Sunday, May 16, 2010

If My Grandma Had Wheels, She'd Be A Wagon

Immortality.

Some people say that if we were supposed to live forever, we would have evolved to do so. Hmm that is an interesting proposal. Perhaps I might add that if we were supposed to travel thousands of kilometers to watch grown men from all over the planet kicking a silly little ball around, we would have evolved to include jet engines in our biology. No? okay then - well back to the subject of immortality.

People die. They do it every day, some people do it very well, and most of us - the lucky ones - only get to do it once. Our bodies wear out, they deteriorate, they fail and they die. We can cure diseases, but in general we can't change the way our bodies function, at least not radically.

Funny though, the hydra seem quite happy. Society on the other hand is likely to always be faced with "damage" from anything that comes along, from another new religion, to the latest fashion - some annoying minority group wanting equality or human rights... Regardless of what reactionaries and conservatives say, or threaten, society will adapt and change to fit whatever circumstances come along. It always has. Change is the only true constant. And in my book, at least, the only real threat posed when groups emerge wanting equal rights and recognition - comes from the reactionaries.

I get the idea some people don't like the idea of immortality, which is why even if it is likely to come along - they say you would reject it. I'll bet though, that as soon as the first lines appear on their pretty young faces a few years from now, that they would jump at the chance. It's a human trait. No-one wants to age, or wither away like a sad decapitated flower in a vase, slowly wilting, fading and falling apart. Aging is burning in the fire of time. Aging is not beautiful, or noble, or graceful. It is ugliness, shame, decay, defeat and death by another name.

If there is any way to bypass this pain in the ass of life, I would claim it in a heartbeat. And remember, even being immortal in terms of just not dying or growing old doesn't mean not being vulnerable to bullets or train wrecks. People will still die, and probably a lot too. If you were told that if you took this pill now and could live a thousand years without aging, before eventually getting cancer of everything, would you take it? I would.

Think of the benefits to the society these people worry about. Great minds who devise technologies wouldn't be limited to their short 30-year useful working lifespans in their careers - they could devote decades to perfecting technologies that could see Humanity become a multi-world species within the next two centuries, solving your overpopulation problem. The human mentality would evolve. People would be able to draw on the experience of long, productive lives to make their worlds better for all of us. Instead of having to work with new inexperienced people that need to be trained from scratch before applying them to important projects, experienced minds could do so much more, and grow so much more too. I think it would make things better, not worse.

Imagine how much more Einstein could have contributed if he hadn't died? Or Edison, or - or any number of the great minds people learn about today. But then, I might be wrong - and it wouldn't be the first time - or the last.

"I'm just so certain that it's never going to happen. I used to think it was possible, but I've learnt much more about genes and the human body since then." Ah yes - finite knowledge. Funny how it can sometimes breed arrogance? Science has determined that the surface area of the bumble bee wing and its power-to-weight ratio are insufficient for the bumble bee to fly. The bumble bee doesn't know this, and flies anyway.

"It's not the bumble bee's biology that is to do with it being able to fly, it's to do with physics and the way the wings move. So, y'know it's not really a valid argument" Ahh - but I think it is. You see, the bumble bee's ability to fly is biological - the wings, the muscles, their design and structure, and their use - all biological. Science says it shouldn't be able to fly - but it does.

Humans, like all living creatures, are defined by their design - which is programmed in the DNA. Alter the DNA and you change the creature. Alter the system that controls the ageing or lifespan of the species - well, I think you get the idea.

There are still many things out there which science cannot explain completely. One of these things is ghosts and paranormal events. How about why toast almost always lands butter-side down - or why Juliaaaas hasn't been fired yet? Perhaps the mystery is really: what does he have to actually do before they do fire him?

Nevertheless, there is the physical world and the metaphysical. As beings with an awareness of both, we belong to both worlds. And where the two meet and influence each other, these forces don't always cancel out. I don't think that even great scientific minds would say that immortality is impossible - they would say that it is "improbable".

All that aside, I could mention one species of hydra which is biologically immortal.

"Hydra is a genus of simple fresh-water animal possessing radial symmetry. Hydras are predatory animals belonging to the phylum Cnidaria and the class Hydrozoa.[1][2] They can be found in most unpolluted fresh-water ponds, lakes and streams in the temperate and tropical regions by gently sweeping a collecting net through weedy areas. They are usually a few millimeters long and are best studied with a microscope. Biologists are especially interested in hydras due to their regenerative ability and because they appear to undergo senescence (aging) very slowly, if at all."
Thank you, Wikipedia. And from the Immortality Institute (yes I couldn't believe there is one either):

"Senescence, a deteriorative process that increases the probability of death of an organism with increasing chronological age, has been found in all metazoans where careful studies have been carried out. There has been much controversy, however, about the potential immortality of hydra, a solitary freshwater member of the phylum Cnidaria, one of the earliest diverging metazoan groups. Researchers have suggested that hydra is capable of escaping aging by constantly renewing the tissues of its body. But no data have been published to support this assertion. To test for the presence or absence of aging in hydra, mortality and reproductive rates for three hydra cohorts have been analyzed for a period of four years. ]The results provide no evidence for aging in hydra: mortality rates have remained extremely low and there are no apparent signs of decline in reproductive rates. Hydra may have indeed escaped senescence and may be potentially immortal."

Of course, like any living creature, they can be killed. Squish it, and it will die. But if left alone, it could potentially live forever. In fact, the hydra in your fish tank could well have been around for a very, very long time already - and is probably still a good deal healthier - and younger - than you are.

But anyway, some people are still arguing quite seriously about the feasibility of immortality and that since the planet is overcrowded, if people were to become immortal, they should be sterilized etc, etc. Hmm - I wonder what James Dobson would have to say about that? But then, why get so heated up over a hypothetical discussion? Don't take life so seriously - it's not permanent.

At least, not yet.

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