“In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes,” says Benjamin Franklin. Well, there is little doubt in our minds that there will always be taxes looming over our heads, but will death always be certain? The idea of biological immortality has been contemplated for as long as men have walked the earth. The reality of death is something that everyone fears yet must face at some point. Freud once described our brains’ “defense mechanisms” that constantly keep us distracted or even unconcerned with death in our daily lives.
Despite these mechanisms, the idea of death always has a way of sneaking up on us and bringing those annoying existential questions to our mind that often seem daunting and even frustrating. While some believe they have found truth in religion concerning what happens after death, others claim that we cannot know for sure or simply assume that we just cease to exist. Whatever your personal view may be, if you were given the option to live forever here in our vast universe, what would you do?
A recent article by the Harvard Gazette describes how researchers here at Harvard have discovered some new and exciting information regarding the science of aging. Malfunctioning telomeres (the portions at the end of chromosomes that protect against DNA damage) were found to be the cause of health decline. Although there seems to be a long road ahead, one can only imagine what further research can lead to.
One could wonder whether or not we will one day be able to control the process of aging, perhaps develop a mechanism to protect the deteriorating telomeres. Thus arises the question I proposed earlier: given the option of immortality, would you take it? It would take pages to discuss all of the questions that the possibility of biological immortality prompts, let alone the ethical implications. Instead of doing this, I will simply present my own opinion on the matter.
It seems unthinkable to live on this earth anywhere over 200 years, let alone 1000 or even 1 million! Even if someone were to live this long, I would guess that they would reach some form of psychological latency, perhaps even lunacy. Our minds are not meant to live on this earth for such long periods of time, whether you look at it from a perspective of evolution, design, or both. What would happen to society if we had 10,000 year old men and women walking around?
If faced with the decision of immortality, I think I would choose to remain mortal. I don’t necessarily see this choice as a depressing one. To me, there seems to be an inherent beauty in the circle of life (a view not necessarily connected to my personal views regarding life and death) and I don’t wish to manipulate it in such a way that I could live as long as I choose. Maybe by the time I am 80 or so years old my mind will change. It is impossible to know. Over the past two days I have posed this question to many of my friends and have received a wide array of interesting responses.
Although this question regarding biological immortality may seem somewhat pseudoscientific, it is nonetheless fascinating. Of course you are by no means obligated to choose what you would do at this very moment if given the opportunity to live as long as you please. I would venture to guess we will never have such an opportunity in our lives. Yet maybe, just maybe, we will.
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