Forty-five years ago, Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey was brought into the world. Today is his birthday, and it seems appropriate to briefly reflect on Aubrey’s achievements to date and what he represents to biogerontology.
At times brilliant, at times exasperating, Aubrey is unquestionably the world’s most energetic popularizer of the idea that there is something we can do about aging — and not just a little something, mind you, but a very big something: we can end it, once and for all. In particular, he argues, we can take an engineer’s approach to reversing or repairing several types of damage that characterize aging, and thereby eliminate the process of aging itself. Over the years, his vision has been refined into a detailed program of proposed research and development called Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), elaborated in great (and accessible) detail in his 2007 book Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime (co-authored with Michael Rae).
To mildly understate the case, Aubrey’s core thesis is controversial, even (and sometimes especially) within the community of biogerontologists. In the process of promulgating his views, he has unquestionably raised hackles, and has at times been subjected to (usually well-meaning) satire — but he has also stimulated scholarly debate, in which even his most staunch critics often find themselves engaging the issue on his own grounds.
On his birthday, it is good and right that we appreciate Aubrey for his energetic efforts in pushing a radical idea — that aging might someday be vanquished — out of the fringes and into the mainstream of modern biological thinking. Despite his differences with individual scientists (and sometimes with large groups of them, waving torches) he remains biogerontology’s most prominent popularizer, and therefore in some sense the field’s biggest fan.
So, how will you celebrate Aubrey’s birthday? Perhaps you could take in one of his popular lectures, like this one at the prestigious TED conference; if you’re intrigued, share it with a friend. (If you’re looking for something lighter, there’s always his stint on the Colbert Report.) To learn more, you could buy his book. While you’re at it, check out the Methuselah Foundation, maybe even make a donation. Those with the means might consider attending the upcoming conference he is organizing, Understanding Aging. Through the miracle of modern technology, you can even become Aubrey’s friend.
Regardless of what you do, I hope you’ll join me today in celebrating the vision, energy, fearlessness and enthusiasm that Aubrey brings to this greatest of causes.
Happy birthday, Aubrey. Many, many happy returns.