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Aubrey de Grey

be a requirement to have very few children around. Now, this may of course be a make or break thing. It may be that society decides that children are really important to have around, and it’s actually better to carry on having people age, or not using these aging therapies, so that we can have lots of children around and not have ridiculous overpopulation. But that’s a decision that society is entitled to make for itself, so it’s definitely not a justification for our hesitating now. If we hesitate now then we’re denying future society the choice whether to age or whether to not have many kids around. We have no right to make that choice for them.

David: Do you see space migration playing a role then?

Aubrey: No. It’s very possible and it would be a good idea to have some space migration happening. In principle it’s not completely impossible to suppose that we could have a rate of immigration into space that would allow the population of the Earth to be stabilized, even if we carried on having kids at the rate we have them now, but unfortunately that’s not good enough, because then space fills up. And I really mean space fills up. Think about this mathematically. If we want to maintain a demographic of society, of the whole of humanity overall, including what’s in space, that’s the same as it is now–in other words the same proportion of the human race that is now under the age of eighteen–then that means that the human population has to grow exponentially forever. 

Now the problem with growing exponentially is the space we take up. We can’t increase exponentially because we have to get to it. The amount of space we can take up a thousand years from now is at most a sphere of radius as far as we can actually fly a thousand years from now. That doesn’t sound very difficult does it? But, in fact, it is difficult. If you work out the numbers on this you discover that in only a few thousand years of continuous exponential growth–even making quite generous assumptions about how dense the population can be–we end up having to increase this sphere that we occupy by a rate that’s greater than the speed of light. No kidding. 

Actually, we would hit problems considerably before that. We would hit problems more or less around the time that we got to the edge of the solar system, simply because we would run out of matter. We wouldn’t have enough material around to build ourselves, to actually constitute human beings, or even to build all the space ships. In principle, of course, it would make a difference for a few hundred years, but as an indefinite solution it definitely doesn’t work.

David: Since our brain and nervous system can only store a finite amount of information, how do you envision the future development of human memory storage, if people are living for indefinite periods of time? Do you think that we’ll develop brain implants and technological means to increase our brain’s data storage capacity, or do you think that we’ll just have to learn to live with the fact that we’re going to forget most of what we experience over time?

Aubrey: People often bring this up, but it’s really a non-issue, because it’ll be the same as it already is. We forget things already, so the amount of actual information that we have at our fingertips in our sixties–whether it’s memories, personality or whatever–is really not much different from what we had in our forties, because we’ve been forgetting things as fast as we’ve been learning them, and that’s natural. That’s how the brain works. Memories are stored in a holographically distributed way in the brain. We don’t know the details of how they are stored, of course, but we do know that much. So memories that are not recalled, or not used, gradually fade away, and eventually they’re not there anymore, whereas memories that are used and recalled reasonably frequently are reinforced by that process, and we don’t forget them. Now that reinforcement will carry on happening. So things that happened when you were ten, you’ll still remember them when you’re ten thousand, if you’ve been reminded of them, or you’ve thought about them for whatever reason every so often in the meantime.

David: But there would be a much higher percentage of what one has forgotten.

Aubrey: Yeah, the total amount that you’d forgotten would be a much higher proportion of the stuff that you’d ever known. So what?

David: I guess we’d just have to learn to live with the fact that most of what we experience will be forgotten, or else we could develop some type of nanotechnological brain implant to increase memory storage.

Aubrey: Well, think about how much it would bother you. I mean, I can’t remember half the names of the people who were in my school class when I was sixteen, and that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

David: How do you think living for hundreds of years will affect human psychology? How do you think it will change our consciousness and the way that we think?

Aubrey: I really don’t think it will change it very much at all. I think we’ll just carry on enjoying life the way we do now, except we’ll enjoy it rather more because we won’t have to worry about aging and looking out for our parents, because our parents won’t be frail.

David: What do you think happens to consciousness after death?

Aubrey: I have absolutely no opinion on that, and furthermore I don’t intend to do the experiment.

David: I’ve read that you like to enjoy a “good English beer” and that you think this might influence your creativity. I’m not sure if you were quite serious when you said this or not.

Aubrey: Yeah, I was. Beer works for me. It’s very therapeutic. I’ve had quite a few of my more interesting ideas in the pub.

David: The relationship between mind-altering drugs and creativity is something that I’m very interested in. I’ve interviewed many dozens of scientists and artists who have described how their psychedelic experiences influenced their creativity. It’s also interesting to me that a lot of people who have done psychedelics, such as Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson, have enthusiastically embraced the prospects of physical immortality. I’m wondering, have you ever had any experience with a psychedelic that influenced your scientific or philosophical thinking?

Aubrey: No. In fact, I’ve never had any influence from, or any experience with, any of the psychedelic drugs.

David: Do you see any sort of teleology in the evolutionary process, or do you see evolution as being a blind chance process?

Aubrey: Oh evolution is definitely blind chance, but teleological ways of thinking about processes–whether it’s evolution or other things–are very useful for our understanding. It is is sort of anthropomorphizing, but anthropomorphizing is sometimes useful for understanding things. It’s just that you have to remember go back and check later on when you come up with some interesting explanation for something. You have to go back and actually check that it really works if you think it through chronologically as well, so cause and effect is definitely a one-way street. 

David: What kind of societal safeguards do you think we can put up to prevent people from being kept alive indefinitely against their will?  

Aubrey: I can’t see any real reason to worry about that. It’s going to be a lot of work to keep people alive. Why would you want to?

David: I was just thinking about prisoners serving indefinite “life sentences,” and also about how vulnerable people would be if they placed only their heads in cryonic suspension. What if you were revived by a team of unethical scientists? You would have no power to be able to stop them from just keeping your severed head alive indefinitely.

Aubrey: Yeah, I suppose in principle. I just can’t quite get very excited about that prospect. It just seems too ridiculous.

David: Can you talk a little about the Methuselah Mouse Prize?

Aubrey: The Methuselah Mouse Prize is a really great success. It was an idea that had been batted around within academia, among gerontologists, for a few years before it got going. I got involved in the Summer or Spring of 2001. Just in talking about things I came up with some ideas, but it was still just talk, nothing was actually happening. Then, in 2002, I accidentally bumped into this guy David Gobel, who is an entrepreneur and businessman, now based in the D.C. area. Gobel has all the things that scientists don’t have. He has business experience. He understands public relations. He knows how to set up a 501C-3. Things like that. And he had been very excited about the possibility of prizes for health-related accomplishments, and he certainly put thought into the possibility of a prize that was related to life extension.

So, basically, he and I ran with this and made it happen pretty quickly. We gave the inaugural Methuselah Mouse Prize in the the summer of 2003, and since then we’ve given two other inaugural prizes for other competitions that we started out with different rules, encouraging different types of research, but still on mouse life extension. Financially this has been an enormous success, and we now have well over 120,000 dollars in the actual prize fund, and in

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