On a recent weekday afternoon in a basement auditorium at New York University, Antonei Csoka, PhD, a professor of anatomy at Howard University, is standing at a podium, clicking through PowerPoint slides about how to live forever. Or at least how to achieve the first step toward eternal life, by killing life-ending diseases before they kill us. In the radical life-extension community, I learn, this concept actually has a name: “actuarial escape velocity.”
Before long, Csoka’s jargon-heavy remarks start running together. Admittedly, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around what he’s talking about, or its implications — I’m a journalist, not a transhumanist — but there’s a simple fact here that even my feeble human brain can understand: In the past few years, medical research has developed a host of potential ways to keep humans healthier for longer, allowing the species to stretch the human lifespan well beyond the 80 or so years people in the United States enjoy today. At some point, the people in the room agree, someone is going to bring one of these developments to market in the form of a treatment that stops or drastically slows aging. And by extending all of our lives, that someone is going to make a fucking killing.
That’s the focus of the event I’m attending, called Ending Age-Related Diseases: Investment Prospects and Advances in Research. Put on by an organization called the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation, it aims to provide privately held biotech companies the opportunity to present their anti-aging research to potential investors, and for investors to explain how a company can keep from going broke long enough to forestall death.
I feel like I’m listening in on a meeting of the Illuminati that for some reason is being held in a cave.
Here, CEOs will brag about their funding rounds and talk up their unique anti-aging protocols; one panel will be devoted to “venture philanthropy” — the idea that the best donations are those that might turn a profit another is meant to help life-extension entrepreneurs avoid the typical challenges that befall startups.
Ticket prices started at $100, and the conference has attracted approximately 150 attendees — academics, investors, entrepreneurs, life-extension enthusiasts, and journalists, all gathered underground on the NYU campus. The event room is windowless; the air is stagnant. The walls and ceiling are coated with a crumply, metallic mesh. Given the topic at hand, I feel like I’m listening in on a meeting of the Illuminati that for some reason is being held in a cave.
At one point in his presentation, Csoka refers to something called the Weismann barrier, saying the phrase with enough authority that I decide I’d better focus on what he’s talking about (and Google it later). Before I can catch back up, he flicks to a slide with a background made up of green code straight out of The Matrix. “I think reality itself may be a deeper projection from a different level of reality,” Csoka says.
“The features of space and time come from a singularity,” he adds, asserting that “this reality is increasing in complexity.” The next slide features the pyramid from Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — a psychological theory about what drives human behavior — alongside a second pyramid, labeled “ACTUALIZATION OF THE COSMOS.”
Now I’m experiencing the fun kind of incomprehension, the same feeling you get from reading a ’60s-era sci-fi book that the author clearly wrote on acid.