I first met Aubrey de Grey over ten years ago, when he presented at a conference I attended. And his core message blew my mind. It was — and remains — that it should soon lie within technology's reach to eliminate the scourge of human aging. Not merely to arrest it — but even to reverse it. We discuss all of this and more right here:
People have been making these sorts of claims from time immemorial. But they usually have a service, some goop, or a religion to sell, and Aubrey's peddling none of the above. The charlatans also typically lack Aubrey's professional validation — which include a Cambridge Ph.D, any number of academic publications, and dozens of scientists pursuing his agenda with full or partial funding from the organization that he founded and runs.
Aubrey is charmingly indignant about the lack of urgency most of humanity has about ending aging. He attributes this to a mindset he calls the "Pro-aging Trance," which we discuss in detail at the start of our interview. Its roots include the instinctive conviction most of us have that death and mortality are immutable realities. To which Aubrey would reply that many instinctive convictions — such as belief in an Earth-centered universe, or the impossibility of human flight — have gone the way of the dodo bird. And he would of course add that there's no reason for us to go that way ourselves.
Aubrey maintains that while life itself is — for now — unfathomably complex, as are most disease states, virtually everything that causes us to age and die stems from seven discrete categories of damage, which steadily accrue throughout our lives. And vitally, we don't need to fully understand this damage in order to fix it. So by all means, he argues, let's start fixing! He lists seven major repair vectors, which he believes can collectively end aging. We discuss two in detail in our interview, and I survey the other five in my concluding remarks.
One final note: when you hear about a research program like Aubrey's, it is not unreasonable to ask, is this guy nuts? Personally, I like Aubrey, I loved his book (which we also discuss), and I sure hope he's right about everything, because I quite enjoy being alive! But I categorically lack the background necessary to assess his claims scientifically. In light of that, as well as the pro-Aubrey biases I just confessed to, I was careful to vet him as a guest with multiple scientists who are familiar with his work — most of whom also specialize in aging and its attendant diseases.
The strong consensus from this informal advisory group is that Aubrey is the real deal. He's viewed as being extremely smart, entirely serious, and not even slightly bonkers. Now, that doesn't mean a majority or even a large minority of scientists agree that defeating aging during the next few decades is largely a matter of adequate funding. That's still a rather fringe viewpoint. But it's a viewpoint a scientist can now espouse and retain the respect of his peers – which I doubt was the case until quite recently. No doubt Aubrey's own work has had something to do with that.
Image of Aubrey de Grey by SENS Foundation/Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)