Four waves of healthy longevity ahead

Originally published on 20 July 2020.

“Demystifying the transhumanist agenda”. That was the title given by Longevity Technology to an exclusive interview earlier this week, featuring Transhumanist UK co-founder David Wood.

The interview was conducted by Phil Newman, Editor-in-Chief at Longevity Technology, and Founder at First Longevity. Among other topics, Phil asked David about:

  • The technologies poised to change the whole landscape of research into healthy longevity
  • The four different levels of ambition which can be applied to improving healthy longevity
  • The significance of transhumanism in the field of healthy longevity.

The interview can be found here, and is available as a separate video on Vimeo:

Read on for a short summary of four oncoming waves of appreciating and applying healthy longevity – waves that can take advantage of technology to enable everyone:

  1. To “age in place” better
  2. To be “superagers”, aging more slowly
  3. To be “forever young”, undoing aging
  4. To transcend from human to transhuman.

1. To “age in place” better

Most “healthy aging” programmes focus on initiatives to allow people to continue to lead a good quality of life, even as their physical bodies grow weak.

These initiative include technologies to help people stay in touch with family and friends, despite reduced mobility. They also include changing the attitudes of the public as a whole, to avoid “ageist” assumptions about diminished capabilities or aspirations of people who have become older.

These initiatives are commendable, and feature highly in, for example, the work of the UK Parliament’s APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group) for Longevity.

However, they are only the starting point in an ascending series of more powerful measures to improve healthy aging.

If society becomes preoccupied by this, least impactful wave of healthy aging initiatives, humanity will fall far short of our true potential.

2. To be “superagers”, aging more slowly

Superagers are, in the words of aging researcher Nir Barzilai,

individuals who maintain active lives well into their nineties and even beyond—and, more importantly, who reached that ripe old age never having experienced cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, or cognitive decline.

In his recently published book “Age Later: Health Span, Life Span, and the New Science of Longevity”, Barzilai covers many surprising but important features of superagers. Referring to the four Kahn siblings, who each lived to an age greater than one hundred, Barzilai notes the following:

Everything imaginable had changed over the course of their lives, but in a physical sense, time seemed to be standing still for these four siblings.

Yes, they’d aged. But the changes we associate with aging – lost mobility, lost intellect, lost excitement, lost energy – had been delayed for decades… instead of declining, they each continued to thrive. Leonore was still giving tours at an environmental learning center well into her nineties. Irving continued to work at the family investment firm at 108, bossing around his son and grandson who also worked there. Peter remarried at seventy-three and was happy with his new wife for more than thirty years. Helen drank Budweiser, went to Manhattan museums and trendy restaurants, and smoked for more than ninety years.

That’s what makes the Kahns so extraordinary. They weren’t eating anything special, exercising outside their daily routines, drinking extra water, napping, or doing anything else that we tend to think of as healthy, life-extending habits. They didn’t strive to keep their bodies whole and their minds nimble – they just, somehow, were.

Like many centenarians, the Kahns simply aged more slowly than most of the population – meaning they, in effect, aged later. But why? That’s the question I’ve been studying for almost two decades, and I have encouraging news. Scientific advances are making the sandwich generation a thing of the past…

When I asked Helen Kahn, who lived to 110 and smoked for more than ninety years, “Didn’t any of your doctors tell you to stop smoking?” she said, “Sure, but all four of those doctors died.”

Demographers estimate that for most people, genetics are responsible for about 20–25 percent of aging and the environment is responsible for the rest. But the statistics are vastly different for centenarians, whose genes are about 75–80 percent responsible for how they age and the environment accounts for only about 20 percent. That’s why we’re so determined to unlock their secrets. Doing so can give us insight into providing everyone with the same protections from aging that they enjoy.

Transhumanist UK urges a significant increase in the research into superagers, so that more people can benefit from the insights about the factors enabling this remarkable slowdown in aging.

3. To be “forever young”, undoing aging

Even at the age of 95 or over, superagers typically live with the kind of vitality that characterises an average person at the age of 65 or 75.

However, this is by no means the limit of what science and technology can enable in the coming decades.

Annual conferences such as “Undoing Aging” and “Ending Age-Related Diseases” report on research that wouldn’t just slow down the aging process, delaying the time of onset of the chronic diseases of aging. Instead, this research has the potential to eliminate aging altogether, allowing people to live as if “forever young”. Even at the calendar age of 125 or older, they could have the vitality of the average 35 year old of today’s world.

Whereas the second wave of initiatives into healthy aging aims to learn primarily from humans with outstanding healthy longevity, this third wave aims to learn, in addition, from:

  • The biology of animals that seem not to age at all
  • Potential engineering interventions that would periodically remove or repair the damage caused at cellular and inter-cellular levels.

Transhumanist UK is a strong supporter of this wave of initiatives too. Transhumanist UK co-founder David Wood will be giving an interview at this year’s Ending Age-Related Diseases conference on 20-21 August.

4. To transcend from human to transhuman

Having a physical body that is freed from the ravages and decline of physical aging will be an extraordinary step upward in human history. However, what good will be a “forever young” body if:

  • People suffer from mental decline, deep emotional distress, or spiritual malaise
  • The environment tips over into a terminal downward spiral, with increasingly extreme weather
  • Society is split asunder by bitter partisan hostilities
  • Countries suffer from attack from hostile forces, including terrorists, criminal syndicates, cyberhackers, or ideological enemies
  • Greater intelligence and greater strength is misused by monopolistic corporations, desperate political factions, religious fundamentalists, or extremist activists
  • Humanity lurches toward a bitter new “dark age” of social collapse?

Transhumanist UK therefore highlights and champions a fourth level of ambition regarding healthy longevity: new levels of health and wellbeing, not just in the physical body, but also

  • In our systems for reasoning, collaborating, and manifesting compassion
  • In our organisational frameworks and political structures
  • In our relationship to the environment, and with the wider cosmos
  • In our methods for sharing the fruits of automation and abundance.

The result will be an evolution in overall human capability that leaves behind many of the most dangerous elements of human nature – elements inherited from millennia of evolution, but which are nowadays excessively dangerous in a world brim full of potential “weapons of mass destruction”.

The result will be a step-up from humanity 1.0, via a process we can call “intelligent design”, to a transhuman state of existence.

If this strikes you as interesting, note that some aspects of this transition will feature in an interview tomorrow (Tuesday 21st July) in the Alternative UK‘s series “The Elephant Meets”. See the details here.

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