Better Living Through Chemistry

I’m a bit skeptical about claims regarding the glorious future. One reason for the skepticism is the fact that the West seems to be careening toward a very bad period, similar to what happened at the end of the industrial revolution. Super intelligent robots, the singularity, forever life and so on assume a quickening pace of technological discovery. A crisis period like the end of the 19th through the middle 20th century would put a halt to that sort of progress, by redirecting resources to the crisis.

Then there is the fact that predictions about the future are always hilariously wrong. We should probably be thankful that these predictions prove to be wrong. Imagine dressing like this. The mistake futurists always make is in assuming current trends will continue unabated into the future. They also always assume things will unfold within their lifetime or close enough to it so they can get their hopes up for actually seeing it. If you spend your days dreaming of the glorious future, you hope to see it.

All that said, I enjoy reading the predictions. Stories like this are catnip for me because they seem plausible. Quality of life improvements always attract investment. Come up with a practical way to transport humans from Sydney to London in two hours and you are a going to make billions. Even a six hour flight would be awesome. Making air transport faster and more pleasant is the sort of opportunity that is possible and potentially wildly profitable so I can see it taking a big leap forward in the near term.

That got me thinking about what else smart people, with an eye on profit, will be looking to improve in the near future. The most obvious place to look is health. I don’t mean living forever stuff. I’m thinking Viagra level improvement. The penis pills made their inventor billions because it addressed a basic human desire. There’s not a great demand to live forever, but there is a great demand for a long life.The longer the better. Make the daily existence of people better and you will become richer than Midas.

My guess is the next Viagra will be a pill or treatment that solves gray hair. I don’t have much in the way of gray hair, but most people my age are “dealing” with it. Woman start dying their hair as soon as they see gray. Men often go the same route, opting for ridiculous looking home treatments. Then there is the beard dying business which always looks bad. Science has a pretty good understanding of the process, so solving it is plausible. Come up with a cure and the geezers will beat a path to your door.

Along the same lines, skin tone is one of those quality of life issues that many people would pay to address. Women get treatments for their hands, to address the effects of aging. The “Madonna Mitts” problem is a big deal to women. Of course, both men and women get their faces stretched and use botox to get the wrinkles off the mug. John Forbes Kerry looks like Frankenstein because he has had so much work done to his face. Modern people want to look young and skin tone is a big part of it.

Like gray hair, this is an area that science understands enough about to think a solution is plausible. It’s really not a solution that’s needed, as much as it needs mitigation. The age at which humans start fretting over skin tone is the middle years. By the time you reach your late fifties you have come to terms with your mortality and get on with enjoying your time. A pill or treatment that helps the 30-year old women look 25 for a few more years would make the inventor a billionaire.

Finally, I was at the diner the other day and the place was full of geezers. It was also full of walkers and air tanks. The complaint most people have when they age is the lack of energy. This is mostly due to reduced cardiovascular capacity. By the time you get in your 60’s, walking up hills and taking the stairs is taxing. That’s why people in their 80’s have to use walkers (often) and carry air tanks. But, this is also a complaint for people in their middle years. Being tired is probably a top-10 complaint about aging.

Again, this is something we know a bit about so addressing it is plausible. Athletes have been using drugs to goose their cardio for years. Sharapova was just banned from tennis for using the drug meldonium, which is prescribed in Eastern Europe for people suffering from congestive heart failure. In the West, we have all sorts of drugs for people suffering from lung and heart disease that preserve their cardiovascular capacity or at least extend it for a while.

If someone were able to come up with a supplement for people to take, like a daily vitamin, that would offer just a subtle boost to their cardio capacity, thus giving them more energy, without the long term side effects of current drugs, the market would be huge. Look at how many famous people in entertainment and sports abuse Adderall so they can be more alert.  Maybe the answer is simply a pill for better, deeper sleep, but boosting cardio capacity could be part of it. Imagine how much money you would make if your little pill offers increased vigor throughout the day.

There you go, my glimpse into the glorious future.

42 thoughts on “Better Living Through Chemistry

  1. For what it’s worth, old people use walkers either because their legs have quit working normally and/or because of balance problems. Not usually because of low energy.

  2. I got just a little gray in my hair too. It’s hard to see. It’s hidden by the white stuff. And there used to be a whole lot more of it.

    I think we’re entering a long period of technological stagnation. There comes a point in the refinement of technologies where the cost of incremental improvements becomes prohibitive. We are at that point with the internal combustion engine and materials. Electrical efficiency, motor and generators and such, are at the point where further improvements are straining the availability of the rare earths that are responsible for all the recent gains. Battery technology continues to improve but nothing seems to approach the efficiency of those based on lithium. The known reserves of lithium are small such that a ten fold increase in their use looks like a practical limit. A lot of the new technologies that are being hyped are just that, hype. An engineer, the guy who has to make it work, takes a look and says “rots a ruck with that one, Charlie”.

    In the medical field, costs are soaring. When the cost of extending someone’s life, in reasonable comfort, for a year approaches some multiple of the average annual income of the working population it becomes unsustainable.

    The potential of computers has seen the most hype of all. Ever since the seminal work of John McCarthy et. al. in the early 1960s enthusiasts were predicting the singularity, the fruition of an artificial intelligence in about 20 years. Guess what. The predictions 50 years later are still in about 20 years. Practical fusion power has always been about 25 years away.

    Anyway, that’s about all old Gloomy Gus has to say. Time for another beer.

    • “…I think we’re entering a long period of technological stagnation…”

      I don’t think this is true. Computer power has been increasing right on schedule. In 15 years you will be able to buy a computer chip for $1000 that has the processing power of a human. Right now you can talk to a phone. Cars can drive themselves. I remember typing in DOS commands and punch cards for programming.

      Genetic engineering has just begun. The new CRISPR technology is going to massively reduce the price and raise the accuracy of genetic engineering. That means much more rapid progress. I see no reason we can’t have trees that grow shells with wheat in them. Maybe even sirloin meat nuts.

      Materials science is moving along quite well. They found a way to separate a super strong nano-cellulose that’s in wood, brush, etc. and mixed with a little plastic or resin gives you a super strong material like carbon fiber for cheap. Graphene production has gotten cheaper and promises the same.

      There’s several fusion based power systems being built right now. Several have very good odds and none of the massive cost of previous planned fusion systems. With enough energy you can do most anything materially.

      Technology will hold up it’s end. The problem is societal. There we may have a serious glitch. Societal problems are way out of control and I’m not sure anyone can get the effort up needed to turn it around or even come to a conclusion of what to do.

  3. Considering the pure sciences stalled out in the early 70’s I wouldn’t count on anything major coming down the pike, anytime soon…

    • Well, there are those who want to “escape” to Mars and are doing their best to get there. They want to get away from all the problems we have on this earth. However, I am reminded of that saying “Wherever you go, there you are!”

      As for the rest of it, what’s next for the iPhone? Maybe mind reading so you don’t have to use your digits to enter text any longer? And other relatively trivial pursuits.

  4. When I was in my teens, I was an avid consumer of SF: Heinlein, Asimov, van Vogt, E.E. “Doc” Smith and so many more. I couldn’t wait for the “future” where, it seemed, we would all live forever (unless we chose not to, or died through accident.) At that time I could not understand why scientists and doctors weren’t doing everything in their power to achieve immortality.

    Then as I grew older, and had a family- I began to understand that for every thing there is a time. My interest in living forever began to wane; I wanted a better life, not necessarily a longer one. I wanted repair of things broken/damaged, not an unending life.

    Now (by most reckoning) I am old. I don’t have the energy I once did, nor are my thoughts the same. I’m very fortunate in that I have no terrible diseases nor have I broken anything (yet!), though many folks I know (many much older than me) have to use all the artificial aids in order to survive. Now my desire is to live life to its fullest without wanting to climb mountains, or run marathons, or set a record in pole-vaulting; but a life without disease and with mental clarity, up to the end of my days, and hopefully without the walkers, tanks and paraphenalia that so many age-related illnesses require (but we are lucky to have them, past generations did not.)

    Then, if I get my druthers, I’ll pass away one night just like a light has been turned off, after I’ve said goodbye to all my family and friends.

    It just might be that I’ll get my wish, though I often think that Loki is in charge- if so, then all bets are off!

  5. The other question is: what will you do with all that extra time? it’s hard to find a place that will hire you if you are 50+. They can’t front load those years so that you can stay in your 20s longer. Your friends and family will still die off, leaving you with more years to be alone. I’ve never understood why living longer would be considered a bonus. Use the years you do have more effectively and deal with the idea that you aren’t immortal.

  6. There is good reason to expect a soln for gray hair. An article said our hair retains its natural color but is bleached by peroxide in the follicles as the hair grows out, and there is a chemical that can stop that. It is the same chemical now used to aid a skin condition where patches of very pink or white skin appear on people with very dark skin perhaps most often seen on some black people (don’t recall the name of the condition). I don’t recall the article predicting a time line.

  7. There is good reason to expect a soln for gray hair. An article said our hair retains its natural color but is bleached by peroxide in the follicles as the hair grows out, and there is a chemical that can stop that. It is the same chemical now used to aid a skin condition where patches of very light or pink skin appear on people with very dark skin perhaps most often seen on some black people (don’t recall the name of the condition). I don’t recall the article predicting a time line.

  8. Actually, some of the clothing outfits predicted in 1910 are tame compared to what we have now.

  9. If you Google “oldest person in history” you will find quite a few listed in Wiki that made it past the 100-year mark. The oldest on record is Jeanne Calment of France who made it to 122. But even those who made it to the 100-year mark weren’t exactly out playing tennis twice a week.

    If you go back to the Bible, you will find a number of people who were almost a thousand years old! Genesis records that Methuselah died at 969, Adam died at 930, and Seth died at 912. But we find later in Deuteronomy 34:7, Moses only made it to 120. After Moses, it seems the age cap was pretty well set.

    Whether or not modern chemistry can keep us going past 120-years is anyone guess. I think the real question is, when you look around at the world today, would you really want to?

    Proverbs 20:29 “The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.”

    • I definitely don’t have any friends in high places so chemicals are my only hall pass……so to speak….

    • Everybody back then had a ‘history’ of being from a line of extremely long lived ancestors or kings, the Assyrians, for instance. The Bible is largely a political manual, but it began as an attempt to save the scraps of knowledge from dozens of cultures in a shattered world. Those stories were reassigned Hebrew names under the great editing process begun by Solomon, as he created a national book of government authorized, “official” law and history, in order to quell the vicious factional fighting over whose version was supreme.

      • And if you see Methuselah’s ‘years’ as lunar months, he lived a normal span, quite an ace Veena when people generally died by 30.

      • A political manual. Oh yes Wise One and scholar of Old and New Testament Biblical history, languages and culture. A national book of government? Seriously?

    • Would you really want to? The way things are going today, not really. That old curse of “May you live in interesting times” kinda loses it’s appeal when you see the trajectory of history repeating itself and the attendant horrors that are likely to follow.

  10. Lot of VC money flowing into start ups focused on nootropics. You can divide the market into physical and cognitive segments. Virtually everyone I see out in Silicon Valley is running some combo of bio hacks on the cognitive side.

  11. of course there may be some things already available….and CHEAP….
    Like Metformin…..
    (sorry for copy and paste but I gotta run out…. hope doing so doesn’t overstep any guidelines)

    World’s first anti-ageing drug could see humans live to 120

    The world’s first anti-ageing drug will be tested on humans next year in trials which could see diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s consigned to distant memory.

    Scientists now believe that it is possible to actually stop people growing old as quickly and help them live in good health well into their 110s and 120s.

    Although it might seem like science fiction, researchers have already proven that the diabetes drug metformin extends the life of animals, and the Food and Drug Administration in the US has now given the go ahead for a trial to see if the same effects can be replicated in humans.

    “This would be the most important medical intervention in the modern era, an ability to slow ageing”
    Dr Jay Olshansky, University of Illinois Chicago

    If successful it will mean that a person in their 70s would be as biologically healthy as a 50 year old. It could usher in a new era of ‘geroscience’ where doctors would no longer fight individual conditions like cancer, diabetes and dementia, but instead treat the underlying mechanism – ageing.

    Scottish ageing expert Professor Gordon Lithgow of the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing in California, is one of the study advisors.

    “If you target an ageing process and you slow down ageing then you slow down all the diseases and pathology of ageing as well,” he said “That’s revolutionary. That’s never happened before.

    “I have been doing research into ageing for 25 years and the idea that we would be talking about a clinical trial in humans for an anti-ageing drug would have been though inconceivable.

    “But there is every reason to believe it’s possible. The future is taking the biology that we’ve now developed and applying it to humans. 20 years ago ageing was a biological mystery. Now we are starting to understand what is going on.”

    Growing older does not have to bring ill health and frailty Credit: Alamy
    Ageing is not an inevitable part of life because all cells contain a DNA blueprint which could keep a body functioning correctly forever. Some marine creatures do not age at all.

    However over our lifetime billions of cell divisions must occur to keep our bodies functioning correctly and the more times cells divide the more errors creep into the process. As cell problems grow, the body can no longer repaid damage. In the case of cancer, cells no longer have the ability to get rid of mutations, and tumours grow. In Alzheimer’s the brain stops clearing out sticky plaques, and dementia develops.

    Scientists think the best candidate for an anti-ageing drug is metformin, the world’s most widely used diabetes drug which costs just 10p a day. Metformin increases the number of oxygen molecules released into a cell, which appears to boost robustness and longevity.

    When Belgian researchers tested metformin on the tiny roundworm C.elegans the worms not only aged slower, but they also stayed healthier longer. They did not slow down or develop wrinkles. Mice treated withmetformin increased their lifespan by nearly 40 per cent and their bones were also stronger. Last year Cardiff University found that when patients with diabetes were given the drug metformin they in fact lived longer than others without the condition, even though they should have died eight years earlier on average.

    The new clinical trial called Targeting Aging with Metformin, or TAME, is scheduled to begin in the US next winter. Scientists from a range of institutions are currently raising funds and recruiting 3,000 70 to 80 year olds who have, or are risk of, cancer, heart disease and dementia. They are hoping to show that drug slows the ageing process and stops disease.

    Outlining the new study on the National Geographic documentary Breakthrough: The Age of Ageing, Dr Jay Olshansky, of the University of Illinois Chicago, said: “If we can slow ageing in humans, even by just a little bit it would be monumental. People could be older, and feel young.

    “Enough advancements in ageing science have been made to lead us to believe it’s plausible, it’s possible, it’s been done for other species and there is every reason to believe it could be done in us.

    “This would be the most important medical intervention in the modern era, an ability to slow ageing.”

    Metformin could hold the key to ageing well
    A baby girl born today is now expected to life to an average age of 82.8 years and a boy to 78.8 years, according to the Office for National Statistics. But if the results seen in animals are reproduced in humans, lifespan could increase by nearly 50 per cent.

    Professor Lithgow believes that, in the future, young people may be given a type of ageing ‘vaccine’ to slow down ageing. He believes it could have a far bigger impact on extending population lifespan that finding a cure for cancer.

    “If we were to cure all cancers it would only raise life expectancy by around three years, because something else is coming behind the cancer, but if we could slow down the ageing process you could dramatically improve how long people can live,” he said.

    “We know that it is possible for handfuls of people to live to very old age and still be physically and socially active, so clearly they carry some kind of protection in their bodies. They are essentially not ageing as quickly. If we can harness that, then everyone can achieve those lifespans.”

    Yet scientists have faced an uphill battle to get trial approval because there are so many spurious claims of ‘anti-ageing’ technologies and therapies on the market.

    Stephanie Lederman, executive director of the American Federation for Aging Research in New York, who is also involved in the trial added: “The perception is that we are all looking for a fountain of youth.

    “We want to avoid that; what we’re trying to do is increase health span, not look for eternal life.”

    However if their trial performs as promised, experts say slowing ageing would be a ‘public health revolution.’

    Dr Robert Temple, deputy director of the FDA said: “Their hope is that a wide variety of age related problems, loss of muscle tone, dizziness, falls, dementia, loss of eyesight, all of those things.

    “That would be something never done before. If you really are doing something to alter ageing the population of interest is everybody. It surely would be revolutionary if they can bring it off.”

    Dr Simon Melov of the Buck Institute for Ageing Research added: “You’re talking about developing a therapy for a biological phenomenon which is universal and gives rise to all of these diseases. And if you’ve got a therapy for this thing, these diseases just go away.”

    Breakthrough: The Age of Ageing airs on Sunday 10pm on the National Geographic Channel.

  12. Do you remember who first said ” if I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself ” ?

  13. It’s not cardio that’s the issue. It’s the adrenal glands and loss of hormones. Doctors tend to ignore issues caused by hormones decreasing as you age. Helen Gurley Brown wrote about taking hormone supplements to look young. I truly dislike this notion that you can’t allow yourself to age.

  14. Go watch “2001 A Space Odyssey” now, and see what Arthur Clarke and the best minds from NASA thought the future would look like in 2001….. it’s also amazing how well the original 70mm holds up in a widescreen blu ray HD….

  15. Hey! Don’t give Big Pharma and bright ideas, ok? Between them, gummint depts like the FDA, the wealge pwofession, and people self-medicating (hey, just one or two extra won’t hurt!”), what could go wrong?

    Not that I am a shining physical example myself, but people should just take better care of themselves, slow down and enjoy life a bit more. All the stuff about looks is mostly contrived by mass media anyway. Just look at Europeans with their reduced work weeks, lengthy vacations and socialist paradisio’s … don’t they all just look fabuloso at age 50 plus? Better than most of us, by their accounting anyway. he he

    Getting old, it’s just part of the gig. Deal with it.

    • Three words can fix this sh*t without chemicals: STOP. BEING. LAZY. I work out a 2-3 times a week for a little more than an hour each time, simply lifting weights and doing high intensity impact training—HIIT (essentially wind sprints) on an exercise bike. The weights get heavier each week, as I add 5 lbs. And the HIIT get a couple minutes longer, up to 12 minutes per session, no more. The young punks at the gym think I’m 55; in reality add 10 years. If you refuse to work hard for 2-3 hours a week, you deserve to end up using a walker and air bottles.

  16. If I had to guess at our glorious chemical future, I’d guess “ghetto tranqs.” Illegal drugs are already kinda the pacifier of the masses; when our inner cities go up in flames more regularly than they already do, the boys at Pfizer will get their shot at the problem. Something like how the hillbilles get their Oxy now — a “fibromyalgia” type deal. Slap a DSM 6 diagnosis on it — call it “urban disaffective disorder;” blame whitey and capitalism — make it “free” under Obamacare, and there you go.

    • I’ve often thought that hyper violent felons should be kept in prisons where they are partially sedated. Spike their food with a small doses of hallucinogens so they are very mildly euphoric and lethargic.

      • Off topic, an inspiration I had for facetiously arguing against illegal immigrants and refugees. I call it ” Let democrats vote as many times as they want”

        They are going to cheat until they get their way anyhow, if we just let them commit voter fraud they won’t have to divide all that welfare money so far and we won’t get overrun by all the losers of the 3rd. world.

        I think this could be made into a good article, and maybe we could get Trump to “promise” that when he’s elected he will partner with congress to enact legislation forbidding any electoral integrity whatsoever.

        This would be a great way to mock what they are doing, and scare the various subsidy sucking (D)irtbags that they’ll get less loot if this immigration continues – which has the advantage of being true.

        Also, we should make sure that every (D)irtbag knows that voters registration lists are where jurors are selected from. Most all GOP seem to know it already, but (D)irtbags are horrified when I tell them – they really seem to lose interest in politics afterward.

        • “It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” – Joseph Stalin. It’s the same everywhere.

      • Kidding, right?
        Everybody in prison is on tranquilizers and mood suppressants- Wellbutrin, Elavil, Paxil, they can all name a couple of dozen. Similar to the “high school cocktail” prescriptions for so many, many youth in our schools.

        • I’m thinking of something a bit more potent. You do your time like Rumpelstiltskin. You go in, fall into a haze for you bit and then come out unaware of the passage of time, assuming you ever get out.

    • I assumed that this was already well underway, albeit through different means. Isn’t that what legalizing recreational pot is all about?

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