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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the latest edition of "Beyond Category" blues singer and guitarist Corey Harris performs with his band and talks about his travels in West Africa tracing the roots of the blues.