We’re delighted to announce that SRF’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Aubrey de Grey has been awarded the 2020 Bacon Prize for Thought Leadership in Super Longevity at this year’s RAADfest.
The award was presented by James Strole Director of the Coalition for Radical Life Extension and glowing remarks about Aubrey’s career and life were made by Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPrize Foundation and cofounder of the Singularity University.
The Bacon Prize is awarded annually by the Coalition for Radical Life Extension to an individual in recognition of their excellence in work focused on curing aging, involving communication with both scientific and general audiences, and whose contributions have been documented and backed by peer review.
But Why "Bacon"?
The Bacon Prize is named for both Roger Bacon and Sir Francis Bacon (no relation!). Though they lived centuries apart, both men made pioneering contributions to addressing aging as a tractable medical problem.
Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar born in the 13th century, was one of the earliest European proponents of the modern scientific method. His conviction in the value of experimental study – revolutionary at a time when much of natural philosophy relied on appeals to the presumed authority of Biblical or Classical sources – was inspired by his experience applying the empirical method of the Arabic polymath Ibn al-Haytham to observations and theories in texts attributed to Aristotle. Bacon found that many of his results differed from those that would have been predicted by the Greek philosopher, and so became an staunch advocate of the importance of gathering adequate data before drawing conclusions.
Roger Bacon’s statue in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
(Photo by Michael Reeve)
Portrait of Francis Bacon by Paul van Somer I.
Three centuries later the statesman Francis Bacon took those same concepts further, arguing that scientific knowledge could only reliably be acquired through logical reasoning based on the observation of natural phenomena. Most importantly, he emphasised the need for scientists to adopt a sceptical world view: accepting the truth of a hypothesis only once confident that any plausible alternative explanations were disproven. This attitude of caution – a crucial antidote to the innate tendency of humans to favour certain ideas for any of a host of irrational reasons – remains a cornerstone of scientific best practice into the present day.
The Bacons’ contributions to the fundamental process of scientific discovery certainly underpinned the development of modern science, and thus medicine – but of course, many other thinkers played roles in that paradigm shift. To understand why these two men in particular were selected to lend their name to a prize for research in averting the decline of aging requires a little more investigation of their work.
Aging as a Preventable Disease
Roger Bacon was one of the first thinkers to identify aging itself as a disease – and one whose course could be improved through health care. In his manuscript “The Cure of Old Age and Preservation of Youth,” he wrote that;
… you perhaps will maintain, that the whole have no need of a Physician, but they that are sick: But I may rejoin to the Saying, That your Health, I doubt, is in a Pharisaical condition; and when you have read this Book, I doubt not, but you will abate your Opinion. For, beside that Aptitude and Inclination to some Disease, which (though latent to you, yet manifest to a Physician) may be in you, from the very moment of your Nativity, you make every day a considerable step toward Old Age, which is itself a Disease…
I am persuaded, were men as careful in preserving their Health, as they are solicitous for the recovery of it, they might often multiply the Sum of their Years, and live the Product without a Disease. And I count it a Piece of Skill in a Physician far surpassing the most admirable Cures, to preserve a Man from all Diseases.
Repairing the Damage
Francis Bacon similarly advocated for healthy longevity, and indeed presaged the modern concept of rejuvenation through the repair of age-related damage for which Dr. de Grey has become so well-known, in his work “The Historie of Life and Death (With Observations Natural and Experimental for the Prolonging of Life.)”
Ancient is the saying and complaint, that Life is short, and Art long. Therefore our labours intending to perfect Arts, should… consider by what means the Life of man may be prolonged. For long life… should not be despised, because it affords longer opportunity of doing good Works. … the happiness of long life is naturally desired, although the means to attain it, through false opinions and vain reports be hard to find…
That which admits reparation, remaining whole and sound in Essence, may be eternally preserved… for young living creatures being all over and wholly repaired, do by their increasing in quantity, and growing better in quality, show that if the measure and manner of repairing decayed not, the matter of repairing might be eternal.