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How to Survive the Pre-Singularity Era (Part I)
Christine Gaspar   Dec 1, 2013   Ethical Technology  

I have worked a number of years in trauma and emergency medicine, and have learned a few lessons about human nature along the way that I think may be of benefit to others.  Our tendency as human beings to carry around an Optimism Bias is probably one of our most deadly traits.

By Christine Gaspar, in collaboration with Andrew Cunningham

The Optimism Bias loosely states that we have an inherent tendency to believe that things will work out; that we won’t suffer the fate of others even if we have the same behaviors or risk factors. This tendency is the only logical explanation I have for why we still smoke, eat poorly, slack off on our exercise, ignore stress, take unnecessary risks and avoid the doctor.

It may be why it seems that half of the patients I have ever seen for myocardial infarction insist that their symptoms are “only heartburn”. I am not laying the blame on the rest of the world here, nor am I ignoring my own guilt.

I am now working hard to change this trait in my own life and I hope others will do the same. With this bias, comes other factors that I feel make it difficult to follow a truly life-changing plan for significant life extension.

Many practitioners of modern medicine must also share the blame. They are people, thus share the same belief system as the rest of society, which means they expect people to age and die, and often that expectation keeps them from doing everything they can to make someone healthy.

I am sure most people are familiar with the term “code blue”, which is hospital-speak for a cardiac arrest. When a “code blue” is called, a highly trained “crash team” rushes to a patient’s bedside to begin resuscitation efforts. There is a lesser known practice that is the shadowy cousin of the “code blue”.

It is called a “slow code”. It is when the medical team thinks you are beyond help. Maybe you’re too old, or maybe you’ve been down too long in the field. A “slow code” goes through all the same steps as a “code blue”, but with much less enthusiasm and speed. I believe this is a disgrace.

It is the medical practitioner deciding, based on his own value system, how hard to try to save you, and when to look away. In many cases she is probably right and the decision is medically sound, however the logic may be seriously flawed;

“In all probability, this person won’t make it. If they do, it will only be for a day or two on life support.”

“Why should I bother?”

“Mr. Smith has lived for 80 years already, that’s more than enough time.”

“Let him just pass away peacefully.”

If Mr. Smith has a living will that states he doesn’t want heroic measures, then all is well and good. But what happens to the life extension enthusiast in this situation who cannot advocate for themselves?

Many relatives of these patients share this ‘deathist’ view, and go along with that decision. They comfort themselves in the concept of “passing away” or saying that a person has “expired”.

Please; milk expires, people die.

This attitude isn’t restricted to life and death decisions. Diabetes management is a prime example. Patients are often advised of a blood-glucose range to maintain through diet and medication. Often, depending on the ability of the patient to comprehend and comply with these instructions, their ranges are set much higher than what is considered optimal.

The belief often is “better too high than too low”, because “too low” will kill you quickly, whilst “too high” may take a few years to do the same. It is therefore easier to blame the patient than the physician.

Years of marginally elevated blood glucose levels hasten cardiovascular disease, renal failure, peripheral vascular disease and blindness. It almost guarantees the patient will have higher morbidity if he survives into his later years at all.

Laboratory and diagnostic tests can be biased towards expected outcomes, depending on who is interpreting the test. For example, cranial CTs are routinely performed in emergency departments for diagnosis and treatment of various maladies, especially headaches and head trauma.

In some jurisdictions, this is the only CT that is read by the emergency physician rather than the radiologist. This means that this test only gets a cursory look, to distinguish immediately life threatening problems from the rest.

If your brain isn’t bleeding or your skull isn’t fractured, you will likely be told everything is fine. This can lead to a false sense of security for patients experiencing smaller, less obvious lesions that may be ticking time bombs. Not all blame can fall to practitioners; it is imperative that you understand your healthcare so that you can effectively advocate for yourself.

It isn’t all nefarious. Emergency departments in North America are generally filled to capacity, understaffed by over-caffeinated, well- meaning people that just want to keep you alive to hospital admission or discharge. It is not the place for thorough examinations or follow- up. Their role is to manage emergencies, not diagnose illness. Their role can be clouded by their own innate cognitive biases.

People need to educate themselves, to a fairly sophisticated level, about their own risk factors, illnesses, and treatment options in order to become effective advocates for themselves.

If you cannot do it yourself, ask for help. You would be surprised to know how many patients I have encountered who arrive with a bag of medications, yet cannot tell me for what conditions they have been prescribed.

This amount of blind trust in another human being will likely see you reach the end of your life as a “slow code” or at the least, unnecessarily take years or even decades off your life.

It is predicted that the Singularity will be upon us circa 2045. Whether this is truth or fantasy matters little. What is important is that for every year we stay alive, we increase our chances of reaching a time when medicine will know more, and do a better job of keeping us alive.

If Dr. Aubrey de Grey is correct, there will be a point in the near future when we will reach “escape velocity”; when we will add more than a year of life expectancy to every year that we live. Every choice we make between now and then will determine if we live to see that day.

This essay is an introduction to a series of essays that will be my attempt at keeping us all alive and well. It comes from my experience as a patient advocate, Registered Nurse, and from my passion for radical life extension and indefinite life spans.

The following is a list taken from the World Health Organization of the top ten causes of death in the wealthiest countries of the world. I will attempt to tackle these, as well as other approaches and suggestions to surviving the pre-Singularity era in future writings.  

Christine Gaspar
Christine Gaspar is a Registered Nurse who specializes in emergency medicine, trauma and tele-triage. She is a member of the Cryonics Institute and an associate member of Alcor Life Extension Foundation.


This is a good piece; a wake-up call. Hope you write for Alcor Magazine someday- soon.
Only thing to add is that worrying too much about diet can be worse than being careful.

I’m afraid we are at least decades away from RLE treatments, so the above advice, while useful/practical, is also virtually meaningless.  Frankly, I don’t care if I die today or a year from now, but I care very much about living centuries.  Balancing quality of life and longevity strategies is a constant struggle, but I find when it comes right down to it fate is my real master.  Perhaps that is why people behave in seemingly irrational and stupid ways (i.e. because they are walking dead men waiting for the Grim Reaper to visit them in the foreseeable future anyway).

“Perhaps that is why people behave in seemingly irrational and stupid ways (i.e. because they are walking dead men waiting for the Grim Reaper to visit them in the foreseeable future anyway).”

There’s truth in this, but it’s not the whole story. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that “optimism bias” is the whole story either. Some studies reveal optimism bias; others suggest a tendency to perceive threats more vividly than opportunities. Both can’t be right.
A better explanation, in my view, is that while we indeed tend to perceive threats more vividly and immediately than opportunities, what we perceive as threats is determined largely by our stone-age conditioning, and when we are not perceiving (usually immediate) threats that our stone-age brains can recognise as such (and often perceive as threats even when they’re not) THEN we tend to comfort ourselves with the idea that “everything will be ok”.

Our relationships with doctors is a good example of this: our stone-age brains tend to treat the encounter as if the doctor was in fact the tribal witch-doctor, and if the doctor says we’re fine, then we must be. We go away breathing a huge sigh of relief. And as the author correctly points out, the doctor basically cares whether you are going to drop dead within the next few weeks, not whether you’ll make it to the Singularity.

For Intomorrow: Thank you. I’d love to write for the Alcor magazine.

For Dobermanmac: Thank you for your comments. I am not sure I understand what you mean by not caring if you die today or a year from now, but care very much about living centuries. Would you please elaborate? It is an interesting statement.

For Peter Wicks: Thank you as well for your thoughts. You make good points about our stone age brains. When I wrote this, I wasn’t thinking specifically about the audience on IEET reading this article, but the masses in general. I find very little insight, curiosity, or critical thinking from people in general when it comes to their medical condition and health choices.

Re “[Optimism bias] is the only logical explanation I have for why we still smoke, eat poorly, slack off on our exercise, ignore stress, take unnecessary risks and avoid the doctor.”

Here is another explanation: some people prefer to enjoy life, here and now, instead of adding a few boring years to a boring life. I am persuaded that my generation has no chances to see radical life extension, which I am afraid will take much longer than we wish. I may be too pessimist, but even so, why should I want to live longer if I can’t do what I like?

I want to discuss mental health and addiction in a future post, in relation to your idea Giulio. I only opened up the Optimism Bias as a starting point for discussion.

I just started writing for public consumption this past summer. What I have discovered, is that no matter how intellectual we become, many can relate to mundane struggles. I am far from being a good role model for transhuman behaviour, but I am trying, and along the way, by telling these narratives, I think I reach people by relating to their challenges.

I think we are both partially correct. Human behaviour is complicated. The “what the hell” attitude that prefers immediate rewards, sounds a lot like hyperbolic discounting- another of our many talents.

I appreciate the feedback. It creates tangential ideas for future articles.

Many thanks for your replies - likewise it’s good when article authors participate in the discussions here. As you say, health and medicine is a subject on which there tends to be very little insight, curiosity or critical thinking among the general public, and this is a major problem from a number of perspectives, so it’s great that you’re managing to reach people.

Re “The “what the hell” attitude that prefers immediate rewards, sounds a lot like hyperbolic discounting”

Of course there are many different sides here, like everywhere, but in view of the (totally unhealthy imo) obsession with safety of our times, there is something to say for a “what the hell” attitude.

Keep up the good work Christine, I look forward to reading your nexy essays!

“I’m not convinced that “optimism bias” is the whole story either. Some studies reveal optimism bias; others suggest a tendency to perceive threats more vividly than opportunities. Both can’t be right.”

Good point.  I also agree that part of the answer is our jungle genes and therefore the inherent structure of our perceptions.  Although I tend to think it is more cultural than genetic: the trust of authority, and the lack of curiosity.  It is much easier and pleasurable to be a content pig than a discontented human.

The good news is that our culture is learning to develop and adopt new technologies faster.  This isn’t a genetic thing (i.e. our genes aren’t changing that fast - at least until genomics becomes more advanced), but a cultural thing.

Great post.  I agree with Dobermammac that “Balancing quality of life and longevity strategies is a constant struggle” and others on the balance of living how you want to considering half of our health is determined and trying to live as long as possible in a healthy manner.  Life Extension medicine is so far away.  I’m 32 and I see it as impossible for the field to benefit me. Perhaps my descendents in 100 years, maybe more. I in know way live like a Transhumanist even though I claim to be one. It’s more the philosophy and ideal.  About the only thing I do is get regular preventive checks and email my doctor often. I pay attention to my body.  I also have psychological issues that I keep in check.

I’m rambling. Few people made a good point about LE medicine not reaching us and I feel I want to eat good foods and all kinds of foods and drink and use drugs recreationally.  Those are some of really pleasant things in existence. I have gone through stages without all them but I always think want is the point of this? Just to add a few years?  I think it’s a good rhetorical question.  Anyway, interested to hear others thoughts on this balance in context to our current predicament-with our current medicine.

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