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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

Avery Sunshine is known for her irresistible combination of soul, jazz and gospel influences. She’s traveled the world entertaining audiences with her powerful voice, inspiring lyrics and infectious spirit. She joins host Shawna Renee on "The Soul Lounge" to perform and share the stories behind her new album, "The Sun Room."