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Mindful : June 2018
THERE SEEMS TO BE A CERTAIN KIND OF HUBRIS AMONG THE WEALTHY AND POWERFUL THAT NURTURES A BELIEF THAT THEY ARE TOO POWERFUL AND TOO IMPORTANT TO DIE. became a plot point in the HBO series Silicon Valley, with one particularly odious executive hiring a strapping youth to give him regular infusions of young blood. Elysium Health, cofounded in 2014 by MIT biologist Leonard Guarente to extend health span and slow biological aging, raised $20 mil- lion in 2016 alone, valuing the private company at just north of $150 million. Although Guar- ente, who discovered how sirtuins affect aging, is sometimes portrayed as an immortalist, he views his anti-aging research “as a branch of medicine,” he said. “I hope that what comes out of it is a way to improve our health... To think that we can program immortality is ludicrous.” Why do tech billionaires believe otherwise? “There is a kind of hubris there, the hubris of powerful men,” said Julian Hughes, professor of Old Age Psychiatry at England’s University of Bristol and a coauthor of the Nuffield Coun- cil report. That hubris nurtures a belief that they are too powerful and too important to die. Philosopher David Archard of Queen’s Univer- sity Belfast, chair of the Nuffield Council, said he wouldn’t be surprised if “the denizens of Silicon Valley take themselves seriously enough to believe their immortality or delayed death is in humanity’s best interests.” Yet many people face the prospect of their demise with equanimity. “A lot of people think death will be a release and even welcome it,” said Hughes. “Their spouse has died, their friends have died; they’ve had enough, really.” The realization that drives those who accept the inevitability of death can also kick in well before one has “had enough.” Most people agree that death as such “is bad because it deprives us, finally and irrevocably, of what gives value to life,” including pleasure, happiness, friend- ship, knowledge, and love, Archard said. “On that view, the longer you live—with infinite extension of life as best of all—the more of these goods or constituent pleasures you can enjoy. If one more day of life is preferable, then surely an infinite number of further days is optimal?” But an enduring strand in philosophy a nswers, surely not. What gives our activities, work, and relationships meaning and purpose and value “is that they are pursued with a finite life,” Archard said. “An immortal existence would run out of purpose.” ● June 2018 mindful 35