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

China Announces Corruption Probe into Senior Ex-Leader

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, being probed for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
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 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 ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

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."