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Friday, November 25, 2005

Fantastic Voyage: The Science Behind Radical Life Extension, Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman

I heard Ray Kurzweil when he came to talk at Google. He did seem to be an incredible optimist, predicting a Vingian Singularity within the next couple of decades. My experience with such optimists is that they are invariably excessively optimistic—for instance, it’s 2005, and we have no space vessels capable of providing manned exploration of Jupiter or Saturn. We don’t have flying cars, nor do we have sentient computers.

With that, however, I nevertheless checked out Fantastic Voyage from the library in the hope that there would be substantial work already done on current medical technology to promise radical life extension.

The major thesis that Kurzweil & Grossman provide is correct—current medicine as practiced by drug companies and many doctors is focused entirely on emergency medicine, rather than on true health maintenance. We have drugs to rescue you when you get sick, and chemotherapy when you get cancer, but the current advice on diet and exercise is both contradictory and in many cases ineffectual. (For instance, Kurzweil and both my parents control their diabetes much more effectively by diet control and exercise rather than insulin or drugs)

Nonetheless, if you wanted to take Kurzweil/Grossman’s advice seriously, you’d have to watch your diet to a degree that most non-fanatics cannot. In addition, neither Kurzweil nor Grossman are serious athletes who’d consider a 60 mile bike ride merely an easy Saturday jaunt and a 200km ride a worthy goal, so their prescriptions absolutely will not work if you’re a serious cyclist/hiker/runner.

Their secondary thesis, that we’ll see nanorobots and a general understanding of human genetics and biology so thorough that we’ll be able to reverse aging and correct lots of currently incurable diseases, I don’t believe for more than a minute. Certainly, it’s tough enough debugging legacy code written by human beings. Trying to understand and debug code that evolved through evolution and understanding all the side-effects of messing about with our genes will take a multi-decade effort. I’d love to be wrong, but I expect that level of technology not to develop within my life-time, and destroying my enjoyment of food through a calorie restricted diet (which would eliminate my ability to enjoy cycling and long distance hiking) isn’t something that I would seriously consider.

Ultimately, I guess I don’t fear death --- I do fear the deterioration of my body and mind, or long term pain. (Scarlet will happily testify to my general wussiness when it comes to pain)

I have a personal program to combat each of the degenerative disease and aging processes. Terry and I have a problem with the word supplement because it suggests something that is optional and of secondary importance. We prefer to call them “nutritionals” instead. My view is that I am reprogramming my biochemistry in the same way that I reprogram the computers in my life …

…I take about 250 pills of nutritionals a day. Once a week I go to Whole Health New England, a complementary medicine health clinic run by Dr. Glenn Rothfeld, where I spend the day… At this clinic, I have a half-dozen intravenous therapies---basically nutritionals delivered directly into my bloodstream, thereby bypassing my GI tract. I also have acupuncture treatment from Dr. Rothfeld, a master acupuncturist who helped introduce this therarpy to this country 30 years ago.


Amy said...

"Ultimately, I guess I don’t fear death --- I do fear the deterioration of my body and mind, or long term pain. "

I suspect this is how a lot of people feel (including me). If you're religious, you probably think dying means going somewhere good. If you're not, well, you're not going to be around to mind not being around. But the prospect of my body slowly falling apart and deviating more and more from how I'd like it to... that bothers me.

Treating acute, emergency diseases has financial motivation (at least to short-sighted Americans). I think once we get to be able to treat heart disease pretty well (and I think we will in a decade or two), the public might shift to caring more about general aging, and then we'll probably make better progress on the slow deterioration problem. And maybe, in my dreams, destroy McDonald's.

Piaw Na said...

I don't think that Americans are the only short sighted ones. The Europeans, for instance, seem awfully scared of GM foods, but think nothing of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Thee's no doubt to my mind which one is worse for your health!