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 One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”