What Keeps Aubrey de Grey Up At Night

Question: What keeps you up at night?

Aubrey de Grey: I’m not a worrier actually. I figure I’ve got an extraordinarily privileged life. I’ve been able to get into a position of making a very substantial difference to the world’s biggest problem, and you know as a scientist as someone who likes working on hard problems you can’t get much better than that, so I’m pretty content with my life.

Question: Are you worried about dying?

Aubrey de Grey: I don’t really think about my personal fate except in so far I don’t want to anytime soon because I want to carry on making a big difference to the world and also because I’m enjoying my life, but my own life span, my own mortality, doesn’t really figure in my calculations. I mainly think about the effect that I’m having on the world in general, and that’s really for mathematical reasons because, let’s face it, the therapies that I’m working to hasten are gonna happen sometime anyway. What I’m doing is getting them to happen sooner, and if we ask how much difference am I personally making, then you know even in extraordinarily optimistic scenario I’m certainly not making more than 10 years difference to the date at which these therapies are going to emerge, so that means that I’m not making more than 10 or 15 percent difference to my probability of making the cut right.

Now it’s very easy to get worked up about 10 or 15 percent, and I could say the same if I were thinking about my wife for example or my mother or whatever, but if I’m thinking about people in general, then I can think about the fact that 100,000 a day are dying in a horrible way from the thing called aging. And if I were to bring forward the defeat of aging even by one day, that would be 30 World Trade Centers of lives that I’m saving, and it’s very easy to get worked up about that.

Recorded on:  October 2, 2009

Aubrey de Grey is not a worrier—he is content to try to make a difference with his life.

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