Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Who Wants To Live Forever? (In the Beginning Was the End: parte tertia)

Last Saturday the Otago Daily Times, a publication which in my estimation ranks even below that of the New York Times, published in its magazine section a two page (TWO PAGES!) article on living forever—or not. It wasn't the ODT's writer, of course, who penned the thing, but a correspondent, who works for them part-time I guess. Or maybe they bought it from another publication. They must have. There were no spelling mistakes in the whole article; at least none I could find. That is fairly indicative. The ODT's proof-readers by and large suck.

Anyway, back to the immortality thing. The occasion was a gerontology conference in Britain, I think, and the main focus—with his long shaggy beard prominently displayed on a huge photo, was one Aubrey de Grey, who is a bit of a maverick in the field of gerontology, mainly because he's brash and loud, and he's not interested really in making old age more bearable, but abolishing the process of ageing completely. His colleagues, with few exceptions, take exception to that. They call him everything from 'charlatan' to merely 'irresponsible'. All agree that his approach does not conform to your standard everyday dignified science procedures. Many consider that he damages the image of 'science' and does what they consider the 'really important' gerontological research and the image of said research considerable damage by association—thus hindering progress that might otherwise be made.

I think I should take this opportunity to declare my full support of Dr. de Grey, strange fellow thought he might be. And I don't agree—surprise, yes?—with his detractors, despite the basic cogency of their arguments. Yes, his approach isn't your traditional scientific one. No, he has no 'laboratory experience'. Yes, he bypasses the polite peer-review process. Yes, he out there, unapologetic and making statements that border on the risqué; maybe go well past it. Yes, he makes the efforts of a large number of people working in the field of aging science—people who are interested in making the lives of old people better—seem like they're basically irrelevant and a waste of time. Yes, he seems to be advocating a course of scientific and technological research that could spell immense and frightening changes for our species and the world at large. Yes, he qualifies as a 'fervent'.

But...

Hey, it's about survival, people! Not 'science'. I've never believed in the 'science for the glory of knowledge' thingie anyway. Not to put too fine a point on it, it's bullshit. Science is all about lending a cool methodology to natural curiosity—which is an adaptive trait that by and large has survival value. Proof: the trait has survived and thrived. Science, contrary to the high-brow crap spouted by scientists and philosophers alike is about figuring out how the world works so we can manipulate it better and do what we can to ensure our survival, as a species and individuals. Medical science—you know, the the whole thing about maintaining our 'health', and how can it then possibly not also be about keeping at bay that ultimate example or result of un-health: death?—is even more blatantly about just this one thing.

It's at the very least disingenuous, and at worst simply dimwitted, of scientists to claim otherwise. And since today everything is about research funds, where the best fund raiser gets the best toys and maybe also the best results...well, good for Aubrey. Go man!

As to whether—as the ODT article, and its headline, just couldn't help mentioning—we really want to live forever...well, let's jump off that bridge when we get to it, shall we?

Or not.

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