Aubrey de Grey is an interesting person with some interesting views. What he has to say about evolution and aging is a very important piece of knowledge, for anybody interested in either topic. But every time I see the guy get interviewed, one question pops up: “Why do you look so weird?”. And it always tells me more about the interviewer than the interviewee. A setting where this question seems important enough to be asked is probably not very serious. The other questions/arguments will be along the lines of “But everybody has to die at some point!”, “If longevity was that great, we’d have evolved it by now!” and “So, how much mercury are you using?”. So let’s assume the reason for choosing this particular style is not something trivial like “Fan of a Russian mathematician or 19th century style” or “Doesn’t like shaving or getting a haircut”. What if the reason (or one of the reasons) is being able to quickly judge the person you are talking to? Most people who are really interested in the science behind his project and who are willing to question the inevitability of death will ask many, many questions before (if ever) running out of more interesting topics than beard length. I’m not saying that that’s true every time, but I’m sure a strong correlation exists.
In order to keep this post consistently irrelevant, let’s also speculate about why de Grey seems to be the spokesperson of SENS. It’s probably because he’s one of the founders and because he seems to be an expert on all the topics involved. But that’s a rather boring explanation, so let’s try another one: Maybe the foundation – being completely aware of the controversial nature of their research – decided it was best to put forward somebody who looks and talks like a stereotypical genius. Ever since scientific progress has switched from infrequent but huge breakthroughs to small but steady improvements in all fields, there have been fewer iconic geniuses. If some scientist makes a discovery that can only be properly appreciated by other scientists working on similar problems, the general public doesn’t really care what he/she looks like – or about the discovery for that matter. But if someone claims (soon) to be able to abolish “death by natural causes” and even eventually rejuvenate people – he’ll better look as crazy as his ideas… for him to be taken seriously. See, people need to see some balance between mind and body. If your mind is different, then your body should be too. Would Einstein have been so popular if not for his nutty-professor looks? Among scientists, sure… but the rest of the world? Because there are others, like Feynman. He was a great scientist, a beloved professor and after hearing his lectures or reading his books one can hardly help admiring the guy. But he’s far from being as well-known as Einstein or Stephen Hawking (by the way, I really hope he lives to see the day when there’s a cure for his disease) – probably because there’s nothing special about his appearance.
Anyway, silly theories aside… I sincerely hope de Grey gets all the funding he needs.