News / Arts & Entertainment

Author Explores Quest for Immortality

Author Explores Quest for Immortality
Author Explores Quest for Immortality

 

Humans have long had dreams of becoming immortal, or of greatly extending their life span.  Author Jonathan Weiner has explored the science and pseudoscience of life extension in his book, "Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality."  The writer asks the question if a much longer life is possible - or desirable.

Nothing in nature is immortal, but some clams can live centuries and a tiny freshwater creature called a hydra lives a very long time, at least until its pond dries up.

Can humans achieve the same?  Weiner says they've always thought about it.

"If you look at the formative stories of so many civilizations, they're about reaching out to try to grasp immortality," he said.  "Adam and Even and the apple and emperors in China and Gilgamesh in Babylon, again and again.  And the Greeks.  Hercules, in his labors, was trying to defeat death, again and again, because in some ways it's our primary task as mortals.  It’s certainly our primary problem as mortals."

He says the quest for eternal youth has captivated some notable people in their middle age.  In the early 20th century, a number believed that vasectomies could renew their failing vigor.

"Sigmund Freud and the great poet William Butler Yeats both went in for surgery to give them tremendously enhanced virility and youth in their older years," he said.  "And that surgery was something that revivified Yeats.  In fact, he had a tremendous flowering of poetry and around Dublin, they used to call him the 'gland old man.' "

The results for Freud were less certain.  The operation was something  the father of psychoanalysis avoided talking about.

The writer says scientists are not sure how far life can be extended, and that they debate the best way to extend it.  Some focus on the separate problems of aging such as cancer, Alzheimer's and heart disease, while others search for the reasons the body breaks down at the cellular level.

In fact, we have extended our lives dramatically over the past century, and on average, live decades longer than our great grand-parents did.  And more people today are living to be 100.

Still, most don't make it much past 80, and centenarians are a tiny part of the population.

The writer notes that our longer human life span in the 21st century is already creating social tensions, pitting young against old in debates over taxes, public spending and the retirement age in Europe and other places.

He asks how we would cope with the population explosion if couples produced babies for 100 years?

And he asks how longer life span would affect societies burdened with aging or evil  leaders.

"Just imagine if Mao had been given an extra 50 or 60 years of healthy life, or Stalin," he said.  "If Hitler had really had a chance at his thousand year Reich and a chance to rule it himself.  Those are nightmares."

Would dramatic life extension be a violation of nature?  Weiner says, not necessarily.

"If we could engineer ourselves some of the secrets of the clam or the hydra, then would we be doing something very different from what we do now when we get a flu vaccine, or when we get exercise sop that we will continue to live long, happy, healthy lives?  I don't know that those answers are so clear," he said.

He says the most difficult problems do not confront us yet because scientists who want to extend our lives have not achieved the breakthroughs that they hope for.

Living forever is still a dream, the subject of myth and fiction, and many researchers hope to add a more  modest 20 to 30 years to the average lifespan.  The most optimistic hope to add hundreds of years, while skeptics say we may already be approaching our maximum lifespan.

You May Like

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."