Cemeteries: a thing of the past in the future? (Photo by RickC)
Well, folks, something that was almost unthinkable not so long ago has finally happened: A major newspaper has published a serious column on immortality. Not caloric restriction, not resveratrol, not adding-a-few-healthy-years by eating well and exercising, but good old fashioned immortality of the just-not-dying sort.
The column, which appeared in Vancouver Sun (see this link for a few corrections), is a significant step forward in getting the word out on the scientific conquest of death, especially death resulting from aging. While I think that even the more pessimistic articles are good publicity at this point, this piece is especially noteworthy because it's neutral at worst and actually positive at best.
Many people still feel that stopping the destructive biological disease known as aging is impossible to defeat. This, however, is due in large part to the fact that most people have never really stopped to think about it. If they looked at some of the amazing things we can do now and some of the things we'll be able to do in the near future, they'd likely have a much more optimistic attitude. Here's a quote from the writer of the column, Stephen Hume:
That's a question everybody who doesn't think extending human lifespan by more than a few years is possible should ask themselves. There is nothing inherently impossible in slowing down and eventually stopping the aging process; it's just that we don't currently know all the details of what happens with aging, let alone how to fix everything. But the good news is that we are constantly making progress in both areas.
We don’t blink at new hip joints, transplanted heart valves or minuscule plastic lenses that unfold inside the eye like flowers following cataract surgery, longevity advocates argue, so what’s surprising about the looming possibility of even more extensive and complex replacements?
Trying to come up with an exact date for major life extension breakthroughs is difficult if not impossible. Some estimates are more convincing than others, but they are still estimates. Whether the singularity really happens in 2045 like Ray Kurzweil predicts is uncertain. But does it mean it will never happen? Of course not. As with most things that we can imagine but not currently implement, probability implies that it's really more a question of "when will it happen?" instead of "will it happen?". As the author puts it:
Science fiction aficionados have always argued that whatever humans can imagine lies within the realm of possibility — unlikely and far-fetched, perhaps, yet nonetheless possible. It’s a strong argument considering the impossibilities of the past that become the commonplace of the present and which will certainly be the humdrum obsolescence of the future.
It's really the idea of ending aging being possible (as in, pointing out that it doesn't violate any laws of physics and that we've already been able to do things like double the lifespan of mice) that needs to get more publicity in order to really get the wheels rolling, and that's what this column does. You'd be surprised how effective pieces like this can be in changing public opinion in matters considered fringe science. Each column, article and interview is like a battle won in a war.
For now, it looks like battles are being won all over the place. To quote Russell Crowe's 19th century character in the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the Ocean: "What fascinating modern times we live in."
For more information on anti-aging, see these posts:
Intermittent Fasting Reduces Mitochondrial Damage and Lymphoma Incidence in Aged Mice
Anti-Aging in the Media: Houston Press on Caloric Restriction
Anti-Aging in the Media: The Globe and Mail on Telomerase
End Aging to End Anxiety: Filmmaker Jason Silva Talks about Immortality