Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Another Wealthy Moron Buys Into the Life Extension Research Nonsense

Larry Ellison is best known as the founder of Oracle and an America's Cup financier. He is also the latest wealthy bozo - with more money than brains - to fall victim to the life extension malarkey. Or as one recent Denver Post Op-ed put it: "Ellison has found a new calling for his outsized ego: Cure death, or failing that, extend life spans to 150 years".

Of course, that extension would mainly be used to extend the lives of the top 0.00001 percent who might be able to afford such measures should they ever materialize. (I happen to believe they won't.)

Never mind, Ellison plans to put $450 million of wasted bucks toward that challenge - so he and other people with too much moola and too little sense can extend their money-grubbing existence,

According to Ellison, quoted in the Op-ed:

"Death has never made much sense to me. How can a person be there and then just vanish, just not  be there?"

My question is: How can a guy that asks such a stupid fucking question actually be the brains behind Oracle? Or did he just steal the system and claim fame? One begins to wonder.

At the very least this fool ought to have taken a first year college biology and physics course to learn :a) biological organisms do not "vanish", their cells experience breakdown wherein the process of catabolism exceeds that of anabolism. As noted in one recent journal on Nutrition:

"Aging causes loss of many of the anabolic signals to muscle that are present in young adulthood. Recent research suggests that there is also an increase in catabolic signals with age."

And b) at root of all cell breakdown - ultimately leading to death-  is a certain level of increasing disorder as predicted by the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The law can also be stated as "the entropy law", i.e.

The entropy (degree of disorder of a closed system) increases in probability for  all natural processes

In terms of biological -organic systems it means that death is the highest entropy state. This means that once one is dead he remains dead.  There are no "Lazarus-type" resurrections.  Once one's life is extinguished it remains so. In other words, if one adheres to the laws of the natural world there can be no extensions of human lives beyond defined biological limits (depending on the knowledge base at the time). 

In a real sense, one begins the death process from the moment of birth. From then assorted external and internal factors - genetic and other (e.g. toxic chemicals, diseases, poor nutrition etc.) begin to wear one's body down, give rise to more catabolic than anabolic inputs   Nor is it a given that the effects of these inputs means a person dies in "old age" (a relative term if ever there was one.) After all, children of 5 or 6 years of age can die of childhood cancers. My cousin Lois Jean died at the age of 5 from leukemia. That was in 1955. She may have lived longer today with bone marrow transplants, but other kids die from assorted cancers of the liver, kidneys, etc.

Bodies - of whatever age at death -  do not just "vanish"-  they progressively waste away over time by the inexorable power of higher entropy as expressed in a disease (e.g. cancer) or some other . degenerative condition or even the effects of a fall or other accident. At the very least it is supercilious nonsense to believe one can summon the power to defeat the inexorable ravages spawned by entropy no matter how much money one has. But this appears to be Ellison's fantasy. Obviously also, the guy never studied Darwinian evolution which unfolds precisely because it is contingent on deaths-replacement of species' members.

Think of it! If Homo Erectus could have lived 'forever' then modern man would never have appeared. The hominid species would have been stuck at the level of Homo Erectus.  Similarly, if dinosaurs had never died out, we'd never have beheld the emergence of birds  - their evolutionary offshoots. Death then fulfills a critical role, apart from preventing the explosion of populations and allowing these to overrun limited food and  resources.

Imagine then, if instead of funding such a Rube Goldberg scheme Ellison put his money to more practical use for human advancement and welfare.  The site CostHelper.com recently estimated what Ellison's $450 m could have done - including covering prenatal care for 225 million women.  Also, at $1,288 per first year of baby care, including immunizations, that $450m would cover 350 million infants.

Another billionaire, Bill Gates, who's donated a lot toward advancing health and education in the Third World chides Ellison (ibid.):

"It seems pretty egocentric while we still have malaria and tuberculosis for rich people to fund things so they can live longer."

Indeed, and what would these rich people do with those extra years anyway? Clearly the egocentric nature of their quest shows they wouldn't be helping most of humanity. More than likely they'd just be contributing to the global state of inequality. So who the hell needs them sucking up any more air?

A more astute observation is what would happen IF - I say IF - even one offshoot of Ellison's research led to an increase of just 5 years in overall lifespan. That's assuming the benefit extends not just to his top tier wealthy cohort but to millions of other ordinary folks.  Well, it doesn't take a genius to see that it would wreck our current Social Security and Medicare systems which were not really designed to support too many 110 to 115 -year olds! (Which translates to 45-50 years of continuous benefits.)

Those social insurance systems are successful only to the extent the population meets certain thresholds of mortality over time (based on gov't actuarial tables). That means no significant extension of current lifespans.

Even more trenchant, and a point I've belabored,  the primary issue is not quantity of life but quality. Ellison's money then would be better put toward further Alzheimer's disease research if he really wants to make the lives of older folks better. As it is, the proportion of those with Alzheimer's doubles every five years after the age of  65. It is possible here that prostate cancer could cut my own life short - I am still awaiting the MRI results - but I'd rather die at 75, than live to 90 and have incurable Alzheimer's those extra 15 years. (My own mother died of Alzheimer's at age 91).

In any case, no one in human history has ever escaped death and no sane person should want to. It is as much a part of the cycle of existence as life, and indeed, is essential to preserving a relative quality of life for those that continue in the evolutionary path.  Imagine then, if all the humans that have ever lived -all 100 billion of them - were still around. You would not even be able to remotely think of the level of destitution and misery - not to mention cannibalism - this would have unleashed on the world, the human community. Too few resources, too many mouths to feed.

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