Can we live forever?

The oldest person to have ever lived was a French woman, Jeanne Calment, who lived to the age of 122 years and 164 days. As modern medicine and living standards improve so does our life expectancy, but will the day soon come when life has no cap? Some scientists believe it to be much more than science fiction. To understand how humans can live forever, we first need to understand what ageing actually is. A lot of people think ageing is a very complex process, but it’s really quite simple. Ageing is basically a side effect of being alive, all of our bodies’ normal day-to-day processes such as breathing, moving and digesting food, gradually cause wear and tear on our cells. And after a certain amount of wear and tear, our cells die, causing permanent damage to our bodies. Our bodies can only take so much of this cell damage, so eventually, we die. Think of your body like a car, driving it around causes unavoidable wear and tear to all of its components, until one day it gives up and refuses to start. Unless you perform regular maintenance on it such as changing the oil or even replacing entire parts. Some revolutionary scientists have taken this same mechanical view on the human body and believe that with regular maintenance and even replacing damaged organs, we can keep our bodies running smoothly indefinitely. In 2011 surgeons in Sweden performed the world’s first organ transplant using a synthetic organ that was grown in a lab. The organ was grown by London scientists in just a few days. But most importantly the synthetic windpipe was grown using the patients own DNA, meaning there was no chance of the body rejecting the new organ. The 36-year-old cancer patient is now doing fine after the transplant. Scientists are now working on doing the same thing with complex organs such as hearts and lungs and they predict that in less than 10 years any organ will be able to be grown in a lab on demand in unlimited quantities without the need for donors. But immortality could potentially manifest itself in many ways. Biogerontologist Marios Kyriazis believes that immortality is not an if but a when, he theorises that immortality is an inevitable consequence of evolution. His theory states that through evolution the human brain will one day become so complex it will be capable of sustaining our bodies for an indefinite amount of time. By slowing down the ageing process and stopping it completely when the body is fully-grown. But evolution is a an awfully slow process, if you’re looking for a more immediate solution to eternal youth you may be surprised to hear there’s a lot more research going on in this field than you might imagine. In 2005 a british scientist named Aubrey de Grey setup a research foundation called SENS, which stands for “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence”. The aim of SENS is to research and develop a diverse range of regenerative medical therapies, to not only stop the ageing process in humans but also reverse it. Aubrey believes that death is not an inevitability but merely a disease, which can be cured with the correct medical treatment. In order to lengthen our lives we simply have to extend the length of our telomeres, which are caps at the ends of our DNA that shorten as we age leading to the breakdown of cells. The answer is simple, if we can develop a pill to lengthen our telomeres we can stop and even reverse the ageing process. Aubrey believes that we will have realistic age-preventative medicine available to us in as little as 25 years and that the first person who will live to 1,000 yeas old has already been born. But Aubrey de Grey isn’t the only scientist interested in living forever. Scientist and director of engineering at Google Ray Kurzweil is a prominent futurist and has accurately predicted many of today’s advanced technologies years in advance. Because our understanding of genes and computer technology is accelerating at an incredible rate, Ray made a bold prediction. That in just 20 years time humans will have developed super advanced microscopic nano bots that will be able to enter our bodies in their millions and perform the same jobs as our blood cells but a thousand times more effectively, keeping our bodies 100% infection free and instantly repairing any damaged cells. Enabling us to live indefinitely and even reverse ageing. But Ray predicts that this is not all that nanotechnology will be able to achieve in the very near future, he predicts within 25 years we will be able to use nanotechnology to modify our bodies and obtain superhuman powers. For example we will be able to go scuba-diving for hours without oxygen. We will be able to extend our mental capacities to such an extent we will be able to write books within minutes. And in our daily lives, hologram like figures will pop into our brain to explain what’s happening. The potentials for nanotechnology are limitless and many scientists agree that at our current rate of technological advancement it won’t be long before nanotechnology and nano bots are part of our everyday lives. Changing the way and for how long we live our lives. But if all else fails you can always freeze your body after you die and hope that sometime in the future scientists will be able to revive your frozen cadaver and bring you back to life. This is called cryonics, you may have only seen it in films but it’s actually a real science. The process involves refrigerating the body in liquid nitrogen and replacing the blood with a cryo-protectant fluid to prevent ice crystals forming inside the body and damaging the cells. The body is then suspended upside down in giant steel container so the head stays the coldest, and the temperature is lowered to minus 196 centigrade. There are currently over 250 bodies preserved in this way, waiting for science to revive them and more than 1,000 living people have signed up for the procedure. But it doesn’t come cheap, it costs around $200,000 for a full-body preservation. Although you can get just your head preserved for slightly cheaper, in the hope that one day science will be advanced enough to connect your head to another body and bring it back to life with all your memories preserved. All this talk of immortality is very exciting, and may be a lot closer than you think. But what will happen when a certain portion of humanity refuses to die? It’s commonly a topic of heated debate. Overpopulation is already a global issue, until we are able to find other planets to inhabit, the unfortunate truth remains that we need people to die. Earth can only support so many people. But that’s not the only problem. 1% of the world’s population own 50% of the world’s wealth, and if those few people refuse to die there won’t be any more wealth distribution, they will only continue to further monopolise the global market and the rich will become richer whilst the poor grow poorer. Another caveat is the retirement age would shoot up to hundreds of years. This is fine for the ambitious few who seek premium jobs and luxurious lifestyles, but imagine being forced to work for over 1,000 years flipping burgers at McDonalds. In an immortal society criminal punishments would become greatly devalued. 30 years behind bars in nothing for someone with a lifespan of thousands of years, and with such a lousy deterrent crime could increase dramatically. Also with the value of ones life being so much higher death sentences wouldn’t be given out so frequently and we may have to invest heavily in rehabilitation techniques or even brainwashing techniques to keep the unruly side of society under control. But there are benefits to an immortal population. We will finally be able to send people to explore other planets, that would otherwise take more than a lifetime to reach. Also those Einstein-like people among us who have brilliant minds will live forever and so their knowledge will continue to grow and contribute to the global knowledge bank. As a result, human knowledge will grow at an unprecedented rate. Society will advance and develop new technologies at an astonishing, ever-increasing rate.

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