Practical Life Extension, 1.3, A Quick and Dirty
Introduction to Life Extension
I started writing this essay fifteen years ago and it's not
finished yet but I don't know when it will be finished so I
will share a it with you now in the hopes that it will be
of some help. I am trying to make most of these essays
clear and simple but I will leave this one fairly rough.
This is what life extension is like for me.
It is challenging to predict the future. It is hard to
understand the world and all of the risks facing us. As I
write about life extension and try to plan my own life I
look at the many ways people can die or be disabled and I
wonder where to start working. For myself I have chosen to
be a generalist and keep looking at all of the major
problems and trying to understand how they interrelate and
what can be done about them. With that brief background I
will start digging into various aspects of life extension
so that you can get a feel for it before I go on to discuss
particular areas in detail.
Aging: We are all aging. Historically aging kills
everyone if something else does not kill them first. If we
want to live a long time the problem of aging must be
solved. Science is moving ahead. Each year we understand
a bit more about how bodies work and what can be done to
improve their functioning. I do not know how long it will
be before aging is slowed or reversed. For old people the
problem is coming up soon. For young people it is much
further off. How soon the problem is solved will be
affected by how many people work on it. To some extent the
problem of aging depends on progress in science in general
and especially biological and biomedical science. Aging is
the core problem of life extension. It will get you sooner
or latter (within about 100 years in any case, sooner if
you have been around a while) unless something is done to
better understand and deal with the problem of aging.
There may already be some things you can do to slow aging.
Caloric restriction with good nutrition may work (I'll get
into it more later). Some drugs may help but the evidence
is not good. General health measures can add about five
years to your life on average. Avoiding bad habits can add
another five years or more. Cryonics (being frozen when
near death) may allow for eventual treatment of whatever
ails you. I think of aging as mostly an old persons
problem but if you can find a method of anti-aging which
will work for you, the sooner you begin it the longer you
will have for science to figure out more of the puzzle. It
is uncertain when science will figure out the problems of
aging and a few years or decades might make the difference.
Endogenous (internal) diseases (heart diseases, cancer,
stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's, etc.) are the top killers of
people in developed countries. They start to be the top
killers around fifty years old and become more common over
the decades until they completely overshadow all other
causes of death. These diseases are closely associated
with age and aging. Their prevention, treatment and cure
is primarily a scientific and biomedical problem. There
are things that individuals can do to lessen their own
risks and there are things that can be done to treat the
diseases. I tend to group endogenous diseases and aging
under the same biomedical research umbrella.
Health is closely related to aging and endogenous diseases.
Some health measures do extend your life. Good medical
testing and care can help you avoid dying from diseases in
many cases. Another reason to consider health is to up
your productivity and quality of life. Beyond those things
that are clearly shown to decrease risk of death or
disability what I look for from "healthy" behaviors is an
increase in my productivity or my enjoyment of life. If
something is not scientifically proven to give benefits and
it has no clear and noticeable effect, what's the point?
Exogenous (external) diseases are the top killers in the
world. They mostly kill poor people in underdeveloped
countries. Malaria, AIDS, etc. People in these countries
are poorly feed, live in crowded conditions, have poor
sanitation, etc. Overcrowded areas with unhealthy people
make great breading grounds for diseases. I will not get
into this much right now I have not studied it carefully
but these are the top killers in the world. In the future
new diseases may develop which bring the plague of
contagious diseases back to developed countries but I hope
science manages to stay ahead of it.
War, organized group violence, also has a great potential
for killing. Historically wars have brought down many
great civilizations. Wars increase disease (most people
die from diseases in wars). The trends have been for wars
to kill more and more people over time with a higher number
of civilian casualties. A major nuclear war could kill a
lot of people. People concentrated in cities would be the
most vulnerable targets. The first targets have tended to
be military targets but as wars go on, the industrial
facilities become attractive targets. Do not assume that
nuclear bombs are the worst of it. War encourages
innovation and weapons of even more destructive capability
may be developed. Biological weapons are one possibility.
It may be possible for a small group (terrorists) to kill
many people but I doubt they are that clever (if they were
they might pick another profession). On going cold wars,
with less obvious attempts to weaken the opposition or gain
advantage could also be a problem but if no one is being
killed or getting hurt why worry about it.
Oppression, is also a problem, the adverse and unnecessary
control of some people by other people. Oppression has
been quite deadly in some countries at some times. Stalin,
Mao, Hitler, etc. killed tens of millions of people
directly and many more with bad policies. If some
government or other large organized group puts your life in
danger or significantly lessens your opportunities to
thrive and you have done little to bring it on yourself
that is oppression. I think in most of the developed
world, not already suffering greatly from oppression, such
problems can be kept in check or reversed but it does
require attention and effort. There are groups of people
in the world who will attempt to harm you or adversely
control you either because they want to hurt you, don't
care, or mean well. Either way it is your job to pay
attention and try to counter such efforts.
For the individual the first and simplest answers to war,
and oppression (and perhaps contagious diseases) is
mobility and awareness. If you avoid the most oppressive
areas and stay away from places likely to be the first hit
in military action you can keep moving away from problems.
If you can do something about the problems without getting
hurt, I encourage you to stay and do so but your first
responsibility is to stay alive (and help others stay
alive) so that you can continue to help (and enjoy your
Awareness is useful in many ways. In the case of wars and
oppression awareness means following the news and trying to
understand what is going on in the world militarily and
politically that is likely to affect you dramatically,
immediately or over time. This requires an understanding
of history, discussion and study of current events, etc.
Since this is one of my own top concerns I will get into it
much more fully later.
Mobility is the companion to awareness. Learning how to
travel well (and bring others along), having places to go.
Learning how to travel even under adverse circumstances.
To an extent and as you are able I think it is important to
learn to do well in somewhat dangerous (military and
political) environments, so that you will know how to
handle yourself if you are thrust into such environments
unexpectedly. But for starters just learning to move
around the country and around the world in various
different ways is good. Learning other languages can help.
Making friends in various parts of the world can help.
Learning how to make new friends quickly is also a valuable
Mobility is also good if you want to study things like
aging, diseases, or other sciences with some of the most
knowledgeable people in the world. Travel can give you
first hand experience with death, poverty, war, etc. and
that may serve as a motivation and offer some perspective.
Travel can also offer a better understanding of comparative
politics. Travel will test your efficiency and build your
Accidents kill mostly young people and old people. The
young people because they lack experience and behave
recklessly and old people because they start to loose their
abilities and become more brittle. Transportation
accidents cause the most deaths. Accidents at work and at
home are also common. Old people die from falls a lot.
Some jobs, mining, forestry, etc. have more fatalities than
others. Accidents can be reduced significantly by caution,
awareness, training and good equipment. Good emergency
medical care also helps.
Violence is a problem some places more than others. Young
inner city black men often die from violence in the United
States. Different areas of the world have different levels
of violence. Different neighborhoods have different levels
of violence. Where you live, work and travel will affect
how much violence you encounter. Awareness helps.
Learning to manage your own temper and to avoid contentious
situations helps. Avoid violent relationships. Martial
arts and firearms skills can help you if you ever get
attacked or need to defend someone else. If you learn how
to defend yourself and others you will be free to roam over
more of the world safely. Combat skills can come in handy
in war, riots, etc. Unless you really know what you are
doing or you have no choice, running away is usually the
best option but sometimes there is no good way to get
yourself or others away from harm and staying and fighting
is the answer.
Disasters seem like such a small problem compared to other
things but they do kill people here and there. People die
from disasters more often in poor countries with poorer
construction. Scientist try to track and understand
natural disasters. Sometimes man made disasters
(accidents) also kill many people. Someday a big asteroid
may make a mess of everything. It would probably take a
bigger asteroid to wipe out humans than dinosaurs because
we are so creative but something could kill much of
humanity and that would be a disaster. Getting into space
and colonizing other planets would spread out the risk form
asteroids, wars, etc.
Poverty is another big problem. Poor people die more
easily. This is a bootstrapping problem. Some areas are
crowded without the infrastructure necessary to support so
many people, not enough food, bad sanitation, etc.
Figuring out how to help so many people create the basics
they need to live and thrive in the world is a challenging
puzzle. Figuring this puzzle out would create a lot of
human resources, which could be channeled into any number
of worthwhile projects. It would also save a lot of lives.
The more people there are in the world who have things like
aging as their biggest problem the faster such problems
will get solved. In the mean time poverty is the problem
that the most people die from every day.
Intelligence is one of the top solutions to all of these
problems. The smarter you are the faster you can figure
things out. There is a lot to figure out so if you can
find ways to up your intelligence that is a good place to
start. Improving the biology of your brain can increase
intelligence. Maybe some chemicals will help. Better
algorithms for solving problems and learning can make huge
differences to the rate and accuracy of our thinking.
Learning, reasoning, creativity, organization, planning,
productivity, all of these things can be improved by better
Tools: Computers, programs, sensory equipment, and tools
specific to the various life extension activities can make
huge differences to the chances of success. Various
furniture, gear, possessions, etc. can help you more
efficiently and effectively pursue your life extension
goals. A lot of junk and clutter can also get in your way
and waste time.
Knowledge is important. If we knew a lot more the whole
problem of life extension would be trivial. Learning about
each of the aspects of life extension and the main ways of
solving the problems of life extension is a primary
concern. It's no good to be do one part well and die from
something else. To really solve these problems will take a
lot of experts but it is important to know a bit about the
whole field and each of the key elements, if you do not
want to get blind sided. Since knowledge is so important
learning how to learn is an especially important thing to
Skills are the applied side of knowledge. Knowledge and
skills are encoded in neurons in the brain. They are two
different types of knowledge. Once you know things and
develop your skills I trust you will apply them. Good
tools, programs, collaboration, etc. can partially replace
knowledge and skills.
Collaboration is one of the most effective ways to expand
your own capabilities. The field of life extension is too
vast for any person to master independently given our
current state of knowledge. You must work with other
people if you are to survive in this world. The more
effective you are at working with other people and the more
capable and ethically compatible the people you work with
are, the faster it will all go.
Ethics and values are the real problem in the world.
People do not care enough about living and about helping
other people to live (for my taste). They are still busy
pursuing various outdated genetic goals, cultural advice
from centuries ago, etc. There are many things a person
can reasonably value but I believe most or many people do
value their own life and the lives of others and just have
not thought about it much. Once you figure out what you
value, getting it can be difficult and time consuming but
you have a much better chance than someone who does not
know or think about what they really want. If most people
were clear that they wanted to live indefinitely and wanted
to help other people to stay alive also (with a few
exceptions) I do not think it would take very long or be
very hard to work out the technical and social problems of
life extension. The big problem is that not enough people
are focused on such goals and many people act in ways
directly opposed to them.
The quality of relationships is important. Relationships
can support you when you have problems. Staying alive is
partially a matter of maintaining equilibrium. Sometimes
people move so far in some direction (car accident,
illness, enemies, etc.) that they will die without
intervention from others. Having people in your life who
have a personal interest in your survival can help you
through such situations. Good relationship skills and good
people skills will make collaborations go much smoother.
It is useful to know how to get along with people you meet
and it is useful to know how to maintain and improve
relationships with people you already know.
Wealth and resources can also be of some value. People
will work for money. You can buy gear with money. You can
buy training with money. You can buy information with
money. There are many times when some physical object will
help you stay alive. Medical care cost money. Homes can
facilitate your work. Cars, planes, etc. can help you get
around. Medical research requires equipment. With money
you can buy gear and tools which allow you to work faster
and better, people to help you work, etc. How to make
money is one of the best understood things in Western
society. Try not to get trapped focusing on the money
though. It is the things money buy that are valuable and
you can save a lot of effort by focusing on what you want
and thinking of money as one pathway to it. You can also
save a lot of time by starting to save and invest early and
making use of compound interest to grow your assets. There
is a trade off between using money to make money and using
money to improve other things in your life. Just as
important as the amount of money is your ability to make
good use of a given amount of money. Developing some
widely valued money making skills can also be helpful if
you ever loose your pile and need to start over.
Try asking what is the best thing I can do with the next
segment of time and what is the best thing I can do with a
given chunk of money. What are the easiest ways to get a
given life extension project done? How can you get help?
What tools would help? What do you need to know? Who
could you ask? How can you get started or explore the
area? What are the risks involved? What experiments can
you use to test your ideas or find out some information?
Who are the best people to spend time with next? What are
the most worthwhile things to do with them? Etc.
Efficiency is all about getting things done as quickly and
well as possible. If you look at the big picture of
efficiency and have well chosen goals it is hard to argue
with efficiency. Being efficient at one task can create
problems in other areas if you are not careful. Usually
such problems involve people. People are active agents and
you want to be a little careful about what sort of
responses you trigger in them. When there are people
around pay some attention to them and how you are getting
along with them. That being said most people can do things
a lot faster and better than they do. Keeping in mind the
task of doing as well as you can most of the time (it being
efficient to think other ways sometimes) can do a lot to
speed you along your way. There are lots of efficiency
tricks in all sorts of fields and many people know them.
Attitude and psychology are important for life extension.
Often the key element in accomplishing something is
starting and not giving up. Flexibility of methods can
speed that process along. Humans often have trouble doing
what they know makes sense. Sometimes what they know isn't
so. Intelligence, the way we think, is a sub-field of
psychology, how we think right and how we think wrong.
Psychology deals with your own mind and the minds of
others. Part of the challenge is to get your mind in line
with reality. It is also very helpful to learn ways of
thinking which simplify reality and allow you to short cut
a lot of time spent reasoning, provided those short cuts
provide the right answers in most cases and in every
critical case. Along with attitude is your basic
biochemical makeup. The mind influences the body and the
body influences the mind.
Technology: Some people think some technologies will be
developed soon which will so change the world that most
everything else will become unimportant (or solved) in
comparison. Nanotechnology, artificial intelligence,
genetic engineering, and human intelligence, are some of
the technologies that may so change the world. These
technologies may change the world positively or negatively.
They are levers for affecting life and death. AI could
replace humans, augment humans, or serve humans. All of
these technologies may make good and bad things happen more
quickly. Technology in general will play a big part in the
future and how it turns out.
Okay, that is a quick and dirty introduction to the field
of life extension and most of the important sub topics. My
later writings will look at each of these topics in greater
My own top concern at this time is organized group violence
and oppression. As a healthy middle aged person, living a
comfortable life in a developed country aging, diseases,
accidents, personal violence, disasters, and poverty are
not much of a threat to me. A major war seems like the
thing, which has the greatest chance of happening in the
next few years which could greatly perturb my life. Aging
is the most likely problem but it is so far off and shows
promise of being figured out in my life time. I have
studied biology and science a lot. I am comfortable with
biological sciences. Human conflict is more of a mystery
to me so if I am to have a balanced understanding of the
threats I face developing a better understanding of human
conflict seems like a good choice. I don't know what else
might kill 100 million people next week.
Once aging, diseases, accidents, and disasters are ancient
history we may still have problems with violent human
conflict. A peaceful outlook, well developed combat
skills, and some care in selecting the places you frequent
can do a lot to protect you from personal violence. Wars
and oppression on the other hand involve organized groups
of other humans who may be quite bright and determined. It
may be possible to side step them and stay out of their way
or it may be possible to work with others to control the
worst of them but I don't see this as a problem one can
Still there are many ways to go on the path to life
extension. I am fortunate to have no major risks at the
moment. Any of the fields I have discussed are worthy of
effort by people interested in life extension. I do not
think there is one best path. There are simply a lot of
problems to solve. Few enough though that I am starting to
feel like I understand what it takes to stay alive
indefinitely. There may be some things I have missed but I
feel like I pretty much have it all in my head at this
point. I think my world is likely to get less complicated
not more complicated from my personal perspective as I go
after each major area of risk in succession.
I decided to write these things down (even in a rough and
unfinished form) partially because I want to make friends,
and partially because I want feedback, assistance and
people to collaborate with. Also, I am starting to write
now because, on the off chance I die or am injured in some
way, I do not want the fifteen years I have spent thinking
about these things to be lost to others. I also have a
profit motive down the road but I'm not so sure doing all
of this writing for free helps that cause.
I. William Wiser [Will@WiserLife.com]
Life Extension and Quality of Life Consultant
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