MEME 5.01

by David S. Bennahum

In this issue of MEME:

The MEME Book Club: An excerpt from Apocalypse Pretty Soon, by Alex Heard.


(W.W. Norton &Co., January 1999; USD$ 24.95)

Death, Be Not In My Face

"Obviously, I'm an optimist to some degree," said Larry Wood, an

amiable, hardbodied 50-year-old with fashion-forward ideas about

the future of the human body, "but I really believe we could be the

first generation that's going to live forever. Either that, or we'll be

the last generation to die."

That's optimism, all right, though the second part might inspire

pretty bleak daydreams. Suppose you believe, as Wood does, that

technology has the potential to conquer aging someday, vastly

increasing human longevity, perhaps delivering the ultimate gift:

physical immortality. Now suppose you die a year before the

technology rolls out. You wouldn't know what you'd missed, but for

Wood there's infinite agony in just knowing he might miss it.

Extrapolating hopefully from real-world developments in aging

research - which could, in theory, increase the maximum human

lifespan by a few years or decades during the 21st century - he's

convinced that scientists will deliver immortality within 50 years, so

he's determined to hang on.

Through the slight fuzz of a long-distance connection he described

his predicament. "The whole thing is this," he said. "You do

whatever you can for the next 10 years. Then the next 10 years."

For Wood this has meant a longtime involvement with "life

extension," a blanket term for a variegated pile of fringe health

regimens and futuristic enthusiasms. His quest has taken him down

some tangled paths - for a while he was interested in cryonics, or

body freezing, in hopes that he could be thawed and brought back

from the dead in the future - and once it even landed him in jail. In

1990 Wood, who holds an undergraduate degree in biochemistry

from Cornell, started a company called Unlimited Longevity

Research that sold life-extension products, mainly dietary

supplements and drugs. That year agents from the Food and Drug

Administration raided his offices in Thousand Oaks, California.

After a complicated flurry of legal tussling, Wood was eventually

charged with interstate commerce of a controversial body-enhancing

substance called G.H.B. He served six months, though his conviction

was later overturned on appeal.

When I first talked to Wood in the summer of 1997, he had given

up on cryonics ("It doesn't work"), placing all his bets on exercise

and supplements. His routine included regular exercise (he had

$40,000 worth of fitness equipment in his garage), healthy habits (a

balanced diet, not much red meat, no smoking or hard alcohol), and

daily intake of dietary extras.

Lots and lots of extras. Wood faxed me his