A Case for Physical Immortality, Part 1
The average life expectancy in the United States is around 70 years for men and 73 years for women. If you are fortunate enough to be born with great genetics then 90 to 100 years may be a possibility for you. Is 70 to 80 years the best outlook for our longevity?
I think not!
My experience leads me to believe that we’ve barely scratched the surface of our life potential. Let’s take a brief look at some of the expert leaders in the fields of gerontology (the study of aging) and longevity and see what they have to say.Ray Kurzweil who considers himself a Futurist is a healthy and vibrant 62-year-old who believes that humanity is standing on the brink of physical immortality. He estimates that he only needs to hang on long enough (20 more years or so) before some new health technologies will address the problem of aging. He looks for technology to enhance gene therapy (inserting genes to replace mutated ones) and establish health-related nanotechnology (where minuscule robots move throughout the body ridding it of unwanted waste and toxins, plus repairing cellular damage). Amazingly, these are real solutions that may offer humanity the fountain of youth according to Kurzweil.
Before scoffing at this man’s ideas as science fiction, look at his background. Kurzweil gained recognition as an inventor in the software engineering field, then later as a research scientist in the health and wellness field, where he overcame Type 2 Diabetes and authored a series of best sellers. His accomplishments speak for themselves.
Wikipedia notes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Kurzweil):
“He was inducted in 2002 into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, established by the U.S. Patent Office. He received the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the nation’s largest award in invention and innovation. He also received the 1999 National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest honor in technology, from President Clinton in a White House ceremony. He has also received scores of other national and international awards, including the 1994 Dickson Prize (Carnegie Mellon University’s top science prize), Engineer of the Year from Design News, Inventor of the Year from MIT, and the Grace Murray Hopper Award from the Association for Computing Machinery. He has received twelve honorary Doctorates and honors from three U.S. presidents.He has received seven national and international film awards. Ray’s books include The Age of Intelligent Machines, The Age of Spiritual Machines, and Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. Four of Ray’s books have been national best sellers and The Age of Spiritual Machines has been translated into 9 languages and was the #1 best selling book on Amazon in science.”
Although you may not agree with his ideas, he points out that other technologies, such as space flight and mass agriculture, would have been inconceivable not too many years ago.In an interview, Kurzweil shares, “We’re beginning to understand biology and health, disease and aging, as information processes,” he explains. “We’re learning very precisely the sequences of steps concerning genes, proteins, and enzymes—and the sharing of information from one biochemical step to the next—that underlie aging and disease.”
And then there is Aubry de Grey, the Chief Scientific Officer at SENS Foundation and formally at the Methuzela Foundation (http://www.sens.org/users/aubrey-de-grey). He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Rejuvenation Research, currently the world’s only peer-reviewed journal focused on reversing aging. Some of his research focuses on such things as the over accumulation of metabolic waste and its pathogenic side effects. These side effects are one of the key factors in aging. Aubrey’s focus is to come up with ways to repair this “damage” or stop it all together. SENS or Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) is his plan for doing just that. His premise is that through applying the principles and actions of SENS, one has the potential to extend a healthy life indefinitely, providing one doesn’t have a fatal accident. Like Kurzweil, Aubrey believes that nanotechnology and stem cell research hold great promise in the healing and longevity fields. In 2007, Aubrey released his book, Ending Aging.If technology isn’t enough to stay off aging and usher in an era of eternal life, then there is Professor Bruce Lipton’s ground-breaking work, “The Biology of Belief”, which is changing our understanding of the evolutionary process (http://www.brucelipton.com/biology-of-belief-overview).
Since DNA was discovered, we’ve thought that our DNA was fixed; meaning everything is gene determinant—genes determine who and what we are, what deficiencies and diseases we may have, and so on. In Mr. Lipton’s book, he states that our potential is not pre-programmed by our genes, rather by our beliefs. He calls his work “New Biology,” and he points out that we have the power to change our health and many other things by our beliefs.
In a presentation he gave, captured on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB81L9zGLjE), Dr. Lipton explains his work, “…Recent advances in cellular science are heralding an important evolutionary turning point. For almost fifty years we have held the illusion that our health and fate were preprogrammed in our genes, a concept referred to as genetic determinacy.”
If this is true, then think of the implications surrounding aging and disease. We can re-program our genes so that life could continue on and on with optimum health. How exciting!
In the field of gerontology there is the late great Roy Walford, the former head of Gerontology at UCLA. Through his research in CR (Calorie Restriction) with mice he claims that it is possible to live beyond 120 years with optimum health. He is best known for his book, Beyond the 120 Year Diet : How to Double Your Vital Years.<
Wikipedia explains (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calorie_restriction):
“Calorie restriction, or caloric restriction (CR), is a dietary regimen that restricts calorie intake, where the baseline for the restriction varies, usually being the previous, unrestricted, intake of the subjects. Calorie restriction without malnutrition  has been shown to improve age-related health and to slow the aging process in a wide range of animals and some fungi. CR is one of the few dietary interventions that has been documented to increase both the median and maximum lifespan in a variety of species, among them yeast, fish, rodents and dogs. There are currently ongoing studies to investigate whether CR works in nonhuman primates, and its effects on human health and metabolic parameters associated with CR in other species. The results so far are positive, but the studies are not yet complete, due to the long lifespan of the species.
Dr. Walford is credited with significantly furthering research on the discovery that laboratory mice, when fed a diet that restricted their caloric intake by 50% yet maintained nutritional requirements, could almost double their expected life span.”Of course, I must mention Alexis Carrel whom was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912 “in recognition of his work on vascular suture and the transplantation of blood vessels and organs.” His views on cellular growth created much controversy in the twentieth century. He claimed that all cells are able to grow indefinitely. This was met with great resistance and is not longer believed to be true by the much of the scientific world.
Wikipedia shares (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexis_Carrel):
“On January 17, 1912, Carrel started an experiment where he placed tissue cultured from an embryonic chicken heart in a stoppered Pyrex flask of his own design. He maintained the living culture for over 20 years with regular supplies of nutrient. This was longer than a chicken’s normal lifespan. The experiment, which was conducted at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, attracted considerable popular and scientific attention.
Carrel’s experiment was never replicated, and in the 1960s Leonard Hayflick and Paul Moorhead proposed that differentiated cells can only undergo a limited number of divisions before dying. This is known as the Hayflick limit, and is now a pillar of biology.
It is not certain how Carrel obtained his anomalous results. Leonard Hayflick suggests that the daily feeding of nutrient was continually introducing new living cells to the alleged immortal culture. J. A. Witkowski has argued that, while “immortal” strains of visibly mutated cells have been obtained by other experimenters, a more likely explanation is deliberate introduction of new cells into the culture, possibly without Carrel’s knowledge.”
Without repeating the experiment, it is uncertain who is correct, but the information does raise some interesting questions.