Had Adam obeyed his God and only ate the fruit of the Tree of Life, he would have achieved immortality. Seduced by Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, he brought trouble in the shape of death.
“Therefore he must not be allowed to put out his hand to take from the Tree of Life also, and thus eat of it and live forever.” (Genesis 3: 22-24)
Physical immortality, as opposed to the eternal existence of the dead soul, has been pursued by humans as long as history relates.
It is man’s primal desire, to live longer, even forever. It is his promised birthright. Ancient myths concerning the dying process and the struggle to overcome death have been a component of the history of Man.
No doubt we all despise ageing, when we should embrace it, were we to consider the alternative. At the very least, delay it. We hang on to life, but not to getting older. “All would live longer, but none would be old.”
In his recent book Obsessed with Living Longer, Michael Wolff laments that by promoting longevity and technologically inhibiting death, we have created a new biological status, urged by a fearful population. “A no-exit state that persists longer and longer is nearly as remote from life as it is from death.”
Although the branch of geriatrics was established only in 1978, research to find cures to old age diseases has been fast and furious.
A few essential conclusions have been reached. While there is a broad positive correlation between economic standard and health status, it is clearly not the case that health is wealth. To be sure, rich is an advantage, but some very wealthy people have died young. Cristina Onassis was the richest woman in the world; she died at 37, while Mother Teresa died at 87 with not a penny to her name. Health is not a commodity that can be purchased like an automobile, even if you can afford all the organs you wish.
Lifestyles aside, do not overlook genetics. At the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a recent study of 500 individuals who lived to 95 found they possessed common genotypes that helped the body regulate insulin and levels of cholesterol.
Accept it. Some live longer than others. It is like a lottery for us all.
How about that old adage “You are as long as you feel.” Forget that. New research proves you are as “young as you look”. Appearance is now a useful guide to longevity. People who look young for their age enjoy a longer life than those who look older than their years.
A team of researchers led by professor Kaawe Christensen of the University of Southern Denmark examined whether perceived age is linked to survival. Based on studying twins aged 77 to 99 over a period of a seven years, experts found the bigger the difference in the perceived age within a pair, the more likely the older looking twin died first. The study was published in the British Medical Journal.
Perceived age is widely used by clinicians as a general indication of a patient’s health.
Our desire to live longer has been granted. We have extended our life span for 30 years within a century. It has been the greatest gift to humanity.
In the 1900s the probability of a baby reaching 100 was one per cent. A newly born in the UK today has a 50 per cent chance of living to 105. In fact a 60-year-old can live to 90, and a 40-year-old to 95.
Does that satisfy our hunger for more life? Do we know what to do with those extra 30 years? Does it make us happy? Is it not enough?
Of course not. Science is on the verge of a major breakthrough, to increase further our longevity. Are we pushing the realms of immortality?
Anti-ageing drugs are in the pipeline. The drug metformin, prescribed to diabetics and pre-diabetics, has a side effect of slowing the ageing process, according to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
You may or may not have heard of Strategies for Engineering Negligible Senescence (SENS). It is conducting research with the goal of “undoing ageing”. Founded by Aubrey de Gray, multi millions of dollars have been pouring into his SENS foundation. SENS is defined by a focus of repairing molecular and cellular damages rather than merely slowing down its accumulation, explains De Gray: The logistics of indefinitely healthy ageing will be simple and affordable. “Mostly, it’ll be injections once a decade.” How flippant.
There is more. This branch of medicine is pursuing physical immortality for humans, as mankind has been throughout history.
Over a decade ago, Google invested $1.5 trillion in an entire division named CALICO, devoted to “solving death”. Shocked?
This branch of research attempts to forego trying to treat the milliard diseases Age brings but to tackle the matrix.
“We are trying to treat that one big disease, ageing.
In short, eradicate it. How? They claim to tackle ageing in every cell of the body.
Does that mean change the whole genetic makeup of the human species? Exactly.
The Struldbruggs from Gulliver’s Travels come to mind: an immortal specimen, miserable human beings with unending lives.
Here it comes. “The first person to live to 1,000 has already been born.”
Beware what you wish for.
“Growing old is no more than a bad habit which a busy man has no time to form.”
Andre de Maurois (1879-1940)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly