The Kurzwild Man in the Night

Ray Kurzweil with a portrait of his father.

It’s as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can’t possibly figure out what’s good or bad. It’s an intimate mixture of rubbish and good ideas, and it’s very hard to disentangle the two, because these are smart people; they’re not stupid.”

– Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, on the books of Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec. [See Ross, Greg. "An interview with Douglas R. Hofstadter." American Scientist. Retrieved 2011-08-10.]

It is not very often that I see something that simultaneously evokes sympathy, anger and pity. I am a regular viewer of ABC’s “Nightline program which airs beginning at 2330 in most of the US. It’s part of my ‘wind-down ritual’ at the end of the day. Often, I’m reading, or otherwise engaged while the bits and bytes comprising the program make their way from geosynchronous orbit and chatter out of the television. The introduction to the 09 August program caught my attention, because it was to feature Ray Kurzweil, talking about practical immortality. Of course, I know who Kurzweil is – both of them. There is the maverick Edisonian inventor who brought us the Kurzweil Reader (and thus the CCD flatbed scanner and the text-to-speech synthesizer) and the Kurzweil who transformed digital musical instrumentation with his Kurzweil K250 music synthesizer. And then, well then there is the Ray Kurzweil who brought us the idea of the Singularity, and three books that expound scientifically bankrupt ideas for ‘do it yourself’ interventive gerontology: The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, TRANSCEND: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever.

And last, but by no means least, there is the Ray Kurzweil who made one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen, “The Singularity is Near,” which I viewed as a rough cut in a private screening in Europe. That film was the near perfect combination of suggested transgendered autoerotic pedophilia with narcissism of cosmic proportions. I watched it, immobilized as one is when witnessing a public beheading, or the torture of small animals in an Egyptian souk. I was immobilized in a way that only disbelief and shock immobilize you. An extended trailer of his latest documentary, Transcendent Man is available here:

The “Nightline” segment on Kurzweil opened as follows:

“Ray Kurzweil, a prominent inventor and “futurist” who has long predicted that mind and machine will one day merge, has been making arrangements to talk to his dead father through the help of a computer.

“I will be able to talk to this re-creation,” he explained. “Ultimately, it will be so realistic it will be like talking to my father.”

Kurzweil’s father, an orchestra conductor, has been gone for more than 40 years.
However, the 63-year-old inventor has been gathering boxes of letters, documents and photos in his Newton, Mass., home with the hopes of one day being able to create an avatar, or a virtual computer replica, of his late father. The avatar will be programmed to know everything about Kurzweil’s father’s past, and will think like his father used to, if all goes according to plan.

“You can certainly argue that, philosophically, that is not your father,” Kurzweil said. “That is a replica, but I can actually make a strong case that it would be more like my father than my father would be, were he to live.”
Said to look and sound like Woody Allen’s nerdier younger brother, Kurzweil has been working on predicting the future for decades. At age 17, he was invited to appear on the CBS show “I’ve Got a Secret” to demonstrate how a computer program he invented could compose music.

Kurzweil went on to invent optical scanners, machines that read for the blind and synthesizers. Still inventing today, Kurzweil has developed a reputation for himself from just making predictions, mostly about how fast our technology is advancing.”
The program continued to document Kurzweil’s plan to recreate his father, and he argues that this can be done by using documents, photographs and his own memory of the man. At one point, he even asserts that such an emulation would be “more like my father than my father, had he lived.”

Sympathy? Yes, I felt a great deal of sympathy because I too have lost those I have loved to death, and also suffered, and suffer still, because I lack the power to bring them back to life.

Anger? Yes, a fair bit of anger because what Kurzweil is proposing insults the intelligence of anyone who has even the sketchiest conception of what it is to be human. The idea that a person can be inferred from boxes of paper documents and photographs with technology, extant or foreseeable, let alone in Kurzweil’s possession now, is ludicrous. That Kurzweil’s insight into the nature of personhood, including his own, is so shallow and uni-dimensional goes a long way towards explaining the cluelessness with which he is pursuing his social engineering campaign to make radical life extension, cryonics and uploading socially acceptable.

The “Nightline” program was surprisingly respectful and matter of fact. Kurzwel has superb public relations people and the “Nightline” editors were amply stocked with photos, film clips and in short, a very impressive visual montage to accompany Kurzweil’s modest proposal for resurrection of the dead from letters, news clippings, old photos and presumably rent receipts and cancelled checks documenting visits to the dentist or the haberdasher.

But as even most of the most unreflective and superficial dullards understand, if only emotionally, a person is not and cannot be reconstructed from the empty wrappers of a life long ended. A few bars of melody, a scent, a fragment of a recorded voice, the taste of something long forgotten, all of these can, and do from time to time evoke in reflective and self aware people, streams of memories, and with those memories countless connections, relationships, thoughts sounds, sensations and yes, and very importantly, feelings. One of the things I found so appalling and so narcissistically selfish about the Kurzweil interview is that he is not really interested in having his father live again, rather he is only interested in having his personal experience of his father available for his self-gratification again. It doesn’t matter what his father thinks or feels, it only matters that the Avatar Father makes Kurzweil think and feel that he has been returned to life. The equation of an avatar of the person with the person himself is an utterly repellant thing, because at its root it is the penultimate in dehumanization; and I think that on some level Kurzweil must know this, since he is trying to persuade the rubes that it really is resurrection.

Consider this justifiably oft quoted sentence from Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past:

“And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine.”

That is the merest sampling of what a person is. And as beautiful and evocative of the complex tangle of memory, sensation, reaction and the recursion of all those things as that passage is, even a hundred million, or a billion like it would not describe the mind of the dullest human being who moves amongst us.

Actress Marilu Henner was featured on 60 Minutes because it’s a day she’ll never forget — just like every day in her life; pas, present and future.

If you still have any doubts about the staggering volume of information, not to mention the unique wetware on which it is processed, that comprises the human mind, consider the recent scientific verification that people exist who have “superior autobiographical memory,” or hyperthymesia.[1-3] These individuals have essentially complete audiovisual recall of almost every waking moment of their lives. They can “run the movie” of their life experience forward or backward in their head and extract information from what they “re-experience.” As actress Marilu Hennner, one of those identified with this trait remarked on the CBS documentary program “60 Minutes”:”It’s like putting in a DVD and it queues up to a certain place. I’m there again, so I’m looking out from my eyes and seeing things visually as I would have that day.” These are otherwise normal individuals who have no profound cuts in normal cognitive function which might be used to explain the extraordinary storage of such memory minutiae. The “60 Minutes” segment on hyperthymesia is compelling viewing, and it is available on line:

Given the flashes of such recall most of us experience momentarily and erratically in our lives, this phenomenon begs the question: are all of us recording and storing such a broad bandwidth of information? Is it that we are not storing it, or that we cannot, and for good reason, access it with such fidelity at will? The individuals who possess this capability all describe it as burdensome and at times traumatic – memories come unbidden, constantly triggered by cues in the everyday world around them. And with some of those memories come searing emotions. If we need an evolutionary reason for the stoppering-up of such a prodigious memory in dark, amber bottles, to be dispensed only in needful draughts, these people are living examples.

Kurzweil seems to be suffering from an all too common syndrome in highly successful mavericks who have a history of repeatedly proving the experts (as well as their critics) wrong. This course through life is much the same as fame – especially if it brings fortune with it, and thus the ability to surround oneself with people who either share your worldview, or who will (or actually do) agree with any idea or obsession that takes charge. Removed from the tempering focus that reality affords most people, it becomes easy to slip into a world where the line between your dreams and desires, and what is really possible, becomes blurred and then disappears altogether. Kurzweil appears to be well on his way there, if he hasn’t reach that final destination already, and that, well, that is just pitiful.

Many of Kurzweil’s ideas are crazy – a mixture of wishful thinking, inappropriate application of animal data to humans, and in the case of his resurrection scheme, poisonous and dangerous to cryonics on at least two levels. First, it is wrong – people are not scraps of paper, or even whole heaps of them. That is a demeaning idea at best, and a dangerous one at worst, if it is taken seriously. Second, while Kurzweil still commands respect, at some point the men in the media with the butterfly nets will come calling. Kurzweil’s anti-aging program is much more likely to shorten his lifespan and deplete the pocketbook of the average person, upon whom he urges its use, than it is to provide any medical benefit.

This kind of disconnected, narcissistic spiral carried out privately is a thing that evokes pity, and even shame in seeing it. Those of us who have been involved in life extension for 20, 30, or 40 years have seen it before; increasingly desperate and delusion belief that barely suggestively beneficial molecules in animal studies will confer decades of added life, and finally, the decline into frailty and death. As I watched the “Nightline” program, I realized that there is yet another advantage to cryonics that I had not previously considered, and that is the extraordinary dignity and courage with which most cryonicists confront the end of this life cycle. While many were ridiculed for their lack of realism for a lifetime, most were men and women who did what they reasonably could to live as long as possible now, made no exaggerated or unreasonable claims about cryonics – and in fact, regarded it and represented it as what it currently is – a long shot experimental procedure that may well not work, but for them was infinitely better than the alternative.

The extraordinarily accurate, generally matter of fact, and with few exceptions dignified coverage of Bob Ettinger’s passing into cryopreservation is an example. It’s a worthy example and the way we should strive to be seen. Kurzweil reportedly has cryonics arrangements with Alcor. I’m glad to hear that, because I think he is a fundamentally a very good and very decent man who shares our core values. He has improved and enriched the lives of countless people through his scientific and technological innovations. However, as I can tell you from experience, while many disabilities are now tolerated in our society, crazy and creepy are not amongst them.


1.            Cahill L, McGaugh JL: Modulation of memory storage. Curr Opin Neurobiol 1996, 6(2):237-242.

2.            Cahill L, McGaugh JL: A novel demonstration of enhanced memory associated with emotional arousal. Conscious Cogn 1995, 4(4):410-421.

3.            Parker ES, Cahill L, McGaugh JL: A case of unusual autobiographical remembering. Neurocase 2006, 12(1):35-49.


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35 Responses to The Kurzwild Man in the Night

  1. Mark Plus says:

    Well, somebody in cryonics had to say it. Kurzweil’s pronouncements and cult following have made me uncomfortable for awhile as well. He shows signs of becoming another delusional “futurist” like FM-2030 who predicts we’ll have “immortality” by such-and-such a date in this century, only with a higher celebrity status than FM ever managed to reach.

    His forecasts will also increasingly diverge from reality depending on how long the Great Stagnation lasts. What does Kurzweil have to say about logarithmic graphs like the following?

    And on top of that he promotes woo and quackery like homeopathy.

    I can’t fault Kurzweil for wanting to live, but from a cryonicist perspective he brings along a lot of liabilities which don’t help cryonics’ already dodgy reputation.

  2. Abelard Lindsey says:

    …that people exist who have “superior autobiographical memory,” or hyperthymesia.[1-3] These individuals have essentially complete audiovisual recall of almost every waking moment of their lives.

    I’m close to being one of these people. But I would not say that I am one of these people. My sister always said I have the memory of a horse.

    The main difference I have with Kurzweil is that, like Thomas Donaldson, I view the future as being mostly “biological”. I don’t think the “dry” version of nanotech is possible. But I think the “wet” version (defined as solution-phase chemistry based processes) will be able to do all of the things cited in Drexler’s first book. However, the development, which is already occurring on a daily basis, will continue for many decades and will be incremental in nature.

    I think semiconductor technology will reach its limits when the scaling reaches the molecular level, probably around 2030. Semiconductor scaling in and of itself will not give us AI. AI will be much tougher to develop, because the neuronic structure and function of the brain has to be duplicated by some means in semiconductor devices. I do not think this is possible. Rather, some kind of self-assembly chemistry will be developed to replace current semiconductor fabrication technology, and this technology will be used to make sentient AI. However, this will take decades of research, mostly in developing the architecture, before AI will be realized.

    Where robots will make their mark in the coming decades is in incrementally taking over more and more job functions. This is already occurring in manufacturing. The typical 300mm semiconductor fab in Taiwan is a “lights out” facility. The engineering staff is there to do maintenance and to deal with process problems whenever they occur. Robots will move out of the factories and into services. This is the real economic impact of robots and automation. This does not require sentient AI at all. This can be good for Japan and the rest of East Asia, with their declining populations. Perhaps Japan will lead East Asia into becoming Legoland.

    I disagree with Kurzweil’s timing. What he things we will have by 2050 will take a lot longer, say 2080-2100. Except for semiconductor scaling and the exponential increase in biotechnology capability, other technological develop is either linear or, in the case of space technology, stagnant.

  3. Abelard Lindsey says:

    BTW, I don’t plan to watch Kurzweil’s movie. I have a copy of his book “The Singularity is Near”. I think his developmental timelines are overly optimistic.

  4. Luke Parrish says:

    For identity preservation purposes, how important is all that stuff most of us don’t even remember? A lot of identity seems tied up in the memorable events of personal history (especially emotional associations) and the properties of your DNA.

    • admin says:

      I’ve no proof, but the rule of parsimony in biology suggests that all that stuff is important. I was astonished when it was “discovered” that most of the genome in humans and other animals was junk – left over garbage instructions for tails and gills. That was somewhat credible, because it can be argued that there isn’t much evolutionary pressure to keep the genome minimalist and tidy. As it turns out, that junk is invaluable on several levels, one being that it encodes ‘stops’ for synthesizing many proteins. Cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy are both due to single amino acid deletions as a result of defective intron DNA. If we are recording our experiences with such fidelity it is a fantastically expensive thing to do. In fact, the mere fact that ~6 people exist who can do this will force a complete rethinking of calculations about how much the brain can encode; and that in turn may well force a reexamination of the currently accepted putative mechanisms of memory. I wish I could do the math myself! Calculations I’ve seen in the past assume that there is only capture of a small fraction of the bandwidth of the information available to the brain. So, for instance, if you are talking with someone, and you recall the conversation later, only representative frames or samples of the person’s face were stored, very sketchy data about the room, surroundings, and so on, and that over time this info would be furthered pared down. When you recall the conversation you may THINK you know what the room looked like, what book was one the end table, what kind of plant was on the stand in the corner of room…but in fact, none of this information was recorded, and the brain simply fills in the visual picture with generic bric a brac, as needed. This is consistent with what happens when you press eyewitnesses for testimony, or prod people under hypnosis – they will simply confabulate to provide an answer – usually unconsciously. If people exist, and they apparently do, who can tell every detail of their experience of every day; what clothes you had on, what the headline on the paper was that day and what every story was about that they read in that paper, and on and on with not just the capture ability of a high quality movie,but of the INTERNAL milieu of the person making that movie, as well! In other words, what they were thinking and feeling while all this was going on and – even more astonishingly – sometimes recursively remembering what they were remembering at a given time. That’s a lot of data and that is damn costly to do in terms of resources. And remember, these people are DEFECTIVE! They are not supposed to have full access. There is presumably supposed to be an entire added level of processing and organization that determines what kind of access occurs, and when it is needed. It is very likely to be dangerous or deadly to have to suffer through full recall while hunting, fleeing, or just doing daily activities. It’s distracting, and thus dangerous.

      Regardless of any other consideration, this is an extremely important thing to know exists. It may cause a paradigm shift in the neurobiology of memory.

      Finally I think “all that stuff ” is likely to be much more important to us in the future than it is now. Neither our environment nor our lifespan required that kind of phenomenal recall in the past. In fact, as I just pointed out, it’s a liability. But it is no liability if you can control it and have the resources to access it intelligently In fact, it is an absolutely massive advantage. If it isn’t to you, I can’t explain why it would. But it certainly would be to me. One danger I can see that the people who were interviewed did not mention is that if you do have control and the fidelity is very high, then you can, if you would, sort through the days of your lives and spend your hours reliving the good ones. Long dead friends, lovers, family would indeed “live again,” from your subjective point of view. In fact, that was one of the things I found so appalling and so narcissistically selfish about the Kurzweil interview. He is not interested in having his father live again, he is really only interested in having his PERCEPTION of his father available for his experience again. It doesn’t matter what dad thinks or feels, it only matters that dad makes Kurzweil think and feel he is alive. The equation of an avatar of the person with the person himself is an utterly repellant thing because at its root is the penultimate in dehumanization; and I think that on some level, Kurzweil must know this since he is trying to persuade the rubes that it really resurrection. — Mike Darwin

      • Mark Plus says:

        Wouldn’t it suck for Kurzweil if the avatar spontaneously volunteers: “Son, you’ve really disappointed me. I didn’t raise you as a con man selling bogus ‘life extension’ products.”

      • gwern says:

        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Many trials show poor human memory, I’m not going to believe that these hyperthymesia people are storing and accessing orders of magnitude more memories than the rest of us without very convincing evidence, evidence I haven’t seen. The evidence says humans can put into long-term memory a few bits per second, at most, and the forgetting curve sharply limits the upper bounds.

        For reasons I am skeptical, see on the first subject, Jill Price.

        > The only serious scientific paper documenting photographic memory was published nearly 40 years ago, and that study has never been replicated.

        I looked that up a while ago. Apparently the problem was not that the subject died, but they *refused* to participate in any more studies when they learned that better tests were going to be done on them (involving combining white noise images into stereoscopic images, IIRC). That reeks of 100% bogosity to me…

        > Soon, though, the limitations of her memory begin to show. My next questionnaire is on the just-concluded 2008 presidential election, and here things go less well. She is off by a few days on Hillary Clinton’s withdrawal from the race and clueless on the Iowa caucuses. Price nails both the Republican convention and the St. Louis vice presidential debate (she was at a regular Thursday dinner that night) but can’t say the precise date when Obama clinched the nomination. When it comes to the 2004 election, she opts out entirely. I soon find that except for her own personal history and certain categories like television and airplane crashes, Price’s memory isn’t much better than anyone else’s. She struggled in school, is no good at history before 1965, and seems genuinely miffed that she was once asked when the Magna Carta was signed (“Do I look like I’m 500 years old?”).


        > Price remembers so much about herself because she thinks about herself—and her past—almost constantly. She still has every stuffed animal she’s ever gotten, enough (as she showed me in a photograph) to completely cover the surface of her childhood bed. She has 2,000 videotapes and countless audiotapes, not to mention more than 50,000 pages of diary entries in idiosyncratic handwriting—so dense that it’s almost unreadable. Until recently she owned a copy of every TV Guide since summer 1989. I’m not sure Price wants to catalog her life like this, but she can’t help herself. When she tells me that one of her biggest regrets in life is that no one followed her around with a microphone during her childhood, I’m not the least bit surprised. In her own words, she lives as if there’s a split screen running in her mind—one half on the present, the other on the past.

        Double hmm…

        > Why were Price’s abilities blown so far out of proportion? I wouldn’t blame Price; she’s as happy to tell what she doesn’t remember as what she does. But her story has taken on a life of its own. It started with that 2006 journal article: Although the scientists knew about Price’s diaries and compulsions, little in the paper speaks to the question of whether it might be personality, not memory, that makes her extraordinary. Then there was the editor at Free Press who gave Price’s book the manifestly false title The Woman Who Can’t Forget, along with the equally overblown subtitle The Extraordinary Story of Living With the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science. And don’t forget the credulous media that ate up the story—without, apparently, ever seeking a second opinion from scientists not involved in the case.

        I see.

        > Three similar hyperthymestics have come forward since the 2006 journal article, each with spectacular autobiographical memory, and all three have similar OCD-like habits. They all collect things and are obsessed with dates and events. (One went so far as to write an unpublished work titled The Book of Bob.) The truth is, most people could remember their lives in considerable detail if they contemplated them with the same manic intensity. When I bring my theory about Price to McGaugh, he concedes that I could be right. “We remain puzzled and open to alternative interpretations,” he says.

        Oh come on!

        No, there is a very simple explanation here. It is not that these people have special abilities, or that the brain has massive untapped abilities (what, evolution gives us all this power and then disables it? Seriously? This is not a simple explanation at all!).

        All that is happening here is that these people are spending a good chunk of their life on matters well entangled with all their normal biographical/episodic memories, and they are doing so over long enough periods that the spacing effect (see my user link – common to all humans, even works to some extent in Alzheimers patients!) comes into play with its usual extreme efficiency, so that credulous outsiders (who are familiar only with highly inefficient massed repetition memorization techniques) are astounded by them.

        Feats of memories, mnemonically assisted or not, are common throughout history. Memorization of very long texts (like diaries and date…?) is perfectly doable if you spend time at it. Memorizing the whole Koran (80,000 words) is so common that it has a standardized title in the Muslim world – such a person is a Hafiz ( In fact, and this may amaze readers:

        > “The total number of hafidh and hafidhas currently alive in the world has been estimated in the tens of millions.”

        This, by the way, includes all the Muslim scholars who have both memorized the Koran *and* memorized a bunch of hadiths (anecdotes/stories):

        > It is important to note however that in the classical Arabic lexicon, the word ‘Hafidh’ was not traditionally used to refer to one who had memorized the Qur’an. Instead, the word used was ‘Hamil’ (lit. one who carries.) ‘Hafidh’ was used for the scholars of Hadith, specifically one who had committed 100,000 hadiths to memory (i.e. Al-Hafidh [Ibn Hajar]).

        • admin says:

          I’m not dogmatic about this and you may well be right. Many of the for sure things I was taught about science in school turned out to be wrong. But one thing is for sure for most people and its easy enough to demonstrate for yourself. Go over old family photos and see how much detail – really trivial detail – come flowing back. Often it is possible to check such details with others who were present or shared those times with you. While that is NOT hyperthymestia, it suggests an astonishing amount of detail is being stored. BTW, we do have pretty good evidence that rats store such vast amounts of information on at least 3 levels: visual, olfactory and tactile. They can make their way through a complex and novel route and subsequently remember it. It is possible to “see” them inputting and outputting these memories indirectly by instrumenting their brains with hundreds of implanted microelectrodes. The patterns of brain activation, sequencing, etc., are reproduced during recall in reverse order. Since rats can’t use symbolic directions it appears that they store such information by making a multi-sensory record of the experience:, Foster D. J.& Wilson M. A. Nature, advance online publication 10.1038/04587 (2006),, Foster DJ, Wilson MA. Reverse replay of behavioral sequences in hippocampal place cells during the awake state. Nature 2006; 440: 680-683, Foster DJ, Morris RGM, Dayan P. A temporal difference model of hippocampally dependent, one-trial spatial learning. Hippocampus 2000; 10:1-16. That strikes me as a lot of information to encode and a good reason for doing it. — Mike Darwin

      • Luke Parrish says:

        I’ve been reading the claim that we all have a perfect memory buried deep in our subconscious for years now, and I’m skeptical. Usually it’s the same new-agers who claim we only use 10% of our brains and they’ll sell you the secret to the other 90% for $99.95. But supposing this is true, the implication that these memories are actually used for something, and are critical to make us who we are, is not so clear. We certainly don’t consciously remember the details, throughout our entire lives. Ray’s claim that his dad will be more real based on the recorded information about him than he was in life could be a valid one.

        Of course I’d like to be able to access every memory like I’m actually experiencing it. But failing to gain that ability wouldn’t necessarily count as “death” in the same sense as losing the memories that I actually can remember.

  5. Abelard Lindsey says:

    I just turned on my telly tonight and up came “Airport 77″. The first thing I noticed is that, except for the electronics, everything in that movie looks modern. Needless to say, that does not speak well about progress over the past 35 years or so. The movie features a jumbo jet, and every time I fly to Asia its on a jumbo jet. My grandparents went from the horse and buggy to the jumbo jet. I went from the jumbo jet to, well, the jumbo jet. Granted, I’m only half as old as my grandparents when the died. Still, I expected better by now than when I first saw that movie as a 14 y.o. in ’77.

    Seeing that movie actually pissed me off. At the very least I expected Jerry O’niell’s space colonies by now. I thought I could relocate to one whenever there was a recession down here on planet Earth.

    I blame governments, bureaucracy, and rent-seeking parasites.

    I think Kurzweil can take his singularity schtick and shove it.

    • Mark Plus says:

      At least we have video phones of a sort, though I couldn’t the Skype app to work on my iPad 2. I went back to the app store and read the reviews, and it turns out other people have complained about similar problems. As Rick Moranis says in Spaceballs, “Even in the future nothing works!”

    • Mark Plus says:

      When Alvin Toffler coined the phrase “future shock” in the late 1960′s, he described a transient phenomenon afflicting people in developed countries who had grown up before the Second World War and who therefore found themselves in disorienting environments by their middle age circa 1970. By contrast, I don’t feel “future shock” in my early 50′s because a lot less has fundamentally changed in the past 40 years, probably not coincidentally, the Great Stagnation started around then according to some metrics.

      The country’s religious delusions even sound the same. Harold Camping’s rapture nonsense earlier this year just recycled Hal Lindsey’s bible prophecy foolishness from the 1970′s.

  6. Mark Plus says:

    Those of us who been involved in life extension for 20, 30, or 40 years have seen it before; increasingly desperate and delusion belief that barely suggestively beneficial molecules in animal studies will confer decades of added life, and finally, the decline into frailty and death.

    I see ads for a company which promotes this delusion about “barely suggestively beneficial molecules” in every issue of Cryonics and Long Life magazines. Apparently both Alcor and CI need the ad revenue from this business to keep their respective publications coming out.

    • admin says:

      LEF’s products extent lifespan by calorie restriction, Mark. If you buy all the supplements LEF says are essential to your not getting cancer, heart disease, and to living longer you will have very little money left for food. And if you have a lot of money and you buy all those things and take them, then you will have very little room in your stomach left for food – and what’s more, you’ll be so nauseous you’ll hardly want to eat at all. And since you’ll promptly vomit after ingesting a kilo or so chemicals, you won’t be poisoned by them, either. Granted, a round about way to get there… — MD

      • Mark Plus says:

        I just wonder about the morality of doing something arguably sordid to make money for a good cause.

        • admin says:

          All I can do is to give you my take on that question, with the appropriate conflict of interest disclosures. My salary was paid, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part from ~ 1986 to 1991 and from ~1993 to 2000 by LEF. Research that I very much wanted to do was also unstintingly supported by grants from LEF. Additionally, Saul Kent was a close friend and mentor of mine for many years during the period of ~ 1968 to 2000. I also consider Bill Falloon a good friend.That’s the end of the COI disclosure.

          When I first met Bill Falloon many years ago, he was swallowing countless pills and powders, including BHT and aminoguanidine. I told him I thought he was crazy, and Hugh Hixon later remarked that he thought “Bill’s would be an interesting autopsy, in that it would likely be hard to figure just which drug(s) killed him.” Obviously, Bill vigorously disagreed with me then. This is still true today. If you look at the legal and the dictionary definition of fraud, it states that it must be intentional. That means the person(s) must desire to part someone from their money under false pretenses. It is not just that Bill (or Kurzweil) take all these things on the basis of medically unacceptable evidence, it is that they genuinely believe that this is the right and proper thing to do. So, from a moral standpoint, I have to say that at least Bill’s actions are not fraud. The supplement industry is unregulated and therefore there is only tort and criminal law to govern their conduct . I have no reason to believe that LEF products do not contain the ingredients they say they do or that they not are of comparable quality to other supplements. The CEO uses many of the products on himself and his family, as do many of the senior employees. Stupid isn’t fraudulent and it isn’t immoral.

          Over the years, I’ve seen, and in a couple of cases experienced what I consider really appallingly uncritical behavior by LEF and in one case, suffered personally from what I consider irresponsible behavior. Again, I need to state my potential “conflict” here, which is that it was me who got sick. Some years ago, LEF marketed a product called Mitochondrial Energy Optimizer, which consisted of alpha lipoic acid and acetyl-l-carnitine, plus very small amounts of some vitamins that research indicated were necessary for “optimum” effect. I used the product through several flashy “new and improved!” formulations without really paying any attention to the shuffling around of minor ingredients… About 2 or 3 years ago, I began having nausea. It got progressively worse until I was nauseous all the time. Occasionally, I would wake up feeling well, but that vanished within an hour or two of arising, at most.

          I have a long history of peptic ulcer disease, but this was nothing like I had experienced with duodenal ulcers. However, my doc decided I needed to be gastroscoped, and so I was. My stomach checked out OK and my blood work was fine. Finally, my doc said, “You know this is looking more and more like a centrally mediated nausea – the kind of nausea that originates in the brain. At that point, he said he was going to review my medications and he asked, as a matter of course, if I was taking any supplements. I didn’t have the list with me, but I emailed it to his office a couple of days later. Sometime later, possibly as much as a week and maybe longer, I got a call from him. “What on earth are you taking stinging nettle for?” “Stinging nettle? Never heard of it, I don’t take stinging nettle.”

          You guessed it: because of who knows what obscure study published in who the hell knows what journal, LEF added stinging nettle extract to its Mitochondrial Energy Optimizer. Turns out, they had even made a big deal out of it – I just hadn’t paid attention. So, I called up Bill Falloon and said, “Bill, your goddamn product has stinging nettle in it and it made sick as a dog.” To wit he replied, “Yeeeeaaaah, I know. We got a lot of complaints about that and we took it out of the current version.” I was speechless. I had had months of misery and worry and a medical procedure requiring propofol anesthesia. I also had to make difficult arrangements to be taken to and from the hospital, because you can’t drive after the procedure…

          A couple of years ago I was in London staying with Garret Smyth. Adjacent to the area where I bunked were a couple of cases of Mitochondrial Energy Optimizer with the stinging nettle extract. I asked Garret about it and he said something to the effect of “Oh yeah, that stuff made me nauseous so I quit taking it.” When I inquired last year what happened to it, he told me he tossed it,. “You didn’t ask for you money back?!” I inquired. He told me that no, he hadn’t, and he seem unmoved when I remarked that that must been hundreds of dollars worth of product, not including overseas shipping. End of story.

          So, how do you evaluate the whole situation? Buyers and sellers who have a very loose attitude about efficacy and harm? I don’t know. One thing I’ve suggested for many, many years was that LEF (and other) supplement manufacturers test their banner, claim-laden products, and that they establish a voluntary registry of really interested and committed customers and members to continually track whether these products work, what the incidence and type of adverse reactions reported is, and what the all-cause mortality is. Of course, that means you can’t reformulate every 6 months or 2 years, or whenever… And of course, if you’ve had any sustained contact with LEF you’ll know that reformulation is relentless. I once suggested Relentless Reformulation as an alternative name for LE Mix.

          If you work for any business, you will find similar problems and you will encounter dodgy behavior. If you run your own business you will engage in some dodgy behavior. Not necessarily intentionally, but because YOU CAN’T BE OBJECTIVE ABOUT YOURSELF. As an employee what you have to ask yourself is what is the tipping point for you personally? And it isn’t always as easy as the greedy businessman wanting to make profits from the lowly customer. It’s more often about DELUSION – genuine, heartfelt delusion. Work for a guy who has kids on the payroll and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

          I guess the last thing I would say is that trying to argue with the principals about this was like trying to argue with the Pope about the rationality of the Trinity. And that’s probably the proper moral context to view it in; it isn’t science, its religion. It gives hope to the fearful, the desperate and the credulous. And all of us do it in our lives sooner or later, one way, or another. — Mike Darwin

          • Taurus Londono says:

            How many angles can dance on the head of a pin?

            IMHO, it’s worth keeping the “efficacy and harm” issue in context- The pharmaceutical industry may have to jump through a fair amount of hoops for approval, but these drugs are typically crude enough to be the equivalent of using an axe when a scalpel would be more appropriate. Unfortunately, the scalpel doesn’t exist yet, so consumers are left to consent to the litany of hilarious side-effects rattled off when these drugs are advertised to them *directly* (a practice that’s relatively unknown elsewhere throughout the world).

            I’m always reminded of Happy Fun Ball.

            Of course, the “scalpel” doesn’t exist yet, but not all FDA-approved drugs are “created equal.” Godsends many of these drugs may be, some arguably have less empirical basis for efficacy than at least some of the OTC products sold by LEF.

            …and speaking of OTC, people who aren’t otherwise familiar with the history of LEF should understand that they’re “true believers” and that they have a long history of “putting their money where their mouth is.” I personally know at least one other (brilliant) individual who consulted LEF; efficacious products or not, they’re no medicine show.

            And that’s more than can be said for *some* of the products being put out by *other* companies that are happily stocked and sold by nationwide chains to unwitting dupes. A pharmacist will be filling out prescriptions for FDA-approved drugs while homeopathic remedies are on the shelves just a few feet away from him. I don’t think the situation is much fundamentally different today than it was 50 or 100 years ago in that the choices of consumers (of purported remedies of all kinds) are no more informed than they ever were. They are not based on even a vague mechanistic speculation of *how* a product (regulated or not) will “work.” They don’t even know how aspirin “works,” not really. People place their trust in groups, and that makes sense; Betty and Bob love Geritol, but importantly, it’s apparent that they haven’t been poisoned to death. Rats overcome their neophobia if they see that their “compatriots” are safe; they follow suit.

            The consequence is that the Emperor often has no clothes; I don’t think it’s that they’re stupid, they’re just built that way.

            Skewing away from drugs here, but I think this is relevant to attempts to “convince” people that cryonics is not akin to UFOlogy. People do not accept scientific findings because they understand why they’re valid; they “believe” in them the same they believe in that LEF supplement they’ve been taking with no apparent ill effect for the last five years, or that homeopathic remedy sold OTC at the local pharmacy.

          • Taurus Londono says:

            Gah, “angles”=”angels”…it was a rough night.

  7. Mark F. says:

    “Everyone” knows you just have a pop a few supplements a day and you can live to 110 or 120 in great health! “Big pharma” is just suppressing the “evidence.” (Tongue planted firmly in cheek.)

    • admin says:

      I have what to me is a very amusing and all too telling story to relate on this subject. And I can relate it because in this instance I am not bound a by non-disclosure. I was a participant in a meeting some years ago that included Dr. Steve Spindler (UCR), Richard Weindruch (UW), Dr. Steve Harris, MD, Saul Kent, and assorted others. The purpose of the meetings was to consider possible combinations of what were then thought to be the most likely lifespan extending molecules. For instance, would reducing glycation with say aminoguanidine + reducing free radicals with CoQ10 and perhaps another antioxidant(s) be more effective than any alone? And what mixes of calorie restriction with putative anti-aging drugs. Combinations of compounds were chosen and as the discussion wore on, there was still a slot or two in the proposed studies that had not been filled (though there were many candidates).

      At that point, I cheerfully suggested that one of the combinations that be tested should be LifeExtension Mix. Just think, I chortled, of what a boon to LEF’s marketing that would be! There was an awkward silence and then Saul continued the conversation seamlessly as if it had never been interrupted. I want to be at pains to point out here that in my 30 years of interaction with Saul Kent he never once interfered in any way, express or implied with the research he/LEF funded nor in any way, express or implied, influenced reporting of publication of results, favorable or unfavorable. In fact, he consistently urged publication of ALL research results and what’s more, he often funded work that the principal investigator wanted to do far more than he (Saul) did. That, and the staggering funding that LEF has provided to basic research in gerontology and cryobiology over the years is, in my opinion, absolution for any number of sins, venial or mortal… That meeting was part of the lead up to the launch of LEF’s Project Lifespan: If my notes from that meeting are acvuraute the chosen molecules/combinations were: melatonin, lycopene, vitamin E, alpha lipoic acid and procysteine, coenzyme-Q10, carnitine and NADH. Aminoguanidine, pregnenolone.

      If you want to see the published results of some of those combinations of drugs selected at that meeting so long ago, here are some some papers:
      The impact of α-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10 and caloric restriction on life span and gene expression patterns in mice. Weindruch, et. al. Free Radic Biol Med. 2004 Apr 15;36(8):1043-57:
      Screening Candidate Longevity Therapeutics Using Gene-Expression Arrays. Gerontology. 2007;53(5):306-21. Epub 2007 Jun 15. Spindler & Mote:

      Quoting the Results section of the Spindler abstract: “We present a traditional study of the effects of melatonin, melatonin and pregnenolone, aminoguanidine, aminoguanidine and alpha-lipoic acid, aminoguanidine, alpha-lipoic acid, pregnenolone, and coenzyme-Q(10) on the lifespan of mice. No treatment extended lifespan. ” To which I would add, yes, but some of combinations shortened lifespan.

      Since no one spoke, and since I never raised the issue again (gerontology was not in my job description and there was a lot of other stuff on my plate), I don’t know why testing LE Mix was not considered. My best guess is that there was a general understanding that “there is gold in them thar pills!” Or, to waddle in another metaphor, “you don’t kill the goose that lays the golden pills.” A hypothesis I’ve long held about the failure of combination drug trials in lifespan extension research is that the combined, and perhaps interacting toxicity (adverse effects) of the drugs cancel or swamp the therapeutic benefit seen when they are used alone. We are, in fact (as would be expected) engaging in polypharmacy to treat aging in humans right now – and it is a major problem and a serious difficulty to decide which combinations of drugs are worth the risks they present. Hypertension is still viewed as an aberrant pathology that is not a part of “healthy aging.” But the fact is, most people are hypertensive past age 50, and almost everyone is by the time they are 70. It’s an aging pathology. So, it is treated, as well it should be, with drugs. The older people get the more likely they are to need still more drugs if for no other reason than that they don’t want to feel miserable or they want to be able to do things aging has robbed them of, such as sex. So, older people also take drugs such as NSAIDS, “Cialis for Daily Use,” and a bisphosphonate drug for osteoporosis, and on and on. Absent primary or definitive treatments for aging, that’s the way it’s going to be: polypharmacy and prosthetics (eyeglasses, contacts, joint replacements, intraocular implants, pacemakers, hearing aids…) all the way. — Mike Darwin

  8. Shannon Vyff says:

    I’m currently hooked on your blog, and love the time you put into research, Mike-also your commenters have great contributions as well. The topics are apropos to my interests and the field I try to help (extreme life extension) :-)

    I wish I had the time to read daily, but I’ll see how often I can visit ;)

    Kurzweil has been critiqued before and all you say is valid. I’ve seen Transcendent Man, and am happy that he comes off as interesting and tragic in a way. He does have cryonics set up as a back up (I know conclusively) and I feel that will benefit cryonics someday. I also feel that in the mean-time what he is doing is more beneficial than harmful, as he has the marketing to get his message out. He brings in thousands of people to transhumanist ways of thinking, if not daily then at least weekly. I’ve talked to countless people who are in the extreme life extension movement due to Kurzweil -I’m grateful for the out-reach and education he does. At the same time, I know many discount his more wild claims -but at least he is getting the ideas out there.

    He is doing what he can, in a different way than Aubrey, to bring about radical life extension–he just has a more technological rather than biological approach.

  9. Geoff says:

    There is of course the old saying (or something like this): – Well, it walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, and it looks like a duck. (In response to the question : – Is it whatever? OR Is it Ray Kurzweil’s father?)

    I am not necessarily saying it is a duck. I don’t know if Ray Kurzweil had this prepared response, but it would have helped him if he did.

  10. Max More says:

    I like Ray quite a bit. But Hofstadter has it right. Ray’s work is a curious mixture of brilliance and… non-brilliance. As I’ve written repeatedly, I don’t believe in a Singularity. I’m also baffled by his advocacy of homeopathy (or tolerance of his coauthor’s advocacy). Back in the 1980s, I took a ridiculous number of pills. Over the years, I cut back again and again because my reading of the evidence was that they weren’t helping — and might be harming me. For quite a few years now, I’ve been down to taking one multivitamin, a couple of baby aspirin, a mineral supplement, and a couple of fish oil caps (on days when I don’t eat salmon).

    One thing about your post puzzled me, and I have to ask: Why the heck were you taking Mitochondrial Energy Optimizer in the first place?


    • admin says:

      I’ve never met Kurzweil, but I suspect I’d like him. He’s one of those people who present a lot of problems for me in the context of cryonics, and likely none at all in my personal life. In fact, men such as Kurzweil are usually ASSETS to know in almost every way,and they are often even greater assets to count as friends. The problem comes when a man who is mostly admirable intersects with one’s professional life in a way that creates a conflict or problem that can’t be ignored nor easily reconciled, let alone solved. It’s a lot like having friends who hold political, religious, or technical beliefs or ideas which are the polar opposites of those you hold.

      Most psychologically healthy people count as friends people who are, for example, liberals when they are by contrast staunch conservatives or even libertarians (or vice versa), or people who are pro-abortion when they are anti-abortion, religious when they are atheists… This works fine, unless or until the issues become central, at which point bitter division often occurs. This needn’t always be the case, but it takes a lot of effort on both sides to avoid it. And it also (invariably) requires that both parties genuinely respect each other – that they see and appreciate the very real value their “opponent” has, apart from their areas of disagreement.

      Kurzweil is an unarguably brilliant and innovative man whose overall contributions to technological civilization are incredible. Personally, I can’t thank him enough for the flatbed scanner; a tool that has greatly enriched my life, made it much more enjoyable, and done a great deal to rescue and preserve cryonics history. Unfortunately, his technological forecasting is naive, and I believe it will also prove erroneous (and in that, he is in excellent company). That would be of no consequence to me, or to others in cryonics, were it not for the fact that it has had, and continues to have, a corrosive effect on cryonics and immortalist activists and activism. His idea of the Singularity has created an expectation of entitlement and inevitability that are wholly unjustified, both on the basis of history, and on on the basis of events that are playing out now in the world markets, and on the geopolitical stage.

      This isn’t just an impression or opinion on my part; it is backed up by numbers, such as this recent poll by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies: The IEET poll found that the majority of their readers aged 35 or older said that they expect to “die within a normal human lifespan;” no surprises there. This was in contrast to to an overwhelming majority (69%) of their readers under the age of 35 who believe that radical life extension will enable them to stay alive indefinitely, or “for centuries, at least.” Where the data gets really interesting is when you look at the breakdown of just how these folks think they are going to be GIVEN practical immortality:

      36% believe they will stay alive for centuries (at least) in their own (biological) bodies
      26% expect that they will continue to survive by having their “minds uploaded to a computer”
      7% expect to “die” but to eventually be resurrected by cryonics.

      Only 7% think cryonics will be necessary? That simply delusional and it is a huge problem. It is also a problem I can speak to personally and with credibility by virtue of having “been in the trenches around the globe” these past 6 years. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that 69% of the IEET’s membership under the age of 35 are NOT involved in making any of these approaches to practical immortality or radical life extension a reality. Nor are the 7% who anticipate survival via cryonics likely to be signed up. In fact, I’d wager not more than one or two of them is. And why should they bestir themselves in any way to this end? After all, the Singularity is coming, it is INEVITABLE, and all they have to do is to sit back and wait for it to arrive – presumably wrapped up in in pretty paper and with bows on.

      Young people anticipating practical immortality look at me like some kind of raving mad Luddite when I try to convince them that if they are to have any meaningful chance at truly long term survival, they are going to have to act, work very hard, and have a hell of a lot of luck in the bargain. This sense of complacency isn’t due only to Ray Kurzweil, and it would be very disingenuous to suggest that this is so, Rather, it is the result of a multiplicity of factors, not the least of which are the sense of entitlement which is a side effect of affluenza, coupled with the sad reality that onto two generations of people in the West no longer actually MAKE THINGS, or work with their hands. All of the “dirty” and “hands on business” of wrestling with matter to MAKE it OBEY us, has been shipped away to remote corners of the globe where pathetically ignorant and credulous people have been willing to exchange their blood, sweat and tears (literally) for worthless chits of green paper.

      Nevertheless, Kurzweil has been, without doubt or argument, THE great enabler of this madness by providing a scenario and a narrative that is far more credible than Santa Claus, and orders of magnitude more appealing. It is because of that that we necessarily come into conflict, Just as inevitably as a physician providing abortions is inevitably going to clash with a friend or colleague who sincerely believes that every fetus so destroyed is a full and righteously alive human being.

      Those kinds of conflict tend to strain civility, to say the least. The Myth of the Singularity has done more damage to cryonics and to neutralize serious, committed life extension activism, than any religion or “humanist” ideology has. This is so because it selectively targets and immobilizes the very people who are susceptible to our message of activism and personal responsibility. It has even proven effective on a number of long time cryonicists. A couple of years ago, I confronted a cryonicist from your (Max More’s) cohort who so buys into the idea of the Singularity that he honestly expects robots will more or less shown up on his doorstep with immortality in hand for him – and soon (several decades)! Thus, he has only to stay alive along enough for this blessed event to occur, which is believes, like Kurzweil, is eminently doable by the expedient of taking large doses of vitamins! It is this kind of effect that has made me understand why religions, philosophies and ideologies so jealously guard their territories; even the best and brightest are susceptible to ideological poaching by a Messiah with a no-load, “sit on your butt and wait for salvation” message.

      As to why I was taking LEF’s mitochondrial optimizer: the short answer is that because at the time I began using the product, it was not only the cheapest, it was the only readily available form of acetyl-l-carnitine and alpha lipoic acid. For me, given my particular medical circumstances, these molecules are demonstrably beneficial.

      Also, a major concern (and focus) of mine has been on means (both pharmacological and otherwise) to slow the cognitive decline associated with so called “normal healthy aging.” Starting by at least ~2 years of age, there is steady, progressive loss of gray matter neurons in humans. The daily averaged neuronal attrition rate is in the range of 80K to 90K, with a disproportionate amount of this loss occurring the hippocampus and in the frontal and prefrontal cortices. In addition to neuron death, there is also a profound decrease in neuronal cell mass and the loss of neuronal arborization that accompanies aging.

      ALCAR is one of the few molecules that has shown any consistent benefit in animal models of brain aging, and one of very few molecules that has shown any benefit whatsoever in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and more impressively, in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). It is important to emphasize here that the benefit in MCI and AD are very slight. However, any positive signal in these otherwise relentless neurodegenerative diseases is impressive (see selected bibliography, below),. There is also emerging evidence that ALCAR acts to increase endogenous secretion of several neurotrophic growth factors essential to both neuronal survival, and the maintenance of neuronal health – including cell mass and inter-connectivity.

      I noted that in your interview about the Paleo diet you remarked that you no longer took any “supplements” or so-called “life extension” drugs, other than a multivitamin tablet. I agree that there is no decent evidence of the life extending benefit in humans (and very little in animals) of most supplements being touted as “anti-aging” remedies. I would also agree that our current pharmacopeia (insofar as we now know) is unlikely to soon yield drugs that will markedly extend maximum lifespan with a sufficient risk to benefit ratio. However, I think the picture is considerably brighter when it comes to slowing cognitive decline and the underlying pathophysiologies that drive it. One great advantage in this arena is the ability to measure, and even to quantify with considerable precision, the progression of the process AND the effect, or lack of effect of any intervention. The brain can be repeatedly, objectively and non-invasive interrogated by cognitive tests and can also be imaged with rapidly growing precision. These technologies allow for the generation of highly meaningful feedback in something approaching real time. This is every researcher’s and clinician’s dream scenario. With interventions to extend mean and maximum lifespan this is not (so much) the case. Indeed, in order to establish human biomarkers for aging in which we can have real confidence, we have to wait for a fairly large cohort of humans to grow old and die.

      I would also note that there is good clinical evidence for the effectiveness of this combination of these vitamins and nutrients, beta-carotene (14,320), ascorbic acid (226 mg), dl-alpha tocopherol acetate (200 IU ), znc oxide (34.8 mg), cupric oxide (0.8 mg) and lutein (6 mg) in slowing age associated macular degeneration, and possibly also in preventing it. Thus, it’s important to look at the specific evidence regarding supplements. For instance, the B vitamins folic acid, pyridoxal phosphate and cyanocobalamin are very effective at reducing homocysteine levels. And there is certainly no question that elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with MCI, AD and atherosclerosis (arguably even biomarkers). However, many well designed trials have failed to show any benefit in preventing, or even in slowing the progression of these diseases, by reducing homocysteine levels with these nutrients. They may be good for some other age-associated pathologies, and there is one study that indicates they may slow the rate of of the “normal” cerebral atrophy of aging. But they are a bust for MCI, AD and CVD.

      I consider the histological and cognitive sequelae of aging both so onerous and so personally perilous that they rank on par with having a diagnosis of AIDS before HAART. I believe this attitude is especially warranted by cryonicists who are (or who should be) aware that cryopreservation is an empty promise without a sufficiently structurally intact brain around to send off to the shop for repair.

      1: Montgomery SA, Thal LJ, Amrein R. Meta-analysis of double blind randomized
      controlled clinical trials of acetyl-L-carnitine versus placebo in the treatment
      of mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer’s disease. Int Clin
      Psychopharmacol. 2003 Mar;18(2):61-71. PubMed PMID: 12598816.

      2: Hudson S, Tabet N. Acetyl-L-carnitine for dementia. Cochrane Database Syst
      Rev. 2003;(2):CD003158. Review. PubMed PMID: 12804452.

      3: Thal LJ, Carta A, Clarke WR, Ferris SH, Friedland RP, Petersen RC, Pettegrew
      JW, Pfeiffer E, Raskind MA, Sano M, Tuszynski MH, Woolson RF. A 1-year
      multicenter placebo-controlled study of acetyl-L-carnitine in patients with
      Alzheimer’s disease. Neurology. 1996 Sep;47(3):705-11. PubMed PMID: 8797468.

      4: Thal LJ, Calvani M, Amato A, Carta A. A 1-year controlled trial of
      acetyl-l-carnitine in early-onset AD. Neurology. 2000 Sep 26;55(6):805-10. PubMed
      PMID: 10994000.

      5: Rai G, Wright G, Scott L, Beston B, Rest J, Exton-Smith AN. Double-blind,
      placebo controlled study of acetyl-l-carnitine in patients with Alzheimer’s
      dementia. Curr Med Res Opin. 1990;11(10):638-47. PubMed PMID: 2178869.

      6: Brooks JO 3rd, Yesavage JA, Carta A, Bravi D. Acetyl L-carnitine slows decline
      in younger patients with Alzheimer’s disease: a reanalysis of a double-blind,
      placebo-controlled study using the trilinear approach. Int Psychogeriatr. 1998
      Jun;10(2):193-203. PubMed PMID: 9677506.

      7: Spagnoli A, Lucca U, Menasce G, Bandera L, Cizza G, Forloni G, Tettamanti M,
      Frattura L, Tiraboschi P, Comelli M, et al. Long-term acetyl-L-carnitine
      treatment in Alzheimer’s disease. Neurology. 1991 Nov;41(11):1726-32. PubMed
      PMID: 1944900.

      8: Passeri M, Cucinotta D, Bonati PA, Iannuccelli M, Parnetti L, Senin U.
      Acetyl-L-carnitine in the treatment of mildly demented elderly patients. Int J
      Clin Pharmacol Res. 1990;10(1-2):75-9. PubMed PMID: 2201659.

      9: Pettegrew JW, Klunk WE, Panchalingam K, Kanfer JN, McClure RJ. Clinical and
      neurochemical effects of acetyl-L-carnitine in Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobiol
      Aging. 1995 Jan-Feb;16(1):1-4. PubMed PMID: 7723928.

      10: Tomassini V, Pozzilli C, Onesti E, Pasqualetti P, Marinelli F, Pisani A,
      Fieschi C. Comparison of the effects of acetyl L-carnitine and amantadine for the
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      double-blind, crossover trial. J Neurol Sci. 2004 Mar 15;218(1-2):103-8. PubMed
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      11: Arrieta JL, Artalejo FR. Methodology, results and quality of clinical trials
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      • Mark Plus says:

        Michael Shermer reviews Kurzweil’s vanity film here:

        Shermer quotes Kevin Kelly:

        “What happens in 40 years from now and Ray dies and doesn’t have his father back? What does all this mean? Was he wrong? Well, he was right about some things. But in my observation the precursors of those technologies that would have to exist simply are not here. Ray’s longing for this, his expectation, is heartwarming, but it isn’t going to happen.”

        And that will make Kurzweil sound as delusional about his forecast of “immortality” as FM-2030, Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary.

        Inventor Dean Kamen makes an interesting contrast with Kurzweil, in that Kamen continues to focus his efforts on tangible and feasible goals, including one to try to get more American high school students interested in STEM careers. I’ve heard an interesting rumor about him related to our goals, and I’d like to see if he follows up on it. I’d rather have Kamen as a celebrity you-know-what than someone who sounds increasingly like a modern-day Wilhelm Reich, or like Nikola Tesla after he ran out of good ideas.

        • admin says:

          I thought Shermer’s review was very on point and possibly even excessively fair. Certainly it shows Kurzweil a lot more sympathy than Shermer has granted to cryonics, or cryonicists. If anything, Kurzweil’s ideas about recovering the dead are deserving of both skepticism and harsh criticism . The idea that person hood can be reduced to, or reconstructed from a handful, a room full, or even a whole warehouse full of the scraps and bits left over after a life has been lived, is pernicious. This is a cruel deception for those who buy into it, and far worse, an abdication of any real responsibility to the deceased to truly restore them to life, if that is demonstrated to be possible.

          The one point on which I disagree with Shermer, and heartily agree with Kurzweil, is on the issue of whether there is a god or not. My answer has been (since I was a teenager) the same as Kurzweil’s: “Not yet.” — Mike Darwin

      • Abelard Lindsey says:


        I would not take ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid) for any reason other than for heavy metal chelation. ALA is a very powerful chelator of Mercury and other heavy metals and is harmful if used improperly. I have chelated with ALA for more than 3 years and found the effects to be profound.

        My friend, Andy Cutler, wrote the book on ALA chelation. I suggest contacting him if you are interested in this issue. His website is

        • admin says:

          I think Cutler’s speculations about ALA “mobilizing” endogenous mercury stores and redistributing the metal to the brain are interesting. But they are just that, speculations.

          I also know of no quality evidence that ALA causes mobilization of mercury from dental amalgams, and thus is contraindicated in people who have silver-mercury amalgam dental fillings. I’d be very interested to see such data. One of the frustrating things about chronic mercury intoxication is our inability to at all measure the levels of mercury in the brain and spinal cord. Mercury in the CNS is tightly bound to protein and, as I’m sure you know, mercury in tissues (in general) is so well sequestered that blood, urine and hair concentrations of the metal give little or indication of the extent of mercury intoxication under conditions of chronic, low level exposure. It’s all well and good to posit that that disruption in the normal flow of metals/minerals in the body is pathogonomic for chronic mercury intoxication; however, once again, this requires solid, empirical evidence. I’d be very interested in any direct data that supports this contention.

          To be clear, I do take very seriously the problem that mercury and other heavy metal intoxication represent. I also think that mercury containing dental fillings (of which I have many) are unacceptable and should be discontinued – especially in children! I’ve long been astonished that in all the studies done on mercury exposure in the setting of restorative dentistry, no one has bothered to measure the acute exposure to inhaled mercury vapor that occurs when fillings are initially placed (and shaped with a high speed drill) and subsequently, when these amalgams are drilled out and replaced, as they inevitably must be – often several times during the life of the patient. All studies of which I’m aware have considered only the (relatively) small amounts of mercury vapor generated as a result of the mechanical action of chewing food.

          I also understand that ultimately, heavy metal intoxication is the certain fate of any truly long lived human. Evolution does not provide for effective disposal of heavy metals at the rate they are accumulated over a lifespan of 40, 50, 60 years, and longer. For the last ~8K years, human technology has mobilized comparatively vast amounts of heavy metals – most notably lead, mercury and cadmium and these are now inexorably making their way into our foodstuffs. Live long enough, pretty much regardless of WHERE you live, and you’ll accumulate deleterious levels of heavy metals – and if you are meat eater – possibly iron, as well. I’m also open to the hypothesis that some fraction of chronic illness, including mood disorders, may be caused or exacerbated by chronic, low level heavy metal (primarily mercury) intoxication. I suffered extensive heavy metal poisoning as a toddler as a result of ingesting something in the vicinity 0.3 sq meters of lead painted, arsenic containing wallpaper adjacent to my crib. My parents found this pica amusing and did not act to stop it until a large area of the wall had been denuded of covering and ingested by me.

          Finally, the statement, “I would not take ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid) for any reason other than for heavy metal chelation,” is unsupported and, in my opinion, likely unsupportable, as well. ALA is a highly effective therapeutic agent for otherwise untreatable diabetic neuropathy and it is also very useful in the management of HIV, especially in patients on HAART. There are extensive clinical data documenting ALA’s utility in these, and a variety of other diseases (see below) — Mike Darwin

          Altenkirch H, Stoltenburg-Didinger G, Wagner HM, et al. Effects of lipoic acid in hexacarbon-induced neuropathy. Neurotoxicol Teratol 1990;12:619-22.

          Ametov AS, Barinov A, Dyck PJ, et al. The sensory symptoms of diabetic polyneuropathy are improved with alpha-lipoic acid. Diabetes Care 2003;26:770-6.

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          Baur A, Harrer T, Peukert M, et al. Alpha-lipoic acid is an effective inhibitor of human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV-1) replication. Klin Wochenschr 1991;69:722-4.

          Beitner H. Randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind study on the clinical efficacy of a cream containing 5% alpha-lipoic acid related to photoaging of facial skin. Br J Dermatol 2003;149:841-9.

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          Conlon BJ, Aran JM, Erre JP, Smith DW. Attenuation of aminoglycoside-induced cochlear damage with the metabolic antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid. Hear Res 1999;128:40-4.

          Dana Consortium on the therapy of HIV dementia and related cognitive disorders. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of deprenyl and thioctic acid in human immunodeficiency virus-associated cognitive impairment. Neurology 1998;50:645-51.

          Fuchs J, Schofer H, Milbradt R, et al. Studies on lipoate effects on blood redox state in human immunodeficiency virus infected patients. Arzneimittelforschung 1993;43:1359-62.

          Furukawa N, Miyamura N, Nishida K, et al. Possible relevance of alpha lipoic acid contained in a health supplement in a case of insulin autoimmune syndrome. Diabetes Res Clin Pract 2007;75:366-7.

          Gleiter CH, Schreeb KH, Freudenthaler S, et al. Lack of interaction between thioctic acid, glibenclamide and acarbose. Br J Clin Pharmacol 1999;48:819-25.

          Gurer H, Ozgunes H, Oztezcan S, Ercal N. Antioxidant role of alpha-lipoic acid in lead toxicity. Free Rad Biol Med 1999;27:75-81.

          Haramaki N, Assadnazari H, Zimmer G, et al. The influence of vitamin E and dihydrolipoic acid on cardiac energy and glutathione status under hypoxia-reoxygenation. Biochem Mol Biol Int 1995;37:591-7.

          Jacob S, Henriksen EJ, Schiemann AL, et al. Enhancement of glucose disposal in patients with type 2 diabetes by alpha-lipoic acid. Arzneimittelforschung 1995;45:872-4.

          Jacob S, Henriksen EJ, Tritschler HJ, et al. Improvement of insulin-stimulated glucose-disposal in type 2 diabetes after repeated parenteral administration of thioctic acid. Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabet 1996;104:284-8.

          Jacob S, Ruus P, Hermann R, et al. Oral administration of RAC-alpha-lipoic acid modulates insulin sensitivity in patients with type-2 diabetes mellitus: a placebo-controlled, pilot trial. Free Rad Biol Med 1999;27:309-14.

          Kishi Y, Schmelzer JD, Yao JK, et al. Alpha-lipoic acid: effect on glucose uptake, sorbitol pathway, and energy metabolism in experimental diabetic neuropathy. Diabetes 1999;48:2045-51.

          Konrad T, Vicini P, Kusterer K, et al. Alpha-lipoic acid treatment decreases serum lactate and pyruvate concentrations and improves glucose effectiveness in lean and obese patients with Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 1999;22:280-7.

          Labriola D, Livingston R. Possible interactions between dietary antioxidants and chemotherapy. Oncology 1999;13:1003-8.

          Maesaka H, Komiya K, Misugi K, Tada K. Hyperalaninemia hyperpyruvicemia and lactic acidosis due to pyruvate carboxylase deficiency of the liver; treatment with thiamine and lipoic acid. Eur J Pediatr 1976;122:159-68.

          Marshall AW, Graul RS, Morgan MY, Sherlock S. Treatment of alcohol-related liver disease with thioctic acid: a six-month, randomized, double-blind trial. Gut 1982;23:1088-93.

          Matalon R, Stumpf DA, Michals K, et al. Lipoamide dehydrogenase deficiency with primary lactic acidosis: favorable response to treatment with oral lipoic acid. J Pediatr 1984;104:65-9.

          Merin JP, Matsuyama M, Kira T, et al. Alpha-lipoic acid blocks HIV-1 LTR-dependent expression of hygromycin resistance in THP-1 stable transformants. FEBS Lett 1996;394:9-13.

          Nagamatsu M, Nickander KK, Schmelzer JD, et al. Lipoic acid improves nerve blood flow, reduces oxidative stress, and improves distal nerve conduction in experimental diabetic neuropathy. Diabet Care 1995;18:1160-7.

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          Yoshida I, Sweetman L, Kulovich S, et al. Effect of lipoic acid in patient with defective activity of pyruvate dehydrogenase, 2-oxoglutarate dehydrogenase, and branched-chain keto acid dehydrogenase. Pediatr Res 1990;27:75-9.

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          Ziegler D, Nowak H, Kemplert P, et al. Treatment of symptomatic diabetic polyneuropathy with the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid: A meta-analysis. Diabet Med 2004;21:114-21.

          Ziegler D, Schatz H, Conrad F, et al. Effects of treatment with the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid on cardiac autonomic neuropathy in NIDDM patients. Diabetes Care 1997;20:369-73.

      • Mark Plus says:

        >A couple of years ago, I confronted a cryonicist from your (Max More’s) cohort who so buys into the idea of the Singularity that he honestly expects robots will more or less shown up on his doorstep with immortality in hand for him – and soon (several decades)! Thus, he has only to stay alive along enough for this blessed event to occur, which is believes, like Kurzweil, is eminently doable by the expedient of taking large doses of vitamins! It is this kind of effect that has made me understand why religions, philosophies and ideologies so jealously guard their territories; even the best and brightest are susceptible to ideological poaching by a Messiah with a no-load, “sit on your butt and wait for salvation” message.

        Economist James D. Miller, who teaches economics at an all-women’s college (what does that say about his status in his profession’s dominance hierarchy?), wrote a nearly perfect example of this self-defeating singularitarian thinking in his book Singularity Rising:

        Miller even argues that because of the singularity, you can just slack off instead of exerting yourself to study useful things like Chinese and medicine.

        Uh, James, how can you get excellent health care from here to the singularity if people follow your advice and abandon the practice of medicine?

        And suppose you want to date Chinese women, especially if you think fathering children with them makes sense for eugenic reasons (a minor these in Miller’s book)? You’d have better luck at that by knowing how to speak their language instead of relying on some translation app in your advanced smart phone.

        This tendency to link cryonics with geek fads really bothers me, and I agree with Mike that it continues to damage cryonics’ credibility when the promised technological apocalypse doesn’t arrive by the predicted date.

  11. Tony says:

    In fairness to old Ray. He does admit that his predictions could be off by decades but he feels he is certainly not off by say 1000 years.

  12. Mark Plus says:

    Ray has gone on another of his media circus tours to promote his new book:

    • cath says:

      I can’t provide a link, but general reading in psychology supports the conclusion that mild pessimism provides the most realistic outlook on life coupled with sufficient drive to do practical work. This glazed-eyed technological boosterism always seems, well, insane, and lacking the most basic insight. And, coincidentally, arrogant self-belief makes the most successful psychological outlook for the salesman. Maybe I’m getting cranky in my old age, but isn’t it reasonable to set off alarm bells WHENEVER one feels that schmalzy inner glow of “feeling good”? Isn’t this just basic self-knowledge? One of the best things a psychiatrist ever said to me was “not everything you think is true”. The second best was “the universe is an unfriendly place, and a LITTLE paranoia is quite justified”.

      A friend just says “They are making me feel so good I’d better hang onto my wallet”. Same dog, different turd.

  13. Mark Plus says:

    Kurzweil’s new job at Google might reconnect him to reality for awhile, unless Google hired him for symbolic reasons without expecting him to produce. His career seems to illustrate the problem Peter Thiel keeps drawing attention to: Kurzweil’s view of “the future” emphasizes computing, computing and even more computing because computing received exemption from the political restrictions on progress in energy and stuff that geeks have faced since 1970 or so. These restrictions would explain why we have tablet computers and smart phones right out of science fiction, but we live in cities which look more and more like the “After” photos of a zombie apocalypse.

    Unfortunately cryonics has become a casualty in this loss of freedom to innovate, along with transhumanist visions of the transformation of human biology to make us into immortal supermen, to coin a phrase. I don’t see much awareness among transhumanists of the political and social context which determines what kinds of ideas can possibly turn into real things and what ones can’t.

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