Immortality - How to Live Forever

Posted on 07/24/2010
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All human societies since the beginning of time have been obsessed in some way with living forever. The most common way that we see this human obsession conveyed is through religion. Religion offers a way to live forever and for some it alleviates the extreme stress that comes along with the knowledge that we are all eventually going to die. But now immortality is no longer limited to the realm of the spiritual as scientists begin to understand how we age and medical technology continues to leap forward, for the first time human biological immortality seems possible.

The term “biological immortality” is a bit misleading. It does not mean that something is completely indestructible. There are organisms that are considered by science to be biologically immortal, but if they receive a serious wound or their body is somehow destroyed it would still die. In other words biological immortality does not make you invincible, it simply means that a body is kept in a living state biologically, but external factors outside of biology could still kill the organism.


As stated above biological immortality is possible. There are creatures that exist that are biological immortal. Turritopsis nutricula is a type of jellyfish that is in theory immortal. What it does is produces certain types of cells that allows it to revert back to its younger polyp stage after it reaches sexual maturity. Most turritopsis nutricula do not live forever in the wild, as most fall victim to hungry fish, but it could live forever if it were able to avoid its natural predators.


Another amazing animal that is said to possess biological immortality is a surprisingly simple, fresh water dwelling organism called hydra. Hydras continuously produce cells and when hydra’s cells split it does not cause the telemeres to shorten, thus hydras cells do not age, and they are considered biologically immortal.


Tardigrades are the most impressive of the organisms that are considered to be biologically immortal. Also referred to as water bears, these water dwelling creatures are microscopic and incredibly hard to kill. Water bears can survive being frozen to absolute zero (-215C) and being heated up to 151 degrees Celsius. They can also withstand extremely low pressures and extremely high pressures. Recent studies showed that this little creature could survive the vacuum of open space and solar radiation combined for 10 days at the very least. Tardigrades also do not age. The Russian Space Administration plans on launching these guys into space as a test to the panspermia theory (the theory that life originated in space and then came to Earth).

The existence of these creatures proves that it is biologically possible to be immortal, but is this a feat that humans can achieve? A man named Aubrey de Grey says it is. Despite looking like a folk singer, de Grey is actually an accomplished scientist who has done extensive research in the field of anti-aging and he believes that the first person that will live to be 1,000 years old is alive today and is middle aged. De Grey believes that this is possible if we would subscribe to Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, SENS for short. SENS was proposed by de Grey himself in his book The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging, in this text de Grey identifies seven causes of aging and believes that with research we can find ways to combat all these causes and live indefinitely.


Needless to say, de Grey’s ideas have led to much controversy. Along with the expected philosophical and spiritual protests, his fellow scientists have scrutinized his theory of aging. In 2005, Technology Review, a science magazine that is owned by the prestigious college MIT, offered a $20,000 prize open to any molecular biologist who could prove that de Grey’s SENS was "so wrong that it is unworthy of learned debate." No one was awarded the prize money.

Most agree though that de Grey may be a bit over enthusiastic, or to use the words of 28 biogerontologists who published a paper on the subject de Grey is “exceptionally optimistic”. In other words, with the exception of de Grey and a handful of others, the general consensus in popular science is that we are very far from the type of life extension that de Grey is talking about.

So as of now science says that we are far away from being immortal, but there are other options. You could have yourself cryogenically frozen when you are facing death, then unfrozen upon the time that your particular aliment is curable or even be unfrozen when human biological immortality is possible. Famous baseball player Ted Williams was frozen upon death, but his situation unfortunately did not turn out so well for him.


According to the book Frozen: My Journey Into the World of Cryonics, Deception and Death written by a former employee at the cryogenic company Alcor, Ted Williams was mistreated several times by other employees at the facility. First, it is important to note that Williams was frozen in two halves. See Alcor has two different plans, the cheap plan in which they freeze only the head in hopes of a Futurama-esqe resurrection and a more expensive plan where they freeze the whole body. Due to a paper work mix-up Alcor accidentally cut off Williams’ head even though his family paid to have the whole body frozen. On top of all this, some years later, employees at the company beat Williams’ frozen head with a wrench insuring brain damage beyond repair upon unfreezing.

In order to avoid a Ted Williams like fate I would highly suggest anyone reading in search of immortality to take a different route. Perhaps we can live long enough to where mind uploading will be possible.

Mind uploading is the term used to describe a hypothetical process of mapping and copying someone’s brain and then transferring it into a computer system, thus creating a mechanisms that would behave just as you did when you were living and is essentially you. This sounds very sci-fi but most scientists say that it is a logical end to the current rate at which computer technology is growing. There is however debate among philosophers as to whether this is immortality. Proponents against this being considered immortality believe that the original being’s self consciousness would not be copied onto the computer and thus he would still be deceased while a copy of himself that has a separate self-awareness is what was created during the mind uploading process.

It seems that when looking at all these theories on how human beings can become immortal, the time frame for when it will be possible is conflicting depending on what scientist you talk to, with no real general consensus among them. Some even believe that human biological immortality is completely impossible. With all this being said, according to the most accurate internet source ever, Wikipedia, it has been theorized that “a biologically immortal human would live for 1,200 years, before falling victim to an accident or tragedy of modern society, for example being struck down by a car.” So physically living forever seems to be completely out of the question, but 1,200 years would still be an improvement, and with biological immortality I wouldn’t have to become Highlander or seek out a vampire to significantly extend my life, which would definitely save me some trouble. So it seems that we are all patiently awaiting science for the conclusion of this story.

Author: Jonathan Kaulay Copyrighted ©