Two nights ago, I read “The Little Match Girl” to my 7-year-old daughter for the first time. It has become a habit of mine to read her bedtime stories since she was 3. Of all the stories she had heard, this was the one that stirred up her emotions the most. When I finished the book, she grabbed my face with both hands and said in our native language, “Papa, I want you to live forever so you can read me stories every night”.
Being a father in his forties, that sentimental request made me lose my sense of rationality and I ended up searching Google on immortality. I was curious about the average life expectancy for men. I wanted to learn how I could live longer so I can participate in every stage of her life like watching her grow up, witness her wedding and maybe read stories to my beautiful grandchildren.
Anyway, in the midst of my short impulsive quest, I stumbled on some thought-provoking facts about human immortality which I think are worth sharing. So instead of analyzing charts today, let us contemplate immortality in layman’s terms. Please bear with me as I am no writer nor am I intellectually inclined.
What do we understand about immortality? According to Wikipedia, immortality is the ability to live forever or as some put it, eternal life. Yet, eternal life does not necessarily mean eternal youth. That is why the word ‘young’ is omitted from the definition of immortality in Wikipedia. In fact, the more accurate term to define eternal youth would be biological immortality.
Here is the kicker; humankind is actually on the verge of achieving both kinds of immortality. Some of us might even live long enough to make that choice.
However, it is not a choice that should be taken lightly for the concepts of eternal youth and eternal life are so different that nations could be torn in two; factions upholding their beliefs in the type of immortality they choose to worship.
1.0: Biological Immortality – Eternal Youth
What could be better to describe eternal youth than Adaline, a young woman entrapped in her youth forever after being struck by lightning? Actually, I am quite surprised she did not turn into a speedster.
It is no secret that humans in various ages and cultures have sought for biological immortality, as evidenced by the countless history books and fables in one form or another. The discovery and existence of gunpowder itself are the greatest proof of our ancestors’ failed attempt to create a potion that would grant the drinker eternal youth.
The Elixir of Life – Telomerase
Despite centuries of futile efforts to formulate the elixir of life, humans have never stopped trying. There is no shame in our ancestors for failing in this department. To unravel the mysteries of eternal youth, we must first understand how aging works on a cellular level.
The human cells divide every day to replace our dead and damaged cells. Before a cell can divide, it must replicate all of its chromosomes into two identical copies. Each of our chromosomes has four ends and each of those ends has a cap called a telomere.
Telomeres protect the ends of our chromosomes from damage during cell division. Every time a cell divides, the chromosomes in it are shortened. Due to the fact that telomeres are situated at the ends of our chromosomes, they ended up being the ones getting truncated and thus protecting the actual DNA strands in our chromosomes from damage. When the telomeres become critically short, our cells will stop replicating and die.
You might argue that this is how nature works, that all living things must die – a normalcy we have been taught and forced to accept about life – but what if I tell you that nature does not always work this way and not all living things on this planet are subject to the ravages of time like we do?
Lobsters, for instance, don’t really die of old age. Unlike humans, lobsters get bigger and stronger as they age, and they will continue to do so until you pick them off the menu at The Lobster Shack.
Does that mean if we consume lobsters regularly, we can inherit their ability to live young forever? Quite the contrary. We will most definitely die of heart disease if we do that. So how does Larry the Lobster do it then? Well, Larry's biological immortality has something to do with an enzyme in his body called telomerase.
Not to be confused with telomeres, telomerase (enzyme) actually repairs telomeres (cap) and makes them whole again. This means that the cells in Larry’s body will never cease to replicate – thus allowing him to watch Star Wars XXVIII at his prime and live indefinitely.
Good News, Bad News
The good news is telomerase can also be found in human cells.
The bad news is not all of our cells share the same opinion about using telomerase. For instance, scientists have found that our reproductive cells would have no trouble pumping themselves up with high amounts of telomerase like coke addicts, as opposed to our somatic (body) cells that sparingly use telomerase. This is the reason why grow old and die. Damn you, somatic cells!
Then again, being Larry only means that we are immune to death by aging. Even after juicing up our cells with telomerase, we remain vulnerable to life-threatening diseases and fatal accidents that can pretty much end our lives.
2.0: Immortality – Eternal Life
If becoming a biological immortal won’t allow us cheat death forever, then maybe we should choose eternal life and become an immortal instead. Well, let’s see – the Greek Gods were said to be immortals and yet they all died out in the end. If you ask me, the only living immortals I know are Sam and Dean. These two have sprung back to life so many times that I fear I might not live long enough to watch their series finale. Come to think of it, there might not be a series finale if they start taking telomerase – ever!
Breaking the Chains of Mortality – Mind Transfer
Jokes aside, for humans to truly achieve immortality, our consciousness needs to be able to move in and out of our corporeal bodies – like Sam and Dean. Google’s chief engineer and futurist Ray Kurzweil believes that our minds are buried in our brains and the only way for us to exist forever is through mind transfer (also known as mind upload ). While this may sound too far-fetched, Ray claims that mind transfer will be one of many significant technological advancements that humans will witness in the next few decades.
Neuroscientists estimate that the human brain can store up to 2.5 petabytes (2,500 terabytes) of data, even though most of us use less than 100 terabytes. If our brain is a big database, then our mind is the software that processes thought and emotions by reading inputs from our senses and evaluating them with our memories to write new ones. If we can take a snapshot of our mental state right before we die, we can restore our mental state into the brain of a new biological or cybernetic body and continue with our lives.
Imagine seeing an advertisement like this in the near future.
Introducing Ueliv (pronounced as you’ll live) – Your Life Matters! Our life extension service is one that you can’t live without. We exist only because you exist and vice versa. Don’t lose your mind over death, it’s not worth it. Think about your loved ones because – Your Life Matters – to them! With Ueliv, you can be with your family forever. We have services tailored to your lifestyle so you don’t have to die living.
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As for the thrifty clients, we reserve for you our bestselling Ueliv Lite package that comes with 50 terabytes (plus free 50 terabytes) local shared storage and two standard transfers for backup and restore only. Due to high demand, the free storage is subject to availability at the time.
Into the Future – Mind Travel with Steem
Mind transfer is not just limited to life and death situations. Any perfectly healthy living human being can use mind transfer to instantly travel to any part of the world without having to use conventional transportation.
Let us travel 30 years into the future with our minds to better comprehend the idea of travelling with the mind.
It’s Sunday morning and Joe, a New Yorker, plans to visit Tokyo (Japan) for just a few hours today. Since flying is out of the question, Joe decides to use Ueliv. He has heard good things about travelling through mind transfer and wanted to try himself. Joe walks to the nearest Ueliv mind terminal that is just two blocks away from where he lives. As he enters the building, he is greeted by AIRA, Ueliv’s Artificial Intelligent Robot Assistant.
AIRA recognizes Joe from his cybernetic ID, a nano-sized device that was implanted at the back of his neck moments after he was born, and greets him by name. Joe tells AIRA that he intends to spend 8 hours in Tokyo but needs to be back by the end of the day. AIRA acknowledges and presents Joe with a list of bioshells (biological body without a host) that are available for rent in Tokyo.
After browsing for a few minutes, Joe finally picks the cheapest bioshell named Tanaka for a price of 80 Steem. AIRA informs Joe that an extra 10 Steem will be charged for the mandatory insurance policy that covers all medical expenses from cellular regeneration to full body cloning of Tanaka’s bioshell in the event of bodily harm or fatality.
Joe confirms the transaction by waving a strange pattern with his right hand. AIRA asks if he might also be interested in earning some Steem by renting out his own body during his absence. Knowing that whoever rents his body must also buy the mandatory insurance, Joe accepts the offer without much worry. AIRA thanks Joe for his patronage and guides him to a vacant stasis pod. Joe climbs into the pod and the lid closes automatically.
Inside the pod, Joe could hear AIRA’s firm voice assuring him that everything will be fine. A sudden gust of wind blows into Joe’s face and renders him unconscious. In what seems like a few minutes later, Joe wakes up feeling surprisingly refreshed. He sees AIRA moving towards him as the lid of his pod slowly flips open. Feeling a little unnerving, Joe asked, “Why am I still here? Is something wrong?” To which AIRA replied, “Everything is fine, Joe. Welcome to Tokyo.”
Dying to be Immortal
By now, you have probably figured out that it was Joe’s copied mind (Joe 2.0) that woke up in Tokyo. To Joe 2.0, he is the real Joe because he shares the exact same memories of Joe. Whatever Joe 2.0 experiences during his time in Tanaka’s body will be as real to him as it is to anyone else that is physically there. When his 8-hour session ends, Joe 2.0 will need to upload his mind back into Joe’s biological body so that when Joe 3.0 wakes up, he will have all of Joe 2.0’s memories in Tokyo and the lifetime memories that Joe 2.0 inherited from Joe.
What happened to Joe? The moment Joe steps into that pod, he has declared his own death sentence. His original self never got to wake up from the medically induced coma – so technically Joe dies in his sleep – that is if you believe that our soul is our mind.
On the other hand, if you believe in an immaterial (spiritual) soul that only interacts with the mind and body, then the person who wakes up at the end is still Joe because the effects of mind upload do not affect his soul. Yet based on this belief, Joe would still lose his soul in the event that his body suffers a fatal injury and forces him to upload his mind into a replacement body.
The notion of conquering immortality through science is a questionable premise to begin with. How can science help us attain eternal life when science taught us that nothing lasts forever?
It is undeniable that our rapid progress in science and technology has lowered human mortality rate, and in recent years expanded the realms of possibility for us to achieve immortality. Yet the fact remains that no matter how advanced we are in any strand of science, we can only avoid the inevitable to a certain extent.
In this regard, it is likely that humankind will have a better chance of success in realizing eternal youth than eternal life. After all, extending our life expectancy is just for survival and does not violate the laws of nature.
Thank you for reading my post. I will leave you with this brilliant Symphony cover song by Mike Tompkins
Image / Video Sources: https://pastebin.com/CukmFtAp
Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.