The Deadliest Disease

Leave a comment
philosophy / reading / tech

I know hardly anything about Galahad except that everybody dislikes him.”
“Dislikes him?”
“They complain about him being inhuman.”
Lancelot considered his cup.
“He is inhuman,” he said at last. “But why should he be human? Are angels supposed to be human?”

T.H. White, The Once and Future King

History of Aging

It’s interesting to look at the societal shift in how we view our elders: a story that harkens back to the siutation in antiquity between Athens and Sparta. In Homer’s time, Athens famously prided itself on favoring the young over the old – the Council of Elders was a mere mirage of power while the young reigned over everything. In Sparta, the elderly Gerusia, 28 members over the age of 60, controlled affairs through a top-down approach. The Englightenment returned to the time of Athens by rejecting ugliness, traditional wisdom, and anything to do with old age. The printing press and the freedom to read books were the killing blows to the power of elders over their societies. Why listen to a church elder when there were hundreds of books at your disposal?

Fast forward to a century ago. Telling a Londoner that they could feasibly expect to live to the age of 80; or that they could have kids without fear of mortality; or that they and their family could be incoculated against smallpox and measles would have justifiably thrown you into the asylum.

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Today all of that is taken for granted. We forget that medicine is a modern scientific subject if you can even call it that. It was only after Louis Pasteur discovered the germ in the 19th century that one could make the claim that medicine was a science. Historically, it’s the field that has attracted the most charlatans and snake-oil salesman; today they venture into the fields of macroeconomics and AI risk/safety.

Medical and biological advancement has been moving faster than many think. There are swaths of the medical community who agree that the next frontier in the field is curing aging. Why aging?

Finishing the book Lifespan by David Sinclair made me reconsider how much progress, ideologically and scientifically, we’ve made in the field of aging research. If you had the power, wouldn’t you aim to cure the meta-disease – the one that causes all the others? That meta-disease is aging.

Our bodies have hardware and software. The hardware encompasses our cells while our software would be the eigenome or how our genome is instantiated: which ones are turned on and how our genes should be expressed. As we get older, our epigenome falters and becomes less accurate in determining how to tackle new diseases that enter the body; our cells take longer to repair and metabolize. Think of it as the signal to noise ratio dropping.

Therefore, when we look at the statistics that state heart disease is the biggest killer in the USA, what we should pay attention to is that aging changes the structure of the heart and depreciates it over time. The biology community should be looking at the root causes of disease and not solely addressing each one as it arises. Imagine a crew taking an outdated ship out to sea teeming with holes; instead of patching them all at once, they deal with each hole separately. At some point, you have to wonder why they don’t buy a new ship or completely renovate the one they’re using (let’s not dive into the Ship of Theseus argument). Even though we can’t get new bodies, we can focus our efforts on stopping the biggest problem of all.

Personally I see a lot of similarities between how our society looks at aging and economics. Welfare and social security are largely based off of outdated processes. They are myths that we continue to believe and so we fund them with lackluster success. The same is true of the aging community. We live in a different time now where exponential progress in curing many facets of aging are possible. To give up on the dream because our ancestors died in the same format for millenia is an insufficient excuse.

Guidelines on increasing our lifespans:

  1. Placing ourselves in situations where we undergo hormesis: stressing our cells so that they grow and remove cellular debris. One example would be walking outside in the freezing cold while wearing a T-shirt, spending time in a suana as is custom in Finland, or like Joe Rogan, undergoing cryotherapy.
  2. Eat less meat and fewer calories in general. Humans never evolved for a sedentary lifestyle – we were made to hunt and explore; to burn calories. Fewer calories means that your body removes waste, so senescent (read: dead) cells are among the first to die. A few popular diets include the 16:8, not eating for 16 hours in a row, or the quarterly week-long fast, where one spends a week fasting each quarter.
  3. Supplements. Reservatol is lumped as a polyphenol, acting as a sort of antioxidant, while NAD+ is fundamentally import to the Krebs cycle our bodies use to gain energy. They’re both vitamins that the author takes, lending a shred of skin in the game to what is a field of charlatans. A Roman among Greeks.

Aging FAQs:

Will only the rich be able to afford or see the benefits in anti-aging research? Will this only boost inequality?

I’m not convinced that this only exists for the wealthy and there a few reasons why not. The capitalistic argument is that research costs money. R&D is incredibly expensive today – Eroom’s Law states that every 7 years the cost of the FDA approval process goes up by a billion dollars. In a competitive market, the way to make more money is to choose the price of the drug that the most people can afford. Aging is not an orphan drug that only affects a few people. Your total addressable market is everyone.

Another is that previous life-enhancement techniques haven’t been secluded from the rest of society. Sure, treatments are prohibitively expensive in the USA, but supplements aren’t exorbitantly expensive for the average person. There might a hysteresis where the treatments are too expensive for most consumers when the discovery is first announced; yet, the price will fall. Indeed, we drink the same soda and use the same painkillers as Bill Gates.

Consider the fact that we’re in a globalized world now. My take is that in a collaborative economy, research is open-sourced and open to the public with tools like Github and arxiv. This is happening even in the pharma community; people realizing they can achieve maximized outcomes cheaper by crowdsourcing research in the same vein of Numerai in the investing space. I see a whole suite of drugs in this space – not one player that decisively cures aging. It’s a process. For something as important as this, it doesn’t seem likely that only one company will have monopolistic power with no oversight. Aggregation theory doesn’t apply to pharma companies.

Do we have space for everyone to live forever? Are we not overpopulating and overconsuming our planet as it is?

Emperically, our problem is that people are not having enough kids rather than too many. Noah Smith has a thesis that Japan is the future of the western world; an old, barren population that has chosen the Cartesian world of the mind rather than the body: the virtual, not the physical.

Counterintuitively, a step function increase in our age might mean that we take global problems seriously for once. The cognititive dissonance about global warming should recede when people are alive for the aftermath of their poor consumption habits. I agree that consumption across the West is absurd: we waste too much food, water, and energy. But technology aims to change that – the internet age is still in the early days of helping us understand our bodies and lifestyle choices. As John Doerr says: measure what matters. When sensors in the home allow everyone to know how much matter they’re using, I can see people reducing uncessary consumption.

Isn’t death natural? Why are we artificially messing with a biological construct?

Isn’t medicine messing with this construct? We wouldn’t one day solve cancer and then say “well that’s it, looks like we’re done curing disease.” Either we go extinct or we end up letting people live as long as they want; the end goal of medicine.

Yet, death isn’t going away. In the comic series Asterix, the druid Getafix makes potions for the Gauls that render them invincible but not immortal. They can still die, but they have superhuman capabilities while the potion lasts. My point is that what’s natural is not always what’s best. If we have the means, the next step is in programming biology for better physical outcomes. To summarize T.H. White’s quote: why should we be human and not seek to be angels?

The Modern Proletariat

Leave a comment
philosophy / tech

“In truth, [the proletariat] were not human beings; they were merely toiling machines in the service of the few aristocrats who had guided history down to that time. 

The industrial revolution has simply carried this out to its logical end by making the workers machines pure and simple, taking from them the last trace of independent activity, and so forcing them to think and demand a position worthy of men.”

Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England

To the innocent and often untrained eye, the bay area is a living utopia. One thinks it’s a treasure trove of bright people that aspire to build a brave new world. Like a Randian novel,  they can frolic amongst the chosen coders and get untold riches from building great companies. On closer inspection this is a clever deception – designed to deceive the worker. If anything, the tech worker is susceptible to many of the concerns that Engels vehemently fought against. As Marx implies: any freedom we feel is merely an illusion – the wool is collectively draped over our eyes. Nowhere does this apply more than the software engineer in Silicon Valley. 

Read More

The Spiritual Warfare of Bullshit Jobs

Leave a comment
book review / philosophy

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2:15

Even at the start of humanity, humans were given a purpose: to work; to deal with adversity; to make things happen. That’s not the case today, we’re not existentially given anything in the form of meaning. And increasingly so, it looks as if we cannot look to our jobs as a substitute for meaning either.

We stick to what we know by hanging out with the same groups of people. That’s a factor to our current stratification today – elites in technology or the paper belt are hardly in sync with blue collar workers. Children are told that if they go to university, they’ll be happier and more successful with their white collar jobs. However, rates of depression are highest amongst those who had a privileged upbringing. Why is this the case and what molds a problem into a crisis? Forget the first rule, we need to be talking about the modern-day fight club of hopelessness.

Read More

To See Paris and Die

Leave a comment
tech

Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.

Ernest Hemingway, a Moveable Feast

I’ve been told one of the most timeless skills you can acquire is a film education. Quite an obvious observation: it feels like our real lives are in the virtual world. But acquiring an understanding of film has been a process. I started with your vanilla action movies, comedies, and Sci-Fi. Now I’ve progressed onto foreign films, especially those by French directors. I’ve noticed Paris is one of those cities that seems to swallow its country whole; without Paris, France loses its identity. New York as well: remove the city and the state of New York becomes an empty shell.

Read More

Aren’t We in the Dark Ages?

Leave a comment
Macro / philosophy

Conquest is not the victory itself; but the acquisition, by victory, of a right over the persons of men.

He therefore that is slain is overcome, but not conquered: he that is taken and put into prison or chains is not conquered, though overcome; for he is still an enemy”

Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan

Everyday we’re bombarded by the notion that this is the best time to be alive. Indeed, medieval life was as “nasty, brutish, and short” as Hobbes claimed.

We can expect to live longer, healthier lives without much help from the biotech community and have an abundance of cheap entertainment and technology. On paper, the world is doing well; in reality, the story is more nuanced than it seems.

“Do you know what the leading causes of death in the U.S. are?” Lieberman replied. After heart disease comes cancer. The third is medical error.

As [he points] out, the health care industry heavily markets its own importance and pushes treating illness over preventing it with lifestyle modification. And humans are lazy; it’s easier to take pills than exercise.

Does Medicine Actually Make People Live Longer?


Read More

Rethinking China

Leave a comment
Macro

“What is truth? For the multitude, that which it continually reads and hears.” 

Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West

Trend following is generally a waste of time, but if you’re lucky you might find something that makes you think. Not all minds that wander are lost. On this note, a topic I’ve delved into lately has been Chinese innovation and the supposed decline of America.

From Themistocles and Xerxes, or Obama and Trump, we’ve witnessed this question arise when a new paradigm has emerged. In the modern wake of the trade war, the current shape of the question is America versus China. Rephrased, it’s really asking what shapes countries over the long run – democracy and property rights or a no holds barren autocracy.

Read More

Beginning an Infinite Game

Leave a comment
Macro

“A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.” 

James Carse, Finite and Infinite Games

Graduating university is a cornerstone of a classic American life. I recently graduated and one reason I had such a tough time updating the blog was revising for my (mostly) useless exams. My friends who took time off during university to work and then returned to school said it was near impossible to feel like a student again: the siren song of work was too tempting to ever let it go.

This made me curious why that was. Culturally, we as students are told that we are having the time of our lives. In reality, all my friends were looking forward to getting on with their lives and leaving school behind. But that’s selection bias – what do the facts say?

Read More

Underrated Leaders

comment 1
philosophy
Without LBJ, there would be no civil rights act

If you live a long enough life, you’ll meet an innumerable amount of people, from all walks of life. I want to focus on those who you’ll skip over the first time around; the person who you don’t originally understand or comprehend the actions. They could be vastly different to you. Maybe they’re unnaturally brilliant or they’re phenomenally well-traveled, or are social savants. Any of these qualities at a young age especially sets you apart. But, that often makes you underrated.

Read More

Unorthodox Status Games

Leave a comment
book review / philosophy / reading

I definitely don’t get inspired from writers easily nor do I make a habit of putting people on pedestals. I don’t watch inspirational videos nor motivational speeches. Yet, when encountering the blog, Ribbonfarm, written by Venkatesh Rao I could see writing of a different quality – a veneer of criticism carefully slathered over any topic he touches. Others take themes and concepts for granted, as they are. But, Rao makes sure to add in his brush strokes in whatever he sees: a renegade Picasso.

Read More

Are Blogs Lindy?

Leave a comment
philosophy / reading

The lindy effect is one of the most important mental models from acting. It arises from Albert Goldman’s article in the New Republic:

“the life expectancy of a television comedian is [inversely] proportional to the total amount of his exposure on the medium. If, pathetically deluded by hubris, he undertakes a regular weekly or even monthly program, his chances of survival beyond the first season are slight; but if he adopts the conservation of resources policy favored by these senescent philosophers of “the Business”, and confines himself to “specials” and “guest shots”, he may last to the age of Ed Wynn [d. age 79 in 1966 while still acting in movies]”

But history as one can guess takes its reader on an unforeseen journey. In this case, esteemed mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in his famous way summarized Lindy’s law as such:

Read More

Vingean Uncertainty and Macroeconomics

Leave a comment
Macro / philosophy / reading

There exits a thought puzzle that has riddled sci-fi writers for decades, perhaps even for centuries now.

The quote below was put forth by notable Sci-Fi author Vernor Vinge:

Assume you’re writing about an alien species that is presumably smarter than our species. How do you effectively plan out their actions as if you could do this, you would be as smart as this species?

Read More

Crazy Rich Asians and a new age of storytelling

Leave a comment
Hollywood / philosophy

“I can tell you one thing—these people are richer than God”

crazyrichasians

I went to go see the readily acclaimed film, Crazy Rich Asians, and for once, I can vouch for the Rotten Tomatoes score of 93%.

It’s the first movie in over 25 years to possess a majority Asian-American cast in spite of Asian-Americans climbing up the socioeconomic ladder in the past few decades. In the face of this, it’s not surprising that many are jealous of Asian-Americans.

Read More

A paradox: moderation and fame

Leave a comment
philosophy / reading

While at dinner in Notting Hill a few days ago, my friend laughingly said:

“Everything in moderation, including moderation itself.”

Is it a fallacy to say that the great ideas and companies of the world were started by people who were averse to the idea of moderation? From Nikola Tesla who “could recite scores of books, complete from memory,” to Elon Musk working 120 hours a week at times, and to Jobs sending Larry Ellison 73 variations of a soon-to-be released Toy Story movie.

It seems like moderation is an idea that’s espoused by the plutocratic/technocratic elites, yet never quite adhered to.

Read More

On Macro vs. Micro Thinking

Leave a comment
crypto / philosophy / reading

Naturally, we’re all a tad solipsistic – some, like me, a bit more than others.

The Earth moves around the sun, but in our minds, we can’t help but think that we’re the center of the universe. I guess you might call it an egocentric, rather than a heliocentric, view of the cosmos.

I recently went to Berlin and it’s a concoction of some the wildest flavors and experiences I’ve ever witnessed. The possibilities seem endless in a place with such history.

Read More

On Safe Spaces

comment 1
philosophy

As humans, we’ve had to survive calamities – droughts, blizzards, famines and hungry predators – some of which happened concurrently. If I could go back in time, I would give early homo sapiens (meaning wise man in latin) a huge round of applause. We defeated the enemies outside and within through developing larger brains and improving our social coordination within our circles. The advent of our social ability is thought to have started when groups of primates started hunting together during the day versus acting as nocturnal creatures – we belonged in these ephermal groups in contrast to pairs.

As highlighted from Schulz, the author, of the Science Now paper:

Read More

Reverse Prophecies Introduction

reading

I’ve been reading for years now – I fell in love as a child. Once home from school (not that I was there often), I’d want to read until sleep would break the book’s hold on me. And then I’d start the routine anew the next day.

Yet, after years of reading and writing, I’ve decided to embark on my own journey of adding a piece to the canon by crafting my own book centered around the intersection of philosophy and the world of business – applied philosophy in my view.

Read More