The 2011 Calorie Restriction Society Conference
On October 27-29 I attended CR VII, the 2011 Calorie Restriction Society Conference held in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Members of the Calorie Restriction Society restrict their calories while maintaining adequate nutrition as a means of extending their lifespan (or improving their healthspan), as has been proven to work in lower animals.
Although I was still in a wheelchair as a result of falling from a ladder and hip surgery, I got my airline to give me handicapped-support (wheelchair assistance), and I rented a wheelchair in Las Vegas.
CR VII was the seventh CR Society conference held in the ten years since the first such conference was held in the same city, in the same hotel, and in the same meeting-room ten years earlier in 2001. Thursday, October 27 featured presentations by Calorie Restriction Society Members, whereas Friday and Saturday featured presentations by PhD scientific researchers. I am a CR Society Member, so I was invited to speak on cryonics on Thursday. It was a small conference, so there were not many more than forty people attending on any of the days.
My presentation was preceded by a presentation by Peter Voss, who is both a CR Society Member and a Member of Alcor. Peter and his companion Louise Gold were the only CR Society Members other than me attending the conference who are cryonicists. Peter spoke of the ultimate goal of indefinite lifespan, sharing his wisdom based on his experience practicing calorie restriction, describing cryonics as a “safety net of unknown fabric”, and mostly speaking of his goal of developing Artificial General Intelligence to accelerate research in life extension technologies. Concerning his CR practice, he noted that CR is not binary, and that people receive the benefits to the degree that they restrict their calories. He said that he does not count calories, but simply weighs himself and adjusts his calories appropriately, which is the practice I have adopted. Peter is not worried about hostile AIs because he believes that rationality is positively associated with morality. (See http://www.adaptiveai.com/ for a sample of Peter’s work.)
Although it was not a large group, I expected that such a group of dedicated life extensionists willing to go to extremes in restricting their calories would be very receptive to the practice of cryonics. On the other hand, Shannon Vyff warned me that although CR Society Members can be enthusiastic to hear about cryonics, they don’t sign-up. I gave considerable thought to the marketing aspect of my presentation. I decided to be very up-front about being a salesman, while nonetheless attempting to side-step salesmanship (and sales resistance) by concentrating on the technical issues and encouraging a technical discussion (although I did mention prices and insurance funding).
Alcor Member (and long-time cryonics promoter) Brenda Peters lives in Las Vegas, so I invited her to be my guest at the CR Society Conference. My thought was simply that Brenda and I could renew our friendship while enjoying the conference together.
I began my presentation by describing my and experience and mistakes in practicing calorie restriction as well as my fall in September which resulted in hip surgery and no prospect of walking again for many weeks — and how this had interrupted by exercise/CRAN program. When I asked who felt familiar with their knowledge of technical issues of cryonics, I was surprised that none of the non-cryonicists raised their hands.
After giving my presentation of the technical issues in cryonics I asked the audience to pair-up to discuss both their understanding of my presentation, and reasons they may have for thinking that cryonics may not work. After the paired discussions I asked for questions and objections. Brenda was more enthusiastic than I expected about raising her hand to comment. I somewhat bluntly said that I would rather hear from anyone but her, which was apparently confusing to people who weren’t aware that we knew each other. I was wanting to hear the unvarnished objections to the idea of cryonics which CR Society Members might have. I did not mean to hurt Brenda’s feelings, and I blame myself for not discussing my expectations with her beforehand. I did, nonetheless, allow Brenda to speak a couple of times.
It proved to be hard work getting CR Society Members to explain whatever objections they might have to cryonics. One fellow expressed his belief that not enough is known about the mind to know that cryonics can preserve it. I replied that the mind is based on the synaptic “connectome” and that minds recover from low-temperature surgery in which there is no electrical activity in the brain. Another fellow wanted to hear the experimental evidence that cryonics patients have been revived, to which I could only reply that cryonics is dependent on technologies which do not yet exist, and that revival seems inevitable to me if technology continues to progress and the anatomical basis of mind is preserved. One man believed that dogs had already been cryopreserved and revived, but I corrected his misconception by stating that the dogs have only been revived from cooling down to just above the melting temperature of water. When someone said that most businesses don’t last long, I replied that it is a mistake to compare the durability of cryonics organizations to efforts to start a diner in a location where the success is uncertain. One woman raised the overpopulation issue, which I noted is no more a plausible threat than the danger that too many people will practice Calorie Restriction. I added that the same logic would ban all medical research, especially research into preventing infectious diseases.
Although there were not many objections, neither did I hear much enthusiasm for cryonics. Perhaps they were stunned by an unfamiliar idea, and it takes time for resistance to be overcome. I had been hoping for some sign-ups. I had placed Membership forms on the literature table. It was as if they had no objections to cryonics, but still weren’t interested. Which left me thinking that I shouldn’t have asked for reasons why they think cryonics won’t work, but instead asked for reasons why they won’t sign-up.
A number of people complimented me on the quality of my presentation. But during subsequent discussions with CR Society Members at the conference, I heard further objections to cryonics. One CR Society Member told me that he hoped my presentation would motivate him to sign-up for cryonics. He said that he had mentioned cryonics to his mother several years ago, but she was freaked-out by the thought of being reanimated in a strange and alien world. Since then she had become demented, and he thought it would be wrong to foist cryonics upon her while she is in that condition.
Another CR Society presenter spoke of his project to develop an eco-friendly farm with local barter and community-building that would be sustainable through the disastrous global warming and prolonged depression he was expecting. His bleak vision of the future of technology left no possibility for cryonics, but at least he corrected himself when he started to say “cryogenics”.
Another fellow I spoke with later was concerned that cryonics organizations could not survive in light of the acrimony he saw between Members. His biggest concern, however, was that people of the future would be vastly superior, and treat him with contempt or worse upon his revival. A female CR Society Member told me that she is restricting calories entirely to increase her health-span, not her lifespan. She does not think that life is very good, and she has the hope and belief that the afterlife will be better.
Over lunch, one fellow suggested promoting cryonics as a means of cutting the astronomical health-care costs that so many people incur in their last year of life. I replied that any association of euthanasia with cryonics or any hastening of death on the expectation that cryonics may work would be disastrous for cryonics — and all the moreso if done as a cost-cutting measure.
I had difficulty moving around in the conference room due to the tables and my wheelchair, which made it difficult to chat with people during breaks. I had a similar problem during meal breaks. Whether I would have gotten a better understanding of why no-one seemed eager to sign-up for cryonics if my mobility had been better remains to be seen. I would think that after years of giving presentations about cryonics I would become blunted to lack of interest, but each such experience remains uniquely poignant and disappointing.
I learned much from the scientific presentations, but I won’t attempt to summarize very much. I was, however, very impressed by the extent to which a linkage was made between the blockage of the insulin/IGF-1 pathways in lower organisms and the practice of calorie restriction by humans. There is evidence that protein restriction may be the essence of calorie restriction, and that low protein diets are associated with reduced levels of IGF-1, but only when protein is less than 12% of macronutrients. Increasing insulin sensitivity seems to be the key to extending lifespan, yet although exercise is the most powerful intervention increasing insulin sensitivity, exercise does not increase lifespan.
Stephen Spindler and Luigi Fontana are scientists who have a long and intimate relationship with the CR Society. Both were speakers at this conference. Luigi in particular has been conducting studies on the physiology of long-time calorie restriction practitioners, and the benefits that are seen in the risk factors for various aging-associated diseases. He has published many studies of this research:
A DVD of the presentations is being made by the CR Society, and will be available for sale within a few weeks, I expect.