We’re excited to share our interview with Bryan Johnson. For the full, mostly-unedited experience check out the transcript — it’s basically raw, but we did cut out a few “likes,” “ums,” and etc. For the literary masterpiece, pop a white pill, and enter:
A matter of life and death. It’s been over a year since the first big wave of press covering Bryan Johnson’s quest to suspend the human aging process, in which he made his own body the petri dish for his experiments — or the canvas, it sometimes seems, for a kind of grand performance art. In that time, from every dietary shift and blood transfusion to a recent, vivid portrait of his journey through penis rejuvenation, he has shocked and delighted the industry barflies to trend him, and his core mission, back to the front page of the internet, sustaining almost monthly waves of controversial discourse. It’s not entirely clear what it is about Bryan, specifically, that drives a certain kind of person into wild fits of anger, but I do think many people simply clock the guy as kind of arrogant. At 46, Bryan is 21 now, he recently reported, or at least according to his “Alpha Klotho biological age,” which nobody has time to Google, and therefore invites the world to say things like “you sure don’t look 21, asshole.”
Meaningfully, however, the bevy of insults and arguments targeting this anti-death crusader have not just come from internet trolls, who hate everything, or the press, which is trained to hate a wealthy tech guy for any behavior short of some direct deposit into the DNC’s bank account. Industry leaders have also joined the chorus of jeers. Elon Musk, mortal enemy of the zealous left-wing anti-tech press, has publicly insulted Bryan more than once, as have many of my friends. Among men and women I’d always assumed roughly aligned conceptually with the strange, self-made millionaire on a quest to save the world, I’m often told this is a sad person. The ambition to be young forever? Tragically modern.
Bryan was disgusting, I was told. “A freak.” A blood sucking, overly-estrogenized bug man. His quest to “live forever” was “demonic,” the seething Twitter trads have long declared. Too online. Dangerous. “Nobody should give this man a platform.”
I couldn’t wait to speak with him.
Bryan logged into our chat bathed in light, and framed by empty bookshelves full of potted, hanging plants. While I’d technically met him many years ago at a small symposium I run for Founders Fund, back when he was bearded still, and middle-aged, this was someone altogether new. Now, he was cleanly-shaven, with longer hair slicked back, and bright, porcelain skin. His eyes were bright as well — an alert, arresting, frosty blue — and while his calm evoked a sense of seriousness, I couldn’t shake the feeling he was having fun. On reflecting back, it might have been his outfit that gave the game away, the committed, clever bit of marketing I’ve noticed woven into most of what he does: a plain, black t-shirt emblazoned with two giant words across his chest that read “DON’T DIE.”
This — DON’T DIE — while playfully expressed, is Bryan’s life’s work. At the very top of our conversation, there was just the obvious question of how, and why. So I asked him. Where did this begin? What catalyzed the quest?
“The incentives of the present are paralyzing and claustrophobic and minimizing,” he said.
Bryan spoke quickly, but methodically, as if directly from a script he’d perfected over many conversations. “To be revered by the future,” he continued, “you need to branch out, and overcome all the limitations of the powers of the moment.”
Bryan reached the zenith of his standard issue tech career in 2013, when he sold his company, Braintree, to PayPal for $800 million. A smash success by the standards of any entrepreneur, the natural question was “what next?” Would he try his hand at venture capital? Found another company, or launch a charity? Maybe all of the above. But it was an important question, and he didn’t want to get it wrong, so he decided to consult with highly-advanced beings from the 25th Century for some advice.
It was a thought experiment. Longing to make the most positive impact possible, and with no real sense of where to start, Bryan considered a question: centuries from now, on looking back, for what deeds done today will mankind’s progeny be grateful? He imagined he was speaking with a powerful, almost alien race, technologically advanced beyond physical constraints, and limited only by the bounds of their imagination. A perfect version of us, in a sense. What could anyone alive today do that might impress a being so advanced?
“We are baby steps from superintelligence,” Bryan explained. “Now, whatever that is going to be defined as — some form of computational intelligence that so far exceeds our intelligence we can't even imagine it — we're up against a wall of fog. When that happens, what can we say about the future? What can we say about the present? What can we model out? And my conclusion was: nothing. We can say absolutely nothing about the future. We can't model it. We can't predict it. We can't do anything about it. We can't even place our hope on it. Nothing.
“Therefore, the only thing we can say as a species, at this moment, is ‘don't die.’”
This is the singular thing we can rally behind.
Project Blueprint was born.
“Basically, we play ‘don't die’ every day. Each one of us, we look both ways before we cross the street, we wear our seatbelts, we throw out moldy food. Everyone plays ‘don't die’ every day. I was simply saying the future is getting really, really, really, really good at ‘don't dying.’”
Bryan’s goal is biological youth, forever, a thing not considered possible by most. But our bodies are machines, and aging is a system — complex, for sure, but made of rules. Bryan’s first order of business was figuring out what the rules were.
“We know,” Bryan explained, “if you get hit by a car pretty hard, you might die. If you jump over a bridge, you might die. But do you die when you drink two glasses of wine? Do you die when you smoke a cigarette? How much?”
In the pages of science fiction, eternal life looks something like a brightly-colored vial of some powerful elixir. The Fountain of Youth, the Philosopher’s Stone, Dracula: from the ancient etchings of Gilgamesh, immortality has always captured man’s imagination in our fiction, and the solution tends to look like magic. In practice, however, the longevity space is largely concerned with eliminating the things that are actively killing us. What are the diseases associated with aging? Can we cure them? If we reconsider “aging” as ‘damage being done,’ how do we reduce that damage?
Bryan assembled a team of doctors, and every morning they asked a question: “how did Bryan die today?” From here, the path was kind of straightforward, and continues to this day.
“The most measured man alive,” Bryan’s team runs more daily tests on his body than I’ve taken, altogether, in probably the last five years: fitness measurements, MRIs, ultrasounds, DNA methylation, microbiome sampling, blood and stool examination. Then, with a goal of “dying less,” he and his team attempt as best they can to identify the changes in his life that dealt his body damage, and rework his daily routine to avoid that damage in the future.
Today, Bryan’s ‘perfect diet’ is built of 2,250 calories (he’s experimented with as few as 1,950, but testing turned up slight hits on some of his organ health). His breakfast consists of broccoli, cauliflower, ginger, garlic, hemp seeds, and one tablespoon of olive oil. His second meal of the day is macadamia nuts, walnuts, flaxseed, pomegranate juice, pea protein, berries, and one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. His third meal of the day consists of berries, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables.
I pressed him on the rest of his routine, and he casually ran through the details.
“My day begins the night before,” he explained. “I go to bed at the same time every single night. I just achieved an eight-month perfect sleep score. So, a hundred percent perfect using WHOOP. And it was almost like the four-minute mile, or Amelia Earhart flying across the Atlantic. No human in history with a wearable has shown this level of sleep performance. According to record, I'm the best sleeper on the planet.”
Bryan wakes up around 5 a.m., every day, and begins his routine. “I start with light therapy,” he explains. “I have 10,000 lux of light that I'm exposed to for two or three minutes, to get some light in my eyes. I take two pills, some Proferrin — some iron — and some vitamin C.”
From here, he measures his inner ear temperature for therapy response, and carries on: 110 minutes of red and blue light for collagen growth, a 20 ounce pre-workout drink, 60 pills of various sort, and one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Then it’s HRV therapy for 10 minutes, a red light cap for hair growth, an hour-long workout consisting of 45 different exercises, 12 more minutes of red light therapy inside (“with two big panels”), shower, breakfast (“which is a few pounds of vegetables”), work.
After a few hours on the grindset, it’s two hours with his medical team for review, and a closer look at any number of possible focusses, for example pancreatic rejuvenation, thymus rejuvenation, or heart analysis. There’s another doctor visit in the afternoon, sometimes at his home, sometimes at his team’s office in Los Angeles, and an assortment of additional therapies.
Finally, “I'll do some socialization with friends and family, and then I'll go to bed.”
Bryan characterizes his work of life, so to speak, as scattered throughout the day, but a single, fluid movement. Like ballet, I imagined. A very, very odd ballet. But is the rain dance working?
“I say, tongue in cheek, Blueprint is the most nutritious protocol built in human history,” he continued. “Prove me wrong with your data.”
As I researched Bryan’s work for our interview, countless scientific “experts” appeared in every hateful media hit published on the man. Their argument was generally the same: none of Bryan’s results are “scientifically valid,” and none of his success has been proven. But in defense of the status quo, there’s nothing presented in place of Bryan’s work. Bryan’s right. Nobody has ever actually proven anything better. This is because, for the most part, nobody is trying. This is the world the “experts” built. Strange, I thought, how that incredible defeatism is never so ferociously criticized as the very few men who attempt the “impossible.”
“I've reduced my speed of aging by the equivalent of 31 years,” Bryan said. “So people commonly know how much they weigh and how much money's in their bank account and how many social media followers they have. These are numbers people have in their mind.” But soon, Bryan explained, “a number that's going to be very common that people will know is how fast you're aging.”
Like rings on the trunk of a tree, Bryan’s team sets out to measure a variety of chemical signatures in his body to determine his biological age, and from there his speed of aging. This metric is not some idle curiosity, but the essential first step to beating back death. If you want to improve at some challenge — for example “not dying” — you have to know, in as close to an accurately measured sense as possible, how you’re doing at the challenge in the first place.
“Right now, my speed of aging is 0.69, which means, just in a layman's terms, for every 12 months that pass, I get September, October, November, and December for free. So while everyone else is aging, I get those four months for free.”
The caricature of Bryan as arrogant has never really been rooted in what he’s said so much as what people want to believe about him, or perhaps need to believe about him. If he really thought he was immortal, or genuinely “young” again, there would be no value in listening to the man, and that would be a relief. We could all go back to coping until each of our respective dark conclusions. But Bryan understands he’s dying, if a little more slowly than he was five years ago. The difference between him and his average hater is actually just that he is hyper aware of this fact. Hence, the quest, which does seem rather important given the stakes.
“Let's say next year I can get to 0.65. Next year, I can get to 0.60. The following year, 0.55. If we just start getting really, really good at ‘don't dying,’” he said, “you can see in a matter of five years, it may be the case that my speed of aging, I'm getting, you know, May through December for free. Who knows?
“But we don't need very many breakthroughs for that to happen. It's already happening right now. We're already punching this number down on a routine basis.”
In other words, at least in terms of the metrics his team is tracking, Bryan is moving toward some arresting of the aging process. Either his metrics are useless, or he really is, in some sense, aging more slowly.
Obviously, for many people, the thought alone of this man’s success is absolutely maddening.
It would be easy to take apart the most malicious actors on the internet, and strawman the tremendous anxiety surrounding the subject of longevity. But I’ve been interested in the topic for many years, and have long since noticed it’s an inherently volatile subject among the intelligent and curious as well as the thoughtless. That volatility is, itself, fascinating. Humans, as with all creatures, are innately predisposed to survive. How then, in the modern age, have so many of us become opposed to the concept of our own survival? We still teach our kids to look both ways before they cross, Bryan suggested, and yet so many of us find his work, and the broader work of longevity researchers, off-putting, enraging, or even dangerous.
Among good faith critiques, criticism tends to fall in three, distinct buckets: aesthetics, class, and nature.
Class is the easiest to parse, since we see it everywhere online and in the press, every single time a rich person — especially if he’s male and white — does anything at all. Bryan “spends $2 million a year,” run typical headlines, “to be 18 again.” The takeaways here are generally both: the rich are blowing money on astrology-adjacent bullshit, while poor kids in Africa die of hunger, and also rich people are creating a world in which they will live forever, and all the poors (you) will die. In other words, this both doesn’t work, you fool, and this works very well, which is terrible.
Some part of such criticism will always be impossible to counter. If you simply don’t believe in the concept of rich people, you will never appreciate a reminder they exist. But among people at ease with the concept of civilization, and in favor of a little bit of crazy shit, there is still a danger here of feeling left out. The myth of Elysium is a powerful, persistent bit of propaganda woven through our culture by committed socialists, in which technology is presented as nothing but a boon for the wealthy. The myth persists, I think, because partly this is clearly true. From the electric lightbulb and the automobile to the desktop computer, new technologies are almost always too expensive for the average person to enjoy. But, over time, they get cheaper, and today we’re all communicating with each other from the tiny supercomputers that live in our pocket. Another win, in the endless ocean of wins, for the market.
Still, in Bryan’s case, it’s not even true that most of what he’s discovered is even that expensive.
“Someone can achieve 80 percent of my benefits by doing the basics,” he explained. “Sleep, exercise, diet.”
The class angle, here especially, is just not serious at all. Yes, Bryan has spent an incredible sum of money studying his body. This is research, which he has freely released. Today, he’s selling any number of consumer products on his website, but most of what he knows, or thinks he knows, he shares. And the research, however so scientifically valid or not, is obviously more valuable than his special brand of olive oil.
The aesthetic critique comes next. The charge is often made that Bryan is obsessed with looking young — vanity. Or, he looks weird, he looks sick, he doesn’t look young at all. There is just very clearly an obsession with his appearance in the comments following every single one of his posts, and I think it implies a standard in our minds of the immortal man. Bryan, it seems, is not living up to this standard. But I don’t want to discard reaction here entirely because it does seem, to some extent, Bryan has actually courted the reaction.
I pushed him on his media tactics, and the manner in which they’ve evolved over the last year or so, as it seems there’s clearly some intention here to goad the trolls into engagement with his content. He is, from his photoshoots and extremely popular YouTube channel to his viral wizardry on Twitter — and the well-branded shirt on his back! — a very talented marketer. And that’s what this is, right?
“I guess this has all just been play for me.”
Bryan often says that 2013 was a momentous, pivotal year. He sold Braintree, left the religion he was born into, and ended a 13-year marriage. Until recently, what he’s spoken to much less was this all followed his emergence from a deep depression in which death, for many years, was the only thing he wanted. His suicidal ideation culminated in a choice between succumbing to the end, or resisting totally, and Bryan chose the path of life. But in so traumatic a breaking off from all the prior thinking that nearly killed him, he also just decided he really didn’t give a shit what people thought about him anymore.
“My life went from what I can't do to everything I can do,” he said. “And I've been on that for the past ten years: everything I can do… I never could paint my fingernails. Do I want to paint my fingernails? I don't know. Do I want to grow my hair out? I don't know. Do I want to wear, you know, midriffs? I don't know.”
I asked him how much of it all was thought through, and planned.
“It’s just fun,” he says. “I'm just doing me, and I don't have anyone, any institution — I have no power over me that's going to punish me for doing it. No one can fire me. Nobody can cancel me… I'm just having fun. It's not like some master plan, where we've charted out the next 12 months, and we're like ‘now we're gonna get 'em with midriffs,’ you know?”
We both laughed. “We're just messing around.”
But messing with “nature”? That has never been popular. And this, the final bucket of critique, has always been the most potent.
The tests, the lights, the pills, the team, and all of it in service of Bryan’s “health,” has pit him naturally against the nature worshippers, not only on the Greta Thunberg left, but the new and rising Crunchy Red Pill right — the SolBrah’s of the world, your meat-eating, weights-lifting, sun kissed Grecian statues. No plastics, no sunscreen, and don’t even say the word vaccine. The “new,” as in some sense instantiated by the image of Bryan Johnson, is not “lindy,” which therefore makes it dangerous.
The notion is not entirely irrational. The older some technology or concept, the more time it has to weather experimentation, and, in some cases, for hundreds or even thousands of generations. Who wants to be the first tribesman to try the new berry? Not me. There is wisdom in following the path cleared by your ancestors, all of whom survived long enough to procreate. But here’s where that breaks down: you can’t build rockets with wisdom, and we still haven’t cracked aging. If all we have to work with is everything we’ve ever done, you’ve taken progress off the table altogether, and doomed mankind to mortal stagnation. A lindy paradigm for all of human civilization will absolutely kill us in our cradle.
With the inherent silliness of most critique laid bare, we near closer to the truth. Among most, real aversion to the longevity discussion has less to do with aesthetics or nature, and nothing at all to do with class. “That is not the point,” Bryan suggested of the cost, which is basically affordable. “People are reacting to their feeling of helplessness.”
None of us want to die, and so the notion we might not have to age inspires hope. But hope, for the truly desperate, tends only to remind a man of his mortality. That reminder is painful. For years I’ve noticed that when asked the question “do you want to live forever,” the average person says they don’t. Partly this is just a product of modernity, the rotted philosophy of death that permeates our entire education and culture. But mostly, I think, it’s cope. If death is inevitable, it’s much easier to work its importance into your personal philosophy of life than it is to fight. The reaction, from most, is understandable. But from the technology industry? It’s a little bit alarming.
Bryan Johnson is definitely weird. I mean, by any possible standard, this is a very “weird” guy, behaving in a very “weird” manner, on behalf of a very “weird” goal. But back in 2011, when I first moved out to San Francisco, and met all the wild freaks in hacker houses taking little breaks from working on their artificial brains to build a giant fire-breathing robot dragon for their camp at Burning Man or whatever, “weird” was a compliment. “Weird” was the moral compass of Silicon Valley, because Silicon Valley is in the business of creating new things, and new things are always, by their definition, weird. Unusual. Different.
Yes, it's weird to think you could, let alone should, replace fiat currency with digital gold, with the stated ambition of permanent anarchist freedom. It’s weird to try and build machine intelligence. It’s weird to live in a biopunk commune, where you spin up gene therapies, and illegally experiment on your own body in fulfillment of your belief in biological self-determination. None of these things are lindy. All of these things pose danger. They also pose tremendous potential benefit, and represent our only chance, in aggregate, of a technologically progressive world of abundance. Yes, Bryan Johnson is strange, a little reckless, a little arrogant perhaps. In terms of the technology industry, why isn’t everyone else?
As we neared the end of our conversation, I asked Bryan the obvious. With this single-minded focus on avoiding death, how does one live? “What is a good life?”
Bryan laughed. It was his favorite “gotcha” question, he said, which I found confusing, as that wasn’t how I intended the question. I don’t have an answer myself, and would like to, as it strikes me as probably the central question of our human condition.
“In Buddha's time,” Bryan began, “if you're ambitious, what do you do? You're like, well, you're going to figure out a new scheme to try to minimize suffering because life just kind of sucks. If you're Alexander the Great, you want to raise your army and conquer an empire. If you're Da Vinci, you're just very curious.”
In every age, given new potential, the greatest men achieve, or attempt to achieve, the greatest things possible. Today, for the first time in history, death is at least conceivably something we can conquer.
“This is the biggest revolution in the history of Homo sapiens,” Bryan said. “There's been nothing bigger. We're transitioning from the inevitability of death to maybe some unknown time from a wellness which we can't comprehend.
“And that's what I've focused on, because that's the thing we all understand. You and I are both conscious beings on this earth, on this planet, on this ball in space. Like, what a wild situation. What do we do? What is the next moment? In this next moment, what do I say? What do I think? How do I apply my energy? And of all the innumerable number of actions I could take, what do I do? And to me, the only rational thing to do in this moment is don't die. Outside of that, I have no idea on what guides us next. But I mean, I don't know, I've really tried to compress reality into some sensible, practical, understandable thing.”
It was an answer, but not to anything I asked, and that’s when it occurred to me that Bryan found the question insulting because he didn’t understand it. His goal is not to lead a “good life.” Bryan’s goal is greatness. His goal is to lead the great life, of a great man, which we might define as that quality of rare historic figures in which the happiness, prosperity, and potential of society is placed before one’s own “good life.” The question of what to do with one’s time, personally, is beside the point for Bryan. He’s focused on the meta problem, which is the problem of time itself. If we all had an unlimited amount of it, what else could we do? What else could we build? What would you do with a thousand more years?
What would I do?
I still don’t know the answer. But I do know I am only at liberty to circle such questions as “what is good” because the bare necessities of my existence are provided by innovations, systems, and progress championed by men who were as confused by the question of a “good life” as Bryan is today. Progress is the goal, obviously, for all of us, and any great must obviously push the world forward, as dramatically as possible, into abundance. Bryan is taking steps toward the audacious goal of arresting human aging. His odds of success are slim. But in attempting the impossible, he has entered a new class of men, and among such men alone can he be judged.
Godspeed, weirdo. The world is counting on you.