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Can we live forever?

Updated on October 14, 2010

It is a question that many have asked themselves through the ages. Can we live forever? Do we need to die? Why do we get old? Can we do anything to stop it? There are some in our history who have done more than just ponder these questions. They have searched for the elixir of life that would grant them immortality.

The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259 BC – 210 BC) was obsessed with the possibility of immortality that he searched the lands for the secret to unveil itself. Meantime his personal scientists and doctors prescribed mercury laced tablets which were thought to extend life if taken on a regular basis. Of course we know today that mercury is highly poisonous and can cause death in the long run. This was ironic as the first emperor was trying to avoid death, not run at full speed towards it.

In later times it was alchemists, the forerunners of modern scientists, who carried the torch in the search for immortality. What they where looking for was the elusive Philosophers Stone. A substance that was supposed to turn any base metal into gold and may even hold the key to eternal life. They never did find it and, again, often fell folly of their elaborate and often extreme experiments.

In modern times we may scoff at some of the ridiculous ideas our forerunners had about cheating death, but the fact of the matter is we are still searching for the answer, even today. The difference today is that we no loner focus on using some external substance to achieve this, but with our greater understanding of the human body we are beginning to see exactly why we age. Considering our main reason for existing is to continue the species through procreation it is no wonder that our own bodies have a life span. After all, what would be the point of having children if it wasn't to continue the species and live on through the genetic information that we pass on to them.

What scientists are only now beginning to realise is that there is actually a gene or a whole host of genes that cause ageing. The next logical step for them is to decode these genes and be able to increase ones lifespan as a result. It may be that ageing will no longer be looked at as a natural fact of life, but rather just another disease that has a possible cure. Okay, so we might not have the answer for immortality just yet, but in theory if we can live long enough then this will give us the time to investigate even more ways to extend life. And when we find another ingenious way to manipulate another gene which helps us live even longer again it will give us even more time to come up with the next idea to extend it yet again. In theory this pattern could go on and on until we are living indefinitely.

Of course living forever can have its downsides too. We are already overpopulating the planet so how on earth could we sustain life indefinitely if there isn't enough resources to go around? Also, the human brain is estimated to have a memory capacity that would be maxed out after around three hundred years. So what will happen when the database is full? Will it crash? Also, what would be the point of living forever if your already miserable to start with? We need quality of life and not necessarily quantity, although I think most of us would agree that quantity e.g. more years on the plant plays a significant part.

Clearly the moral question will continue to harass the scientific one, but the quest for immortality is ongoing and we just might get an answer sooner than we think.


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