For a moment, I fell under the spell of Bryan Johnson.
Bathed in early-morning sunlight, the 46-year-old L.A.-based tech centimillionaire and longevity celebrity didn’t look much younger than his age, although hethan his lifespan.
We were standing at the Temescal Canyon trailhead in Pacific Palisades on Jan. 13, ahead of a Johnson-sponsored “Don’t Die” hike, one of many organized across the world that day and the only one hosted by him. Of the 500-plus people who hadfor the L.A. event, about 200 showed up. Some had slept in their cars to make it.
“The world is so full of things that take us away from what we truly want,” he told the crowd.
Jean Guerrero is the author, most recently, of “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.”
Johnson led us in a breathing exercise, swaying his pale and sinewy body to the electronic dance music song “Sundream” by Rüfüs Du Sol. Eyes closed, arms draped over neighbors, his fans inhaled and exhaled slowly. Restaurant servers and retail workers embraced corporate executives and real estate brokers. In their regular lives, many of these Gen Zers, millennials and baby boomers were worlds apart. Here, they were connected by a desire to live a long time — maybe forever.
Blueprint, Johnson’s wellness program, has gained ain L.A. and beyond. Follow the regimen, he says, and decrease your biological age, although scientists and others his approach. He’s just one subject, they say, and he tries many anti-aging methods at once, making it hard to determine cause and effect.
Johnson is undeterred.
“For the first time in the history of Homo sapiens, it’s possible to say with a straight face that death may no longer be inevitable,” he told me on the hike. It’s a statement he hasmany .
I had learned about Johnson at a party in L.A. months earlier, after noticing my first pesky eye wrinkles at age 35. Though I aspire to age fearlessly, I was feeling anxious about my waning youth in our image-obsessed city.
One of the party guests, a dermatologist, regaled me with bold and seductive claims about the pace of anti-aging research. He said a wealthy man in L.A. was spending millions on self-experimentation to uncover the secrets of eternal youth in our lifetimes.
When I Googled him, I was skeptical. A former Mormon from Utah who created a credit-card processing company that sold for $800 million, Johnson now brags about the frequency of hisand posts photos of himself in which he looks as ghostly as the Roman statues at the Getty. He eats mostly seeds, vegetables and more than 100 daily supplements. He exercises rigorously and pays for red-light therapy, among other things.
He calls himself a “,” having undergone $25,000-a-dose gene therapy in Honduras that’s not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s available only on the island of Roatan, where Hondurans say they fear displacement by U.S. billionaires who’ve to create a regulation-free playground for the rich. , a morphogenetic hormone that is . , it extended the lifespan of mice.
But in person, Johnson looks human. Physically fit but mortal. Middle-aged.
In California, Johnson is not unique. Psychonauts and seekers here have long embarked on quixotic quests to transcend our common reality, employing everything from natural medicine and meditation to man-made chemicals and high-tech “transhumanism.” I’m wary of such trends, which can be escapist. Iwith them as a teen; they made me self-destructive and dissociated.
But on the hike, Johnson’s fans seemed health-conscious and present. His videos across social media, where he has more than 1.6 million followers, encouraged them to prioritize self-care, they told me. They weren’t so sure about Johnson’s immortality claims, but they believed in his wellness aims.
I met a 54-year-old cancer survivor who said she reversed her Type 2 diabetes to pre-diabetes using Johnson’s advice.
Another hiker, David McGill-Soriano, a 26-year-old Long Beach resident and gang prevention counselor, had been hit by a car. He found Johnson on YouTube while bedridden with a fractured tibia and other injuries. Johnson’s faith in human perfectibility, he told me, inspired him to work to regain his strength.
“I’m so thankful for the Blueprint,” he said.
While some see Johnson’s Blueprint as a way to defy grind culture, others see it as a means to hustle harder.
“I’m always looking for ways to be a good robot and perform better,” said Diego Padilla, a 48-year-old aerospace executive who was carrying his Yorkshire terrier up the trail. He trusts Johnson because he’d made himself a guinea pig.
“I do not like animal testing whatsoever,” Padilla told me, cuddling his dog.
Johnson, who says he’s triedon his penis and of his teenage son’s blood plasma to reverse aging, measures numerous biomarkers in his body with a team of doctors and posts the data on his website.
“I think he is trying to democratize what he’s doing,” Padilla said. The Blueprint website links to devices such as a $150 erection tracker and a $599 epigenetic tracker, in case anyone wants to gather their own data.
When I found Johnson on the trail, I asked him how a single mom working three jobs could benefit from his program. He told me he was creating a healthy food service that would be cost-competitive with fast food.
“We’ve basically addressed the accessibility problem,” he said.
So far, he’s marketing $30 bottles of olive oil he may rebrand as Snake Oil, $39 cocoa powder, $25 macadamia bars and other products.
Some experts warn against the protocols Johnson promotes. Valter Longo, director of the USC Longevity Institute and professor of biological science, says some of Johnson’s treatment combinations, such as the 100-plus supplements, could be harmful.
“You can cause short-term benefits, but eventually that will probably turn into long-term problems,” he told me.
Before pivoting to wellness, Johnsonthat endeavored to make the world programmable into zeros and ones. He spoke of humans as reducible to code, arguing that the future will be less about human or civil rights than about “ .” And he advocated for the merging of humans and machines.
“The relationship between human intelligence and artificial intelligence (HI + AI) will necessarily be one of symbiosis,” hein 2016.
Johnson’s faith in AI is central to what he’s selling at Blueprint. On the website, he describes Blueprint not as a lifestyle brand but as “an algorithm that takes better care of me than I can myself.”
As we hiked, I told him I was wary of his argument that we should defer to AI for our decisions. I wanted to know why he would encourage people to renounce their free will at a time of rising authoritarianism and the erosion of our autonomy via Big Tech.
“Don’t you see a risk there?” I asked.
He replied that it was normal to be skeptical, as his idea was “on par with the biggest ideas that Homo sapiens have ever dealt with,” such as the fact that the Earth isn’t the center of the universe. “This idea that we may not be the best center of decision-making?” I asked. “Exactly right,” he said.
Johnson argues that humans are self-destructive and that we need AI to save us from ourselves.
“What I’m suggesting is every human and every system needs to be in check,” he told me, adding that technology will also save the Earth. “We have the same problem with the care of the Earth as we do with our body.”
As we reached the end of the trail, with its view of the ocean, Johnson announced a dance party. As Rüfüs Du Sol’s “On My Knees” played on a speaker, he bobbed up and down. Other hikers joined in.
Eventually, the group returned to the trailhead, where Johnson’s team had prepared “nutty pudding” and olive oil shots for everyone. Johnson stood on a picnic table and declared that he was plotting to negotiate discounts for his fans to get the unproved gene therapy in Honduras and other treatments. “We could become a bulk buying club for longevity therapies,” he said, to whoops and cheers.
“We are going from Homo sapiens to Homo evolutis,” Johnson said. “We are a different species.”
It was a new form of manifest destiny, 100% California and oblivious to its potential wreckage.