Framing the inborn aging process and longevity science
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The medical sciences are currently dominated by the “disease-model” approach to health extension, an approach that prioritizes the study of pathological mechanisms with the goal of discovering treatment modalities for specific diseases. This approach has marginalized research on the aging process itself, research that could lead to an intervention that retards aging, thus conferring health dividends that would far exceed what could be expected by eliminating any specific disease of aging. This paper offers a diagnosis of how this sub-optimal approach to health extension arose and some general prescriptions concerning how progress could be made in terms of adopting a more rational approach to health extension. Drawing on empirical findings from psychology and economics, “prospect theory” is applied to the challenges of “framing” the inborn aging process given the cognitive capacities of real (rather than rational) decision-makers under conditions of risk and uncertainty. Prospect theory reveals that preferences are in fact dependent on whether particular outcomes of a choice are regarded as “a loss” or “a gain”, relative to a reference point (or “aspiration level for survival”). And this has significant consequences for the way biogerontologists ought to characterise the central aspirations of the field (i.e. to prevent disease versus extend lifespan). Furthermore, it reveals the importance of shifting the existing reference point of the medical sciences to one that is shaped by the findings of evolutionary biology and biodemography.