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Could This Transhumanist Be the next Governor of California?
Libertarian transhumanist Zoltan Istvan is running for Governor of California in 2018 and, among other things, he wants to conquer aging and death for all!
It’s a good time to be a transhumanist politician. As faith in the political establishment declines, new technologies, from gene editing to artificial intelligence, are transforming our lives faster than ever. The transhumanist author and politician Zoltan Istvan agrees. He thinks the time is ripe for pro-science and technology governance, and for leaders who will embrace the technologies that could fundamentally transform our conceptions of what it means to be human.
Istvan is a maverick who appears to thrive in an 'outsider' role. He self-published a sci-fi novel, The Transhumanist Wager, in 2013, which became a surprise bestseller on Amazon. In 2016, he made an unlikely run for US president as the leader of the Transhumanist Party. Now, he’s making a bid for Governor of California in the 2018 election under a Libertarian Party ticket.
As a libertarian, Istvan believes in promoting “maximum freedom and personal accountability,” a sentiment that gels well with his championing of human enhancement technologies and robot and cyborg rights.
Like all transhumanists, Istvan believes in using science and technology to enhance human capabilities and transcend current biological limits. He wants to be smarter, live longer, and eventually merge with advanced technologies to become a posthuman being—one that is impervious, or at least resilient, to aging, and most mortal risks.
All Aboard the Immortality Bus
The primary role of transhumanist politicians and parties at present is not to win elections, but to spread awareness and garner political clout. Istvan acknowledges this, and he plays the role well.
When running for president in 2016, he drove around the country in a coffin-shaped “Immortality Bus” spreading the word that death should be conquered. He got a lot of media attention and helped to generate awareness about transhumanist ideas and technologies. He also seemed to be the only candidate actively desiring to be superseded. Eventually, Istvan hopes that an artificial intelligence will become president, as he thinks it will do a better job.
In 2017, the political newcomer set his sights on a smaller goal: California. He also made the pragmatic decision to switch to the Libertarian Party, which has a larger support base than his own Transhumanist Party. But Istvan hasn’t abandoned transhumanism. Many transhumanists are libertarians, or have libertarian sympathies, and Istvan believes that he can promote libertarian and transhumanist interests in tandem.
He notably opposes federal regulations that could hamper the development of advanced technologies, like artificial intelligence and gene editing, which have many marketable applications, from driverless cars, to the broad and growing field of personalized medicine. These industries are big in California, and Istvan believes they will be instrumental in promoting economic growth.
But what if robots end up taking all the jobs? As a left-leaning libertarian, Istvan thinks that some form of basic income will eventually be necessary to solve this problem.
The gubernatorial candidate is also a passionate defender of the joint transhumanist-libertarian view that the individual should have the right to choose what they do with their own body. The principle of “morphological freedom,” as it’s called in transhumanist circles, includes basic forms of DIY biohacking (Istvan has an RFID chip implanted in his wrist, which opens his front door) and extends to much more ambitious forms of body modification, like gene therapy, and other biomedical interventions that could stop or reverse aging, enhance physical and cognitive prowess, and even delay death.
Like many transhumanists, Istvan is also adamant that the government needs to classify aging as a disease. He views the fight against aging and death as a (trans)human rights issue, a stance he explained in a 2017 interview:
“My entire goal, and one of the things I'm standing behind is that we all have a universal right to indefinite lifespans. That's something I can promise you in the 21st century will become one of the most important civil and ideological rights of humanity. That everybody has a right to live indefinitely.”
Who Wants to Live Forever?
Apparently, quite a few people. Billions of dollars are being spent by tech corporations and entrepreneurs to unlock the secrets of human biology, reverse aging, and cure disease. Google’s Calico Labs, a $1.5 billion initiative, focus purely on anti-aging and life-extension research, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have pledged $3 billion to cure all diseases by the end of the century.
PayPal co-founder and prominent libertarian transhumanist Peter Thiel is another keen investor in life-extension initiatives. He famously expressed interest in "parabiosis" an experimental procedure in which individuals over 35 receive blood transfusions from those under 25 in the hope of experiencing regenerative effects. Thiel has said of death:
“You can accept it, you can deny it or you can fight it. I think our society is dominated by people who are into denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.”
Oracle founder Larry Ellison has also donated in excess of $430 million to anti-aging research, and is similarly outspoken about the tragedy of death:
“Death has never made any sense to me… Death makes me angry. Premature death makes me angrier still.”
But the question remains, is life-extension actually possible? Biogerontologist and co-founder of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senesence (SENS) Foundation, Aubrey de Grey, thinks so.
De Grey believes that aging, and age-related diseases should be thought of as “the various types of molecular and cellular damage that the body does to itself as a side effect of its normal metabolic operation.” De Grey’s research focuses on figuring out how “to repair that damage and prevent it from developing into a pathology of old age.”
Other scientists, like the theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, and the Harvard geneticist George Church are also optimistic that cheap genomic sequencing, gene-editing techniques like CRISPR-Cas9, and the explosion of genetic and lifestyle data will help us to unlock and reverse the biological mechanisms of aging in the near future.
Is Life Extension Ethical?
Of course there are many who think that living indefinitely is infeasible, or just plain wrong. Like the Jewish historian Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, who believes that death gives life meaning and that without it we would be less human. She also wonders: “What will people live for, if they live indefinitely?” and notes that in the Jewish tradition:
“The ideal of indefinite postponement of death is the highest form of human hubris, one more example of human rebellion against God who created humans as finite beings whose life narrative has a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
Other common concerns are population growth, resource scarcity, the fear that the old will refuse to make way for the young, and the worry that only the rich will benefit.
In a more philosophical vein, the American astronomer Seth Shostak has mused that if we radically extend our lives but remain biological we could become ultra risk averse and avoid doing everyday things like getting into a car. With so much potential ahead of us, even a small probability of dying would seem unacceptable.
Yet when it comes to upgrading the human condition, Istvan thinks we should go for broke. When asked what he thought about a posthuman future he declared:
“Oh I'm totally embracing it! I have called for the end of humanity as we know it. The reality is that I think the human body is frail. I don't want to say the human body is evil, but I don't like it. I'm not a fan of the human body. I think it's something that is designed to be replaced and replaced as quickly as possible.”
He makes a bold statement. And, like any politician, he argues (in line with Aubrey de Grey) that it will be good for the economy.
But just how open minded is California? It's previously embraced ‘the Governator,’ but if Istvan were elected it could end up with a real-life cyborg—a human who gets upgraded to be more like a machine. For his part, Zoltan Istvan thinks that this is exactly what California, and humanity, needs.
Scientists are using bioelectronic medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, an approach that capitalizes on the ancient "hardwiring" of the nervous system.
- Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that focuses on manipulating the nervous system to treat diseases.
- Clinical studies show that using electronic devices to stimulate the vagus nerve is effective at treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Although it's not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, vagus nerve stimulation may also prove effective at treating other diseases like cancer, diabetes and depression.
The nervous system’s ancient reflexes<p>You accidentally place your hand on a hot stove. Almost instantaneously, your hand withdraws.</p><p>What triggered your hand to move? The answer is <em>not</em> that you consciously decided the stove was hot and you should move your hand. Rather, it was a reflex: Skin receptors on your hand sent nerve impulses to the spinal cord, which ultimately sent back motor neurons that caused your hand to move away. This all occurred before your "conscious brain" realized what happened.</p><p>Similarly, the nervous system has reflexes that protect individual cells in the body.</p><p>"The nervous system evolved because we need to respond to stimuli in the environment," said Dr. Tracey. "Neural signals don't come from the brain down first. Instead, when something happens in the environment, our peripheral nervous system senses it and sends a signal to the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. And then the nervous system responds to correct the problem."</p><p>So, what if scientists could "hack" into the nervous system, manipulating the electrical activity in the nervous system to control molecular processes and produce desirable outcomes? That's the chief goal of bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There are billions of neurons in the body that interact with almost every cell in the body, and at each of those nerve endings, molecular signals control molecular mechanisms that can be defined and mapped, and potentially put under control," Dr. Tracey said in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJH9KsMKi5M" target="_blank">TED Talk</a>.</p><p>"Many of these mechanisms are also involved in important diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension and shock. It's very plausible that finding neural signals to control those mechanisms will hold promises for devices replacing some of today's medication for those diseases."</p><p>How can scientists hack the nervous system? For years, researchers in the field of bioelectronic medicine have zeroed in on the longest cranial nerve in the body: the vagus nerve.</p>
The vagus nerve<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYyOTM5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTIwNzk0NX0.UCy-3UNpomb3DQZMhyOw_SQG4ThwACXW_rMnc9mLAe8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="09add" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f38dbfbbfe470ad85a3b023dd5083557" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Electrical signals, seen here in a synapse, travel along the vagus nerve to trigger an inflammatory response.
Credit: Adobe Stock via solvod<p>The vagus nerve ("vagus" meaning "wandering" in Latin) comprises two nerve branches that stretch from the brainstem down to the chest and abdomen, where nerve fibers connect to organs. Electrical signals constantly travel up and down the vagus nerve, facilitating communication between the brain and other parts of the body.</p><p>One aspect of this back-and-forth communication is inflammation. When the immune system detects injury or attack, it automatically triggers an inflammatory response, which helps heal injuries and fend off invaders. But when not deployed properly, inflammation can become excessive, exacerbating the original problem and potentially contributing to diseases.</p><p>In 2002, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues discovered that the nervous system plays a key role in monitoring and modifying inflammation. This occurs through a process called the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature01321" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammatory reflex</a>. In simple terms, it works like this: When the nervous system detects inflammatory stimuli, it reflexively (and subconsciously) deploys electrical signals through the vagus nerve that trigger anti-inflammatory molecular processes.</p><p>In rodent experiments, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues observed that electrical signals traveling through the vagus nerve control TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. These electrical signals travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, triggering a molecular process that ultimately makes TNF, which exacerbates conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.</p><p>The incredible chain reaction of the inflammatory reflex was observed by Dr. Tracey and his colleagues in greater detail through rodent experiments. When inflammatory stimuli are detected, the nervous system sends electrical signals that travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, the electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, which trigger the spleen to create a white blood cell called a T cell, which then creates a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The acetylcholine interacts with macrophages, which are a specific type of white blood cell that creates TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. At that point, the acetylcholine triggers the macrophages to stop overproducing TNF – or inflammation.</p><p>Experiments showed that when a specific part of the body is inflamed, specific fibers within the vagus nerve start firing. Dr. Tracey and his colleagues were able to map these relationships. More importantly, they were able to stimulate specific parts of the vagus nerve to "shut off" inflammation.</p><p>What's more, clinical trials show that vagus nerve stimulation not only "shuts off" inflammation, but also triggers the production of cells that promote healing.</p><p>"In animal experiments, we understand how this works," Dr. Tracey said. "And now we have clinical trials showing that the human response is what's predicted by the lab experiments. Many scientific thresholds have been crossed in the clinic and the lab. We're literally at the point of regulatory steps and stages, and then marketing and distribution before this idea takes off."<br></p>
The future of bioelectronic medicine<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYxMDYxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjQwOTExNH0.uBY1TnEs_kv9Dal7zmA_i9L7T0wnIuf9gGtdRXcNNxo/img.jpg?width=980" id="8b5b2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c005e615e5f23c2817483862354d2cc4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1125" />
Vagus nerve stimulation can already treat Crohn's disease and other inflammatory diseases. In the future, it may also be used to treat cancer, diabetes, and depression.
Credit: Adobe Stock via Maridav<p>Vagus nerve stimulation is currently awaiting approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, but so far, it's proven safe and effective in clinical trials on humans. Dr. Tracey said vagus nerve stimulation could become a common treatment for a wide range of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension, shock, depression and diabetes.</p><p>"To the extent that inflammation is the problem in the disease, then stopping inflammation or suppressing the inflammation with vagus nerve stimulation or bioelectronic approaches will be beneficial and therapeutic," he said.</p><p>Receiving vagus nerve stimulation would require having an electronic device, about the size of lima bean, surgically implanted in your neck during a 30-minute procedure. A couple of weeks later, you'd visit, say, your rheumatologist, who would activate the device and determine the right dosage. The stimulation would take a few minutes each day, and it'd likely be unnoticeable.</p><p>But the most revolutionary aspect of bioelectronic medicine, according to Dr. Tracey, is that approaches like vagus nerve stimulation wouldn't come with harmful and potentially deadly side effects, as many pharmaceutical drugs currently do.</p><p>"A device on a nerve is not going to have systemic side effects on the body like taking a steroid does," Dr. Tracey said. "It's a powerful concept that, frankly, scientists are quite accepting of—it's actually quite amazing. But the idea of adopting this into practice is going to take another 10 or 20 years, because it's hard for physicians, who've spent their lives writing prescriptions for pills or injections, that a computer chip can replace the drug."</p><p>But patients could also play a role in advancing bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There's a huge demand in this patient cohort for something better than they're taking now," Dr. Tracey said. "Patients don't want to take a drug with a black-box warning, costs $100,000 a year and works half the time."</p><p>Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, elaborated:</p><p>"Why would patients pursue a drug regimen when they could opt for a few electronic pulses? Is it possible that treatments like this, pulses through electronic devices, could replace some drugs in the coming years as preferred treatments? Tracey believes it is, and that is perhaps why the pharmaceutical industry closely follows his work."</p><p>Over the long term, bioelectronic approaches are unlikely to completely replace pharmaceutical drugs, but they could replace many, or at least be used as supplemental treatments.</p><p>Dr. Tracey is optimistic about the future of the field.</p><p>"It's going to spawn a huge new industry that will rival the pharmaceutical industry in the next 50 years," he said. "This is no longer just a startup industry. [...] It's going to be very interesting to see the explosive growth that's going to occur."</p>
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
A physicist creates an AI algorithm that predicts natural events and may prove the simulation hypothesis.
- Princeton physicist Hong Qin creates an AI algorithm that can predict planetary orbits.
- The scientist partially based his work on the hypothesis which believes reality is a simulation.
- The algorithm is being adapted to predict behavior of plasma and can be used on other natural phenomena.
Physicist Hong Qin with images of planetary orbits and computer code.
Credit: Elle Starkman
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