Life Extension Leadership Meetings, Conferences, and Festivals
By: Natasha Vita-More, PhD
What is life extension and why is it radical:
What is meant by the phrase life extension? The meaning is fundamental and essential for people who want to live long, healthy lives. In comparison, the phrase life extension usually refers to living a full life with the aid of diet, exercise, and vitamins to maintain good health within the historical maximum human lifespan, but not beyond. The phrase radical life extension is synonymous with the concepts of superlongevity and indefinite life, which mean that the human’s life span can be extended well beyond the historical maximum biological time frame. This time frame is recorded to be approximately 123 years. The reason why it is radical is because it is far-reaching, deep-rooted, and revolutionary, not because it is extremist or fanatic. More and more people want to live longer, healthier lives, and the entrepreneurs who are listening to their needs are investing in life extension sciences and technologies. Let’s break this down.
People can live reasonably healthy lives through their 70s, 80s and 90s; yet, the body’s decline becomes observable when deterioration of bone and muscle mass advances, skin elasticity diminishes, hearing and eyesight weaken and overall physical strength declines. During their 90s, many people do live vigorous, healthy lives; although, they are no longer able to keep up at physically and often mentally. There are more centenarians today than ever, especially in the western world. According to Smithsonian research, in 2000 there were approximately 50,000 Americans who were over 100. In 2014, that percentage increased 44% up to over 72,000 people (Fessenden, 2016). This is the good news. The overwhelmingly bad news is that Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia have increased, causing cognitive dysfunction.
This is an area where those of us who are working in the field of radical life extension need to be educated and well-informed. Just wishing for healthy, long life does not beget healthy long life. Our psychology and positive attitude are extremely important attributes to developing a radical life extension mindset, but we also need to be pragmatic about how our bodies and minds are aging. And here we have another issue to contend with: If we do extend the maximum life span well beyond 123 years and reverse the damage of ageing and return our bodies to earlier levels of strength and agility, we must perform the same engineering to increase neurological and cognitive performance. Until then, we can at least influence our thinking about aging.
The concept of ageless thinking addresses certain biases about aging that pigeon-hole people about age-based social constructs.
“Ageless means to be free of the characteristics associated with age. Thinking means to bring thought to mind by exercising the power of reason. Ageless thinking means to practice the exercise of thinking about maintaining a youthful state, both physically and mentally. How and what we think about age depends on our individual goals. In this essay I will address reasons why ageless thinking is advantageous to optimal living and refer to how ageist thinking shortens our life. I will look at how we become imprisoned and prematurely aged by stereotypical and unfounded beliefs about aging: what it is, how long we can live, different kinds of aging, and to what extent we can affect out aging. I will suggest some psychological and philosophical approaches to becoming ageless, as well as several medical and technological treatments. To conclude, I’ll look briefly at some near term and further future means of extending youthful life. …
“In summary, we are on the journey of life extension. It is not a Gulliver’s Travels. We are not interested in a society where people grow older and feebler but never to die. We are primarily interested in extending life — indefinitely and adding to the quality of life. The quality of life must be of a high standard and designed in such a way as to give people a reason for living longer” (Vita-More, 1996).
Through this framework, I covered assumptions that cause people to be ageists even if their inference is not intentional. I also analyzed different types of aging and concluded with ways in which a person could practice ageless thinking, which are largely psychological exercises. For example, training the brain to carve new thinking modalities (neuro pathways) for acting and reacting to stimuli that cause us to be qualify and quantify our lives based on aging. While some of these practices are no longer necessary because of cultural awareness about ageist bias, there will be new biases to overcome. Some of these may relate to a person who has undergone age reversal in the biological sphere or, perhaps—in the future—those who select to reside in more than one environment or substrate. For example, an upload, an avatar, or a posthuman.
The (Radical Life Extension) Culture
Radical life extension (i.e., superlongevity and indefinite life) is a belief system and a practice. It has a set of principles that form the basis of a worldview that provides an ethical approach to the use of technology, evidence-based science to study and mitigate disease, and a positive attitude that values pragmatic optimism. As a practice, it is a way of being in the world undefined by gender roles, age quantifiers, or other indoctrinated behaviors that cultures accept as normal. The main one, of course, is the rejection of the human lifespan and its conditioning toward disease and death.
Throughout history, there have been purveyors of long life. Most known are Nicolai Fedorov and Jean Finot. Stretching farther into the archives of antiquity, the Taoists, Egyptians and other cultures sought to defy the onslaught of aging and death.
However, nowhere has the depth and breadth of cultural activism, writings, talks, documentaries, and other public appearances been made or recognized outside the transhumanist movement. It is here the culture of radical life extension, superlongevity, and/or indefinite lifespans was seeded, nurtured and sprouted. As a brief history about the activism, the World Wide Web’s first email list on this topic was hosted in 1991 by Extropy Institute, the original transhumanist organization. The numerous conferences, seminars, meetups and festivities were the result of a growing mindset that engaged all types of life extensionists who sought either a healthy long life and those who were actively pursuing the sciences and technologies that could extend the maximum span toward a far longer, radical lifespan. Along this line of thinking, was the concept of uploading, brain transfer and memory backup as a precaution to the documented advances in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Transhumanists were early adopters of 23andme, cryonics, genetic engineering, gene therapy, immunotherapy, nanomedicine, and many of the current day technologies and scientific protocols that have since gone mainstream.
Knowledge about life extension is largely due to the leadership of a few people and their organizations dating back to the late 20th century, as noted in the excerpt from my doctoral dissertation. Robert Ettinger authored The Prospect of Immortality (1964), Timothy Leary who wrote about SMI2LE (space migration increased intelligence, life extension) in Exo-Psychology (1977), FM Esfandiary approaching the topic of eliminating death as a radical approach in Optimism One (1978), Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw who authored Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach (1983); and Roy Walford authored Maximum Life Span (1985). There have been numerous books about life extension since this time frame; however, these are the pioneers of scientific and philosophical research that has set the foundation for all others who seek technological advances and evidence-based scientific approaches to reversing the damage of aging and its final blow of death.
Each week I participate in at least one interview for a magazine, newspaper, academic journal, or research students writing their dissertations or simply wanting to know the consequences of living longer and how this is affecting what it means to be human. It is a surprising thing to Google yourself, but out of curiosity I wanted to see how many mentions I have on the topic of radical life extension—a mere 403,000 links with 133,000 videos. To be fair, I used several browsers and search engines. But this is truly not an accurate accounting. What is more reliable is to look at the articles and read if the content is positive or negative. I can honestly say that in the 1990s, most of the press was negative. Today, no matter what a person’s accomplishments have been, it is their current social media status that is recognized. The fact that the aforementioned knowledge-makers are not in the public awareness is haunting. That people build on their knowledge without providing credit is troubling, as troubling as not even knowing who they are or were and what they accomplished. The reality that many people do not know the difference between evidence-based science and pseudoscience plagues us all with ignorance. Here I must defer to Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Taking a note from Sagan, maybe we all “should know to be more skeptical about what’s dished out by popular culture”—from those “widely available and highly accessible sources of information” that claim to be true (Sagan. 1996, p. 5).
Getting People Together
There are numerous festivals, conferences, and ways to meet others who share the same or similar interests. TED, SENS, Alcor, Humanity+, Voice & Exit, Foresight, 4GameChangers, and the list goes on. But it is rare to find a conference or festival where people who all want the same thing – good health and long life. Recently I was at the 4GameChangers event in Vienna, Austria and the scope was the future of humanity, AI, blockchain, etc. Many conferences focus on the business of life extension, but not so much today on the practice of radical life extension.
In 1983, a trailblazing festival sponsored by Life Extension Foundation launched in the mountains of Lake Tahoe, California. The Life Extension Foundation is a nonprofit established in 1980 by Saul Kent and Bill Faloon. This organization has a 38-year track record of scientific achievements in health and longevity, and its two visionaries sought to create a unique educational and festive event, which was just one of many during that decade:
“There are few better ways to combine a vacation, a love of life, and an interest in life extension and cryonics than the trip I took to Lake Tahoe for this festival. Anything good you have ever heard about the beauties of this mountain lake and valley on the border of Nevada and California may be accepted as true. Exaggerations are not possible. It is truly a setting in which the idea of living forever seems possible” (Bridge, 1983).
Note to Readers: In this following section, I again leave out the titles of the authors and speakers at events because most hold high-level academic credentials. For brevity, I leave of the PhD, MD, etc. titles.
In the 1990s, Extropy Institute formed the scope of topics that were immediate and future oriented. The Extro 3 Conference, held in Silicon Valley (1997) focused on “The Future of Body and Brain” with talks on “Engineering the Human Germline” by Gregory Stock; “Mind Morph: Technologically Refined Emotion and Personality” by Max More; “Amplifying Cognition: Extending Human Memory and Intelligence” by Anders Sandberg; “The Emergence of Neo-Biological Civilization” by Kevin Kelly; “The Top 10 Problems in Anti-Aging Medicine” by Stephen Coles; “How to be Cautious and Conservative” by K. Eric Drexler; “Computer Security as the Future of Law” by Mark Miller; “Cyborgs, Agents, Processors: Incorporating Technological Evolution Into Ourselves” by Alexander “Sasha” Chislenko; “Radical High-Tech Environmentalists” by Christine Peterson; and “Paths to Immortality” by Robert J. Bradbury.
Two years later, the Extro 4 conference held at the University of California Berkeley (1999), focused on “Biotech Futures: Challenges of Life Extension and Genetic Engineering” with talks on “The Cellular and Molecular Biology of Senescence” by Judith Campisi; “Mechanisms of Aging as Seen Through the Caloric Restriction Spyglass” by Roy L. Walford; “Telomerase, Pluripotent Stem Cells, and Nuclear Reprogramming” by Calvin Harley; “Hormonal Control of Aging in C. elegans” by Cynthia Kenyon; “Aging Research: Milestones and Prizes” by Gregory Stock; “The Science of Aging Management” by Christopher Heward; “Genomes, Biobots, and Nanobots: Implications for 21st Century Medicine” by Robert J. Bradbury; “DNA Breakout! A Sensorial Mix” by Natasha Vita-More; “Who We Think We Are: Living Forever, Without Confusion” by Greg Bear; “The Near and the Far” by Vernor Vinge; “HuGE Prospects for Human Germline Engineering” by John H. Campbell; “The Technology of Perfection and the Perfection of Technology” by Michael Shapiro; and “Timeline for Technological Developments” by Gregory F. Burch.
But it was not until the 2004 “Vital Progress Summit” that leaders came together to discuss the biggest issue facing life extension—governance: the FDA, Laws and Legislation that have been and could potentially be a threat to radical life extension. Scientific, technological, and cultural thinkers exchanged ideas about working to improve the world’s understanding of biotechnology and science of human enhancement to improve and extend life. The Summit presented a 2-week virtual discussion and debate about President Bush’s Bioethics Council’s ultraconservative “Beyond Therapy Report”. Summit keynotes addressed the use of the well-known “Precautionary Principle” by anti-biotech activists as a rallying tool to turn people against the science, medicine and biotechnology that could cure disease and improve life.
“We have a responsibility to protect ourselves, our children and our loved ones in determining what choices to make about the future of our health. We must research and develop ethical means for the investigations of emergent sciences and technologies of human enhancement. No one has the right to tell any human that he or she must go into the later years of life in crippled or feeble states with no resolve. No organization, no policy, no person should have the absolute power and authority to hinder scientific and medical advances that can and do help millions of people throughout the world. Yet it is our responsibility to seek out ways to make sure that ethics is primary and human enhancement is available to all the seek it” (Vita-More, 2004).
Keynotes included Ronald Bailey, Science Correspondent, Reason Magazine; Aubrey de Grey, University of Cambridge, Department of Genetics; Robert A. Freitas author of Nanomedicine; Raymond Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies; author of The Age of Spiritual Machines; Max More, Philosophical Strategist and author of “Elements of a New Enlightenment”; Marvin Minsky, MIT and Author, Society of Mind; Christine Peterson, President Foresight Institute and author of Leaping the Abyss: Putting Group Genius to Work; Michael D. Shapiro, University of Southern California Law School; Lee Silver, Professor at Princeton University in the Department of Molecular Biology; Gregory Stock, Director, Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society UCLA’s School of Public Health; Natasha Vita-More, former President, Extropy Institute and innovator of “Primo Posthuman”; Roy L. Walford, Professor of Pathology at the UCLA School of Medicine and author of Maximum Life Span; and Michael West, President and CEO, Advanced Cell Technology
The outcome of this first-time collaboration to address governance of life extension was a series of keynote statements that formed the basis of the Proactionary Principle, which was motivated by a need to make wise decisions about the development of new technologies as an ethical and decision-making principle,
People’s freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity. This implies a range of responsibilities for those considering whether and how to develop, deploy, or restrict new technologies. Assess risks and opportunities using an objective, open, and comprehensive, yet simple decision process based on science rather than collective emotional reactions. Account for the costs of restrictions and lost opportunities as fully as direct effects. Favor measures that are proportionate to the probability and magnitude of impacts, and that have the highest payoff relative to their costs. Give a high priority to people’s freedom to learn, innovate, and advance (More, 2005).
For the public who have a level of knowledge or just learning about science and technology, while Life Extension Foundation sponsored the first festival back in 1983, it also produces other projects to help educate and bring people together with a common interest—health and longevity. Another event that has been taking place every year since 2013 is the Longevity Day / Longevity Month produced by Ilia Stambler, a long-time activist within the field. This may be the largest project in the world, bringing together people across the planet to celebrate:
“As every year since 2013, on July 1, three months ahead, we start preparing for the campaign: International Longevity Day (October 1) and/or International Longevity Month (October) in support of biomedical research of aging and longevity. In the past 5 years, hundreds of events, meetings, publications and promotions in dozens of countries were held as a part of this campaign. Also, this year at least a few excellent events have been scheduled as a part of the Longevity Month campaign in October, such as:
The conference of the International Society on Aging and Disease on October 5-7 in Nice France [and] Transvision 2018 in Madrid, Spain during October 19-21” (Stambler, 2018).
Another global event is “Future Day”, an idea that was brainstormed between Ben Goertzel and others at a Humanity+ meeting in Second Life.
“In late 2010, at the Humanity+ Leadership gathering in Second Life, I put forth the suggestion of a new holiday to celebrate the future – Future Day. After all, I noted, most of our holidays celebrate stuff from the past – why not have a holiday to celebrate the future? … Why not focus more of our attention on the future? We don’t want to forget our roots. But we need to pay more attention to the important truth that those who do not pay serious attention to their future, have much less chance of affecting it in accordance with their tastes, values and ideals. This is the serious theme underlying Future Day. Let’s have fun exploring all the possibilities of the future, plausible and speculative, serious and non. And let’s do our best to nudge the world to refocus its attention the future and all the possibilities it holds – and our power to shape the future, together” (Goertzel, 2012).
Being an activist, producer, and sponsor bring great rewards—most notably purposefulness. As we continue to development projects that help spread information everyone gains something of value. No matter the type of conference of festival, we all can be leaders and introduce the meaning of radical life extension (superlongevity and/or indefinite lifespans).
Strategic Worldwide League for Radical Life Extension
I am looking at how the past influences the future and see a gap that needs to be filled. We have witnessed the content of conference talks on the future and life extension for many, many decades and time is passing by. Action must be taken. Certainly, we can continue to speak at conferences that are not associated with life extension and introduce ideas about life extension, but so many people are doing that now. Googling “life extension conferences” receives 29,400,000 results and not all of them related to the events mentioned in this article.
We need a worldwide league of activists and experts to help spread positive news, reliable information, and a well-thought-out socio-political stance. I think Humanity+, as a 501(c)3 international nonprofit membership organization can steer this forward. We have the experience and the leadership. We also have insight into possible futures.
To establish a worldwide (global or international) summit (which can be virtual) to discuss the laws and policies that are and will continue to affect our efforts to live longer is crucial. The contributors will be organizations and their leadership who have a track record in science, technology, psychology, philosophy, ethics, and governance. The model will be similar but more advanced than the Vital Progress Summit of 2004 where we build out the Proactionary Principle. Humanity+ is skilled at organizing events, considering our conferences at Harvard, Caltech, Parson’s School of Design NYC, Beijing, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Second Life, and Spain. We also have a strong focus on AI because it is consequential for radical life extension. Further, consequential to life extension is mainstream acceptance, academic scholarship, and entertainment narratives that represent real world scenarios that enlighten rather than scare the public about AI, cyborgs, avatars, transhuman, posthumans and uploads. This awareness ties into the many of the tenets that Humanity+ values, such as morphological freedom, the Proactionary Principle, and Technoprogressive socio-political views.
And considering how ideas are generated and where they were seeded and sprouted, the organizations who helped move the earliest life extension events forward are valued. Joint participation from high-level leadership within the sciences, technologies, and humanities is the goal. Society wants to know what it means to be human in a technologically enhanced world. We need our leaders—those who perform research, those in the laboratories, those who are entrepreneurs, and especially those who help to increase our awareness and educate us to be better thinkers and more apt doers.
What it means to be human is uncertain because we are still inventing ourselves and evolving. In sum, transhumanist thinking is necessary tool for strategic planning, analysis, identifying BS, and developing knowledge that can help us make better decisions. Through this, shared knowledge is our candle in the dark.
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