In the 15 November Nature issue Judy Illes neurology professor turned neuroethics expert reviews Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People by John Harris and Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime by Aubrey de Grey & Michael Rae.
From the review:
“Ending Aging is a more “new wave” treatment of enhancement, longevity and immortality…. The authors rather unnecessarily brand ageing as repugnant and curse, and use their book to preach on fund-raising opportunities.
The freedom to pursue ways to enhance human mental and physical capacities and to eliminate negative aspects of the human condition, such as suffering and death, is a fundamental tenet of the trans-humanist movement. Although seemingly worthy, there are problems ahead for the futurists, including for Harris, de Grey and Rae….
…Let’s not throw away today for tomorrow. Ending Aging is likely to appeal to those already converted to the author’s views, and perhaps will find some traction among those who are more curious than interested in deeper scientific engagement.”
Unfortunately Illes completely mixes transhumanism with the belief that robust life extension is possible and desirable due to handling the 2 books together and I think this is not a fair angle on life extension. Consequently she can say on the whole that those beliefs are “going well beyond what might be imaginable, or ethical today.”
But most life extension supporters are simply not transhumanists at all and it is a simple logical fault to think that ‘if A then B’ is true (every transhumanist is a life extension supporter), than it follows that ‘if B then A’. For instance, most life extension supporters that I’ve met, say in the SENS3 conference, are not transhumanists, but simply young life scientists for whom life extension is just the technological frame (the highest aim) of their translational science. Think systems biology: human organismal aging is a complex dynamics of a complex system and if you want to modify it you should think on the systemic level.
On the other hand concerning ‘if A then B’: I can imagine transhumanists who are not necessarily life extension supporterts, say, people who count themselves as transhumanists and think that it is good to improve or enhance our mental condition with drugs thereby meeting the technological “enhancement condition” of transhumanism.
Many life extension supporters are simply not interested in other forms of “transhumanist enhancement” technologies than healthy life extension. According to a recent NYTimes article:
“The Transhumanist movement was formalized by a group of futurist artists, scientists and philosophers in the 1980s. Their mission: To support the use of emergent technologies to make humans smarter, faster and stronger.”
One thing is for sure: life extension is not about being smarter, faster and stronger. It is based on a much more fundamental human demand than the simple enhancement of the body. Even conservatives can argue that way. (Wouldn’t the concept of robust life extension be a much more accepted view and harder to label as “dangerous” if its loudest proponents were hardcore and non-partisan scientists and mainstream Al Gore, Pitt, Colbert or Oprah-like people (independently of their partisan views), not philosophically and politically biased, self-declared transhumanists living in an upper-class lifestyle ghetto forming a technological avantgarde? This is the real PR problem of robust life extension and I plan to explore it further. Make no mistake: I am not against transhumanism, but my preference is really to purely represent the idea that healthy and robust life extension is possible and worth achieving for everybody by choice without any further commitment to any particular ideology. A lot of big shots in biomedical science and biotech industry are in favor of robust life extension, they are just not so explicit about that because of different science marketing and PR reasons. For a broader variety of life extension motivations please read my Life extension blogterviews in 2006.)
Based on this erroneous mix Illes can now be short of talking about the scientific details of Ending Aging (I guess it equally comes from her neuroethics approach whatever does that mean). To be continued……