Aubrey de Grey, PhD, is Chairman and Chief Science Officer of the Methuselah Foundation. The core of his research is the identification of all forms of cellular and molecular damage whose accumulation contributes to human aging, and the design of interventions to remove, repair, replace, or render harmless all such damage so as to arrest or even reverse the biological aging process. He has published extensively on these and other areas of gerontology in the scientific literature, and is also Editor-in-Chief of the high-impact journal Rejuvenation Research, the only peer-reviewed academic journal focusing on intervention in aging.
Question: Are we confronting any fundamental limitations in how far science can progress?
Aubrey de Grey: I don’t think there are any inherent failings that are going to hold us back indefinitely. I think it’s purely a matter of progress breeds progress. Progress breeds the expectation of further progress. And it depends on the field. I often make the distinction between fundamental breakthroughs and incremental breakthroughs – incremental refinements of breakthrough if you like. So if you look at pilot in flight, for example, it took us an awful long time to work out how to get bits of … stuff off the ground. But once we’d done it, we were able to refine that rather rapidly. You know, it was only 24 years from the Wright brothers until Lindbergh got across the Atlantic, which the Wright brothers couldn’t have imagined. And of course subsequent progressions. And we can see this in computers. We can see it in the combating of infectious diseases. You name it. So it seems to me that that was because there was no credibility barrier. People tried because they knew that they could make a small advance, and they just did it. It’s big advances that are tricky. But then that also works across fields. If you’ve made big advances in one field, you can make … maybe make it in another field. That’s what I was saying about raising sights. So I feel it’s a psychological thing; but it’s not an intractable, innate, psychological thing. It’s a … a contingent psychological consequence of our … success hitherto.
Recorded on: 6/22/07