X-Message-Number: 20466
From: "Mark Plus" <>
Subject: Wired.com: "Who Wants to Live Forever?"
Date: Wed, 20 Nov 2002 17:22:08 -0800

Who Wants to Live Forever?  By Kristen Philipkoski
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/medtech/0,1286,56482,00.html

02:00 AM Nov. 20, 2002 PT

What kind of person believes it's possible to live forever?

An Internet entrepreneur, a psychiatrist, an artificial intelligence expert, 
a nanotechnology expert, a science-fiction writer, a nurse and the wife of a 
professional wrestler, just to name a few, all very much believe in that 

They and about 200 others paid up to $600 to attend the fifth Alcor Extreme 
Life Extension Conference, held every other year. They eagerly absorbed the 
latest in the science and philosophy behind the quest for immortality.

These folks belong to "a beleaguered millennial faith," said Gregory 
Benford, a professor of plasma physics and astrophysics at the University of 
California at Irvine who spoke at the conference.

The majority of human beings believe wanting to live forever is just plain 
wrong for various reasons.

Take, for example, Miss Alabama's argument, if you can call it that, given 
during the Miss America competition in 1994. The competition host asked: "If 
you could live forever, would you want to, and why?" Miss Alabama answered, 
"I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we 
were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot 
live forever, which is why I would not live forever."

But extreme life extension advocates have answers for every argument -- even 
Miss Alabama's. They say such circular thinking stems from the innate and 
irrational human fear of death.

Bob Newport is a psychiatrist and a member of Alcor's medical advisory 
board. Sporting a beret and a shirt pocket full of cigars, he argued that 
humans are so afraid of death it's almost impossible to think about it 

Exploring death irrationally is what brought us religion, he argues. 
Depending on cryonics for immortality is "barely rational," he said, but 
it's more rational than depending on Jesus to provide everlasting life.

Many immortality advocates view getting old as a disease.

"If you are physically old and don't want to be, then for you oldness and 
aging are a disease and you deserve to be cured," said Robert Freitas, a 
research scientist at Zyvex and a research fellow at the Institute for 
Molecular Manufacturing.

Steven Vachani, a 27-year-old Internet entrepreneur, attended the conference 
and signed up for the Alcor plan: paying $400 in annual membership dues, and 
naming Alcor as his life insurance beneficiary to cover the cost of freezing 
his body in liquid nitrogen for $120,000 (it costs $50,000 to preserve just 
the head).

When asked if he was worried that one day the company would go out of 
business and his body might be thawed out and abandoned, or that the 
technology for reanimation may never be perfected, he said no.

"In doing anything like this, there's a certain leap of faith you have to 
take," Vachani said. "They don't have all the answers right now, but 
everything will fall into place. If you want all the answers immediately, 
you'll never do anything."

Bonnie Blood, who is married to professional wrestling legend Ricky 
Steamboat (Richard Blood), attended the conference to support the extreme 
life extension effort.

Brenda Linn, a neurology nurse who worked on the development of the Glasgow 
coma score in 1974, also attended. She came to the meeting from Houston with 
her boyfriend, 87-year-old Miller Quarles, who is founder and president of 
the Curing Old Age Disease Society.

"COADS was founded by Miller Quarles who likes living and sees no reason to 
accept the genetic sentence to the gallows before age 100," said the 
organization's website. "The organization seeks to promote research to find 
a way to stop the aging process and to promote public education about that 

Attendees seemed to agree that the Ted Williams saga has been good PR for 
their movement. But at the same time they agreed that public acceptance is a 
long way off.

Gregory Benford, of the University of California at Irvine, believes the 
public should know that "cryonicists aren't crazy, they're just really 
great, sexy optimists."

Benford and his fellow immortality seekers clearly don't approach the issue 
without humor.

Michael Riskin, vice president of Alcor and chair of the board of directors 
suggested four possible reasons why they long for eternal life:

1. They're so appalled by death they'll try anything.

2. They're extreme narcissists and believe the universe has no meaning 
unless they're experiencing it.

3. They have no preconceived answer to death.

4. They enjoy being part of a ridiculed minority.

Riskin was clearly joking. But the folks at the conference are serious about 
living forever. In fact, researchers like Aubrey de Grey dedicate their 
lives to finding scientific solutions to mortality.

Speaking in a very thick British accent, the long-bearded De Grey gave a 
step-by-step rundown of futuristic solutions to various aspects of 
mortality, including metabolism problems and cell death. De Grey is a 
research associate in the genetics department at the University of 

"It could be you whose lives we could save," he said.

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