Day 075 - The ageing trance

Submitted by Sam on 4 August, 2011 - 00:10

Dr Aubrey de Grey, a gerontologist from Cambridge, believes that ageing is a disease that can be cured. Like man-made machines, de Grey sees the human body as a system which ages as the result of the accumulation of various types of damage. And like machines, de Grey argues that this damage can be periodically repaired, potentially leading to an indefinite extension of the system's functional life. De Grey believes that just as a mechanic doesn't need to understand precisely how the corrosive processes of iron oxidation degrades an exhaust manifold beyond utility in order to successfully repair the damage, so we can design therapies that combat human ageing without understanding the processes that interact to contribute to our ageing. All we have to do is understand the damage itself.

De Grey is confident that he has identified future technologies that can comprehensively remove the molecular and cellular lesions that degrade our health over time, technologies which will one day overcome ageing once and for all. In order to pursue the active development and systematic testing of these technologies, de Grey has made it part of his mission to break the 'pro-ageing trance' that he sees as a widespread barrier to raising the funding and stimulating the research necessary to successfully combat ageing. De Grey defines this trance as a psychological strategy that people use to cope with ageing, fuelled from the incorrect belief that ageing is forever unavoidable. This trance is coupled with the general wisdom that anti-ageing therapies can only stretch out the years of debilitation and disease which accompany the end of most lifetimes. De Grey contends that by repairing the pathologies of ageing we will in fact be able to eliminate this period completely, postponing it with new treatments for indefinitely longer time periods so that no-one ever catches up with the damage caused by their ageing.

To get over our collective 'trance' it is worth realising that this meme has made perfect psychological sense until very recently. Given the traditional assumption that ageing cannot be countered, delayed or reversed, it has paid to make peace with such a seemingly immutable fact, rather than wasting one's life preoccupied with worrying about it. If we follow de Grey's rationale that the body is a machine that can be repaired and restored, we have to accept that there are potential technologies that can effectively combat ageing, and thus the trance can no longer be rationally maintained.

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