In his best selling book ‘Zero to One’, a manual for budding entreprenuers hoping to build the next billion dollar startup, Peter Thiel instructs his readers to look for secrets. According to Thiel, secrets are important truths that society does not accept. An entrepreneur looking to change the world, or at least create or transform a new market and dominate it, has to think in contrarian terms. In his words :
Remember our contrarian question: what important truth do very few people agree with you on? If we already understand as much of the natural world as we ever will—if all of today’s conventional ideas are already enlightened, and if everything conventions secrets mysteries easy hard impossible has already been done — then there are no good answers. Contrarian thinking doesn’t make any sense unless the world still has secrets left to give up.
Whilst most of us, unless we are engaing in cutting edge and ground breaking scientific research, are unlikely be able to see such ‘secrets’ with regard to the natural world, it may be easier to look for secrets in the human realm. In particular the gap between what people say and what people really want.
Perhaps there is a market ready to explode, but it is hard to see this because of conventional thinking, or more accurately because of social norms, which keep it hidden as a secret – as a kind of Elephant in the Room?
I believe that death, and the possibility of overcoming death through the sciene of radical life extension, may be one such secret, perhaps the biggest secret of the 21st century that is about to dramatically be revealed.
Lobbyists for radical life extension, such as the scientist and media personality Aubrey de Grey, have despaired at the near universal acceptance of death in soceity and consequent difficulty in attracting funding for reasearch endevours that, in his view, could effectively end aging within the next 30 years. Much thought has been given as to the reason why this is. From a starting point that is rapdily becoming accepted in serious scientific circles – that radical life extension could be achieved within most of our lifetimes if enough funding was given to research – why is it that apparently the majority of people will raise questions as to whether this goal is even worthy? Objections range from concerns regarding overpopulation, the possibility of ‘immortal dictators’, and simple accusations that to even want to live forever is pure selfishness when millions of people in the world still live their short lives in abject poverty.
None of these objections are very rational or bare much logical scrutiny. But more importantly, they appear to be emotional objections that are blatantly deceitful. For if a pill suddenly came on the market that would rejuvenate everybody over 30 back into their 20 year old selves indefinitely, you could be sure that virtually every human on the planet would want to get their hands on it.
So radical life extension could be the ultimate big secret that could lead to untold riches for those entrepaneurs who can think contrarianly enough to see it.
Firstly, the fast progress being made in research into ending aging is not widely known, even in the relevant medical fields of gerontology (largely because the FDA and the Untied Nations do not recognize aging itself as a disease). For example, within the next few years, what are known as senolytic drugs will come onto the market that promise to be the first treatments in human history to actually ‘turn back the clock’ and partly rejuvenate the aging human body (by clearing out dead and toxic ‘sensceant cells’). One of the companies developing such senolytic drugs last week filed for an 85 million dollars IPO (Initial Public Offering).
Secondly, there is this gap between what people say regarding their thoughts on the prospects of ending aging, and what they are highly likely to do when such treatments become available on the market, in as little as the next five years.
And as you might expect, Peter Thiel himself appears to recognize the big secret of ending aging, and has personaly invested millions of his wealth into funding efforts to enable radical life extension. He was particularly revealing in an interview with the Washington Post.
I’ve always had this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing. I think that’s somewhat unusual. Most people end up compartmentalizing, and they are in some weird mode of denial and acceptance about death, but they both have the result of making you very passive.
I prefer to fight it.
Almost every major disease is linked to aging. One in a thousand get cancer after age 30. Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971, and there has been frustratingly slow progress. One-third of people age 85 and older have Alzheimer’s or dementia, and we’re not even motivated to start a war on Alzheimer’s. At the end of the day, we need to do more.
You’re currently funding Cynthia Kenyon, Aubrey de Grey and a number of other researchers on anti-aging. What was it about these individuals and their work that got your attention?
They think far outside the conventional wisdom and are far more optimistic about what can be done. I think that’s important to motivate the research.