This week our guest is business and technology reporter, Peter Ward. Earlier this year, Peter released his book The Price of Immortality: The Race to Live Forever, where he investigates the many movements and organizations that are seeking to extend human life, from the Church of Perpetual Life in Florida, to some of the biggest tech giants in Silicon Valley.
In this episode, we explore Peter’s findings, which takes us on a tour from cryonics to mind uploading, from supplements to gene editing, and much more. Along the way, we discuss the details of how one might actually achieve immortality, the details of senescent cells and telomeres, whether it's better to live healthy than to live long, the scams and failures that seem to dominate the space, as well as the efforts that seem most promising.
Music by: Amine el Filali
Peter Ward [00:00:01] So every time you see this sort of promising technology, you see on the outer edges of these conmen and fraudsters just waiting to capitalize. And it's also something that we've been doing since the start of time, is conning people into thinking that you can offer them immortality. But yeah, the one thing you find when you go into this research in longevity is that we really don't know that much.
Steven Parton [00:00:37] Hello everyone. My name is Steven Parton and you are listening to the feedback loop on Singularity Radio. This week our guest is business and technology reporter Peter Ward. Earlier this year, Peter released his book The Price of Immortality The Race to Live Forever, where he investigates the many movements and organizations that are seeking to increase the human lifespan from the Church of Perpetual Life in Florida to some of the biggest tech giants in Silicon Valley. In this episode, we explore Peter's findings, which takes us on a tour from cryogenics to mind uploading from supplements to gene editing and much more. Along the way, we discuss the details of how one might actually achieve immortality, talking about senescent cells and telomeres. Discussing whether it's better to live healthy than to live long. We also discuss the scams and failures that seem to dominate the longevity space, as well as the efforts that seem the most promising. And now, since we're on the topic of discussing how precious life is, are waste no more of your precious time? So everyone, please welcome to the feedback loop. Peter Ward. Well then, Peter, thanks for joining me. I think the best place to start is in April of this year. You released a book called The Price of Immortality The Race to Live Forever and where I love to start with anyone who's written a book is just hearing about your motivations for the book. Why did you decide that this was a topic worth exploring?
Peter Ward [00:02:15] Yeah. Thanks so much for having me on the show. Start off with. So my first book was about the privatization of space and how that was moving things along in the Space Act and what the challenges and what the potential consequences of that were. And then one of the questions that kept coming up with the space enthusiasts who I was talking to was, you know, how are we going to get beyond so Maus, how are we going to get beyond the solar system when it's going to take so long? And, you know, we're obviously we're going to die on the way that probably. So longevity sort of came came up in those conversations and I quickly became fascinated by it. So so after I'd finished the first book and I'd taken some time to recover mentally and physically, I looked into this topic and I instantly found it absolutely fascinating. And the more I got into it, the more fascinated I got. And I found this this church in Florida, the Church of Perpetual Life, which seemed to be sort of the most extreme iteration of this idea, not necessarily, I think the most sort of serious maybe it's not the most scientific, but definitely the most so fanatic, fanatical approach to it. So so I went down to the church and I met the people down there and they were really nice and engaged me to the topic. And they're everything I hope for, you know, very eccentric and very enthusiastic. And yeah, so it went from there and the reporting just sort of went on.
Steven Parton [00:03:47] Yeah. I mean, the relationship I feel like between religion and immortality is, is obviously one that is very closely entwined, but not so much technology. Do you feel like a lot of the people who.
Peter Ward [00:04:02] Are.
Steven Parton [00:04:04] Technologically inclined and pursuing some form of longevity and immortality are operating on a similar religious instinct? Or do you feel like from what you've seen, it's more just curiosity?
Peter Ward [00:04:17] Yeah, it's a really good question. It sort of changes from from group to group thing and person to person. Some of them completely fit religion into their idea of immortality. So the Mormon Transhumanism Association, for example, they it fits almost perfectly into their religious beliefs. And so you can see where they're coming from with that other people, they sort of hold onto their traditional religious views at the same time. And the way most people sort of justify it is they say, well, all religion preaches that immortality is available at some point. All Western religion, certainly. Mm hmm. And so they just say that, well, instead of just waiting for it to happen, instead of waiting for, you know, heaven on earth to happen, we're just going to go ahead and make it happen. So that's how it sort of fits into religious views. And then there are other people that are staunchly anti-religious, which you can imagine. They just don't see it fitting at all. They think, you know, this is the next step that we've outgrown religion. So it's really interesting talking to those people and seeing the whole sort of range of of opinions coming out. And, you know, when religion is involved, it's always it's always messy. So so tiptoe around it a little bit. But a lot of particularly the anti-religion people are very happy to share their views. Yeah. So, yeah, really fascinating range of of opinions.
Steven Parton [00:05:41] Did you find much conflict in that regard? Did you see some, you know, as your approach to these people and asking questions? Did some different opinions kind of start to butt heads or did you even find yourself with like, I don't know, a protest outside the church or something?
Peter Ward [00:05:57] So yeah, I think some people are awkward about it. There's some aspects of it that I think that deeply religious people are very, very scared of. I guess it's sort of encroaching on their turf when you start to say you're going to live forever. So it's it's for some people, it's they always going to say, you know, this is you know, this is witchcraft almost it's modern day witchcraft. But I think in terms of the people I spoke to, there were some people who said, oh, why are you talking to the church? That's just you know, that's just people hanging on to, you know, the remnants of of of religion. It's not needed. We don't need it. This is transhumanism, and we don't need religion. And then there were other people, obviously, that still hold very religious views. So, yeah, I didn't see anything so of any any sort of clashes. There were no sort of people at the gates trying to get in and shut them all down. But I definitely felt that there was friction within it. It wasn't it wasn't so bubbling under the surface, I think. And I think if you got them in a room and brought up the topic of religion, everyone together, it would definitely cause some friction.
Steven Parton [00:07:08] Sure. Yeah. Could you talk a little bit more about the like the Church of Perpetual Life and kind of some of the ideas that they were putting forth?
Peter Ward [00:07:17] Yeah. So. So they are they were registered religion, official religion. And they essentially their members believe that they can live forever through the use of technology. So they believe staunchly in this concept of escape velocity, which means that you only need to live for a certain number of years, more years. So let's say then the numbers of changes, obviously it gets pushed out every now and then. But they say, for example, if you can live for 30 years, then technology, medical technology will reach the point where you can live for another, say, 30 years. And then during that time you'll guarded another 100 years and eventually you'll just be able to choose when you die. So it's, it's it's leaning on that sort of exponential curve again, which we see so often in technology. And it's, uh, yeah. So that's, so they sort of gather together every month and, and they discuss it. It's, it's the building is like a church. It looks a lot like a church. The services themselves are not so much like a church. It's mostly presentations and discussions. But occasionally someone does get up and really goes into the immortality quite heavily and it becomes sort of like a sermon, like a church sermon. So yeah, that really fascinating group and actually really nice people as well. They're all extremely positive. They're all you know, there's there's not a hint of sort of cynicism among them, which, you know, as a journalist, I was, you know, really believes. Yeah, it's refreshing being a cynic myself, but yeah, so really nice group of people and obviously it's quite, quite an odd group of people as well. Really, really interesting.
Steven Parton [00:09:04] Yeah. I mean, I feel like you'd have to love life if you wanted to live forever. So it kind of it's a good self filtering mechanism there.
Peter Ward [00:09:11] Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You need to sort of be enjoying what you're doing and sort of block out certain things I think as well.
Steven Parton [00:09:19] Sure. Did they have like a particular technology that they were most excited about? Like, did you see an emphasis on prior on mind uploading on, you know, any particular avenue that they thought was the most promising?
Peter Ward [00:09:36] Yeah, cryogenics was a big part of it. That was a huge part of it. But they sort of see that as the backup. So plan B, so if they are to die, then they think they should be frozen just in case they can be reanimated at a later date. So, so I mean, the audience is usually quite old, so you can see why that would appeal just because. The you know, if they don't reach that escape velocity, then they're done for. So the sort of the plan B is freeze my body and then I'll be reanimated after the escape velocity. So cryonics was a huge part of it. A lot of it is about sort of supplements and things just to get you cross that line to that escape velocity. So a lot of sort of talk of, you know, the latest sort of miracle molecule, which is going to make you live a little bit longer, is going to stave off some of the diseases related to old age and cancers and heart disease. That's a huge part of it. And then they do go into some of the sort of more out there technologies. There's not so much on mind uploading that I've seen. But yeah, it's definitely all sorts of it's all sort of fair game.
Steven Parton [00:10:52] Yeah. Well, in terms of cryonics, where is the State of Chronicle right now? Because I know you talked a lot about in the book, there's several sections that really talk about the fumbles and really, let's just call it big failures in the space. But where is it at now? Like our people. Is it looking like there's real potential there now or is it still kind of like people are holding on to something that sounds great in science fiction, but so far has been really poorly executed.
Peter Ward [00:11:22] Yeah. I think right now it's that the numbers are still really disappointing in terms of the number of people signed up to be frozen. It's very low considering the world population. It's a tiny, tiny portion and the number of people actually frozen is still extremely low across all across the world. So it's clear that the take up hasn't been great. And a lot of that, I think, is is partly to do with what, like you said, the sort of the missteps of the early years and the fact that it was just sort of taken forward by, I guess, hobbyists rather than scientists who had some some terrible failures, some of them almost darkly comedic failures. But and it is an interesting thought experiment. I was talking to someone about this today. What would have happened if Chronixx got off to a better start? Would it? Would it be something that we thought definitely of today? Because if you really think about it, all it is, is it just a different way of disposing of a body? You're just freezing it instead of burying it. I think even people within it acknowledge that, yes, there's probably a 0.1% chance, the very best of them ever being reanimated, but they think that that's better than a 0% chance. So it is interesting to see if, you know, if it becomes part of the mainstream, if that would be in the sense of option to be cremated, buried or or frozen when you die. But it just hasn't happened. And it's partly because there's been absolutely no no progress on the side of reanimation. So it's really still a shot in the dark. It's you're relying on these sort of scientists of the future to figure this out. And nobody's really making any progress at all on whether it's possible ever. As you know, you can't have a say no, but it doesn't look like it right now. But and then it's also why we you know, there's there's a big debate over how much you have to do in the freezing process. Are they freezing people well enough that they will be able to reanimate in the future anyway? And then if the technology becomes that great, then will we be able to just reconstruct people from, you know, a single piece of DNA and then the freezing process is pretty redundant anyway. Yeah. So yeah, it's all really hypothetical and that's I think ultimately what holds it back is that there's too many, there's too many leaps of faith required to really get there with cryonics. And yeah, that kind of brings us back to Origin again, I guess.
Steven Parton [00:14:05] Could you tell us about one of the like darkly comical failures that you mentioned before?
Peter Ward [00:14:13] Yeah. So, so there's there's a few in the book. I mean, I really like the comics people again, so I felt slightly guilty putting in that biggest failures in the book. But it just it just sort of spoke so much of how this movement came about and how it evolved. So. So, for example, like the first person to to to freeze a person was a guy could Bob Nelson, who's a TV repairman. And he has sort of reign as the as the go to guy in the comics industry. This is back in the in the sixties and seventies sort of ended with this episode called the Chatsworth Disaster, where he essentially ran out of money and just left all these bodies to decompose in this in this cemetery, in this crypt. And yeah, so he has several sort of he wrote a book about it, but freezing people is not easy was the title of the book and he was just all over the place where they he was, you know, he was trying all sorts. And a lot of people think that he was actually just a complete scam artist. He was he was just taking the money and going off on great vacations and and meanwhile, sort of not not putting much money into the actual freezing. So, yeah, his his sort of early days were really interesting. And that was there was a later episode where a frozen head goes missing because the L.A. coroner's office in L.A. comes calling because they they believe that this had the person, the old woman who died, that they'd cut off the head and frozen it before she was actually dead. And there was a mix up in terms of the not being a doctor that to declare her dead before they did that. So it became this whole big episode in the early late eighties, early nineties in L.A. And so they essentially they made the decision to hide the had the coroner's office wanted it for a postmortem. And if you do a postmortem, then there's no chance of it coming back to life. Essentially, they think that's it, you're done. Right. So they so they hid the had they took it out of the facility and hid it. And the police came along the great facility and they can't find the had. Yeah. And this poor old woman's head is just being sort of just a reluctant fugitive taken around Los Angeles. And eventually, actually, they won a restraining order against the coroner's office. And that was actually one of their big victories. And and in the end, they sort of had to back off. They didn't help that. The coroner himself is a pretty nasty piece of work. Yeah. And just went after these people and sort of made them out to be sort of double worshiping old lady killers when in actual fact they were just sort of enthusiasts who were trying to move along science. Whether they were actually going to make any progress or not was another question. But I don't think there was a sort of mean bone in their bodies, really.
Steven Parton [00:17:10] When you mentioned there as well that you believe the first guy might have just been kind of. Not. Not faking it, I guess, but he little snake oil salesman, in a way, how much of the longevity movement in what you're seeing is kind of people just trying to make money doing the snake oil, you know, exploitation role versus people who are genuinely putting in, you know, real efforts to make this work and only promising what they think they can deliver.
Peter Ward [00:17:43] Yeah, I think it's there's a large portion of it is the snake oil salesman. I think just because it's so easy and it's also something that we've been doing since the start of time, is conning people into thinking that you can offer them immortality. It's like the oldest trick in the book, basically for fraudsters. And if you go back through, you know, the earliest literature, it's always these cautionary tales against chasing immortality. So I think, yeah, it's something that we've always done, but now it's a more dangerous time because the technology is actually improving to help sort of things like anti-aging and to make us live a little bit longer and live healthier for longer. It's easy to take that and sort of rap it into this immortality tale and sell it to people. Things like stem cell therapies, obviously stem cell treatments, a hugely promising area of science that could be, you know, incredible the things that we do with stem cell technologies. But right now, people are offering there are no stem cell treatment centers out there which are offering things that they just can't do. And, you know, they're just taking stem cells from anywhere and injecting them anywhere in the body and saying, oh, now you're going to be younger just because I put put these you own stem cells back into you in someplace. So it's really. So every time you see this sort of promising technology, you see on the outer edges of these conmen and fraudsters just waiting to capitalize. Same thing with the supplements. No, all of this, obviously, you know, all of the supplements work. Otherwise, we'd all be taking them. And a lot of them, you know, the research is just from, you know, of mice at the very best. So something that'll make a very sick mouse live a tiny bit longer is not necessarily going to make a human lives longer, even if you if you are sick. So you get these sort of miracle miracle supplements come up and people spend an absolute fortune on them. And again, it's sort of playing into into that sort of deepest sort of search for humanity to survive. It's really easy to get someone into that con because you're offering something that we all want to live a bit longer.
Steven Parton [00:20:02] And all you have to do is take a few pills. So easy.
Peter Ward [00:20:05] Yeah. Yeah.
Steven Parton [00:20:05] So is do you think the supplement industry, I guess then would be probably be one of the bigger abusers or maybe exploiters of this longevity goal?
Peter Ward [00:20:19] I think so. I think definitely it's one of those, is it not very well regulated. So monetary and the supplement industry. So it is quite easy. You don't have to go through any kind of, you know, regulation or proof of concept where you can pretty much say anything, think. And it's so it's kind of scary what they can do, what they can sell you. But there's I mean, there's really none of it is going to kill you. It's just the worst it's going to do is going to lighten your wallet by a considerable amount. Waste your time taking these and then you're not going to live any longer. So, yeah, I think that's definitely one to look out for. Just because we have this really aging population in America and in Europe as well, we have very aging populations. It's going to become a bigger and bigger issue that we're going to have these people looking for solutions to make themselves at least feel a little bit younger. And there's all these all these sort of so-called, you know, these these drugs out there, they're not really drugs, I guess, supplements out there, which they can take. And yeah, it's just easy pickings. There's going to be more and more people. So it be interesting to see what kind of regulation can be born around that or whether we see it getting slightly stricter.
Steven Parton [00:21:41] Read I mean, thinking of supplements, it seems, you know, I don't think anybody's taken a supplement, think it's going to make them live forever. And I think a lot of what I see in the longevity space is this idea of living longer, healthier, you know, the the health span versus the lifespan. Could you maybe talk a little bit about the difference between the two and I don't know, maybe. Do you see the community being more of one than the other and and maybe kind of the efforts taking place in both regards?
Peter Ward [00:22:13] Yeah. Yeah. So health span is essentially I want to live healthier for longer. So I want to die at 95, but I want to live a very healthy life until ten days before I die. That's the ideal scenario. And then lifespan is just I want to live longer, so I want to live to 115. And, you know, if I'm healthy for that, it's great. But I do want to just live in 250, 200, pick your number. I guess so. It is a big debate and like health span is very much the more sensible and definitely more noble goal as far as I found, I got into both and all of this. So Gerontologist Preach Healthspan that's what they're going for. So anyone that's, you know, really the scientists, anyone, the professors, the academic side, they're all looking out healthspan rather than lifespan. And then I think the lifespan crowd is this sort of is a fringe of that of the anti-aging crowd. There's definitely some crossover. Obviously some people think healthspan by chasing lifespan or increase your chances of targeting healthspan. So, you know, their theory is that, you know, if we target immortality, then we'll definitely reach like 100 years old or better health span in. Yeah. One of the gerontologist I spoke to said I said, you know, is that a good approach? And she said that's like saying, well, I want to improve the aviation industry, so I'm going to try and make people fly and put wings on them. So it's it's like it doesn't pay. She was basically arguing it doesn't pay to chase an achievable goal. You might as well just, you know, just go for what is possible and healthspan is definitely possible and improving the house is would be an amazing thing to do. Even if we did it even slightly, the sort of benefits for the world would be huge and a lot of it is the same technology in the same science. It's just that the lifespan people think that you can take that science and keep going with it to the point where you don't have to die. It was yeah, definitely. All of the people I spoke to are working on this. They're just focused on how spun a couple of the gene, the geneticists and the gene editing people did entertain. The idea said, well, you know, why not? Why couldn't if you can make someone else here for a bit longer, why couldn't you just make them live a little longer? But on the whole, it's definitely you see, the more serious people are going after health span and the sort of fringe people and more militant people are definitely into lifespan. Yeah. But then if you ask the lifespan people why that is, they have a of answer. They say, well, these scientists can't say that they're working on lifespan because they won't get funding. Right, because it sounds too ridiculous, which may be true for some of them. I don't know. But everyone that I said to you said, no, we just we're just going after Healthspan.
Steven Parton [00:25:17] Yeah. What are they targeting with Healthspan specifically? Is it like maintaining muscle mass and dealing with things like cancer? Like what? What are some of the, I guess, key focuses or focus of, you know, fixing the Healthspan issue?
Peter Ward [00:25:32] Yeah. So I think a lot of it is targeting what they call the hallmarks of aging, which is sort of on a cellular level. There's a lot of things that happen to our bodies as we get older. So it's things like telomere that we hear that come up a lot with aging, the length of telomeres and then but then the thinking changes or whether long term is short telomeres, Goldilocks telomeres. So there's there's that the several of the hallmarks and they're also a very sort of on the cellular level and they're targeting things like senescent cells, whether we need certain cells, whether they do a job of protecting us against cancer. And then on the whole, it's sort of treating they might say that treating aging is a disease. So rather than saying, you know, people are dying of of cancer or heart disease when they get older, actually what's killing them is aging, which is just creating the perfect circumstances in their body, I guess, and the perfect environment in their body for these things to to happen. For cancer to happen and heart disease to happen. So so, yeah, the the the focus is really on those, those hallmarks of aging and they're so different people are talking different ones. But and the and the so the idea really is I mean, some people think it would be like a magic bullet, which would never be. I think the idea is to really go after all of them. And it's kind of like a whack a mole thing. Like some people, some gerontologist. Believe you, no matter what you do, something's going to get you. So you really are going against it, you up against it, but you can keep going against something. You know, you cure one thing and then it might actually cause you to, you know, get cancer. So there's a way it's a flip side of the coin of immortality. Obviously, cancer cells are immortal cells. So there is that weird relationship between living longer and cancer that it's it's always going to. So yeah, it's, it's an interesting question, but definitely it's about sort of stopping the circumstances, which leads to those those life ending diseases.
Steven Parton [00:27:43] Yeah. And what are senescent cells? Are they just cells that can't undergo mitosis anymore? They can't divide and basically reproduce themselves?
Peter Ward [00:27:51] Yeah, exactly. So they when they when they reach a point where they're dead, they're called zombie cells, some people call them, and then they sort of accumulate. And so the bad thing that they do is they secrete proteins which then sort of attack the tissue around them and damage the tissue around them. So there's several sort of approaches that you could take. Firstly, people say, okay, we need to get rid of senescent cells, they're bad and they're killing us and they're leading to, you know, all these diseases. And then we realize what actually cells go senescent so they don't become cancerous. So it is an important process for cells to go senescent. And then and then I think that more recently there's been a targeting of that secretion to stop them secreting the proteins or to to nullify the proteins which they secrete. And so yeah, those, those type of things are what makes us feel old essentially. Like that contributes to inflammation to, you know, all those feelings that you get. Maybe, you know, when you're feeling very old or very hung over, I guess whichever one when you're younger. But it's yeah. So it's a, it's yeah. That's a really promising area of research, senescent cells and so analytics it'll be interesting to see what kind of older a lot of money has gone into it and it'll be interesting to see what kind of jokes come out of the research.
Steven Parton [00:29:13] Yeah. And in my work and the details a little bit, can you speak to telomeres as well, kind of what they are and their function?
Peter Ward [00:29:21] Yeah. So telomeres are so seen as the sort of the cap that you get on the end of your shoelaces and they protect the sort of cells. So fraying like when the cut falls off, your shoelaces fraying. So that kind of damage is caused to that to everything else. To the cells. So it's it's sort of believed that, you know, if you when you're as you get older, you telomeres get shorter and that can open you up to all kinds of damage on a cellular level, which is, you know, basically a breakdown of your body's and is an accelerated. So yeah. So the idea is to sort of and so huge industries came out of this that is things that you can buy that will measure your telomere length and there's no one paper to address that. You know, if you're buying a telomere reading machine, then it's not really what it says is it's extremely hard thing to read. So you're probably not going to be buyer of sort of the shopping channel and it's going to tell you accurately whether your autonomy is a long enough or not. So yeah, so the idea that is that you would protect the telomere length. But then there was more research came out that said possibly to longer telomere length and that will cause you issues. So we need to be decent then so you can see how these, how these areas of research, they, they can bring you great hope if you're following it very closely. But then over time, actually, the findings change, the research change. And so you're constantly chasing these trends if you want to live a bit longer. And so the people that are really obsessed with it, they're just constantly reading these papers and looking for even the slightest bit of hope and then just following the trend.
Steven Parton [00:31:02] Yeah. Keen You mentioned earlier to, you know, the research on rats, but it's often sick rats and in the book you talk about I think jellyfish and bowhead whales and kind of the amazing things that they do in terms of senescence and immortality. What are some of the things that we're learning from animals like is there significant value and what animal studies are providing us in this regard?
Peter Ward [00:31:30] Yeah. So I think the animals that give us the most information are the ones that live longer than you think they should. Mhm. So the morale is very great examples. The morale lives much longer than anything else, its size and type. So it lives a lot longer than other things and for some reason they're very resistant to cancer. Mallrats barely ever get cancers. So well done to them all that I guess, but. So they're one of the very well studied animals. And then there are other animals, like you mentioned, there's the immortal jellyfish, which is down the other end. It's absolutely fascinating what they can do, but it's not much you can take. There's not much of information that you can gain from a jellyfish that you can then apply to a human. It's it's about as far away as you can get. And yeah, and there were other animals like the bowhead whales just live very long. So it's definitely lessons you can take and how they are. So sort of how they resist those those diseases because that's basically why they live longer is that they most of them are able to fend off these diseases that that kill other animals. So yeah, there's a lot to learn from some them some of them.
Steven Parton [00:32:50] With the bowhead whales. Do you know at all what the specifics were like? Are they maybe obviously there's probably a lot of work to be done here, but is it something like they're just better at waste management for that secretion that you talked about from telomeres? Like, are we seeing anything in that regard? Because I think you said in the book these bowhead whales can live up to 200 years, which just seems remarkable.
Peter Ward [00:33:15] Yeah. Yeah, I, I actually don't know what the latest research is on the bowhead whale. Just and the problem with them is they're extremely hard to sort of to study, especially over 200 years, to see why they why they live. That's another problem with immortality research is that you have to do it over a very long time. So, yeah, with the bowhead whale, I'm actually not sure. I'm sure there is some research out there. I can't remember off the top of my head where some of the other species so like turtles, tortoises that live for a very long time, a lot of it comes down to their ability to sort of a lot of them can live without oxygen for a very long time. And and so they're just very hard species that she just can go into a state where they don't use up much energy. Right. Um, I think that's probably the same with the bowhead whale is they don't expend energy at the same. Same sort of weight as other animals or other similar species. So I think that is one clue. But yeah, the one thing you find when you go into this research in longevity is that we really don't know that much. Some of the really fundamental questions we're still guessing about, such as Why do we die? Like, why did we die at this age? And why do other species die other ages? It's really we actually don't know. You know, as theories why we die, you know, when we get to a certain age, we are no longer helpful as a society or that of the tribe and that we're just taking resources away instead of, you know, contributing. But, yeah, that's another fascinating question. Why why we have these things happen at certain points in the human lifespan.
Steven Parton [00:35:04] Yeah. And you bring up a really interesting point there. You know that I don't know if I often see explored in this, which is the psychological impacts or societal impacts of if this work actually succeeded. And specifically, you know, I believe I heard you somewhere else mentioned. And as you touched on there, you know, the idea is that once we become great grandparents, we're kind of no longer useful to the the resource management system that perpetuates life. You know, the we let the grandparent take care of the grandchild, but the the great grandparents kind of too old to contribute much. And they've done all the reproduction, so they're no longer evolutionarily fit. But what happens when the great grandparent is living, you know, for another 50 years or they have great, great grandparents that are living, you know, like has. Have any of these people that you've talked to or in your research, have you come across many people really considering what happens when you start having. This many people living without, you know, kind of dying and making way for future generations.
Peter Ward [00:36:12] Yeah, it does come up, but it's largely I found that it was largely so brushed under the carpet. That's all. It's like the thing that they don't want to think about. And people major names in the longevity industry like Aubrey Gray has actually come out and said we no longer should be answering these questions so that he thinks the questions are so ridiculous that we don't need to consider them. So that the basic argument, as far as I can tell, it might be more nuanced than this is. If we've reached the point where we can conquer death, then we can fix anything else. Technology has reached a point where we can fix everything else. So for questions like overpopulation, they say, Well, we'll go out and we'll all live on a planet, hunt for resources, you know, lack of resources. Well, just, you know, we'll have ways, you know, maybe we'll have the replicator from Star Trek, for example, which, you know, which could well happen, but then it could also go the other way. We never know how technology is going to change society. And I think what it doesn't take into account is definitely the cultural and also political shift that would be for having so many old people. And we're about to see it. I mean, we do have a lot of old people in certain countries right now, and you can see how it affects the politics. And you have, you know, people voting for things that are never going to really benefit from because they're going to die in five years time. And that can be infuriating for younger generations. So imagine how infuriating would be if they were just always there. This had this bloc of voters. I also think just like wealth accumulation, obviously people get richer and richer and richer. Just imagine trying to get on the property ladder in a world where people live till their 200th. It's hard enough now. So it would it would cause a lot of issues and we'd have to sort of completely change society as we know it, sort of wrap up the whole the whole blueprint and just start over again, which, you know, might not be the worst idea. But if we started again based on those principles and that could go really badly wrong quite quickly.
Steven Parton [00:38:28] Yeah. And starting again, you know, usually to create something new, you have to destroy something. And that phase between destruction and creation feels like it could be ripe with a lot of conflict and suffering, you know, in order to complete that transformation.
Peter Ward [00:38:43] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.
Steven Parton [00:38:46] I'm surprised more people don't, I guess, you know, I guess it's not the focus, but it does make me think, you know, the the psychological and societal effects like these things are something that we as a species can just engineer, you know, our way out of. What happens to human dynamics when you change the conditions seem very important and like something that no one's really talking about.
Peter Ward [00:39:13] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's it's not one of our strong points as a species, really, is that we don't we don't look at it. We just kind of do it and then and then deal with the circumstances. So, yeah, you can kind of see why you would ignore it if you were just going for it. But and again, I think a lot of people that chasing immortality, it's a very personal thing. They're not thinking necessarily, I want to make the whole world immortal, though. They're saying I individually want to live forever and experience the future. So they're not thinking in terms of the whole species of all of them.
Steven Parton [00:39:50] Yeah. Did you come up against other philosophical, I guess, quandaries with this? And specifically I think of things like the ship of Theseus. Are you familiar?
Peter Ward [00:40:00] Yeah.
Steven Parton [00:40:00] Yeah. So like this idea of let's say we're taking the mind uploading approach and we're transferring consciousness is that person that we, you know, for taking the digital immortality route is that person that we copy ourselves into? Is that still the same person? Is that something that anyone's talking about as well or that you're seeing explored?
Peter Ward [00:40:23] Yeah. I mean, it's something that I really wanted to get into. And I think, you know, when you take these questions, just as I spoke to a couple of philosophy professors and I got the impression it wasn't something they'd necessarily thought about before, they were absolutely fascinated by this these this group of people that was just going headlong into immortality without thinking about these kind of things. Because, yeah, it's a really fascinating question, like what makes you you and you really need to establish that before you go into most of the the immortality routes, before you go down those paths, especially mind uploading. Like you said, if I uploaded my mind today, is that me or is it just me? At this age? That's a very different person that's just been uploaded to me at age 19 or 21 or 82. MM. So it's this idea that, that there is one you, I think if we're getting really philosophical that is, is troubling and you do rely on that for a lot of these techniques like the mind uploading you do on the fact that there is one you with cryogenics, you sort of rely on the fact that you, your brain is you. But then you bring up things like memory and we have a lot of memories which are triggered purely by context. So there's some things that we won't remember unless we talk to certain people or we see a certain part of town or, you know, a certain movie. It won't trigger that memory. So if you were to die, you got frozen and you woke up 300 years later or five years later, and you'd lost all that contact with those memories. Ever return? They probably wouldn't. Ever. So. So is that still you? Are you still the same? So, you know, same ship to use the ship as the exits? Do you still have those same carvings and marks and things which which which define you? So yeah, there are some really deep philosophical questions that need to be answered. I think before anybody would want to rush headlong into this, particularly around memory and yeah, an identity and, and it sort of goes back to religion as well. So some of the the Buddhism, for example, says that we're, you know, we obviously were reborn, but which again, which version of us is reborn? Is it the version of us when we die? Is it the best version? Is the worst version? Yeah, I think we just we think of ourselves as a sort of singular entity across time, and we're very much not that. So that really complicates the question.
Steven Parton [00:43:08] Yeah, it makes me think of the Russian individual. I can't think of his name, but you mentioned him in the book and he is basically recording.
Peter Ward [00:43:15] All.
Steven Parton [00:43:16] Aspects of his life in the hope that, you know, the video recordings and things like this can kind of teach and I guess who he is and his personality so that he can maybe clone himself in that future. But. To bring that full circle. It seems to me like there's this shift maybe from the body being an important thing to preserve to the pattern and consciousness being an important thing to preserve. And that seems to change as technology changes. Is that something that you've seen as well?
Peter Ward [00:43:47] Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Some people take it very literally. A montage is like, your body has to survive. Ah. Then I think the further out you go into these sort of fringe sciences, the really out stuff like mind uploading it, but it does change towards sort of, you know, we're just trying to preserve the essence of the person, the personality of the person, and then it makes you think about the definition of immortality. Is it do you have to have a constant stream of consciousness to. To live forever, to be deemed immortal. And that gets you into the really question that really sent me when I couldn't sleep at night myself. Where are we all we live when we go to sleep at night, are we losing consciousness? Is it to say, you know, are we still going on even during that brief period? Because this obviously when we wake up in the morning, we don't know that. We haven't just woken up at that minute. That could be the start of our lives, the sound which is uncertain and our own brains. But I think, yeah, so there's a question of consciousness and there's a copy of you. You I think. Yeah. What I think Alexy is his name I think had actually pop it off I think and his question is his self whole theories. I'm just going to gather everything I can about me on the hope that some future and it wasn't I was talking about I think he was talking about an AI which we had a great sort of clause in that which hopefully they will not be evil. Yeah. Which we all hope obviously would bring him back to life. But would it be him? Would it just be some copy of him? It's a question of with this, you know, brilliant starter. Yeah. I'm not even a big Star Trek fan, but I'm going to bring it up again when they sort of teleport down to the surface. Right. Is that question is are they just being destroyed molecule by molecule and then a copy of them being put somewhere else so that they die like a hundred times an episode? Yeah, it's like question of like what? What is it? What is immortality? What is living? Is it do you have to have that constant stream of consciousness, which I just I just don't see that applying to the mind uploading. It's not it's not you. It's not it's not me as I am now.
Steven Parton [00:46:10] Do you see one of these avenues, whether it's the biological approach or the technological approach, being more viable than the other? Like, does it seem like maybe realistically the biological approach with supplements and freezing the body and just keeping this thing going longer is going to work better than just transferring the consciousness to the machine.
Peter Ward [00:46:35] I think I don't think cryonics or supplements will get anywhere. I think if anything, biologically, it would be so gene editing. Hmm. I'm just. Just changing our body in such drastic ways that we're no longer programed to die. So I think that's the best part in terms of biologically, yeah, the mind uploading and taking the personality into sort of the cloud or some kind of digital realm. It's just it's just fascinating to me, but I just can't I don't think I can quite get my head around it. It's such a it's it's an enormously. I guess the other question is, could you put someone in some kind of virtuality space and then alter their perception of time in such a way that maybe they could live lifetimes in that simulation? Which brings us to the the theory that already one. So yeah, I think that I just yeah it just blows my mind. I think by and obviously you can't well, you can't say nothing is possible and you can't say weirdly that nothing is not already been done and we're not living now. But with biologically, I think gene editing, I think of all the things that's an incredibly tricky thing. That is definitely one of the things where you change in the queue and you don't know how it affects living somewhere else. But I, if it ever is, come down to sort of essentially just coding to the body to do what? To just keep going.
Steven Parton [00:48:10] It also seems more reliable in this sense and safer in the sense that it's really hard to get someone to sign up. I think for the first test to like destroy their consciousness and upload it somewhere else. Whereas if you just tell somebody you're going to change a gene, they might be like, okay, I think I can. I can deal with that. I'll try that out.
Peter Ward [00:48:30] Yeah, I'll give it a go if you just flipping a switch then. Yeah.
Steven Parton [00:48:33] Exactly. Well given, given all of the stuff that you explored in the book and all the people you talk to, what is your take away? How do you walk away from this book? Considering where you started, do you feel more optimistic that this is something that we're actually going to do, that we will, in the words of Aubrey de Gray, reach escape velocity? Or is this something that you're thinking? Yeah, we've definitely gotten a bit too excited and we might be, you know, at least a solid century or more out.
Peter Ward [00:49:06] Yeah. Yeah. I definitely got the impression that we're that we're not it's not imminent. And obviously that's an easy thing to say. And the and the argument against the, you know, the the exponential curve, it's just going to kick off in Mongo, which is a really solid argument. But reaching that escape velocity just seems so far off. We're not nobody is living longer. No mice are living to extraordinary lengths. No animals living too short announced that we're doing anything too. So it feels like that original breakthrough is still a long way away. And whether our tools to create that breakthrough might improve, that would that would have an impact, of course. But yeah. So my, my feelings got into it was, oh, this is a really cool concept. I'd be into it maybe. And then I guess as I reported on this, the topic of House Button came up more and more and more, and that just seemed like such a more important goal. And I think one of the conclusions I drew in the book was that the death actually is a lot better. Well, that's not great. What is a lot is a lot kind of thing to happen then suffering. And that's really how span is about reducing suffering and lifespan is about reducing death. And death really is only bad for the person, for the people left behind. So I think that was my main takeaway that we should we it's sort of the wrong focus. We should be focusing completely on how spot on and making sure that people are in a better state. And that would help us out. Things even like the economy if we have a more productive population at an older age. So if we can focus on that and then, you know, sure, if there is an option to live and actually 20 years or 30 years and I'm sure people will go down that avenue, but. I think, first of all, creating a world in which we all want to live a little bit longer is is step one. And then removing the suffering and increasing health span is step two. And then maybe there may be come back to me and ask me about immortality, I guess, at that point. But those first steps are absolutely gigantic, so it still seems a long way off.
Steven Parton [00:51:27] Fair enough. Peter, we're coming up on our time here, so I want to give you a chance to give us any closer remarks, talk about anything you're working on these days. Tell people where they can find the book. Whatever you want to talk about, feel free to call.
Peter Ward [00:51:41] Yes, the book is available in all all bookstores. Amazon, anywhere you buy e-books. Although, you know, if you want to choose Amazon, maybe, maybe go for an independent bookstore. If I had my choice. Yeah, yeah. No, it's. This has been a fascinating time. The weird thing is, when I wrote my first book about space, I four months afterwards, I was sort of sick of space. I couldn't even watch a movie about space was this topic. I just can't I can't seem to to get away from. I find it absolutely fascinating from the very fringes down to the very core science, it's something really cool to to get into. And I think it's a topic that we'll see a lot more of. And I think there will be there'll be a lot more books for a much better written than mine in the future on this topic. But yeah, in the meantime, maybe people can pick it up and tell me what they think.
Steven Parton [00:52:35] Yeah, absolutely. Well, I enjoyed the book and I enjoyed this conversation, so thank you for your time.
Peter Ward [00:52:40] Peter Awesome. Thanks so much.