      Subject: disgusting
      Well... Mr. Aubrey de Grey is an alleged troll, according to Mr.
    Jason Pontin. What we now know for sure is that Mr. Jason Pontin is a
    confirmed troll, condemned by his own words.
    The trolls are, basically, demagogues, and what can be more demagogic
    than ad hominem attacks (referring to appearance and personal hygiene
    of the opponent), then insinuating that anyone thinking differently
    from Mr. Demagogue must be a nut, ascribing made-up thoughts to
    opponents, and, finally appealing to some higher sacral knowledge of
    how things should be? This is precisely what Mr. Pontin did in his
    editorial. He is a demagogue, plain and clear.
    He made it equally obvious that he has no grasp of scientific ethics
    whatsoever, and his knowledge of history of science is demonstrably
    non-existant, or he would know that at least some people the later
    generations came to think of as geniuses were in their time considered
    nuts (and some actually _were_ mentally disturbed... Goedel, Nash, the
    list goes on). Some famous scientists held decidedly cooky opinions
    (Newton on alchemy, for example). This does not diminish the value of
    their work, because ideas and opinions must be judged on their own
    merits, not on the merits of people expressing them. This is exactly
    what prevents science from degrading into yet another cult, and in
    doing otherwise from the pulpit of science Mr. Pontin is making
    science a grave disservice.
    What Mr. Pontin could do is to present rational arguments against the
    technological trancendence, but, judging by his dabbling in pop
    psychology instead, he is too dim to think of any; and they're not
    that hard to come by.
    I think it is a disgrace that a person of such demonstrated
    shallowness is holding an editorial position in a respected scientific

    Posted 1/14/2005 6:10:05 PM by [40]Samuel H. Kenyon
      Subject: Mixing Modes
      Mr. Pontin's point of view established in this editorial can be
    summarized by his use of the quote: "Aging is the condition on which
    we are given life," which is to say a muddled mixing of modes. He
    seems to have the average mystical reverence for the term "life" as if
    it is a permanent mystery beyond the realm of human understanding.
    Albeit this is an editorial, but the mixing of modes of secular and
    religio-cult terms like "transcendence" reeks of a writer-editor who
    cannot bother to logically think about the canned memes he dumps on a
    page, including that of the science fiction "geek" who is will never
    contribute to society and lives in a fantasy world. I suppose that
    means the company iRobot who sells hundreds of thousands of Roombas
    and makes the packBot military robot are a bunch of trolls because
    they were inspired by science fiction, indeed have a poster of the
    recent movie of the same name on their hallway. "Trolls," whatever
    that means to Mr. Pontin, exist regardless of science fiction--there
    is no bidirectional relationship. He probably thinks Linus Torvalds
    was a troll too, and that Linux is just a fad. The kind of thinking
    promoted in the editorial is that of people who think the moon
    landings were filmed on sound stages; after all, leaving the planet is
    transcendence. What in science and engineering is not transcendence
    beyond a situation in which a person is born?


   33. mailto:chwade at nesta.org.uk
   34. mailto:ag24 at gen.cam.ac.uk
   35. mailto:flanneltron at flanneltron.com
   36. mailto:adam.parker at rmit.edu.au
   37. mailto:theoharis at gmail.com
   38. mailto:jason.pontin at technologyreview.com
   39. mailto:theoharis at gmail.com
   40. mailto:flanneltron at flanneltron.com


[More responses.]

1/14/2005 3:49:01 PM by [33]Ronald K. Edquist
      Subject: IS HE NUTS
      Speaking as Editor of Technology Review, Mr. Pontin in Against
    Transcendence engages in a bizarre smear, bordering on defamation. He
    warps de Greys ideas into a psudeo-religious quest for transcendence
    in order to ridicule and discredit the ideas and de Grey. This is not
    science or technology, but ideology at work. Dr. de Grey may be a
    character, but he is clearly also a remarkably talented person probing
    an important area. Mr. Pontin has discredited and disgraced himself
    and Technology Review.
    Mr. Pontin should be removed from his position in order to restore
    credibility to Technology Review. A man that would stoop, for
    ideological reasons, to the snarling viciousness and vacuous sociology
    of this piece simply cannot be trusted to be an honest broker in
    providing technical information. I can respect, while disagreeing,
    with Mr. Pontins position that life extension is terrible and that it
    shouldnt be done. Its debatable. But it should be unacceptable to
    Technology Review that in order to advance those feelings, he engaged
    in ad hominem fallacies to discredit a technical proposal and its
    Technology Review could and should do something useful on this topic.
    Constructive criticism and comment on de Greys proposals are not, to
    my knowledge, publicly available. Each of de Greys seven proposed
    initiatives could be addressed by several experts in the relevant
    area. The issues are whether the proposals are feasible, would they
    have the desired effect and are they worthwhile in and of themselves,
    in that they would treat a disease. The final global question is
    whether the combined success of these initiatives would result in life
    extension. Allow de Grey to respond.
    Meaningful life extension is coming, sometime. The only question is
    which age cohort will be the last to suffer under the ancient régime.
    Ron Edquist

    Posted 1/14/2005 3:28:54 PM by [34]Tom FitzGerald
      Subject: Transcending bigotry
      Thank you for your fine piece by Dr. Nuland on Aubrey de Grey. While
    Dr. Nuland disagrees forcefully with Mr. de Grey's goals, his profile
    was insightful and sympathetic--a model of evenhanded journalism.
    Sadly, the same cannot be said of the accompanying editorial by Jason
    Pontin, which is little more than a mass of non sequiturs and ad
    hominem attacks. In particular, I am troubled by Mr. Pontin's
    implication that being childless is one of Mr. de Grey's character
    Does this magazine really wish to inform the myriad childless couples
    in this country that their lifestyle is "trollish" in the eyes of The
    Technology Review? Perhaps Mr. Pontin feels that female professionals
    like Adelaide de Grey belong in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.
    While the pursuit of extreme longevity is currently controversial in
    our culture, the idea that marriage has purposes beyond child-rearing
    is not. Mr. Pontin's implication that this is otherwise is an insult
    to childless couples generally, and plays right into the hands of
    those bigots who oppose civil unions and marriage for gays and
    lesbians on similarly retrograde moral scruples. That "An MIT
    Enterprise" should publish such bigotry is shameful.
    As the holder of such bigoted views, Mr. Pontin's views on aging
    amelioration are rendered suspect. To those like Mr. Pontin who couple
    their disdain for childless couples with a view that the elderly are
    not fit to live, I ask two questions:
    1) When a people live to be 121 years old, will they no longer have
    the right to live? Will Mr. Pontin murder them en masse on behalf of
    the "greater good" of his economic, demographic, ecological, or
    perhaps religious beliefs?
    2) Will those like Mr. Pontin who oppose Mr. de Grey's potentially
    life-saving research be content to stop at character assassination, or
    is this "MIT Enterprise" calling for a ban on all biogerontological
    research not in keeping with their own bigoted disdain for the world's
    In respectful disagreement,
    Tom FitzGerald
    Portland, OR

    Posted 1/14/2005 2:07:56 PM by [35]Thomas L Caylor
      Subject: Beyond Expandence
      Due to my particular nature, Im more interested in the principles
    than the people involved here.
    I think there is an illuminating analogy in mathematics and
    engineering. Math provides ideas like the transcendental numbers to
    develop tools of thought. Engineering takes those tools and
    approximates them in the real world with rational numbers, bits, and
    discrete time steps to produce technology that would be inconceivable
    without the transcendental ideas of math.
    There are the thinker types that live more in the transcendental
    realm, like mathematicians, and there are the doer types that live
    more in the real world, like engineers. Thats OK. We need both.
    (Actually I am both, hence my choice of the analogy.)
    I agree that the border to the transcendental changes, at least for
    all practical purposes. This is because the border is between the
    transcendental and the real world AS WE SEE IT. To say that the
    transcendental is outside of all reality (as Pontin stated) is really
    making a Platonic statement about a reality that is outside of our
    experience. This itself is a transcendental statement. Im not against
    such statements, Im for them. Im just saying that the transcendental
    is inescapable. When we try to ignore it, we are denying something
    that is so close to us that we hurt ourselves.
    But theres something that I think de Grey doesnt get either.
    Transcendence is more than a tool for expansion. The root of the
    problem is how to be content. (That Woody Allen quote is great.) As
    long as we are the center of our universe, the source of our own
    purpose, the only conceivable path to happiness is to expand. In this
    configuration, the best tool we have is simply a proof by induction.
    But its a circular argument. 1) If taking this step gives me a
    momentarily good feeling, then taking an indefinite number more of
    these steps is the road to happiness. 2) If Im going on the road to
    happiness, this means that this good feeling I have is something like
    happiness. So we end up in a pursuit of happiness defined by expanding
    on what we have and are now because we have an insatiable hunger for
    something that we arent getting. Thus technology, being the means of
    expansion, which is the only conceivable end, becomes synonymous with
    the end itself. Thus the treadmill syndrome.
    On the other hand, transcendence can be a means to 1) seeing that we
    can be (and should be) totally content with where we are right now,
    and at the same time a means to 2) seeing where we should go from
    here. This can be called seeing our purpose. Doesnt it ring true to
    our common sense that this is how things should be instead?

    Posted 1/14/2005 12:15:43 PM by [36]Michael LaTorra
      Subject: Transcending smallmindedness
      There seems to be a feeling abroad in the land among some people
    that having modest goals and cramped ambitions is the only morally
    acceptable position. Jason Pontin apparently holds such a view. Inside
    his cramped box, people live their allotted span then die, and they
    should not wish for or try to achieve more. Its time to think outside
    that box.
    Aubrey de Grey has set his sights on the problem of achieving longer
    lifespan and how this might be accomplished. Of course, this goal is
    as unacceptable to the conventional box-people as is de Greys
    lifestyle and his mode of dress. People who judge a scientist by his
    clothing are unlikely to be open to truly radical ideas.
    We do not have a duty to die. We do not have a duty to live only so
    long and no longer. The immorality of claiming otherwise cannot be
    hidden by engaging in silly and dismissive talk about trolls. No can
    one claim science fiction writer Bruce Sterling as an authority,
    unless one is also willing to grant at least equal authority to other
    science fiction authors who hold diametrically opposite views.
    The fair thing to do in the matter of this debate is for Technology
    Review to offer the other side an equal chance to state why they
    believe that technology both can and should be used to extend human
    lifespan as much as possible.
    Michael LaTorra
    New Mexico State University

    Posted 1/14/2005 10:02:11 AM by [37]J. Hughes
      Subject: Astonishingly Offensive and Inappropriate
      Your editorial calling Aubrey de Grey a troll is astonishingly
    offensive and inappropriate ad homininem. Is this the new loyalty oath
    in Bush's America: "I have not, and never have, believed technology
    will radically change the human condition, and anyone who does is an
    idiot"? Are you that desperate to reassure the Christian Right that
    better technology will only bring better toasters and not radically
    longer lives?
    De Grey deserves an apology.
    James J. Hughes Ph.D.
    Public Policy Studies
    Trinity College

    Posted 1/14/2005 8:04:32 AM by [38]Kip Werking
      Subject: Ad Hominem
      This was one of the most disgustingly ad hominem passages I've ever
    read in a mainstream magazine:
    "But what struck me is that he is a troll. For all de Greys vaulting
    ambitions, what Sherwin Nuland saw from the outside was pathetically
    circumscribed. In his waking life, de Grey is the computer support to
    a research team; he dresses like a shabby graduate student and affects
    Rip Van Winkles beard; he has no children; he has few interests
    outside the science of biogerontology; he drinks too much beer.
    Although he is only 41, the signs of decay are strongly marked on his
    face. His ideas are trollish, too. For even if it were possible to
    perturb human biology in the way de Grey wishes, we shouldnt do it.
    Immortality might be okay for de Grey, but an entire world of the same
    superagenarians thinking the same kinds of thoughts forever would be
    If you can't argue with de Grey's ideas, you shouldn't resort to
    insulting him personally. Some of these are just tasteless ("he is a
    troll"). Others aren't even insults ("he has no children"). Others are
    just false ("he has few interests outside of biogerontology"--besides
    his expertise in computer science and biogerontology, de Grey is an
    tournament player of the boardgame Othello).

    Posted 1/14/2005 3:47:31 AM by MarcG
      Subject: Pioneers have always aimed high...
      A meaningful life by definition requires that people have
    interesting goals to pursue. And these goals have to be challenging.
    The pioneering spirit of pushing boundaries and doing things that have
    never been done before has always been an important part of human
    history. What goal could be more inspiring or challenging than trying
    for longer healthier lives?
    As I understand it, Mr. de Grey was never suggesting an end to all
    limits. The quest for immortality is quite likely to prove to be a way
    of life - a journey not a destination. Mr de Grey is simply offering
    the inspiring task of working towards radically extending healthy
    life-spans. Why knock this vision?
    What one would call 'transcendent' from one perspective, is ordinary
    reality from another perspective. Many of the things we now take for
    granted such as air-travel, radio and T.V would have seemed
    'transcendent' to a cave man. But to modern man the goal post has
    shifted. The pioneering spirit is not a desire to end all limits or
    throw away human nature. On the contrary is the desire to positively
    expand what it means to be human.
    There is no clear-cut distinction between aging and disease. The
    incidence of many kinds of disease increases with age. If one believes
    that healthy life is a good, it seems that one is led towards the
    conclusion that the best way to achieve it is to directly attack the
    aging process itself. This is simply a natural extension of what human
    healers through out history have always aspired to: working towards
    healthier , longer lives. It's the essence of the Hippocratic oath.
    If there are ethical or rational arguments against life extension, by
    all means lets air them. But none are presented in the editorial.

    Posted 1/14/2005 2:40:57 AM by [39]Giulio Prisco
      Subject: Aging IS an engineering problem
      You say: [de Grey] believes he can defeat death by treating human
    aging as an engineering problem Aging is not a disease. Aging is the
    condition on which we are given life.
    Think of how the word disease is formed: dis - ease. Now ask anyone
    who has been reduced to a poor shadow of her/himself by age, if aging
    is a disease or not. Of course aging is a disease. Medical science is
    about curing diseases, and has already defeated many diseases on its
    march. There are diseases that todays medicine cannot cure yet, and
    that is why we must develop tomorrows medicine. This is common sense.
    Since the discovery of fire to the development of the Internet, the
    history of the evolution of our species has been marked by those
    moments where a condition on which we are given life has been attacked
    as an engineering problem. We would still be living in caves of our
    ancestors had considered living in caves as an inalterable condition
    in which they were given life. Fortunately our cave dwelling ancestors
    were saner than todays bioethicists.
    You say: For even if it were possible to perturb human biology in the
    way de Grey wishes, we shouldnt do it. Immortality might be okay for
    de Grey, but an entire world of the same superagenarians thinking the
    same kinds of thoughts forever would be terrible.
    The possibility to perturb human biology in the way de Grey wishes is
    an engineering problem. Todays medical science has started developing
    the necessary detailed understanding of human biology, and based on
    this understanding, tomorrow medical science will permit, I believe,
    improving it (an engineer does not say perturb a device, (s)he says
    improve a device). Please try explaining to me what is wrong with
    All humans who have lived so far have been forced to consider aging as
    a condition on which we are given life, because the engineering
    problem of aging was not operationally solvable at their time. Todays
    life extension science is about solving this engineering problem. I
    have no doubt that it will be solved like other engineering problems
    of the past. The impossibility of talking to someone far away used to
    be a condition on which we are given life, now we have the phone.
    Please try understanding that we want to improve neurology as well as
    biology. A world with operational life extension technology will not
    be populated by superagenarians thinking the same kinds of thoughts
    forever, but by smart, youthful, ever changing and evolving human

    Posted 1/14/2005 1:02:18 AM by [40]Giulio Prisco
      Subject: I expected better from TR
      By adopting this pro-death and anti-science political agenda,
    Technology Review has lost its credibility as an objective scientific
    information source.
    Besides personal attacks on de Grey, your editorial contains no
    rational argument and no falsifiable scientific statement in support
    of your points.
    At least from my point of view, the only way for Technology Review to
    recover its lost credibility is publishing another article or
    editirial covering the opposite point of view which, as you can see
    from readers' comments to Nuland article, is shared by many TR

    Posted 1/14/2005 1:00:06 AM by [41]Thomas L Caylor
      Subject: Expandence
      From the article it sounds like we have only two choices: either
    sludge apathetically through boring projects our whole life or turn
    into trolls. The first choice is a common reality: Without vision the
    people perish. Regarding the second choice, the reality is that we all
    deteriorate into pasty-faced trembling people if we live long enough.
    But with vision we live, even though our bodies decay. This is what
    makes us different from robots. (See my post as TLC on the article
    Adroit Droids, November 2004.)
    Even our self-labeled boring problems have to originate from
    somewhere. Someone somewhere had a vision that resulted in the boring
    project we are working on. What is all this stuff for that we are
    working on? You say its for making our lives more expansive. What does
    that mean? That sounds like the Woody Allen quote in the Technology
    and Happiness article, January 2005. (See my post there as BeHappy.)
    Technology only adds quantity, even in the area of longevity, but it
    is only the transcendent that tells us if we have quality, whether we
    call it that or not. In other words, it is only the transcendent that
    tells us if we ourselves have a life worth living.
    In reality we are all not more than a masquerade away from looking
    like Aubrey de Grey ourselves, on the outside. But is that really
    where happiness comes from, the outside? If we really are alone with
    ourselves, why cant we be happy with ourselves?
    The transcendent isnt any of the deprecating caricatures that weve run
    away from in our past. The transcendent is so omnipresent, offering to
    infuse every cell and action with their purpose and meaning, that it
    is easy for us to take it for granted. When we do that we end up
    having to fabricate false meanings. When we do that, we choose a truly
    tortuously gradual road to death, for ourselves and for the society
    that is made up of ourselves.


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