Any news on humans living forever?
May 1, 2005 6:27 PM   Subscribe

What's being done in scientific fields with regards to the search for eternal youth?

I recall seeing an article or two (MeFi link) about this a while back. The concept of never getting old isn't out of our reach is it? Will it happen in our lifetime? I'm not too keen on getting old, hey.
posted by sjvilla79 to Science & Nature (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
At some point I figure we'll learn how to port the brain's contents -- hence, our "consciousness" -- to another medium (silicon or whatever). Eventually, then, VR simulation will be good enough that the Real World is irrelevant, ala The Matrix, but not necessarily interconnected. So when your body wears out, so what? You go to virtual "heaven".

Guess I'm saying we'll find a workaround for aging before we find a cure, per se. It'll be another 100 years or so, however.
posted by LordSludge at 6:47 PM on May 1, 2005


I'm interested in answers to this as well. I've seen some impressive experiemental data using worms and fruit flies. I expect that real therapies that are affordable, effective, and ready for the market are probably too far off for anyone living now (though it makes a difference whether you're 21 or 65, I perhaps). At least, it's a fair assumption that we're too far gone, and a wise one to take to heart (many fools besides yourself have longed for immortality and likely died unprepared). Anyway, we may be some of the last people in the course of humanity to face certain death. I certainly don't intend to neglect the opportunity for reflection and passionate motivation that represents. If the next few generations are going to live forever, I take very seriously my role in parenting their culture.
posted by scarabic at 6:55 PM on May 1, 2005


At some point I figure we'll learn how to port the brain's contents -- hence, our "consciousness" -- to another medium (silicon or whatever).

I just want to point out that this response seems to take dualism for granted, which is a big assumption.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:58 PM on May 1, 2005


ludwig_van : " I just want to point out that this response seems to take dualism for granted, which is a big assumption."

How so? In fact, it goes the other way. If there's a separate soul, you would expect replicating the essence of a substrate unlikely to summon the soul along as well.
posted by Gyan at 7:12 PM on May 1, 2005


It seems to me that monism implies that the brain and mind are one and the same, and to assume that they could be separated (i.e. by "porting" the mind to something other than the brain) would be to assume dualism, that brain and mind are two separate things. I believe I read an essay which argued as much, but I don't recall the author or title.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:17 PM on May 1, 2005


At some point I figure we'll learn how to port the brain's contents -- hence, our "consciousness" -- to another medium (silicon or whatever).

This is a totally worthless definiton of immortality. Our "consciousness" can survive our bodies in many forms already. Try literature, art, doctrine, policy, not to mention personal influence over everyone we meet. Since the debate over what constitutes a "copy of a consciousness" will go on more or less forever, I think it's retarded to think of such a concept as different, at all, from other means already available. However convincing a simulacrum of you will ever be, it won't necessarily be any more lasting or significant than anything you can do during your own life. Besides, what do you gain from a robot simulacrum of you being imprinted with some kind of simulation of yourself, in code, that you can't gain by imprinting a real child with direct experiences with you? I've always been one of the people who didn't like the Star Trek transporter, because even if it can transport your molecules a zillion miles away and reassemble them perfectly, first it has to departicalize you, and at that point I think you're dead.

I'd like to point out that this dude has only been studying biology since 1991. He's the evangelist whacko and even he thinks conquering aging will take 25 years, which means it will atually take 500.
posted by scarabic at 7:17 PM on May 1, 2005


The strongest argument I have regarding there being no valid form of life extension available right now is economic: the person/company who can supply it will quickly become one of the wealthiest on the planet.

The world is currently full of multi-millionaires and billionaires who are used to having everything. Right now, like the rest of us though, they are doomed. And you cant take it with you. If they had to give, say, half their wealth away in order to live another 20 or 50 or 100 years, they'd do it in a heartbeat. If it is valid. Since this isnt happening, I conclude that we have nothing yet.
posted by vacapinta at 7:25 PM on May 1, 2005


ludwig_van : "It seems to me that monism implies that the brain and mind are one and the same, and to assume that they could be separated (i.e. by 'porting' the mind to something other than the brain) would be to assume dualism, that brain and mind are two separate things."

Monism implies, to me, that from the brain emerges the mind. So, in theory, if you, sufficiently precisely, replicate the relevant parameters of the brain, the same mind ought to emerge. As per your understanding, if one preserved the brain very well after death and then restored it to activity in a bionic body 300 years down the line, consciousness wouldn't emerge. That sounds like dualsim, to me.
posted by Gyan at 7:26 PM on May 1, 2005


At some point I figure we'll learn how to port the brain's contents -- hence, our "consciousness"

There are volumes of literature that would dispute that "hence"
posted by vacapinta at 7:29 PM on May 1, 2005


To elaborate, the molecules that constitute your brain, are recycled constantly. What's preserved, by homoestasis, is structure i.e. an abstract entity.
posted by Gyan at 7:32 PM on May 1, 2005


we had a good discussion on this around here a while back... I won't repeat all my comments from that thread into this one, at least not for the moment :).
posted by mdn at 7:51 PM on May 1, 2005


If the being that is 'me' ceases to be self-aware, then I'm dead. Transferring my knoweldge to a disk is not immortality, and neither is re-creating another manifestation of me, even if he is also self-aware, and even if he is an exact duplicate, thinking my exact thoughts, and sharing my exact emotions. If my unique self-awareness ceases to be, then so do I. As soon as someone figures out a way to keep that from happening, I'll all over it.
posted by bingo at 7:57 PM on May 1, 2005


Plenty of short stories and half-hour sci-fi shows address the problems with LordSludge's dream:

Some character is put in a situation, either by choice or as a necessity, wherein their mind/consciousness/thoughts/whatever will be copied into another form/transferred a great distance.

Character A undergoes the procedure. One of two things happen: Everything works just fine, but the resulting copy is completely depressed and isolated, yearns for death, and Character B facilitates the passing; or, "something went wrong." My favorite twist to this was:

The machine that copied people did so in order to allow them to "travel" great distances. People were "frozen" in one place, scanned, then rebuilt at the destination. The "source" copy was then destroyed without being unfrozen. In this show, "something went wrong" when the transmission was successful, but uncomfirmed. As a result, the "source" copy was unfrozen, instead of destroyed. When it was confirmed that the transmission had been successful, the source copy was determined to be irrelevant, and had to be destroyed. A chase around the space station ensued, the subject running for her life. Ultimately, she was tricked into being ejected into deep space.

This particular method will never work.
posted by odinsdream at 9:09 PM on May 1, 2005


Maybe a derail but apparently a lot of science is being done by youths for an eternity. Couldn't pass it up.
posted by fatllama at 10:14 PM on May 1, 2005


Didn't mean to derail this into a thread about the nature of consciousness -- clearly, that's a huge topic in itself. I just think that by the time significant life-extension becomes available, other technology will be developed serve the same purpose better/cheaper/etc. And, of course, there will be a whole new set of ethical issues to discuss on AskMe, but we'll be dead by then.
posted by LordSludge at 10:48 PM on May 1, 2005


by the time significant life-extension becomes available, other technology will be developed serve the same purpose better/cheaper/etc.

There's a huge, huge difference between extending the duration of your consciousness and extending the duration of your life.
posted by jjg at 12:17 AM on May 2, 2005


Eh, from my studies, I don't see much reason to believe the Fountain of Youth has jack to do with consciousness. It's a basic physiological problem based partly on genetics, environmental factors (food, air, diet is huge, etc), and the basic breakdown of the body over time.
BAH, my keygboard is broken, though I have a good chunk of info so I'll get back to you when I'm on another computer tomorrow afternoonish.
posted by jmd82 at 12:45 AM on May 2, 2005


I think of it like the 100m running race. Efforts towards capitalizing on health, fitness, genetics and environment will reduce the time (increase the life expectancies) or have more people reproducing fast times (many more living long lives). But there is a wall. And advances, as with a reduction in the 100m record, move at a minute pace because of inherent design properties. You can tweak individual properties (such as genetics) but it is ludicrous at this stage to think that each cell can be redeveloped to either foster immortality or run beyond the capabilities of a muscular driven bipedal motility system.
Or from another perspective, the march towards eternal youth goes on in every lab or hospital around the world. All energies employed to ameliorate or cure the effects of disease are essentially a part of the longevity battle, irrespective of your position on conciousness and spirituality. And whether the art or offspring or accomplishments of life can be considered immortal is basically a question of semantics.
posted by peacay at 1:16 AM on May 2, 2005


Life Extension Magazine is a good resource for this sort of thing.
posted by euphorb at 2:19 AM on May 2, 2005


I actually am in the process of studying the ethics of the search for the fountain of youth. I have lots of resources for you to get a sense of what research is being conducted:

This is the major professional organization of researchers and practitioners of "anti-aging medicine."

Other key terms are indeed "longevity."

Some research is focusing on caloric restriction diets as a way to prolong life and prevent late life disease. Researchers have received NIH grants to study this phenomenon on humans.

Lots of folks are debating the merits and ethics of this research. See here (unfortunately, some require journal subscriptions): Gerontology, The Fountain of Youth, Anti-Aging Medicine: The Hype and Reality.
posted by picklebird at 5:20 AM on May 2, 2005


BAH, my keygboard is broken, though I have a good chunk of info so I'll get back to you when I'm on another computer tomorrow afternoonish.

I dunno if this was intentional, but this is a perfect illustration of how far we are from creating any sort of machine that lasts longer than 80 years, so to imagine that we'll extend human life because soon we'll be able to make ourselves out of silicon or "fix" a genetic problem of aging seems to be missing the fundamental fact that every single thing in the material universe ages, human-made machines just as much as nature-made machines. (I mentioned this in that earlier thread, but only briefly). Once we have computers which run seamlessly for 100+ years, we can start getting excited about how technology will extend our lives.

As for eternal youth, one thing that's clear is that cosmetic surgery is way less taboo than it once was. When i was a kid, it was still generally impolite to assume or suggest that someone died their hair, whereas that just seems silly now, and people openly compliment a new dye job or whatever. I expect the same transition is/will take place with regard to nose jobs or boob jobs or face lifts, etc (oh, love the new nose! where'd you have it done?).
posted by mdn at 5:25 AM on May 2, 2005


What's being done in scientific fields with regards to the search for eternal youth?

That search must occur within yourself and nowhere else.
posted by rocketman at 5:33 AM on May 2, 2005


Leaving aside the semantic argument of whether offspring or accomplishments constitute consciousness...

If you take "consciousness" to be the processing of an individual's thoughts and memories, then the computer that does the processing is irrelevant, whether brain matter or silicon. One could argue that the body's purpose is to support the brain by facilitating interaction with the world -- hence our obsession with prolonging the functioning of the body.

Eliminate the dependency of the brain upon the body, and you eliminate the body from the equation of immortality. Stop here, and you have the "brain in a jar" scenario, where the five senses have been replaced with direct sensory synthesis. Or to continue, dump the contents of the brain into a synthetic neural net, and you no longer need the brain. With sufficient processing power, a convincing VR environment could directly replace the Real World. Voila immortal consciousness brought to you by sheer processing power.

But not anytime soon. And SkyNet will eliminate us before then anyhow.

Oh well, guess it's hard to discuss the future of immortality without first defining "immortality".
posted by LordSludge at 5:33 AM on May 2, 2005


I don't know about ETERNAL youth, but I can imagine scientists developing techniques that greatly prolong human life. But assuming this happens, there are going to be some big problems. (And I'm going to ignore political/economic issues, like the fact that probably only rich people would wind up with 3000 year lifespans.)

I don't know what your chances are of dying in a horrible, painful accident (as opposed to dying of natural causes), but obviously you take a small risk every time you cross a street, drive a car, etc. Currently you have a fairly good chance of dying naturally, but that's just because you're "only" going to live 70 - 90 years. With each year you add, your chances of dying from UNnatural causes goes up. My guess is that if we all had a 5000 year life-span, most of us would wind up eventually being hit by a car (or whatever people ride around in thousands of years from now), eaten by a shark, murdered, etc. It's only the decay of our bodies that saves most of us from these fates.

You'd have to get used to your loved ones dying horribly, too. So when you got married or had kids, you'd have to resign yourself to the fact that (if you don't go first), you are probably going to see your family die in a plane crash or earthquake.

Also, there's the problem of "hard drive space." Once you cure cancer, stop body-parts from decaying, etc., what are you going to do about memory? Our storage space is vast, but it's not infinite. When we're 3525 years old, will we remember anything from when we were 15? Or will we remember EVERYTHING from when we were 15 but nothing from five minutes ago?

I must admit, though -- as a childless atheist, who doesn't believe in any sort of afterlife and won't be leaving any of his genes behind -- I would LOVE to stick around for a few more hundred years. Just to see how things turn out.
posted by grumblebee at 6:41 AM on May 2, 2005


OK, if anyone's still reading this, here I go (and, no that was not intentional, though it illustrates why we're not immortal yet: stuff breaks down over time- plain and simple).
Basically, at the moment, our bodies as an organic being cannot sustain metabolic processes ad infinitum. This is due to various factors, many of which you can't do a whole lot about as they are more genetic than environmental. I tend to think that the genetic controls are what can extend our life capacity- ie, how long we can live period. Right now, the longest a human live can live is about 120 years, which fits right in with knowns scientific knowledge. For example, on the somatic cell level, the number of times individual cells that are left to grow in medium is directly proportional to how long an organism survives. One of the main areas that are thought to cause organisms to die out over time is basic damage to our DNA via mutations, UV light, etc. Again, organisms with better repair mechanisms correlate with longer life spans. A huge source of genetic and protein mishaps is due to ROSs which are usually free radicals resulting from incomplete oxidation when the cell's energy is produced. This is especially pronounced in the mitochondria whose DNA mutates easier than the rest of our genetic material. Break down the mitochondria and you create more free radicals destroying DNA and the mitochondria- one big vicious cycle, really. This relates to those oxidating agents which are advertised so much in pills.
Another hot topic in finding the Fountain of Youth is telomerases. They are ends of chromosomes and in somatic cells which are not replicated with basic replication machinery during replication causing them to die out after so many generations due to this shortening. There is some evidence supporting this is the key to immortality (mouse cells have been immortalized by adding telomerase which repairs this phenomenon), but then again adding telomerase to actually organisms hasn't been shown to do a lot. One theory floating around is telomers actually help protect us against cancer- neoplastic formation typically requires 5-6 mutations, and if cells die out before they can aggregate enough mutations, problem solved.
I could add more and feel free to ask any more questions if I wasn't coherent seeing as my mind's fried due to finals.

When we're 3525 years old, will we remember anything from when we were 15? Or will we remember EVERYTHING from when we were 15 but nothing from five minutes ago?
Eh, I can't remember anything from when I'm 15 and I'm only 22! I am doomed!!!
posted by jmd82 at 3:06 PM on May 2, 2005


1.) Lots of people are nibbling at the problem. Most of the nibbling is to little or no effect. You probably won't live long enough to see results. Oh well.

2.) Have you considered if immortality is a good idea? Right now we have social change because the old die. Assets move. Evolution has its chance.

If the wealthy never die, their organizations will become frozen in time. What if Mussolini still ran Italy? Imagine a North Korea where Kim Jong-IL is in charge forever. Idi Amin as God-Emperor 'till hell really does freeze over. If the pope never dies then the catholic church would lose what little ability it has to adapt to change. Eating meat on Friday would still send you to hell. They would *never* forgive that snot-nosed Copernicus fellow.

Imagine if every station on your radio had 87 year old grannies playing their favorite tunes 24/7 and you'll get a taste of what life in an immortal society would be like.
posted by Ken McE at 4:52 PM on May 2, 2005


Ken McE : "And you'll get a taste of what life in an immortal society would be like."

Your scenario is unlikely. Instead of change due to generational turnover, change will be induced by boredom and stagnation. In fact, change will be better appreciated since the motivation to hold on, right now, is due to mortality. Once you take life for granted, new adaptations will evolve, to attempt to make immortal life bearable.
posted by Gyan at 6:15 PM on May 2, 2005


Does "immortal" mean you simply don't age? Or does "immortal" mean you cannot die? The first would lead to a very conservative society, as the consequences of death are very great, whereas the second would be pretty wild.
posted by LordSludge at 1:40 PM on May 3, 2005


Thanks for all the comments guys.
posted by sjvilla79 at 12:50 AM on May 4, 2005


Apologies for my lateness to the thread, but for fun, check out Marshall Brain's Manna online book.

He theorizes about a system called Vertebrane, where we will be either integrated with computers, being able to meet up in cyberspace at any time, or have the choice to basically have our brains sit in a jar and live in a completely virtual world.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:55 AM on May 5, 2005


« Older Dating your boss' child?   |   Help me have sex with my girlfriend. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.