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The Evolution Of Aging

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Is aging, as most people think, a fundamental, totally unalterable, fact of life? Or is aging actually similar to a universal, but potentially highly treatable, genetic disease? Darwin’s dilemma, a little known quirk of the theory of evolution, has for more than 140 years led scientists toward considering aging as inescapable, but recent discoveries and new theoretical work indicate that major medical intervention in the aging process may in fact be possible in the relatively ...
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The Evolution of Aging

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Is aging, as most people think, a fundamental, totally unalterable, fact of life? Or is aging actually similar to a universal, but potentially highly treatable, genetic disease? Darwin’s dilemma, a little known quirk of the theory of evolution, has for more than 140 years led scientists toward considering aging as inescapable, but recent discoveries and new theoretical work indicate that major medical intervention in the aging process may in fact be possible in the relatively near future.

The author takes us on a fascinating tour of the evolution of aging theories from Darwin to the present and includes descriptions of various discoveries and biological oddities that strongly suggest that aging is a treatable condition. The most serious obstacle to the development of anti-aging medicine may be public opinion.

A former NASA “rocket scientist”, the author provides an outsider’s viewpoint, understandable writing, and penetrating logical analysis to the often arcane and tradition-bound world of aging theory.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780595280698
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 6/16/2003
  • Edition number: 0
  • Pages: 120
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.28 (d)

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The importance of this question is determined by your preconception of the answer. If you think aging is "an inescapable biological reality", or "an inevitable fact of life", or otherwise caused by a process that is so fundamental, so immutable, and so central to the process of life that no alteration is possible, then determining the cause is very academic, of little interest, something like the mating habits of the Monarch butterfly or study of how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. After all is said and done, there is nothing that can be done about the root cause of aging. Spending much effort or money on finding the cause is foolish. Geriatrics research should be confined to the amelioration of symptoms and treatment of specific age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.

If, on the other hand, you think aging is caused by something more like a genetic disease, something along the lines of hemophilia, then the answer to the question "why do we age?" is critically important. It will lead us in the right directions to finding major treatments that will eventually have a monumental beneficial effect on people's lives. A treatment for aging could result in delaying or ameliorating "age-related" diseases that now kill more than eighty percent of the people who die in the developed world and substantially extend the length and quality of countless lives. This book is dedicated to demonstrating that aging is not inevitable, is not inescapable, and that anti-aging research, if aggressively conducted could result within a reasonable time in major new treatments for aging as well as many age related diseases.


Most medical advances have been the result of experimentation. Some major discoveries have been essentially accidental. Aspirin works. We found out by trial and error. Why it works is of interest, but secondary.

However, aging, because it is a relatively long-term process, is a difficult subject for experimentation. An experiment to determine if a medication is effective in relieving pain, or increases kidney function, or suppresses a certain infectious organism, could be performed in a matter of days or weeks. An experiment to determine if a medication increases longevity in animals or humans could take years, decades, or even multiple decades to perform. The relatively gradual and mild effects of aging also tend to be masked by other processes. As an illustration, researchers have been able to determine the functions of various glands by removing a gland from a laboratory animal and observing the results. But removal of most glands is fairly immediately fatal. If a gland had an effect on the aging process, observation of that effect would be masked by the gland's more critical functions. Until recently, experimental approaches have been unable to shed much light on the causes of aging.

As a consequence, scientific theories of aging are primarily the result of logical analyses of the functional, externally observable, characteristics of various organisms. You can readily picture the difficulties associated with this approach. Imagine trying to deduce the existence of, much less the detailed functioning of the endocrine system, or other largely internal system, merely by observing how animals live and die. It is difficult or impossible to prove such a logical theory without experimentation, which remains difficult. Various theories of aging, some dating from the 1800s, are still debated.

Since aging theories are based on the external characteristics of organisms such as life span they are mainly exercises in logic and have relatively little to do with biology or medicine. Therefore, while skill at deductive reasoning and understanding of scientific method is helpful, detailed knowledge of biology or medicine is not required to understand this book or to understand theories of aging in general.

The author is a systems engineer and former NASA project manager and therefore an outsider to the fields of medicine and biology. This book presents an outsider's perspective on aging theory. In any field, theories and assumptions that have remained unchallenged for relatively long periods tend to acquire the appearance of facts. NASA uses an analytic technique called "zero-base" analysis in which previously made assumptions are reevaluated in light of current information. This book is essentially a zero-base examination of scientific and popular beliefs regarding aging.

Virtually all current physicians, health professionals, and medical researchers were taught the "traditional" scientific theories of aging in "Biology 101". These traditional theories, developed mainly in the 1950s, are very pessimistic regarding the possibility of meaningful anti-aging treatments. In fact, one of the most respected traditional theories teaches that significant medical intervention in the aging process is "a scientific impossibility".

At the same time the general public, mostly for reasons having little or no scientific credibility, also thinks of aging as "inescapable", "inevitable", and "unalterable" as it has been for thousands of years.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the anti-aging research budget is relatively miniscule. However, a group of theorists, using more recent data, has developed theories indicating that the fundamental causes of aging may actually be much more "treatable" than predicted by the traditional theories. In addition to producing their own theories, these theorists have discovered many logical flaws and inconsistencies in the traditional theories. The potential health implications are staggering since most of the people who currently die in developed countries die of "age-related" diseases and conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke. As we shall see, scientific theories of aging are intimately related to Darwin's theory of evolution. The traditional theories differ from the new theories mainly in their response to "Darwin's dilemma", the fact that Darwin's theory predicts that animals and humans should not age.

This book traces the chronological development of Darwin's theory of evolution, the traditional aging theories, the various discoveries that relate to aging, and the new theories.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction
  • Why Do We Age?
  • What is Aging
  • Human Mortality
  • Aging and Disease
  • Aging Variations in Animals
Chapter 2 The Evolution of Aging Theories
  • The Theory of Natural Selection
  • Variation and Incremental Steps
  • Miscellaneous Objections
  • Darwin's Dilemma
Chapter 3 Historic Theories of Aging
  • Weismann's Theory of Programmed Death
  • Accumulation of Damage Theories
Chapter 4 Traditional Theories of Aging
  • Medawar's Mutation Accumulation Theory
  • Williams' Antagonistic Pleiotropy Theory
  • Disposable Soma Theory
Chapter 5 Discoveries Affecting Aging Theory
  • Senescence of Salmon
  • Elephant Teeth
  • Fruit Fly Inheritance
  • Bamboo
  • Non-Aging Species
  • Genetics
  • Aging Genes
  • Progeria and Werner's Syndrome
  • Caloric Restriction
  • Sex and Aging
Chapter 6 New Adaptive Theories of Aging
  • Completeness of Natural Selection Theory
  • Effects of Aging
  • Species Semantics
  • Group Selection
  • Programmed Cell Death
  • Evolvability
  • Death Rate and Evolvability
  • Adult Death Rate
  • Protection of Young
  • The Cycle of Life
  • Mating Rituals
  • Mating of the Bighorn
  • The Challenge Effect
  • Evolutionary Disadvantages of Immortality
  • New Adaptive Theories Summarized
Chapter 7 Attitudes about Aging
  • The Fountain of Youth
  • Aging Attitudes Survey
  • Popular Attitudes about Aging
  • Public Knowledge About Aging
  • Anti-Aging Morality and Ethics
  • Public Opinions on Anti-Aging Research
Chapter 8 Anti-Aging Research
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • The Indicator Problem
  • Aging Mechanisms
  • Causes and Effectors
  • Biological Control Systems-Hormones
  • Theories Make a Difference
  • Anti-Aging Quacks and Scams
  • Caloric Restriction Mimetics
  • Reversibility of Aging
  • Budget
Chapter 9 Conclusions
  • If You Think You Can't, You're Right
  • Research Inhibiting Factors
Chapter 10 Resources
  • Darwin
  • Traditional Theories of Aging
  • New Adaptive Theories of Aging
  • Anti-Aging Research
  • Other Resources
Appendix A Human Mortality Data
Appendix B Aging Attitudes Survey
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2003

    Very Interesting Book

    This is a very interesting book, especially if you are in the older half of the population, enjoy scientific mysteries, or are otherwise interested in theories of biological aging. The book makes a pretty good logical case that aging is a potentially highly treatable condition and that therefore we, specifically the U.S. Government National Institutes of Health, should be spending a lot more money on anti-aging research. The author thinks a fifty-percent improvement in human life span is a reasonably short-term possibility. In this case the scientific quandary, (the dilemma of the title), is whether or not aging is an evolved characteristic in the same way that eyes, claws, and fangs are the result of evolution. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that aging is evolved but Darwin¿s theory of evolution says aging can¿t be an evolved characteristic because it is adverse to survival and therefore counter to survival-of-the-fittest. This has resulted in two scientific camps. The larger camp goes with Darwin¿s theory and has produced at least three different theories in which aging is not evolved but is some sort of defect or fundamental unchangeable property of life. The smaller camp, (including the author), has developed at least three different theories that say that aging is evolved and that Darwin¿s 143 year old theory needs at least some minor adjustments to accommodate aging and some other similarly incompatible characteristics of animals. According to the book, Darwin himself thought aging was evolved, despite his theory! Why should we care? The people in the non-evolved camp tend to believe that aging is inescapable and that therefore anti-aging research is a waste of time and money. The people in the evolved camp tend to think the chance for major medical intervention in aging is much better. Depending on theories, researchers will look in different places for answers. One thing seemed clear to me: The scientific justification for the idea that aging is an unalterable fact of life is rather weak. This is significant considering that, (according to the author), about 80 percent of the public and a probably larger percentage of health professionals think that major improvements in life span are either impossible or very unlikely. Along the way to these conclusions, the book provides a lot of interesting factoids about human mortality, miscellaneous bizarre aging and life span characteristics of various animals and other organisms, summaries of all the theories including Darwin¿s theory of natural selection, and results of a survey on public opinions about aging. The author maintains a web site that provides one-click access to on-line resources cited in the book. This book is relatively free of scientific jargon.

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