The Long Game 64: Longevity Moonshot, Positive People, Awkwardness Principle, Product Thinking

🥶 Cryonics, Thiel Fellowship, Productivity, Plastic, Strava, Cancer Screening, and Much More!

Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter. To receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:

📣 We are hiring at Vital, help us build the future of health optimization.

In this episode, we explore:

  • The Case for a Longevity Moonshot

  • Positive People

  • The Awkwardness Principle

  • Product Thinking

  • Cryonics

  • The Dangers of Plastic Use

Let’s dive in!

🥑 Health

🧬♾ The Case for a Longevity Moonshot

Bonnie Kavoussi wrote a great piece arguing for a longevity moonshot. It’s a perfect summary of the arguments explaining why we need to invest in longevity research.

It’s time for the U.S. government to devote significant resources to finding a cure for aging and extending the human lifespan. If successful, this research would help people live healthier lives for longer, stop the onset of diseases like cancer, and allow people to spend more time with their loved ones and contribute more to the world.

There has been tremendous progress in understanding aging and showing that it is possible to reverse it, and there is a growing longevity industry validating the approach to treat aging directly. Researchers are using a variety of approaches, from drugs that get rid of old cells to gene and stem cell therapies. Institutions researching aging include the nonprofit SENS Research Foundation, David Sinclair’s lab at Harvard, and biotech companies including Calico (a sister company of Google), Rejuvenate Bio, BioAge, Cambrian, Unity Biotechnology, Juvenescence, Retro Biosciences, and Oisin Biotechnologies.

Bonnie makes it clear why the target should be aging itself, not the diseases of aging:

Unfortunately, aging receives only 6% of government health research funding. There has been far more government spending on treating individual diseases, but as Vijay Pande and Kristen Fortney wrote for Andreessen Horowitz, curing cancer would add only four years to the average lifespan “because another major killer like stroke would be just around the corner.” “Only by targeting aging itself can we make significant impact on improving quality of life and healthspan,” they added.

U.S. life expectancy has been roughly stagnant, rising only 7% since 1980. We should target life expectancy as an important measure of national well-being, in addition to GDP. A cure for aging would boost life expectancy far more than finding a cure for individual diseases because aging increases people’s risk of disease.

In the next decade, longevity enthusiasts have a crucial role to play: convince society of the urgency of the question to get meaningful, life-changing results in the next few decades.

🌱 Wellness

➕ The Power of Positive People

We all intuitively know how different we feel with positive versus negative people. I loved this article because it argues that positive people in your life are an essential part of living a long healthy life.

While many of us focus primarily on diet and exercise to achieve better health, science suggests that our well-being also is influenced by the company we keep. Researchers have found that certain health behaviors appear to be contagious and that our social networks — in person and online — can influence obesity, anxiety and overall happiness. A recent report found that a person’s exercise routine was strongly influenced by his or her social network.

There’s nothing fundamentally new here. We talked about the effects of loneliness on health a few weeks ago. It seems that the opposite is also true: being surrounded by great, positive people has beneficial health outcomes:

“I argue that the most powerful thing you can do to add healthy years is to curate your immediate social network,” said Mr. Buettner, who advises people to focus on three to five real-world friends rather than distant Facebook friends. “In general you want friends with whom you can have a meaningful conversation,” he said. “You can call them on a bad day and they will care. Your group of friends are better than any drug or anti-aging supplement, and will do more for you than just about anything.”

For more, this research paper makes the point that optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in both men and women:


🧠 Better Thinking

👽 The Awkwardness Principle

It’s always hard to know if you’re on the right track with your life goals, especially when the goals aren’t easily measurable. This piece gives a great life principle: the Awkwardness Principle.

I keep coming back to a line in the excellent book Already Free, by the psychotherapist Bruce Tift: “The practices that carry the greatest potential for transformative change are usually counter-instinctual.” I take him to mean that if you’re trying to get better at life in some way – more patient, or better at listening, or less prone to procrastination or anxiety or self-sabotage – the necessary actions are pretty much guaranteed not to feel especially good. They’re more likely to feel scary, or at least awkward, like wearing an ill-fitting shirt, or writing with your non-dominant hand. While learning to be patient, you should expect to feel restless. As you embark on a long-postponed creative project, you should expect to feel unready. One way or another, change will feel crappy.

I think the corollary is also true: if you always feel great, you’re most likely in your comfort zone and not truly improving at the hard things.

I find this principle very compelling because it helps understand whether you’re going in the right direction or not. The author goes even further: what feels good could be a warning that it’s not the thing you should be engaging in right now:

The flipside of this is that if some new habit or practice strikes you as hugely exciting, there’s a good chance it’s the opposite of what you need – that it’s helping you shore up your defenses, rather than challenging them. For instance, I’ve learned to be skeptical about how thrilled I get by any new book or system for scheduling my work day, so as to achieve untold heights of productivity. That heady feeling isn’t a good thing. It's a warning sign! By contrast, the productivity technique I’m currently finding most genuinely useful – aiming for lower volumes of daily output, but more consistently, rather than working in binges – has felt uncomfortable, because refraining from cramming as much in as I possibly can makes me feel anxious.

⚡️ Startup Stuff

🗯 The Power of Product Thinking

As we are deep in our product thinking at Vital, I liked this article covering elements of it:

The simplest way to define product thinking is that it is the skill of knowing what makes a product useful — and loved — by people. As with all skills, it can be nurtured and developed; it’s not just an instinct one does or doesn’t have (and even instincts are trained, after all). 

Product thinkers love to discuss their favorite products, of course, but not just what they personally liked or disliked; rather, they seek to understand the broader question of why a product might or might not work for a broader set of people. The very best product thinkers are voracious about understanding why things work. A product thinking mindset might lead one to study what makes TikTok so popular, or what leads to Figma’s growth within an organization, or what the characteristics of popular marketplaces are.

Here are some questions that might help you get a product thinking mindset:

  • Critique Product X — which decisions seem the most responsible for its success? Why? 

  • How would you help Product X win over Audience Y if you were its leader?

  • Take Problem Z … What would you design to solve it?

Ok, so how do you get good at product thinking? Through observation and inquiry. Spend a lot of time exploring your favorite products, ask yourself why they did things the way they did.

The author suggests:

  1. Every week, try at least one new product, feature, or service. 

  2. Every week, have at least one conversation or reflection about how a specific product decision impacts its intended audience. 

Also in startup world this week: remember to enjoy the journey. Half the gig is mental.

📚 What I Read

Where Has All the Productivity Gone?

A great answer to Balaji’s tweet:

John Cook suggests five possibilities:

  1. The Great Distraction.
    All the productivity we gained has been frittered away on equal-and-opposite distractions like social media, games, etc.

  2. The Great Dissipation.
    The productivity has been dissipated on things like forms, compliance, process, etc.

  3. The Great Divergence.
    The productivity is here, it’s just only harnessed by the indistractable few.

  4. The Great Dilemma.
    The productivity has been burned in bizarre ways that require line-by-line “profiling” of everything.

  5. The Great Dumbness.
    The productivity is here, we’ve just made dumb decisions in the West while others have harnessed it.

💰 On Medici and Thiel

A great piece exploring the success of the Thiel Fellowship model:

Peter Thiel has a lot of ideas. One of them, from slightly more than a decade ago, was that entrepreneurship is a viable alternative to college. So he decided to spend around $2m annually to sponsor 20-30 kids to drop out of college and do something.

It's been a decade, which means around $20m invested in total, which gives enough room to perhaps draw some conclusions from this experiment. What did he get for spending that money? To start with, he found these chaps:

  • Vitalik, founded Ethereum

  • Austin Russell, Luminar CEO

  • Kaushik Tiwari, Better Financial CEO

  • Dylan Field, founded Figma

  • Ritesh Agarwal, founded Oyo

  • Alex Rodriguez, Embark CEO

🥶 The Cryonics Industry Would Like to Give You the Past Year, and Many More, Back

Each time I read about cryonics, I think of this chart:

Supporters of cryonics insist that death is a process of deterioration rather than simply the moment when the heart stops, and that rapid intervention can act as a “freeze frame” on life, allowing super-chilled preservation to serve as an ambulance to the future.

They usually concede there is no guarantee that future science will ever be able to repair and reanimate the body but even a long shot, they argue, is better than the odds of revival — zero — if the body is turned to dust or ashes. If you are starting out dead, they say, you have nothing to lose.

🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week

This week in podcasts:

  • Navigating the complexities and nuances of cancer screening

    • A fantastic conversation (subscribers only 🔒, here’s a shorter free version) to understand the complexity of cancer screening. One of the main ideas I got from it is the important tradeoff in cancer screening between scaring too many people with wrong/useless information and detecting cancer early enough to treat it. Finally, the best way we currently have to fight cancer is to detect it early.

    • From what I understand, getting the right doctors that understand all of this and accompany you in this is not easy at this point, as the topic is very complicated. People often require multiple screenings for the same cancers to get a high specificity and sensitivity.

🍭 Brain Food

☠️ The Dangers of Plastic

I highly recommend reading the thread below: it explains why plastic use is a catastrophe we need to address urgently. I got interested in the topic after reading Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race by Shanna H. Swan, where she makes a similar point.

This is a good follow-up reading: researchers tracked microplastics (tiny pieces of plastic debris less than five millimeters in length) ingested by mice.

The mice ate small plastic compounds joined to copper-64, a positron-emitting radioisotope, and DOTA, a molecule that helps bind copper-64 to plastic. For two days the researchers traced the paths taken by the tagged microplastics after they were ingested, by detecting pairs of gamma rays created during the decay of copper-64.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scans and accompanying gamma camera scans confirmed that the microplastics had spread throughout each animal’s body. Over the 48-hour observation period, the plastics passed through and were taken up by the stomach, intestines, liver, spleen, heart, lung, kidney, bladder and other organs. The researchers also observed the accumulation of radiolabelled copper-64 in tissues.

🎥 What I’m Watching

👨‍🚀 The Space Economy is About to Get a Lot Bigger

If you want to build something and are still wondering what, my first answer would be: longevity. But I have to admit; my second answer would be Space! So many great things are happening in Space Tech right now.

📦 The Incredible Logistics of Grocery Stores

I have always been fascinated by supermarkets. I’m always amazed by the logistics behind them. I usually spend way too much time going grocery shopping, just curious to explore the products and their organization. This was the video I needed:

🔧 The Tool of the Week

🏃 Strava

As I fixed my chronic back pain a few months ago, I could start running again after a three-year pause. I already knew Strava but really spent some time on the app in the last six months. It heavily inspired us at Vital to work on ‘social x health’ and build the “Strava for Health.” If you’re on Strava, say hi!

For more: the excellent piece on “Strava for X” by Ariel Renous.

🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

"If then you try, to obliterate fear
You're working in the wrong way
To attack fear is to strengthen it"

Alan Watts

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👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

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Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

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