“Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity”
These popular lines are from Hamlet by Shakespeare, where Queen Gertude is asking her son, Hamlet, to stop worrying about his father’s death, as all that lives must die. Little did Shakespeare know that one day these very lines would sound quite irrelevant because of exceptional advancements in the field of science. Without giving you any more spoilers on Hamlet, let’s see whether we can prove Shakespeare wrong while finding the answers to how practical attaining immortality is and how close humans are to attaining immortality.
Before you ask how ideas to live forever could be discussed in a world where cancer is still incurable, let us explain how both things are completely unrelated. Cancer, as we know it, is the abnormal growth of cells that tend to divide uncontrollably before harming our healthy tissues. On the other hand, a natural death is commonly associated with aging, i.e., the inability of our cells to divide any further after a certain point in life, causing us to grow old and die. Having understood how immortality can be attained if we keep ourselves from aging, we are now going to dig deeper and find out if it is practically possible for a living being to reverse the aging process.
When we said to dig deeper, we took it literally and reached into the depths of the Mediterranean Sea in search of the only known living creature on the planet that is biologically immortal. We are talking about none other than Turritopsis Dohrnii, or, as we like to call it- the immortal jellyfish. What makes the immortal jellyfish really immortal is its ability to rejuvenate itself when it is dying or injured. Sounds magical? Without trying to sound jealous, let’s learn how immortal jellyfish reverse aging and whether we, mortal humans, can do the same and live forever or not.
The body of an immortal jellyfish is made up mainly of stem cells. The only function of these stem cells is to multiply to form new cells while the old ones are discarded. As the immortal jellyfish grows old or, let’s say, gets injured by a predator, it can rejuvenate itself at will. Unfortunately, in the case of us- human beings, our bodies can’t survive on just stem cells, as we need many other cells for different functions. For example, we require red blood cells to supply oxygen to different parts of our body, including the heart and brain.
Even if we found a way to survive on just stem cells, eliminating the need for red blood cells to supply oxygen, we might attain immortality, but there’s an interesting catch. In order to stay young, we will have to discard our old cells and replace them with new ones. Unfortunately, some of our body functions rely on old cells that must not be discarded. For instance, our nerve cells, also known as neurons, help our brain transmit information, which, if replaced with new ones, will cause us to lose all our memories from the past and function as immortal zombies instead.
Since the aforementioned idea of living forever is not going to work, let’s go ahead and listen to the prediction of Google Scientist Ray Kurzweil about immortality. Revered as the father of singularity, Ray Kurzweil predicted in his book ‘Singularity Is Near’ that humans will attain immortality by the year 2030. Before you wonder why you should trust a mere prediction so blindly, as anyone can predict anything nowadays, we would like to add-in that of the 147 predictions made by Ray Kurzweil, 86% have come true.
In 1990, Ray Kurzweil predicted that by the year 2000, the world’s best chess player would lose to a computer. To everyone’s utmost surprise, it came true when Gary Kasparov was defeated by a chess-playing computer system named Deep Blue- developed by IBM. According to the insights given by Ray Kurzweil, humans will have developed age-reversing nanobots by the year 2030 that will keep our cells and tissues from deteriorating, ultimately letting us attain immortality.
Taking the quote ‘everything is for sale if the price is right’ too seriously, billionaires around the world are racing one another to seek ideas to live forever through their privately funded research projects. As of now, we do not know if its purpose is to help humanity or to commercialize longevity; however, this chase may spark the greatest revolution ever in the field of medicine. Of all the privately funded rejuvenation projects, the one most talked about is by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the second richest person on the planet.
According to media reports, Bezos is said to have invested an undisclosed amount in an anti-aging startup named ‘Altos Labs.’ Also backed by Yuri Milner, the Israeli-Russian venture capitalist, Altos Labs will be working on biological reprogramming technology. Another anti-aging research project received a donation of a whopping $370 million from Oracle founder- Larry Ellison, as per reports by The New Yorker. And the list goes on for billionaires funding similar medical research projects, including Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, PayPal’s co-founder Peter Theil, British billionaire Jim Mellon, and many more.
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