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Spong

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    http://www.myspace.com/43596487
  1. I've assembled a substantial collection of short videos HERE. Most of them them concern science and technology, with an emphasis on cutting edge research or innovative new technologies. I included some on other subjects if the video was sufficiently extraordinary. I promise you'll see something you didn't know existed. New videos will be added periodically.
  2. Yes I know MySpace has its problems and is perhaps not typically used for this sort of site, but as I said, I've set this up on MySpace because I found it to be a simple and convenient way of archiving or linking to the variety of media types I've included. I like the format in that there is a central "homepage" that can accommadate and categorize videos, images, links, etc., in addition to the separate pictures section and the "blog" format with which I can archive and update the videos I've assembled. I don't want just a blog format that consists of revolving posts instead of a fixed page of content. Also MySpace has a ready-made function to play a song and it's easy to use an image file as a background for the site rather than having to use a premade format or color scheme. From what I've seen I don't like blogspot but if someone has any suggestions for other sites I might be interested.
  3. Objectivists may find this website to be of interest. http://tinyurl.com/2smqc4 It features a number of documentaries, clips of Ayn Rand and other Objectivist speakers, a modest but growing art gallery (check the pics section--this is the only part that requires registration), and a list of books and documentaries with links for purchasing. I've set this up on MySpace because I found it to be a simple and convenient way of archiving or linking to the variety of media types I've included. (I disabled the comments function.) The "blog" section contains a substantial number of short videos of general interest, usually on a subject relating to science and technology. I will be updating it sporadically. http://tinyurl.com/356fan Let me know what you think.
  4. You're thinking of the sirtuin genes. The name comes from SIR2, a yeast gene that stands for "silent information regulator 2." These genes have been of interest in relation to aging and CR since the early 90's, when SIR2 was discovered by Leonard Guarente's lab to regulate replicative lifespan in yeast. Since then they have been found to increase lifespan when overexpressed in yeast, roundworms, and fruit flies, and they appear to be involved in the caloric restriction response in these same organisms, although certain aspects of this research are highly controversial. There are seven homologs of the SIR2 gene in mammals, and my understanding is that studies are currently underway to determine the effect of increasing or decreasing the levels of the various sirtuin proteins in mice. Sirtuins are in fact NAD-dependent deacetylases (NAD and NADP are not proteins by the way, they are nucleotide-containing cofactors), and this does potentially link metabolism and nutrient availability to the regulation of the rate of aging. As far as the silencing of genes that you mentioned, SIR2 was originally found to be involved in the "silencing" of chromatin, in DNA repair, and in the maintenance of chromosome fidelity in yeast. This activity is involved in the peculiar mechanism of senescence in yeast, which involves the accumulation of stray bits of circular DNA called rDNA, for ribosomal DNA. However, it has subsequently been discovered that sirtuins deacetylate many proteins besides chromosomal proteins, and some of their important functions probably do not involve gene silencing. Moreover, the phenomenon of rDNA accumulation causing cellular aging is to my knowledge something specific to yeast, and apparently even only to certain strains of yeast. The involvement of sirtuins in aging probably involves distinct mechanisms in higher organisms. An interesting thing about the sirtuins is that the popular chemical resveratrol, widely touted as a potential life-extending drug and perhaps a caloric restriction mimetic, has been found to be a potent activator of the SIR2 gene. Resveratrol has been proposed as one of the main chemicals responsible for the apparently beneficial affects of red wine consumption. For the record, the evidence for the benefits of red wine is persuasive but hardly conclusive--nevertheless that doesn't stop me from a drinking a glass each night. Certain prominent aging researchers, at least one affiliated with a company that produces resveratrol supplements, in fact consume high-dose resveratrol pills themselves. I wouldn't recommend that just yet, if only because of concerns about the efficacy and availablility of the compound in pill form.
  5. The efficacy of caloric restriction in humans is of course a question of enormous interest in aging research. CR remains the gold standard for life-extension in a wide variety of animal models, and in my view it is currently the only intervention for which a strong empirical case can be made supporting a probable beneficial effect on human aging. However, a number of theoretical arguments, usually based on evolutionary grounds, have been raised against the possible effectiveness of human CR. On the basis of these kinds of arguments, some take the view that CR is likely to affect human aging, but only modestly, so that rather than the 50% increase in maximum lifespan seen in rodents, lifelong CR initiated in early adulthood might give a person only a few extra years at best. Moreover, there appear to be cases where CR doesn't work in certain species, or even only in certain strains within species. We cannot therefore assume that the animal findings will translate to human life-extension. Ultimately we will not know if CR works until we have some especially long-lived restricted people to prove it, given the current difficulty in finding reliable surrogate indicators predictive of future lifespan (i.e. biomarkers of aging). In other words, we cannot now simply examine the physiology of a person on CR and say whether their biological aging process is being affected or not. Given these reservations, however, it remains true that a large body of evidence supports the view that CR is widely effective throughout the phylogenetic spectrum, from yeast cells to insects to mammals. There is an increasingly popular view that the CR effect is an ancient and conserved adaptive response to times of food scarcity--that is, the longer lifespan on CR is a consequence of a protective metabolic strategy that was positively selected for early on in evolutionary history and still retained by most animals. The existence of species that don't benefit from CR is not prima facie evidence against this view, because there are a number of reasons why exceptions might arise during evolution. It is still possible, however, that CR is simply a passive side-effect of the way metabolism works, and not an adaptive mechanism. Importantly, there a number of tentatively promising, suggestive findings coming out of the human CR studies that have been conducted, as well as from the longevity studies in rhesus monkeys currently underway. I think the evidence quite clearly shows that human CR provides a strong protective effect against certain specific diseases associated with aging, including diabetes, atherosclerosis, and possibly cancer. In itself this does not establish that CR would affect maximum lifespan, but it would be expected to lead to a significant increase in average lifespan. The NIA's human CR program, the CALERIE study, has recently completed its preliminary stage of 6 month to 1 year trials and will soon be initiating the more comprehensive 2 year trial phase. In addition, intriguing research has been conducted on the remarkable community of people who have voluntarily undergone long-term CR for many years, the Calorie Restriction Society. As an introduction to the debate over human CR, I would recommend reading the special issue of the journal Biogerontology on this question. The full text articles are freely available. (Note the article from Objectivist aging researcher Robin Mockett.) My view is that research on caloric restriction, and on the relationship between diet and the diseases of aging more generally, provides ample reason to seriously undertake the adoption of a healty diet. You need not go on outright caloric restriction to make a significant improvement in your risk of disease later in life. And even if you do not intend to restrict the amount of food you eat, appropriately selecting the kind of food you eat so as to be low in calories will effectively result in some reduction of caloric intake. Undergoing caloric restriction should not be attempted without serious research into the appropriate methodolgy and careful weighing of the potential benefits and especially the risks. Simply eating less will not work. It is necessary to carefully select those foods that are both low in calories and high in nutrients--otherwise you are only malnourished. And CR should be imposed gradually, over months or years--adult rodents put on CR suddenly do not get a benefit, and might actually live shorter. Those inclined to continue gorging as a show of support for capitalist abundance may yet be able to have their cake and live longer too, as the search for a "caloric restriction mimetic" is an area of great interest, especially for the entrepreneurially-minded biogerontogist. Basically, a drug that would affect the same mechanisms as CR could turn out to be CR-in-a-pill, without the need to become an ascetic. (In actual fact though, the diet need not be unpleasant, and many CR practitioners report enjoying it greatly.) Ultimately, CR is not the holy grail of aging research. My primary interest in CR is as a tool for understanding the mechanisms of aging, because such an understanding will eventually allow us to intervene and extend the human lifespan far more radically than CR ever could, even if it works fully as effectively in humans as in rodents. It is possible that aging research will result in life-extending technology in our lifetimes, but that outcome is still very much in question. The scientific obstacles are vast, and the cultural opposition is pervasive. If life is a value to you, then my advice is to advocate for or support aging research vigorously, in whatever avenue you have available.
  6. I couldn't put it better. This claim that we already have indefinitely long lifespans is missing the point that we have certainty that we definitely will not naturally live past the maximim age imposed on us now by the aging process. I can tell you that your lifespan will definitely be X numbers of years, where X < 200. The idea that this is unclear or that the concept of indefinitely long lifespan is using the wrong terms is sheer semantic obfuscation. The real issue of contention here is the relationship between a life with a negligible risk of death and no intrinsic biological limits on maximum lifespan, in which you have the potential to live for a radically long, presently indeterminate length of time and the fact that life is the standard of value--and that is the issue regardless of what term you choose to describe the scenario in italics. And for the benefit of those not inclined to the use of a dictionary: indefinite: "Not definite, especially: a. Unclear; vague. b. Lacking precise limits: an indefinite leave of absence. c. Uncertain; undecided: indefinite about their plans." http://www.bartleby.com/61/76/I0097600.html Now, was the "leave of absence" a violation of identity, or did we just not know how long it was in advance? As it happens, there is already a large existing body of discussion out there on the issue of life-extension, and although it is well-recognized that the use of the word "immortality" can be misleading in this context, some commentators continue to unqualifiedly use the word immortality to describe what is in fact a radically long lifespan with a small risk of death (see the author cited by the opening post of this thread), and not literal indestructibility. Personally I would avoid this usage, though I think that the term "practical immortality" is perfectly acceptable. "Indefinitely long lifespan," however, is the preferable term. If anyone can provide me with a better term I'd be very interested. That being said, I completely reject the idea that any of these distinctions in terminology are so seriously ambiguous as to lead to the kind of hostility toward the idea of indefinitely long lifespan displayed in this discussion. The real source of conflict here is a rationalistic and superficial understanding of the actual import and applicability of Ayn Rand's indestructible robot allegory, and of the idea of life as the standard of value more broadly. If anyone is interested in pursuing this issue with me further, please do so in a private message, as I will no longer be posting in this thread.
  7. That is entirely wrong, and it explains why in your previous posts you were ignoring the distinction between "indefinite lifespan" and "literal immortality," i.e. indestructibility (see posts 27, 28, and 30, for one example of this). The word indefinite can mean either not precisely determined (i.e. known) in advance, or not determinable (i.e. having no identity). Given that the idea of indefinite lifespan has been repeatedly invoked explicitly to contrast to literal immortality, it should be breathtakingly obvious that what is meant is simply that in the former case, death could occur at some time, but it is not yet possible to predict at which time, because there is no intrinsic maximum lifespan due to aging. If I tell you that there is an indeterminate number of fish in the sea, and you know I'm not a theoretical physicist, would you assume that I'm launching an attack on the law of identity, or that I just don't know how many fish there are? The fact that we don't know in advance how long the lifespan will be, but that it could potentially be very very long because the risk of death would be small, would not cause a breakdown in the fabric of reality. You are conflating epistemological uncertainty with metaphysical non-identity. Clearly you have been arguing that the idea of indefinitely long lifespan is incompatible with ethics and holding values as though there were no distinction between a long life with a negligible risk of death and actual indestructibility. (If you think this is not an accurate representation of your statements, I would invite you to explain why.) This is precisely the view that I have been so adamantly opposed to. Because to hold that it is not desirable to remain living continuously, into the indefinite future, is to hold that it is not desirable to continually achieve the ultimate end of the Objectivist ethics--that at some point morality will become outdated and we should then die. You can only hold this view by precisely the means you have used here--by ignoring the fact that we would always retain our nature as living entities and always face the alternative of existence or nonexistence, even as we successfully worked to ensure the existence side kept winning. Simply put, the fact that death will happen at some indeterminate point in the future does not make the event of death necessary for morality. Rather, it is the fact that death could happen at any particular time in your existence as a living being--and therefore specific actions are required in order to live--that gives rise to the need for values. But the whole point of those values is to ensure that death never happens--for as long as that is possible in reality. It is simply a monumental fallacy to treat the issue of indefinitely long lifespan as though this were a case where you could rotely apply Ayn Rand's indestructible robot.
  8. For the record, I would like to sharply distinguish myself from those arguing for "immortality" on the basis of disagreement with or lack of understanding of Ayn Rand's crucial, historic identification of life as the ultimate standard of value. This is the most fundamental and important of her many contributions to the field of ethics, and I am not interested in debating this point. The "indestructible robot" was a thought experiment designed to demonstrate that it is only the fact that we, as living beings, face an alternative between existence and non-existence that necessitates our taking only those actions that, given our identity and the nature of reality, will lead to the maintenance of a life proper to a rational being. Given the choice to live, that which supports the life of the individual is the good, that which destroys it is the evil. The moral ideal is to live. And as long as you continue to exist, you will always face the fundamental alternative of life or death, and life will always be the ultimate end to be achieved. It follows from this fact that you should always continue to live (disregarding the side-issue of rare cases where continued life is actually intolerable). Morality will not expire. The fact that you will have been around for a long time will not somehow negate your nature as a living entity and suddenly make death instead of life the goal of ethics. In other words, achieving an indefinitely long and happy life is precisely the ultimate fulfillment of the Objectivist standard of value. Achieving a state in which the risk of death is negligible and the expected lifespan is indefinite would not, by some contortion of logic, contradict the source of values and render happiness impossible. This is akin to the idea that for a rich person, productive work could no longer be a value because he doesn't face the alternative of providing enough material goods or not any longer. Just as the overabundance of the values produced by productive work does not contradict the virtue of productiveness but is precisely the successful implementation of it--so too the "overabundance" of life itself is not a threat to the source of values but is rather the extraordinary and enduring acheivement of all your values. That we could die is the fact of reality that gives rise to the phenomenon of value. That we should die at some point in the future, after an arbitrary length of time has elapsed, is a sick and nihilistic view that only an utter rationalist could somehow extract from a sophomoric reading of Objectivism. The Objectivist ethics holds precisely that we should not die. The possibility of death is the reason we need a morality--to enable us to live. This view that the actual occurance of death is desirable is radically opposed to the Objectivist theory of value on a fundamental level. Should anyone be under the impression that they are somehow defending Ayn Rand's morality of life on this earth by upholding this rampant deathism, they are grossly mistaken. To repeat a crucial point--this question is of life or death importance because we are now at the threshold of the scientific conquest of aging. But whether the current scientific investigation of the aging process translates--in our lifetimes--into practical technological interventions allowing us to extend our lives is still very much in question. This research needs to be pursued, advanced, or supported vigorously by every individual with a stake in remaining on this earth for as long as they choose. So the question of the propriety of seeking to radically extend the human lifespan is essential in determining whether and to what extent this research is pursued--and whether it will be stifled by its many philosophical opponents, thereby definitively ensuring all of our woefully imminent deaths. It is only Objectivism that provides the full ethical validation for the individual's right to support and advance his own life, and it is only on this basis that the spectacular promise of modern biomedical science will be realized.
  9. What is the purpose of ignoring the distinction between indefinitely long life and literal indestructibility? The actual issue raised by this thread, and the only one relevant to human life in reality is the potential for achieving, through technology, indefinitely long lifespans. That is simply not an issue with any resemblance to Ayn Rand's indestructible robot. I find it completely astounding that some individuals seem to have conluded that if the alternative between life and death is the ultimate basis of human values, then the actual failure to meet that standard, the actual occurance of the complete annhilation of all your values is somehow necessary to make them values in the first place. That is spectacularly fallacious. The point of an ultimate end is to achieve it. The fact that the potential to fail to bring about that end is what necessitates a code of values to guide your actions does not mean that you therefore should fail at your acheiving that end. It means precisely the opposite--you should always acheive it. If the highest moral purpose of your actions is to ensure the continued existence of a life proper to a rational being, then how, at some arbitrary number of years in the future, will it suddenly become desirable to extinguish that life? A good general rule is that when you start sounding like Leon Kass you should check your premises. "Finitude" (i.e. a short lifespan) is not a value. And the idea that you'd "get tired" or bored and simply give up after a few centuries is one of the most apathetic, unambitious, passionless, unimaginative statements of pathological ennui that I can conceive of. It represents a seriously impoverished view of the future that is possible if a rational philosophy takes hold, of the values that one could potentially pursue and create given a radically advanced state of science, and of the phenomenal extent of the human potential. More often than not, simply to make the claim is indicative of a lackluster sense of life and an inert mind. It's often been said that in the scenario of longer lifespans, only boring people will get bored... For the record, I certainly don't think that anyone who ever makes this claim is boring, etc., but I do think they haven't thought the matter through or considered its nihilistic implications. These attitudes have life or death consequences for all of us, because their prevelance in the general population contributes to the widespread indifference or outright hostility toward the incredible promise of aging research. But whether such research will go ahead with sufficient funding, and whether it will escape being stifled, through the force of the state, by its many ideological enemies has real bearing on whether we will see any practical benefit from it in our own lifetimes.
  10. Given that life is the standard of the Objectivist ethics, I am somewhat puzzled by the apparent ambivalence of some (presumably Objectivist) individuals on the incredible prospect of the indefinitely-continued successful achievement of precisely the ultimate end that all moral human action is directed toward. Leaving aside the question of the metaphysical impossiblity of literal indestructibility, the interesting point here is that there is every reason to expect that, given an appropriate level of scientific advancement, human beings will be able to achieve practical immortality. To begin with, the aging process is not a metaphysically unalterable curse of the human condition; it is not imposed on us by the natural order of things or by the will of some deity. It is rather a biological process with fully intelligible causal mechanisms, mechanisms which in recent years we have made spectacular progress toward understanding on the evolutionary, genetic, and physiological levels. When we understand them sufficiently we will be able to intervene and control them. We are already able to acheive dramatic lifespan extension in model organisms, including mammals, by both environmental and genetic interventions. The lifespan of rodents has been extended by 50%, that of roundworms by 600%. The essential plasticity of aging is the most exciting and overwhelmingly unavoidable finding in the recent history of aging research. If Man is left free to pursue this monumentally important area of scientific inquiry and to apply its findings to the service of human life, then in the not-so-distant future we will begin to treat aging from a medical standpoint as we would any other degenerative, invariably fatal disorder, i.e. we will cure it. Similarly, there is absolutely no reason to accept the idea that we will be forever vulnerable to the onslaught of those pathetic, piddling, contemptible little microbes and specks of aberrant molecules that currently have the affrontery to destroy human life on a vast scale. Nor is there any basis for assuming that we will not be able to take charge of the proliferation of our own bodies' cells, or to maintain our cardiovascular system in good working order. These are all merely technical biomedical challenges that we can be certain will eventually succumb to the scientific conquest of nature, should that pursuit survive the hostility of the present culture. We can have certainty on this question because none of the requisite technological advances involve some arbitrarily-postulated discovery of hypothetical laws of physics, none of them await the uncovering of unknowable revelations that contradict known science--rather, the existence of solutions to these problems of biology is a necessary implication of our current knowledge of the causal mechanisms by which these various insults bring about the death of the human organism. There of course remain vast obstacles in applying this knowledge practically, but here one might point to the virtually miraculous rate of progress we've witnessed since the birth of modern science some few centuries ago, next to the endless millennia of squalor and carnage that came before. So now that aging and disease have been eliminated, all that remains to dispatch us is injury. But here too we will hardly be resigned to accepting the terrible fragility of the human body. The seriousness with which people take accident as an insuperable barrier to a radically-extended life seems premised on the idea that humans are doomed to remain as delicate as they are now, so that one unlucky trip onto a hard surface can wipe you out of existence. But the physical durability of the human machine will be fully as amenable to reengineering as will be its immune system. Tougher materials can be incorporated. Wound healing can be improved. And medical technology will be better able to repair the damage that does occur--that at this early stage we already have such things as organ transplants, regenerative medicine, and functional thought-controlled prosthetic limbs is suggestive. Moreover, the technological devices we deal with will become safer. I for one am confident that humanity will devise a saner means of transport than via daily hurtling head-on several feet past hundreds of massive speeding metal vehicles directed by strangers of unknown capability, sobriety, or emotional state. And importantly, if we are to make it to a society in which anything like this level of science can continue to exist, then we will be living on a radically more-rational planet, and the threats of random crime or of foreign barbarians with explosives or of nuclear-armed dictatorships will not be significant. About the only things left are perhaps stray meteoroids (we'll shoot them) or the death of the Sun (we'll move). My point here is that, however unfathomably distant some of these advances may be, there can come a time in human existence when the risk of death is truly negligible, and this for all intents and purposes would be practical immortality. The mere metaphysical possibility that some extraordinary cataclysmic event could still kill you would not mean that any actual individual's life could not continue long into the indefinite future. This would unequivocally be a magnificent achievement.
  11. Hi. I've decided to explore this forum again after an absence of a couple of years. I am a grad student studying the biology of aging. I work primarily with long-lived mutant mice and caloric restriction. I've been reading about Objectivism for a decade, since I read The Fountainhead at 15. In the last few years my understanding has dramatically increased, in part due to my greatly expanded library of lectures from the Ayn Rand Bookstore. I recommend particularly Leonard Peikoff's courses on the history of philosophy, the DIM Hypothesis, and Objectivism through induction. As to applying Objectivism in action, Tara Smith's lectures are invaluable, especially those on purpose and pride, as well as on self-interest and rationality. I've also found of great educational value generally Eric Daniels' courses on the history of America and on the inventors, and David Harriman's lecture on the philosophic corruption of physics, as well as his fantastic course on physics available through the VanDamme Academy, to name a few. I found the discussion here to be valuable in the past and I look forward to participating.
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