I often pose the following question to my peers: “Do you want to live forever?” The default answer is “no.” Those responding often launch into a long-winded explanation of how life is not worth living without death. My conversation partner is usually surprised when I tell him or her that not only do I want to live forever, but I also believe that it is possible that many in our generation will never die.
It seems our generation is unaware of the massive leaps forward in age reversal technology. In 2010, scientists confirmed that injection of the chemical NAD into mice was able to reverse the aging of cells. The cells of a 2-year-old mouse then resembled the cells of a 6-month-old mouse. Of course, simply because a treatment is proven effective in rodents doesn’t mean it will work in humans. However, allocating more funds to research and development within this area could greatly extend human lives until the age reversal process is further perfected.
The replacement of vital organs could also extend the human life span. The field of tissue engineering is marked with new successes, as the implantation of healthy tissues is extending to some of the most central organs to human survival. While the implantation of new skin was an early success, researchers at MIT professor Sangeeta Bhatia’s lab are developing implantable cardiac tissues. With heart disease as the leading cause of death, the ability to easily replace a faulty or infected heart would fundamentally alter the limits of human longevity.
Another significant development that may extend the human life span is genetic engineering. As I noted in a column last spring, the United Kingdom approved the use of genetic engineering to treat mitochondrial disease. This is only one example of the many treatments that could eliminate genetic disease from our species. Not only would this increase individual longevity, but the elimination of all such disease causing traits from our gene pool would greatly improve the overall health of our species, generations down the line.
Despite all these potential breakthroughs, I believe the most significant technological advance in the quest for immortality does not concern preservation of the human body, but the mind itself. Some readers may associate life fully with the body, believing that once the body fails, the person it represented no longer exists. I disagree. If we are able to transfer our consciousness and memories to a non-biological entity, perhaps a computer, the need for a physical body is eliminated and immortality is possible. Immortality of the mind would solve the issue of infinite consumption of finite resources. Though scientists are developing computers that closely resemble the biological structure of the human mind, this development exists purely in the realm of science fiction, for now.
What is life without death lurking at the end of it? It’s still life, and a life free of the constant anxieties associated with running out of time. I’d posit that our insistence that death is a necessary component of the human experience is merely a means of rationalizing our demise. Think about everything we could accomplish as a species if we were given more time: the exploration of new forms of thought, wisdom accumulated from centuries of experience and love that is truly eternal.