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IEET > Rights > Life > Access > Health > Affiliate Scholar > Hank Pellissier

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How will you (probably) decay and die?


Hank Pellissier
By Hank Pellissier
Ethical Technology

Posted: Dec 8, 2011

Genetic testing may have the answers.


Curious about how you might eventually croak? (If the Singularity, SENS, or cryonics can’t save you…) Dying to know what maladies will ambush you?

Wondering… 

  • will your death be an aneurysm while you’re driving, descending a steep street with grandchildren screaming behind you? 
  • will you float fuzzily into a clueless Alzheimer’s fog, cruelly exiled from all sweet memories?
  • will you get annihilated by a cancer that eats seven organs?
  • or maybe get jumped by that awful Parkinson’s disease that jerked away your favorite uncle?

grI wanted to scrutinize, in advance, the coroner’s report on my extinction. 

I wanted to learn how I’m supposed to die, because I don’t like surprises. Plus, ideally, if I’m educated about my genetic proclivities, I can make sly decisions that will help me elude the Grim Reaper. 

That’s why I paid a genetic testing company to hack into my future.

23andMe.com happily analyzed the chromosomal tendencies in my spittle for 100+ diseases, traits, and DNA ancestry, at a price that didn’t kill me: just $99 plus $9 a month for one year.

The first part—writing the check, drooling copiously into a vial, mailing it off to Mountain View, California—was easy. 

The second part—waiting six weeks for results—was tough. More than enough time to imagine all the different varieties of horrible news. 

The last, forward-to-the-future part—logging in to read my verdict—was heart-palpitatingly scary.  

It’s like a trial where you know your punishment is death, but you don’t know the method of torture and execution, nor precisely when the sentence will be exacted.

When the lab work was finished, 23andMe.com emailed me a password that provided online access to all my intimate diagnoses and forecasts. I hesitated before consulting the oracle, before diving into the potentially wretched data…
 
Slowly my clammy, trembling fingers typed toward the terrifying info… my darting eyes scanned the “Elevated Risks” category… Yes, yes, huh? Ohhh…

Ohhh… I soaked in the gestalt of my condition… How did I feel?  

Relieved! Not overjoyed, but, all-in-all, I viewed my fast-approaching medical prognosis as… acceptable. 

It could certainly be considerably worse than it was, more humiliating and painful.
 
After examining the few infirmities in my “Elevated Risks” category, my exit from mortality seems to be this:

I’ll contract Celiac Disease, then I [possibly] will go blind later in life due to Exfoliation Glaucoma, before [probably] kicking the bucket via Coronary Heart Disease, [perhaps] caused by Atrial Fibrillation.

Whew! I’ll take it! I skipped right through Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s first four stages and settled comfortably into “Acceptance.”

Why? Because here’s what I’ll [probably] escape due to my “Decreased Risk” in these disorders:

Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, gallstones, psoriasis, arthritis, bi-polarism, schizophrenia, and lung, thyroid, testicle, throat, larynx, kidney, stomach, melanoma, and prostrate cancer. 

The only Big C where I have even slightly Elevated Risk is colorectal— and I’ll stomp that with kefir, sauerkraut, and regular colonoscopies that snip those rude polyps in their cute little buds.

I do have other weaknesses, for example, I have very meager resistance to malaria, tuberculosis, and leprosy… but those plights are non-epidemic in North Beach. 

All in all, I’m swallowing my sentence buoyantly… I was born lucky!  

How about you? Feeling fortunate? Are you brave enough to find out your fate, like Oedipus with his pestering questions of the blind prophet Tiresias?

After settling the small matter of my probable death, I gleefully explored who I really am via the dozens of non-lethal traits that genetics uncovers. 

I wasn’t shocked to find out that I’m “Taste-Blind” because I can devour anything, like a hyena. But it was weird learning that my “dry” ear wax resembles an Asian’s, even though my lineage is a boring 100% Northern European. 

Why doesn’t my bloodstream have some sexy drops of Gypsy, Iroquois, or African? My forefathers were so parochial, I fumed—until I realized that I continued the provincial mating, myself, when I married a Welsh woman.

Any Stud News?

Yes! I have alpha-actinin-3 in my “fast-twitch muscle fiber,” the same genotype as “many world class sprinters.” I also have “decreased sensitivity to pain.” Arrrgh! Bring it on! Plus, I don’t have to worry about my arteries clogging immediately—my chances of a heart attack in the next decade is only a measly 7%.

Ugly Wimpy News?

Uh-huh… My increasing baldness is inevitable, I don’t have any resistance to HIV/AIDS, my urine stinks after eating asparagus, and I’m slightly at-risk for obesity, diabetes, and alcoholism. 

Most amusing is my glitch in dopamine signaling, in my posterior medial frontal cortex, due to “rs1800497.” This makes me “much less efficient at learning to avoid errors.” Basically, this translates as: I’m incapable of learning from my mistakes.

Ha! What an excellent excuse!

More good news: I get a 3.4-point gain in non-verbal IQ due to genotype AA in rs363050, plus I have 20% better-than-average short-term memory due to CT genotype in rs17070145. 

Unfortunately, that advantage is wiped out because I wasn’t breast-fed. I suffer a 6.5 point IQ loss because my CC genotype in rs174575 wanted to utilize Mom’s fatty acids, but alas… I was formula-fed.

Excuse me? Way too much info? Sorry to share so intimately. My attainment of self-chromosomal knowledge is truly exhilarating. 

I also apologize if this essay seems self-indulgent… but... I do have a theme, a point to make, a social policy I want to propose. 

spHere it is: I strongly suggest that everyone get genetically tested, at an early age.

Why? It’s amazing to me now that, just yesterday, I knew so little about myself, about my Achilles’ heels and my super-powers. If I had this knowledge a half-century ago, I could have had practical dreams.
 
As a young lad I desired to be an explorer, but… yikes! Chromosomally, I’m a sissy in the tropical wild; I’d have died coughing in a jungle hut, or digit-less in a leper colony. 

But… maybe… I… “coulda been a contender” in sprinting with my superior muscle-twitch fiber! Except, of course, I wouldn’t have responded to coaching due to that allele that renders me uneducable. Etc. Etc.

I bought my wife membership in 23andMe.com for her birthday. She says it’s the least romantic present she’s ever gotten (but if she’s scheduled to contract Alzheimer’s she won’t even remember).


Universal Genetic Testing. We need it. Imagine how the world would improve:

  • Insurance providers would establish appropriate, pin-pointing checkups for each individual.
  • Everyone’s longevity would increase because we’d adopt lifestyles that would circumvent our specific impairments. 
  • Romantic couples would share genotype charts with each other, to determine if they’d breed robust offspring. 
  • And maybe, maybe, maybe—I would have been breast-fed! Or, at least, bottle-fed with the real stuff.

That simple, succulent detail, alone, would have given me enough extra smarts… to give this essay a far superior ending.


Hank Pellissier was IEET’s Managing Director on January-October in 2012, and an IEET Affiliate Scholar. He’s the author of two e-books, Invent Utopia Now and Why is the IQ of Ashkenazi Jews so High? He is currently at BrighterBrains.org
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COMMENTS


Well.. I was trying my best not to laugh at this highly distasteful article, but .. you got me! LMAO! The jokes were just too good to resist.

You should consider the label “Trans-humorist”?

However..

“Universal Genetic Testing. We need it. Imagine how the world would improve:”

- “Insurance providers would establish appropriate, pin-pointing checkups for each individual.”

Hmm.. only danger here is that it then becomes compulsory to get screening before any personal health or life insurance is granted. And like most corporate building and employee insurance policies these days, it’s more the case of it would be compulsory?

Wasn’t there a scam in the US reported by Michael Moore on employers taking out life insurance policies and claims for employees demise without their knowledge or consent?

- “Everyone’s longevity would increase because we’d adopt lifestyles that would circumvent our specific impairments.”

Maybe it would be of benefit, yet the benefit would then once again be reliant on the counterpoints above. If an individual is refused healthcare or life insurance because they are deemed as high risk, and do not take corrective actions, (exercise), nor medication, then this does not really benefit either them or their families at all? What if this compulsory screening resulted in a life of financial hardship through healthcare costs?

Imagine having your mortgage refused because your spouse was screened with potential for genetic or hereditary disease? Does this not affect your long term quality of life, relationships and family welfare?

Although “sub-prime” health status is not usually a cause for a bankers concern on profiteering from any debt creation or burden on individuals?


Finally, and not to be cynical but sceptical. Are you sure that your spittle was screened with the utmost care, scrutiny and integrity? What if they erred on the side of caution for fear of insult, rebuttal or litigation, and did not reveal the “whole” truth about potential health risks? What if they were just pleased to process your $100 bucks into their highly lucrative business venture?


;0]





Hi Cygnus - thanks for your comments!

Yes, I am afraid you might be right about the insurance companies - I’d like to believe that they’d use everybody’s genetic information in a responsible and compassionate manner, but that hope is probably naive.  My statement only makes sense if there was universal state-funded health insurance…

Truth is, the 23andMe site is filled with promises and guarantees that the information they discover will be kept secret from insurers, because of course that’s everyone’s worst fear - to find out you have a serious medical issue and then get betrayed…! by corrupt genetic testers! who fink on you to insurers! - who throw you off the policy! bankrupting your family for generations! at least.

Regarding your last point, I’m quite confident that my wad of oozy spat was treated with the deep reverence it deserves.
Why?  The test was recommended to me by a close friend who used it himself, he has a PhD in genetics, he runs his own genetics lab in the Midwest, and he vouched for the integrity of his acquaintances at 23andMe.

I appreciate your concerns, but… have you considered that your cynicism, distrust and paranoia is perhaps caused by two C alleles in r237615438998643245678996542? You need to get tested!

(don’t worry - I just made that number up!)





The Grim Reaper is probably expecting me, and I will probably meet him if I don’t manage to meet SENS and mind uploading first.

I would like to say that I will do my best to arrive at the meeting with the Great Reaper very late or never—- but please, no health food, no healthy lifestyle, no jogging, no yoghurt, no caloric restriction, no paleo diet, I will continue to smoke thank you very much, and I prefer not to know my genetic flaws. I guess I value quality over quantity.





@ Giulio - you want your…  “La Dolce Vita”  ! 

btw - I was on Terasem’s site last night, I like that robot head mindclone uploaded with that woman’s facts and personality.  It was on a National Geographic special, right?  Is it already available?

It’d be fun perched on a desk together, arguing eternally, don’t ‘cha think?





I am skeptical for another reason. I doubt very much that simple genetics determines things as closely as you suggest. The idea that genetic testing will give us a road map to our future is built on the notion of biological determinism. Any geneticist worth their salt will admit that nurture plays a great deal into the mix, not to mention the uncontrollable environmental impacts.

A doctor could probably have told you as much about your risks with a good intake interview, but without the modern spell weaving of genetic predestination.





@ Pastor Alex - biology has to play a large part in our decay and death. Think about it. My genetics has, for example, given me a heart that has a “murmur.” No amount of nurture is going to change that. There are thousands of other biological processes, even mental functions, that are strictly influenced by my genetics.

As I mentioned above, I was enticed to do 23andMe by a friend who is a geneticist, he runs his own genetics lab, so he is certainly “worth his salt” as you say.

What genetics can do, IMO, is provide us with information about what our weaknesses and strengths are. You and I can work on maintaining as best we can, the areas that we are genetically weak in.

Sorry, but yes, I think I am more of a biological determinist than you are. I didn’t make that choice because I think it is pleasurable, just like I didn’t become an atheist because it is fun. I am inclined to biological determinism more than you because the evidence I have read is convincing.

This is an interesting discussion—I am not highly-educated on all the variables of the topic, so I will do some more thinking and reading and get back to you.

We will probably end up talking about Free Will, which I suspect that you believe in, far more than me. Free Will often seems to me to be a religious construct that is largely mythic.  Again, I admit that it is a dour viewpoint, but it seems to me to be correct.  I am open to thinking more about it, though.





Alex - here an article for you:
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/2010/04/06/scientists-say-free-will-probably-doesnt-exist-but-urge-dont-stop-believing/





hankpellissier

It is funny that you bring up that article (I’ve read it myself by the way).  Another commenter by the name of Peter Bishop actually touch on this point in another thread.  Here’s a section his post concerning the example:
“2. Is my “self” really only to be considered the part of me that I’m aware of?

I read an article recently in which neuroscientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to monitor the brains of test subjects, and found that they could see simple decisions being made in the brain before the subjects themselves were even aware of it. The writer asked if this meant free will is an illusion—decisions are made by mechanistic, physical processes in the brain, and afterwards the conscious mind falsely perceives itself as making the decision. This highlights two other gross oversimplifications that I see philosophers of mind making: that the “mind” consists only of the surface layer of consciousness, and that the mind is a single, unified entity.

You don’t need to have your corpus callosum severed to have the experience of being at war with yourself—of different parts of yourself driving you toward contradictory goals. Even the thinking, rational part of the mind (the only part that most philosophers seem interested in) is not a single calculating machine. If the mind were a computer, then it would be one with lots and lots of coprocessors. Human beings can think and reason, yes, but what we really excel at is pattern recognition, and there are areas of the human nervous system (both in and out of the brain) that make this easier. Reason is a notoriously poor guide in areas of emotion, intuition, and creativity. Even something as purely rational as arithmetic involves using algorithms that we’ve seen work although we may or may not understand why, and higher math is often described as a search for mathematical beauty rather than logical certainty. Discerning meaning in a sea of chaos is a function of the unconscious layers of the mind, yet many people work at becoming more intuitive, more in touch with the unconscious. We often perceive patterns long before we understand them, and we may often make decisions on an unconscious level before that thought process rises to the level of consciousness. Does this make us less free?

Yet it is the rational and self-aware layer of consciousness that philosophers keep focusing on, to the exclusion of the rest of the human psyche. When Kutzweil imagines uploading the human mind into a computer, it seems he would upload only the conscious thinking mind with its narrative of memory and be satisfied with that.”

Here’s the link to the thread where you can read his entire post.  It’s a bit long but there is a lot of insight on the topic of free will and self (http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/comments/hughes20111119/).





Hank, genetics is important, but there is more to use than our genetics, or identical twins would be the same person. They’re not. Not even close.  We are also more than our nurture as you point out. Even if we have the best of all possible upbringings, genetics might still be lethal. There is also the environment. Poisons and compounds make permanent changes in our bodies, including our brain. The relationships we form create pathways in our brains that are so powerful that even people in the latest stage of Alzheimers can remember relationship even if they no longer remember who they relate to.

I haven’t even mentioned the strong likelihood that we are more than just the sum of our physical parts. In a universe that has ten dimension we only directly experience three of them. What effect do the others have?

Without directly reading the entire articles quoted in the blog you linked it is hard to tell whether they were testing free will, or the effect that belief in free will has on morality. The problem with any of these kinds of studies is, that while they are fascinating, they are very subject to interpretation according to the bias of the researcher.  It was unclear whether it was a double blind test or not. It could easily be argued that people who think they have no free will are willing to be fatalists and go with the flow and that it has little to do with morality or will.

The subject of free will is really the discussion of whether there is more than the simple material involved in our existence and consciousness. If we are only a complex sum of our genes, then I could see there being no free will. I happen to think that there is a great deal more to life than being biological computers.

Of course, given your belief, you have no choice but to argue with me.  smile





@ Pastor Alex, and Christian—thanks for your comments, and thanks for the link. Unfortunately, I haven’t considered the topic of “Free Will” very much, or heavily-researched it enough, to engage myself intelligently in a conversation on the topic. 

My stance, at this time, is that I don’t believe in either the Self or Free Will, but it’s not an opinion I arrived at after considerable pondering - it’s just happens to be the opinion of many people I respect - like neuro-philosophers, and Sam Harris…

I know it’s unusual for me to avoid an argument, sorry!  When I understand more about the No Free Will debate I will gleefully attack your opinions, but for now—I think there’s a discussion on that topic on James Hughes’s recent thread, or perhaps my friend Joern in Denmark will jump to combat you ... (it’s his favorite topic)

I think it’s interesting that claiming there’s No-Free Will and No-Self sets off the same panic in people that occurs when you tell them there’s No God. A disorientating fear of perceived nihilism. Many people have enormous resistance to the notion of No-Free Will, but it seems entirely emotional to me, not reason-based… due to a desperate fear… ?

When a person who believes in God, the Self, and Free Will, reverses his opinion on any of those notions, it seems like “faith” in all three collapses - the entire artifice explodes.





Finally got round to reading this. Hank I think you deserve far more gratitude and less sniping from commenters for this highly personal and engaging first-hand account. I found it vicariously exhilarating myself, although I have to say I sympathise with your wife re the birthday present smile

Of the comments, Giulio’s is the one I find most interesting, in that it raises several questions in my mind about my own attitude to the future. How much do I really want to know? What would I do with the information if I got it?

Of course CygnusXI is right (@Alex at least I think he is smile ) to question what will be done with this type of information once it gets into the hands of corporations, and I would suggest that this is about more than just state-funded universal health insurance. This is about governance, and even, I would suggest, the issues we’ve been discussing on other threads about religion, human nature and empathy. I still think there are a lot of nightmare future scenarios out there, and we really need to clarify our attitudes towards faith, scepticism and empathy in order to propel ourselves towards the best ones (in which, inter alia, Giulio can continue smoking his ciggies indefinitely).





@ Peter—thanks for your comments!  I have also heard several remarks (a few were sent to my personal email) that 23andMe is a “scam” to make money and is useless, blah blah blah. 

I find those opinions humorously ignorant because 23andMe’s cofounder is Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google co-founder Sergei Brin.  Their assets are estimated at 16.7 billion.  23andMe isn’t out to make a fast buck!

Many people I’ve talked to are like Giulio—they just don’t want to know because it will fill them with anxiety or cramp their lifestyle. Others are extremely resistant to believing it is valid; I haven’t quite figured out what their fear is.

thanks again - and I’m sending you a personal email with personal news…





“but please, no health food, no healthy lifestyle, no jogging, no yoghurt, no caloric restriction, no paleo diet, I will continue to smoke thank you very much, and I prefer not to know my genetic flaws. I guess I value quality over quantity.”

The sweet life is also not spending too much time in waiting rooms waiting for doctors and being tested, right? here’s some sobering stats based on one data model:
Drunk driving comes in, as one might imagine, first place, with 26,000 deaths per annum in the US.
Radon is a surprising 15,000 deaths per annum.
Drownings, 4,200.
Fires, 3,000.
Airline crashes, 800.

None of the above is surprising save for radon.





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