David Ewing Duncan is an award-winning, best-selling author of eight books, with his newest book titled When I’m 164:The New Science of Radical Life Extension, and What Happens If It Succeeds. David talks on four technological advances that can help increase our life span, why we can’t clone human beings yet, and much more on today’s episode.

Key Takeaways:

[4:50] What are some of the technologies that can help increase life span?

[7:40] Why can’t we clone humans yet?

[10:15] Jason just got his telomeres tested and thinks it’s a sham.

[14:45] We’re too early to see the real impact of these potential technologies.

[17:40] In 2029, we might have the next big technology boom that will change everything.

[20:40] Why don’t people want immortality?

[22:35] The longest person who has lived was almost 123.

Mentioned In This Episode:

DavidEwingDuncan.com

WhenIm164.com

Tweetables:

β€œThe mouse lives about 2 years, the bat about 40 years. They are very similar if you get to their basic biology.”

β€œDetermining someone’s actual potential longevity is still very, very difficult to do.”

β€œBiology is complicated. Every time we answer a question we have ten more.”

Transcript

Jason Hartman:

It’s my pleasure to welcome David Ewing Duncan to the show. He is an award-winning best-selling author of eight books and numerous essays. He’s also got a non-fiction work on its way out and he’s going to talk to us about the subject of radical life extension. I think you’ll find this interview to be very, very fascinating. David, welcome, how are you?

David Ewing Duncan:

I’m doing great, thank you for having me.

Jason:

Yeah, it’s great to have you. So, first of all, where are you located?

David:

I am in San Francisco actually overlooking the city right now on a beautiful day.

Jason:

Fantastic, always like to give our listeners a geographical context. Just kind of interesting. Your latest work was When I Am 164. So, 164, gosh, when is that going to be possible? Are we on the verge?

David:

Well, we should probably hear the rest of the title, which is The Science of Radical Life Extension and in my view, perhaps more importantly, what happens if we succeed.

Jason:

Yeah.

David:

So, the 164 obviously comes, it’s a play on the Beatles song When I’m 64.

Jason:

Right.

David:

And it’s in a way an update for the 21st century, because when Paul McCartney wrote that at age 17, he could not imagine himself ever being 64 and of course he’s well beyond that now and I think we are similarly in a mode where we couldn’t imagine ourselves being a 164.

Jason:

Well, you know, David. Look, 164 is the new 40.

David:

Yeah, it may. I mean, new 40 maybe the permanent 40. Some people are right, but I have to add here that I tend to be a skeptic about a lot of new science as we are or want to be journalists, but even a skeptic like myself in writing about studying a lot of new technology, which we can go over if you want, I think this actually could happen. That we could radically extend lifespan. Maybe not by hundreds of years, but possibly by decades and this could happen within some people’s life time that are alive right now.

Jason:

Talk to us about some of these technologies. I mean, you know, I guess every generation probably thinks, you know, maybe a 100 years ago, they thought they were on the verge of all kinds of amazing things and maybe that’s pretty normal or it’s also normal to pessimistic and Malthusian, thinking we are on the verge of collapse and both things have been pondered over the centuries, of course, and before that, but it really does feels like we’re on the verge of just some. I mean, things are coalescing in a way right now in technology, in bio-tech, in nano-tech, that material science, 3D printing, really it does feel like a pretty amazing time, but I guess you have to take that with a grain of salt, because maybe every generation felt that way.

David:

Well, it’s interesting. I think a lot about this. There’s always a tension between optimists and pessimists. I even call them techno-optimists and techno-pessimists or techno-skeptics and it kind of does depend on when you’re living. I mean, in 1929, October 1929 when the stock market crashed, you had a lot of people go from optimist to pessimist literally within a few days and so a lot of it has to do with the time you live in, but having said that – by the way, I am a historian by training, so I’ve actually studied this across time, but we are living in a moment, some people call it exponential technologies and as you said, I don’t think there’s ever been a period in history where you have so many technologies moving at such a fast clip at the same time.

You know, we tended to have, the steam engine was a huge invention that took several decades to really work out and become affected, but that was one big invention and you really go down the line. Usually it’s one or two major breakthroughs, but having so many at once is definitely almost unique.

Jason:

Well, talk to us about some of these, you know, technologies in terms of radical life extension.

David:

Well, in the book I talk about four different ways that we extend life span. The first one is the classic one and we probably aren’t going to eek out much in terms of average life span, but that’s from just simply eating well, hygiene, you know, the things that have already caused us to extend lifespan by quite a bit. Compared to say 150 years ago and will continue to probably increase overall life span.

And then you get the science, which is genetics, of course, many animals, less complicated than humans by tweaking a gene or two or adjusting a pathway of genetics, you’ve been able to expand, extend lifespan in some cases, like with little worms; they are tiny little simple organisms, by ten times and then you’ve got stem cell technologies and I can go over more details than this if you want. You know, being able to regenerate tissue and then finally you got bionics, which is the melding of machine technologies in humans. All of these will be part of the equation.

Jason:

Right, right. Well, yeah, let’s talk about, you know, the genetic stuff first and go from there.

David:

Sure, as I said, really since the early 90s as we’ve been, you know, learning how to manipulate genes, especially in simple organisms, there’s been this phenomenon, which is completely unexpected that longevity, the life span of creatures seems to be regulated genetically by species and some species, which are very similar live a lot long than other species, which are very similar. You know, the mouse versus the bat. The mouse lives about two years, the bat lives about 40 years. And they are very, very similar actually if you get to their basic biology.

So, evolution seems to have created some genetics behind adjusting lifespan, even among primates there’s a fairly wide range. We are very long lived, some others are very short lived. Our closest cousins. So, using that machinery and those mechanisms that have been studied, it appears that one could adjust genetically even in human to potentially increase lifespan. We can’t test humans that way ethnically, at least, at the moment, and the effect seems to get smaller and smaller as you get into more complex animals like say mice or primates and there’s a lot more detail where that is, exactly how that works and all that, but that’s basically what’s going on.

Jason:

You know, I’m sort of, I’ve always been kind of confused. When we cloned Dolly the sheep. I mean, that’s a complex animal, just like a human. I know cloning is not necessarily your area, but why wouldn’t be able to do that with a human or can we and it’s just a big secret and a conspiracy theory.

David:

Well, I read a lot about it when that happened. It’s hard to believe it was 20 years ago, but cloning has turned out, at least cloning a complex organism like that, it’s turned out to be very difficult. You can clone animals and it’s actually done here and there. There’s been talk industrializing it for domestic animals, things like that, but so far, and I’m not up on the latest on this, but I’m sure it hasn’t changed a lot, but cloned animals it turns out there are errors and Dolly died relatively quickly. In fact, the Dollys before Dolly, there were lots of them who either didn’t make it through term or died very quickly. They tend to get rare genetic disorders. There seems to be glitches that occur in that process and this is something that maybe one day could be perfected. You know, we have to go back and talk to the experts on that.

On the other hand, there have been pets that have been cloned, which seem to stick around for awhile, but I don’t think you want to, it’s such an imperfect science, you want to be mucking around with humans and the other thing that’s really stopped that and you don’t hear much about it anymore is when you clone, you know, an organism, you aren’t going to get a duplicate because, even though they are identical genetically, the environment, even how they develop in the womb is going to be different.

My favorite story on that is there’s a company here in San Francisco as I look north here from my apartment, I can actually see Marin County, this is where this occurred, and they cloned a calico cat that had died, but there was some tissue left. The calico pattern on this new cloned cat was different than the original cat and of course that didn’t replace the beloved animal, you know, that the people that were cloning had hoped to replace and that would happen with humans too.

Jason:

Getting back to the life extension topic directly though. Sorry if I took you on a bit of a tangent there, but you made me curious.

David:

No, that’s okay, that could be one way we could..

Jason:

Yeah, it is part of the issue, no question about it, but what are on the verge of now? You know, it’s interesting, because I just had my telomeres tested through Cenegentics and I had them on the show and I just did that test, but it seemed like a bit of a sham to me, frankly, because, and I’m not saying Cenogenics is, I think that’s a great company, but the telomere test that they outsource to another provider, because I had to answer this big long questionnaire, David, about, you know, how long my parents, if they’re still a live, if not, how long they lived, you know, my whole lifestyle. I’m thinking, you could just go to yourage.com or true age or real age or whatever it’s called, that website, you’re probably familiar and put in those things and they could tell you the same thing. So, I don’t know. I just didn’t know how valid that was, honestly.

David:

Well, you know, that sort of techno-optimist group that we were talking about earlier. There are a lot of people that really want to have mechanisms that are sort of easily defined, easily tested that can either tell you about your life span or possibly even help you increase it or slow aging or something. The telomeres is interesting, because the jury is really still out on entirely how it affects humans. I don’t know if it’s a sham or not, really, to be honest with you. At the moment, there’s not enough known, but there are a lot of people working on it.

Jason:

I wanted them to take my blood and not know anything about me. You know, so they could just literally tell me from the test, you know?

David:

Yeah, that would be interesting. You had some terminal condition.

Jason:

Why do I need to answer a big long questionnaire with a 140 questions for them to determine that? It should just be the test itself in my opinion.

David:

Certainty if you want to find out if telomeres are real, but the thing is, it’s not invalid for them to ask you all those questions, because one way, right now, even on yourage.com or whatever your biological age, it’s really a lot of different factors that have to be put it. Telomeres, it just tells you about your cells and in some, again, some organisms that are not as complex as humans, that are different that humans, there’s some evidence in mice, you know, the telomere length is a direct correlation to how long you will live, but in humans, there’s contradictory evidence,

Some people have very short telomeres, but are very old. There’s some evidence in other organisms that you can actually lengthen through telomerase, which is an enzyme that telomeres produce. So, it’s one of those jury is out things, it might be interesting, but the bottom line is that determining someone’s actual potential longevity is still very, very difficult to do and really looking at things like your parents, you know, I’m lucky enough to have my parents in their 80s. They’re very healthy. People in my family tend to live a long time. That’s going to be a better indicator for me than probably almost any other test I could take at this point.

Jason:

Are these breakthroughs that we’ve made beyond the verge of, are they in the telomere world or with, you know, taking supplements like, I think it’s called TA-65 or something like that or what are the different, I mean, there’s a bunch of areas to do this, right?

David:

To be honest with you as a reporter, I used to diligently report on each one of those and I now, I certainty follow it, but I think you at an inflection point in a lot of these technologies and by that would fall under the health and nutrition area that I was talking about earlier. It may be that we can augment or push some β€œnatural” sort of remedies or compounds that could increase life span, but I think we are at sort of tantalizing point at the beginning of possibly a century or so of science that there’s a lot of possibilities out there and we’re seeing, you can find a lot of interesting possibilities with everything from natural substances to bionics and genetics, but we’re just so early with it right now and so many people see it could happen to. Some of my buddies down here in Silicon Valley are hoping this will happen sooner rather than later and it might! You do occasionally get real breakthroughs.

The stem cell, what they call, induced pluripotent stem cells, iPS cells. Kind of a clunky name, but it’s a technology that [cuts out] where scientist, several different scientists working independently figured out you can take any cell in the body and reverse it back through an early stage embryo, you know, as a stem cell, which can then grow to any cell in the body and so, in other words, you can take a skin cell, reverse it back, and then take that stem cell – it was grown from the skin cells. Sorry if I’m being confusing here and then you can grow that into a heart cell or a brain cell, which will be identically genetically to your heart cells and brain cells and this could enormous if you’re able to stabilize that. You could replace damaged cells say in the heart with fresh cells that if they take, can actually repair the heart and that technology happened abruptly overnight and that could be a big deal.

Jason:

Very interesting. Okay, so, now you talk about two other areas, you know, one was bionics as well. Let’s touch on those two other areas if we could.

David:

Bionics is an interesting one because, to me, it’s almost, there’s this interesting sort of synergy that’s attempting to happen between engineering and biology and this almost a philosophical sort of divide at the moment, which I’ve been writing about and fascinated with. Engineers are convinced that we, the human body, is just like a very complex computer or a piece of hardware and our neurons and our genes are like software and that’s how they view the world and that’s why they love genetics, because genetics is a simple code of four letters.

Biologists look at that and go, are you crazy? Biology is complicated. Every time we answer a question we have ten more and so I think you got an interesting philosophical divide, but it’s being largely driven by the engineers right now and they are really hell bent on fusing humans with machines and on the one hand, we do this already, we’ve done it for a long time, even eye glasses, certainty like a pace maker, a lot of artificial limps are so advance that they are in many ways better than real limps, at least, aging limps. So, you’ve got that, but the idea of say a brain machine infusion is still way off.

Jason:

We’re not at that singularity yet.

David:

No.

Jason:

Maybe thankfully.

David:

Yeah, Ray Kurzweil, you know, who I know and respect. He’s a brilliant man. I think the idea that in 2029, which isn’t very fair away, is somehow we will have a singularity event and I’m not even really surge and I read his book and I talked to him. I’m not even entirely sure what singularity is.

Jason:

It has a few different meanings.

David:

Yeah, exactly, but I think in the simplest way of describing it is when something really singular will happens that completely changes everything. In Ray’s view, it’ll be something along the lines of, you know, a fusion between humans and machines or the machines become sentient. You know, both of those happening any time soon I think are unlikely and I would be frighten of either one of those happening, especially the machines becoming sentient.

Jason:

That’s a scary thing in many ways. There’s just a lot of possibilities about that. You know, back to Stanley Kubrick and Hal 9000 even. Even in that.

David:

Yeah, Terminator. Although, I do have to say, if you haven’t seen the movie Her, Spike Jonze movie, he has an interesting take on, it’s like an anti-Terminator. The computer there who sort of falls in love, it’s like a Seri, a really advance Seri who does everything for the human that’s bought the service and it’s Scarlett Johansson’s voice, which is always nice to listen to, but these sort of sentient helpers, if you will; instead of becoming Terminators and taking over the world, they actually just reach a plain where they are kind of beyond wanting to even be around humans and want to go off and see what’s going on in their own kind of virtual world and it’s not violent or horrible or dystopic, so maybe that’s what will happen.

Jason:

Yeah, very interesting, very interesting. Give out your websites if you would and I got another question or two for ya, real quickly.

David:

Sure. Well, the website, my main website is just my name, DavidEwingDuncan.com. The 164 book, we have a website called WhenIm164.com and by the way, you can vote in there how long you’ll live. I’ve asked lots of audiences with the show of hands how long they wanna live and you can find out if you are desired lifespans syncs up with other people. We asked about 40,000 people and you can vote online and finally off the rock, my last big book was Experimental Man, Experimentalman.com where I went out and had every test you could possibly take on the planet, you know, genetic, environmental, and the rest.

Jason:

Right, right yeah. I wanna ask you about that. So, it’s surprising to me, David, I mean, people wouldn’t just say they want to live as long as possible? They want immortality and if they don’t say that, I think it’s because of the perception of age. It’s really a more of a question of health span than it is life span. You know, they just view that if you’re 90, you’re not going to have good use of your body and that wouldn’t be pleasant. I think, that’s my assumption.

David:

I think that’s right and in the survey I took. I don’t give, you know, I don’t say anything about how you might consider living a long time. I purposely don’t and I tell people, you can imagine that, I ask people if they want to live to be 80, 120, 150, or forever. I ask for a show of hands and the vast majority of people vote for 80, almost the rest of the people voted for 120 and then a small number of 150 or forever and I tell them, you know, you are free to imagine that you’ll be young for 150 years.

If you lived to be a 150, there’s some science affects or not, but it is really firmly ingrained in our minds, I don’t, especially as we’ve had an aging population in great numbers for the first time. We’ve seen our parents and grandparents be much older than they would have been in past eras and none of us really want to live to be frail and on machines and taking ten pills everyday, so I think there’s a great fear of that. It is about health span. In fact, I would personally love to live a nice robust life, you know, to a decent age and get hit by a truck.

Jason:

There you go.

David:

Not have to go into decline.

Jason:

That’s funny. So, in the Experimental Man book and this, I just want to close with this, you talk about life at age 122, now that’s – I guess you got more optimistic and went to 164 after that, but what is the gene that regulates forever?

David:

Well, the 122 book, by the way, would make me longer lived than anyone else in history. The longest lived person has lived till, well, to almost 123, so that’s where that number came from. Well, the longevity gene, now, this book was written back in 2008 and so it’s really describing, it’s not really aging, although it is in some organisms, it’s describing what I was talking about earlier that there do seem to be these pathways that has something to do with regulating life span in different organism and that particular gene and the time, you know, this was five-six years ago, it looked like there was a specific gene family called the SERT genes that were among these regulator genes. Now, there’s been some issue with that recently and this has to do with something called caloric restriction where a number of organism, if you starve them essentially..

Jason:

They live longer. They’ve done that on mice a lot of times. I kind of agree with that. I mean, I don’t think we’re meant to eat a lot.

David:

Well, this is actually a starvation diet and many organism, it’s a mechanism to slow down the aging of cells to essentially ramp up to defensive cells to keep the organism alive so that he can reproduce. Don’t forget, DNA wants to reproduce and we’re sort of receptacles in some ways of DNA, which is mortal, which uses us to continue on. In fact, that’s the real immortality, I mean, when DNA first was formed about 3 billion plus years ago, it still around, which is kind of interesting.

Jason:

It’s amazing.

David:

Think about this, but anyway, the caloric restriction has – it hasn’t worked quite as neatly and again, complex organism like primates in humans as it has in some others, so the jury is still a bit out on that as well. Although, there are certainty people that have been doing it for decades. Skinny, skinny people.

Jason:

Yeah, very interesting. Well, good, good stuff. Well, David, thank you so much for joining us today and gosh, you know, it is an amazing time and you mentioned the prosthetics and bionics and so forth and with 3D printing, there’s some amazing stuff going on there too. So, I think the combination of that and the iterative process of designing those things can make them a lot better too. So, that’s what 3D printing allows for, so very interesting discussion and thank you so much for joining us today.

David:

Well, thank you! Take care.

Announcer:

This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company, all rights reserved. For distribution or publication rights and media interviews, please visit www.hartmanmedia.com or email [email protected] Nothing on this show should be considered specific personal or professional advice. Please consult an appropriate tax, legal, real estate or business professional for individualized advice. Opinions of guests are their own and the host is acting on behalf of Platinum Properties Investor Network Inc. exclusively.

Because you listened to this post you might also try...

Related Posts