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Confessions of a Proselytizing Immortalist

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#1 Bruce Klein

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 09:24 PM

From ImmInst's First Book: http://www.imminst.org/book1


Shannon Vyff

Why Immortality? Isn’t that selfish? Doesn’t God, fate, and evolution tell us when to die? I hear this all the time, shortly after I meet people at church, on vacation, in buses, in line at the grocery store, at parties, and at family gatherings. It all begins like a perfectly normal conversation with questions of the weather, or what the person has been doing for the day. I usually mention my schoolwork explaining that I started studying nutrition after my 85-pound weight loss (always a motivating, intriguing story for others). Ears perked, they want to know how I did it. I tell of how I got involved in Calorie Restriction (CR) with Optimal Nutrition online mailing
list. [1]

Through the CR Society, I’ve had fun being in Oprah Magazine, in Marie Claire, on 20/20, traveling to the CR conference to hear the latest research on this anti-aging diet, and meeting interesting people who use themselves as human guinea pigs. I myself have sent in blood work and various other test results keeping track of my bio-chemical markers of aging to help out with the human studies. People say I look great, (especially if it is someone I have not seen for several years and they remember me as being much larger), but then they naturally want to know why I started on this diet.

I start by telling about how, throughout high school, I followed the biosphere dome and Dr. Walford, [2] because of my love of science fiction. While growing up, I always had the dream of traveling to the stars. I guess I was hoping that in my 20’s there would be self-contained spaceships heading to colonize Mars, and that I could sign up. When the biosphere was in the media usually there was also mention of the calorie restriction (CR) diet so it was always in the back of my mind as a slimming and anti-aging diet. In my early twenties I choose to start a family, and learned from La Leche League [3] about the healthiest way to do that. When it came time to wean them from the breast milk that gave them the thickest neuron connections, quickest reflexes and strongest immune systems that with our current technology they could have, I had to look at what real food was best to put into their growing bodies. I lived in Eugene, Oregon where there was so much support – with actual organic-only restaurants, free health newsletters, and a high population of health conscious people – that I was introduced to a new way of looking at food. I realized that we replace many cells every 6 months and most of our body every seven years, so that we truly become what we eat many times during our lifetime.

I also started learning about fungicides, germicides, pesticides, rodenticides, herbicides, antimicrobials and how they collect in body tissues. I read studies such as the recent one funded by the National Institute for Environmental and Health Sciences [4], that looked at pre-school age children in Seattle and found that organically fed children vs. non organically fed children had six times less organophosphorus (due to pesticide exposure) in their urine. Though I had started eating more natural and organic foods, I was still 205 pounds three months after the birth of my last child, and I started thinking I needed a real diet! I began reading about all the diets out there and remembered that life extension diet I’d heard of back in high school. That is how I picked up the book Beyond the 120 Year Diet by Roy Walford, M.D. when my third baby was four months old. As I was still breastfeeding and still had the post-pregnancy slimming hormones, I did lose weight more rapidly than is recommended for CR. I lost 85 pounds in six months, but a much more gradual decrease is recommended. One should consider losing large amounts of weight (perhaps over 40+ pounds) over 2–4+ years or consider losing weight no faster than a pound per month.

This is because the release of toxins stored in the bodies fat tissues and the stress of the weight loss on the system could foil extending life span in one’s final years. [5] When I was beginning the diet I used software to help me balance what nutrients I needed. I started making mega-muffins for my family to eat (like human lab chow with organic chocolate chips thrown in for my kids to eat them). [6] I found that as my weight came off I had more energy and clearer skin. Usually, by now, people want to know why I want to follow what they see as an extreme diet. Saying that it is the only scientifically proven way to extend my life [7], hormones, anti-oxidants, exercise or high carb/low carb diets – generally are not enough. Usually people express that I must have iron will power and torture myself with hunger, something they could never do. I assure them that for me it is easy; there is great support from the CR Society. People do it many different ways. I recommend The Anti-Aging Plan by Roy & Lisa Walford for an easy to read beginners introduction, though Beyond the 120 Year Diet [5] has better detail & more current science references.

As I became enamored with the science of CR, and embarked on it as a way of life, I started seeing more references to it in popular culture. [8] The ongoing experiments in primate & human studies also made it very real for me. The National Institute on Aging has been conducting a long-term study, since 1987, of CR on rhesus monkeys. In 1999, the NIA researchers stated:

Emerging data from studies of CR in rhesus monkeys show promise that the model is working in a manner similar to that seen in rodents thereby strengthening the possibility that the well-known effects of CR on life span, disease, and aging processes may be generalized to all species. [10]

Regarding the NIA study, Modern Maturity states “The incidence of diabetes (...) is greatly reduced in monkeys on a restricted diet. The monkeys also show fewer signs of spinal arthritis, a common condition they share with humans.” [9] These monkeys show other signs of reduced aging, such as a prevention of age-associated decline in melatonin levels. [10;11] When I was at the CR conference I was able to see a presentation by the researchers working with the rhesus monkeys and hear about how they were doing, even how they were enjoying their new living environment! Seeing the drastic difference between the ad-lib monkeys and the calorie restricted ones made it all the more real for me. On the ‘easiness’ of CR, I explain that it is important for me to see as much of life as I can. Therefore, I have transferred my comfort foods into more healthy ones, like air popped popcorn, raw veggies, or green tea. This helps me reach the long-term goal I always have in my mind: to keep my brain sharp as long as possible. CR is a way to help me reach my other goals.

I want to stay alive to a time when we change the ratio of expenditure from 400 billion US dollars to the military [12] with only approximately three million to aging research [13] to something more appropriate to combat and eradicate the greatest killer of all time – aging. There are lots of figures out there, and in all of them America’s military spending dwarfs any other countries and even many countries entire GNP.

In discussions, when some are particularly pessimistic about the ability of our current society to change, I point out that I notice more people every year are committed to bringing about complete political reprioritization. This makes me optimistic. Yet when I look at the past 2000 years of written human history, I know the changes I envision, including immortality, may not occur within my lifetime, even with CR. So I have a back up plan:

This is when I show my braided gold medic-alert while I say I’m signed up with ALCOR to be frozen when I die (actually ‘vitrified’, a new technique with virtually no cellular damage). [14] To me, it beats being buried in the ground or becoming ashes. I then explain why I hope to see the future: I believe we will soon (100 years or so) learn to not only end aging but to reverse it and have handy things like brain backups if we have accidents, effectively making us immortal. This is where the various conversations with strangers, friends, and family from all walks of life, in all sorts of places,
really get interesting! People understand eating healthy; they appreciate hearing practical things to help them now in 2004. It is easy to have someone believe you when you talk of things that can help right now, but when projecting into the realm of science fiction, or just humanity’s future, I run up against a wall. Facial expressions change and I’m asked why I’d want to live forever or believe on blind faith that it is possible. This is where I hear that God, evolution, or fate knows when we are to die and that it is selfish to extend our lives unnaturally. I point out that a primitive society life span is around 25 years of age with 40 being a rare old man. Being old is in fact not natural in nature’s setting. Living 50–60+ years for a significant percentage of human populations is a modern adaptation of the last 100 years of human history. The majority of deaths also changed from those of young children to those of old people. Our scientific and technological advancements in the past 100 years are already giving us vastly extended life spans [15–17].

This brings me to my counter point to the ‘selfish’ accusation. The basis of my argument is that extending life through medical interventions helps us to do more of what God, fate, or evolution has planned for us to do. This is why we are given, or have developed, the intelligence to stay alive longer. When we stay healthy longer through CR, or anything that we develop in the future, we can work longer and can give more to the spiritual, scientific, or non-profit organizations we affiliate with. I for one would love to be able to donate more to the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research [18]. If the award for that was more near the largest ever US lottery jackpot of 363 million, rather than the fifty thousand dollars currently donated, we would shortly end aging. With more prize money there would be a lot more contenders for the prize that will be awarded to whoever can significantly reverse aging in a mouse, or postpone it. With a longer life, many opportunities would open up, for new careers, new travel, and exploring the ever-expanding questions of the universe.

These conversations with people can be very inspirational. It is surprising how creative people can be when you open them up to talking about the future. At times I am dismayed that with our current technology my life will be so short. Yet my heart revels with what epiphanies I inspire in my children about how things in this world interact. I get a rush when I explain to them in simple terms (and they actually get it) – about why it is important for our country to balance the budget, how to support universal health care, how people live in oppression even today, or just explain any little piece of the puzzle to them. With the help of the Unitarian Universalist Church’s education programs, I teach them about the world’s religions. What other people believe, their histories and how their cultures (and even our own) are affected today by their religions. In class they also learn about community service, about self-esteem and how caring committed people have affected change. I see my children struggling to balance their emerging ideals with what is ‘cool’ as seen in our popular media culture versus what their own hearts tell them. It can be overwhelming for anyone young or old to hear of all the wrongs to be righted. To my children I like to mention that if the Earth’s 4.5 billion year history were represented as 24 hours, the 2000 years of written history would be a mere second or two, and in that brief time we humans have been on an increased path of happiness and wisdom.

In all these wonderful, almost daily, deep, philosophical discussions I get into with various people and my own children about the nature of this universe, I mainly try to instill hope. I think the ripples I create might spread. It’s not just about proselytizing (although I’d love all to join the immortalist cause). It is about the little sound bites I give people (like the eye-opening things you will no doubt read in this book) such as neural chip implants for rats, photographic memory for fruit flies, and cat brains that have been frozen and then brought back to normal looking electrical activity – things we
have actually been able to do. I like to think these sound bites will come out elsewhere in other people’s conversations, and they may be inspired to learn more. In this process of becoming more curious and aware, they internalize how they can affect change.

When younger people today (and older people who have already accumulated more wealth and power) think about such things as being aware of how research money is spent and their own taxpayer money is used, they can vote in to office the people who will spend it most effectively for them. I am thankful that the Immortality Institute has been created to help change how some of this wealth is spent. Some day we could even be supporting our own Immortalist candidates for office, supporting foreign aid, increasing science and technology fields, and ending aging! I know most of the people I’ve met who are already immortalists have not gotten into the movement until they were a young person in an old person’s body wondering what happened. This is why I talk to so many people to try to spread awareness in the younger generation. It is why my children are being raised with the naturalness of transhumanism (being open to what we may become).

If you ask my brilliant seven-year-old what she thinks about immortality she will boldly start talking about what things she could do with a robot body. My highly imaginative four-yearold son will say how he wants to be a scientist that discovers how to end aging since he never wants to die! My angelic two year old hugs and kisses everyone, and reminds me of the basic instinct to feel pleasure by helping others, as she shares her food and toys, along with her vibrant spirit of life. This book is exhilarating in its scope, and in its predictions. The best way to predict the future is to help create it. I hope that things you read in this book will touch that spark of optimism each of us has at the emerging of our own consciousness, as we rush through our childhood eager to understand our place in this universe.


1) http://www.calorierestriction.org

2) http://walford.com/biosphere.htm

3) http://www.lalecheleague.org

4) Curl, Cynthia L & Fenske, Richard A & Elgethun, Kai; “Organophosphorus Pesticide Exposure of Urban and Suburban Preschool Children with Organic and Conventional Diets?” in: National Institute for Environmental and Health Sciences Journal (2003, Vol. 111, pg. 3)

5) Walford, Roy; Beyond the 120 Year Diet, (2000); pg. 78–80

6) A great online site for tracking nutrition data & diet is http://nutritiondata.com. Some CR recipes including megamuffins are online here: http://recipes.calorierestriction.org

7) Original study that discovered that caloric restriction extends animal lifespan: McCay CM, et al. ; “The effect of retarded growth upon the length of life span and upon the ultimate body size” in Journal of Nutrition, (1935, 10(1)) pg. 63–79

8) Taubes, G; “The Famine of Youth” in Scientific American (June 2000)

9) Warshofsky F; “The Methuselah Factor” in Modern Maturity (1999, November-December)

10) Roth GS; “Dietary caloric restriction prevents the age-related decline in plasma melatonin levels of rhesus monkeys” in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, (2001, July, Vol. 86(7)), pg. 3292–5

11) For those who are interested in the most current (technical & reference) information on the science of CR, I recommend: Edward J. Masoro; Caloric Restriction: A Key to Understanding and Modulating Aging (2002) Elsevier Health Sciences

12) Hellman, Christopher; The Center for Defense Information’s FY2004 Discretionary Budget, http://www.cdi.org/b...scretionary.cfm

13) Ellis, Joseph; The proposed NIA FY2004 Budget and NIA salary information; http://www.nia.nih.g...ngress/ftes.htm

14) http://www.alcor.org

15) Olshansky, Jay S & Carnes, Bruce A; The Quest For Immortality: Science at the Frontiers of Aging (2001), Norton & Company

16) Perry, Michael R; Forever For All: Moral Philosophy, Cryonics, and the Scientific Prospects for Immortality; (2000) Universal Publishers

17) Bova, Ben; Immortality: How Science is Extending Your Life Span and Changing the World (2000); Avon books

18) Various; The Methuselah Foundation: Longitude Prize (2004) Society; www.methuselahmouse.org

#2 RighteousReason

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 09:49 PM

Thanks for posting this. Its a good read.

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