Re: >H Hayflick on death and immortality

Michael Nielsen (
Sun, 31 May 1998 09:22:40 -0600 (MDT)

On Sun, 31 May 1998, den Otter wrote:

> > From: Michael Nielsen <>
> > On Sat, 30 May 1998, den Otter wrote:
> >
> > By this, I presume you meant that a couple of hundred people think
> > "rationally" all the time? Leaving aside the difficulty in defining
> > "rational" in the present context [1], I doubt that there has ever been a
> > human being anywhere who was always rational.
> Ok, that statement may have been a bit vague. By rational I mean
> "transhumanistsic", see also below.

Heh. Shades of a dogma here.

> > If you meant it in the more
> > restricted sense of with respect to this issue, then you are wrong by
> > many orders af magnitude. Based upon the best information known to
> > them (which is usually very poor), the rational opinion for most people
> > to have on this subject is either "I don't know whether immortality would
> > be a good thing", or "I'd like it, but I don't think it's very likely".
> So the rational reaction would be to investigate the possibilities (like
> we did), instead of staying passive and ignorant.

And what if you can't read, don't have time to read, don't have access to
a wide variety of information sources? Like most of the world's population.

What if you do satisfy the above, but don't have the technical background
to delve into the research literature on aging. Whose opinions should one
trust? On what basis? See also below; advocates of one point of view are
not usually terribly reliable.

> > These are both opinions which I've heard expressed or implied quite often
> > by a wide variety of people.
> So have I, but their fault is not their initial ignorance, but their refusal to
> listen to sound arguments (let alone to do some research). Even if
> you present the facts in the most clear, user friendly, completely
> pre-chewed form they still won't listen. That is IMHO stupid.

Oh. I haven't had that problem with people I've discussed this with, who
are, admittedly, mostly scientists. In the case of scientist, a more usual
response is to respond with an analysis of the entire situation with
respect to aging research, which usually concludes with cautious
optimism. I've found that the Hayflick Limit and the telomere cap
shortening, at least, seem to be very well known.

In conversations with non-scientists, I've found that many are willing to
take the possibility of preventing aging quite seriously. Present a
_balanced_ account of research to any person, and they will start to give
serious thought to the possibility. The essential point is that if your
views ought to be taken seriously, then there is little need for the biased
and sometimes overblown claims so common on these lists.

Try to present both the pluses and the minuses of the
research. I try never to trust an advocate, unless they've shown
themselves to be thoroughly familiar with the problems of what they're
advocating. Indeed, I would go so far as to applaud somebody who remained
a sceptic about aging research after being bombarded with the usual
trashumanist spiel about aging; only if that spiel were balanced by an
account of the difficulties faced in aging research would I regard it as
rational for them to respond with enthusiasm.

Incidentally, this is one aspect of Anders Sandberg's web site which I
like very much -- what appears to be an attempt to balance the discussion
somewhat. Even more links to discussions of the problems with nanotech
etcetera would be appreciated -- provided such links exist!

> > [1] It is quite possible to construct a value system which implies
> > that immortality is a bad idea. If Hayflick's value system is of this
> > type, then his conclusion is quite rational, although his stated
> > reasoning is not.
> A consistent stupidity is still a stupidity.

In this instance, I'd simply conclude that a meeting of minds was not
possible, due to differences in basic assumptions, and leave it at that.
Provided such people don't try to interfere with my goals, there is no
reason to abuse their value system.

Michael Nielsen